Greek: 40 καὶ σώματα ἐπουράνια, καὶ σώματα ἐπίγεια· ἀλλὰ ἑτέρα μὲν ἡ τῶν ἐπουρανίων δόξα, ἑτέρα δὲ ἡ τῶν ἐπιγείων. 41 ἄλλη δόξα ἡλίου, καὶ ἄλλη δόξα σελήνης, καὶ ἄλλη δόξα ἀστέρων· ἀστὴρ γὰρ ἀστέρος διαφέρει ἐν δόξῃ. 42 οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·
My Translation: 40 And bodies heavenly, and bodies earthly; therefore is one the honor of heavens, and the other of earths. 41 Another is solar honor, and another is lunar honor, and another honor of stars; for star from star differs in honor. 42 And thus the resurrection of the dead. It is sown with ruin, it is raised with perfection.
KJV: 40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.
My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.
Yet Again In the Same Chapter
It shouldn't surprise you after the past posts that we're still talking about the resurrection. In keeping with the context of the chapter, Paul began by asserting that because Jesus rose from the dead, so too all would rise before the Kingdom of God arrived. Paul explained why this would happen and why it was necessary. Then he began a short series of rhetorical questions to illustrate to his friends in Corinth that their beliefs and practices displayed an assumption that such a resurrection would occur.
What is a Resurrected Body Like?
In the context for these verses, Paul is responding to a question that seems to have been posed against his belief in a physical resurrection. "If there is a resurrection of the body," someone seems to have challenged, "how does that happen, and what would it look like?"
Paul responds by comparing the body to a seed. The only way to get food from a seed is to bury it in the earth. To Paul, this is the same as "killing" the seed, but without doing this the seed will not grow and live. And the grain doesn't come out of the ground as grain, but in a different and more grand form than what it was before. To illustrate how it can be that the grain before and after sprouting are different, Paul explains how God has already made many different kinds of bodies: bodies of men, bodies of animals, bodies of fish, bodies of birds. Then Paul moves on from animal life to the other creations of God, which is where the scripture mastery verse begins.
In verses 40-41, Paul says that God has also created bodies in the heavens, and bodies on the earth, and each of these bodies are different in glory or reputation from each other. And even the sun, moon, and stars themselves differ in glory.
After Paul has finished describing the different types of creations and bodies that God has made (ranging all the way from humans, to fish, to the sun, moon, and stars), Paul returns back to what he was saying about the seed. In verses 42-44, Paul likens this process of a seed become a plant to the resurrection of the body:
42 And thus the resurrection of the dead. It is sown with ruin, it is raised with perfection. 43 It is sown with dishonor, it is raised with reputation; it is sown with weakness, it is raised with power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body...
For Paul, the resurrected body is a "spiritual" body, which is as different from the "natural" body as a plant is from a seed. But he's already argued that God knows how to make many different kinds of bodies; a spiritual body is just another type of body that God can create. For the rest of the chapter, Paul relates how this resurrected body, this "spiritual" body, is far different from the natural body. The natural body was created in Eden of earthly dust, but the spiritual body is from heaven. The regular body of flesh and blood will not enter the kingdom of heaven but it will changed to a purer body that belongs in the kingdom. Finally at the end of the chapter, Paul praises God who has caused all of this to happen through raising Jesus.
What About The Three Heavens of Mormonism?
I'm sorry this post is so long, but it has to be because these scriptures, when removed from their context within the chapter, are very important to one of the most unique aspect of Mormon doctrine: the Three Degrees of Glory. (Yes, the idea that there are three heavens was around before Mormonism, such as in the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, with which Joseph Smith was familiar, but it is, as far as I am aware, the only Christian tradition that has this variated view of heaven into only three different areas).
Whereas Paul has been talking about the many different kinds of bodies that God has created, listing humans among other creations such as fish and the sun, Mormons generally view verses 40-41 out of their context to be talking about the various type of resurrected bodies that God has in store for humans. When Joseph was editing the Bible, verse 40 received the following changes:
There arealso celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial, and bodies telestial; but the glory of the celestial is, one; and the glory ofthe terrestrial is, another; and the telestial, another.
In Mormon thought, God has three different conditions or heavens awaiting humans after the final judgement: the Celestial Kingdom for God's people who merit it, the Terrestrial Kingdom for normal people, and the Telestial Kingdom for the bad people (there is an "outer darkness" as well for the absolute lowest of the low, but nobody knows for sure who goes there). Mormons believe that each kingdom actually requires a body prepared for these kingdoms, so that people with celestial bodies are those who go to the celestial kingdom, and so on with the other two types of kingdoms each with their associated body.
Is this a valid way of reading this verse? No, it's not.
Joseph's Linguistic Problems
The English word celestial is based on the Latin "caelestis", meaning "heavenly". The Greek from verse 40 is ἐπουράνια epouránia, which also means "heavenly". If you take the epo off of the front (which is what makes it a word "concerning" something) you get the root uránia, which should be recognizable as the same root for the planet Uranus. And the English word terrestrial is based on the Latin "terrestris", meaning "earthly" or "ground". The Greek from verse 40 is ἐπίγεια epígeia, also meaning "of ground, of earth". Taking off the epi prefix, hopefully you can recognize the word geia which usually in English gets turned into Gaea.
The word telestial, on the other hand, is a word that is unique to the scriptures of Joseph Smith. It has no known root, though some Mormons have speculated that it might be based off of the Greek word telos, meaning "end, finish, purpose" (it's a popular word for Plato/Socrates). Why two of the kingdoms would have English names based off of Latin roots, but the other would have a name based off of a Greek root is never explained. (Besides, to me the word "telestial" simply looks like a poor attempt at a word spelled halfway between "terrestrial" and "celestial".)
Also never explained is why Joseph made these changes to these verses. In context, Paul has been listing the various types of bodies that God has created. He describes heavenly bodies as part of this list. He then continues to talk about how the new spiritual body is different from the old natural body. In the Greek he is not referring to different methods of resurrection. He is referring to how things in the heavens are so very different from things on the earth. This difference of kind is reflected in the difference of resurrected and mortal bodies. Bodies "telestial" doesn't make any sense within the Greek context of this verse.
Now of course Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. The majority of their beliefs about the Three Degrees of Glory can be found in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Just because Joseph twisted 1 Corinthians 15:40 in such a way as to introduce "telestial" to the list of bodies in an attempt to describe the levels of Mormon salvation doesn't mean that Mormons have nowhere from which to obtain the teaching. Recovering the correct context and interpretation of these verses doesn't destroy the doctrine of the Degrees of Glory, but it does return a correct understanding to the writings of Paul for Latter-day Saints.
Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?
This scripture was chosen so that LDS youth would have a biblical source to claim when discussing a very unique Mormon belief: that there are three heavens for humans to end up in. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is arrived at by removing these verses from their surrounding content as well as adding another word, telestial, to the verse that cannot be traced to any ancient language definitively that would also make sense in the Greek context. A Mormon trying to present these verses as support for their beliefs of the afterlife would make no progress in convincing anyone who is familiar with the chapter that it is describing three forms of resurrection and salvation. It is not a correct interpretation, it adds nothing to the argument that Paul is making (in fact, if the Mormon reading is allowed to stand it makes Paul's argument significantly more confusing at this point), and it should be dropped as one of multiple sources for the doctrine. Mormons can depend upon the other sources they already have for this belief beyond a misapplication of Paul's teachings on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians.