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1 Corinthians 15 touches on the nature of resurrected bodies, making a contrast between earthly bodies and heavenly bodies:

40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

[1 Cor 15:40-49, ESV]

The passage is very clear and unambiguous in stating the fact that Jesus ("the last Adam") became a life-giving spirit (v45). Other translations translate it as quickening spirit, but a spirit in any case. And the surrounding context supports the same obvious conclusion: Jesus' resurrected body was a glorious, heavenly, spiritual body.

We find a similar idea in 2 Cor 3:17 (ESV):

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

And the same is said of angels in Hebrews 1:14:

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?.

(*) Related question about angels: How should we understand the nature of angels in light of Hebrews 1:14 and 13:2?.


However, in Luke 24:39 Jesus makes a claim that, at face value, appears to contradict what we have concluded above:

39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [Luke 24:39, ESV]


Question:

Is there any contradiction? How can Jesus be a life-giving spirit and not a spirit? How to reconcile these seemingly contradictory claims?

5 Answers 5

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+50

Luke is indeed explicit that Jesus' resurrected body is a tangible body of flesh & bones. Thomas' experience in John 20 supports this as well:

Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

Bones without breath is like faith without works (dead)

Luke does not say, however, that Jesus consists of nothing but flesh & bones. Ezekiel 37 teaches about the resurrection and indicates that the ruach (spirit/breath) returns to the body:

5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

So Jesus as a resurrected being had a spirit as well, not flesh & bones alone. This is a critical distinction: to say that one is a being of flesh & bones does not mean that one is a being of only flesh & bones.

Jesus' statement in verse 39 can be understood to mean "I'm not merely a spirit, because a spirit by itself doesn't have these features". He's not trying to prove a negative here, in fact the test that is administered--eating fish & honeycomb--does nothing at all to prove a negative (that He is not a spirit), but rather it proves a positive--He does have flesh & bones.

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Logical disciples run tests

The following logical propositions represent the test that is carried out:


P1: If (Spirit ^ ~Body) => ~(Flesh ^ Bones) (verse 39)

P2: If ~Spirit => ~Eat (lifeless corpse, as discussed in Ezekiel 37)

P3: If ~(Flesh ^ Bones) => ~Eat (implied or the test is pointless)

P4: Eat (as tested by the disciples)

C1: Flesh ^ Bones (P3, P4)

C2: ~(Spirit ^ ~Body) (P1, C1) (this is logically equivalent to ~Spirit v Body)

C3: ~~Spirit (P2, P4)

C4: Body (C2, C3)


Jesus has a spirit and He has a body of flesh & bones.

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The nature of a resurrected body

A few verses after the OP's passage from Paul we find:

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Cor 15:53-54)

The word rendered "incorruptible" is ἀφθαρσία (from ἄφθαρτος), which connotes: indestructible, imperishable, undecaying, unending existence (I've written further about this here). So Paul himself believes a resurrected body isn't going to go away.


P1: If incorruptible body circa AD 33 => incorruptible body circa AD 55

P2: incorruptible body circa AD 33 (Luke 24)

C: incorruptible body circa AD 55 (1 Cor 15)


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Life-giving spirit

What then of Paul's life-giving ("quickening") spirit?

First, it's helpful to consider what a spirit (pneuma) was to a Jew like Paul--one of the uses of the word is the thing that gives life (see Genesis 2:7 which Paul has just paraphrased & note that the Greek pneuma = Hebrew ruach). So Paul is saying this is the kind of pneuma I'm talking about: Jesus is someone that gives life.

Second, the same reasoning just applied from Luke 24 can be applied here as well in reverse. The fact that Jesus is a spiritual being does not mean He is only a spiritual being.

  • God is loving--this doesn't mean He is loving and nothing else
  • Saul was tall--this doesn't mean he was tall and nothing else
  • Jesus is life-giving--this doesn't mean He is life-giving and nothing else (Paul in fact spends much of this chapter discussing other attributes of resurrected beings)

Paul is contrasting the effects of Adam with the effects of Christ. Adam the earthly brought death; Jesus the heavenly brought life (see verse 22). This doesn't mean Jesus didn't have a body any more than it means Adam didn't have a spirit. (Paul just quoted Genesis saying Adam did have a spirit!)

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Heavenly bodies

The context of verses 40-41 is different degrees of glory--a "heavenly" body (or a spiritual body) is more glorified than a non-heavenly body (and certainly an incorruptible body is more glorious than the natural, injury-prone, frail, planned-obsolescence of mortal bodies).

If a heavenly body is non-physical...does that mean that per verse 39 fish are non-physical too?? Paul is not saying that fish don't have physical bodies, but rather, that their bodies are different from these other kinds of bodies. Neither the comparison in verse 39 nor the comparison in verse 40 are between physical & non-physical, but rather are comparisons between different kinds of bodies.

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Conclusion

Luke & Paul teach that Jesus is a resurrected being with a body. Paul also teaches that Jesus gives life--these two attributes are not incompatible.

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  • "Jesus has a spirit and He has a body of flesh & bones." Paul doesn't say that Jesus has a spirit. He said Jesus became a spirit. Enourmous difference. For example, I have a doctor, but I am most definitely not a doctor. There's a huge difference between having something and being something. When Paul said that Jesus became a spirit, he means that he became a spirit being, such as the angels or demons or God are(cf. John 4:24). Humans are not spirit beings. We do not have spirit beings in us. We have a life-sustaining spirit, i.e. breath of life. But that is entirely different.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 18 at 14:47
  • @Rajesh C3 in my argument (He has a spirit) relies upon Ezekiel & Luke, rather than Paul Jan 18 at 20:38
  • Hey @HoldToTheRod, your reasoning skills will be much appreciated here :-) Jan 21 at 22:18
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator oooh that's a fun one - gonna have to think about that.... Jan 22 at 1:16
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The very common word πνεῦμα (pneuma) has eight meanings according to BDAG, including "breath", "part of human personality", "mental attitude", "non-corporeal being", "evil spirit", etc.

In the case of Luke 24:37 (I will get to V39 shortly) we have:

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. (NIV)

Note that the word translated "ghost" is πνεῦμα (pneuma); but in a single MSS, "D05" = Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis at Cambridge has φάντασμα (phantasma).

This lone textual variation is almost certainly a scribal error; however, it does illustrate that the meaning of the word πνεῦμα (pneuma) and that of φάντασμα (phantasma) can overlap as suggested by a well-meaning "corrector". However, in V39 we have πνεῦμα (pneuma) uniformly.

Therefore, I suggest, that the meaning in Luke 24:37 & 39 is not πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the same sense as 1 Cor 15:40-49 but is actually from another part of the spectrum of meaning which today we might more helpfully translate as "ghost", or, "apparition", or similar.

I note that on another famous occasion, the disciples also were frightened at the sight of Jesus and they also thought that were seeing a "ghost", as per Matt 14:26; Mark 6:49, specifically using the word φάντασμα (phantasma).

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There is no contradiction. When Jesus first resurrected, and the events of Luke 24:39 took place, He had not yet ascended to the Father in Heaven. That came later, after the Great Commission. After, or perhaps during His ascension, He ceased being a physical being and became the Life-Giving Spirit Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 15:45, then returned to earth on Pentecost, as such.

Eight points to consider:

1.) Jesus resurrected into the very body which He had when He died on the cross. It was a spiritual event, caused by "the glory of the Father" (Romans 6:4), but the effect was entirely physical, and occurred in the natural, material realm. Jesus plainly said, after His resurrection, that He was not mere spirit, but had flesh and bones, something spirits do not have (Luke 24:39). He invited them to touch Him and experience Him through their tactile senses, to prove the reality of His resurrected physicality. He was not a mirage, or a vision, or mass hallucination. He was present and accounted for, in true physical fashion.

However...

2.) Christ's physically resurrected reality defies the laws of physics and all other forms of natural science and medicine. His body had massive, unhealed wounds in them, and yet, He wasn't bleeding all over the place, and felt no pain, as shown when He invited Thomas to "reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side" (John 20:27). No normal, human body can experience holes in the hands and feet, and have a gaping hole the size of a Roman spear-head sufficient for a man to put his entire hand into it, and be considered standard.

It appears therefore, that there was no blood in His resurrected body (an assumption, I admit, but circumstantially born out by the evidence, i.e. the bloodlessness of His resurrected, but still mortally wounded/unhealed body).

This shows that, while His body was physical and real, it had become like something the world had never seen before.

3.) Jesus could obscure Himself supernaturally, after He resurrected, so that close, personal friends and disciples, who had walked with Him, talked with Him, and had even eaten the Passover Seder with Him before He was crucified, couldn't recognize Him (Luke 24:16). This isn't something a normal human can do, without a disguise or some other act of subterfuge. Jesus somehow made His face not look like His face, or somehow blinded these men's minds from experiencing standard facial recognition.

If the former, then Jesus can shift the physical structure and appearance of His face at will, making the physical nature of His human body unlike anything that has ever existed before.

4.) Jesus can dematerialize and rematerialize Himself at will (Luke 24:31 and John 20:19 and 26). Whether He can miraculously teleport, become invisible (i.e. refract light away from Himself), or phase Himself through walls, or all of the above, the fact is, in order to do so, the nature of His physical body had, in the resurrection, to have undergone a fundamental shift in what other normal human bodies are capable of doing. In order to do what Jesus did (disappear, reappear, teleport, and/or etc.) means that Jesus had to have been able to divest Himself of any standard molecular reality, while maintaining control over His existence in order to reinvest Himself with molecular reality. Physical molecules at the microscopic level are still physical, and cannot occupy the same space as say, the molecules that made up the door Jesus must have teleported or phased through in John 20. This means His molecules passed out of physical existence into a spiritual reality we cannot comprehend, then re-emerged back into comprehensible, physical reality.

5.) Jesus can defy gravity (Acts 1:9). As Christ ascended through the atmosphere, some scientific realities must be understood. Eventually, as one ascends higher and higher in the sky, breathable oxygen disappears, and the temperature plummets dramatically. If Christ didn't somehow phase His physical body out into a spiritual reality, then it would have to be realized that Jesus can exist in a physical frame without the need to breath, or to have warmth.

Since Jesus is now immortal, it might stand to reason, of course, that He had and has no need of blood, oxygen, and etc., in order to keep Him alive, but if His body was truly physical when He resurrected (and it was) then by necessity, unless we want to think of Jesus as some merely re-animated corpse a la a horror or zombie flick, we must recognize that such a physical body must still have some kind of physical needs. Jesus could eat (Luke 24:42). He could speak, (obviously, no Scripture reference needed!), but speaking requires the ability to breath, as exhaled air passes over the vocal cords.

And yet, as He ascended physically, if no change in Him occurred, Jesus would have lost the ability to breath, and thus, to speak, in any physical, natural way, that is.

6.) If no change into a spiritual form took place some-time during the ascension, Jesus would have had to move His body to escape velocity, which is 7 miles/second, or 25,000 mph. And since escape velocity is not dependent upon the mass of the body leaving orbit, but rather upon the body from which the escaping body is departing, the same would be true of Christ's body: He would have had to move that physical form 25,000 mph to leave earth's orbit. See: here.

This is where the whole Jesus still has a physical body begins to really break down. The stress of tidal and g-forces of 25,000 mph upon an unprotected human body, which hasn't been glorified yet in heaven, would tear it apart (This is called the Roche limit. It's what causes meteors to break up in earth's atmosphere as they descend through the sky, or satellites as they lose orbit and fall into the atmosphere). We could of course argue that the power of the Most High would hold Christ's body together, but...

7.) If Christ ascended through outer space in a physical form, and God kept it from being ripped to shreds, allowed it to survive without breathing, and kept it from immediately freezing into a solid mass of ice, then at some point however long it took, Christ ascended to a realm within the physical universe, meaning the "heaven" He ascended to was merely some place in the vastness of space. If Christ's body is still physical, then the heaven He ascended to has to be physical as well, and thus, a part of the material universe. This means the heaven we all want to go to and enjoy has a geo-spatial reality and relationship to where we are today on earth, that, with enough time and the proper heading, without any collisions, we could physically travel there, taking perhaps the same route Christ took in His ascension. Newtonian physics would allow us to get there, eventually, even if it took a million earth years.

But if Christ ascended to the Third Heaven, i.e. the Heaven of Heaven's, that cannot contain God, according to Solomon, then Jesus at some point had to have transcended the Second Heaven (i.e. the Celestial Realm of the physical universe) and gone off in a spiritual unknown.

8.) With all that being said, God can re-materialize the physical body of His Son at will in the physical, material realm--meaning it still exists, just as happened when Jesus appeared to Paul on the Road to Damascus, and the glory of His appearance physically blinded Paul's eyes (Acts 9:1-9). Had it been a vision only, or some other kind of metaphysical experience, there would have been no damage to Paul's eyesight.

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  • 1
    While fascinating, it sounds like a Dr. Who episode. You have (rightly) struggled to grasp what is a human with spirit life. We do not know how that works, nor do we need to know. We read that he is such, and look forward to having the same as he does. The ‘many brothers’ Rom 8:29. You haven’t answered the Q.
    – steveowen
    Jan 21 at 12:12
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In logic this is called “fallacy of ambiguity”, that is to say, ambiguity and equivocity of terms. “Spirit” can denote uncreated Spirit, God, and created spirit, for when the disciples fear whether they see a spirit, they do not fear seeing God in a visible albeit bodiless shape. Thus, spirit1 means God, uncreated Spirit that applies only to the Three - the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; and spirit2 means a created spirit (angels, demons, deceased human souls).

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What was the Lord Jesus Christ referred to as? 

I Cor. 15:45(b) BBE
45bThe last Adam is a life-giving spirit.

What was the Lord Jesus Christ referred to as? Paul said, "a life-giving spirit".

What was the first man, Adam, referred to as?

I Cor. 15:45(a) BBE
45aAnd so it is said, The first man Adam was a living soul.

What was the first man, Adam, referred to as? Paul said, "a living soul".

Was Adam only a soul? In the same way, was Jesus only a spirit? What makes up every man?

I Thess. 5:23 GNB
23May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What makes up every man? Paul said, "spirit, soul, and body".

Adam, who was the first man, was also composed of spirit, soul and body, and was not just a soul. Why was he referred to as a living soul? This is a synecdoche. What is a synecdoche? A figure of speech in which the part represents the whole, or vice versa. 

As Adam was called a living soul, our Lord Jesus Christ was called a life-giving spirit, although He was also composed of spirit, soul and body.


What is the nature of the Lord?

II Cor. 3:17 KJV
17Now the Lord is that spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

What is the nature of the Lord? Pauls said, "spirit".

Does this refer to our Lord Jesus Christ? What is the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Acts 2:36 GNC
36Let it be known, then, to the whole house of Israel for a certainty, that the man whom God has made Lord and His annointed is the very Jesus whom you have crucified.

What is the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ? Peter said, "man".

Who is the Lord that is spirit in nature?

II Cor. 3:17 Sacred Scriptures
17Now Yahweh is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of Yahweh is, there is liberty.

Who is the Lord that is spirit in nature? This translation reads, "Yahweh".

It is Yahweh, and not our Lord Jesus, who is spirit in nature.


What does not have flesh and bones?

Luke 24:39 NKJV
39Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."

What does not have flesh and bones? Jesus said, "a spirit". What does our Lord Jesus Christ have? Jesus said, "flesh and bones".

Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a spirit in the most literal sense of the term.

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  • Several things: 1) What do you make of all the unambiguous claims about Jesus having a glorious, heavenly, spiritual body after his resurrection in 1 Cor 15:40-49? 2) What about angels (who have spiritual bodies too)? Aren't angels spiritual beings too? (relevant question) 3) About the makeup of man, I just posted this question. Apr 24, 2021 at 15:41
  • 4) Acts 2:36 is talking about Jesus before his resurrection, you are completely ignoring 1 Cor 15:40-49 (see point 1 again). 5) About 2 Cor 3:17 Sacred Scriptures translating it as Yahweh, that's an interesting point. Maybe you should post an answer to this question. Apr 24, 2021 at 15:41
  • Heb. 1:14 does not say that the angels in heaven have spiritual "bodies," but only indicate that they are spirit in nature. What is "spiritual" is not necessarily spirit in nature or even vice versa (ie. demons). Having a spiritual body does not alter Jesus' nature as a man (I Cor. 15:47). The word "became" in the expression "became a life-giving spirit" (v. 45) is not found in the Greek MS (so the BBE), indicating that this was a condition Christ already had before His resurrection, which is why Acts 2:36 is still relevant.
    – carsonfel
    Apr 24, 2021 at 18:13

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