The Image of Dust: A Brief Reflection on 1 Cor. 15

Thinking about death is always an exercise in futility, pondering the inevitable and the unstoppable. It always makes for a good time at the dinner table.


In 1 Corinthians 15:46-49 Paul, after using a seed analogy throughout the first few verses in this pericope, focuses on the contrastive aspect of Christ and Adam. Adam, here, is likely typological in some sense, functioning as an antitype of Christ.

Adam’s origins, however, are under dispute and the debate about the existence of a ‘historical’ Adam are raging—at least in certain parts of the evangelical fold. However, Paul uses εἰκών (“image”) seems to specify a type of ‘material similarity’—which is specifically, in the genitive tense, χοϊκοῦ. An εἰκών represents something unseen (c.f. Col. 1:15-20) and is also a disjunction between the conceptual and the purely material. Christ, in a sense, is the revelation of God. As it says, he is God's fullness (Col. 2:9).

However, human beings are defined as χοϊκοῦ (“dust, earth”), as bearing that specific image in our present state. Human life, presently defined, is marked by pain, dust, and toil. It was then, and any glance on the evening news reveals that this painful aorist aspect is still ongoing.

In short, we are dust.

As a physicalist (or monist, I suppose) this is nothing new. Being in Adam's image means that we lack anything remotely like God: immortality.

Bearing the image of Adam, we share in mortality, in sin, and ultimately are subject to Death. That is what happens to material things, they breathe, bleed, and die. Then there is nothing.

Paul’s own historical context was not immune to this, and any pleasure was fleeting and likely immoral by Paul’s own moral standards. Ancient economics dictated that people were left to fend for themselves, to die in the streets, alone and barren.

Paul’s subsequent language regarding “immortality” (ἀθανασίαν) is a remarkable claim, especially to the poor and destitute. The totality of the populace likely lived in strict poverty, and any sort of religious cult likely included a high entrance fee.

God, it seems, is willing to offer ἀθανασίαν to the poor and the oppressed. The interplay between verbs (ἐφορέσαμεν; φορέσομεν) in v.49 is clear: a present and ongoing reality versus a future hope is something that we bear, and will bear through participation in Christ.

To God, we are not merely dust.

In the eschaton, we will be defined as being “fully human.”

That is Paul’s greatest hope, and one that I deeply share. Resurrection of the body is the direct counter to the totality of the human experience, and means that one is not alone in the universe, and one is not discarded by God.

Sounds good to me.