Friday, March 4, 2016

Resurrection and Plato Part III

In Part I and Part II of this series, I have been discussing Paul's worldview as expressed in I Corinthians 15 in relation to the very common "Platonic" worldview.  In a nutshell, I argued that Paul does not hold to a Platonic dualistic worldview which splits reality in two: material (earth) and non-material (world of forms) reality, and the corresponding dualistic view of the human with a material body/flesh and a non-material soul/spirit.

At the end of the last post, I posed the following question: "if Paul was not talking in I Corinthians 15 about a move from material (physical) to non-material (spiritual) existence, then what distinction is he making?"

The specific verses that I have been dealing with are I Corinthians 15:44-46, which in the NRSV read as follows:
44 It is sown a physical [psychikon] body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical [psychikon] body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being[psychen]”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical[psychikon], and then the spiritual.
As I pointed out, the NRSV, and virtually all modern English translations are misleading here as they translate the Greek word psychikos as "physical" (NRSV, CEB) or "natural" (NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, HCSB, ESV).  Both of these words, physical and natural, play into a Platonic worldview bias and render what Paul says as essentially mirroring the dualistic reality of Plato.  This makes it almost impossible to see the distinction that Paul is making here, and it is not a distinction between material and non-material reality, but rather the distinction is between corruptibility and incorruptibility, between mortality and immortality.

This distinction between mortality and immortality can be clearly seen if one doesn't let vv. 44-46 and their misleading translations drive the issue.  Rather, vv. 42-26 list four contrasts between life before and after the resurrection.  The controlling metaphor here is that of sowing a seed (i.e., before resurrection) and what grows from the seed (i.e., after the resurrection).  This metaphor was introduced in v. 37.  So, what is sown in death is transformed through the resurrection.  But once again, this is not a move from material to non-material.  Look at the four examples:
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a "soulish" body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a "soulish" body, there is also a spiritual body. 
So, what are the four pairs?  They are:

  1. perishable vs. imperishable
  2. dishonor vs. glory
  3. weakness vs. power
  4. "soulish" vs. spiritual
We can follow this with one last pair: First Adam vs. Last Adam (Christ).  Adam died (and stayed dead), Christ died, but was raised to life.

Once again, the distinction here is not between material and non-material but between mortality and immortality.

One can see this same thought, the contrast between mortality/decay/death and immortality and life in Romans 8:18-23 where it is not only humans that will partake in this new form of existence, but the entire material creation will undergo a transformation.  The verses are as follows:
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (NRSV)
So, Paul thinks that all of creation will take part in this transformation and will not longer be in "bondage to decay."  It is not material vs. non-material for Paul, but perishable vs. imperishable.  If there is a dualism in Paul on this matter at all, it is a dualism of time: this present age vs. the age to come, before the resurrection vs. after the resurrection.  What do you think?

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