In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul launches into an extended discussion on the resurrection of the Christian faithful at the end of the present age. Some of the Corinthians objected to Paul’s teaching about the resurrection, saying “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Cor. 15:35 NRSV). Paul begins his explanation by comparing human resurrection to planting seeds. A seed dies, is planted in the ground, and breaks forth into a new and different kind of life. In verses 42-49, he contrasts the type of body that will be buried in death with the new body that will be raised at the end of the age. In this context, he writes verse 44:
It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. (NRSV)
The NABRE offers a similar translation:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.
At first glance, it sounds like Paul envisions the resurrection as a purely spiritual experience — our physical bodies will be sown in the ground to give rise to a new, spiritual form of life. But this is probably not what Paul meant. N. T. Wright analyzes this passage in depth on pages 348-356 of The Resurrection of the Son of God.
The Greek terms that Paul is contrasting (transliterated into our alphabet) are soma psychikon and soma pneumatikon. Now, soma pneumatikon can be reasonably translated as “spiritual body”, but it seems odd to translate soma psychikon as “physical body” or even “natural body”. After all, psychikon is an adjective derived from the word psyche — the word which is commonly translated “soul” (or “life”) in English. Furthermore, Wright says that psychikon and pneumatikon are adjectives that describe what animates a thing, rather than merely its attributes or its composition. Thus, an alternate translation comes into view: It is sown as a body animated by the ordinary breath of life (or alternatively, a human soul); it is raised a body animated by the Spirit of the living God.
N. T. Wright quotes the original Jerusalem Bible as the only modern translation that truly comes to grips with the nuances of meaning in this text:
when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.
Stephen C. Barton in the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible makes a similar observation: “In the present, the time between the resurrection and the parousia (“coming”) of Christ, believers are still “soulish” (cf. “soul”, psyche); they are not yet “spiritual” (cf. pneuma, “spirit”). So rather than translate as (respectively) “physical” and “spiritual” (so RSV and NRSV), which seems to reinforce precisely the dichotomy which Paul is trying to move beyond, some other way of signifying the difference is required.” Similar to Wright, Barton concludes by citing the Jerusalem Bible’s translation as a way of grappling with the nuance in the Greek.