1 Corinthians 15:44—Is the resurrection body material or immaterial?

Problem: Paul declares that the resurrection body is a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), but a spiritual body is an immaterial body. However, elsewhere the Bible says Jesus’ resurrection body was made of “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).

Solution: A “spiritual” body denotes an immortal body, not an immaterial body. A “spiritual” body is one dominated by the spirit, not one devoid of matter. The Greek word pneumatikos (translated “spiritual” here) means a body directed by the spirit, as opposed to one under the dominion of the flesh. It is not ruled by flesh that perishes, but by the spirit that endures (1 Cor. 15:50–58). So “spiritual body” does not mean immaterial and invisible, but immortal and imperishable. This is clear from several facts:

First, notice the parallelism mentioned by Paul:

The complete context indicates that “spiritual” (pneumatikos) could be translated “supernatural” in contrast to “natural.” This is made clear by the parallels of perishable and imperishable and corruptible and incorruptible. In fact, this same Greek word (pneumatikos) is translated “supernatural” in 1 Corinthians 10:4 when it speaks of the “supernatural rock that followed them in the wilderness” (rsv).

Second, the word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in 1 Corinthians refers to material objects. Paul spoke of the “spiritual rock” that followed Israel in the wilderness from which they got “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:4). But the OT story (Ex. 17; Num. 20) reveals that it was a physical rock from which they got literal water to drink. But the actual water they drank from that material rock was produced supernaturally. When Jesus supernaturally made bread for the five thousand (John 6), He made literal bread. However, this literal, material bread could have been called “spiritual” bread (because of its supernatural source) in the same way that the literal manna given to Israel is called “spiritual food” (1 Cor. 10:3).

Further, when Paul spoke about a “spiritual man” (1 Cor. 2:15) he obviously did not mean an invisible, immaterial man with no corporeal body. He was, as a matter of fact, speaking of a flesh and blood human being whose life was lived by the supernatural power of God. He was referring to a literal person whose life was Spirit directed. A spiritual man is one who is taught by the Spirit and who receives the things that come from the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13–14). The resurrection body can be called a “spiritual body” in much the same way we speak of the Bible as a “spiritual book.” Regardless of their spiritual source and power, both the resurrection body and the Bible are material objects.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.