Monday, October 14, 2013

What is a 'Spiritual Body'?

Paul opened chapter 15 with a defence of our blessed Lord’s resurrection against those who were denying it (1 Cor. 15:1-19; 29-34). But Paul’s mind moved naturally from Christ’s resurrection to the resurrection of all believers (15:20-28; 50-58). Thus, the chapter ends with the famous promise that we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet (15:52).

In the middle of this discussion about resurrection, the apostle applied himself to a question that some people had apparently been asking, namely, what will the resurrection body be like? His answer to this question occupies the middle section of the chapter from verses 35-49. The tricky words occur in verse 44 when Paul is contrasting our present bodies with our future resurrection bodies. Paul writes, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”

Given the associations we have with the term “spiritual”, it has been easy for many people to assume that the antithesis Paul is talking about here is between a physical body and a non-physical body. For example, in their book "Heaven: A History," McDannel and Lang contend that

“The resurrected bodies of Pauline thought are not material but ‘spiritual.’ The bodies of those Christians who happen to be alive at the time of the resurrection will be changed ‘in a twinkling of an eye’ into spiritual beings that are immortal....The physical body (in contrast to the resurrected body) may be compared to a tent or garment where the ego, the soul, lives. According to Paul, God will prepare another home or garment for the soul after the death of the body.”

Many of our translations of 1 Corinthians 15 do make it seem that Paul is contrasting a natural physical body with an incorporeal spiritual body. For example, the Revised Standard Version even makes this assumption explicit when it translates verse 44 to read: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” However, this is to completely misunderstand the Greek.

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