The Significance of the Resurrection

It has been a while since my last post. This past semester I took a class on 1 Corinthians in Greek. When we began to study chapter fifteen we were encouraged to reflect upon the implications of the resurrection in order to draw attention further to its significance. Below is the essay I wrote.

1 CORINTHIANS 15

From the very beginning of chapter 15 Paul intimates the problem in Corinth when he curiously writes that, “unless if to no purpose you have believed” (ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ εἰκῇ ἐπιστεύσατε). It is not entirely certain at present why Paul says this, but context reveals that it is very likely an implication of denying the resurrection of the dead, the topic which will be Paul’s primary concern throughout the entirety of the chapter. The adverbial lexeme εἰκῇ has as its probable meaning “to no purpose.”[1] The statement stands without explanation in an otherwise praiseworthy doxological treatment of the work of Christ and the Gospel. But, again, in due course the exegete discovers that the problem in Corinth is due to some who claim that there is no resurrection of the dead (v. 12; ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν). Knowing this in advance of Paul’s subsequent writing is helpful, not only in illustrating the text’s central purpose and meaning, but also in illuminating details which would otherwise escape notice.

Beginning in verse 3 and following, Paul introduces, in all likelihood, pre-Pauline Christian creedal material recounting perhaps the earliest strata of Jesus/early Christian creedal tradition. The creedal statement assertively declares that the matter which is “of most importance” (ἐν πρώτοις) is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (ὅτι Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς); but it is also according to the Scriptures that Christ was raised on the third day (καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς). The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is tied to the matter of first importance through the recurring prepositional phrase “according to the Scriptures.”

Following Paul’s shocking announcement that despite the Gospel’s careful apostolic custody and teaching transmission (vv. 3-7) there remain some in Corinth who say that there is no resurrection (v. 12). To this Paul embarks on a quasi-logical, diatribe exercise, deducing that if there is no resurrection then Christ is not resurrected, and if Christ is not resurrected then Christian faith, and the faith of the Corinthians, is “without any basis.”[2] Indeed the Corinthians’ faith is as good as “useless” (v. 17).[3] If there is truly no resurrection of the dead, then a disastrous domino effect results, which is illustrated throughout verses 12-19: (a) Apostolic preaching is without basis (v. 14b; κενὸν ἄρα [καὶ] τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν), and (b) the Corinthians’ faith is as well (v. 14c; κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν). (c) The apostles are actually false witnesses of God (v. 15a; ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ); (d) the Corinthians’ faith is worthless (v. 17b; ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν); (e) the Corinthians, indeed all Christians, are still in their sins (v. 17c; ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν); (f) those whom Paul understood as only temporally dead, i.e., “sleeping,” are in fact unilaterally perished, never to live again (v. 18a; οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο); (g) and the apostles themselves are subject to horrible embarrassment, and are among all men to be pitied the most (v. 19b; ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν).

By further implication, i.e., by reading verses 20-28 in light of the previous section (vv. 12-19) and the subsequent section (vv. 29-34),[4] if Christ is dead then: (a) Christ cannot be ruling (v. 24; εἶτα τὸ τέλος, ὅταν παραδιδῷ τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί, ὅταν καταργήσῃ πᾶσαν ἀρχὴν καὶ πᾶσαν ἐξουσίαν καὶ δύναμιν; “then the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings to an end all rule and all authority and all power” ); (b) without Christ’s reign there can be no kingdom of God (v. 24); (c) there is also no abolishment of the apocalyptic powers that threaten God’s kingdom (v. 24, and v. 25: δεῖ γὰρ αὐτὸν βασιλεύειν ἄχρι οὗ θῇ πάντας τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ; “for it is necessary he reigns until he puts all the enemies under his feet”); (d) no overcoming of death (v. 26; ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος; “the last enemy to be abolished is death”); and, (e) in the end, God is not all in all (ἵνα ᾖ ὁ θεὸς [τὰ] πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν; “so that God may be all in all”). Again, it is appropriate to understand verses 20-28 as further indicative of the consequences if there is no resurrection of the dead since the section is bracketed on either side by sections explaining just this (vv. 12-19 and 29-34).

Beginning in verse 29 Paul begins discussing anew further damaging results if the Corinthian claim by some is indeed true: (a) why baptize the dead, since it is of no use to ones who will not be raised? (v. 29);[5] (b) why is Paul constantly living in danger for the sake of the Gospel? (v. 30; Τί καὶ ἡμεῖς κινδυνεύομεν πᾶσαν ὥραν; “why are we in danger every hour?”); (c) Paul’s battle with wild beasts at Ephesus, whether taken metaphorically or in accordance with known Roman persecution, what was it for? (v. 32). The point is clearly made: Paul has constantly put his life in danger due to faith in the Gospel. Why not (d) eat and drink since all that is certain is death (v. 32)? Lastly, (e) denying the resurrection is indicative of a revealing ignorance of God (v. 34).

As if these implications were not enough to drive the point of resurrection home, Paul continues in verses 35 and following to detail the nature of the resurrection body. In verses 42-44 Paul writes that while the mortal body is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; (b) while it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; (c) it is sown in weakness, but raised in power; (d) it is sown a natural body but raised a spiritual body. Unless we think that the spiritual body is not actually a genuine physical body, context remains determinant of the meaning. Though the spiritual body (σῶμα πνευματικόν) is contrasted with the natural body (σῶμα ψυχικόν), it remains a body (σῶμα) nevertheless, and Paul’s emphasis is on its resurrected nature, i.e., it is a body that is raised, as each phrase in the antithesis explains.[6] The point is not to juxtapose a supposed material body with an immaterial body, but rather to define the orientation of the resurrected body or its animating power, whether the Adamic nature, or by God’s Spirit.[7] Throughout all of this Paul has not lost sight of the importance of bodily resurrection and its meaningfulness for Corinthian detractors, for all in Corinth, for all Christians.

Circling back to apocalyptic elements in verse 50, Paul explains that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται). The kingdom of God cannot have in its realm perishable, corruptible flesh, only what is imperishable and immortal. This is achieved by resurrection when the dead in Christ are transformed (v. 52). Within this apocalyptic discourse Paul heralds the magnificent Christian hope: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (v. 55). God is to be thanked for the victory over death he has given us by raising Jesus Christ, the Lord, from the dead (v. 57).

Paul closes with somewhat of an inclusio, reminding the Corinthians as he did in the opening (see comments above), that their labor in the Lord is not without purpose (v. 58).[8] God does indeed raise the dead. The Corinthians’ labor in the Gospel is not without basis (εἰδότες ὅτι ὁ κόπος ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔστιν κενὸς ἐν κυρίῳ; “knowing that your labor is not without basis in the Lord”).

[1]BDAG, s.v. εἰκῇ, though positing its meaning in 1 Cor 15:2 as “without due consideration, in a haphazard manner,” also states that the third meaning is probable, “to no purpose.”

[2]BDAG, s.v. κενός; 2a: “without content, without any basis, without truth, without power.”

[3]BDAG s.v. μάταιος: “pert. to being of no use, idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth.”

[4]Note Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians, New American Commentary series 28 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2014), 378-79.

[5]While “baptism for the dead” (οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν) creates its own difficulties the implications are the same: Without the reality of resurrection it is useless, like so many other points Paul raises.

[6]In unbroken sequence Paul writes that the resurrected body is raised incorruptible (ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ); it is raised in glory (ἐγείρεται ἐν δόξῃ); it is raised in power (ἐγείρεται ἐν δυνάμει); and it is raised a spiritual body (ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν). The same body is the subject of Paul’s discussion. It is the two different states of this same body that are contrasted, however – not two different bodies. It is through the resurrection that the body achieves its glorious new state of being. All lexicons predicate “raise,” in this context, of a dead body. BDAG, s.v. ἐγείρω: “to enter into or to be in a state of life as a result of being raised, be raised, rise.” TDNT, s.v. ἐγείρω, “to rise from the dead.” NIDNTT, s.v. ἐγείρω, states: “The epistles of the NT never use egeirō, except in Phil. 1:17, in any sense but that of resurrection from the dead.” LSJ, s.v. ἐγείρω, “raise from the dead.”

[7]With some help from Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 406-7.

[8]BDAG, s.v. κενὸς. See n.2 above.

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