Friday, January 19, 2018

What does Paul Mean by a “Spiritual Body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44?

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. 
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
- The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:44, ESV)

Whenever I have read this verse in the past I’ve often felt a bit confused about what Paul means by a “spiritual body”. Yesterday, I was reading the chapter on glorification in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology where he addresses the phrase “spiritual body”. What he wrote pointed me in the right direction for my own further study on this topic. I feel like I understand it much better now. And what I found out about the meaning of “spiritual body” is something which is immensely encouraging to me, and I hope it will be for you.

An Understandable Misunderstanding that We Know Can’t Be Right

I think part of the problem is that the word “spirit” is used to refer to the nonphysical part of us and to nonphysical beings like angels and demons. We use the word “spirit” this way, and so does the Bible. As a result, the first thing that pops into many minds when we read the phrase “spiritual body” is something along the lines of a “ghost-like, nonphysical body that maybe we could see through and put our hands through and is not solid.”

For those who know the Bible well, we immediately sense that this is not right. We are told that our resurrection body will be like the resurrection body of Jesus:

NIV Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Jesus is our model. Our resurrection bodies will be like His resurrection body. And the resurrection body of Jesus was not ghost-like:

NIV Luke 24:39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.

In His resurrection body, Jesus could be touched and He even ate fish! So we are right to suspect that a “spiritual body” is not a “ghost-like body”. Of course, the resurrection body of Jesus could appear in a locked room and could ascend into Heaven. We don’t know if we’ll be able to pop in and out of places or fly. Those types of possibilities are exciting to think about as long as we think about them humbly and do not overemphasize what the Bible does not emphasize. But we haven’t gotten to the best part yet. We’ve only discussed why the phrase “spiritual body” is easy to misunderstand and why it does not mean we will be “ghostly”. What it DOES mean is something wonderful and encouraging.

The Greek Word for “Spiritual” has a Range of Meanings

First, we should note that 1 Corinthians 15:44 uses the adjective “spiritual”, not the noun “spirit”. Like most words in all languages, the Greek word for “spiritual”, pneumatikos, has a range of related meanings. All these related meanings are derived in some way from the noun for “spirit”, pneuma.

Sometimes, “spiritual” does seem to refer to something that is non-material as opposed to material:

NIV Romans 15:27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual (pneumatikos) blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

However, that is not the only way pneumatikos is used. This adjective is also used to describe people who are living according to the work, power, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  These three examples will make this clear:

ESV 1 Corinthians 3:1  But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual (pneumatikos) people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

ESV 1 Corinthians 14:37  If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual (pneumatikos), he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

ESV Galatians 6:1  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual (pneumatikos) should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

In 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul’s point is not that the Corinthians are not “ghostly” enough or that their bodies are too physical. His point is that they are too influenced by the sinful desires of the flesh and they are not living according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They are not “spiritual”. In 1 Corinthians 14:37, Paul is not saying that those Corinthians who consider themselves to have a non-physical body should be able to recognize that what Paul is writing is the Lord’s will. Paul is saying that those Corinthians who are full of the Spirit and living lives pleasing to God should be able to recognize this. And in Galatians 6:1, Paul is obviously not suggesting that ghostly people are especially well suited to restore sinners to the right path. Paul is suggesting that people who are Holy Spirit filled, “spiritual”, and thus close to God and full of godly wisdom, are the people who are best able to help others when they are caught in sin.

In all of the above examples “spiritual” means something like: living in accordance with God’s will, living and thinking the way God wants us to live as we are filled and led by His Holy Spirit.

The first example contrasts being “spiritual” with being “of the flesh”. This is because our flesh is the source of many evil desires. This leads to our next key point.

Because of Sinful Desires from our Bodies, We Constantly Struggle

The Bible often discusses our “flesh”, our current physical bodies (which include our brains), as the source of sinful desires.

NIV Galatians 5:16-17 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

The above passage is written to Christians. Even though we are saved and the Holy Spirit lives in us, our flesh, our bodies, are still filled with wrong desires. When the Spirit wants us to get up and pray, our flesh wants to stay in bed. The Spirit wants us to find sexual fulfillment only with our spouse, but our flesh feels sexual desire from sources that are wrong, sinful, and harmful. We know in our spirit that we should only eat one donut, but our flesh wants to eat three. In our spirits we know we can trust God’s promises, but our flesh is full of anxiety and fear. And on and on.

As a result, during our whole lives here on earth, we must battle against wrong desires which to a large degree come from our very own bodies. God gives us strength for the battle, but we often feel tired and discouraged. And we don’t always win these battles. God gives us grace, but we long for total victory and we also long for a day when we no longer have to fight against our own desires from our flesh.

Praise God, a day like that is coming!!!!

Our Resurrection Bodies will be Spiritual Bodies!

Now do you see what Paul means when he says our resurrection bodies will be “spiritual bodies”?

Paul is telling us that our new bodies will no longer have any desires which are contrary to God’s will. Our bodies will want to do what is right and good and pleasing to God all the time! Hallelujah! No more struggle against sinful desires coming from my own body.

In the age to come, in the New Heavens and New Earth, it’s not only true that my environment will be wonderfully changed. I will be changed. My body will be changed. It will be imperishable, never wearing out or getting sick. It will be immortal, never dying. It will be glorious, shining with God’s light. And, praise God, it will be spiritual. My new body will no longer have wrong desires. It will be the perfect body to be in God’s loving presence forever. That’s something to look forward to!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Matthew 25:46 Refutes Eternal Conscious Torment and Universalism and Supports Annihilationism

There are three main views of Hell among Christians:
1. Eternal Conscious Torment (also known as traditionalism)
2. Universalism
3. Annihilationism (also known as conditionalism)

These views are illustrated in the “Hell Triangle” (from the excellent Rethinking Hell website):

In deciding which view is correct, we should of course prayerfully seek to understand all that the Bible teaches on the final fate of the unrighteous. However, sometimes a single verse has particular importance for a given issue and is worthy of special focus. There are a number of verses like this with respect to the nature of final punishment. In this post I will to focus on one of these: Matthew 25:46.

This verse comes at the end of a teaching on the final judgment. We see all humanity standing before the judgment seat of King Jesus. Humanity has been divided into two groups: the righteous (symbolized by sheep) and the unrighteous (symbolized by goats). In this verse Jesus declares a different fate for each group. An examination of the two phrases He uses, “eternal punishment” and “eternal life,” reveals that this verse rules out both eternal conscious torment and universalism while supporting annihilationism.

How Universalism is Ruled Out by Matthew 25:46

Any type of punishment which is eternal obviously rules out universalism. Since some people suffer a punishment which lasts forever, these people are never saved. The universalist response has been to claim that the Greek word translated “eternal”, aionios, really means something else. Various options are offered. However, all major English Bible translations have translated aionios as either “eternal” or “everlasting” in this verse for very good reasons. One rather obvious reason is that the same word aionios is used to describe both the life of the righteous and punishment of the unrighteous. There is a lot more evidence that our Bible translations are correct. I wrote a three part blog series on the meaning of aionios. You may begin by reading part 1 here if you want more details.

Universalists also often claim that the Greek word translated “punishment”, kolasis, refers to a punishment that is intended for the good of the one being punished. However, this is not always the case because kolasis was used to refer to capital punishment:

LXA 2 Maccabees 4:38 And being kindled with anger, forthwith he took away Andronicus his purple, and rent off his clothes, and leading him through the whole city unto that very place, where he had committed impiety against Onias, there slew he the cursed murderer. Thus the Lord rewarded him his punishment (kolasis), as he had deserved.

LXA Wisdom 19:4 For the destiny, whereof they were worthy, drew them unto this end, and made them forget the things that had already happened, that they might fulfil the punishment (kolasis) which was wanting to their torments:
note: the above quote from Wisdom 19:4 refers to the Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea, which was hardly a punishment intended to reform them!

Other examples of kolasis referring to the death penalty may be seen in 3 Maccabees 1:2-3,  3 Maccabees 7:10-12, and 4 Maccabees 8:8.

It appears that kolasis, like the English word “punishment”, can apply to a wide range of types of punishments. Of course, any type of punishment which is eternal will rule out universalism.

How Eternal Conscious Torment is Ruled Out by Matthew 25:46

Many traditionalists wrongly point to Matthew 25:46 as a verse which supports eternal conscious torment. On closer analysis, not only does this verse not support eternal conscious torment, it actually rules it out.

One reason traditionalists often think Matthew 25:46 supports their view is that they only consider one type of “punishment”. The only type of punishment they consider is torment. Without question, torturing people forever would be a type of “eternal punishment”. However, there are other types of punishment.

In our justice system today, the most severe punishment is considered to be the death penalty. The methods used to kill prisoners do not involve torment. The death penalty is not considered the most severe penalty in our system because of any pain it inflicts, but because it permanently (from a human prospective) deprives the prisoner of life. The punishment is serious because of what the prisoner misses out on, not because of the pain experienced. In a similar way, an eternal death penalty is an extremely severe penalty, not because of the pain experienced (although there may be some pain in the  process of being destroyed), but primarily because the person who perishes misses out on an eternity full of the glorious joy of being with God in His perfect new world.

Some traditionalists object to viewing eternal death as a type of eternal punishment because while the result of such a punishment is eternal, the process of punishing is not. However, the word “eternal” is used in the Bible to describe other situations where the process is not eternal but the result is eternal.

So far, we have seen that “eternal punishment” could refer to eternal death as opposed to eternal torment. But we can go further than this by examining the entire verse. Before we look at the rest of Matthew 25:46, consider this sentence in English:

The soldiers who courageously held back the enemy were given medals, but those who fled were required to do extra work.

Question: Did the soldiers who flee get medals?

Now, let’s look at Matthew 25:46 again:

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:46 ESV)

Question: Do “these” (the unrighteous) receive eternal life?

It’s so obvious once you see it. ONLY the righteous will live forever. The unrighteous do NOT receive eternal life. You can’t torture a dead person. The only punishment which is eternal and which does not require eternal life is eternal death. Thus, eternal conscious torment is ruled out by a proper understanding of Matthew 25:46.

We can sum up what we’ve learned so far with this graphic:

Confirmed by the Rest of the Bible

Correctly understood, Matthew 25:46 rules out both eternal conscious torment (traditionalism) and universalism. That leaves conditionalism (annihilationism) as the only remaining viable view.  This conclusion is confirmed by the rest of the Bible. Whole books have been written on this, but here I’ll just quickly point to three ways the rest of the Bible confirms what we have seen in Matthew 25:46.

1.  The Bible very consistently teaches that ONLY the righteous will live forever, by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. There is not a single verse from Genesis to Revelation which teaches that all people will live forever or that the souls of the unsaved are immortal. Immortality is a gift freely given by God to those who have faith in Christ. This is why annihilationism is also called conditional immortality!

2.  Contra the claims of universalists, the Bible does not teach that the purpose of final punishment is corrective or redemptive. The Bible specifically and repeatedly teaches that final punishment consists of God paying back and expressing vengeance on the unrighteous. This payback is proportional to the sins committed, and thus cannot consist of eternal torment. But it does terminate in the unrighteous being burned to ashes and perishing.

3.  The language the Bible uses to describe the fate of the unrighteous is a far better fit for annihilationism than it is for either universalism or eternal conscious torment. The Bible tells us that the unrighteous will suffer “death” (Romans 6:23), “perish” (John 3:16), be destroyed in both body and soul (Matthew 10:28), suffer “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), be burned to ashes (2 Peter 2:6), and “will be no more” (Psalm 37:10). The verses listed here are only a small sample of similar language used consistently to describe the final fate of the unrighteous.

Conclusion and Acknowledgements

Like the rest of the Bible, Matthew 25:46 teaches that the final fate of the unrighteous in annihilation, not salvation as the universalists say nor eternal torment as the traditionalists say.

Although these thoughts may be new to some who read them, they are not original with me. I’ve benefited from the insights of many conditionalists before me and from articles on Matthew 25:46 like this one and this one at Rethinking Hell.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .