April 5: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

1 Corinthians 15:45-49

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

This is part of Paul’s famous chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed recently in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”), a chapter that begins with the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus (vv. 3-7, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a memorable declaration of the resurrection (of believers) as a climactic end-time event (vv. 50-56). Thus the idea of the future resurrection of believers is blended together with the resurrection of Jesus—the latter serving as the basis (and pattern) for the former.

Indeed, in verses 45-49, as part of his attempt to describe the nature of the resurrection, Paul establishes a contrast between the living body of a human being (possessing a soul, yuxh/), and the body of a resurrected person that has been transformed by the Spirit (pneu=ma). This is expressed in verse 44 (and following) by a bit of wordplay that is most difficult to translate accurately in English. Paul uses two parallel, but contrasting, adjectives: yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$. For the first adjective (yuxiko/$) there is no comparable English word. It is derived from yuxh/, i.e. the cool wind/breath that animates a living being, and typically translated “soul”. Thus, as an adjective, yuxiko/$, would properly mean something like “possessing a soul”, “animated by a soul” —that is, a living (human) being. However, the point of the contrast with pneumatiko/$, is that the living being only possesses a soul, being animated/guided only by its natural soul-breath, and not by the Divine life-breath of the Spirit (pneu=ma). The same contrast is made, even more pointedly, by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14-16. That the point of the contrast is as I have explained here, is confirmed by Jude 19 (cp. James 3:15).

In 1 Cor 15:44ff, the adjective yuxiko/$ is primarily neutral, rather than negative, in meaning. The negative aspect is only hinted at, implied by the reference to Adam, and the idea that humankind is mortal, fated to die and return to the dust (i.e. decay). More important to Paul’s line of argument is the parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the second/last man), used also in Rom 5:12-21. All human beings share the nature and characteristics of the first man, but only believers in Christ take on the nature/characteristics of the second (and last) man. And what are the nature/characteristics of the second man, Jesus? Here is how Paul describes it in vv. 45-49:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul, the last man into a life-giving Spirit. But the (thing possess)ing the Spirit (does) not (come) first, but the (thing possess)ing a soul (comes first), (and) upon [i.e. after] that, the (thing possess)ing the Spirit. The first man (is from) out of the dirt, the second man (is from) out of heaven.”

Jesus is a life-making (i.e. life-giving) Spirit, possessing and animated by the Spirit of God. He is also heavenly, coming from out of heaven, and sharing the nature and character of the One who is upon (i.e. above/over) the heavens. Paul understands this of Jesus, primarily, not in terms of divine/eternal pre-existence, but in terms of the resurrection, and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. In the wording of v. 45, Paul indicates that Jesus “came to be” (transformed) “into” a life-making Spirit; this certainly refers to the resurrection and exaltation.

The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit is complex, and there is no definitive treatment of the matter in the New Testament. The Johannine writings deal with the relationship extensively, as does Paul, in his own way, in his letters. The Spirit can be referred to as “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ,” almost interchangeably (see esp. Rom 8:9); in some passages, the Spirit seems to be a divine power (or being) separate from Jesus, at other times it clearly represents the power and presence of Christ himself. The passage which connects the Spirit most closely with the resurrection is Romans 8:9-11ff. It is said that the resurrection of Jesus came about by the power of the Spirit of God (that is, of God the Father), and yet, just two verses earlier (v. 9), Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ” as that which dwells in believers. The idea seems to be that, with the resurrection, God’s Spirit is united with Jesus, so that they share the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

In Rom 1:4, Paul, following the early line of Christian thought, describes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God as based on the power of the resurrection, by which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. This power is connected with “(a) spirit of holiness” —it was according to this spirit (pneu=ma) that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”, language that reflects the earliest Christian preaching and tradition (cf. Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). The expression “spirit of holiness” could be understood as “Spirit of holiness”, i.e. “holy Spirit”, even though it lacks the definite article. Certainly, it would only take a small step of Christological development for the wording in Rom 1:4 to be understood in terms of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus’ resurrection, even as Paul states in 8:11:

“But if the Spirit, the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead, houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you.”

The precise reference of the expression “his Spirit” is a bit ambiguous—is it again God‘s Spirit, or is the reference now to the Spirit of Christ as that which dwells in the believer? Almost certainly, the latter is intended, being part of the same Christological belief reflected in verse 9, and stated above. With the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the very Spirit of God which raised him from the dead, and it is this “Spirit of Christ” that dwells in the believer; we experience the Spirit of God (the Father) through the Spirit of Christ (the Son). This unifying and uniting principle is presented even more clearly in the Gospel and Letters of John, but, in this regard, Pauline and Johannine theology are very close.

Thus, when Paul says that Jesus came to be (transformed) “into a life-making Spirit”, this is to be understood in the sense that his spirit comes to be united with God’s own Spirit; this occurs through “a spirit of holiness”, the transforming power at work in the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus (Rom 1:4). With this exaltation, Jesus is identified as God’s Son (“Son of God”), and, as such, he shares the same Spirit as God the Father. While Paul likely held an (early) form of belief in Jesus as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:13-20), when speaking of the Sonship of Jesus, he tends to follow the earlier Christology that defines this in terms of the resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand.

The promise in Rom 8:11b—

“…the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you”

which declares that the resurrection of believers will follow after the pattern of Jesus’ own resurrection, is essentially stated by Paul again in 1 Corinthians 15, as the Adam/Christ parallel and illustration continues in vv. 48-49:

“Such as the (one made) of dirt (is), even (so) these (one)s (made) of dirt (are); and such as the (One) upon the heavens (is), even (so) these (one)s upon the heavens (are). And, just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God.

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