12 March 2015

1 Corinthians 15:35-38

“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” (v. 35)

Psalm: Psalm 119:161-176


Over the centuries the Church has, more than once, had tensions between wanting to respond to practical challenges while realising theology needed to be re-examined. Then either theology or practice (or both) need to be reformed. In these few verses Paul is addressing a particular issue for the Corinthians, one that might still be relevant to challenges we face today, although with different factors involved.

Here Paul is addressing an incredulity among Corinthian society that bodily resurrection is possible. He does not back down and makes it clear that resurrection is not corpses returning to life. However, he also wants to be sure they understand that it is still a bodily resurrection, just not the same body in the same form.

This has been an important theology that supports the choices we now have following a funeral. Without Paul's confidence here, that the resurrection is not simply a raising of a corpse, it would be hard to imagine that Churches would have been so willing to widely adopt cremation. Because Paul makes it clear that our present bodies are essentially like a seed for an eternal body, we do not depend on preserving the body in a grave. It frees us to make the decision about what happens to our physical bodies, without being fearful of the impact on resurrection.

So when there was pressure to move to cremation due to a shortage of cemetery space, Paul had already provided the basis of the theology the Church needed.

More recently the work of Bishop Tom Wright and others has gone back to Paul and suggested a significant reform of theology of resurrection to return to Paul's belief in a bodily resurrection, rather than airy fairy imagery of wafting around on clouds prevalent in the last century.

To Ponder

  • How does your understanding of resurrection influence the choices you make for your body at the end of your life? What is important to you about those choices? Do others know what is important to you?
  • We needed to rethink theology to support changes in practice between burial and cremation. Where else do we need to be rethinking our theology in the light of challenges we face today?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.