So far Paul has discussed the resurrection under five heads. Today we add a sixth.
• evangelistically: Paul’s gospel is Christ died for our sins, He was buried and He arose on the third day. Thus the resurrection is essential to gospel preaching. (V. 3)
• historically: He was seen by Peter, the twelve, over 500 people simultaneously, by James (Jesus’ half brother), then by all the apostles, and finally Paul. (V.5ff)
• logically: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, as some Corinthians were teaching, then Christ has not been raised” (I Cor. 15:13).
• theologically: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man” (I Cor. 15:21).
• personally: “If I fought wild animals . . . what good did that do me? If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (I Cor. 15:32).
• scientifically: “And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed” (I Cor. 15:37).
I Cor. 15:35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?” 36 Foolish one! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same flesh; there is one flesh for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is different from that of the earthly ones. 41 There is a splendour of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars; for one star differs from another star in splendour.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; 43 sown in dishonour, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; 44 sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, then the spiritual.
47 The first man was from the earth and made of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the man made of dust, so are those who are made of dust; like the heavenly man, so are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man made of dust, we will also bear the image of the heavenly man.
The Bible and Science
Now, as I said a few moments ago, Paul has already defended the reality of the resurrection by several lines of evidence and reason. And as his crowning argument, he put forward his own life as proof the resurrection is real.
How so? Well, back in verse 8 he identified himself as an eye-witness, he had seen the risen Lord! But that’s an easy claim to make. The fact is, almost anyone can claim to be an eye-witness to almost any event that happened in his lifetime. I suppose as a former Texan I could claim to be an eye-witness to the assassination of President Kennedy, and you might find it difficult to prove me wrong.
But in verses 30-32 Paul puts forward his transformed life as proof of the resurrection. Beforehand, he had hated Jesus of Nazareth and sought to imprison and kill those who believed in Him. But after he had seen the Lord he became a passionate proclaimer of Christ, passionate to the point of sustained self-sacrifice.
In the face of hardships and death, Paul refused to stop preaching the gospel. You would think such an about face by such a distinguished Jew would have been proof enough that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
But if you did think that, you would be wrong. No matter how much evidence and reason Paul produced to defend the resurrection, there were still skeptics, at Corinth and elsewhere, who felt they could use science to eliminate all possibility that a man could rise from the dead.
You see their skepticism in today’s text, verse 35. Here’s the paraphrase: “So tell me again how the dead are raised? Explain, please, how disintegrated bodies reconstitute themselves.” In answer Paul gives these skeptics the science behind resurrection.
Now, at first glance you might not notice that Paul is discussing the resurrection scientifically because he doesn’t use modern sciencey-sounding language. Nevertheless, I submit that in this passage, Paul is speaking scientifically as he defends and explains how the resurrection works. Take a quick look at this chart explaining the scientific method.
Seven principles of the scientific method
1. Observe and describe
7. Refine theories through further testing
I’m not going to expound on these principles, but I mention them in order to make an important point. All science begins with careful observation and clear description of whatever has been observed. But this leads to a problem. Where there is no observation, there can be no science.
The basic problem with both the origin of human life and the end of the world is this; there are no observers, or at least no human observers, at either end of history. Thus anything anyone might say about origins and endings, apart from the Bible, is guesswork.
This is also why the Bible is different from all other books. It declares a God Who is outside time, Who sits above time, but Who can step into time (resurrection), and Who has declared all that will ever happen in time. Thus when it comes to authoritative statements about beginnings and endings, the Bible alone is a trustworthy witness. Everything else is inference from insufficient data at best.
Isaiah 46:9 Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me. 10 I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will.
Paul is a scientist
In speaking of seeds and plants, and different kinds of flesh, as well as different kinds of glory amongst the stars (vv. 38-41), Paul is as scientific as Isaac Newton or anybody else who observes and describes what’s going on for the purpose of understanding it. Be careful not to let a false sense of superiority seep in to your thinking just because Paul used simple vocabulary.
Modern man tends to reject Paul’s statements about the resurrection because, they say, he would not have known about such things as DNA, or proteins and amino acids. But then Newton knew nothing about the makeup of the planets and stars whose motions he explained so well. Yet he is still considered one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.
No scientist should ever be required to explain everything. It is enough if he describes and explains one thing in a useful and understandable way. So, to be clear, as Paul explains the resurrection in very simple terms—terms anyone in the world can understand—he is, nevertheless, speaking scientifically. He is telling us what we will see when the resurrection takes place.
Btw, while we’re on the subject of Newton, let me lay one rumour to rest. Sir Isaac Newton may have mapped the motion of the stars, but he did not write Stairway to Heaven. That was Robert Plant with Led Zeppelin.
Paul explains the resurrection scientifically
1. The principle of the seed (v.36-37)
a. The seed is designed to give itself up (to die) so that it can be transformed into something quite unlike its original state. Here we see the amazing creative power of God!
b. The principle of the seed involves continuity (the seed and the plant are directly connected), as well as transformation (the plant looks nothing like the seed).
c. Paul is saying that our resurrection bodies will relate to our present bodies in much the same way. The new living body will be so much more than a mere reconstruction of the old body.
d. So know this! As one commentator puts it: “For the believer, the fulness of life lies not on this side of the grave but in the glorious age to come. Resurrection involves a new creation.”
2. The principle of God the Creator (v.38)
a. At no point in our lives can we afford to ignore the sovereign power of our Creator God.
b. Just as He bestows spiritual gifts upon us as He wills (I Cor. 12:4-11), so God grants to each of us the resurrection body that He has determined best suits His eternal purposes.
Paul takes pains to demonstrate the endless variety of God’s creativity, and in so doing he makes the point that we must never limit God by our own powers of imagination. We only want more of what we’ve had (“Oh, to be 20 again!”). God wants to give us things the human mind cannot begin to conceive in a new heaven and new earth. So, stop imagining God reconstituting our old bodies. The graves won’t open. God’s not going on the ultimate scavenger hunt to find all your scattered molecules. Instead you should start thinking about a new creation, in which your renewed body will match your renewed spirit.
Limits of imagination
Richard Halliburton was a famous travel writer of the 1920s and 30s. The key to his success was his willingness to go beyond the beaten path. For instance, he and pilot Moye Stephens flew a Stearman biplane across the Sahara desert in 1931, visiting Timbuktu and even more remote points along the way. He tells of landing at an oasis many miles from any other source of water.
The local sheikh took him to see the spring that was the source of life for the handful of people living there. A steady flow watered a few date palms and some goats, but the land was so dry the little stream didn’t even get out of sight before it disappeared in the desert sand. Nevertheless, the sheikh was overflowing with pride at his good fortune. To the man who had flown over oceans he asked, “Did you ever see so much water?”
Now try to get such a man to imagine a rainforest. You would find he could not do it, not because he lacked imagination but because he had nothing to compare it too—nothing analagous and no pictures. In the same way, we cannot imagine the glories God has for us in days to come.
Philippians 3:19b [Enemies of the cross of Christ] are focussed on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself.
Paul’s explanation continued
3. The principle of the endless variety of God’s creative powers (v.39-42)
a. This we see in nature (humans, animals, birds, fish, stars, etc.). But now Paul speaks authoritatively (Spirit-inspired speech) and applies these same principles from nature to the resurrection.
b. The same Creator God who inspired the glories of the natural world will do something similar, yet far greater in the resurrection (v. 42-44)
i. Please note that the reference in verse 44 to “natural” bodies and “spiritual” bodies does not mean “material” and “immaterial.” Both bodies are very much material, but one body is oriented toward earth, and the things of earth, while the other is oriented toward heaven, and the things of heaven.
ii. Bodies that are able to die (natural, earthly bodies), will die. But the new bodies Christ creates for us will not even be able to die (they are spiritual and heavenly).
iii. Bodies that are spiritually dead because of sin will be replaced by bodies that are filled with purity and wholeness—we will enjoy a heavenly, holy, Christ life.
iv. Bodies that are of this earth will be replaced by bodies that are of heaven (see v. 48-49)
When we are born again we have the Holy Spirit, and that means we experience the transforming work of the Spirit upon our hearts and a minds, for the purpose of progressively putting us in sync with God.
But no matter how much we may wish otherwise, we are still saddled with an unrenewed body, what Paul in Romans 7 calls “the flesh,” a “body of death” filled with “sinful passions” that continuously drags us away from Christ.
For example, our bodies often desire sleep just as we realize we ought to pray. The body wants to indulge its appetites at the most inopportune moments, It wants too much and always it wants what it wants at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or for the wrong purposes. It thinks only of itself.
The true Christian longs to receive a spiritual body (v.44) that will correspond to his spiritual heart. Imagine if you had a body that was all for aiding and supporting your highest impulses.
Suppose your body automatically fell on its knees the moment you had the thought, “I should pray!” What if your body always seconded every motion toward obedience? What if it supported all your good intentions? Well, that’s exactly what’s going to happen at the resurrection.
I John 3:2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure.
Dear friends, all this is science, because it is a description of what will be observed at the resurrection! This is the truth of what will happen to us at the end of the world!
The question is, what will the resurrection reveal about you? Will you be found a person of earth? Or a person of heaven? That’s the whole point of verse 48-49.
Now do you see why Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again?” Now do you see why Jesus said, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God?”