The resurrection body is one of the most important topics in Scripture. This resurrection, as scholar Cornelis Venema says of it, is “the restoration and renewal of the whole person, body and soul, in a renewed state of integrity within the context of a new heavens and earth.” However, many people believe that the Bible teaches that we will have a “spiritual” body and not a physical one. When someone thinks of the word “spiritual,” they usually think of souls, spirits, ghosts, phantoms, floating on the clouds, etc. etc. However, as I noted in another article, the Christian’s eternal home is to be a physical world, not a spiritual one.
So, where do Christians get the idea of a spiritual body? They get it from the Apostle Paul, when he teaches in 1 Cor. 15:44, 50 that our resurrected bodies will be “spiritual” and that “flesh and blood” cannot enter the kingdom of God. What does Paul mean when he says these things? Does this not prove that the next life is a spiritual and disembodied existence?
Physical or Spiritual?
When someone studies these verses in-depth, they will come to the understanding that “spiritual” in Paul’s view was not a disembodied existence. Instead, it meant something entirely different. In Paul’s letters, the word “spiritual” (Greek pneumatikos) does not usually have the meaning “nonphysical,” but instead means “consistent with the character and activity of the Holy Spirit.”
Scholar Robert Gundry notes, “In Paul’s view, then, the resurrected body is Spiritual not in the sense of nonphysicality (he even switches back and forth between ‘body’ and ‘flesh’-1 Cor. 15:35-41) but in the sense of its having been raised by God’s Holy Spirit.” Romans 8:11 adds, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
Paul’s speaks of physical Christians (alive at the time when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians) as being “spiritual” (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). These Christians were not ghosts! “Rather, spiritual Christians are those taught, filled and led by the Holy spirit, whose temple is their present physical bodies (see also 1 Cor. 3:1; 6:19; 14:37; Gal. 6:1).”
The translation of 1 Corinthians 15:44 (“it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”) is very misleading. Theologian Wayne Grudem gives a good paraphrase on the proper meaning of the verse: “It is sown a natural body subject to the characteristics and desires of this age, and governed by its own sinful will, but it is raised a spiritual body, completely subject to the will of the Holy Spirit and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.” He continues, “Such a body is not at all “nonphysical,” but it is a physical body raised to the degree of perfection for which God originally intended it.”
Flesh and Blood
When it comes to “flesh and blood” not inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven, Paul cannot mean that physical bodies cannot go to heaven. This verse is in a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul specifically talks about us having bodies like the resurrected Christ (see below). What Paul means by “flesh and blood” is “our present human nature, particularly our physical bodies, as they [now exist] in the likeness of Adam after the fall – that is, subject to weakness, decay, and ultimate death.” In fact, this is the point that Paul had been making in this very same chapter when he was comparing Adam and Jesus. Remember that Jesus showed his disciples his (physical) body (Luke 24:39).
Secondly, “flesh and blood” was a Jewish idiom for “a mere mortal.” This does not contradict what Paul was already stressing, namely that the resurrection is a bodily one. In fact, this verse should remind us that our current sinful bodies are unworthy and incapable of coexisting with a holy God. Thirdly, the statement “flesh and blood” is immediately followed by “Nor does perishability inherit imperishability.” Gundry notes:
“These two statements parallel each other, so that the phrase ‘flesh and blood’ corresponds to ‘perishability.’ Together the terms refer to the present mortal body in respect to the perishability of its flesh and blood, not in respect to the physicality of its flesh and blood. For Paul proceeds to say that it is ‘this perishable body’ that will be put on imperishability and ‘this mortal body’ that will put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-55, esp. v. 53). And since for Paul the resurrection of Christians will follow the pattern of Christ’s resurrection…Paul must have thought that when Christ was raised, it was the perishable, mortal body of his earthly lifetime that put on imperishable and immortality, not that he was exalted to heaven in some nonphysical form.”
Sowing a seed
There is also evidence that Paul saw continuity between our bodies today and our bodies after the resurrection. In fact, the major theme in verses 35-58 is the continuity and discontinuity between our earthly and resurrected bodies. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:37-38: “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”
Paul draws on common knowledge about the differences between what is planted and what is sowed. They are different, but there is also continuity. We must also realize that Moses and Elijah were recognizable at the Transfiguration, thus showing that there was continuality between their earthly existence and heavenly one (Luke 9:30, 33). Matthew 8:11 says that people will come from all over to “sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Apparently there will be enough continuality between Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s earthly and heavenly bodies so we can recognize them.
What are our resurrection bodies going to be like?
Paul tells us in Philippians 3:21 that Jesus “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” 1 John 3:2 says, “When he [Jesus] appears we shall be like him.” This does not only apply to ethics but to the physical sense as well (1 Cor. 15:49; Rom 8:29). When Jesus appears to the apostles, they can touch him (John 20:24-29). This detail, along with the empty tomb, shows us that Jesus has the same body that he had before he died. Yet, as Paul tells, us we will be glorified and perfected (sinless).
Now that we understand that our new bodies are physical, and not spiritual we can understand Romans 8:18-25 much better. In these verses, Paul teaches that when Christians are transformed into their new (restored) bodies, all of creation will also be transformed. Since the transformation of the human body is physical, then it is logical to conclude that it will be like this with all of creation (see here and here for more on this topic).
In conclusion, the resurrection body will not be “spiritual” in the sense as being nonphysical or disembodied. Our future “spiritual” bodies will be our mortal bodies perfected. It is such an important topic in Scripture that Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 that if we are not to be resurrected physically than Christ did not resurrect physically. Yet, Paul says in Romans 10:9 that believing that Christ was raised from the dead is a requirement to be saved.
What do you think? Did you believe that “spiritual” meant nonphysical? Did your view change after reading this article?
 Cornelis P. Venema. The Promise of the Future (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000). 364.
 See for example, John Loftus. Why I became an Atheist (Amherst: Prometheus, 2008). 363. Gerd Ludemann. “Opening Statement” in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli eds. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000). 44-45.
 For example, see Romans 1:11, 7:14, 15:27; 1 Cor. 2:13, 15; 3:1, 9:11, 10:3-4, 12:1 14:1, 37; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 1:3, 5:19; Col. 1:9, 3:16. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 832. Also see Robert H. Gundry. 2000. “Trimming the Debate”. In Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 121-122; and Craig L. Blomberg. 1994. 1 Corinthians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 316. Randy Alcorn. Heaven (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004). 123.
 Gundry, 122.
 Gundry, 121. Blomberg, 316.
 Grudem, 832-833. See also Hank Hanegraaff. Afterlife (Brentwood: Worthy Publishing, 2013). 26-27; Venema, 374-375; Anthony A. Hoekema. The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979). 249-250. Alcorn, 121, 123. Frank Thielman. Philippians in “The NIV Application Commentary” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995). 208.
 See Loftus, 363 and Ludemann, 44-45 for this interpretation.
 Grudem, 833. See also Hoekema, 250; Venema, 374-375.
 Blomberg, 316.
 Ibid., 319.
 Gundry, 122-123.
 Loftus (p. 363) takes this as the complete opposite.
 Blomberg, 317.
 Grudem, 834, Hoekema, 251.
 Hanegraaff, 26; Venema, 371-373, 375-376; Hoekema, 245. Alcorn, 115-118. Thielman, 208.