A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians chapter 15, a passage in which we read the following;
“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 (1 Cor. 15:40-41)”.
What in the world is the Apostle Paul saying here?
Clarity on this requires is a contextual study of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 as a letter written to an actual church/local ‘body’ of believers in Corinth around early 57 A.D.
In the sermon I preached on 1 Corinthians chapter 15, I explained that the Apostle Paul is responding to 2 questions/ concerns within the church – and he makes them of utmost importance.
1.) Will there be a resurrection of the dead?
2.) With what kind of body do they come?
The Apostle Paul details that there will surely be a resurrection of the dead, he even goes the whole route of pointing out that the entire hope of the saints is based on the resurrection of the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17). He then follows that response with a response to another question which we read in verse 35 – “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?”
To the Hebrew people, redemption – salvation- atonement, were a corporate reality. You will find no source within the Old Testament nor the rabbinical writings that offers individual salvation – which runs against the overly individualized preaching of the “Gospel” today. The individual’s hope is within the corporate community or what what cultural understood as a ‘body’ in 1st century Hellenistic society. I like what New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders has said on this point, ” We note that the individual’s place in God’s plan was accomplished by his being a member of the group”.
Failure to understand this “group dynamic” that was popular in the context of 1st century Corinth in our overly individualistic Western interpretations we seem to have misplaced the corporate mentality of the ancients, especially the Hebrew people. This causes many challenges to our understanding the points being made in the New Testament- namely because we lack a Hebrew context and we fail to understand how the Greeks also identified individuals by the group, ie. groups of Jews and Gentiles were referred to as “bodies” (plural term of soma is somata).
The Greek term ‘Soma’ simply means ‘body’. This can be an individual’s body, the body of an animal, or it can mean a group or society. When we study out the context of what the Apostle Paul is detailing in the letter to Corinth, especially in chapter 15, wherein he is detailing the ‘resurrection of the dead’ we find clarity. The context is essentially found by understanding what the “hope of Israel” was in regards to the resurrection of the dead as detailed through the Law and the Prophets. (I have preached various sermons on this corporate hope, which essentially was the Gospel that the Apostle Paul preached – see, Acts chapters 23, 24, 26, and 28 among Romans chapters 9 and 15).
Prayerfully I made the point in the sermon that I mentioned I preached on 1 Corinthians chapter 15 (which I will provide a link for below) that the details of the “resurrection of the dead” in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 are speaking of the Old Covenant saints transition into the ‘heavenly glories’ that were consummated in and through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul affirms that defeat of “the death” was sure and the mortal would put on immortality. “The death” that the Apostle Paul mentions is NOT the biological death of the individual, rather “the death” is speaking of that which comes through Law and sin – dare we call it “covenant death” (the same death, Adam suffered “the day” he eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and evil based on his disobedience to God’s law). See for yourself, in speaking of the defeat of death the Apostle Paul quotes from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 (there is NO WAY that “the death” can be forced to mean physical death unless the Apostle Paul is ignoring the context of the passages he is quoting).
As you begin to understand what “death” was being defeated, you can also begin to develop an understanding of what “mortal body” needed to put on immortality – the Old Covenant saints.
If and when you come to understand the Old Covenant “body” or group, to be that which gave a temporal life (in essence, mortal) through the Law (cf. Dueteronomy 6:2; Dueteronomy 30:15, 19; Dueteronomy 32: 46-47) you can then begin to understand what the Apostle Paul is saying regarding the resurrection of the dead (OC saints) – giving “eternal life” to those who were dead under Law – after all, the whole concept is based on promises to them isn’t it?
Once the Apostle Paul explains and affirms the “resurrection of the dead” he then moves on to the next logical question – well, with what kind of body will they come? It is important to realize what he is actually saying here – With what kind of (singular) body do they (plural) come?
Let’s take a look at the text in question – 1 Corinthians 15:35-44.
” 35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 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.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
Will the Old Covenant saints be raised in the self same body – ie, the Old Covenant? Apparently, some were trying to teach that – think: Hymenaus and Philetus (cf. 2 Timothy 2:17; Galatians 3: 1-3).
The Apostle Paul begins to detail that – No, the Old Covenant saints under the Law in the “mortal body” will have to be raised into the “immortal body”. Just as a seed doesn’t have the same form when it is planted, so is the story with the Old Covenant saints – they were in the OC body, but they died in that covenant (just as a seed dies in the ground) and they would be raised in glory.
What is the Apostle Paul explaining in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41? . God created the heavenly bodies of the sun, moon, and the stars which each have their own intended glory, and he creates earthly bodies that have their own intended glory. God gives all sorts of things bodies that have glory of their own. God created the Old Covenant as a “mortal body” – that which would provide ‘temporal covenant life’ and that covenant had it’s glory, however it was and is through the glorious “immortal body” of Christ that eternal life is found – and ‘the dead’ would be raised into that glorious body!
“Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)”.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Michael Miano
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