I continue to reflect on Paul’s view of the resurrection. Right now I am looking at 1 Corinthians 15.
Paul is appalled that anyone would misunderstand him as asserting such an absurd notion as that the resurrection means the resuscitation of a corpse. Zombies! No! No! No! You’d have to be a fool (1 Corinthians 15:36).
It is obvious to Paul that the resurrection involves a transformation, not a resuscitation. At the resurrection, the living will be transformed just as much as the dead (v. 51). Paul speaks of the result as a “spiritual body” (v. 44). In Philippians 3:21 Paul hopes that our bodies will be transformed to be like Christ’s “body of glory”.
Paul was not original in this. He was a good Jew and a good Pharisee. He based his belief on Daniel 12:3:
“Those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the night sky; and those who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.”
That the Book of Acts calls what Paul saw on the road to Damascus a light from heaven may also be a factor. If he experienced the resurrected Christ as brightness, then notion of a “body of glory” may come from his own experience.
This turns Paul naturally to the analogy of heavenly bodies.
“And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly differs from that of the earthly. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars, for star differs from star in glory” (15:40 -41).
Bynum, in the book on the resurrection of the body as understood in the middle ages, showed that some derived from this passage a scheme where we would exist in a hierarchy in heaven, some of us more privileged than others. But that isn’t what Paul says. He only says that, contrary to the Corinthian’s assumption, bodies are not all the same. The new body won’t be like the present body.
Yet there will be a continuity of identity. Just as there is a continuity of identity between a seed sown in the ground and the plant that comes up, so there is a continuity between the body that gets buried and the body that arises (vs. 36-38).
The rabbis were fond of seed and plant metaphors, so Paul probably relies on the views of the Pharisees for this. The metaphor depends on the vast difference between a kernel of wheat and the plant that comes up with stalk and beard and grain. Or, as the Message wildly paraphrases v. 38:
“You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.”
The plant is nothing like the seed. Yet the one comes from the other. There is continuity.
Today we know about genetics. The seed carries a code. It carries information that shapes what the plant that grows will be like. So Paul’s analogy can help us to solve puzzles like how we can rise even if we have decomposed or been cremated. The reassembling of our exact body parts doesn’t need to happen. Our identity is in information, a code which the creator knows.
Paul didn’t know about genetics, but his view suggests possibilities that our knowledge of genetics may help us grasp.