The phrase “flesh and blood” shows the need for transformation. It highlights the weakened, sinful estate, not the material condition.
Christ’s Resurrection and Ours
By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr
As we reflect on the resurrection of Christ in this season we must recognize its enormous significance in the Christian worldview. In this article I will deal with just one of the redemptive-historical effects of Christ’s resurrection: the eschatological resurrection of believers. Christ’s resurrection not only secures our present redemption for glory (Rom. 4:25; 10:9-10) but also our future resurrection to glory (Rom. 8:23). Unfortunately, a new gnosticism is infecting the church: hyper-preterism. One major feature of hyper-preterism is its denial of a future physical resurrection of the believer at the end of history. As we shall see, this contradicts a major result of the resurrection of Christ. Before I demonstrate this, I must briefly summarize the argument for Christ’s physical resurrection, which is the effective cause of our own future resurrection.
The Scriptures teach that Christ was resurrected in the same body in which He died: The very body in which He died was raised from the dead, just as He prophesied (Jn. 2:18-19, 21). As such, it miraculously attested to the truth of His divine mission on earth (Mt. 12:39-40). This is why the tomb and His burial clothing were found empty: His physical body had departed from them (Mt. 28:6; Jn. 20:4-11, 15). The gospels present the resurrected Christ in a material body that could be touched and handled (Lk. 24:39), which still had the wounds of the cross (Jn. 20:27; cf. Rev. 5:6), which could be clung to (Jn. 20:17; Mt. 28:9), and could eat food (Lk. 24:42-43; Jn. 21:11-14). Christianity has always affirmed the corporeal resurrection of Christ as a prominent feature of its high supernaturalism.
But how does that speak to the issue of our resurrection? Because my space is limited I will simply provide an abbreviated commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, which speaks directly to the point and is a favorite passage for hyper-preterists. They gleefully point out that Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” (v. 44) and argue that “you do not sow the body which is to be” (v. 37).
The Corinthian Context and Problem
Before surveying this chapter we must be aware of a major underlying problem in the Corinthian church: a mixture of a quasi-gnostic philosophy (highlighting higher knowledge and denigrating the physical realm) and an exorbitant pride rooted in pneumatic-eschatological claims.
Indeed, Paul opens his letter by referring to their pneumatic gifts (1:7; cp. chs. 12-14) and the matter of a Greek concern for “knowledge” (1:18-25; cp. chs. 2-4, 8-10). These issues almost invariably lie behind the particular problems he addresses. For example, their sexual immorality was rooted in their unconcern with issues of physical morality (1 Cor. 6:13, 15; “the body doesn’t matter! what’s the problem?”) and their denial of legitimate sexual relations in marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-4; “we are above physical relations”). And their charismatic abuses are quite well-known (1 Cor. 12-14). They even revolted against local social conventions and boundary markers in disregarding public decorum in dress (hair style) by their “eschatological women” (1 Cor. 11; see Gordon Fee’s commentary). These women asserted that since the eschaton has come, then the resurrection is past — consequently, they are like the angels in heaven who have no need of marriage nor differentiation from males (based on Mt. 22:30).
Fortunately, hyper-preterists do not promote immorality, yet their doctrinal outlook has remarkable parallels to the Corinthian paradigm. But I must move quickly to the problem at hand, showing that hyper-preterism strikes at the vitals of our holy faith through flawed exegesis.
Introducing the Problem and the Solution
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul focuses on a denial of the resurrection of the body. In the first part of his argument for the resurrection (vv. 1-34), he repeatedly expresses his concern for its necessity: “if the dead are not raised” (15:12, 13, 15, 16, 29, 32). To dispel all doubt about our resurrection, he links Christ’s resurrection to ours (as elsewhere: Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 6:14; Phil. 3:21). As we will see, this linkage powerfully affirms the physical resurrection.
In the second part of his response (vv. 35-57), Paul adapts his argument for the resurrection to the pneumatic-eschatological theology of his audience. He rebuts them by responding to their spiritual pride regarding “knowledge” and “gifts.” He argues that they themselves have not yet received the full spiritual blessings of redemption (and neither will they in a few weeks, as per the ludicrous hyper-preterist A.D. 70 scheme). They will not attain the fullest expression of the Holy Spirit until “the end” (v. 24a), at the consummation (v. 24b-28), following upon the resurrection of the dead (vv. 21-23). Effectively Paul not only corrects their present dismissal of the importance of the material order, but affirms their future eternal materiality in a physical body!
Paul’s First Argument
After insisting that Christ was resurrected from the dead and that this is the foundation of our redemptive hope (vv. 1-19), Paul then powerfully links our resurrection to Christ’s. In other words, his whole point regarding Christ’s resurrection is to lay a foundation for ours. In verse 20 we read: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits (Gk., aparche) of those who are asleep.” This first-fruits imagery carries a load of theological implications regarding our physical resurrection.
First, the temporal significance of “first” requires that Christ’s resurrection is peculiarly the first of its kind. No other consummate-order resurrection occurred previously. Second, in that He is the “first-fruit” He represents the rest, just as the Old Testament offering of the first part of the harvest represented the whole harvest (cp. Rom. 11:16). Christ’s resurrection represents our own. Third, the “first-fruit” also promises more to come. Christ’s was unique for the time, but it spoke of others to follow at “the end” (v. 24). Thus, the resurrection of Christ as the first-fruits is: (1) the first of this order to occur, (2) represents His people’s resurrection, and (3) expects more eschatological resurrections to follow at the end.
Consequently, the fact of Christ’s resurrection is essential to the believer’s resurrection — and anticipates it. From Adam death and all of its processes arose; so from Christ life and its fullest blessings arise (vv. 21-28). The resurrection of Christ is necessary for the triumph of life over death (vv. 25-26), which will finally and fully be enjoyed only when we ourselves are raised from the dead and the “last enemy” is defeated (v. 26). It is fundamentally important to Paul.
In verses 29-34 Paul presents a relentless and vigorous ad hominem against his Corinthian opponents: He notes he is risking his life for what the Corinthians deny (v. 30-32). He lashes out against their spiritual pride in thinking they have arrived at the fullness of Holy Spirit blessings (v. 33). He warns that their “bad company” on this matter has “corrupted good morals” (v. 33; cp. 1 Cor. 6-7 particularly). They must become “sober” and “stop sinning” in this (v. 34). And all of this is in the context of his argument for the resurrection of believers!
Thus, once we determine the nature of Christ’s resurrection, we understand the nature of our own. If Christ was physically raised from the dead, then so shall we, for He is the “first-fruits” of our resurrection. The only way around our physical resurrection is to deny Christ’s physical resurrection.
Paul’s Second Argument
Paul finally arrives at the specific objection toward which he has been driving: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come? ‘” (v. 35). Here he is clearly speaking of a physical resurrection in that: (1) His opening question concerns how the “dead” are “raised,” that is, “with what kind of body”? (2) The verb “raised” is attached to “the dead” in verses 1-34, and to their actual “bodies” in verses 35-58. And since he is dealing with objections regarding a physical resurrection, he now emphasizes the “body” (soma) in this portion of his argument (vv. 35, 37, 38, 40, 42, 44). (3) Christ’s resurrection from “the dead” is the key to the whole passage and argument (vv. 12, 13, 15-16), and His was a physical resurrection. In fact, Christ’s resurrection is mentioned in the context of His being “dead,” “buried,” and “raised.” Christ’s body was buried; so His body is what raised.
Contrary to the Corinthians quasi-gnostic, hyper-spiritual, eschatologically- conditioned claims, Paul establishes the death of the body as the pre-condition for the fullness of the life they presently claim. He illustrates this by the seed that is sown, which must “die” (vv. 36-37) so that it can be raised to eschatological glory. Despite their pride of “having arrived,” the pneumatic Christians1 cannot “be there” yet. Their bodies haven’t been “sown.”
In verses 38-41 Paul emphasizes two crucial truths in response to their question (v. 35): First, “God gives it a body just as he wished” (v. 38a). As with Augustine later, all objectors must recognize: “Is he who was able to make you when you did not exist not able to make over what you once were?” (Sermons on Ascension, 264:6). Any objection regarding the difficulty of resurrecting a dead body is more than accounted for by the fact that it is God who effects it.
Second, God gives bodies appropriate to their environment (v. 38b). He gives fish bodies appropriate to water, birds appropriate to flight, and so on (vv. 39-41). And all bodies have a level of “glory” appropriate to their estate (v. 40-41), whether they be “earthly” or “heavenly” (v. 40). The glorious condition of the resurrected body is adapted for victory over the decay element. Though our pre-eschatological condition suffers dishonor and weakness, our future estate will enjoy glory and power (vv. 43-44; cp. Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:7-12; Phil. 3:21). In fact, it is “the body” itself that will be transformed from being perishable to imperishable (vv. 42, 52-54).
Paul employs shock therapy against these pneumatics: “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. 15:44). His point appears to be that not only should they not denigrate the present material order (which they have done, chs. 6-7), but he informs them that they will be resurrected in a “spiritual body” in the eschatological order! And here is where the hyper-preterist’s theological naiveté causes him to stumble so badly. Hyper-preterists believe Paul’s reference to the “spiritual body” speaks of the substance of the body, its compositional makeup. Consequently, they are emboldened to employ this verse for discounting a physical resurrection. Of course, this is as wrong-headed as to say a Coca-Cola bottle is made of Coca-Cola. Note the following evidences supporting the orthodox approach to Paul’s argument (to name but a few):
This “spiritual (pneumatikos) body” is no more immaterial than the “natural (psuchikos) body,” even though both “spirit” (pneuma) and “soul” (psuche) often refer to the immaterial element within the creature. Here Paul uses these (usually spiritual) terms to describe the body, and we know that our present natural (psuchikos) body is material. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 these adjectives distinguish the believer and the unbeliever. Rather than distinguishing their body materials, the terms focus on their driving forces: spiritual (Holy Spirit driven) concerns over against animal appetites.
To Paul, the semantic domain for pneuma overwhelmingly means “pertaining to the Holy Spirit” (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:13; 3:1; 12:1; Rom. 1:11; Eph. 1:3; 5:19). That is, it means governed by the Spirit of God. The adjectives psuchikos and pneumatikos describe, therefore, the essential governing characteristic of each body: the present, unresurrected, fallen body over against the future, resurrected, redeemed body. That is, they speak of the earth-related, animal-appetite-controlled condition of the present order (the totality of man in his earthly estate) over against the eternity-related, Holy Spirit-controlled condition of the resurrected estate (the totality of man in his eternal estate). The glory of the eschatological state entered into by the eschatological resurrection involves the full dominance of the Holy Spirit and all that that entails (including the body’s imperishable condition and its moral control). And contextually, Paul designs his response to confront the prideful Corinthian pneumatics who think they have arrived at full spiritual glory. (Later Paul notes that the natural is first, not the spiritual, showing that the Corinthians must first live out their present lives before attaining the fullness of the Spirit, v. 46).
Paul’s parallels and contrasts show that his concern is not physical over immaterial, but perishable over imperishable (v. 42), dishonor over honor (v. 43a), and weakness over power (v. 43b). Our resurrected condition is so governed by the Holy Spirit that the weaknesses of our present condition will be totally overcome by the transformational power of the Spirit. Indeed, he emphasizes the difference of glory as the key (vv. 40-41).
According to scholars such as A. T. Robertson, adjectives ending in -inos generally denote compositional material, whereas those ending with -ikos signify characteristics. This fits the flow of Paul’s argument regarding the “natural”(psuchikos) and the “spiritual” (pneumatikos) body as I have presented it — and it supports the historic faith of the church regarding the resurrection.
Once again, Paul brings in the parallel between Adam and Christ as illustrating the differing circumstances of our estates (vv. 45-48). In verse 45 he applies Genesis 2:7 in light of his resurrection argument, contrasting the Adamic condition (the first Adam) with the resurrected Christ (the second Adam). (He cites the LXX: “the man became a living [psuchen] soul.”) Adam’s body was a psuchen body subject to animal weaknesses (hunger, death, and so forth, Gen. 1:29; 2:17). Once again we have the distinction between the psuche (soul) and pneuma (spirit): But we know that Adam was not immaterial, nor was Christ in His resurrection. The idea here is that just as Adam is the source of our perishable bodies as the “first Adam,” so Christ is the source of our Spirit-powered bodies as the “last Adam” (the man of the last estate or condition of the redeemed). Thus, Paul is drawing the parallel between the two material bodies and their consequent conditions (cp. v. 22), then noting the superiority of the consummate state represented in Christ’s resurrection condition.
In verse 47 (“the first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven”) Paul is not speaking of the origin of Adam and of Christ, but the quality of their conditions (focusing on the resurrected Christ). He is reiterating the difference between their weakness/power, inglorious/glorious conditions. Resurrected believers share the heavenly life of Christ but are not from heaven themselves. Paul contrasts the resurrection body with the Genesis 2:7 Adam (vv. 45-46). Thus, “just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (v. 49). We shall wear the image of the heavenly Second Adam, whatever His resurrection was like.
In verse 50 he contrasts man’s fallen condition with his eternal condition in Christ: “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” The phrase “flesh and blood” shows the need for transformation. It highlights the weakened, sinful estate, not the material condition. In the LXX “flesh and blood” stands for human weakness as subject to and indicative of death (cf. Dt. 32:42; Isa. 49:26; Jer. 51:35; Ezk. 39:17-18; Zeph. 1:17). Therefore, “flesh and blood” parallels with the decayed realm, for “this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (v. 53) Paul uses touto (“this”) four times: twice in verse 53 and twice in verse 54. His use of “this” demands continuity of the body (this body) even during transformation to the resurrected estate.
When all is said and done, the historic position of orthodox Christianity is sustained. Christ was physically resurrected (though with transformed powers), and so shall we be. God created man as distinct from angels. We are designed to be physical creatures for: (1) God sovereignly and purposely created the objective, material world in which we live (Gen. 1; Psa. 33:6-11). (2) He lovingly and carefully formed our physical bodies for dwelling in this material world (Gen. 2:7-24) which He has entrusted to man (Ps. 8:1-9; 115:16). (3) He brought his objective, propositional revelation to us through the historical process of inspiration and inscripturation by means of men moved by the Spirit of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). (4) In the Second Person of the Trinity, God took upon Himself a true human body and soul (which He still possesses, Col. 2:9) and entered history for the purpose of redeeming men back to a right relationship with Him (Rom. 1:3; 9:5; Heb. 2:14). (5) His elect people will inherit the eternal estate in resurrected, physical bodies (Jn. 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:20-28) so that we might dwell in a material New Creation order (2 Pet. 3:8-13).
1. The pneumatic-eschatological tendencies of the Corinthians are the combined charismatic outbursts that they are associating with the coming in of the eschaton. That is, they deem their charismatic gifts as evidences of the end having come.
Dr. Gentry is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is the author of thirteen books and a contributor to eight others, from publishers such Zondervan, Baker, Kregel, P & R, and American Vision. He is the editor of a forthcoming title from Ross House Books: Thine Is the Kingdom: A Summary of the Postmillennial Hope. He has spoken at conferences and on radio across the nation.