1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50


In verse 32-34 Paul had mentioned the fact that Christians are surrounded by a materialistic, hedonistic attitude which is accompanied by a lack of true knowledge of God.  Evidently the Corinthian Christians had been influenced by this attitude and so Paul is telling them to repent and to quit sinning.  What he says is by no means complimentary to them.

Furthermore, this worldly attitude leads to the denial of the most important doctrines.  That is where Paul begins in verse 35.  Paul continues to use arguments which prove the fact of the resurrection of the body.

Lenski: The basic question is still the reality of the resurrection itself.  Bodies of this kind are unfit for heavenly existence.  So the skeptics conclude: There is no resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone may ask,  "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"

Paul begins  "Contrary to what I have been saying."  The objectors have not yet been silenced.  From verse 36 it seems to be clear that the  "someone"  of verse 35 is an actual objector in the Corinthian congregation.

Now we have two direct questions.  The first is introduced by an interrogative adverb, the second by an interrogative adjective.  The two questions are closely related.  The first asks:  "By what power?"  The second asks:  "In what manner?"

"The dead"  is limited to the dead in Christ.  This chapter speaks only of Christians, not the pagan dead.

Morris: The first questions asks about the mechanics of the process.  The second question asks as to the form they will have.
Chrysostom: Why does not the Apostle appeal to the omnipotence of God?  Because he is dealing with people who do not believe.

1 Corinthians 15:36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.

Beck translates  "How foolish!"  with  "Just think a little!"  The point is that the questioner is not even applying common sense.  (But aren't we all too often that way?)

Now Paul applies an analogy from nature.  He is using an example which constantly happens.  Paul is saying that after sowing, death must precede the producing of life.

Robertson-Plummer: This is the answer to the first question. Dissolution and continuity are not incompatible.  How they are combined is a mystery beyond our knowledge, but the fact that they can be combined is evident, and death setting free a mysterious power of new life is part of the how.
Grosheide: God will be able to do at the resurrection what He is already doing continuously.
Lenski: Compare Christ's similar analogy in John 12:24: dying grain, and resulting fruit; the first necessary for the second, and the second wholly dependent on the first.  We dare not go beyond the point of comparison.  Here it is: decomposition and yet new life.  The first necessary for the second, the second dependent on the first. Verse 36 is an answer to the first question in verse 35.

1 Corinthians 15:37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

Here Paul begins to answer the second question in verse 35.  The first word in the Greek is something like  "secondly" or "furthermore."

Lenski disagrees:

Lenski: The 'kai' (when) is introducing a sentence which is an explication of the one that precedes.  It, therefore, offers no second or new point of the analogy; it only aids us to understand the true point already stated in regard to the decomposition which ends in a quickening and a new life.

The two questions are so closely united that it is difficult to make a decision between these two points of view.

Morris: Plant life is always on hand to teach us.  We sow nothing more than bare grain, grain without the clothing of verdure that characterizes the plant.  This is common to all seeds.
Grosheide: The difference between the ear that sprouts and the grain from which it arises is very pronounced.
Lenski: All conceptions of the resurrection to the effect that the bodies of the dead shall return to their former coarse existence are thus eliminated by Paul's analogy.  The fact remains, we sow only a bare little kernel in the soil, and it is not this same bare little kernel that presently rises out of the soil.

1 Corinthians 15:38 But God gives it a body as he has determined,

The first four words in Greek are important words. Paul knows of no natural processes. God is the author of all. The second part of verse 38 explains and supplements the first part.

Morris: Plants do not rise (and men do not rise) of their own volition.  Nor do they do it by chance.  They do so because that is the way God has determined it shall be.
Robertson-Plummer: The use of the  "body"  of vegetation reminds us that the illustration has reference to the human body.  God does not deal with each case separately, just as He pleases at the moment, but according to fixed laws, just as it pleased Him when the world was created and regulated.
Lenski: The simple analogy is thus made secure against misunderstanding: seed and body go into the ground -- new living forms result; but in both cases with a marvelous change, due entirely to God's almighty will and power.

and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:39 All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 1 Corinthians 15:40 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. 1 Corinthians 15:41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

Since these verses are not included in the reading we shall merely summarize them here: Paul begins by saying that not all flesh is of the same kind.  And then he lists four kinds.  In verse 40a he lists two kinds of bodies, heavenly and earthly.  In verse 40b he speaks of two kinds of glory, that of heavenly bodies and that of earthly bodies.  And in verse 41 Paul speaks of three kinds of celestial, material splendors.

Morris: Having made his point that there are different kinds of bodies, and different kinds of degrees of glory, Paul now gets to grips with the bearing of this on the resurrection.  It is along this line of differing bodies and differing glories that the resurrection is to be understood.
Lenski: We who see all of this variety in the creatures which God called into being and placed before our eyes ought to have no difficulty as to the form and the character of the bodies which God will bring forth from the graves at the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;

Paul begins with  "likewise also."  This verse points back to verses 39-41. Again  "dead"  means the deceased Christians.  1 Corinthians 15 speaks only of Christians, never of unbelievers.

Paul is speaking here of an  "essence" or  "body"  which does not lose its identity but which undergoes tremendous change.

Often, at a burial everything seems so final and perhaps hopeless.  But when we sow seed we do not think that way.  That is evidently why Paul uses  "it is sowed"  rather than  "it is buried."

Morris: 'Is sown,' indicates that the sowing of seed with the resultant new and vigorous life which he has mentioned in verses 36ff is primarily in his mind.

The sowing indicates the burial.  The raising indicates the resurrection.  Paul does not dwell on the details of corruption and immortality.  He does not indicate the manner but only the circumstance.  We bury dead bodies quickly because corruption, decay, sets in quickly.  Burial is primarily a necessity, not a religious rite.  The incorruption, the immortality, is incomprehensible to us.

Rienecker-Rogers: Corruption is also views as an evil power which affects all of creation as a result of Adam's sin.  Incorruption, that which is not subject to decay and control of sin.

1 Corinthians 15:43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;

Commentators point out that  "dishonor" means  "the loss of rights."

Morris: A corpse has no rights.  Whether Paul has this in mind or not, there is nothing particularly honorable about the decaying body as it is put into the grave.
Robertson-Plummer: It has lost all rights of citizenship and, excepting decent burial, all rights of humanity.
Lenski: We indeed try to honor the dead whom we bury, clothing them in their best, giving them a fine casket, flowers, our attending presence, etc. Yet the body itself is enveloped 'in dishonor' -- we soon hurry it from sight.
Beck translates:  "When it is sown, it isn't wonderful; when it rises, it is wonderful."

"Splendor"  is an antonym for  "dishonor."  For the use of the same words and its meaning see Philippians 3:21 and Colossians 3:4.  The body will be clothed in splendor as was Christ's body on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Next Paul mentions weakness and power.  Nothing is more helpless than a corpse.  In Greek the word  "weakness"  means lack the absence and lack of strength.  "Power" is a mighty word.  It is one of the words in the Gospels for  "miracle."  The Gospel itself is called the  "power" of God.  The only point we are making is that it is a might word. Lenski calls it  "transcendent power, beyond all that our minds can now conceive."

1 Corinthians 15:44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

This verse contains two sentences.  The first is on the analogy of the three previous sentences except that for the prepositional phrases we have attributive adjectives.  The second sentence is like the first in that the subjects are the same but this time we have a fact condition.

In the first sentence  "natural body" and  "spiritual body" are contrasted.  A natural, physical body is suited to earthly life and is subject to sin.  A spiritual body is a physical body renovated by the Spirit of God and therefore suited to heavenly immortality.

Robertson-Plummer: Evidently, 'natural' does not mean that the body is made of natural materials, and consists entirely of natural materials; and 'spiritual' does not mean it is made and consists entirely of spirit.  The adjectives means 'congenital with,' 'formed to be the organ of.'  The 'spirit' is the power by which the 'natural' in our present body has communion with God; it is also the future body's principle of life.
Lenski: Once the entire body was dominated by the 'natural.'  In the resurrection the 'spiritual,' which is the inner seat of the reborn spiritual life, will dominate the body completely, so that all of its substance is controlled by the 'spirit,' and it is itself so changed and exalted as to respond to this control perfectly.

The second sentence in verse 44 is a fact condition.  We understand the background:  "If, as everyone knows, there IS a natural body etc."  Everyone has a natural body and therefore will agree with this statement.

Grosheide: The existence of a natural body presupposes the existence of a spiritual body.  The one exists as certainly as the other.  This presupposition is based on the assumption that the spirit cannot be inferior to the soul.  If the existence of a natural body must be granted, no one can have doubt as to what Paul wrote concerning a spiritual body.  Spirit and soul exist side by side and a body belongs to the one as well as to the other.

1 Corinthians 15:45 So it is written:  "The first man Adam became a living being"  the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

Beck translates  "So it is written" with  "That is what the Bible says."  Good. Paul quotes Genesis 2:7. He adds the words  "first" and "Adam."  The second part of the verse is not found in Genesis 2:7.  The Holy Spirit gave it to Paul to teach what follows verse 45.  The word  "Adam"  is in apposition to  "man."  God breathed life into dust and it became a living soul.  Paul is not saying that Adam did not have a  "spirit/soul."  All people have a  "spirit/soul."

Christ is the subject of the second part of the verse.  He is called the  "last" because there will be further progenitors.  Both Adam and Christ are progenitors.  Adam could beget only living souls.  But Christ begets people for everlasting life.  Beck translates:  "The last Adam became a Spirit who makes alive."  This is evidently done because Jesus is more than a mere man and because the Holy Spirit is life-giving.  By the way, Paul is not saying that Jesus did not have a soul.  He did. See Matthew 26:38.

Morris: Paul implies that it was in His saving work for men that Christ became a life-giving spirit.  Some see a reference to the incarnation, others to the resurrection or the second advent.  But Paul is not specific.
Grosheide: 'Spirit' is here not to be taken of the person of the Holy Spirit.  Still there is a connection, for Christ gives that life of which Paul speaks here through the Holy Spirit, see John 6:63 and 2 Corinthians 3:17.
Lenski: The parallel between the two is close, and yet there is a great difference between them. both Adams are progenitors, yet the one is a progenitor of only a natural, the other of a spiritual race.  From the one we have received only 'a natural body,' from the other we shall receive 'a spiritual body,' because he came to be for us 'a life-giving spirit.'  In his resurrection and his glorification Christ literally and historically 'became the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.'

1 Corinthians 15:46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.

Morris: Paul insists on the right order of things.  In the order of creation we enter into 'natural' life first; it is only after that that we may enter into the 'spiritual.'
Grosheide: Verse 46 first of all clarifies the 'if' in verse 44b.  The 'spiritual' in this context, the spiritual body, does not come into being except there be a natural body.  That implies at the same time that the spiritual body does not yet exist.

Beck translates this verse:  "That which has the Spirit doesn't come first, but the natural; then that which has the Spirit."

1 Corinthians 15:47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.

This verse speaks of the comparative origin of Adam and Christ.  Both are called  "man."

Morris: some refer these words to the incarnation, and some to the second advent.  The point is clear, but the primary reference is to our Lord's heavenly origin in contrast to that of Adam.
Grosheide: The apostle does not deny that Christ had an earthly body, see Galatians 4:4, but Christ descends from heaven as the Son of God, see John 1:14.  This makes it possible to distinguish Christ's origin as being 'of the heaven' from Adam's origin as being 'of the earth,' see John 3:31.
Lenski: Paul characterizes the first man with respect to his body and the second man with respect to his person.

1 Corinthians 15:48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.

Morris: All men are earthy.  But Christians are not only earthy.  They are also heavenly, because of their relationship to Christ.  How the Christians obtain their heavenly quality is not stated; we know it is by grace through regeneration.  Grace and regeneration begin the change; the resurrection consummates it. See Philippians 3:21.

Christians are like their Lord in nature, but they are not divine as in Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

For this verse look at Philippians 3:21 and 1 John 3:2.  The context of this verse makes this a promise, not an exhortation.

1 Corinthians 15:50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Authorities differ in their opinion as to whether verse 50 is the final verse of the previous paragraph or whether it is the beginning of the final paragraph, verses 50-58.  If there is an Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany verse 50 is added to the text for that Sunday, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.

Robertson-Plummer: The assertion confirms verse 49 and prepares for verse 51; it introduces a fundamental principle which covers and decides the case.
Lenski: A new subject, verse 50, is now introduced, marked as such also by the fraternal address.
We let the reader decide for himself.

Paul's discussion here is limited to the regenerate among men.  Even the regenerate as still  "flesh and blood."  Contextually the term  "kingdom of God"  here means the spiritual, resurrection life.  Here we have an example of Hebrew parallelism for the sake of emphasis.  Paul is building up to the change which will be stressed in verses 51-52.

Lenski: Corruption is found in our flesh and blood because of sin; God's Kingdom is incorrupt because sin is excluded from its very nature.
Bengel: A great change MUST intervene, in making man fit for that kingdom.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 52-56. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index