The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

Based on The New Translation by the

and under his Editorship

Hon. D.D. (St. Andrew, Oxford), D.Litt. First Edition, London, 1938

James Moffat Bible, 1st one man translation in almost 400 years

“The argument implies that to be sown is to be born, not to be buried; Paul did not consider that physical death was the necessary prelude to the resurrection.”

THE aim of this commentary is to bring out the religious meaning and message of the New Testament writings.  To do this, it is needful to explain what they originally meant for the communities to which they were addressed in the first century, and this involves literary and historical criticism; otherwise, our reading becomes unintelligent.  But the New Testament was the literature of the early Church, written out of faith and for faith, and no study of it is intelligent unless this aim is kept in mind. It is literature written for a religious purpose.  “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  This is the real object of the New Testament, that Christians might believe it better, in the light of contemporary life with its intellectual and moral problems.  So with any commentary upon it.  Everything ought to be subordinated to the aim of elucidating the religious content, of showing how the faith was held in such and such a way by the first Christians, and of making clear what that faith was and is.  The idea of the commentary arose from a repeated demand to have my New Testament translation explained; which accounts for the fact that this translation has been adopted as a convenient basis for the commentary.  But the contributors have been left free to take their own way.  If they interpret the text differently, they have been at liberty to say so.  Only, as a translation is in itself a partial commentary, it has often saved space to print the commentary and start from it.  As everyman has not Greek, the commentary has been written, as far as possible, for the Greekless.  But it is based upon a first-hand study of the Greek original, and readers may rest assured that it represents a close reproduction of the original writers’ meaning, or at any rate of what we consider that to have been.  Our common aim has been to enable everyman to-day to sit where these first Christians sat, to feel the impetus and inspiration of the Christian faith as it dawned upon the minds of the communities in the first century, and thereby to realize more vividly how new and lasting is the message which prompted, these New Testament writings to take shape as they did.  Sometimes people inside as well as outside the Church make mistakes about the New Testament.  They think it means this or that, whereas its words frequently mean something very different from what traditional associations suggest.  The saving thing is to let the New Testament speak for itself.   This is our desire and plan in the present commentary, to place each writing or group of writings in its original setting, and allow their words to come home thus to the imagination and conscience of every man to-day.  The general form of the commentary is to provide a running comment on the text, instead of one broken up into separate verses.  But within these limits, each contributor has been left free.  Thus, to comment on a gospel requires a method which is not precisely the same as that necessitated by commenting on an epistle.  Still, the variety of treatment ought not to interfere with the uniformity of aim and form.  Our principle has been that nothing mattered, so long as the reader could understand what he was reading in the text of the New Testament.


Dr. Moffatt on I Corinthians 15:34-54.  All italic and bold emphases are Moffatt’s.


34    …Upholders of what Paul viewed as the wrong belief in immortality might be described as failing to understand the full power of God, since God was pre-eminently the God who raised the Lord and who will also raise us by his power (vi. 14, etc.).  The apostle is following the line of Jesus, who had told doubters of the resurrection that they went wrong because they understood neither the scriptures nor the power of God (Mark xii.24).

…This power is shown in God’s provision of a true, new embodiment for the spirits of the faithful in the resurrection (35-49)….God gives a body as he pleases, and it is a spiritual body (35-44)…  

35    The details of the resurrection had been discussed by rabbinical authorities like Hillel and Shammai.  But the kind of body or bodily form given to the saints occupies a contemporary prophet like the writer of the Apocalypse of Baruch (xlix.-1.).  “In what shape will those live who live in Thy day?  Will they resume this present form?”  The answer is, “The earth shall make no change in their form, but as it has received so shall it restore them” (i.e. in order that they may be recognized), though after a while the good are gradually transformed into the star-like splendour of the angels.  A younger contemporary of Paul, Rabbi Eliezer, once pointed to the variety of forms in  37  which a bare, naked seed appeared above the earth, in proof of the thesis that “the dead will all rise in their shrouds,” instead of naked (as some rabbis believed).  Paul soars above such  36  matter-of-fact applications in his use of the seed analogy.  The body sown at birth is not the body that is to be ours in the resurrection; it is very different.  What a contrast between what you sow (the you is emphatic) and what God gives later to the same spirit – as he does in vegetation, for example!  38  There the vital germ is placed in a soil of being where inevitably it alters its form as it rises into the upper air.  Only, Paul does not say that it alters;  he makes God, as usual (i. 21, xii. II, 18), the sovereign giver of the new form.  What he has in mind is the Hellenistic ideal of immortality without any “body.”  Plato’s supreme hope had been a state of existence after death “when the soul is by itself, apart from the body” (Phaedo, lxvi.).  It was an idealistic hope which had even affected a holiness movement in Judaism like that of the Essenes, who looked forward to disembodied souls as the finest prospect of eternal life.  Paul’s hope is for an order of being in which the spirit is  39  endowed by God with “a body.”  Why should that be thought impossible, when under God there were already so many varieties of “bodies” in the universe?  He uses flesh in a very free way here for substance or nature, and throws in the remark  40  about differences in glory or splendour between the heavenly bodies and the earthly, because he has in mind the coming contrast between the animate and the spiritual body.  41  Probably, too, the remark about one star differing from another in glory is an echo not only of the apocalyptic idea that the stars were angelic beings, but also of his belief in the varying nature of recompense for the shining spirits of the faithful (iii. 8), whose radiance, as again the Baruch apocalypse has it (li. 3, 9 f.), varies like that of the stars in the ageless, upper world (Dan. xii.3).  Instead of saying that “man is born,” he carries on his metaphor  42  of the human seed being sown, and concludes the lyrical description with an antithesis which starts the next movement, i.e. between the animate body and the spiritual.  “Natural”  43,44  (see on ii. 14) does not represent the meaning of the Greek, which is a body possessed by the lower psyche, answering to its needs and no more, just as spiritual does not mean a body composed of spirit, but one which answers to the vital functions of the spirit, forming a complete embodiment of the divine nature.  

   The argument implies that to be sown is to be born, not to be buried; Paul did not consider that physical death was the necessary prelude to the resurrection.  The seed of mankind is dropped into the present material order, which is mortal, corruptible (as in 2 Cor. iv. 16, Rom. viii. 21), and corrupting; but in the new, risen order of being, which is imperishable and free from corruption (verse 50), it acquires a fresh form, which does not correspond to the animate body of the previous existence.  He is working with a traditional rabbinic analogy between the seed of man and the seeds of plants in this connexion, in order to present his own conception of a spiritual body, a conception which at the same time refutes the twofold Greek idea of immortality as essentially bodiless and also as an inherent quality or capacity of the human soul.

 This is the fourth exposition of body in the epistle.  The picturesque allusion to what we, like the ancients, naturally call the heavenly bodies of the sun, moon, and stars, is Hellenic.  Here body means shape, form or the outward being of life, even of non-human life, for these celestial bodies were supposed to be alive.  Indeed Paul implies that flesh or substance, as we moderns call it, within the entire organic world of plants as well as of men, takes form or body.  So far, there is nothing novel or characteristic.  But spiritual body is a coinage of his own, struck out of his belief in the Spirit, and in the Spirit as forming an ethereal glory or divine being of its own for the personality which was possessed by the Lord or Spirit.  It is a semi-metaphysical term, essential to his view of the risen life as neither pure spirit nor wrapped in a crudely material shape, neither disembodied nor yet embodied, as current rabbinic speculation imagined, in a replica of the present physical constitution.  In speaking of the solidarity of Christ and of all who belong to Christ (in 20-28), he did not require to use the body metaphor as he had done in xii. 12-30.  Here he employs the concept in an unparalleled sense for the personality of the Christian after death.  It was a startling challenge to those who saw no alternative to the “flesh and blood” resurrection of popular Judaism (which meant the reunion of soul and body),  except in some adaptation of the purely immaterial Greek idea.  At the heart of Paul’s thought is the affirmation that the life of Christians after death must continue to possess the capacities for action and affection, insight and understanding (xiii. 12) which in the present body have a real though limited range.  The spiritual, in other words, is not the immaterial.  The animate body, with its functions for maintaining and continuing human existence (see vi. 13, xv. 50) is a flesh and blood existence for which there is no further need in the life eternal; but a body of some sort, as the medium of expression for the spiritual personality with its high aspirations and affections and enjoyment of the Spirit in fellowship with God and his saints, is vital.  The animate body itself, as a shrine of the Spirit (vi. 19), provided for this already.  But such a partial and imperfect provision would one day be replaced by a complete embodiment.

On its nature Paul does not speculate.  He speaks of this organic individuality sometimes as full sonship (Rom. viii. II, 17), but even in the most explicit allusion (Phil. iii. 21, the Lord Jesus Christ will transform the body that belongs to our low estate till it resembles the body of his Glory) there is a noticeable reserve.  The change (verse 52) may be connected with the inward renewal of the Christian personality or real self at present (vi. 19 f., 2 Cor. iv. 16), but how the spiritual body came into existence, and how it corresponded to the risen body of Christ, Paul never explains, any more than he explains the first creation of man. The creation of the first man had been an Act of God, raising him from a lower to a higher order of animate being, above the animals, in which he was designed to come under God’s promises and laws.  So with the change into a spiritual body; it was also a wonder, a sheer change wrought by the same God.  Paul leaves this truth as it stands, though, with a stroke of his profound religious genius, which at this point, as at so many others, has been often missed by theological as well as by popular Christianity, he repudiates any notion of a material identity between the present and the future body.  We shall all be changed or transformed.  While there is to be a vital change, there is continuity of spirit or personality; and the change is not from life in a body to life without a body, but from spirit in one type of body to spirit in another.  The seed analogy, though picturesque, was not a perfect illustration of this change, for a seed does not die, strictly speaking; the plant is simply another form of the same seed.  Yet the point of the analogy is plain (36-38).  It is not to be elaborated into any modern idea of an evolution or development of the present spirit into its immortal form.  Paul’s supreme interest does lie in the continuity of the human soul or personality, but in this parable from nature it is the divine wonder of the change that is uppermost for him.  God, God by his own power, brings it to pass, gives a spiritual no less than an animate body as he pleases.  The End will resemble the beginning of God’s dealing with man.

 It is an indication of how little the mystery cults appealed to contemporary Christians at Corinth that the idea of reincarnation, which was so marked a feature of the Orphic cult, as well as of Pythagorean philosophy, does not seem to have made any appeal to the local intelligentzia.  Their religious idealism rested on the Greek mystical antipathy to the body in any quest for divine union.  As the Stoic eschatology, with its belief in successive cycles of fiery destruction and periodic recovery befalling the world, never appealed to any Christian mind in these days, neither did reincarnation.  It is not likely that the enlightened at Corinth even held a doctrine of impersonal immortality such as the Flatonists and the Stoics propounded; their faith was in personal immortality, not in the soul being re-absorbed into the divine life after death, nor in the present body as a mere vehicle for the impersonal monad of the spirit.  Like Paul himself, they may have believed that God would be “all in all” (verse 28), though not of course in any sense of the perfect, eternal state being one which blurred personal identity or one which was a vague, shimmering, undifferentiated existence (see on verse 28 and xiii. 12).  The apostle’s chief charge against them is that God could not be “all in all” on the premisses of their religious logic, and that a spiritual body, such as could be attained only through organic connexion with the risen Lord, was essential to such a glorious hope.  This connexion he now proceeds to explain (43-49), appealing once more to his fundamental authority in the story of Creation.

45  As there is an animate body, so there is a spiritual body. Thus it is written,
 first man, Adam, became an animate being, the last Adam a life-giving Spirit’; 46   but the animate, not the spiritual, comes first, and only then the spiritual. 47   Man the first is from the earth, material Man the second is from heaven. 48   As Man the material is, so are the material; as Man the heavenly is, so are the heavenly. 49   Thus, as we have borne the likeness of material Man, so we are to bear the likeness of the heavenly Man.

45  As in Matt. v. 43, the citation of a text is completed by supplying its opposite.  The words of Gen. ii. 7, man became a living soul (psyche) or person (i.e. an animate being), were not much discussed by rabbis, but they had started speculation in Hellenistic Judaism, possibly under Iranian influence, about the two Men in the dual stories of creation.  Thus in Philo we overhear an interpretation of some haggada which contrasted the ideal first Man with the mortal second; the first, created in God’s own likeness (Gen. i. 27) corresponds to Plato’s ideal Man, spiritual and immortal, i.e. the genus as conceived in the divine mind, while the second, the historical Adam (of Gen.ii. 7, with his descendants), answers to the person of material man, made from the earth and modelled after the first.  If this speculation ever occurred to Paul, he reverses it, not on any speculative ground, but owing to the facts of revelation in history and providence.  He interprets Gen. ii. 7 in the light of the messianic hope, not of metaphysics, though a metaphysic of being is implicit in his statement.  Thinking not simply of the pre-existent messiah, but of the current Jewish notion of Adam as the original, ideal man, whose lost glory was to be restored by messiah (ii. 7. 8), he coins the title of the last Adam, in order of historic time and succession.  Jews spoke of the “first man,” Adam, but never of a second Adam, as the apostle did.  For Paul, Christ is not the primal Man of Iranian or Philonic speculation on the cosmos, but One who has towards the End entered history, as the Lord of glory, in order to inaugurate the new order of being.  Instead of equating this second Man with the first, he presses the unique function of the heavenly Man for mankind.  Men would die in their mortality, were it not for the new Act and Order of God which, in Christ, the life-giving Spirit, restores and completes man’s destiny.  As Adam was animate or material, in the sense of being made out of earth,  46  the second Man is heavenly, or, as it is put elsewhere, 47  he was originally divine by nature, “in the form of God.”  As descendants of Adam we all have the human existence  48  that man shares with men.  Those who are heavenly are those who belong to Christ (verse 23), possessing what he alone can give, the life of the Spirit, which at the resurrection acquires its full expression in the likeness of the heavenly Man

…50  I tell you this, my brothers, flesh and blood cannot inherit the Realm of God, nor can the perishing inherit the imperishable.

Flesh and blood (as in Gal. i. 16) means human nature as opposed to the divine.  In the next life, Paul had told sympathizers with Greek mysticism, there must be a “body” of some kind for the spirit of man.  Now he insists (with reference to the Jewish belief) that this “body” cannot be the present body.  On any nexus between the present physical frame and the spiritual body the apostle never speculates.  There will be a change, a transformation of our being, but it is the glorious triumph thus gained over death that thrills him, and on personal data he does not stop to dwell.  All he urges – and for him it is everything – is that the change by which Christians pass into God’s realm of immortal bliss, beyond the fear and force of Death, is God’s own doing (57)…  

…52    Thinking in apocalyptic terms of the End, where trumpets sounded to awaken the dead or to rally the living loyalists, he speaks of the last summons from God as sudden and instantaneous; the resurrection is accomplished by God’s power in a moment, instead of being any long-drawn-out process of reanimation for dead corpses of the faithful.  Then, using freely some abstract terms of Hellenistic Judaism, he mentions for the first and the only time immortality,  53 a catchword of the gnostic liberals at Corinth in their theosophy.  It was a word common in Greek Jews like Philo and the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon (God created man for immortality and made him the likeness of his own being; but by the envy of the devil death entered the world, and those who belong to the devil’s party experience death: ii. 23, 24); literally it is “incorruption,” but the idea is eternal duration or indestructible existence.  What is “immortal” called up in the mind associations which were practically the same as those of what is “imperishable,” and they amount to an equivalent for glory (ii. 7) in this connexion (4-43).  The metaphor of being clothed or invested with immortality, so familiar in the Hermetica and the Jewish apocalypses as well as in Indian and Persian religion, carries on the thought of wearing or bearing the likeness of the heavenly Man (49).  Paul reverts to this in 2 Cor. v. 1-5 (with its shudder at the very notion of a naked, disembodied spirit).  At present it is merely a passing touch as he hints what real immortality means for Christians,  54  i.e. an embodiment.  (pages 256-267)

What do YOU think ?

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Date: 10 Mar 2007
Time: 09:30:09


I appreciate the assertion without evidence that the spiritual body is within the physical body!

Who wrote this? How much Greek do you know? You need to learn to do a structual analysis of the text my friend.

In 1 Cor 15 Paul says “It is sown natural, it is raised spiritual.” The change that is wrought is upon that which is sown, the IT…So ask yourself what is the IT that is sown? The BODY. I am not sure we know what is included in the word soma, but it does not in anyway EXCLUDE the physical.

Date: 15 May 2007
Time: 09:15:23


I think it is interesting that Col 2:12 is mentioned in reference against a physical body when a few verses before, the following is said: (verse 9) For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (bodily form coming from the greek word, Somatikos, which can mean both physical and exaulted spiritual body). I am still new with greek words, but to me it seems that Christ has to have, even now, a bodily form that is incorruptable. However that works I dont know, but obviously the ways of God are unsearchable sometimes. Also take into account Matthew 20:27. How do you explain Jesus telling Thomas to touch his hands and feet that were supposidly (from the argument of Jesus having a spiritual ressurection only) not there? There has to be mass to him, in some way, somehow. Its not flesh and blood, we know that. Its something like Paul was explaining in 1 Cor 15.

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