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This Corruption Shall Put On Incorruption

An Exegesis of 1 Cor. 15:35-49


In 1 Cor 15:35-49 Paul defends the resurrection of the believer against the critics of his day. Modern-day critics of our day also deny the possibility of the resurrection using the same sorts of arguments that were used in Paul’s day against the resurrection. For this reason, Paul’s text is as relevant today as it was on the day it was penned. However, the complexity of Paul’s writing has obscured its meaning to many in our day. This paper will examine these passages from within a grammatical-historical-contextual framework to attempt to uncover the meaning of the author of the text.

Context of the Passage

In the epistle of 1 Corinthians, Paul is answering the issues raised in the Corinthian church. One of the issues raised was the resurrection of the dead. Apparently some people were preaching that the dead are not raised. Paul makes a clear link between the resurrection of Christ and the believer as well as between the general idea of a resurrection and the resurrection of Christ. In verses 15-26, Paul tackles the possibility of resurrection itself before answering the objections against the resurrection in v 35-49. Paul says, in the context, that resurrection is possible because Christ was raised. This is a fundamental issue of the faith.

Exegetical Outline of 1 Cor 15:35-49

The following exegetical outline forms the basis of interpretation for the passages that are used in this paper:

35 Purpose statement – to answer the imaginary objector

36-41 Animal, Vegetable, Mineral Contrasts

36-38 Seed (vegetable) contrasts

39 Animal flesh contrasts

40-41 Mineral contrasts

42a Connective phrase linking previous contrasts to following contrasts

42b-50 Resurrection Contrasts

42b Sown in corruption vs. raised in incorruption

43a Sown in dishonor vs. raised in glory

43b Sown in weakness vs. raised in power

44 Sown natural vs. raised spiritual

45 Adam vs. Jesus

46 natural v spiritual

47 earth v heaven

48 earthy vs. heavenly

49 Conclusion of contrasts

Historical Background

The historical background of the subject of the resurrection has two separate contexts. One of the contexts is from the Jewish beliefs and the other is from the Gentile beliefs about the resurrection of the body.

Jewish Background

There was a contemporary split between the adherents to the Jewish religion on the subject of the resurrection of the body. Paul used that internal division to his own advantage on a couple of occasions when confronted by authorities for causing division in the Jewish community. Paul painted himself as merely holding to one particular side of the debate, avoiding prosecution as a result.

One subset of Jews who held that only the books of the Law of Moses were inspired, while another subset held that the prophets were inspired writings as well. The doctrine of the resurrection was revealed progressively, through the prophets, so those who held to only the first five books did not accept the doctrine of the resurrection. This was such a live issue that when Jesus showed the doctrine of the immortality of the soul to be inherent in the Law itself, thereby refuting the Sadducees, even the Pharisees respected Him for it.

Gentile Background

Paul commonly debated the subject of the resurrection with his Gentile audiences. This can be seen in the text of Acts 17, where Paul presents his case for the resurrection of the flesh before the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens. The Greco-Roman culture of the day viewed the resurrection of the flesh as impossible. Thus, Paul was mocked for preaching the resurrection of the flesh (Acts 17:32).

Among the Gentiles, the Greek philosophy of Platonism was dominant. Under Platonism the body was seen as the prison-house of the soul. Thus, the notion that the soul would be united with the corrupt body for all eternity was abhorrent to the Greek mind. Paul will go to lengths in this passage to explain that the resurrected body is no longer the corrupt body, but will be transformed into an incorrupt body.

It's unclear from the text exactly what the occasion of the dissertation might have been. Perhaps there were those who held to Christianity and Platonism and Paul was correcting their syncretism. On the other hand, Paul may be answering the Jewish converts of the Sadducean party who denied the doctrine of the resurrection. The audience of the book of Corinthians was the believers in the city of Corinth, probably mostly Gentile converts to the faith, so they are to be considered as the most likely target for the argument.

Detailed Exegesis

The following sections contain a detailed exegesis of the 1 Cor. 15:35-49 passages.

35 Purpose statement –Answering an Imaginary Objector

1 Cor 15:35 But some man will say,

How are the dead raised up?

and with what body do they come?

Here, Paul uses a common rhetorical device known as the "imaginary objector". This anticipates the critic’s objections and answers them before they are asked. In any exercise with an imaginary objector it is important not to put words into the mouth of the opponent, which are not truly representative of the opponents position. However, Paul had experience debating this subject with both Gentiles and Jews on a number of occasions, so his argument can be considered to be a strawman. It should be accepted that there were people who actually held the position that Paul is refuting.

In the passage, Paul twice uses the gnomic present, which is timeless when it is used in a doctrinal proposition. Thus, the use of the present tense does not refer to an ongoing resurrection.

36-41 Animal, Vegetable, Mineral Contrasts

In verses 36-41, Paul sets up a series of contrasts in the animal, vegetable, and mineral realms. Each of these would be familiar to Paul’s audience from their daily life. Paul draws contrasts between each of these sorts of material objects to show that there is a present-day variance between these things. If there’s a present day variance, we should likewise expect a variance between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies.

36-38 Seed (vegetable) contrasts

36 Thou fool,

that which thou sowest is not quickened,

except it die:

Paul shows that there's a dramatic change coming. The assumptions of the critic about what the Christian position is on the resurrection are themselves a strawman. The body we have now is going to be raised after we are dead, but it will not be eternally corruptible. However, the body has to first die before it can be raised.

Paul does not deal in this section of Scripture with the intermediate state. Paul is dealing with the resurrection of the body, not the state of the soul between death and resurrection. There is nothing in this passage which supports soul sleep, nor anything which directly contradicts soul sleep..

The use of the word, "fool" would seem, at least on the surface, to contradict Christ's prohibition against such language. The adjective afrone is a nominative used as a vocative, which is a frequent use of this case. Hence, the term is not an address, but an exclamation, "Thou fool!" The propletptic position of su sharpens Paul’s point.

The use of this simple agricultural analogy would have been well known to Paul's audience. They certainly would have been capable of understanding a seed planted in the ground and should have been able to make the connection to the planting of the body of a dead person. Making an analogical connection to the familiar is a great device for connecting with the audience of Paul's letter. There’s also a certain mystery about how a seed becomes a plant which exists, for most people, to this very day.

The phrase, "except it die", is a condition of the third class, possibility assumed. This is the answer to the "how" question posed in the previous verse. The "how" is that the body must first die in order to rise. Just as the seed dies in forming the plant, the present body will die before the resurrection body can be formed.

37 And that which thou sowest,

thou sowest not that body that shall be,

but bare grain,

it may chance of wheat,

or of some other grain:

The difficulty with any analogy, and this one in particular, is just how far to take the analogy? The seed grain becomes the stalk, which becomes the plant. Outside nutrients are added. The seed is not discarded, but is the material basis of the plant as well as its genetic footprint. The acorn has all of the DNA information of the oak in it. Yet, Paul has no knowledge of genetic fingerprints, nor does he intend this by what he wrote. Paul is showing the continuity between the body that is planted at death and the body that is raised at the resurrection. Wheat grain gives birth to wheat plants. The form changes, but the essence remains.

The goal of the analogy Paul is using is this. Without the seed, there is no plant. The plant grows out of the seed. The seed is not discarded, but becomes the plant with added nutrients. In a similar way, without the death of the body there will be no resurrection. The body is to be resurrected from the old body. The old body is not discarded, but becomes the new body with the added attributes of immortality.

Jesus used a similar analogy for a slightly different purpose in John 12:24 where he said that "unless a seed fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." Christ's analogy is a prediction of His death and the salvation of sinners that followed, and Paul's analogy is centered around the promise of the future resurrection. Both use the same imagery. Both the analogy of Jesus and the analogy of Paul draw from the same life experience base of the listeners.

The phrase, ou to soma to genesomenon, is the articular future participle of ginomai, literally means "not the body that will become".

38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him,

and to every seed his own body.

The answer to the question of what the exact form of the body will be - is left to the future - at the resurrection. The body of Jesus bore the marks of his crucifixion. This may have been for testimonial value more than necessity. In the ministry of Jesus, he healed a man with a withered arm, for instance. There's no reason in this text to believe that at the resurrection physical deformities won't be corrected. This text does not address the details. Paul leaves that as mystery to be seen at the resurrection itself.

Questions like "At the resurrection will a midget still be a midget" are not the point of this text. The point of the text is that God will raise the dead in forms that are pleasing to God. Paul says that we can't tell what the resurrection body will be like by looking at the present body any more than we can tell what an oak will look like by looking at an acorn. However, we do know, from the text, that there is a material continuity between the body that is planted and the body that is raised.

39 Animal flesh contrasts

39 All flesh is not the same flesh:

but there is one kind of flesh of men,

another flesh of beasts,

another of fishes,

and another of birds.

Chemically there's little to no difference between the flesh of man and animals. However, that's not what Paul has in mind here. Paul is speaking of morphology, the form of the bodies, not their material composition.

The types of flesh are the same list enumerated in the book of Genesis. In Gen. 1:24-25, God creates beasts. In Gen. 1:26-28. God creates man. The order of the list is reversed between Genesis and this passage. However, this shows the basic divisions between the four groups of flesh. Adam and Eve are in a solitary class whereas all the other classes are compounds.

40-41 Mineral contrasts

40 There are also celestial bodies,

and bodies terrestrial:

but the glory of the celestial is one,

and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

Paul sets up a contrast here between celestial and terrestrial bodies. Terrestrial bodies are composed of the same materials as celestial ones with differing proportions. Just as there are varying glories of the bodies now, there will be varying glories of bodies in the resurrection as when compared to the present bodies.

41 There is one glory of the sun,

and another glory of the moon,

and another glory of the stars:

for one star differeth from another star in glory.

Paul proceeds to contrast different types of celestial bodies. The sun is a star. Since the sun is closer, it's much brighter than the other stars. The other stars are often actually larger, but are more distant so they appear smaller from our vantage point. The glory of the stars varies by their brightness and color. This analogy would have been plain to anyone in that culture with few night light sources and brilliant skies.

Paul has progressed through each of the traditional animal (v. 39), vegetable (v. 37), and mineral categories (v. 41). Each of these categories has variation between them as well as variation within their categories. The analogy Paul is drawing is that if there is variation between and within all the things that we see, we should also expect to see variation between resurrected bodies and our present bodies as well as variation between resurrected bodies themselves.

42a Connective phrase linking contrasts

42a So also is the resurrection of the dead.

This connective phrase is the key to joining the previous animal, vegetable, mineral contrasts to the pre-resurrection/post-resurrection contrasts. Just as there are differences between the bodies we presently see, there will be differences between the present body and the resurrection body.

42b-50 Resurrection Contrasts

42b It is sown in corruption;

it is raised in incorruption:

43 It is sown in dishonour;

it is raised in glory:

it is sown in weakness;

it is raised in power:

44 It is sown a natural body;

it is raised a spiritual body.

There is natural body,

and there is a spiritual body.

45 And so it is written,

The first man Adam was made a living soul;

the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

In this section, Paul sets up an extended series of contrasts between the state of the present body and that of the resurrection body. This is best illustrated as a table:


Current Body

Resurrected Body











Natural body

Spiritual body














Earthly image

Heavenly image


Flesh and blood

Kingdom of God






Raised incorruptible







Each of the items in the center column is a synonymous description of the pre-resurrection body. Each of the items in the right column is a synonymous description of the body after the resurrection. In all cases, the body is being described.

42b Sown in corruption vs. raised in incorruption

42b It is sown in corruption;

it is raised in incorruption:

The continuity here is the "it", the body. The body is sown in corruption. The body is raised in incorruption. Corruption is the steady decay of the processes of the body. Incorruption is the notion that there will be no more corruption. We will not be subject to death and decay any longer.

In incorruption, is a late eord from a privative and phtheriro, to corrupt and can be found in the LXX, Plutarch, Philo, etc. The body has undergone a complete change as compared to the body of flesh.

43a Sown in dishonor vs. raised in glory

43 It is sown in dishonour;

it is raised in glory:

The contrast here is between dishonor and glory. Death is the ultimate dishonor to a person. The person has no control over their body at all in death. Others wash and cloth it. Death is evidence of the fallen world where sin and death reign. The resurrection is the reversal of that. The glory of God is manifested in reversing sin and death. If man is not raised from the dead, then Satan has won an eternal victory in the garden in that Satan has managed to do something in killing man that God is unable to reverse. Thank God, that’s not the case. Death is not victorious over believers in Christ.

43b Sown in weakness vs. raised in power

it is sown in weakness;

it is raised in power:

Again, the contrast is between the weakness of the body before the resurrection and the power of the body afterwards. The body is so weak before the resurrection that it can’t avoid death. After the resurrection, death has no power over the body. It is powerful against death.

44 Sown natural vs. raised spiritual

44 It is sown a natural body;

it is raised a spiritual body.

There is natural body,

and there is a spiritual body.

The contrast here is between natural and spiritual. One difficulty comes in the phrase "spiritual body". In particular, the use of "spiritual" to describe a physical body has led some to conclude that Paul is not describing a physical body, but some other sort of body. However, Paul is using "spiritual" (pneumatikos) in an adjectival manner, to describe a physical body which has spiritual characteristics.

How does Paul use pnuematikos in other places? Is this a body that is essentially physical, or is it a body that merely appears to be physical when required? In 1 Cor. 10:4 Paul refers to the rock that followed the Israelites around in the wilderness as a "spiritual" rock, using the same Greek work as in this passage. Yet, from reading the passages about the rock in Exodus it's clear that this was a real material rock. The rock had spiritual attributes and yet was still a physical rock. The adjectival use of pneumatikos is the key here. "Spiritually animated" might be another way of expressing the same concept.

As noted, Luke describes the resurrection body of Jesus as physical. Elsewhere, the NT describes our resurrection bodies as being like that of Jesus. If the resurrection body of Jesus was physical, it’s a reasonable assumption that our resurrection bodies will be physical also. Additionally, if the body of Jesus could merely appear to be physical, but wasn’t normally physical, why would Jesus have gone to such extremes to show Himself as physically risen from the dead. This has led some to conclude that Jesus was raised physically, but was changed at or after the ascension into a non-physical being. There’s no Scriptural support for this.

45 Adam vs. Jesus

45 And so it is written,

The first man Adam was made a living soul;

the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

The contrast here is between Adam and Christ. As the Father of our physical existence, Adam is The reason man fell into sin, and death is due to Adam who was our federal head since in Adam we all sinned. The reversal of that decline is due to Jesus who secured for us freedom from sin and death by His obedience. Christ undoes the damage of Adam. This verse does not mean that Christ is now a spirit as some have claimed.

46 natural v spiritual

46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual,

but that which is natural;

and afterward that which is spiritual.

The contrast continues here between Adam and Christ. This passage makes the point that while our first body was fashioned in the form of Adam, our resurrection body will be fashioned in the same form as Christ's resurrection body.

47 earth v heaven

47 The first man is of the earth, earthy:

the second man is the Lord from heaven.

Adam was from the earth. Jesus is from Heaven. The things of this earth are temporary. The things from Heaven are eternal.

48 earthy vs. heavenly

48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy:

and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

Since we are to be raised by the eternal God, we will become inhabitants of eternity. We will no longer die, since the inhabitants of Heaven don’t die. Our headship is no longer Adam, but Christ. Our citizenship is from Heaven.

49 Conclusion of contrasts

49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy,

we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

It’s worth noting that the RSV and TEV footnotes show "let us wear" instead of we shall also bear. Robertson refers to this as volative aorist active subjunctive and explains the difference between the two readings as possibly the failure of the scribes to distinguish between a long o and a short o.

Our new image will be of Christ and the Heavenly. No longer will sin, sickness and death reign over us. We inherit our physical forms (images) from our earthly parents, all the way back to Adam. We will inherit our new image from Jesus, who is the firstborn from the dead.

Just as Adam was the first of all the old generation of men. Christ is the first of all of the new generation of men. Adam was formed out of the dust of the earth. Christ came down from Heaven.


In these passages, Paul teaches the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh. Paul explicitly denies that the body will be left in the ground, but strongly affirms that the body will be raised.

Paul does this by setting up a series of contrasts between the various sorts of bodies (animal, vegetable and mineral) that his audience would be well familiar with. Paul then proceeds to draw an analogy between the contrasts people are familiar with and the resurrection, which they are not familiar with. After all, if there’s variation between the bodies that we see presently, shouldn’t there be variation between the body we have now and the transformed body of the resurrection.

An important issue in the discussion is that of continuity and discontinuity. Paul shows that there’s both continuity and discontinuity between the body that is planted and the one that is raised. The body that is planted is the one that is raised, but it’s also transformed to be immortal.


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