The word of the day is “transform.” To be transformed is to be changed in appearance, character, and makeup. But imagine that we are to be transformed. Before we are changed, would we know what our new state will be? Our new condition would be unknown to us until we found ourselves in the new form. So it is with the transformation of our bodies in the resurrection. In today’s reading of 1 Corinthians 15:29-38, St. Paul finishes his defense of the resurrection of the body. He begins a long answer to two questions: “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” (vs. 35). Today we will review why Paul must respond to these queries and what he reveals about the new resurrected state of being.
Influenced by the Greek Philosophers
We can best understand the Corinthians’ questions if we consider that theirs was a pagan city in the Roman empire where various Greek philosophies had influence. Paul quotes one of these philosophies, Epicureanism (vs.32), in today’s passage. The Greco-Roman cultural context of Corinth suggests that the Corinthians were not asking for information. Their inquiries were rhetorical challenges to the very idea of the resurrection of the body. Those in the congregation with Gentile backgrounds scoffed at the possibility that a corpse could be reconstructed into a living being. And they dared St. Paul to describe the body that was brought back to life.
You see, to the predominant culture in the empire, the idea of resurrection was nonsense, if not distasteful. The prevailing view was that the body is the “prison house of the soul.” For example, one dominant philosophy, Platonism, taught that on death, “The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible but there arriving she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise” (Plato, The Republic). From that viewpoint, who would want to be trapped forever in the fallible body? Instead, you would want your immortal soul to be freed from the body’s frailties and soar to a perfect world.
The Jewish View: Body and Soul Belong Together
For this reason, Paul’s critics in Corinth treated Paul’s preaching of the resurrection of the body as ridiculous. But Paul, in turn, called his opponents “foolish” (vs. 36). As a Jew, Paul believed that it takes both body and soul together to make the human person. Furthermore, to the Jews, a soul without a body would be like being “naked” (2 Cor. 5:4).
With this Jewish view in mind, Paul uses several metaphors to speak of the mystery of death and resurrection. In today’s reading, the apostle writes, “…what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. “So when a grain of wheat is planted, “God gives it a body as he pleases.” And “to each seed, he gives its own body” (vs. 36-38). Note that the Lord used the same metaphor to speak of his death and resurrection. He said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much grain (John12:24).
The Resurrection of Christ is Not a Metaphor but a Reality
Of course, the comparisons of death and resurrection to seeds that are planted, tents and buildings that are restored, or clothes that are taken off and put back on, etc., are metaphors. They speak about what is unknown by comparing it to what is known. Yet, the reality behind these comparisons is not a metaphor. It is the Risen Christ. Paul wrote, “…we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body…” Phil. 3:20-21). In summary, the appearances of the Risen Christ are the best description of and argument for the resurrection of the dead.
The Greek word for “transform” refers to changing something’s appearance or form (Strong’s #3345). So then, the resurrection of the body is a change from one state of being to another. Human beings are created “in the image of God.” In the resurrection, we who are made in the image of God will be re-created after the image of the Son of God, the Risen Christ. Beyond that, the resurrection is a “great mystery” (1 Cor. 15:51). Yet the resurrection of the body is as sure as the certainty that Christ rose bodily from the dead.