"Raised incorruptible" (1 Cor. 15:52)
The One Body of believers has been divided over the interpretation of
this passage. Some see in it clear teaching that we emerge from the grave
immortal, and therefore the judgment is only for the dividing up of rewards
rather than the granting of immortality to mortal bodies.
There are a number of objections to this interpretation from other parts
- "We shall all be changed...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...then shall be brought to pass
the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory"
(1 Cor. 15:51-54). The rebuilding / raising up incorruptible is the
"change", the mortal putting on immortality, death being swallowed up.
All these phrases are rather uncomfortable within a scenario of immortal
emergence from the grave. If the mortal bodies of saints are even further
humbled before the piercing analysis of the judgment seat and then
swallowed up in victory, clothed upon with immortality- these words
find their natural fulfillment.
- Paul speaks of us being clothed upon with immortality at the
judgment (2 Cor. 5:2,4,10 RV), as if we exist in a form which lacks
the clothing of immortality, but is then 'clothed upon'.
- At the Lord's coming, our vile body will be changed to be like His
glorious body (Phil. 3:20,21).
- God will quicken our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). The mortal
bodies of Paul and the Romans have yet to be quickened; therefore they
must be resurrected mortal and then quickened. However, it could be
that Rom. 8:11 is one of several expectations of the second coming within
the lifetime of the first century believers.
- At the judgment seat, we will receive a recompense for the things
we have done, in a bodily form (2 Cor. 5:10). Of the flesh we will reap
corruption, of the spirit: life everlasting (Gal. 6:7,8).
- We will be justified and be condemned by our account
at the day of judgment- not at resurrection (Mt. 12:36,37).
- The nobleman came, called his servants, reckoned with them, and only
then was taken from the slothful servant even that which he seemed to
have- at the judgment, not the resurrection (Lk. 19:12-26). The unprofitable
are cast into outer darkness at the judgment, not the resurrection.
- The sheep go away into life eternal and the goats go away
into death- after the judgment process. It is hard to square this
with immortal emergence before the judgment.
- "Come, inherit the Kingdom" (Mt. 25:34) is spoken at the end of the
judgment process. Only then will the faithful inherit the Kingdom and
thereby receive immortality.
- The Lord will raise up the dead and quicken (i.e. immortalise) whom
He will of those He has raised up (Jn. 5:21).
- 1 Thess. 4:17 teaches that the dead are raised and go with the living
to the judgment, where sheep and goats are divided finally. It seems
inappropriate for already immortalised believers to be judged and rewarded.
- When a man is tried (always elsewhere translated "approved") he will
receive the crown on life- the crown which will be given at the last
day (James 1:12 cp. 2 Tim. 4:8). The approval is surely not in the physical
fact of resurrection- for the rejected will also experience this.
- If immortality is given at the resurrection rather than at the judgment,
we would have to read 'resurrection' as a one off act; and yet it evidently
refers to a process, something more than the act of coming out of the
grave. The fact there will not be marriage "in the resurrection" is
proof enough of this- it refers to more than the act of coming out of
the grave. Also, if immortality is not given at the judgment, this creates
a problem in respect of those who are alive at the Lord's return. Are
we to believe that they will just be made immortal in a flash when the
Lord comes, with no judgment?
- Immortal emergence inevitably means that men live with no fear of
judgment to come. And yet the very fact of future judgment is an imperative
to repentance (Acts 17:31; 2 Pet. 3:11). Admittedly, there is the danger
that judgment can be over-emphasised to the point that God seems passive
now, reserving all judgment until the last day. Both extremes must be
What Does It Mean?
Taking the passage as it stands, it is quite possible to place it alongside
several other Pauline passages which speak of the whole process of resurrection-judgment-immortalization
as one act (see Appendix 1, God And Time). This may be because
he sometimes writes as if he assumes his readership will all be worthy
of acceptance into the Kingdom, and will not be rejected. If we see our
brethren as truly in Christ and therefore acceptable with Him, clothed
in His righteousness, and seeing we cannot judge in the sense of condemning
them, this ought to be a pattern for us. Judgment in the sense of condemnation
will not pass upon those who will be in the Kingdom, although this doesn't
mean that therefore they will not stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
The Gospels likewise speak of both the resurrection and the judgment process
as occurring at "the last day" (Jn. 11:24; 12:48); as if the "resurrection"
includes the judgment process. The way 'the resurrection' can be 'better'
or 'worse' (Heb. 11:35) and of two kinds (Jn. 5:29) further indicates
that the term cannot be limited to just the emergence from the ground.
However, there is another reason why Paul wrote as he did. We have shown
in Appendix 1 that the meaning of time will be collapsed at the period
of the Lord's return and judgment. It is therefore quite possible that
in terms of real time, the resurrection-judgment-immortalization process
will take place in a micro second. To an onlooker, there would appear
to be immortal emergence (cp. how the record of creation is described
as an onlooker would have seen it). But if we were to break the process
down, there would be the resurrection, coming forth as a mortal body,
gathering to judgment, discussion with the judge, giving of reward, immortalization-
of all which we have written at length in this study.
Against the proposition that "raised incorruptible" in 1 Cor. 15:52 means
an immortal emergence in theological terms, the following points should
- Paul doesn't say 'the dead are resurrected incorruptible',
but rather that they are raised (Gk. egeiro) incorruptible.
If he referred to actual resurrection, he would surely have used the
word anastasis. But he doesn't. Egeiro is used of rising
up from sickness (Mk. 1:37), rising in judgment (Mt. 12:42), the raising
up of men as prophets (Mt. 11:11), raising up a Saviour (Lk. 1:69),
the raising up of Pharaoh to do God's will (Rom. 9:17), to rise up against,
to raise up a building. These are all processes leading to a completed
action, not a simple one time action. Therefore it is not unreasonable
to interpret Paul's words as does Bro. John Thomas: 'the dead shall
be rebuilt incorruptible', referring to the whole process rather than
just the coming out of the ground.
- The seed is sown "a natural body" (1 Cor. 15:44)- a psuchikon
soma, a living body. This raises a question as to whether Paul is
really talking about a dead body going into the grave and then
coming out immortal. 1 Cor. 15:36 speaks of the seed as being sown,
being scattered, right now (speiro in the active voice). This
is almost certainly one of Paul's many allusions back to the Gospels-
this time, to the parable of the sower. The seed is being sown now,
and we respond to it. The seed is sown in the corruption, dishonour
and weakness of this present nature (15:42,43). But that seed ("it")
will be raised / rebuilt in an incorruptible, glorious body; this is
the power of the seed of the Gospel.
All this reasoning is in the context of 1 Cor. 15:35,36: "But some man
will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
Thou fool...". To max out on the exact form in which we emerge from the
grave is foolish, Paul says. And yet some of us have done just
that. Surely Paul is saying 'Don't get distracted by this issue as a physicality
in itself. The point is, as the seed of the Gospel is sown in you
day by day, so in a corresponding way you will be rebuilt in the glory
of the resurrection. So sow to the spirit, for as you sow you will reap
(cp. Gal. 6:7,8)'.