Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 15:35-41
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
Paul begins an interesting discourse regarding the bodies of those who are resurrected. I think about this a lot, with the stories about the post-Resurrection Christ as a guide. He seemed able to be recognized (or not) at will. He appeared in rooms and disappeared (teleportation?). He eventually ascends upward (flight?) These abilities align well with how we sometimes see angels interacting with humans in the Old Testament.
It’s likely though that the concern here is how decayed bodies might ever be functional again. Paul explains that one type of body is unlike the other. Let’s dive right in, with The Pulpit Commentaries:
But some man will say. The objection is that of some philosophical materialist. The resurrection of the body was a difficulty alike to Sadducees and Gentiles. St. Paul meets this difficulty by natural analogies, which are intended to show that the resurrection body, though identical with the mortal body so far as the preservation of personal identity is concerned, is yet a glorified body, so that the objections urged on the ground that it is impossible to preserve the same material particles which have passed into dust, are beside the mark. St. Paul gives no sanction to the coarse physical conceptions of the resurrection which described the human being as rising (to use the words of the Christian poet Prudentius) “with every tooth and every nail.” How are the dead raised up? This question is one which, of course, admits of no answer. And with what body do they come? literally, with what kind of body? St. Paul, while he only answers the question indirectly and by analogy, implies that the resurrection body is the same body, not so much by way of material identity as of glorified individuality.
As the note says, Paul does not answer the question of “what kind of body” in the way that the questioners might have wanted. If you want Paul to tell you that after the Resurrection, you will have the powers of teleportation and flight, you are out of luck. Continuing though in The Pulpit Commentaries:
Thou fool. The expression is too strong, and it is unfortunate that in English it seems to run contrary to the distinct censure of such language by our Lord. But here the Greek word is aphron, “O unreasonable!” (the nominative is used for the vocative); Vulgate, insipiens; Wickliffe, “unwise man.” It is merely a reproach for neglecting to exercise the understanding. The word “fool!” (more) forbidden by our Lord (Matthew 5:22) has quite a different meaning, and implies quite a different tone. It involves moral depravity or obstinacy (Matthew 7:26; Matthew 23:1-39. Matthew 23:17, etc.). The milder aphron is used in 2 Corinthians 11:16, 2Co 11:19; 2 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 5:17; and by our Lord himself. That which thou sowest. The “thou” is emphatic. It merely means “Even the analogy of human sowing ought to remove thy difficulty.” The growth of the seed shows that there may be personal identity under a complete change of material conditions. Is not quickened, except it die. The metaphor is used by our Lord (John 12:24, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit”). It is also found in the Talmud.
First… note the importance of studying text with Commentaries and an ability to seek out the definitions of the underlying language. The KJV translation seems to have been directionally accurate, but too forceful in tone. Someone looking for internal contradictions within the text might take something like that and make more of it than what is there, due to misunderstanding.
Second… Paul makes a great analogy, comparing physical death with the planting of a seed. A seed above ground might remain forever a seed. Dead and underground though, it comes to new life. The new plant is not the same as the one from which the seed came, but there is a direct thread from one to the other.
Continuing on, this time in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(37, 38) God giveth it a body.—Here it is implied that, though the seed grows up, as we say, “in the ordinary course of Nature,” it is God who not only has originally established but continually sustains that order. Each seed rises with its own “body;” a corn seed grows up into corn, an acorn into an oak. All through this passage the word “body” is used in a general sense for “organism,” so as to keep strictly and vividly before the reader the ultimate truth to illustrate which these analogies are introduced. The points of analogy between the sowing and growth of seed and the life and resurrection of man are not, as some writers put it—(1) the seed is sown, and man is buried; (2) the seed rots, and man’s body decays; (3) the seed grows up, and man is raised. Such a series of analogies are misleading, for there is no necessity for the body of man to decay, but only a necessity for it to die (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The points of analogy are these:—(1) The seed is sown in the earth, and man is born into the world; (2) the seed dies and decays—man dies; (3) the seed grows through its very decay—man rises through death.
Paul explains the analogy with the seed in more detail. It continues. From the Pulpit Commetnaries:
All flesh is not the same flesh. In other words, animal organisms differ from each other, just as do the vegetable. Another… of beasts. “The germinal power of the plant transmutes the fixed air and the elementary base of water into grass or leaves, and on these the organic principle in the ox or the elephant exercises an alchemy still more stupendous. As the unseen agency weaves its magic eddies, the foliage becomes indifferently the bone and its marrow, the pulpy brain and the solid ivory. That which you see is blood, is flesh, is itself the work, or shall I say the translucence of the invisible energy which soon surrenders or abandons them to inferior powers (for there is no pause nor chasm in the activities of nature) which repeat a similar metamorphosis according to their kind: these are not fancies, conjectures, or even hypotheses, but facts” (Coleridge, ‘Aids to Reflection ‘).
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial. The words are often misunderstood. The “celestial bodies” are not the sun, moon, and stars of the next verse—for that would be a false antithesis to “bodies terrestrial”—but bodies (or organisms) which belong to heavenly beings, such as the resurrection body of our Lord and of glorified saints, or even in some sense of angels (Matthew 22:30).
Not all bodies are the same. This is pretty straight-forward but it bears repeating to bring clarity. Returning next then, to Ellicott:
(41) For one star . . .—Better, for star differeth from star in glory. It is not only that the heavenly bodies differ from earthly, but they differ from each other—sun from moon, moon from stars. And there is a further variety still—even amid the stars themselves there is variety. The word “glory” is naturally used as intimating the aspect in which the difference of the heavenly bodies strikes us, looking at them from earth. The God who is thus not limited to a monotonous form for the substance of which Physical Nature consists, need not be in any difficulty as to some other variety of form for Human Nature beyond that which we see it confined to during its earthly life.
another/different = ἄλλος állos, al’-los; a primary word; “else,” i.e. different (in many applications):—more, one (another), (an-, some an-)other(-s, -wise).
These verses continue to ping back to the idea from verse 38, that God gives different bodies as He chooses. Paul is leading toward the point that God can sew (returning to the seed analogy) a mortal/perishable body and then reap a new, spiritual, and eternal body. He continues on that same discussion in the next set of verses.