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December 19, 2012 / Daniel

Jesus is a Life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45)

This last week I have been puzzling over 1 Cor. 15:45. Paul calls Jesus a “life-giving spirit.”

It is sown a psychikos body; it is raised a pneumatikos body. If there is a psychikos body, there is also a pneumatikos body.  Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living psychē”; the last Adam became a life-giving pneuma.

It is easy to misunderstand Paul’s point here.   At first glance, we might take this to mean that the resurrected Jesus was a ghost.  That is, a spiritual creature without a physical body. However, this is clearly not how the gospel writers understood the resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:36-40).  The term “resurrection” involves the transformation and renewal of the physical body.

Another option is to take “life-giving spirit” as a reference to the Holy Spirit.   This is closer to Paul’s meaning.  However, Paul is not simply equating Jesus with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit are two distinct persons.  One in essence.

The key is to recognize Paul’s use of metonymy.  Metonymy is a figure of speech where one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated.   Here Paul uses one part of a person to refer to the whole person.   For instance, if I tell my wife that we have three mouths to feed, I don’t mean that there are three disembodied mouths sitting at our kitchen table.  I am using the word “mouth” figuratively to refer to our three children.  The mouth is the part of a person used to intake food.  The essential part defines the whole person.

This is the lesson that Paul draws from Genesis 2:7.   When God breathes into Adam, Adam becomes a living psychē  [commonly translated “soul”].  Adam is much more than just a psyche.   After all, he has a body.  However, the psychē  is the essential component of the first man, since it is the life-force that animates him.  So, Genesis refers to Adam by the essential part.  This part defines the whole.  

The same is true of Jesus.  When God raised Jesus from the dead, God breathed the Holy Spirit into him.   The Holy Spirit is the source of energy that animates his resurrection body.   So when Paul says that Jesus became a life-giving Spirit, he does not mean that Jesus was just a spirit or that he is the same person as the Holy Spirit.  He means that the essential component of the Last Adam is the life-giving Spirit who energizes Jesus’ resurrection body.  The part defines the whole.

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