Let's now turn to 1 Corinthians 15 and follow Paul's argument through.
I think a lot of people misconstrue what Paul is saying here simply because a word, phrase, or verse is often removed from its historical and literary context and replaced with our own ideas. Perhaps, here it is easier to do this simply because the chapter is so long and not many wish to spend time to follow the passage from start to finish. At some point, it might be helpful to do some sort of arching discourse analysis on the text to see why the following connections must be made, but for now, this will have to do. So, as laborious as it may be, let’s do this now.
Paul grounds his argument that there is a resurrection of the saints in the fact that Christ has been raised. This apparently is answering the claim of some group in Corinth that were arguing that there is no resurrection (v. 12).
Hence, he links Christ's resurrection to the general resurrection by using it as the prototype for the general resurrection. He refers to Christ's resurrection as the aparchē "first fruits." The first fruits were a portion of the larger crops that were representative of the larger whole. Hence, Paul here is stating that Christ's resurrection is representative of the larger resurrection. What happened to Him is representative of what will happen to believers who have fallen asleep.
As I said before, the metaphor for falling asleep in Scripture (koimaomai) refers to the body, and it is the body that is in view here, as the ancients believed that the spirit was alive in another realm. It was the return of a person in his or her physical body that was difficult for a dualist-Hellenistic culture to grasp (cf. Acts 17:18 with 1 Cor 1:23, a god who dies in flesh and is raised in flesh is simply unfathomable to the Greeks). Hence, many were saying that there was no resurrection, yet they were still among the Corinthian believers, and must have believed that Christ saves souls to a paradisal afterlife rather than one that directs the soul to Hades.
Instead, however, Paul counters this idea by saying that Christ was risen in His body and was witnessed by all of His disciples, including even himself. Hence, when Paul uses the word anastasis "resurrection," it is incumbent upon us to realize that he is referring to the resurrection of the body. Indeed, the body is clearly his subject in the pericope (v. 35).
Hence, when the term "resurrection" is used here it is used to refer to the body. There is no referent to a spirit, and to say that the resurrection is simply God giving some other body is to say that the body is not actually raised at all. Hence, Paul is speaking about the resurrection of the earthly body in the same way that he is speaking about the resurrection of Christ's earthly body.
Therefore, he can describe its death as "sleeping." Again, the ancients did not believe in soul sleep, a modern idea, but rather that the spirit was awake in the spiritual world. What went dormant was the body. It is the body, therefore, that must be woken up if the whole person is to be raised.
This raising, therefore, follows an order: ῞Εκαστος δὲ ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ τάγματι· ἀπαρχὴ Χριστός, ἔπειτα οἱ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ "But each in its own order: Christ as first fruits, then those who belong to Christ at His parousia. So Christ was raised in His own body first, then those who belong to Christ will be raised in their own bodies at His parousia. This is the flow of Paul's argument, using the words according to the way they would have been understood by Paul and his audience.
Hence, when Paul discusses the last enemy that must be put into subjection (a "not yet" event for Paul with an "already" sense to it that occurred at the cross), he is speaking about the death from this realm that ended the life of the person in his or her body here on earth. It is this death that must be abolished in order for all things to be complete.
Notice that the end comes after this takes place, and that this end includes the abolishing of all other rule and authority on the earth (v. 24), a theology extremely familiar to anyone who has studied Second Temple Judaism. God's Kingdom completely abolishes the others. They do not reign along with Him. There are no co-regents in that eschatological view. Hence, again, there is a sense in which the Kingdom has come and a sense in which the Kingdom is not yet. But what is very clear is that all other kingdoms end when it comes upon the earth in fulfillment. That is the picture Paul has in mind as a Second Temple Jew. All of the wicked are removed from the earth. Their kingdoms are abolished. And the righteous reign upon the earth forever. And how do they do this? In their resurrected bodies. As Christ received back what He lost in death, so also those who belong to Christ receive back what they lost in death.
But there is further evidence here that when Paul speaks of resurrection, he is speaking of the resurrection of the same body that the believer has on earth. In describing what the resurrected body will be like, Paul assumes that it is this body that is transformed to its best existence, rather than a new body that replaces this one.
In v. 29, Paul discusses a group who is baptizing for the dead.
Ἐπεὶ τί ποιήσουσιν οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν; εἰ ὅλως νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, τί καὶ βαπτίζονται ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν;
Otherwise, what are those who baptize on behalf of the dead doing if the dead are not actually raised? Why are they being baptized on their behalf?
Now, Paul's argument is difficult here, but I'm going to assume that this group, if the same as those who are saying that there is no resurrection, is practicing baptism in order to save those who have died. These people seem to be practicing water baptism for those who have died in order to save spirits, since they don't believe in a bodily resurrection. Paul seems to be asking why one would baptize their physical bodies in order to save spirits if physical bodies are not resurrected. Baptism signifies a salvation of the whole self. It is not an insignificant point, then, to see many Preterists, who hold Gnostic assumptions, to believe that water baptism is not something taught in the NT, but only a baptism of the spirit into Christ.
Paul argues that if the dead are not raised, then one may use the body as he wishes. It is to be discarded anyway. "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (v. 32). Again, if we read this in the understanding of Paul's world, instead of in the context of our own, this doesn't mean we are annihilated, but that our bodies are not raised, and we, therefore, have no obligation to purify them and live a holy life in them. After all, they are just shells, as the Gnostics would say. The spirit and the body are not intermingled as a whole.
In any case, the real argument that Paul is talking about the resurrection of the whole person by resurrecting his body is found in the next few statements he makes concerning its nature.
First, Paul places the body that is to be raised as the same body that is buried. It is raised transformed, but the same body that went into the grave nonetheless.
v. 36 "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies."
Notice, what comes to life is what dies, not something else. Also notice, that the imagery of the seed is that what is sown, i.e., a seed, is the entity from which the living plant springs. It is not some other entity. One does not sow a seed in one place and then a plant springs up in another. The life is produced from the dead seed in Paul's analogy, not apart from it.
In vv. 37-38, Paul tells us that what is sown is not the body that will come to be, but a bare seed or grain of wheat or something of that nature. He, then, proceeds to tell us that "God gives it a body just as He desires, and to each of the seeds a body of their own."
To what does the αὐτῷ refer? It does not refer to "him," as though this was saying that God gives a believer a body as He wishes, since there is no "him" in the context. Instead, the antecedent seems to be either γυμνὸν κόκκον or the σίτου, the naked seed or wheat, both of which are masculine and singular in agreement with the pronoun. Hence, the verse should be translated, "God gives it a body as He desires." God gives what? The seed that is sown. The very body, in the analogy, that goes into the grave. These are attributes that God is giving to it in the resurrection. It cannot, therefore, be a different body that is given.
In case it alludes anyone, the next clause is clear to point this out: καὶ ἑκάστῳ τῶν σπερμάτων ἴδιον σῶμα "and to each of the seeds its own body." Hence, He is giving a body to each of the seeds that are sown in the ground. That makes the above analysis pretty solid. Paul is talking about what God is giving to the body that goes in the ground. God is not finished with it at death. He is taking it and giving it greater attributes in order to make it the best body possible, a body fit for the kingdom of God.
Paul proceeds to argue that this is possible for the body to take on other attributes because there are different kinds of bodies (that of animals and fish and heavenly bodies), and hence, the body can be given different attributes. It does not have to keep the same attributes it had before, so God has options to choose different attributes for it if He so desires; and indeed, this is the case in the resurrection. But it is the same body nonetheless. Hence, he tells us:
σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·
σπείρεται ἐν ἀτιμίᾳ, ἐγείρεται ἐν δόξῃ·
σπείρεται ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ, ἐγείρεται ἐν δυνάμει·
σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν.
It is sown as perishable. It is raised imperishable. It is sown as dishonorable. It is raised in glory.
It is sown as weakness. It is raised in power.
It is sown as a natural body. It is raised a spiritual body.
The "it" here is in the verb. There is no "he" or "she" in the passage and the subject is the body. Hence, in the context, the "it" refers to the same subject, i.e., the body. The body is the "it" that is sown and the "it" that is raised. This is clear also from the fact that what is sown is what is being raised up. The imagery of the seed pervades this text. The seed is planted/buried and from "it" is brought a living plant that has been produced from the seed, not apart from it. A farmer does not plant a seed and then expect that a shoot will come up disconnected from the seed.
Hence, it is the same body that is sown as a perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural body and raised up as an imperishable, honorable, strong, spiritual body. The whole person has been redeemed because the body has been redeemed, not just his spirit.
Paul, then, continues to argue (that Jesus was heavenly, but Adam earthy. We have borne the image of the earthy, so we will also bear the image of the heavenly. He, then, continues to make his analogy of our bodies with that of Jesus. Notice, that Jesus, being referred to as the heavenly, does not denote that Christ has a different body than the one which was raised, but rather refers to the resurrected Jesus' body. As Jesus is a heavenly man with His earthly body, so believers will be like Him and be heavenly men with their heavenly bodies, their transformed and glorified bodies that were sown in death and weakness.
Then Paul tells the Corinthians that the natural man, Adam, came first and then the spiritual man, Jesus Christ. Hence, as all believers are in the natural man, and bear his likeness, they must undergo death or transformation in order to bear the image of the spiritual/heavenly man, Jesus (vv. 45-49). That Adam preceded Christ, and all are in him, is the reason why believers still carry his perishable, weak, dishonored body with them. However, they will receive attributes in the resurrection that bears the image of the heavenly man, Jesus Christ and His resurrected body. A mortal body cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but a body raised up and given immortal attributes can. Hence, Jesus, in His immortal body of literal flesh and blood reigns in the kingdom, but "flesh and blood" as Paul uses it here is clearly identified as the mortal body that is sown, not the raised immortal body. Hence, the phrase, "flesh and blood" cannot be taken literally, lest Christ be incapable of inheriting the kingdom of God because He has his very own physical body (cf. Luke 24:. This is further evidenced in v. 50b that clarifies that the body of "flesh and blood" is the perishable one.
Finally, Paul tells us that it is, in fact, this body that will be raised up when he reveals that not all of them will fall asleep, i.e., die. Instead, some of them will be transformed immediately, thus showing that it is this body that is transformed, not some other body received in place of this one.
He states in vv. 51-52 that he and those who have not yet died at Christ's coming will be altered (ἀλλαγησόμεθα). In the context, this clearly refers to the body. It is the body that will be altered, not discarded in order to receive a different one. This will happen in contrast to dying: οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα "we will not all sleep."
Instead, this perishable (body, touto is neuter and refers to σῶμα, which is the continuing subject of the pericope) must put on the imperishable and this mortal body put on the immortal.
Paul ends by showing the Corinthians that death will be swallowed up, i.e., the victory of Christ in subjecting death underneath His feet, to which he alluded before, will only come about when this physical resurrection of the body occurs. When the body is glorified in resurrection, then death truly, in every sense, will have been defeated.
Hence, Paul's argument is that victory has "not yet" fully come about, but that Christ's bodily resurrection as first fruits that looks forward to the resurrection of believers is the "already" that assures believers that the "not yet" will, in fact, occur. Hence, contrary to what some were saying at Corinth, there is, indeed, a resurrection of the body.