Bodily Resurrection and 1 Corinthians 15: 42-54

By: Joe Scholar

One of the most significant issues concerning nearly all religions,
Christianity among them, concerns the fate of men following their death.
Believing in an inevitable resurrection of the body among the faithful, Paul, a
principle founder of Christianity, asserted his beliefs on the nature of bodily
resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15: 42-54. As eternity tends to last a long time,
believing Christians (even agnostics such as myself) would likely be somewhat
eager to arrive at an accurate interpretation of Paul\'s message found in the
above verses, so as to glean insight as to what might await them following their
last heartbeat. The approach I will take in analyzing 1 Corinthians: 42-54 will
be to: 1) explain how the verses fit in with the overall structure of the book;
2) to explain and paraphrase the meaning behind the passage; 3) relate the
verses to similar passages expressed elsewhere by Paul; 4) and lastly to touch
upon some of the controversy associated with the verses.
1 Corinthians was written around 54 C.E. and was addressed to the
congregation which was made up primarily of gentiles and was located in Corinth.
At the time, Corinth was a highly urbanized and religiously diverse city which
made it very conducive to the early Christian movement. Paul\'s first letter to
the Corinthians was written as a response to a letter he had received (which did
not survive) from the Corinthians in which Paul was asked to settle various
disputes that were arising within the struggling congregation. Writing in
apostolic fashion to the congregation he had founded, Paul\'s letter while
pastoral, answered numerous questions and demanded numerous changes ranging
from: the rich eating with the poor at the church suppers (11:18-22); to curbing
the acceptance of sexual immorality (5:1-13); to abstaining from taking fellow
Christians to court (6:12-20); to answering the question on the acceptability of
eating meat begot from pagan sacrifice (8:1-13); to the role of women in the
church (11:2-16); to the importance of prophesying (14:1-40); and much, much
It was under these auspices that Paul answered the question of whether
man would be with or without a body following resurrection. Although all of
the 15th chapter deals with issues of resurrection, the place of the body is
curtly addressed in verses 42-54 and is prefaced with the 35th verse which asks,
"But someone will ask, ŒHow are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they
Paul believed that at the time of the resurrection the perishable body
would be transformed into an imperishable body, that would neither be a ghost-
like spirit nor a fleshly body, but rather some sort of combination of the two.
As Sanders phrases it, "...resurrection means transformed body, not walking
corpse or disembodied spirit." As William Wrede describes Paul\'s transformation
of the body, "He says that they Œare dead\' or Œare risen again\' Œwith Christ\';
or more specifically Œthey are dead to sin, to the Law,\' Œcrucified to the world\'
; Œthe body of sin is destroyed\'; Œthey are no longer in the flesh\'; or else he
says simply that they are Œdead\'" Paul, whether because he does not recognize
the need for further elaboration, or equally as likely, as he does not know how
to accurately elaborate further, does not offer any greater explanation as to
the nature of the new imperishable body.
Seemingly similar to changing one\'s clothes, Paul simply explains the
transformation, in the capacity of the mortal body Œputting on\' immortality.
The nearly tautological backbone behind Paul\'s reasoning is that the since the
mortal, by definition isn\'t immortal, in order to gain an eternal life, the
mortal must necessarily become immortal. As Wrede interestingly interprets it, "
If the misery of man consists in his habitation in the flesh, his happiness must
depend on his liberation from the flesh, that is, on his death." Moreover, once
immortality is put on, death, the previously inevitable enemy of the mortal,
will be destroyed. As Paul crisply writes in verse 54, "When this perishable
body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the
saying that is written will be fulfilled: ŒDeath has been swallowed up in
The single implied description Paul does make sure to include regarding
the body, is the notion that the resurrected imperishable body will bear a
likeness and similarity to the fleshly body that preceded it. Having believed
he had seen Jesus\'s resurrected body (as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:1) which
presumably outwardly appeared as Jesus\'s previously fleshly body, in order to
establish the continuity of personhood, in verses 37-38 Paul