But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you find the story about the Sadducees’ coming to test the Lord Jesus Christ on the subject of the resurrection, something in which they did not believe. The Sadducees were the modernists of that day. They thought they would give him a question that would expose how foolish the idea of a resurrection is, and, if he held to the resurrection, they would show how foolish he was, too.
So the Sadducees said there was a certain man who married a wife and then he died. In accordance with the Jewish law, it was proper for the man’s brother to marry her and try to raise up children in order that the line of inheritance might not fade away. But his brother died without having children, once again leaving no heirs. A third brother married her, again in accordance with the law, and then a fourth, and a fifth. Each one died. Last of all, the woman died. So the Sadducees asked Jesus whose wife she would be in the resurrection. Presumably they thought if one of the brothers had had children by her, Jesus would say, “Well, she’s the wife of that man.” But since every case was equal, they thought they could trap him.
Jesus responded to the Sadducees on two levels. He said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). If they knew the Scriptures, they would know its teaching, namely, that in heaven there will not be marriage or people being given in marriage. So the whole question having to do with marriage was a moot one when you are talking of the life to come.
They were also ignorant of the power of God. Their chief issue was not really this matter of marriage in the next world, but the matter of the resurrection itself. Our Lord’s point was that God, for whom all things are possible, is certainly able to bring about a physical resurrection of human bodies.
His reply comes to mind as we look at this latter portion of 1 Corinthians 15 that deals with the resurrection. That is because in the verse that begins this section, verse 35, Paul poses two question that are more or less parallel to the questions asked by the Sadducees. Paul put into words what these doubters in Corinth were thinking. He said, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ ”
People who question the resurrection do so for one of those two reasons: either they are ignorant of the Scriptures, or they doubt the power of God. In the first case you could say they are just confused about things, so they are asking questions about what they do not fully understand. But if they would read the Scriptures they would find a perfectly adequate explanation. The second case is a more serious matter. These people doubted the power of God. What Paul did in this chapter–for the benefit of the Christians at Corinth and, of course, for all Christians who come to Scripture–was deal with the problems associated with belief in the resurrection.
Modernism is nothing new. It is simply a frame of mind stemming from disbelief. Just as it was present in Christ’s day in the form of the Sadducees, so we have it today. It is unfortunate that it sometimes appears in lofty places. Several years ago British evangelicals were up in arms because the Church of England had ordained and consecrated as bishop a man who openly doubted the virgin birth of Christ and the resurrection. The newly ordained bishop said that the virgin birth and the resurrection should be viewed mythologically rather than literally. Such problems are still with us even though the origins of it were back in Jesus’ day and at the time of Paul as well.