Does 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 imply that the spirit has a kind of corporal substance to it?
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of [the substance or matter of] heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
In 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 Paul implies that the resurrection body is a “spirit.” And yet this spirit has a kind of flesh that is different from other types of flesh. 1 Corinthians 15:45-46 says, “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.’” The “last Adam” is Jesus. Notice that “the last Adam,” Jesus, became “a life-giving spirit.” Then to nail that point home, verse 46 goes on to say that the natural (i.e. Adam’s earthly body) came first and “after that the spiritual [body].” When did Jesus become “a life-giving spirit”? After His resurrection and ascension! And because Jesus’ resurrection body was ultimately expected to be a model of our own (1 Cor 15:49), the saints are also expected to become a “spirit” at the resurrection.
1 Cor 15 tells us that the resurrection body is “a spirit.” But doesn’t the Bible make frequent mention of the resurrection being a flesh-and-blood, corporal event? Yes. How could this be so when Paul implies that the resurrection body is “spiritual” and “a life-giving spirit”? Perhaps ancient Jews had a different understanding of spirits than people do today, an understanding that may have its origins in Babylon where the earliest history of the Jewish people began? Remember, Abraham came from Babylon (Genesis 11:27-31) and thus the first stories of the Bible did not originate in Israel, they originated in Babylon. Though the myth of Atrahasis is understood to be much older than the oldest extant tablet of the myth, the oldest tablet of Atrahasis is dated by colophon to 1646-1626 B.C., almost the same time Abraham left the land of Ur in Mesopotamia (1737 B.C.). Interestingly, according to the tablet of Atrahasis the Babylonians believed that man was created from clay and the flesh and blood of the gods. Similar to Genesis 1-3, the clay was used to fashion man’s earthly body. The spirit of man was then created out of the “flesh and blood” of the gods. Here we see that according to Babylonian mythology the spirit of man appears to be the “flesh and blood” of the gods.1 Could this corporal understanding of the spirit implied in texts like 1 Cor 15 have gone all the way back to Israel’s ancient Babylonian roots? Could there be a shared understanding of a “flesh and blood” spirit present in the tablets of Atrahasis that is repeated in 1 Cor 15:39-40? In 1 Cor 15:39-40 the “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44) or “heavenly body” is compared with the earthly body though differing in the composition of its flesh: “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.” This corporal understanding of the spirit may also implied in Cor 15:42-44: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
According to testimony from near-death experiences, heaven is universally described as a realm of light. In other words, everything in heaven seems to emit light. Thus all the matter or substance of heaven appears to be intrinsically luminescent. Thus all living things in heaven would seem to be composed of this luminescent substance and, therefore, beam with immense radiance: “The first man was of the dust [matter or substance] of the earth; the second man is of [the matter or substance of] heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47).” Therefore, when v. 49 says that we shall bear the image of the heavenly man perhaps this implies that at the resurrection the spirits of the saints are also comprised of this intrinsically-luminescent heavenly substance similar to the other beings of heaven?
The idea that at the resurrection the saints are raised as spirits with a corporeal form fixes a philosophical incongruency associated with the resurrection. Those who believe that the saints take on eternal, earthly bodies at the resurrection also generally believe that Jesus is currently residing in heaven in human form while the Father is understood to be an incorporeal spirit. John 4:24 reads, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” If Jesus is God, how could the Father be a Spirit and Jesus have such a radically different corporeal form? When the resurrection is understood to be corporeal spirits as indicated in 1 Cor 15, this problem is erased as Father, Son and the saints all have the same spiritual and corporeal form.
Does the Spirit have a Corporeal Form?: What about Luke 24:39 and 1 Corinthians 15:50?
What about Luke 24:39 and 1 Corinthians 15:50? In Luke 24:39 Jesus says, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” In 1 Cor 15 we saw how the spirit is composed of a kind of heavenly or spiritual flesh. Is Jesus saying that a spirit does not have flesh at all? I do not believe so. The way in which Luke 24:39 is worded makes it sound like Jesus is saying that a spirit does not have flesh in the same manner as the disciples see Jesus has in His earthly body: “[A] ghost does not have flesh and bones as [i.e. in the same way or form] you see I have.” It seems to me that Jesus may be pointing out the different nature of earthly and spiritual or heavenly flesh. Remember 1 Corinthians 15:39-40 says, “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.”
Having addressed Luke 24:39. Let us now look at 1 Cor 15:50. In this v. Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” In the context in which this verse appears it seems that Paul is denying the traditional understanding that the resurrection body would be raised again in earthly flesh and blood. It is also possible that in 1 Cor 15:50 Paul is saying that one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (i.e. the Church) without the reception of the Holy Spirit.
The biggest challenge to the idea that the spirit is a flesh and blood entity that inhabits heaven at the resurrection is 2 Corinthians 5:1-4:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Here we see that the saints are “clothed” with an “earthly tent” signifying the fact that the spirit inhabits the earthly body. In 2 Cor 5:1-4 we also see that the spirit is “clothed” also with “an eternal house in heaven.” The clothing of the spirit in “an eternal house in heaven” implies that the spirit is not “naked” but rather inhabits another body in heaven in the same way that it was “clothed” with an “earthly tent” in life.
- Atrahasis 1.4. In this creation myth the flesh and blood of the gods is mixed with clay to create man. Perhaps the flesh and blood of the gods IS the spirit of man? Or perhaps it is FROM the flesh and blood of the gods that the spirit of the god emerges to animate the clay flesh of the man? It cannot be stated with certainty which of the two interpretations is correct. Perhaps this notion of a “flesh and blood” spirit is implied in Job 19:25-26: “Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God”? Since Job’s skin is explicitly said to be destroyed, could this “flesh” be Job’s spirit?