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Paul's Appropriation of Philo's Theory of ‘Two Men’ in 1 Corinthians 15.45–49

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2011

Stefan Nordgaard
Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen, Købmagergade, 44–46, DK-1150 Copenhagen K, Denmark. email: edu


The present essay focuses on Paul's interactions with Philo's theory of two men in 1 Cor 15.45–49. It argues that instead of rejecting that theory, Paul transforms and reinterprets it in such a way as to substantiate his own doctrine of the resurrection as developed in 1 Cor 15.35–58 (i.e., his doctrine of eschatological bodily change). The essay provides a careful analysis of Philo's theory of two men as well as an exegesis of 1 Cor 15.35–58.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

2 For these claims see Sellin, G., Der Streit um die Auferstehung der Toten, eine religions-geschichtliche und exegetische Untersuchung von 1 Korinther 15 (FRLANT 138; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Horsley, R. A., ‘Pneumatikos vs. Psychikos: Distinctions of Spiritual Status among the Corinthians’, HTR 69.3 (1976) 269–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sterling, G. E., ‘“Wisdom among the Perfect”: Creation Traditions in Alexandrian Judaism and Corinthian Christianity’, NovT 37 (1995) 355–84Google Scholar; Thiselton, A. C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 1281–5Google Scholar; Schrage, W., Der erste Brief an die Korinther (4 vols.; EKK 7/1–4; Zürich: Benziger; Neukirchen–Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1991–2001) 4.274–7Google Scholar.

3 E.g., Sellin, Auferstehung, 78, 90–2, 176; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1284.

4 It should be noted that in v. 46 Paul does not suggest that his critics should abandon the theory of the two men, but rather that they should abandon the particular interpretation of that theory that they had so far espoused.

5 This construction of Paul's message in 1 Cor 15 is not universally recognized among NT scholars. Two aspects in particular are controversial. The first concerns the question of Paul's conception of the nature of the spirit or πνεῦμα. Scholars normally take it that πνεῦμα should be conceived as something immaterial and not, as I have suggested here, as a physical substance (e.g., Hays, R. B., First Corinthians [Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1997] 272Google Scholar; Fitzmyer, J. A., First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [AB 32; New York/London: Doubleday, 2008] 594–6Google Scholar). However, as Martin, Dale (The Corinthian Body [New Haven/London: Yale University, 1995] 21–5, 115–20)Google Scholar has persuasively shown, practically everyone in the ancient world thought of spirit as something material, so there is little reason to assume that Paul should not have done so. The second element concerns the character of the resurrected ‘spiritual body’. Along with, among others, Dale Martin (Body, 123–9) and Engberg-Pedersen, Troels (Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit [Oxford: Oxford University, 2010] 2638)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, I take σῶμα πνευματικόν to mean a body composed of spirit. Others (e.g., Fee, G. D., The First Epistle to the Corinthians [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987] 786Google Scholar; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1276–81), however, take it to mean a body governed by (but not composed of) spirit. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of these complex issues. Let me only state here that since in v. 50 Paul emphatically claims that the risen body will not be composed of flesh and blood, it seems reasonable to assume that in v. 44 he intended to explain what it will then be composed of.

6 Best, E., A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (BNTC; London: Black, 1972) 713Google Scholar; Furnish, V. P., II Corinthians: Translated with Introduction, Notes and Commentary (AB 32A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1984) 22–4Google Scholar; Holtz, T., Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher (EKKNT 13; Zürich: Benziger, 1986) 1920Google Scholar; Malherbe, A. J., The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 32B; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 6774Google Scholar; Fee, G. D., The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 8Google Scholar.

7 Cf., e.g., Martin, Body, 120–3. For 2 Macc 7.11 and 14.46 see also Wright, N. T., The Resurrection of the Son of God (COQG 3; London: SPCK, 2003) 150–3Google Scholar and Segal, A. F., Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West (New York: Doubleday, 2004) 271Google Scholar.

8 Martin, Body, 120–3; Sterling, ‘Wisdom’, 355–84; Hays, Corinthians, 253; Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 560.

9 See Martin, Body, 105–23; Asher, J. R., Polarity and Change in 1 Corinthians 15: A Study of Metaphysics, Rhetoric, and Resurrection (HUT 42; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000) 117–29Google Scholar.

10 In this essay I try to leave open whether Paul's understanding of the nature of the resurrection developed over time or remained largely uniform throughout his writings. If I were to state my views on this, however, I would say that I consider it likely that at the time of the composition of 1 Thessalonians (and of the formation of the Corinthian community) Paul had not yet given much thought to the question of the form of the resurrection (what mattered to him then was that, not how, the resurrection was going to take place) and that he developed his theory of eschatological bodily change only in response to the critical reactions of the Corinthian sceptics. Furthermore, I believe that the description of the resurrection in 2 Cor 5.1–10 deviates substantially from the one in 1 Cor 15 since in the former of these texts (or at least in certain parts of it) Paul appears to be open to the idea that the body will not come to take part in the resurrection, but rather be detached from the ‘inner person’ at the eschaton (5.1–3, 6–8, yet contrast 5.4; cf. also Phil 3.21). As the present argument does not depend on our stance on this issue, I shall not discuss it in detail, though.

11 Sterling, ‘Wisdom’, 357–67. Thiselton (Corinthians, 1284) argues that whether or not Paul and his readers were familiar with Philo's writings ‘has little bearing’ on our understanding of the text. That, of course, depends on how we actually understand it.

12 There are, I believe, certain passages besides 1 Cor 15 that suggest at least some degree of familiarity on Paul's part with Philo's work. One such passage is 1 Cor 10.1–13 where Paul famously identifies the rock in the wilderness with Christ (ἡ πέτρα δὲ ἦν ὁ Xριστός) (10.4; cf. Exod 17.6; Num 20.7–11). This interpretation seems to rely on Philo's identification in Leg. 2.86 and 3.162 of the rock with logos/wisdom (cf., e.g., Luz, U., Das Geschichts-verständnis des Paulus [BEvT 49; München: Kaiser, 1968] 118)Google Scholar. Another is Gal 4.21–31 where Paul shows an awareness of at least the kind of allegorical hermeneutical tradition of which Philo was a leading figure. Schaller, Berndt (‘Adam und Christus bei Paulus: oder: Über Brauch und Fehlbrauch von Philo in der Neutestamentlichen Forschung’, Philo und das Neue Testament: Wechselseitige Wahrnehmungen, I. Internationales Symposium zum Corpus Judeo-Hellenisticum 1.–4. Mai 2003, Eisenach/Jena [ed. Deines, R. and Niebuhr, K.-W.; WUNT 172; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004] 143–53, esp. 148)Google Scholar has recently rejected the idea that Philo's theory of two men should play a constitutive role for 1 Cor 15.45–49. His argument relies mainly on the observation that Philo and Paul develop their readings of the earthly and the heavenly men in rather different directions. I agree with Schaller's observation, but fail to see why it should count as an argument against Philonic influence. Authors often disagree with their sources of inspiration. (Paul, for instance, disagreed on numerous counts with the authors of the Psalms though he clearly relied on their works for his own theological reflection.)

13 See further D. M. Hay, ‘Philo's Anthropology: The Spiritual Regimen of the Therapeutae, and a Possible Connection with Corinth’, Testament (ed. Deines and Niebuhr) 130–5.

14 E.g., Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Black, 2nd ed. 1971) 374–5Google Scholar; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1283; Schrage, Korinther, 4.275; van Kooten, G. H., Paul's Anthropology in Context: The Image of God, Assimilation to God, and Tripartite Man in Ancient Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, and Early Christianity (WUNT 232; Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, 2008) 272–97Google Scholar, esp. 272–3; and the literature cited in Sellin, Auferstehung, 94 n. 57.

15 Runia, D. T., Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato (Philosophia Antiqua; Leiden: Brill, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar 337 n. 8. Runia points to a similarly ‘loose’ use of the term in Opif. 74 where Philo describes the rational human mind as τῆς ἀνακεκραμένης βελτίονος ἰδέας. Cf. also Runia, D. T., Philo of Alexandria, On the Creation of the Cosmos according to Moses: Introduction, Translation and Commentary (PACS 1; Leiden: Brill, 2001) 323Google Scholar.

16 Sellin, Auferstehung, 103.

17 For Philo's understanding of death see Wolfson, H. A., Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947) 1.395–413Google Scholar; Grabbe, L. L., ‘Eschatology in Philo and Josephus’, Judaism in Late Antiquity. Part 4. Death; Life-after-Death, Resurrection, and the World-to-Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity (ed. Avery-Peck, A. and Neusner, J.; Handbook of Oriental Studies 1, The Near and Middle East; Leiden/Boston/Köln: Brill, 2000) 165–9Google Scholar; Buch-Hansen, G., ‘It Is the Spirit that Gives Life’: A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John's Gospel (BZNW 173; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2010) 379–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Runia, Philo, 337.

19 Runia, Philo, 337 n. 9; cf. Sellin, Auferstehung, 92–172. See also the analyses in Baer, R. A., Philo's Use of the Categories Male and Female (ALGHJ 9; Leiden: Brill, 1970) 22Google Scholar; Tobin, T. H., The Creation of Man: Philo and the History of Interpretation (CBQMS 14; Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1983)Google Scholar; Buch-Hansen, Spirit, 112–34.

20 Indeed, the second modification to be identified below is anticipated, yet not fully developed, in Runia, Philo, 337 n. 9.

21 Runia refers to Leg. 1.42 in Runia, Creation, 328, but does not comment on its significance.

22 For the symbolism of six and seven see Leg. 1.16.

23 Cf. the discussions in Sellin, Auferstehung, 143–55 and Runia, Philo, 337 n. 9. Neither of these scholars, though, comments specifically on this particular passage.

24 For Philo's conception of inspiration see further Sellin, Auferstehung, 127–55.

25 Runia, Philo, 337 n. 9; cf. Sellin, Auferstehung, 113.

26 On 15.36 see further below and Fitzmyer, J. A., First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 32; New York/London: Doubleday, 2008) 588Google Scholar.

27 Fee, Corinthians, 782.

28 Fee, Corinthians, 782; cf. Thiselton, Corinthians, 1267 and the literature cited in Asher, Polarity, 102 n. 32. According to Schrage (Korinther, 4.293), the passage serves ‘als eine Kritik an einer Degradierung der Leiblichkeit und als Erinnerung daran zu verstehen, daß Gottes Schöpfung immer eine leibliche ist’.

29 Asher, Polarity, 102.

30 For this translation of ϕορέω see LSJ, ‘ϕορέω’, 2 and below.

31 Like the majority of interpreters I accept the future indicative of ϕορέω in spite of its modest manuscript attestation. Cf., e.g., Barrett, Corinthians, 369 n. 2; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1288–9; Asher, Polarity, 116 n. 51. Fee (Corinthians, 787 n. 5), by contrast, favours the aorist subjunctive ϕορέσωμεν.

32 E.g., Barrett, Corinthians, 374–5; Spörlein, B., Die Leugnung der Auferstehung. Eine historisch-kritische Untersuchung zu 1 Kor 15 (Regensburg: Pustet, 1971) 107Google Scholar.

33 E.g., Sandelin, K.-G., Die Auseinandersetzung mit der Weisheit in 1 Kor 15 (Meddelanden från Stiftelsen för Åbo Akademi Forskningsinstitut 12; Åbo: Åbo Akademi, 1976) 46Google Scholar. Cf. the discussion of the history of research in Sellin, Auferstehung, 176–81.

34 Sellin, Auferstehung, 189–90; Fee, Corinthians, 790–1; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1295; Schrage, Korinther, 306–8; Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 598; Engberg-Pedersen, Cosmology, 29.

35 Sellin, Auferstehung, 190–4; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1289–90.

36 Thiselton, Corinthians, 1264 (his emphasis). The quotation in double marks is from Barrett, Corinthians, 370.

37 Fee, Corinthians, 781 (his emphasis).

38 For this reading of QG 1.86 and Mos. 2.288 see Buch-Hansen, Spirit, 375–6, 381–6.

39 For an introduction to Stoic physics see Long, A. A. and Sedley, D. N., The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1987) 162–83Google Scholar, 266–343; Sedley, D. N., ‘Hellenistic Physics and Metaphysics’, The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (ed. Algra, K. et al. ; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2002) 382411Google Scholar.

40 For this term see, e.g., Philo's summary of the position of Chrysippus in Aet. 94 (SVF 2.618) and Engberg-Pedersen, Cosmology, 33–5, 221 n. 89.

41 It is therefore slightly inaccurate when Sellin (Auferstehung, 224–5) writes that ‘Verwandlung ist die paulinische Alternative zu einem (philonischen) “hinübergehen”, zur Leibablegung und Entweltlichung’. That alternative is actually Philonic in origin. Engberg-Pedersen (Cosmology, 33) notices the parallel between 1 Cor 15.35–58 and Mos. 2.288, but doubts that the latter passage played any formative role for Paul's argument.

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