wispI received the following question:

This question is regarding the second part of John 5. You claim that “those who cannot believe that we will be resurrected in physical bodies, but who insist on some sort of ‘spiritual’ resurrection, do not really believe in biblical resurrection at all.” If this is true, and our resurrection will be physical, then what is Paul referring to in 1 Corinthians 15? He writes: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) “And just as we have borne the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of a man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that the flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (15:49-50) If he’s not talking about a spiritual resurrection throughout 15:35-56 (especially verse 44), then could you please explain to me what he is saying, because I don’t understand.

Your question is based on several things here. First of all, we have very little concept in English of the meaning of the word “spiritual.” We use this word all the time, and yet we mean very little by it. Words, as representatives of thoughts and ideas, are supposed to convey some meaning to the mind when they are used. Yet no real meaning comes to mind when we hear the word “spiritual.” For example, if someone says of a man, “He is a very spiritual person.” What exactly is meant by this phrase? What exactly is it about the man that has just been said? The same is true of those who say that heaven is a “spiritual” place. What exactly is a “spiritual” place? I would defy anyone to give me one real, sensible fact about a spiritual place. The fact is that the word “spiritual” is what Otis Q. Sellers called a “Mother Hubbard word.” The “Mother Hubbard” was a dress worn by women in olden days that was famous for hiding everything and revealing nothing. In the same way, the word “spiritual,” when we use it, hides completely what our meaning actually is, and reveals no facts to us when used. At best, it gives us some kind of vaguely good feeling, like when we call someone “spiritual.”

Mr. Sellers also told the story of a man who came to his door and was talking about heaven as a spiritual place. He asked him what he meant by “spiritual.” To which the man replied, “If I was standing in front of you, and you couldn’t see me, I would be spiritual.” To which Mr. Sellers replied, “I don’t think you mean spiritual. I think you mean invisible.”

The word “spiritual” does not mean invisible, and it does not mean immaterial. Certainly not when dealing with Scripture, at any rate. That this is true can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by considering I Corinthians 10:1-4, which states:

1. Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2. all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3. all ate the same spiritual food, 4. and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

It is evident that the “spiritual food” the Israelites ate in the wilderness, the “manna,” was neither invisible, nor was it immaterial. It was not the opposite of “physical food,” as some like to make heaven a “spiritual place, which is the opposite of a physical place.” This manna was in every way physical food, and yet it also was spiritual food. The same was true of the water they drank out of the rock that was “anointed.” (Not “Christ,” for the word “Christ” means “anointed,” and should be translated as such in this case.) That water was physical water, able to quench thirst in every way as physical water does, and yet it is here called “spiritual.” Thus, it is clear that, in the Bible, “spiritual” is not the opposite of “physical.” Rather, the opposite of a physical thing is an imaginary or figurative thing, and so the opposite of physical food is imaginary food.

Now, what does “spiritual” mean? How was the manna in the wilderness, and how was the water from the rock, “spiritual”? I believe that, in Scripture, the adjective “spiritual” is used of things that come directly from God, and not by the usual, natural processes by which such things are normally made. For example, most bread is made from ingredients such as flour and yeast, and is made only by a long process of making dough, allowing it to rise, baking it, and so forth. Yet the manna the children of Israel ate was not made in this way. There never was any flour, nor dough. No baking was ever done. Rather, this bread came directly from God, totally apart from the normal processes used to bake bread. Thus, this bread was “spiritual.” In the same way, the water from the rock did not come from the usual processes of condensation. It was not a product of the natural water cycle that keeps recycling water from the oceans back into rain back into the rivers and lakes and finally running back to the ocean again. Rather, this water, like the manna, was produced directly by God. Therefore, it was spiritual water, though its substance was just as physical as any other water there has ever been.

Now the bodies we live in while we live this life have been brought about by natural means. Our mothers and fathers came together in the natural way, and we were conceived. We went through the natural process, and a natural birth. We grew in the natural way, and became what we are now. Thus, the bodies we are in now are in every way normal, human bodies. Yet in the resurrection, this will not be the case. Then, our bodies will not have come about by any natural, earthly process. Rather, our bodies then will have been produced solely by the action of God. Thus, our bodies then, unlike our bodies now, will be spiritual.

But this does not plumb the depths of I Corinthians 15:42-44. There is also a poor translation here that hides a further truth that this passage contains. It is obvious here that the word “spiritual” is connected to the word “spirit.” In the Greek it is the same way, pneumatikon clearly being related to pneuma. Yet, there is no obvious connection between the English word “natural” and the word “soul.” Yet that connection is just as clear in Greek, psuchikon clearly being related to psuche. We have no English adjective answering to “soul” like “spiritual” answers to “spirit.” If we tried to coin one, “soulical” does not seem to sound quite right, so I would suggest a more English-sounding “soulish.” There is no such word, of course, but it is nearly impossible to translate this passage correctly without one, and we could wish that our King James translators had seen fit to coin one, as they did elsewhere, as it is likely that the word then would have made its way into common English. As it is, we must coin “soulish,” and understand it to mean the same thing to “soul” as “spiritual” does to “spirit.”

Now, there are various meanings in the Scriptures assigned to both the words “soul” and “spirit.” When used in contrast, however, one cannot help noticing that “soul” is used when considering our emotions and desires, whereas “spirit” is used when considering our minds and intellects. In a nutshell, “soul” is what you feel and “spirit” is what you think.

Now it is clear that the bodies we live in now are closely connected to the soul, not the spirit. For example, I know that broccoli is good for me, and chocolate cake is not. So my spirit is clear on this. Yet my soul is equally clear on the fact that the chocolate cake tastes better than the broccoli. Thus, my body has to decide. Which is it going to desire, the one my spirit says is better, or the one my soul says is better? Well, we all know from experience that the body will side with the soul every time. So if I choose the broccoli over the chocolate cake, I must do so by using my spirit to override both my soul and my body.

Now I believe that the current state we are in, with our bodies responding to the soul and not the spirit, is a state brought about by sin. The soul is not evil, yet it has eclipsed its intended place, and thus dominates the body rather than the spirit. Many whose spirits, for example, never would have told them that it was a good idea to cheat on their wives and the mothers of their children, have done so by yielding to the desires of their souls and bodies working together. Those who are grossly overweight were not driven to that point by their spirits, or what they knew was good for them, but by their souls, and their bodies responding to that.

Now in a proper relationship of body, soul, and spirit, the spirit should be the aspect that dominates the body. That is, though the soul would still enjoy the chocolate cake if eaten, the body and the spirit would both respond more to the broccoli. The spiritual body, dominated by what is known to be right, longs to stop when enough food has been eaten, rather than wanting to indulge the soul by consuming more of what tastes good. And though my soulish body now leaps to desire any person of the opposite sex who is attractive, my spiritual body then would not respond at all to anyone, no matter how attractive, even if she were standing naked in front of me, unless that person were my wife, in which case I would be just as attracted to her as I would be now, if not more so. That is how a body would act when dominated, not by soul, but instead by spirit.

It is almost impossible for us, who have always experienced a soulish body, to even conceive of what it would be like to live in a spiritual body, one that responds with soulish desires only when given permission to by the spirit. Yet I believe that that is what is promised to us in the future. Someday, we will have a body that is spiritual, and the soul will ever be in subjection to what is right. That, I think, is what is being discussed in I Corinthians 15:42-44 regarding a “spiritual” versus a “natural” (soulish) body.

Now, we bear that stamp of that earthly man, the man who is produced by those natural processes that I talked about earlier. In the resurrection, however, we will bear the stamp of the heavenly (exalted) man, the man who is produced, not by natural means, but by the Spirit of God directly. The man who is not dominated by the desires of a sinful soul, but by the moral conscience of a righteous spirit.

“Flesh and blood” here indicates, again, what is natural. “Flesh and blood” is a figurative phrase that speaks of what we are by birth. We use a similar meaning when we talk about “blood relatives,” or say we have “German blood,” or something like that. So it is that our natural state granted us by birth can never have a place or portion in the kingdom of God, just as our perishable, sinful bodies can have no place there. Thank God, then, that we have a spiritual body promised to us in the future, a body that is not affected by the sin that is passed on to us by birth, in which we can indeed have a place and enjoy a portion in that Kingdom that is to come.

There is nothing here to suggest that only “invisible, immaterial” people can inherit God’s kingdom. That is not the topic of the passage, and it is not consistent with the truth.

Resurrection, by its very nature, is spiritual, because it is something that only God can do. There is no natural process for resurrection. The natural process is for death, not resurrection. Of course resurrection is spiritual. Yet that does not mean that people are resurrected invisible or immaterial. That, as I said in my study on John 5, is the same as saying that men (for a physical body is an essential part of man as outlined in Genesis 2:7,) will never be resurrected at all.