"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

soma psychikon or soma pneumatikon?

with 3 comments

6 May 2012, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
St John the Evangelist, Edmonton

Pray. We are continuing in our quick walk through 1 Corinthians 15. Last week Don spoke compellingly about the biblical end game, and how we know that God is not yet, in Paul’s words, “all in all”. We are still in the time of working out, of completion, and this leads to many things that are not so nice in this present life: that death still reigns, that we are still subject to the World, the Flesh (sarx) and the devil, bad things happen to ‘good’ people, and there is pain and suffering.

This week Paul goes on to give us an involved description about what the resurrection body will be like, as he continues this systematic argument against the wrong thought of the Corinth Christians. It sounds like the Corinth Christians had began to believe they were already living the full life promised, they had already adopted a spiritual body and this set them apart from those who were living merely an earthy life. The reason they had reached this conclusion was the obvious action of God’s Spirit in their communities, manifested through great gifts of the Spirit. Paul, in his analysis of the Corinthian belief, finds that they are not resurrected bodies but rather the usual sort of human bodies with a healthy dose of the flesh. The Corinthians rejected the resurrection as they imagined the resurrection of the dead focused on only the earthy, psyche bodies, in short, they were picturing a zombie resurrection, the reanimation of mere corpses. This is not what we’re talking of.

Before I get into the text, I wanted to pass a brief word about thermodynamics. That’s right, I did say thermodynamics, and in particular the second law of thermodynamics that involves something called entropy. You will recall that Don briefly mentioned that the Greek word translated as shame, entropen, is a common root to the word used by scientists and engineers to describe a natural law – entropy which loosely refers to the amount of disorder. One theory of the universe says that the entire physical reality is following this natural law of entropy, and we are unceasingly heading towards a future when all physical reality is highly disordered and the temperature of the entire reality becomes absolute zero (not a brand of Vodka, but the temperature at which all molecular motion ceases). A pretty dismal future for the creation, isn’t it? In that reality, the natural future of the body you are presently wearing is a progressive move to lower states of energy and order, until you are merely molecules blowing on the wind. If that is the end of the story it leaves a pretty dismal future for all that you are, doesn’t it?

This is the reality of the world we live in right now, and the reality of the before time, before God becomes “all in all”. We are subject to natural laws of this world. My friend and co-worker who was close to death two weeks ago, and is now under treatment for leukemia, is living that reality. All of us here, who in any way have experienced the process of aging, disease or suffering know that being subject to these natural laws…which mean the slow unwinding of our physical being as we too move to a state of increased disorder and lower energy…can be a challenging place to be. Now, if I was an atheist engineer, who knew all about thermodynamics and the theoretical ultimate fate of the creation, I’m not sure how I would get up out of bed each day. It is a pretty hopeless view of reality. It leads to the fatalistic thinking of last week: let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. The reality of the world after the resurrection of Christ is much different that this gloomy view from science, and that is because science is limited to only the natural laws of this physical reality. With the resurrection of Christ an irresistible force is set loose within the creation which drives toward only one end game, which is the remaking of the entirety of creation. From the perspective of science, such a suggestion is completely in the realm of the irrational. How can the arrow of time, that pushes us forward as an irresistible force, possibly be altered? The process we’ll investigate today is one that is beyond time, not constrained by the natural laws that govern our present reality, but rather a super-natural process guided by God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ. Paul describes not the reanimation or resuscitation of corpses in some God-driven zombie movie, but rather the transformation of the physical body, even while quite dead, into a perfected and glorified body.

In the first 34 verses of this chapter we have heard Paul speak about the dead, as in, ‘if the dead are not raised’. At this point there is a transition in his argument, marked out in the first verse (35) and he moves from talking about the dead, to talking about the body, “By what agency are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” This is a significant transition because the focus of Paul’s argument today is on the physical reality of the resurrection, so the body, this body, is a crucial part of that process and his language shifts from corpse to body (soma).

Paul first turns to the creation account of Genesis to set out his argument. He first outlines how all aspects of the creation have their own specific nature, by God’s will: the seeds all have their particular bodies, as God has chosen. Each being has its own type of flesh: one for humans, one for animals, one for birds and one for fish, as God has established it. If you look to the sky, you can see the heavenly bodies, each with its own particular type of glory, one for the heavens, one for the earth, another for the sun, moon and stars, and indeed each star is unique. There are many different types of bodies, as God has willed it. Paul makes an argument from experience, and establishes those things which any person can see on their own: tigers and eagles are different, so too humans and antelope, each reflecting a particular glory of God’s very good creation. Likewise all of the heavenly bodies each have their own particular glory, distinguishing them from each other.

In verse 42 comes the pivot of this sequence where Paul links this argument from experience with the point he has been driving toward, the real nature of the resurrected body. After establishing that God’s very good creation is unique in all aspects, he now goes on to say: if the uniqueness of the creation is so distinct everywhere you look, how can it be that the resurrection body is not similarly distinct from the pre-resurrection body? What follows is a specific description of the resurrection body as contrasted with the pre-resurrection body.

Paul uses two terms here for the two bodies: the natural body is the soma psychikon (psoo-khee-kos’), a ‘soulish’ or earthy body while the spiritual body is the soma pneumatikon (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’). The spiritual body, the resurrected body is literally the body of Spirit, in that word that we draw pneuma from, literally a body ‘of the breath’ (of God). He begins his analysis by talking about planting, using the same word for sowing as in verse 36 and sets up a comparison/contrast beginning at verse 42 telling us the nature of the new body (sown / raised slide).

And if we know there is a natural body, it follows that there is a spiritual body – it is the same soma body in both descriptions, but the nature has changed. This new body will have a status, a glory, of which we presently know nothing. As Paul writes in Philippians 3: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The process Paul describes is one of becoming that which you were designed to be, but not what is realized in the present. There is also an interesting play on the word glory here (doxa), which in the Greek can mean the radiance of a heavenly body like the sun, but also God’s glory. So the heavenly bodies with their own glory (radiance) offer an image of the resurrected body, raised in God’s glory. It also reminds us of the Revelation text describing the New Jerusalem, which is completely lit by God’s glory, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21)

At this point Paul dives back into Genesis and brings out that first man, Adam contrasted against the last Adam. As we heard last week: “for as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead/for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (vs 21-22). Adam’s disobedience brings death into the world, and Christ by his obedience defeats death on the cross. Adam is destined to sweat and till the earth, while Christ ends the toil of plough. Adam’s being ages and unwinds, while Christ lives eternally unchanging. Adam received life from God, while Christ instead gives life to all.

This is the reason that Christ is called the last Adam, as his ministry, death, resurrection and ascension effectively undo the death and destruction that Adam brought into the world. So this is the theme that Paul introduces: the first Adam became a living being, and the word (psoo-khee-kos’) is used so there is no doubt that the first Adam had a soma psychikon. The last Adam, by contrast is a life-giving Spirit, and again this other word soma pneumatikon (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’). What comes first is the earthy, soulish body; what comes last is the spiritual body. The first human came from the earth, the last Adam, the second human is literally the Master out of heaven.

Just a word here on translations: you will have heard in the translation we use in our church readings, the NRSV, that verse 44 was set out as ‘sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body’. This is not good, and the reason it is not good is that it sets up a path of wrong teaching, that is directly contrary to what Paul is talking about. We do not lose the physical body and fly up to the heavens with a spiritual body…rather Paul is telling us that the physical body will be transformed through the resurrection into a physical body perfected and infused with the pneumatikon of God. The older Jerusalem Bible renders the verse this way, “when it is sown it embodies the soul; when it is raised it embodies the Spirit”. So be cautious in the use of translations, because the word choice can lead to some confusion about what is being described. Even the division used in many other translations natural/spiritual has some problems.

The reason this division is so important is that we are still experiencing the effects of ancient Greek philosophy, including several religious groups that actively promote such a view. At a family funeral I attended I was told by the pastor in the sermon that we were all destined to leave behind our suffering physical body to gain a perfected spiritual body. No. We lean into this idea as a part of our Enlightenment heritage, because the physical-spiritual dichotomy sets up for us the idea that our present bodies are empirical, that is, we can measure them using science, so they represent a tangible reality. The ‘spiritual’ body, on the other hand, we see through science as somehow being in a different world, one that could not be weighed, or X-rayed or measured. This is how that Greek philosophy traps us, as it plays nicely into our minds conditioned to see an empirical world that can be observed, and a hidden world of the spirit. This is not what Paul is talking about…and Paul’s description is clear that the resurrection body will still be observable according to science, although I expect some of our natural laws to have some different effect. For example, Jesus appears to his disciples, invites them to touch him, to feel the wounds he still carries, and he eats fish, all very fleshy, soulish things. Then he disappears from a locked room, a very celestial, spiritual thing. The resurrection body carries with it the attributes of our present bodies, but at the same time is something different.

If that sounds at all familiar to you, it should, because that language is very much the same we use to describe what happens in our communion service. The bread and the wine, both tangible, physical things, known to science, are transformed into something different. Still bread and wine, but infused with a reality that changes them in a fundamental way. We experience this resurrection reality each week, here when we gather as the Body of Christ.

Paul is not talking about a brand new body shell into which our spirit is dropped, like some kind of science fiction film about cloning. The process of resurrection is not some spiritualized loofah brush that helps us to slough off our old, corrupt bodies to reveal the pink and new resurrection body inside. It is not abandonment of the physical, but rather a new animation of the perfected physical by the creator’s own Spirit (Wright, 353). Indeed if that was what Paul was talking about he would not have used the Greek word anastasis, the resurrection, but would have used a word which only described the birth of a new body. We’re talking about a process that leaves behind an empty tomb, not a moldering corpse.

Instead, Paul sees the problem as not our fleshy, soulish bodies, but rather the sin and death that have taken up residence in our bodies, which in turn produces corruption, dishonour, frailty and weakness. Being human is good, a gift from God in fact, what is bad is the rebellion, the decay, the sin and death – as Don pointed out last week, these things are the enemy of God, not a characteristic of what God had created. What Paul desires is not some ‘astral immortality’ (which is also at home in many new age religions) but to stop the soul, the psyche from being the governing principle for the body, which leads to sin and death. Rather, the ultimate goal of the resurrection is to renew the soul through the full infusion of the pneuma, the Spirit of God. (this para is after NT Wright’s stunning treatment in The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 346, 2003) Paul uses as metaphor for this process his introductory discussion about seeds – when a seed is planted it dies, and loses the body it had before planting, but when the plant grows forth it still is fundamentally the seed in its essence, but is in a transformed body. Now this is not to be literal and to suggest that bodies planted in the ground will sprout trees, but to draw a parallel with something we all understand – the growth of plants from seeds.

The reason this truth is so critical, and the reason Paul argues from Genesis, is that the entire doctrine of creation is tied together in the resurrection. Displacing one part, in turn displaces the rest. God’s great plan involves the perfecting of what already once was perfect, but became corrupt. So the corrupt must put on incorruption; the lowly must put on glory; the weak must put on power. As Adam died, so too we will die. As the last Adam, that is Christ, was resurrected from the grave, leaving behind no body, so too will we be resurrected into Christ’s perfection. As the first Adam was formed of dust, so too now we are of the dust; but as the last Adam was from heaven; so too we shall be of heaven, by reason of Christ’s breaking open the path for us. For we of the Body of Christ, as we experience the unwinding of our bodies, and the suffering of this world, that is truly good news. Amen.

——————– (slides, maybe)

Sown in corruption / raised in incorruption
Sown in frailty / raised in glory
Sown in weakness / raised in power
Sown a soulish body / raised a spiritual body.
Sown a soma psychikon / raised a soma pneumatikon

A soulish body first / a spiritual body last
Soma psychikon / soma pneumatikon
Embodies the soul / embodies the Spirit
Adam 1: a human being (life receiving) / Adam last: a life-giving Spirit
Adam 1: earth-man / Adam last: the Lord out of heaven
Adam 1: dust man, all of us: clothed as dust people / Adam last: celestial one, all of us: clothed as the celestial one

(infused with ruach, (God’s Spirit through
God’s breath) the last Adam in heaven)
From earth -> Adam 1 -> “the fall” (soma psychikon) -> us -> soma pneumatikon

Snips unused….

Paul’s conclusion is that as we have worn the image of the man of soil, that which we wear today; so too we shall wear the image of the celestial one, Jesus. The word used here translated as ‘borne the image of’ means literally to wear a suit of clothes. It is important to get this part right, because we are still influenced strongly by Greek philosophy which set as the ultimate goal ‘astral immortality’, which is exactly that image of an ethereal soul flying free of the decaying body – death was an escape from the prison of the flesh (which does have a certain native attraction about it).

There is at once a continuity and a discontinuity in this process of the remaking. The body we wear with the last Adam is the body we wear now, but perfected. Here we have to avoid the trap of spiritualizing this process too much, as there are a number of heresies that involve the idea of casting off the mortal body completely. So our spirits do not swim up to heaven where God pulls a brand new set of clothes off the rack; rather our present bodies, through the grave and dissolution are re-gathered and remade as they are now, but completed the way the creation will be completed: the same thing but somehow more real than ever before.

This is one of the places where artistic pursuits can be a window into the resurrection. In a particularly moving piece of art, a sculpture or painting, a piece of writing that moves you to the core, or a song that brings you close to God, you can see for a brief instant an image of that perfected being that is at once in continuity with the first Adam, but has also been completely remade into the form of the last Adam.

It is difficult to get your head around, and ultimately all Christian faith centres around this one question that we sometimes ask aloud, but more often ask in the quiet of our own heart: can it possibly be true?

I started out by talking about the arrow of time. We are constrained here to that arrow of time, and with each passing moment there are cells in our bodies that are dying, and with each passing moment our physical system is a bit less capable in replacing those dead cells with new ones. Past a certain point in life, regardless of how we struggle against it, there is an increasing realization about the unwinding of our being. Our culture wars against this, and you only need to look at media for a few moments to appreciate the enormous effort focused on keeping ourselves unaware of that unwinding. There is only so much Rogaine, botox and time in Pilates classes that we can spend, before we too will be confronted with the reality of that arrow of time…and we can only slow the impact of time for so long.

Our culture is actively engaged in this denial of reality, which is a denial of death. Rather than the perspective of Paul…who will tell us next week that in the twinkling of an eye we shall all be changed…the culture says that to die is to end, and therefore it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Yet Paul assures us, as does Jesus, that the very essence of who we are will never be lost, as it will be gathered back and perfected. Here’s an example – consider marriage.

The Scriptures reflect the marriage of man and woman as a parallel for Christ’s union with His church. (Ephesians 5:22-23). Why is it that Jesus says to the Sadducees that people neither marry nor are given in marriage in heaven? (Mark 12:25) He tells us that when a man leaves his mother and father and marries a woman, the two become one, so there are no longer two people, but one person. (Mark 10:7-9) The reason for marriage, in this time of being soil-people, is because we are incomplete as we stand as individuals, and marriage, this union of two to become one, gives us a glimpse of the completeness that comes through union with God. In this world now we need marriage as a way of experiencing a brief glimpse of that eternal union with God that will come when we become spiritual-people. The reason there is no marriage in heaven is it is not needed, because all dwell in perfect union with God all the time. That completeness that we glimpse through our human relationships becomes the reality of forevermore. So, in our heavenly life, it is not that we forget our spouse once in heaven, but that when both of us are in that perfect union with God it brings about a perfection that makes the marriage a pale image of the present reality.


Written by sameo416

May 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Wow.

    Amelia McGough

    October 4, 2013 at 7:57 am

  2. Could someone provide me with the citation information quoted in this study? NT Wright is mentioned but the citations are in-text only (full citation should be listed at the bottom but isn’t). I would like to see the original material.

    Amelia McGough

    October 4, 2013 at 7:59 am

    • Hi Amelia, thanks for the comments!

      Are there bits in particular you’re interested in being cited? Most of the material was drawn from Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, which are the brief citations. The remainder is mostly my analysis. I was using a particular commentary on Corinthians at the time, the title escapes me but it’s in my bookcase at home.

      I’ll run through my notes this weekend and add some more detail. If there are parts of particular interest, let me know and I’ll focus on those.

      For sermons I typically only put citations in place when I’m pulling an idea directly from an external source. If I’m synthesizing from a number of sources along with my own analysis & prayerful inspiration I’m more sloppy with attribution (the advantage of not having to submit the paper for grading).

      The sermon was part of a series preaching through 1 Corinthians 15…which used to be up on our parish website but I see they’re not available on the new website. http://www.sjechurch.ca



      October 4, 2013 at 8:41 am

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