First Corinthians 15--Flesh and Blood Not

Inheriting the Kingdom

Jason Dulle

The resurrection from the dead is the hope of the church. There are some Biblical statements, however, which have caused some to doubt a physical, bodily resurrection. One such example is Paulís statement in I Corinthians 15:50 where he said, "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption." Considering that the context of this statement is the resurrection, such a statement seems to argue powerfully against a physical, bodily resurrection of the dead. Did Paul intend to say that we will have spirit bodies in the afterlife, and not physical bodies? How are we to interpret "flesh and blood?" Taking this phrase at face value, divorced from its contextual setting, one would be inclined to interpret Paul to mean that believers will not have physical bodies in the kingdom of God. Viewed within its contextual setting, however, such a conclusion cannot be reached. In order to solve this interpretive dilemma we shall trace Paulís argument throughout I Corinthians 15.

It is important to understand that there were false theologies circulating around the Corinthian church. They were questioning the whole concept of the resurrection of the dead. They offered three challenges/questions to the doctrine, to the which Paul responded. The first challenge was simply their outright denial of a resurrection of the dead (v. 12). This was followed by questioning how the dead were raised, and finally, with what kind of body they would be raised with if, indeed, the dead are raised (v. 35).. The entire chapter surrounds these three questions.

Paul began his polemic with the simple declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Central to the gospel was the resurrection of Christ from the grave (1-4). To defend the reality of Jesus' physical resurrection, Paul named some of those who had seen His resurrected body: Peter, the Twelve, over 500, James, all the apostles, and Paul himself (5-8). If it was preached that Christ rose from the dead, how could some of the saints in the church of Corinth believe and declare that the dead are not raised (12)? Following this rhetorical question, Paul listed seven consequences of this belief: 1. Christ would not have risen from the dead (13); 2. Paul's preaching was useless (14); 3. The Corinthians' faith in Christ was useless (14); 4. Paul and companions would be found to be liars because they said Christ rose from the dead (15); 5. The Corinthiansí sins were not actually forgiven, but they were still in their sins (17); 6. Those who have already died having their faith in Christ have merely perished, and have no hope of an afterlife (18); 7. There is no hope, and therefore we are left in a miserable state (19).

Since six premises logically follow the first premise (the denial of resurrection from the dead) Paul went straight to the heart of the debate and knocked out all seven fallacies with one assertion: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfuits of them that slept" (20).. Jesus' resurrection proved that resurrection from the dead was possible. Being the first to rise from the dead, never to see death again, He would lead others to glory also (20-23).

Not only did Paul assert that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead, but he also argued for the logical necessity of His resurrection. Because Adam brought spiritual and physical death upon Himself and all mankind as our representative head, Christ had to rise from the dead so that He could bring spiritual and physical life to all who put their faith in Him, being our new representative head. Because death came by man (Adam), God had to become a man to bring life to those subject to the penalty of sin (deathóRomans 6:23; 8:2; Hebrews 2:9; 2:14-18; 5:7-9). This was accomplished by His resurrection from the dead. He reversed the effects of Adam's sin. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and are born again, we switch our identity from being "in Adam" to being "in Christ." Christ becomes our representative head, and thus we receive Christ's life and resurrection instead of Adam's death (21-22).

After establishing the truth and necessity of Christ's resurrection, Paul went on to speak of the order of the resurrection. Although Jesus would bring life to all who are in Him, they would not all receive it at the same time (22-23). There was an order. Jesus was the first man to be raised from the dead and receive a glorified body, but He was only the first of many to come. The next group to be raised is the church (23). When Jesus returns at the end of Danielís 70th week (tribulation), our physical bodies will be raised, and we will receive a glorified body like His (23, 51-54; I Thessalonians 4:14-17). The final stage of the resurrection will come at the end of the Millennium, which is the end of life on this present earth (24). This is the last resurrection wherein all who have not previously been raised will be raised. This is to occur at the time of the Great White Throne Judgement, immediately following the cessation of the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-15). That this last resurrection occurs at the end of the Millennium is evidenced by the discussion of the Son delivering up the kingdom to the Father (24, 27-28). Christ will reign until the last enemy, death, is destroyed (25-26). The ultimate destruction of death at the end of the age makes the resurrection of all mankind possible, whereas now it is not possible because death still reigns over allóbelievers and unbelievers alike (24-28).

Paul's second rebuttal consisted of three arguments: 1. Why are people baptized for the dead if the dead do not rise? (29); 2. Why are we (Paul and his missionary team) risking our lives for this message? (30); 3. If there is no resurrection, then why not live life for the moment, enjoying the pleasures of sin? (32).

What exactly Paul meant by "baptized for the dead" is not known for certain. I will not explore the possibilities here since it is beyond the scope of this paper, but let it suffice to say that whatever it was, it ran smack in the face to the idea that the dead do not rise (29). Baptizing for the dead had something to do with preparation for an afterlife, because Paul asked why the Corinthians would participate in this practice if it would not affect the dead. That they did baptize for the dead demonstrates that they did in fact believe in some sort of afterlife and were being hypocritical for denying the resurrection. Paul pointed out their inconsistency to further back up his claim for the resurrection.

Concerning the second argument, Paul asked the Corinthians what his purpose would be for preaching if there was no afterlife. He and his evangelistic team were risking their lives every hour for the sake of this message. This is why Paul could say "I die daily" (31).1 If the dead do not rise why would Paul have fought with those he calls "the beasts of Ephesus" (32)? Paul was spending his earthly life trying to convert people to Christ, many of which desired to kill him for his message. If there was no resurrection Paul would have been risking the only life he had for a useless cause. If the dead did not rise, what would Paul have been converting people to and converting them for? Whatever he would convert them to would only have temporal, not eternal effects.

The third argument dovetails the former. If this life is the end of all things, then the attitude we should adopt would be to "eat and drink for tomorrow we die" (32). Such is the mentality of those without a hope of resurrection. Paulís statement that bad company corrupts good manners (33) indicates that the Corinthians had adopted this philosophy from the heathen. Paul commanded them to awake to righteousness and quit sinning. This would occur once they embraced the doctrine of the resurrection, living for more than the day at hand; i.e. living for eternity.

Paul then turned his attention to the Corinthian's rebuttals. The two questions he quoted them as potentially raising must have been the very questions they were doting about in their minds, causing them to doubt the resurrection. These questions were: How are the dead raised up?; And if they were to be raised up, what kind of body would they have?

Paul addressed the fist question in verse thirty-five. He made it clear that one must first die, then they can be resurrected. So the dead are raised by first being dead. It seems very simple and basic, and it is; however, it is the foundational truth of the resurrection of the dead.

To answer the second question concerning the type of body the dead would be raised with, Paul went on to give three analogies. The first of these analogies was that of farming (37-38). When a farmer plants a certain type of seed, he realizes that what the seed grows into will be different than the seed originally planted. The seed is buried in the ground, dies, and then comes out as something other than the seed, yet it is still the seed. God determines what body different seeds will have (38).

The second analogy was that of living organisms (39). There are different types of flesh. There is a flesh of humans, animals, birds, and fish. The flesh of a human is not the same as the flesh of a bird. The flesh of a bird is not like the flesh of a fish.

The third and final analogy was that of the cosmos (40-41). The earth, sun, moon, and stars all have a glory and splendor about them, but their splendor varies and is not the same..

All of these analogies reveal the nature of the resurrection. We die a natural human body, but we are raised with an incorruptible body (42). Our bodies die in dishonor (because of sin), but are raised in glory (because of Christó43). Our bodies die in weakness, but are raised in power (43). Our bodies die as natural bodies, but are raised as spiritual bodies (glorified like Jesus'--44). Just as the seed planted becomes something different in appearance after it dies (but not different in essence), so will the dead be raised after death with a different appearance (not different in essence), but the same body. Just as all flesh is not the same flesh, so is the resurrection. Our resurrected flesh will be different than our natural flesh in that it will never die again, will be without disease, etc. (Revelation 21:4). Just as the sun, moon, and stars differ in their glory and splendor, so will our body differ in glory from it pre-resurrected and resurrected state.

The resurrection body will be similar to our current bodies, yet different. Paul said Christ would change our bodies to be like His body (Philippians 3:21; See also I Corinthians 15:51-54). The resurrection should not be thought of as a mere resuscitation of the body, but as a resuscitation and a changing of the body.2 If the body was only raised from the dead to exist as it had before death we have no reason to believe that the body would not die again. Paul, however, described the resurrection body as being incorruptible (I Corinthians 15:52-53). He also contrasted the resurrection body with the physical body, calling the former a "spiritual body" and the latter the "natural body."3 Such a comparison keys us into the fact that there will be a difference between our present and future bodily existence. Millard Erickson summed up the teaching of Scripture succinctly when he said, "There is a utilization of the old body, but a transformation of it in the process. Some sort of metamorphosis occurs, so that a new body arises. This new body has some connection or point of identity with the old body, but is differently constituted. Paul speaks of it as a spiritual body (1Cor 15:44), but does not elaborate [on its nature]."4

Paul argued the above to demonstrate that there are two different bodies believers will have: a natural body before the resurrection and a spiritual body at the resurrection (44). This is that tabernacle we desire to be clothed with from heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-8). Adam was made a natural body, but Christ was made a spiritual body (45). Adam was of flesh to death, but Jesus was of flesh to life. Just as Adam and death came before Jesus and life, we too bear the image of Adam first (death) and then we will bear the image of Christ in the future (Resurrectionó46). Adam was of the earth, but Jesus was the Lord from heaven (47). Those who are still being represented by Adam as their representative head will bear his earthiness in perishing back to the dust Adam was made from, but those who are now represented by Jesus Christ as their representative head by faith in His blood and obedience to the faith will be resurrected to spiritual life, and the second death will have no power over them (Revelation 20:6). Just as we have borne the image of Adam resulting in spiritual and physical death, we will also bear the image of Jesus resulting in spiritual and physical life forevermore (49).

It is at this point that Paul said "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption" (50). From the context of this verse we know that corruption is the state of man before the resurrection. The flesh and blood of which Paul spoke was the flesh and blood that is not in glorified form. The resurrected, glorified body receives incorruption, glory, power, making it a spiritual body (42-44). One must have a glorified body to enter the kingdom (I Corinthians 15:35-55). Because our mortal flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God, our bodies must be changed (51-54).

Because no non-glorified body can inherit the kingdom of God, Paul went on to explain a mystery. The mystery is none other than the fact that not all believers are going to die, but all will be and must be changed (51). Why is this a mystery? Previously, in verse 36, Paul stated that the dead can only rise after they have died. Since there will be living believers when Christ comes for His church, living believers must by-pass death to be instantly changed into their immortal, glorified body, just like the dead in Christ. Not only do the dead have the hope of resurrection, but so do the living. The body we will be raised with is a spiritual body like Jesusí, who was the firstfruits of those who would be raised from the dead (20). It will be both incorruptible and immortal.

Many have interpreted the above mystery to refer to the rapture of the church, and apply Paulís description of "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" to the speed of the rapture. This in turn has caused many to postulate a "secret rapture of the church." The context of this passage simply will not allow for such an interpretation. Paul was discussing the resurrection from the dead, not the rapture of the church. While the events will occur nearly simultaneously, they are two conceptually different events. Let us examine verses 51-54 more closely to demonstrate the bankruptcy of the "secret rapture" teaching.

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (I Corinthians 15:51-54).

All verse divisions have been purposely omitted so the passage can be read as it would have appeared to the original readers. This is necessary because the verse division between verse 51 and 52 causes many to view verse 52 as the start of a new thought, in contradistinction to the subject of verse 51. Such is not the case. Verse 52 is a continuation of the sentence in verse 51. Most English translations blur this due to the fact that a comma or hyphen is inserted after "changed." When reading the passage without the verse divisions, or without the comma, we find Paul to be teaching that we shall all be changed in a moment. No mention is made of being raptured in a moment.

The word "rapture" is never found in the passage, nor is the concept of a rapture indicated. The context is clear that Paulís subject is the resurrection of the body, not the translation of the body to heaven. The context of I Corinthians 15 is consumed with the idea of the resurrection of the dead, and the nature of the resurrected body. Paul spoke of believers being "changed" at the resurrection, which is a reference to our future glorified bodies, not the event or speed of the rapture. Paulís reference to "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye..." is a reference to the speed of our glorification (the change from mortality to immortality, from corruption to incorruption), not the speed of a rapture. We will be changed from our natural, mortal, corruptible body to a spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible body in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Paul does speak of our rapture into the air to meet the Lord, elsewhere (I Thessalonians 4:16), but not in this context.

It is at the resurrection that death with lose its sting, and the grave will have no victory over believers (55). Part of deathís sting is sin itself, which in turn is agitated by the law (56). At the resurrection all of these shall be overcome, and the saints will have the victory through Christ (57). With such a hopeful future we ought to be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," knowing that our "labor is not in vain in the Lord" (58).

See also: Secret Rapture? and The Bodily Resurrection of Christ Defended


1. Nothing in the context of this verse suggests that Paul is speaking of "dying to his fleshly desires." This idea, although popular in differing circles, is foreign to the context and Paul's flow of thought. It seems that Paul meant this as a matter of physical fact. Every day he was dying. His body was wearing down and drawing closer to death with each passing day. If the dead do not rise, each day he preached this message was one more wasted day to live on Earth. There was no reason to spend his precious life preaching a false message if the dead do not rise. <back>
2. Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 1198. <back>
3. The word translated "physical" is psuchikos, which is derived from psuche, the Greek word for soul. This would literally be translated as "soulish" body, but the context makes it clear that this reference is to the physical body itself, not the soul of man in particular. Often "soul" is used to refer to the whole person, not just the immaterial portion of man (Acts 7:14; Acts 27:37; I Peter 3:20). <back>
4. Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 1198. <back>

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