The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Eat, Drink, and be Merry: 1 Corinthians 15 and Physicalism


Every Christian who decides on a stance to take on the mind-body issue is going to have to live with the fact that there will be certain “problem texts” in the Bible that appear to conflict with the position they take. As a physicalist, I think there is a very small number of such texts for my view, and I think there are plausible explanations for all of them (for example Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross Luke 23:43, which I discussed recently). What one hopes to do is to settle on a view that has fewer problems than all others, problems that have an explanation in sight.

I think that traditional Cartesian/platonic dualism has a real problem, therefore, when it comes to 1 Corinthians 15, as I think it contains a problem for dualism – a problem with no real solution that I can see. The chapter is a decent size, so I won’t reproduce it here, but go ahead and read it first to make sure I’m representing what it says faithfully. The subject is the resurrection of the dead, and it arises because some of those in the church in Corinth had said that there will be no resurrection. The Apostle Paul makes a number of comments on this, one of which concerns my point here. In doing so he indicates that he cannot possibly have been a dualist.

v 12ff: Paul notes the disastrous consequences for the doctrine of salvation if there is no resurrection of the dead. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” The upshot of this is that “you are still in your sins,” and there is no salvation and no resurrection for us. If this is true, said Paul, then we are the “most miserable” of people.

v 20ff: Having established this, once that we acknowledge that Christ has risen, we know that the dead will rise. For as part of Christ’s reign and his victory (obtained through his own resurrection), he will eventually defeat death. “ For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (vv 25-26).

v 29ff: But there is still a further argument up Paul’s sleeve. If this were not going to happen – if there is no future resurrection for us, then a couple of things arise. Firstly, why do you get baptised for the dead? (i.e. their behaviour shows that they themselves assume the resurrection). More to the point if there’s no resurrection, then this life is all there is. If there’s no future resurrection, we have no future hope at all. Why invest in the future when there isn’t one? Here’s the way Paul put it (vv 30-32):

Why am I in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Here is what I want you to notice: If dualism, as held by many Christians and as held by many Gentiles in Paul’s day, is true, then there is life after death with or without the resurrection.

Christian dualists will tell you that when the body dies, the soul (of the believer) goes to be with the Lord in heaven (or paradise, depending on who you’re asking). This is a wonderful place, even though there will still be a resurrection of the dead in the future when the soul will again become embodied. But the point is, even if there were not a resurrection, there would still be some hope of a future life.

Now look again at Paul’s point, quoted above. He is asking why he would even bother to risk his life for the Gospel if there’s no bodily resurrection. The dualist’s answer would be: Because you would still have heaven to hope for, which in itself is wonderful. But Paul supposes no such thing. He goes a step further: If there’s no bodily resurrection, then we may as well just live it up now. Eat, drink, and be merry, because if there’s no resurrection, then when you die that’s the end. His argument works if and only if we do not survive death in any way until the resurrection of the dead. If we do – if there is even a whiff of dualism and a heavenly intermediate state in Paul’s theology, then a switched on Corinthian could have immediately deflated his argument.

If you’re a Christian and you advocate dualism, and you say that your soul goes to be with the Lord at death, then you’re robbing Paul of this argument for the resurrection. As I type this, I’m reminded of the fact that William Tyndale made this exact same observation. For those who don’t know, William Tyndale was a martyr who made the first translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. He got into a written dispute with Thomas More over the question of the soul’s immortality. More claimed that when the body dies, the soul of the believer goes to be with Christ. Tyndale immediately saw how this gutted Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 of any force, and replied sarcastically, as though rebuking the Apostle:

Nay, Paul, thou art unlearned; go to Master More, and learn a new way. We be not most miserable, though we rise not again; for our souls go to heaven as soon as we be dead, and are there in as great joy as Christ that is risen again.
William Tyndale, Answer to Thomas More’s Dialogue (Cambridge University Press, 1850), 118. (download this book HERE)

Like William Tyndale, I just don’t see how the argument against dualism from 1 Corinthians 15 can be successfully addressed. Your suggestions are welcome.

Glenn Peoples


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  1. Rob R

    I suppose a dualist could read this and conclude that the only reason for an intermediate non-physical existence between death and resurrection is just as a bridge between the two. Deny the resurrection and this period for preservation of the self between the two periods is of much less use. If that’s a problem for Cartesian Dualists, I prefer what little I understand of emergence dualism anyhow.

    Do we even know what it is that those whom Paul was responding to believed about the afterlife besides the fact that they doubted the resurrection? Whether they were Jewish or Gentile, N.T. Wright has made an excellent case that there was a wide variety of beliefs.

  2. Rob R

    That said though, I admit I may not be analyzing this as closely as you are.

  3. Joey

    I once posed this argument, and someone brought up a very good point:

    Other texts like 2 Corinthians 5:9 indicate dualism is true, so 1 Corinthians 15 must not actually teach otherwise 😛

    (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it…)

  4. Joey

    Actually though, one guy did suggest something like the following:

    He acknowledged that 1 Corinthians 15 does seem to say no resurrection = no afterlife.

    His response regarded how the resurrection makes the afterlife possible. One of Paul’s focus’ is that without a resurrection Jesus never would have risen from the dead, and thus we’d be unforgiven. His suggestion was that without the forgiveness the resurrection brings, our immaterial souls would not go to be with the Lord, but would just stay dead. Thus, it isn’t that we need to be resurrected ourselves to live on, we just need the resurrection to be true so that Jesus could rise from the dead, giving us forgiveness and the ability to live on one way or another.

    This does go against what the natural implications of the passage are, but I don’t think his alternative explanation can be logically disproven.

    NOTE: when I saw the obvious implications his reasoning would have regarding eternal punishment, I discovered he was unsure but leaned towards annihilationism (which you’d think would be a given since he claimed that no forgiveness = no existence). I recommended your works to him – with my commentary of course XD

  5. Joey, Paul does make the point that without the resurrection, we would not be forgiven. However…

    Firstly, Paul already made that point in verses 12ff. He then made another, different point, about the last enemy, and now he’s making still another point, namely, no resurrection = no after life.

    Secondly, it’s false that, given dualism, or souls would just remain dead if we were not forgiven. Surely they would still live on, but they would not go to heaven.

    Thirdly, forgiveness was obtained by the death of Christ. Christ’s resurrection makes possible our own resurrection. Theoretically, if dualism were true, then we could still have forgiveness and eternal life without the resurrection of Jesus. However it wouldn’t be physical, since Jesus would not have conquered physical death. If we say that the defeat of physical death is necessary for our eternal life, then we are admitting that you can’t survive physical death in a non-physical way. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t buy this third argument however, because the first two are enough. 🙂

  6. James Rea

    Joey, as with many scriptures, the way we perceive our existence will inevitably slant our comprehension of those scriptures. Consequently, 2 Cor 5:9 might support dualism to a dualist, but it doesn’t if you hold to physicalism.

    Paul is writing from a Hebrew physicalist point of view, so the ‘eternal house in heaven’ (2 Cor 5:1) is not somewhere we go to dwell immediately after death, but more a picture of a new resurrection body awaiting bestowal upon the believer on Christ’s return. A bit like his line in Eph 2:6 that we are raised and seated in heavenly realms – a present reality drawn from a future assurance.

    Similarly, in verse 9, Paul is so sure that his resurrection will cause his being at home (in total unity) with Jesus. Since Jesus is returning to this earth, our location will not change, just our condition, which becomes eternal.

  7. James Rea

    I think that the pervasive dualist view has robbed the gospel of its joy to such a serious degree. In Luke 10:20, Jesus states that the disciples’ joy should not be found in the amazing miracles performed or the submission of enemy spiritual powers encountered by them; instead their joy should be that their names are written in heaven (Rev 22:27 calls it the Lamb’s book of life).

    If dualism were true, and my ‘spirit’ lives forever in one of 2 destinations, my joy is now severely tempered. The book of life now has a watery appeal, nice though it is, for sure.

    I am only just beginning to fathom and articulate how my joy at being a believer in Jesus Christ is so much more clear, desirable, beautiful if I understand my name being written in heaven is evidence of the ONLY means to exist forever. No universalism, no purgatory, no outer darkness for the immoral, no eternal torment, no intermediate state, just simple and unbridled joy at the knowledge that my physical being will be restored to a state of immortality through faith in the One who has done it all already and, at whose return, I will be transformed.

    Dour Christianity, or the many examples of false, temporary joy generated through man-made sources, have done little to impact the world for Christ. It’s time for authentic rejoicing to break forth through a deep understanding of the resurrection.

  8. Andrew Thomson

    “Amen” to that, James

  9. A hylemorphic dualist could accept the necessity of the resurrection without a problem, for in the Thomistic view the form of a person lies in having a body and a soul. No body, no person (or no soul, no person).

  10. Yeah, but Thomas isn’t that straightforward. For example, he believes that something survives after death and before resurrection, and thatthis something is conscious, capable of thought, and culpable. I know that according to the terminology used, it’s not a person, but I fail to see how it can be relevantly distinguished from a person. In other words, whether you call it a person or not, you can still enjoy eternal life without a resurrection.

  11. Good Day to All:

    Just a quick point, as perhaps I am missing the issue, but here it is:

    It seems that the entire assessment of Paul’s statement in this blog post misses the obvious counter-point that the reason that Paul tells us to eat, drink and be merry is because if there is no resurrection, then death has not been wholly conquered. And thus, if death has not been wholly conquered, then salvation is not complete and this leads to the issue that people could not be saved (within the Christian theological framework) and would thus be consigned to hell and eternal death. So Paul tells us to eat and be merry if no resurrection because once we die, it is hell for all of us.

    Take care,

    RD Miksa

  12. RD Miksa, it’s true that without the resurrection then death has not been fully conquered – because physical death has not been overcome. But the rest of what you say doesn’t seem to follow. Why should the fact that physical death has not been overcome, within a dualist framework, lead to a denial of salvation, and actually to damnation? Since you can surely conceive of living forever in heaven without a body (and thus not being damned), why do you think that the failure of a body to be resurrected mean that you are automatically or necessarily damned?

    Now, as a physicalist of course I have to say that we cannot have eternal life with Christ with no resurrection. But if I were a dualist, I certainly wouldn’t be logically committed to that view.

  13. Woland's Cat

    What makes us think that Paul (or any of the Biblical authors) had a better understanding of the mind/body problem than us?

  14. Woland, I don’t think for a moment that Paul had a particularly well informed and explained theory of how the mind and brain are related. That’s a highly technical question. He probably had some basic beliefs, and really I think that’s all we need in order to say that he was a dualist, or a physicalist (whichever is the case).

    What I do think, however, is that Paul held to some theological convictions about which he could have been quite well informed, and those theological convictions could only have been true if dualism is false. In other words, I don’t say that Paul gave any carefully explained theory of mind. Instead, I am inferring propositions about the philosophy of mind from what Paul said about theology.

  15. James Rea

    Glenn, you mentioned in your opening sentence that there exist certain problem texts for physicalism. I was reading 1 Thess 5 today and verse 23 seems to give the clear impression that Paul thinks of the human condition as body (soma), soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma). Is Paul soaked in Greek dualism after all, or can we take his Hebrew comprehension of man in these 3 words as physical person, emotional/mental life and, lastly, connection with God’s Spirit? How would you explain his statement from a physicalist point of view?

  16. James Rea

    Really should’ve Googled before posting. starts to unpack my question above, and strongly supportive of a physicalist understanding. Shame it’s just an excerpt.

  17. James, my answer is basically that different words don’t necessarily mean that the writer must be thinking of different substances. otherwise we’d have to believe in four part people, because Jesus said that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. They are really all just aspects (rather than “parts”) of the one thing.

  18. Colin

    Hi Glenn. Not sure if you’re still responding to comments on this thread months later, but I’m listening to your archived podcast of your discussion on Unbelievable about physicalism, and after that I wanted to see if I could find out more about what you believed, and it brought me here.

    I’m not a trained philosopher, but here’s my understanding of 1Cor 15

    Suppose that we do consist of a body and (non physical) soul.
    Suppose we need the body to experience physical things like time, space, our senses, and the non physical soul to experience reason, qualia, relate to God etc.

    Then when we die, the body rots, the soul remains, but a soul alone isn’t a person. It’s like the seed of a person. It doesn’t experience anything. When the soul is integrated into a new body, it once again becomes a person, and can once again experience the world it finds itself in (the new one).

    That scenario seems to fit well with what Paul says. In physicalism, what is analogous to the seed in Paul’s analogy?

  19. Colin, if that were true (and I obviously don’t think it is), Paul would still be wrong to say that we need the resurrection to experience future life (which is what I take him to say). If you’re right, then we only need the resurrection to experience future life in the fullest possible way. But even without the resurrection, it would still be false to say that we “perish” forever when we die.

    As for the seed analogy, Paul uses it to refer to what goes into the ground, so I would say: It refers to our body. In context this seems clear as well, since Paul is using it to describe the fact that we will rise again like a plant that rises from a seed that goes intot he ground, but we will be somehow different.

  20. colin

    Hi Glenn.
    Thanks for replying.

    I guess what I was trying to propose was that it would be impossible to experience anything without a body, as experiences require change, and change requires time. So while you’re just a soul, no time goes by, and nothing is experienced.

    With regard to the seed being one’s body, I remember being taught at one point that the actual physical matter of your body would be used by God in your resurrection. This raises serious problems, so I’m guessing you don’t believe that our current bodies don’t actually physically contribute to our resurrection? But if not, then what is there to link our future selves to our present selves. What can you say about the Glenn Peoples that God will create from scratch in the resurrection, that links him in any way to who you are now?

    Here’s a thought experiment. If God were to create not one, but two copies of resurrected Glenn, which one would be you?

  21. That’s interesting, Colin.

    Are you suggesting that Paul, for example, did not anticipate experiencing the presence of God in heaven after he died?

    I find the comments about time to be a little bizarre. So there’s no experience between death and resurrection? No consciousness of anything? How is that different from what a physicalist would say?

    As for the thought experiment, if God created two copies of me, then neither of them would be me since they are both copies. I actually discussed that issue back in my podcast series called “In Search of the Soul,” part 4 of that series (Episode 32 in the podcast).

  22. Colin

    I think I’m in agreement with you, that I’m proposing that we experience nothing between death and resurrection. But that’s not to say that nothing persists.

    A crude analogy might be to think of the body/soul to be like a cellphone and a sim card.

    The difference between what I’m saying and what a physicalist might say, is that the physicalist asserts that no part of the person exists during the time between death and resurrection.

    Do you believe that some of the matter that comprises your current body will be used/required to create your resurrection body?

    I used the word ‘copy’ because it seems to me like your concept of the resurrection could be reasonably described as ‘God creates a fresh copy of Glenn, who no longer exists except in God’s memory’ It is a copy in the sense that it shares nothing with the original except a similarity of design and specification.

    If I were in the business of restoring old paintings, and I was given some famous painting that was severely damaged, and my solution was to memorize the painting, completely destroy it, get a new canvas and new paint, and to then recreate the painting from scratch – surely you’d agree that I did not ‘resurrect’ the old painting, I copied it.

  23. Colin

    PS I’ll go look for that podcast series now, maybe it will help you to avoid having to repeat yourself.

  24. Greg

    I would like to comment on your response to RD Miksa’s post earlier in this thread.

    “RD Miksa, it’s true that without the resurrection then death has not been fully conquered – because physical death has not been overcome. But the rest of what you say doesn’t seem to follow. Why should the fact that physical death has not been overcome, within a dualist framework, lead to a denial of salvation, and actually to damnation? Since you can surely conceive of living forever in heaven without a body (and thus not being damned), why do you think that the failure of a body to be resurrected mean that you are automatically or necessarily damned?”

    I think the point is that from the beginning God’s purpose is to redeem all of creation. We corrupted his creation and He is setting everything right in spite of that fact. He did not create us in order to harvest immortal souls to live in heaven. He intends to redeem and reestablish not only us but his entire created order as it should be without the perverting and corrupting influence of sin. The Resurrection was a necessary part of that plan of redemption because our bodies are part of the created order that he is going to set right. Furthermore, the Resurrection validated Christ’s identity and vindicated all of his claims. If Christ was not raised then he was a fraud and Christianity is a hoax and all of Christs followers are deceived, rejecting true Judaism and hence they are destined for hell.

  25. Greg, I agree with some of what you say here. However:

    – You don’t seem to be offering an argument against the central point in the quote you respond to. In actual fact, if dualism is true then we can indeed live forever and have a glorious eternity without the resurrection. You’re right that if God’s intention is for us to be part of a renewed physical creation and to enjoy it, then the resurrection is necessary, but that’s not the point of what you quoted from me. The point here is that Paul thought the resurrection was necessary to have life beyond this life. But if dualism is true, Paul was wrong.

    – “Furthermore, the Resurrection validated Christ’s identity and vindicated all of his claims.” Sure, in the sense that it proved he was from God. “If Christ was not raised then he was a fraud” Well, only because he claimed that he would rise. But that does rather miss the point here. In context, Paul makes it clear that he thinks our resurrection is possible because of Christ’s resurrection, and he also says that this is of huge importance to us because if we’re not going to rise, then this life is all we have and there could be nothing after death. This is where I’m drawing our attention. On dualism, this belief of Paul’s appears to be false.

  26. Greg

    I understand your point and it is certainly logically valid. My point is that I think God’s plan of redemption is a package deal. Its all or nothing. I don’t think it is legitimate to break it up artificially and offer a version where we live indefinitely in disembodied form as a viable alternative. Certainly that possibility is consistent with dualism but its not consistent with God’s plan of Redemption of the entire created order. We were created as mind body unities and clearly that is what he has always intended to redeem. If there is no Resurrection then God’s whole plan of redemption is untrue. Whether he was a dualist or not Paul would have no reason to consider some alternate version of reality where we live forever as disembodied souls as a viable alternative. That’s my point. Something like that may be a possibility that is consistent with dualism but its not consistent with God’s revelation so Paul would have no reason to consider it as a possibility. Therefore I think from his perspective, whether he was a dualist or a physicalist, either way, if there is no resurrection there is no hope. Period.

    I think Paul’s point was aimed primarily at the Sadducees wasn’t it? I know they were materialists and did not believe in angels so I assumed that they were not dualists either but I don’t know that for sure. Did the Saducee’s believe in life after death in a disembodied form?

  27. “I don’t think it is legitimate to break it up artificially and offer a version where we live indefinitely in disembodied form as a viable alternative.”

    Unsurprisingly, I agree. 🙂

    Essentially, you’re saying that Paul wasn’t really dealing with implication in the strict sense that I’m suggesting he was. I’m not convinced of that, and I just think he’s saying that without the resurrection, we wouldn’t have a future because that’s the only way we would have a future.

    In regard to your comment about the Sadducees, no I wouldn’t think Paul expected them to be his audience. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death, that’s true (as they didn’t believe in either the resurrection or dualism) – but Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth, and he had heard that some of them had denied that there was a resurrection. In all likelihood, given their overt spirituality (as seen in ch 14, for example), the Corinthians who had said this were indeed dualists who saw their future in purely “spiritual” rather than physical terms, and Paul is correcting that by pointing out that the resurrection is the only way we can have a future. basically, Paul is saying that if there’s no resurrection then the Sadducees are right.

  28. Greg

    Ok. I stand corrected on the comment suggesting he was addressing the Sadducees. That’s what I get for shooting from the hip without going back to the text. Actually I should have realized that without having to go back to the text, I just wasn’t thinking. I feel kind of foolish now for even suggesting it.

    I still think my first point is at least highly plausible.

    BTW, I appreciate the prompt replies and enjoy the exchange.

  29. Prompt replies are a hit-and-miss with me, Greg. Sometimes you get lucky, other times you gather dust lol. You’ve been lucky.

  30. Glenn, do you think ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ is a quote from Is 22:13? Do you think it could be about the inappropriate celebration of victory of the city in the face of the defeat and fall of the city, per Is 22? Those who denied the resurrection were missing out on the hope victory the heavenly Jerusalem over the earthly Jerusalem when the latter would fall, per Old Testament prophecy and per Jesus and his Apostles. Just like those who said the resurrection / Day of the Lord had already come, before that victory had been consummated with the outbreak of the rebellion to be crushed by Rome (Rom 13:2, 2 Thes 2:1-12). The former were denying the victory would happen, the latter were saying it was consummated while their enemies had not yet been thrown outside and trampled. The corrective was that the power of the holy people would indeed be completely broken (Dan 12) and that this would happen in a real, visible and military manner: ‘after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power’ (1 Cor 15:24), when the ‘power of sin’ which was THE LAW was to be broken, in fulfillment of Hosea and Isaiah (1 Cor 15:54-57).

  31. David, it is likely that “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” would have been a saying used to express the enjoyment of the pleasures of this life with no thought for the future, as though there is no future. That would explain its appearance in Isaiah (where the people celebrating did not anticipate God’s judgement) and its appearance here in 1 Corinthians (where people were denying the resurrection).

  32. Alex Asciutto

    Hello Glenn,
    I just want some clarification that I’m not sure has been addressed in the comment section thus far. Like you’ve stated, if there is not future resurrection, then not even Christ was raised.

    1 Cor 15:13 – “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;”

    He goes on to basically say that, if Christ be not raised, Christianity was a hoax all along. We are false witnesses and our faith is in vain! It is worthless, as we are still in our sins (verse 17).

    So, is it possible that Paul is saying,

    (1) No resurrection = Christ not raised
    (2) Christ not raised = false religion
    (3) false religion = dead in our sins
    (4) what does anything matter if we are dead in our sins
    (5) we might as well enjoy life now because tomorrow we are going to die
    (6) . . . I’m not sure what would be next but I’m kind of saying it’s like the equivalent of saying, “Oh well, Christianity is false… we might as well be atheists and live life like it’s our last day,” and not even be touching on what your saying the verses are really teaching.

    Does any of that make sense?

    I agree with your stance. I am just not entirely sure that this verse is one that is not compatible with dualism.

  33. Alex Asciutto

    He could even be saying, if we are dead in our sins, we will soon die and face judgment. You know?

  34. Jason

    If the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins.

    The resurrection was God’s vindication of Christ’s atonement, the sign that He was not accursed but had merited the acceptance of His elect. Without an atonement, they would enter wrath, hence, “tomorrow we perish.”

    In fact, physicalism robs Paul of an argument for the resurrection in that he denominates hopelessness “still being in your sins.” Yet if they were their bodies, that could not be any discomfort if they would not be raised to judgment.

  35. Eric Breaux

    Why do you think Paul even considered that there would still be hope just having a life even if nothing will be remembered? Jesus sacrifice would have been a waste of time then. The only way for there to be hope is for there to be a future for anything anyone has done to be beneficial so we can continue enjoying anything. It all makes no relevant difference if there is nothing after death.

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