We are looking at Paul’s argument for the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15.
Paul had a Jewish, Pharisaic, and Apocalyptic world-view. But he planted churches among people to whom these perspectives were foreign. He had to be pretty flexible.
He had a loose view of kosher food practices for non-Jews. You could adopt them temporarily for practical purposes, but they didn’t really apply to you. He held that non-Jews did not need circumcision.
He used Stoic rhetoric in his arguments. He made the Greco-Roman adoption laws–which were foreign to Jews–a main metaphor for redemption.
In other word, as he said, he was willing to become “all things to all people” (see 1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
It is perplexing, then, that he insisted on the Jewish, Pharisaic, and Apocalyptic view of the resurrection, when this must have seemed absurd and repulsive to the Greek mind. He could have accommodated them by saying that Jesus had been exalted to God in a bodiless state. He could have built a realized eschatology based on the idea that the church had symbolically become the body of Christ, or that the only resurrection we needed had taken place in baptism.
But Paul insists on the reality of bodily resurrection, both for Jesus and for us. For him it is not a matter of cultural relativity. J. Christian Beker has pinpointed what was at stake:
“Paul’s problem with the Corinthians is at bottom their denial that spirituality is commensurate with materiality and historical existence. And this problem can only be solved, according to Paul, when the truth of the gospel” (i.e., its coherent apocalyptic theme) is understood and appropriated (Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, p.. 172).
The Greek mind had trouble mating spirituality with “materiality and historical existence.” And this made a big difference for spirituality. We can see this in 1 Corinthians in Paul’s insistence that sexual infidelity is a sin against the body (6:18). Or that there are physical consequences to misuse of the Lord’s Supper (11:29-30). He never separates the spiritual and the bodily.
I don’t think I need to do anything more than appeal to your own observation to show that modern Americans, including Christians, have some of the same issues the Corinthians had.
So when Paul calls the resurrection body a “spiritual body” (15:44), we may feel disoriented. Spirit is one thing. Body is another. How can Paul put the two together?
He contrasts the spiritual body with a natural body. What he means might relate to 1 Corinthians 6:13:
“Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for foods, but God will do away with both of them. But the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.”
The natural body, which perishes with death, includes biological processes involving food and the stomach. But biology is not the essence of the body and does not involve the body that is intended for the Lord. (That Paul doesn’t think sex is just a biological process with no implications beyond death, would be a subject for a different post.)
The Corinthians ask, what are for them probably sarcastic questions, about how the dead get raised and what the bodies would look like (15:35). Paul seems to reject these questions because they assumed a false split between the material and the spiritual. Of course, we won’t have natural, biological bodies anymore. “We will all be changed” (v. 51).
Paul tries to get at the nature of this change with his images of seed and plant and heavenly bodies. I’ll talk about that in another post.