Q. There’s a section of 1 Corinthians 15, verses 39-44, that simply doesn’t make sense to me. Please explain.
A. Looking at the whole context of 1 Corinthians 15, we see the apostle Paul dealing with the doctrine of the Resurrection. During Christ’s day and down through the centuries, people have denied the doctrine, or they’ve had various problems and questions concerning it. So Paul stressed its reality and necessity, both in Christ and in us. As we get closer to the verses you specifically ask about, we find Paul anticipating and answering some “hows” of being raised from the dead.
Verse 35 suggests that some people would ask, How can a dead body return to dust and then be raised again? Human reasoning might conclude that a person would have to possess a totally new body instead. But Paul was quite blunt in answering that reasoning, using the words “foolish one” to describe a person who thinks that way (v. 36). Then Paul used a simple illustration from nature: seed. A seed represents death. When sown, however, it comes forth as a plant. This illustration is a beautiful picture of resurrection (vv. 36-38).
Paul continued in verse 39 by calling attention to other living things-moving in a sense from the biological to the zoological. In addition to seed, which illustrates continuity, Paul cited animals, birds, and fish to show that there are differences in life forms yet continuity within each species. Paul was in essence asking the questioner, If you can see these differences, can’t you believe that God is in charge concerning the dead body as opposed to the resurrection body? In other words, God is a great God Whose diversity in creation shows that He is all-powerful. He can resurrect. He can give us a resurrection body out of the “natural” body we know on earth.
In verses 40 and 41, Paul moved on to astronomy: “There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.” Here Paul was persuading the believers through viewing the heavens that the dead can and will live again in material bodies. Our resurrection bodies will be both the same as, and different from, the bodies we now have, just as the various celestial bodies are diverse.
In verse 42, Paul, again using the sowing illustration, explained that our bodies on earth are sown in corruption; that is, we are subject to disease, wearing out, and finally death. In contrast, our resurrected bodies will not experience these. Verse 43 continues by saying our present bodies are “sown in dishonor,” meaning that there isn’t much to commend them. “Soiled merchandise drastically reduced” is the way one writer put it. But our new resurrected bodies will be full of color, beauty, and power.
Verse 44 and following bring Adam into the picture. We all are descendants of Adam. Through him we received our “natural” bodies. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ received a “spiritual” body. We therefore can look to Christ for a spiritual body, the resurrection body, even as we look to Christ for resurrection itself because of His conquering the grave. It is joyful for us to think about this coming body. Our present bodies are dependent on food, sleep, and so forth. Our resurrection bodies will be independent of these necessities, yet thoroughly capable of enjoying them. We have no idea of the wonderful aspects of this fact. We will fully experience all of these joys when we get to Glory.
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