I Corinthians 15:35–58. A Body in the Ground Is
a Seed Planted.

Key Notes: The acorn and the oak. The sting of death. Jesus' transformed body. Where does the soul come from? Disembodied souls?

In the first half of the chapter, Paul argued for the fact of the resurrection of believers and in the second section for the nature of the resurrection. The Corinthians evidently accepted Jesus’ resurrection, but did not think that resurrection of mere humans was possible--or they thought that the resurrections were already passed. Paul said that their resurrection depended on the resurrection of Christ. Christ’s power would subdue death finally, bringing all souls to life again, ready or not. Then they wanted to know some details. What would a resurrected body be like?

15:35 “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

13:36 “You foolish man ! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. ”

Paul calls their thinking foolish, but the body as a seed is a very strange concept. Rather, we think that the body is a complete entity now that will be decaying and useless in death. It reaches its perfection at age‘-21 and physical life is a down-hill slide into the ash-heap from there on. But we all know that a seed has great potential, once put into the ground, capable of generating an oak or a maple tree. Seeds are in fact quite amazing and even mysterious. How can a soft little green stalk break out of a walnut shell that humans can hardly crack with a hammer? And then become a great tree, awesome to behold.

Paul has taken a leaf from Jesus’ words. (If we understood Jesus better, we might not have these problems.)
“…unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn.12:24)

Jesus was speaking of his own literal death as a seed in the ground, but also of the death to the old nature of His followers. Both kinds of death contain great potential. We associate the word “remains alone” with the burial in the grave, not with living. Can literal death be both necessary and good? We know that Jesus’ death made salvation possible for the whole world.

15:39–41 There are all kinds of terrestrial substances—human, animal, fish—and the glories of the celestial--sun, moon and stars. The implication is that the glories of the redeemed body are different from either.

15:42–50. Also our two representatives are compared:

First Adam a living being     Second Adam a life-giving Spirit
Man of dust      Man from Heaven

15:50 We bear the image of the Man of Dust. We will bear the image of the Man of Heaven We cannot inherit the Kingdom of God in our present state.

15:51–55 The mystery that Paul now speaks of is not the resurrection, as mysterious as that is, but that those who are still alive at Jesus’ return will receive their immortal bodies instantly (Gr." atomo"; that [time] which cannot be divided.) as the dead are also being transformed. Paul’s quotes from Hos.13:14 is grim forewarning of judgment:
“O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your destruction?
Compassion is hid from my eyes.”

He changes it into a cry of victory, made possible by Jesus’ resurrection.
            “O Death, where is your victory?
            O Death, where is your sting?”

"The sting of death is sin" because for the unbeliever, sin leading to death is final separation from God. But for the Christian, death is the entrance into life with God. Thanks be to God for the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. “The power of sin is the law” Paul argues in Rom.7. Christ frees us from the Law.
The bottom line is that the Christian should be unmoved by fear and threats, inward or outward, working for God with certainty of reward.

Other comments:

This passage focuses on the human body. The body of Adam began with the elements of the earth, “dust of the ground”, inbreathed by God to be a living soul. The body came before the soul in creation. (Gen.2:7). Is that the pattern for all subsequent humans? Are we souls inhabiting bodies, or bodies endowed with soul? Are all souls pre-existent? Does ensoulment occur at conception, or at 4–5 months (quickening) or at birth? Can the soul exist without a body? Are there ghosts?

“The Hebrew idea of personality is an animated body, and not an incarnated soul.” (Christian Theology. M.E Erickson; Baker,’85; p.526). An animated body would appear to be true of Adam, but elsewhere in Scripture, God's preknowledge of human beings seems clear.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer.1:5)
“{Your} eyes beheld my unformed substance; in Thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psa.139:16)
“…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” (Eph.1:4)
“The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Eccl.12:7)

Another approach to the question is to ask whether our souls are generated by our parents through natural reproduction (traducianism) or created individually by God (creationism). There is no unanimity among scholars on these questions, but the active participation of God in our bodily formation is evident. If He chose us before the foundation of the world, then we existed in the mind of God before the foundation of the world A tentative  answer to these questions is that we pre-existed our bodies, and that ensoulment occurs at conception.

What becomes of humans already dead that we know about? Will they be recognized? Are they in any sense alive? Can they think? Our key passage was spoken by Jesus.

“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live in Him. “ (Lk.20:37–38)

Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, (Matt.17:3), Samuel to Saul (ISam.28:14) and  resurrected saints at Jesus' crucifixion (Matt.27:52–53) were all recognized as living, speaking people.

What will the resurrected body be like?
Like angels, we will be free of sexual desire (Matt.22:30); no more hunger and thirst and sorrow (Rev.7:16–17) or pain (Rev.21:4) and presumably no need for sleep (no more night; Rev.22:5).

But our best reference is Phil.3:21: “…who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him to subject all things to Himself.”

What aspects of Jesus rose from the grave? Was it his soul or his body also? Read the stunning poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike.

What was Jesus’ resurrected body like? It was still a physical body.
            He had flesh and bone. Lk.24:39
            He could be touched. Matt.28:9, Jn.20:17,27
            He ate broiled fish. Lk.24:43
It was also a supernatural body.
            He also could appear and disappear at will. Mk.16:12,14;  Lk.24:36; Jn.20:19,26

But it is very likely that this was not the final stage in Jesus’ glorification. The body of Christ revealed to John in Rev.1:12–16) was glorious, awesome, and magnificent. One can appreciate Paul’s analogy: Jesus’ earthly body was but a seed compared to His glorious body. It may be that the transformation of our bodies will also be in stages. Paul speaks of longing to “put on our heavenly dwelling”, not being “naked” (IICor.5:2–6) after he dies, yet also speaking of further glorification, putting on immortality, at the return of Christ. ICor.15:54

It appears that there is no such thing as a disembodied soul, not Christ at his resurrection, not the believer in the intermediate state, nor in the final triumph of Christ over death and our renewed lives in Him.

The point of all this is not theory, but practice. “Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Our lives, our bodies, are in His care, now and forever. We can afford to be bold, stand fast, work hard.

Death is not to be feared. What comes after is marvelous.
"Nothing moves and nothing harms us while we trust in Him."