You may remember hearing of, or reading, several years ago, a short article that I wrote, entitled 'A Spiritual Body': in this article, I put forth the idea that the 'spiritual body' that Paul wrote about in I Corinthians 15:44, was not some ethereal, yet still tangible, body that we will inherit when we die and go to 'Heaven', but that Paul was simply speaking of the 'change' that God's people were going through in the first century, and yet, in a sense, undergo, when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are em-powered to 'put to death the deeds of the body' ( Romans 8:13 ). Since I wrote this short article; I believe that God has shown me a few things that were lacking in my understanding; for instance, a truly covenantal, and even a more correct historical view of the context and meaning of Paul's words and phraseology, not only in quite possibly the three most famous resurrection passages in the Greek New Testament, I Corinthians 15, II Corinthians 5, and Philippians 3, but from other, shorter passages in both the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures.
First; I want to make clear that, although I do use the NKJV much of the time,, I do not necessarily agree with their interpretation of certain passages, or with any comments or chapter headings that they might assign.
Although I still believe the main premise of the article that I wrote previously, some clarification, because of further revelation, or understanding, is in order. Paul wrote, in I Corinthians 15:44b, that 'There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.' We might first clarify what Paul is speaking of here ( a 'natural body' ) in order to better understand 'a spiritual body'. Some have regarded this 'natural body' as the physical, biological body that we now inhabit, and while this is a fairly traditional ( orthodox? ) understanding of this phrase, I believe that Paul had something else in mind when he wrote these words.
The Old and New Testament Scriptures might more correctly be termed the Old and New 'Covenant' Scriptures. The definition of 'testament', according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is 'archaic : a covenant between God and the human race'. I acknowledge that this is the 'correct' definition, according to the finite understanding of man, but really; who defines 'covenant? Is it not God, who is over all, that defines most correctly the thing that He made? I have made the argument, presenting the notion in other places, and in other words, that God first made covenant with Himself, within the God-head ( 'Let us make............'-Genesis 1:26 ), and that the 'first covenant' ( Hebrews 8:7 ), of which the 'new covenant' ( Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 9:15 ) was simply a clarification, or final revelation, was simply, if you will, a parenthetical 'covenant', whose purpose, as Paul wrote to the Church in Galatia ( 3:24 ), 'the law was our tutor [ to bring us ] to Christ, that we might be justified by faith', to reveal to God's people the principle, or spirit ( John 4:24 ) of the law ( or Mosaic 'covenant' ), which was, as Jesus said, to 'love the LORD your God..................', and 'your neighbor as yourself' ( Luke 10:27 ).
Getting back to our subject; the Bible, or Scripture, is a book, or revelation of God's covenant dealings with His people, and as such, presents a progressive story of the transition, humanly speaking, from the old, or first, to the new, which was really only a clarification, or reiteration of that original covenant ( we sometimes call it the Adamic covenant ). We read in Hebrews 8:8 that 'finding fault with them' ( the physical 'children' of Israel, with whom He covenanted ); He re-affirmed, or confirmed 'a new covenant', which should tell us, I believe, that there was not so much a 'change' ( I Corinthians 15:52 ) in the covenant that took place, as a 'change' within those with whom He had covenanted. It is this 'change', I believe, that is the whole point of the resurrection!
The Greek ἀνάστασις, or 'anastasis', simply means, according to Thayer's Lexicon, 'a raising, rising up ( as from a seat)'. As tradition has dictated for the past couple hundred years, anyway; this term involves a literal, physical rising from the dead, as in the resurrection of Jesus and numerous other notable resurrections throughout Scripture, but I believe that a more careful and contextual reading of those passages, and others like them, will reveal that these were simply signs that those witnessing might believe ( John 11:14, 26 & 42 ).
'Resurrection', as noted, again, by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is also used metaphorically, one might say, in phrases such as, for example, 'He was enjoying the resurrection of his career', and 'a resurrection of an old theory', and quite often, in Scripture, did refer to a rising to life ( physical ) of the biologically dead, but as we can see, from examples like those above, and even within the pages of the Bible, 'resurrection' need not always refer to a re-animation of biological bodies.
'And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.'
The above quotation, from the fourth chapter of Romans ( verse 19 ), referring to the birth of the 'son of promise' ( Genesis 18:1-15 ( Romans 9:9 ( Galatians 4:21-31 ), is not the first place that one usually looks to for a glimpse of the resurrection, but a resurrection it was, in that sense, because God took Sarah's 'dead' womb, Abraham's 'dead' body, and brought them to life, to symbolically, and eventually, bring to Light the true Life ( John 14:6 )!
Ezekiel 37, and 'the valley of dry bones', is a passage that some have pointed to as indicative of a physical resurrection, not to mention, a return of the physical children of Abraham to their 'Home-land' ( but that's another story for another day, perhaps, although it's been told before, I believe ). We must remember, first, that this was a vision, much like the Revelation that John saw, revealing a spiritual truth, using physical 'pictures'. In verses 4-9; one may note the parallels to the creation account in Genesis 2:7, and covenantally this could have some interesting, and potentially 'dangerous' implications, for if this is talking about a resurrection, metaphorically, of God's people from their own perceived 'deadness' ( hopelessness-verse 11 ), then what does that have to say about the creation account? Was Adam's the first 'resurrection'? Is the 'creation account' simply a symbolic and hyperbolic way of relating the 'birth of the covenant'?
'Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I [ am ] the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken [ it ] and performed [ it ].'
Scripture tells us, in Matthew 27:52, that 'the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised', and that after the resurrection of Jesus, after three days ( Hosea 6:2 ), they appeared in the holy city to many witnesses. Prior to the prophecy above, from Ezekiel 37, in verse 11; the 'whole house of Israel' perceived that 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!'. Because of their iniquities, they had been sold into captivity, and separated, not only from their 'land', but 'cut off' ( as they perceived it ) from the Presence of their God. This is what Ezekiel 37, and resurrection, is all about; not a physical return to a piece of real estate ( 'Holy', though it may be ), or of a re-animation of physical, biological ( flesh & bone ) bodies, but a return to the communion that God had promised beforehand, through His covenant. and as He also promised, in Isaiah 56:5, 'Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them[a] an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.' In verse 14, God promised, again, 'I will place you in your own land', and in the rest of the chapter, seems to lend credence to the notion of a physical return of Israel ( 'according to the flesh' ) to the 'land' of Palestine, but I believe that the context, not only of this chapter, but all of Scripture points, not an to actual piece of real estate, but to the metaphorical ( although quite real ) rest that we have in Him ( Hebrews 4:1-8 ( Hebrews 12:18-24 ). Compare the language of Ezekiel 37:21, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land', and Matthew 24:31, 'And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other'; some may argue that this is speaking of an actual literal gathering, into one place, but I believe that an honest exegesis of both of these passages, and like I said, the context of Scripture, will show that this gathering, though very real, is not physical, but is a metaphor for His redemptive work.
'Your dead shall live; [ together with ] my dead body[b] they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew [ is like ] the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.'
This verse, I believe, is a favorite among some, for removing from it's immediate context ( I should know; I was one of these ), but when one takes phrases such as 'you who dwell in dust', and then look back at verse 5, 'He brings it down to the dust' ( speaking of the lofty pride of Jerusalem ); one can see that He is not referring, in verse 19, to biological death, but to the abasement of prideful men.
The statement above comes from the midst of what is called by some, 'the little Apocalypse', from Isaiah chapters 24-27. Within this 'little Apocalypse', or pre-revelation, you might call it, God revealed that, through the adverse judgment of His enemies; He would also bring about the salvation of His people.Verses 12 & 13 of chapter 27 reveal also, a gathering of His people from the nations. In verse 6 of chapter 25, which reads 'in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees', speaking, yet again, of a gathering of His people into one 'place', 'this mountain', for the feast that He prepared, bringing to mind passages like 'the marriage supper of the Lamb', in Revelation 19, Jesus' 'Parable of the Great Supper', in Luke 14:15-23, and the 'parable o the wedding feast', in Matthew 22:1-14. The 'bright spot', you might say, in the first chapter ( 24 ) of Isaiah's 'Apocalypse' is verses 14 & 15, which proclaims 'They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing; for the majesty of the LORD they shall cry aloud from the sea. Therefore glorify the LORD in the dawning light, the name of the LORD God of Israel in the coastlands of the sea', and although not speaking of an actual gathering ( of His people ). the next verse reveals that this praise and glorification will come from 'the ends of the earth'.
'Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, 'Peace to you.'
You may recall hearing the explanation of this event ( Luke 24:36b ) as relaying the fact that our 'resurrection body' will be able to pass through walls, and locked doors, as Jesus' body reportedly did. Is this the 'spiritual body' that Paul talked ( wrote ) about? As ridiculous as it may sound; it is quite possible, though not at all probable ( physics lesson, anyone? ) that a body could be tangible, as Jesus' body was 'proven' to be ( verse 38, John 20:19-27 ), and yet move through objects at will.
As I discussed the Covenant above, and the two iterations with which we are most familiar in Scripture, the 'old', or 'first' covenant, and the 'new covenant', within that Covenant; I believe, as Paul wrote much, though seemingly of individual bodies, of the corporate body. One small example I have given before is the marriage covenant, in which two, although still separate, individual people, are made 'one' ( Mark 10:6-9 ), but perhaps the most glaringly obvious, and well-known, example is when Paul wrote 'Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually' ( I Corinthians 12:27 ( Romans 12:5, Ephesians 3:1-7, 4:11 & 12 ( 5:23 ) Colossians 1:24 ( 2:11 ). As thus, then; I believe that the 'natural' and 'spiritual' bodies that Paul made reference to, were/are not individual bodies, per se, but of the corporate qualities of the respective 'covenants'.
The first covenant, that which God gave through Moses, may be ( almost ) truly said to have been a works-based 'covenant'( although Paul did write that 'by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified' ( Galatians 2:16 ( Romans 9:32 ), even as far back as Adam, because God did make stipulations; 'if you do this, I will do that'. These stipulations required perfect obedience, through the law, and if one did not abide by that law; he suffered severe consequences. The whole point of the law, as Paul said, was that it served as 'our tutor [ to bring us ] to Christ, that we might be justified by faith', as we read earlier, in Galatians 3:24. As such then, the whole point of that first 'covenant' ( with man ) was not the revelation of law ( of works-Galatians 3:19 ), but the Revelation of the ( true ) Law ( the faith of Christ ( God )-Galatians 3:10 ), to show His people that their works could never prove them, but that it was only through the faith ( fulness ) of Christ that they had any hope.
We now get to the essence of what a spiritual body is, what makes it spiritual.
I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.
Some people believe, and I have been known to postulate, that, as we are, in reality, spirit-beings ( 'we are not our bodies' ); upon the expiration of this biological body, we become our true selves, with purely spiritual bodies. I agree, in the sense that we are not to be defined by our bodies ( our hairstyle, piercings ( or NOT ), or our clothes ), but by our spirit/Spirit, which is the real 'us', but which will, in one way or the other be 'proven' by our actions while in this physical existence. What is referred to above might well be called a spirit-body, for though, as we know it, or understand it, a spirit has no physical essence, but is corporeal, nonetheless.
Paul wrote, to the Corinthian Church, 'These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy[d] Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know [ them ], because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is [ rightly ] judged by no one.' ( I Corinthians 2:13-15 ) Contrasting this with what he later told them, in I Corinthians 15:44-46, 'It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.”[d] The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.', we may begin to understand the essence, or make-up, of the spiritual body.
When a chapter or passage begins like this; we know that we had better pay attention to what the writer was saying in the previous passage or chapter, before he wrote, 'Moreover'. Paul, in chapter 14, had been reminding the Corinthians ( they seemed to have a problem with remembering ) of the correct ( appropriate ) order of things. They seemed to have forgotten, in part, at least, the gospel ( good news ) which Paul had originally preached to them, in particular, for some reason, they were questioning the fact of the resurrection, namely, and first of all, Christ's, then even the gospel promise of theirs. This is almost purely speculation, but the story that the Jews circulated after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, that 'His disciples came at night and stole Him [ away ] while we slept', may, through the influx of the Judaizers, have found its way into the Corinthian church. Whatever the case may be, we have been blessed, and sometimes stymied, by 'the resurrection chapter'!
'And if Christ is not risen, your faith [ is ] futile; you are still in your sins!'
So wrote Paul in response to their critical questioning of the fact of the resurrection. Some ( most maybe ) have postulated, gathering from this, that it was not only Jesus' sacrifice that paid the debt ( ? ) for the sins of His people ( Matthew 1:21 ), but that He must also needs have risen from the grave, thus showing that He had conquered death for all.
'For the wages of sin [ is ] death, but the gift of God [ is ] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord'
What 'death' is Paul talking about here? There is much and long-standing disagreement over whether Paul was speaking of physical, biological ( worm-eaten ) death, or whether he was speaking of what some call 'spiritual death' ( I have been known to use this term too ). This argument continues, in reverse, all the way back to 'the death' of Adam; did he physically die in the day that he ate? Some have argued that the text ( Genesis 2:17 ) implies that Adam would begin to die ( physically ) the day that he ate, or that the construction of the warning phrase should be taken to mean that 'in the day' meant that within his lifetime ( in his 'day' ) he would die. The text does plainly imply, though, that Adam was separated from the Presence of God, when he was 'booted' from the Garden, where was the Tree of Life, 'lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever' ( Genesis 3:22 ).
The Gospels show us plainly, as Paul found the need to repeat to the Corinthians, that Christ did, indeed, physically rise from the dead, but I believe that this was merely a sign to the unbelieving Jews ( including most of the disciples, who still didn't really understand ), as was the 'resurrection' of Lazarus, that He had actually done what He came to do; to save His people from their sins, by conquering ( abolishing ) 'the death' of Adam! Just think what the Corinthians would have said if Paul hadn't been able to tell them about all the witnesses of Jesus' resurrection; they might have, because of the Judaizers, said 'aha, they're right; He didn't really rise from the dead, like He said He would; His disciples just stole the body'!
Why would Paul tell the Corinthians that if the Resurrection had not occurred, they were still in their sins?
'[ There is ] therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.'
In verse 17 of I Corinthians 15; Paul wrote that 'if Christ is not risen, your faith [ is ] futile; you are still in your sins!' The simple answer is that if Christ had not shown that death had been conquered, by rising from the grave ( remember Lazarus ), then how would they know, as Paul had preached, that their sins had been paid for, that they had been redeemed? In the quote above, from Romans 8:1 ( although the N/U text does not contain the latter part of the verse, the phrase 'who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit' does appear elsewhere in Paul's writings ( even in the same chapter ( verse 4 ), so I believe that this is a safe assumptive clarification ); Paul pointed out to his readers, to his brethren, really, that there was no more law that could condemn them, because they were now part of the Body of Christ. Being now part of the Body of Christ, through the 'new covenant' ( Isaiah 42:6 ), the law, since it had been fulfilled by Jesus ( perfectly ), no longer condemned them to death, being superseded ( and 'bettered'-Hebrews 8:6 ) by the grace of God, through Jesus the Christ!
Later, in Romans 8:6; Paul told them that 'to be carnally minded [ is ] death, but to be spiritually minded [ is ] life and peace.' What is it to be 'spiritually minded'? Is it not the same, would you think, as to walk 'according to the Spirit', and to be 'carnally minded', to 'walk according to the flesh'? I believe that Paul was telling them that the carnal mind-set was to live according to the old covenant law, which only brought death, since no one could keep it perfectly, but that if, or since, they 'walked' according to, or in the Spirit ( 'But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you' ), which is the grace of God in Jesus, they would truly live ( forever-John 11:26 )!
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know [ them ], because they are spiritually discerned.
In I Corinthians 15:46; Paul wrote, 'However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual', in answer to their foolish question, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?' He was saying, comparing the two passages, that those who were 'imprisoned' by the old covenant ( law , and thus 'carnal' ( I Corinthians 3:1-4 ), were the opposite of those who did receive the Spirit ( of Christ ), and thus were able to 'spiritually' discern the Truth, that it was through grace, and not through works ( of the law ) that one was justified ( Romans 3:20 )!
In the article, 'A Spiritual Body', which I wrote several years ago; I discussed the notion that verses 33 & 34 of I Corinthians 15 presented a turning point, on which Paul's discussion of Christ's Resurrection, upon which theirs hinged, became a discussion of a different sort of resurrection, a spiritual resurrection. He wrote 'Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak [ this ] to your shame'.
'Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.'
Paul, in Ephesians 5:14, wrote these words in the midst of a plea to 'Walk as children of light', and to 'have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness', but on the contrary, to expose them for what they were, useless ( dead ) works of the law. Aside from the fact, as I have mentioned elsewhere, that 'sleep' is often used Scripturally to denote physical death, it can also signify, as Paul wrote above, a realization of some previously unknown fact. The churches continued to be full of those that were weak-minded, and open to the suggestion of the Judaizers ( imperative, really ) that one must be circumcised and keep the whole law in order to enter the Kingdom.
In the sense that Paul spoke the words above; I think it is safe to assume that Paul wrote to encourage them to open their eyes, to remember the Gospel of Christ that he had preached to them, not that they were physically dead, as is usually assumed abut Daniel 12:2. These, though alive in Christ, had begun to revert, trying to gain righteousness rather than just accepting the Righteousness of Christ. Many in the Church today face much the same situation.
As 'we' ( the bride/wife of Christ/God ) continue to have our 'eyes' opened, realizing the true nature of God's Word, and the glorious implications of fulfillment; may we ever remember that is is because of the New Covenant that we are able, not only to discern this spiritual Truth, but to live out our lives, in spiritual body, or maybe more correctly, in THE spiritual Body, which is the Church, the Body of Christ!
Charles Haddon Shank