In this post-Easter week, we continue looking at Paul’s discussion of the resurrection, in 1 Corinthians 15.
Thirty-four verses in to chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, it can be easy to get lost in the trees of Paul’s argument, and miss the forest. So before we continue, here’s a quick summary of what we saw last week:
The (bodily) resurrection of Christ is central to your faith (verses 1-11):
- It’s what you accepted when you came to Christ (1-2,11).
- It’s based on eyewitness testimony handed down to us (3-7) and my own eyewitness testimony (8-10).
If Christ was resurrected (bodily), it doesn’t make sense to claim that we won’t be (12-28):
- If there’s no resurrection, Christ wasn’t resurrected either (13,16), leaving us with no reason to follow Jesus anymore, since we’re still unforgiven and have no hope for life beyond death (14-15,17-19).
- But the fact is, Christ was resurrected, as a downpayment on our own future (20), bringing life to many in the same way Adam brought death to many (21-22).
- You haven’t reached that final resurrected, “spiritual” state yet – no matter how much some of you might like to think of yourselves that way. Christ has been resurrected already; we have not yet been resurrected (23).
- We will be resurrected when Christ returns, which will involve everything that’s opposed to God being defeated (24-28).
- Even your own practices show you believe in some sort of resurrection (29), as does my own suffering for the gospel (30-32a).
- So don’t be led astray in thought or deed by Greek philosophy and civic religion – for which the focus is the present life and any future hope is for a disembodied soul (32b-34).
So what does resurrection look like?
Today, we come to the next major section. Here, Paul anticipates the next question his audience might ask:1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”
Even though he’s the one who anticipated the question, his reply is pretty direct:1 Corinthians 15:36a How foolish!
(And the Greek is a little harsher; a bit like you fool!) Why does Paul respond this way? Probably because this question comes from that dualistic worldview we spoke of last week. In effect, they’re asking: if you’re not talking about a resurrection where we leave our bodies behind, what exactly do you mean? Are our old, decaying bodies simply going to come back to life again? What kind of “future hope” is that – living on forever with grey hair, wrinkles, and rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention that embarrassing tattoo I got when I got drunk down near the harbour at Cenchreae?
So Paul explains:1 Corinthians 15:36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
Let’s think of resurrection like a seed planted in the ground, as it, too, has a kind of “death” and “resurrection.” (Does a seed actually die? Modern biologists may disagree, but from the perspective of a first century writer, it is indeed “buried” in the ground before it rises, so the analogy works.)1 Corinthians 15:37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
You don’t plant full-grown zucchini. You plant zucchini seeds. There’s a change that takes place. That’s the first key point of this analogy – something changes when it’s been resurrected.
But he continues:1 Corinthians 15:38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
That is, zucchini seeds produce zucchini. Tomato seeds produce tomatoes. His second key point: there is still continuity with the pre-resurrection state. Even though there may be transformation, they are still of the same kind. Just like all of creation, which God made each according to its kind (see Gen 1:11-12,21,22-24):1 Corinthians 15:39-41 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
He got a bit carried away there, but to sum up: just like the Abbott and Turnbull governments, when seeds die, their new bodies will be the same yet different. So it will be with our resurrected bodies:1 Corinthians 15:42-44a So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
In other words, although there is continuity (we’ll turn into our resurrected selves, not resurrected zucchini), there is difference: meaning no more aging, no more pain, and (presumably) corrective laser treatment for ill-considered tattoos. It dies a natural body, but rises a spiritual body – we got a glimpse (or the firstfruits) of it in the story of Jesus, where he’s able to be touched, where he can eat fish, yet he also manages to teleport. That will be awesome, particularly for someone who’s had to deal with Sydney traffic all their lives.
How can we be confident of this?
Sounds great, but how can we be confident this will happen? Paul brings it back to his Adam/Christ paradigm we saw earlier in the chapter:1 Corinthians 15:44b-49 If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
The logic earlier in the chapter went: all of us who were in Adam (i.e. humans) die, but all of us in Christ (i.e. believers) will be made alive. So let’s expand that a bit: those in Adam had bodies like Adam’s – natural ones, prone to decay. But those in Christ will have bodies like Christ’s – resurrected ones, imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (vv42-44)!
That’s what we, as followers of Christ, are looking forward to.
To think about
Consider Paul’s seed analogy, in which there is difference yet continuity between the pre- and post-resurrected bodies. What might that mean for our future identity and experience, come the resurrection?