Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Resurrection, part 8

Today, I’m going to tackle another controversial passage: 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. It’s controversial because some people think Paul is arguing for a non-physical resurrection, and some people think he’s arguing for a physical resurrection. I’ll bet you can’t guess which side I take!

Before I jump into this, I want to acknowledge that I can sympathize with those who take Paul to mean a non-physical resurrection. From reading this passage alone, I can see how a person could easily arrive at that conclusion. There are basically two reasons I disagree with it. First, because the rest of the New Testament, including other letters of Paul, seem very clearly to indicate that resurrection is physical. Second, because I think 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 can be understood as physical resurrection.

I’m not going to quote this whole passage, so I recommend reading the whole thing before you continue. That is, of course, if you’re interested in the topic. When I read this passage, two things jump out at me—continuity and transformation. That is, there is continuity between the body that dies and the body that rises; it’s the same body. Also, the body that rises is transformed into something more glorious than when it died. See if you see the same thing.

In the previous section of this same chapter, Paul was taking issue with those who deny resurrection. Having established that there is a resurrection, he says, “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?’” (v.35). Then he launches into a few analogies to explain basically that the body that rises is quite different than the body that dies. From these analogies, it appears that Paul does not think the resurrected body is completely distinct from the dead body. Rather, he believes it’s the same body, but transformed into something far more glorious.

His first analogy is that of a seed that is sown, representing the body that dies, and then the plant that springs forth, representing the resurrection body. Though I am probably pressing the analogy beyond Paul’s intention, it’s hard to miss the fact that you don’t plant a seed in one spot and expect the plant to spring up somewhere else while the seed is left alone. There is continuity between the seed and the plant. The plant comes from the seed. While that view is consistent with Paul’s analogy, I don’t believe that was the purpose of the analogy. I think the purpose of the analogy is to emphasize the qualitative difference between the body that dies and the body that rises. The body that rises is more glorious, just as a plant is more glorious than the seed it came from.

In the next analogy, Paul explains that not all flesh is the same. Humans have one kind, beasts have another, birds another, and fish another. He’s basically just pointing out that bodies are different. Notice, though, that in all these analogies, the bodies Paul uses are all physical. He’s just pointing out that they differ in kind.

In the final analogy, Paul compares the difference in splendor between celestial bodies like the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Again, the emphasis is that different bodies differ in glory. This last analogy is much abused by Mormons. They take this passage completely out of context. In their view, Paul isn’t talking about resurrection bodies at all. He’s talking about different heavenly kingdoms—the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s move on.

to be continued... Part 9

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