Does Paul deny the physicality of the resurrection?
Speaking of the resurrection from the dead, in 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul writes: "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). Does this mean that believers will not experience a physical resurrection?
Virtually all commentators agree that "spiritual" does not mean "made out of spirit," but "directed by the Spirit." It is just like when we say someone is a "spiritual" person. Paul uses the word in this way in 1 Cor. 2:15: "The spiritual man judges all things..." Clearly Paul does not mean "nonphysical and invisible man" here but "man filled with and directed by the Spirit." Notice also 10:3-4, where Paul says that in the wilderness Israel ate "spiritual food" and drank "spiritual drink" from a "spiritual rock." Does Paul mean to say that these things were not physical? Surely not. The fact that they ate this food and drank this water indicates that it had to be physical. The phrase "spiritual rock" further solidifies this, for Paul clearly does not mean to say "nonphysical rock." He means that these things were sent from above and were under God's direction. And that's what He means when he says we will have "spiritual bodies." Thus, "spiritual body" is not referring to a change from physical to nonphysical, but a change from our lowly state to our glorified state where the Spirit will fully fill and direct our bodies.
What about 1 Corinthians 15:50, where we read: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." In Future Grace, John Piper responds to this question:
'Flesh and blood' simply mean 'human nature as we know it'--mortal, perishable, sin-stained, decaying. Something so fragile and temporary as the body we now have will not be the stuff of the eternal, durable, unshakable, indestructible kingdom of God. But that doesn't mean there won't be bodies. It means that our bodies will be greater. They will be our bodies, but they will be different and more wonderful." (Future Grace, 372).
In fact, if Paul had wanted to deny that the resurrection would be physical, he would have used the phrase "flesh and bone," which carried the meaning of physicality (cf. Luke 24:39). Instead, the phrase that Paul does use ("flesh and blood") carries with it no denial of physicality but is actually a Jewish idiom for our bodies in their present, sinful and corruptible state. So this phrase in no way implies that we will not have physical resurrected bodies. Paul is saying that our bodies in their present mode of existence--sinful and subject to decay--must first be changed into a form that is not subject to decay and sin before they can enter the kingdom of God. Is this not the meaning of his very next phrase: "...nor does corruption inherit incorruption"?
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org