It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body… Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. – 1 Corinthians 15.44, 50
Those who are in Christ will be raised with spiritual bodies. Read again slowly. Think about both words. “Spiritual”. “Bodies”. The Christian hope is not to be “bodiless spirits” floating around in a non-material existence. Neither is the Christian hope to have our same old corruptible “natural”, “fleshly” bodies. The Christian hope is to be resurrected with “spiritual” “ bodies”.
In recent years, I’ve occasionally witnessed Christians sharply disagree with one another about the nature of the resurrection body. One side will emphasize the continuity between our resurrection bodies and our current bodies (that is, we will be raised with the “same” bodies we have now). The other side will emphasize the discontinuity between our resurrection bodies and our current bodies (that is, our current bodies will be “transformed” into something very different).
We must be careful to avoid unbiblical extremes in either direction. Those who emphasize the sameness of our resurrection body must be careful never to deny the spiritual nature of our future bodies. Those who emphasize the spiritual nature our future selves must be careful never to deny the bodily nature of the resurrection. Instead we should strive for biblical balance by embracing both the continuity and the discontinuity of the resurrection.
We will not be bodiless spirits, and we will not have fleshly bodies. Scripture teaches that we will have spiritual bodies, bodies which in many ways have continuity with our current bodies, but in other very important ways will be very different from our current bodies.
This article is the first part of a two part series examining the nature of the resurrection body. This first article will primarily focus on 1 Corinthians 15.42-44, while the second article will primarily focus on 1 Corinthians 15:50-55. This series is in some ways a follow up to a two part series I wrote a few years ago. You can read those articles here:
The Body Will Be Spiritual
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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. – 1 Cor. 15.42-44
Our resurrection bodies will be very different from our current bodies. In this passage, Paul makes an obvious contrast between our present bodies and our future bodies.
- Our current bodies are perishable. Our future bodies will be imperishable.
- Our current bodies are dishonorable. Our future bodies will be glorious.
- Our current bodies are weak. Our future bodies will be raised in power.
- Our current bodies are natural. Our future bodies will be spiritual.
Yes, there is a sense in which we can say that our future bodies are the “same” as our current bodies. For example, when Jesus rose from the dead, Thomas could reach out and touch Jesus’s wounds (Jn 20.27-29). Jesus was able to do things that real, material, bodily people are able to do, like cooking fish and eating breakfast (Jn. 21.9-14). When Jesus rose from the dead, He left behind an empty grave. His resurrected body used up the same material that was once in the grave. In this sense, Jesus was raised with the “same” material body that once hung on the cross.
For everything we don’t understand about the nature of the resurrection, we do know that His resurrection body is a model for our own resurrection bodies (Phil. 3.20-21; 1 Jn. 3.1-2). On the resurrection day, “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth” (Jn. 5.27-29). Just as Jesus’ resurrection left behind an empty grave, so also our graves will be emptied. The same “stuff” that goes into the grave will come out. That’s what the word “resurrection” means.
But (and this is important), Paul’s major point in 1 Corinthians 15.42-44 is that our bodies will not be the “same”. This discontinuity also follows the model of Jesus. For example, in the passage mentioned above, where Thomas reached out and touched Jesus’ wounds, we also read that “Jesus came, the door having been shut, and stood in their midst” (Jn. 20.26). Jesus appeared in a room with locked doors! We can’t do that in our current bodies! He was the same Jesus with the same tangible, touchable, visible material body, but He was different!
In Revelation 1.12-16, the resurrected Jesus is described with white hair, with a face like the sun and eyes like a flame of fire. This was clearly not the same old body that went into the grave! It was the “same body”, but it was obviously not the same body.
When Christians write articles and blog posts that argue that we will be raised with the same physical bodies we have now without likewise emphasizing the radical transformation we will undergo, is it any surprise that they are so frequently met with resistance? If it was important for Paul to emphasize the discontinuity between our current and our future bodies, it should be important for us to emphasize the same. Yes, we will be raised with bodies. Spiritual bodies.
What is a “Spiritual Body” Anyway?
A very important point must be made about the words “natural” and “spiritual”. For some, when they read about the “spiritual” body, they assume Paul is referring to a new, resurrection body that is “spiritual” in in the sense of being “non-material”. In other words, they assume that Paul’s “spiritual body” is the same thing as a “bodiless spirit” – something you could not touch, could not see, and something which would not leave an empty grave behind it. This is especially true when we see the “spiritual” body held in contrast with the “natural” body. For many, it appears that Paul is very clearly drawing a distinction between our current “material” bodies with our future “non-material” existence.
We must stop here and remember that we must allow Paul to define his own terms. Earlier in the same letter, Paul has already told his readers what he means (and what he doesn’t mean) when he uses the terms “natural” and “spiritual”.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2.14-16
Here Paul speaks of fully-embodied, tangible, material Christians as being “spiritual.” These Christians were not ghosts! Rather they were living in harmony with the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of the word “spiritual” throughout the entire book of 1 Corinthians (3.1; 6.19; 14.37). For Paul, the word “spiritual” almost never means non-material (Rom. 1.11; 7.14; 15.27; Gal. 6.1; Eph. 1.3; 5.19; Col. 1.9; 3.16). Rather the word “spiritual” refers to men whose character is consistent with the character and inspired scriptures of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the writings of Paul, the words “natural” and “spiritual” do not describe a contrast between material and non-material. Rather they draw a distinction between ordinary human life and life given by the Spirit.
This helps make sense of verses like Romans 8.11.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
It should also be noted that in 1 Corinthians 15.36-54 Paul is answering the question raised in verse 35: “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” Paul is describing the nature of our future bodies. Yes, we will be resurrected with bodies; spiritual bodies; bodies which are animated by and guided by the Spirit of God. These bodies will be quite different from our current, corruptible, fleshly, natural bodies. There will be no wheelchairs, no arthritis, no diabetes, and no cancer once we are transformed. But, we must never adopt the belief that we will be non-material, bodiless spirits. To deny that dead bodies will actually come to life is to deny the resurrection.