Question: Is 1 Corinthians 15:40 used as a "proof text" by Latter-day Saints to support the Three Degress of Glory?

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Question: Is 1 Corinthians 15:40 used as a "proof text" by Latter-day Saints to support the Three Degress of Glory?

There is plenty of scholarly support for a resurrection of varying degrees of glory

It is claimed that Latter-day Saints use as a "proof text" 1 Corinthians 15:40, "There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial...". They say that in light of verse 41, where Paul makes the comparison between the light of the sun, the moon and the stars as a simile for the difference in glories between the three kingdoms, that "many scholars believe that Paul was referring to heavenly bodies such as the moon, sun, and stars." [1]

Well, yes—that is the whole point of a simile. If one were to say "my true love's eyes are like almonds," one is not writing an agronomy treatise, but, yes, one is referring to almonds. Paul's analogy works like this: "There are A, B, and C...so too is the resurrection of the dead (verse 42)"—a classic simile.

There is plenty of scholarly support for a resurrection of varying degrees of glory. Orr and Walther even title the section of their commentary on this section "Analogies," and write,

Like Immanuel Kant, Paul transfers his vision from the earth to the sky and points out that the myriad bodies there differ from each other and from the earth. Presumably he has in mind that the heavenly bodies shine with their own light while the earthly ones have only reflected light.[2] He gives no further indication of his astronomical thought, and obviously his data are critically limited. Since his express purpose is only to show that many possibilities are open in the realm of reality, his analogy provides a valid illustration.[3]

Likewise Thiselton, pointing out a switch in language which will resonate with Latter-day Saints' understanding of the difference between "body" in a purely physical sense (Greek sarx) and "soul" in the sense of body and spirit (Greek sóma):

The shift from [sarx; physical body] (v. 39) to [soma; soul] (v. 40) is marked by the introduction of of [doxa; glory or splendour] and the allusion to bodies that are super-earthly. Whereas flesh had emphasized the diversity of the 'stuff' of creation, body now calls attention to diversities of form and character. In Calvin's words, the comparison of v. 39 serve the same purpose as those of vv. 37-38 but add the implication that 'whatever diversity we perceive in any particular kind (in quoqua specie) is a sort of foreshadowing of the resurrection....' Chrysostom, Theodoret, Ambrosiaster, and Augustine construe vv. 39 and 40 as clearly anticipating the distinctions supposedly implied by v. 41b, i.e., differences in 'honor' even between individual believers at the resurrection, but this goes beyond the explicit sense of these verses. Tertullian, too, sees Paul's argument here (vv. 39-40) as a decisive logical repudiation of Marcion's wish to substitute a notion of the soul's immortality for bodily resurrection: 'Does he not guarantee that the resurrection shall be accomplished by that God from whom proceed all the examples,' i.e., of diversity within creation and of transformation. Tertullian rightly places the emphasis upon God and God's's [sic] resourcefulness as Creator as the ground of this faith.[4]:1267-1268

Incidentally, Thiselton goes on to consider the argument that McKeever and Johnson apparently refer to, that Paul is referring simply to the fact that the resurrected will dwell with God in the heavenly regions (in a cosmological sense), but dismiss it on the grounds that the word Paul uses to translate "body" when he refers to resurrected bodies-and his distinction is clear and consistent-is "soma," a word not applicable to a mere physical body like a planet or star:

However, some interpreters object that Paul would not use [sóma] of an impersonal entity, and that to apply this to astronomical 'bodies' either imports a modern meaning of [sóma]or presupposes a view of astral bodies as quasi-personal, as reflected in some non-Christian first-century religions. Meyer and Findlay, among others, argue this forcefully, insisting that Paul alludes to bodies of angels in v. 40, appealing to supposed parallels in Matt 22:10 and Luke 20:36.[4]:1268

Thus does this eminent Protestant scholar consign the critics' defense to the scrap heap of heresy, even within Protestantism's definition of heresy.

This leaves one possible gap, which, mind you, the critics in this case don't even try to exploit, but for the sake of completeness, and also because the reference deals with their weak parenthetical attempt to link "terrestrial bodies" to the "flesh of men, beasts, fishes, and birds," we'll consider it here. This whole passage in 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the resurrection, specifically, not necessarily about Heaven, per se. However, Paul is talking about the future in a general, soteriological sense (the process of salvation as a whole), and is using the resurrection as the première, or epitome for the whole post-earthly experience. Thiselton explains that Paul's sermon is not to be taken in a strictly time-related locative way (located at a specific point in time):

On the other hand, the three pairs of contrasts-decay and its absence or reversal, humiliation and splendor, and an ordinary human body and a body constituted by the Spirit-give solid ground for conceiving of the postresurrection made of life as a purposive and dynamic crescendo of life, since the living God who acts purposively decrees this fitting mode, rather than envisaging some static ending in which the raised body is forever trapped, as if in the last 'frozen' frame of a film or movie. In the biblical writings the Spirit is closely associated with ongoing vitality, which Paul takes up in v. 45b...

The one necessary exegetical caveat is to note that realm of the Spirit (i.e., [pneumatikon; "spirit-directed"] does not mean primarily the nonphysical realm (although it certainly includes this), but what befits the transformation of character or pattern of existence effected by the Holy Spirit. Here the biological analogies of transforming a bare seed or grain into fruit, flower, or harvest may take on an aesthetic dimension for illustrative purposes to underline (a) contrast; (b) continuity of identity; and (c) full and radical transformation of form and character.[4]:1279ff


Notes

  1. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 172. ( Index of claims )
  2. This is an excellent summary of the LDS view of exaltation versus salvation in lesser kingdoms, incidentally.
  3. William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther, I Corinthians. Anchor Bible, Vol. 32 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976), 346.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Anthony C. Thiselton, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids. Michigan and Carlisle, United Kingdom: Eerdmans / Paternoster, 2000)