Summary: Year C Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany February 18th, 2001

Year C Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany February 18th, 2001

Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church

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By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor


1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Title: “Exchanging our earthly body for a Heavenly Body”

Throughout chapter fifteen Paul has been reflecting on the resurrection of the dead. In these verses Paul compares two “bodies,” both human, one earthly or “natural,” the other heavenly or “spiritual.”

In verses thirty-five to forty-four he reverses the focal point of verses twelve to nineteen. Having established the resurrection of the dead by citing the example of Christ, he holds that if there is resurrection it must be “of the body.” However, he makes the profound point that there are different types of human body, one suited for earth, the other, after death, suited for heaven. Just as the planted seed looks very different at the end of the process of growth when it flowers as a plant, yet comes from the source-seed, so, too, the resurrected body will be different, if from the same source, stuff, material as the earthly body. Resurrection is not re-animation of precisely the same materials arranged and related to each other as when buried. Personal identity does not require such material reconstitution. The earthly is perishable, un-glorious, weak, limited in space, subject to illness and aging. The resurrected body is the mirror image of that. It is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual and eternal. The old human body is adapted and shaped by the Spirit of God for a completely different mode of existence. Paul is plainly using the example of Christ’s resurrected body. Thus, we can know something of this “body” but not more than has been revealed or can be imagined on the basis of revelation. Apparently, we do not need to know much more for now. The rest will be revealed to us after we physically die.

In verse forty-five, “the first Adam…the last Adam”: Paul accepts Adam as an historical figure, but here he is referring to the “archetypal human.” Underlying this is the notion of “corporate personality” wherein everything is present in the first human that has come out in subsequent humanity. Adam stands for humanity in general. Humanity is as limited as he. As a living being he “received” life. Christ, also an historical figure, but the archetype of a new creation, is presented as a giver of life. The reference to the “last Adam” comes from Philo, a Jewish philosopher, who discerned two Adams from the two creation accounts in Genesis (Gen1: 1-4a and 2:4b-3).

In verse forty-six, “but the spiritual was not first”: Philo held that first came the spiritual Adam, made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). The second, and therefore last, Adam is made of “dust from the ground endowed with a living soul” (Gen 2:7 quoted in v. 45). In contrast to that Paul makes clear that the earthly Adam came, obviously, first and then came Christ. It is a matter of history, a fact of history, one capable of empirical verification.

In verse forty-seven, “from earth…from heaven”: Paul is setting up a dichotomy that he would not want to press too far. He understands Christ as infusing the “heavenly” into the “earthly” realm. They are not mutually exclusive. Here, for the sake of argument, he is making a clear-cut distinction. However, in 2Cor3: 18, he sees the glory of the heavenly inchoatively possessed already by those who are in Christ and growing “one degree at a time” into fullness, a fullness which will be completed after physical death.

In verse forty-eight, “as was the earthly one so also the earthly…heavenly one…heavenly”: Paul, uncharacteristically, waxes philosophical. The “earthly one” means Adam and “earthly” is in the plural referring to humans, unredeemed. The “heavenly one” is Christ and the “heavenly” are Christians. In other words, what pertains to Adam pertains to all the unredeemed and what pertains to Christ pertains to Christians. The structure and point is similar to Christ’s dictum: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s….”

In verse forty-nine, “just as we have borne the image of the earthly one”: He now arrives at the point. “Image” is a very rich term, but here it means, “have the same sort of body as.” All have the “body of Adam” with all its limitations.

“We shall also bear the image of the heavenly one”: The glorified or resurrected body will resemble that of Christ’s resurrected body. It will be as real as Christ’s body, but “real” as defined in eternal terms, not earthly ones.

Paul returns to the Christian doctrine of the “two realms”-the earthly and the heavenly, the material and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal- in order to frame his thoughts on the resurrection of the body. He is in virgin territory, however. Not many thinkers before him had tackled the question. Oh, there was Philo, the Jewish philosopher, but he was not much help, except for his notion of the two Adams. No, Paul was stepping out of his “earth ship” into “outer space” and he knew it. Yet, he had God’s revelation within him and he wanted to share it, no matter how “far out” it might seem at first.

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