The quality of a body that is not subject to decay, ruin, or destruction.
Direct references to incorruption are found only in the Christian Greek Scriptures. There the word translates the Greek a·phthar·siʹa, formed of the negative prefix a and a form of phtheiʹro. This latter word means “corrupt” (2Co 7:2) or “spoil” (1Co 15:33), hence to bring to a lower or inferior state; also “put to death” or “destroy.” (2Pe 2:12) The adjective form aʹphthar·tos (incorruptible) is also used.
Corruption and Corruptibility. In considering incorruption, it is helpful to analyze first the use of the Greek terms for corruption and corruptibility. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a thing’s being corrupt and its being corruptible, that is, capable of being corrupted.
Corruption and corruptibility may relate both to things material and to things not material. The crown that Greek athletes sought was corruptible—subject to decay, deterioration, or disintegration. (1Co 9:25) Even gold (dissoluble in aqua regia) and silver are corruptible. (1Pe 1:18; compare Jas 5:3.) Boats can be “wrecked” or, literally, “corrupted through” (from the intensive form di·a·phtheiʹro), suffering breakdown of their structural form. (Re 8:9) The same Greek word is used with respect to the “ruining” of the earth. (Re 11:18) Man, the fleshly creature, is corruptible (Ro 1:23); in his imperfect state his body is subject to damaging diseases and eventually to dissolution in death, the body breaking down in decay. (Ac 13:36) As regards things not material, good habits can be corrupted, or spoiled, by bad associations (1Co 15:33); men may become mentally corrupted, turned away from sincerity, chastity, and truth (2Co 11:3; 1Ti 6:5; 2Ti 3:8), this resulting in moral decay, a corrupting of the individual’s personality.—Eph 4:22; Jude 10.
Even perfect human bodies are corruptible, that is, they are not beyond ruin or destruction. For this reason, the apostle Paul could say that the resurrected Jesus was thereafter “destined no more to return to corruption” (Ac 13:34), that is, never to return to life in a corruptible human body. Only God’s action prevented the fleshly body of his Son’s earthly existence from seeing corruption in the grave. (Ac 2:31; 13:35-37) That body, however, was not preserved for the use of the resurrected Jesus, since the apostle Peter states that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but . . . made alive in the spirit.” (1Pe 3:18) It thus seems evident that God disposed of that body miraculously, thereby not letting it see ruinous decay.—See BODY (Christ’s Body of Flesh).
Human enslavement to corruption. While Adam, even in his perfection, had a corruptible body, it was only because of his rebellion against God that he came into “enslavement to corruption” and passed this condition on to all of his offspring, the human race. (Ro 8:20-22) This enslavement to corruption results from sin or transgression (Ro 5:12) and produces bodily imperfection that leads to degradation, disease, aging, and death. For this reason, the one ‘sowing with a view to the flesh reaps corruption from his flesh’ and does not gain the everlasting life promised those who sow with a view to the spirit.—Ga 6:8; compare 2Pe 2:12, 18, 19.
Attainment of Incorruption by Christians. As noted, the Hebrew Scriptures make no direct reference to incorruption, and they regularly stress the mortality of the human soul. Thus, the apostle says of Christ Jesus that he “has shed light upon life and incorruption through the good news.” (2Ti 1:10) Through Jesus, God revealed the sacred secret of his purpose to grant to anointed Christians the privilege of reigning with his Son in the heavens. (Lu 12:32; Joh 14:2, 3; compare Eph 1:9-11.) By resurrecting their Savior Jesus Christ from the dead, God has given such Christians the living hope of “an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance . . . reserved in the heavens.” (1Pe 1:3, 4, 18, 19; compare 1Co 9:25.) Such ones are born again while yet in the flesh, that is, granted the position of spiritual sons of God, born of “incorruptible reproductive seed, through the word of the living and enduring God.”—1Pe 1:23; compare 1Jo 3:1, 9.
Though dealt with by God as his spiritual sons and although having the promise of an incorruptible inheritance, these Christians called to the heavenly Kingdom do not possess immortality or incorruption while yet on earth in the flesh. This is seen from the fact that they are “seeking glory and honor and incorruptibleness by endurance in work that is good.” (Ro 2:6, 7) The “incorruptibleness” sought evidently does not mean merely freedom from moral corruption. By following Christ’s example and by faith in his ransom sacrifice, these Christians have already “escaped from the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2Pe 1:3, 4); they are “loving our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptness” and ‘showing incorruptness in their teaching.’ (Eph 6:24; Tit 2:7, 8) The incorruptibleness (along with glory and honor) they seek by faithful endurance relates to their glorification at the time of their resurrection as actual spirit sons of God, and this is evident from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
Raised to Immortality and Incorruption. Christ Jesus entered into immortality upon his resurrection from the dead, thereafter possessing “an indestructible life.” (1Ti 6:15, 16; Heb 7:15-17) As the “exact representation of [the] very being” of his Father, who is the incorruptible God (Heb 1:3; 1Ti 1:17), the resurrected Jesus also enjoys incorruptibility.
United with Jesus in the likeness of his resurrection, his joint heirs also are resurrected not merely to everlasting life as spirit creatures but to immortality and incorruption. Having lived, served faithfully, and died in corruptible human bodies, they now receive incorruptible spirit bodies, as Paul clearly states at 1 Corinthians 15:42-54. Immortality therefore evidently refers to the quality of the life they enjoy, its endlessness and indestructibility, whereas incorruption apparently relates to the organism or body that God gives them, one that is inherently beyond decay, ruin, or destruction. It therefore appears that God grants them the power to be self-sustaining, not dependent upon outside sources of energy as are his other creatures, fleshly and spirit. This is a stirring evidence of God’s confidence in them. Such independent and indestructible existence, however, does not remove them from God’s control; and they, like their Head Christ Jesus, continue subject to their Father’s will and directions.—1Co 15:23-28; see IMMORTALITY; SOUL.