A biblically-grounded understanding of disability sees a disability as a display of God’s glory. Accordingly, by the sovereign work of God, that which has come to pass, must of theological necessity be the best of all possible worlds. Therefore, even disability necessarily displays the perfection of God’s purposes. Further, God through his Word shows a particular delight in displaying his eternal power and goodness through those things considered weak and of little account by this world’s standards. Disability then, in a peculiar fashion shines forth the radiance of his glory.
Eschatology and the Display of God’s Glory – 1 Corinthians 15:34-58
Historically, the Sadducees did not hold to a bodily resurrection from the dead (Matt 22:23). Paul takes on this misperception in 1 Corinthians 15:34-58 and in so doing magnifies a display of God’s glory.
First Corinthians 15:34-38, “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 some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” After arguing for the necessity of the resurrection from the dead based on the resurrection of Jesus, Paul now takes on the general argument against the bodily resurrection. Gordon Fee writes, “All of this suggests that the real concern behind their denial of the resurrection of the dead was the implicit understanding that this meant the reanimation of dead bodies, the resuscitation of corpses” (Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 859.). Paul argues against the mere resuscitation of corpses by using the analogy of a seed; first the seed must die for the change to occur; and second, each seed produces a specific kind of body. A wheat seed produces wheat, an acorn produces an oak tree. Everything that is needed for the oak tree is found in the acorn. There is a necessary relationship between the seed and what is produced. In the same way, there is a necessary relationship between a person’s human body and the resurrected body. Fee argues,
“Nevertheless, Paul was equally convinced that Christ’s resurrected body was not the resuscitation of a corpse, but the transformation of his physical body into a glorified body adapted to his present heavenly existence. Thus, the way of framing the present question is, “with what kind of body will they appear?” The answer: as with Christ, it will be the same, yet not the same; this body but adapted to the new condition of heavenly existence; sown one way it is raised another, but the same body is what is sown and raised” (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 859-60.).”
Thus, a transformation in the body of a person with intellectual disabilities occurs; their various weaknesses and deprivations are transformed into a glorified body. Their disability in the physical body does not keep them from the transformation. However, there is still a connection between the physical body and the glorified body. C. F. D. Moule writes, “Paul steered a remarkably consistent course between, on the one hand, a materialistic doctrine of physical resurrection and, on the other hand, a dualistic doctrine of the escape of the soul from the body . . . the secret of his consistency here is his tenacious grasp of the central theme: Jesus, Son of God” (C. F. D. Moule, “St. Paul and Dualism: the Pauline Conception of Resurrection,” NTS 12 (1965/1966): 107.). Paul sees the relationship between Jesus the incarnate man and Jesus the Son of God as the closest proximate connection between the physical body and the resurrected body. The resurrected body of Christ was both unrecognizable to his disciples at times (John 21:12) and at times recognizable, even to the point of still having the scars on his hands and his side (John 20:27). Yet at the same time he could enter a room and leave without using the door (John 20:26). It can be inferred from this argument that those with disabilities will have resurrected bodies that are recognizable to their pre-resurrected bodies but will have gifts and abilities suited to the glory of their resurrected existence. Fee explains,
“Inherent in the imagery, and crucial to it is the fact of continuity. The one “life” is in two modes, one before and one after death and resurrection. . . . The resurrected body is not “spiritual,” not in the sense of immaterial but of “supernatural,” as he will explain with the help of Scripture at the outset, because it will have been re-created by Christ, who himself, through his resurrection came to be “a life-giving Spirit.” The transformed body therefore is not composed of “spirit,” it is a body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of, and animated by, the Spirit” (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 869.).
Fee’s argument is not that there is a distinction between body and spirit so much as a distinction between natural and supernatural. Thus, he concludes that the transformed body is not spirit but a body made alive by the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 15:42-49 reads,
“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown perishable; is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. . . . Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being,” the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust, the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Those with intellectual disabilities do not differ in kind from the typical human body, just in degrees. Every body is subject to nature and corruption. Every body dies in dishonor, just as every redeemed person is raised in glory. This resurrected glory gives hope for those with disabilities. Though they have every manner of disability, the resurrected glory will reveal them changed to complete ability of mind, body, and spirit. For as in this present body they bore the image of the first Adam, being under sin and corruption, so also will they bear the image of the second Adam, the man from heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 says,
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put immortality.“
The natural body as it is cannot inherit the kingdom. This is true for those with disability as well—they must be changed. Whether one is dead then he will be raised imperishable or still alive, all will necessarily be changed, for the perishable to put on the imperishable. Fee concludes, “Paul’s point is the same that he has been making from the beginning (v. 37) that the ‘body that will be’ is a transformed expression of the one that was ‘sown.’” ( Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 883.).
Rev. Eric Nelson, SHN President & Founder