bible blog 1744

Today the blog continues its examination of St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous material on this topic and on Genesis and Mark, can be accessed from my archive. Biblical references can be placed after as can particular topics eg. John 3:16; or obedience. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.


Confederate Veterans 1921

Confederate Veterans 1921

1 Corinthians 15

12 But if it has been proclaimed that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, how is it that some of you are saying there is no such thing as a resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then the Messiah has not been raised; 14 and if the Messiah has not been raised, then what we have proclaimed is in vain; also your trust is in vain; 15 furthermore, we are shown up as false witnesses for God in having testified that God raised up the Messiah, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then the Messiah has not been raised either; 17 and if the Messiah has not been raised, your trust is useless, and you are still in your sins. 18 Also, if this is the case, those who died in union with the Messiah are lost. 19 If it is only for this life that we have put our hope in the Messiah, we are more pitiable than anyone.

Paul’s argument here is not addressed to non-believers who put no trust in Jesus Messiah. Doubtless they do not believe the story of his resurrection. Rather it is addressed to followers of Jesus who deny his resurrection. That makes it a curiously contemporary argument as there are now theologians who would argue that Jesus’ resurrection is a mythological element that is unnecessary for believers today.

Paul’s point is simple: putting your trust in a crucified Messiah is a waste of time if it is just trust in a dead man who teaches you how to get crucified. These are really two points:

1. Can people really place trust in a dead person? He means that a relationship of trust is a personal relationship which cannot exist between the living and the dead. Many people might point to their relationships with parents, personal heroes, artists, musicians, philosophers, who are dead, as evidence that of course such trust is not only possible but happens all the time. Paul might reply that he means a kind of total trust which goes beyond these enthusiasms. His opponents might reply that even between living people that kind of trust is inappropriate; we must not offload responsibility for our own living on to someone else. Paul might shift the focus and suggest that if someone is just dead there’s no point in viewing his death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Some modern theologians would be quite willing to surrender also that view of Jesus’ death. I think Paul’s first point is unproven.

Mantegna: The dead Christ

Mantegna: The dead Christ

2. Can people place trust in a person who promises to guide you to life is he is dead and his way may lead to death? It is this question that arouses Paul’s remark that “if it is for this life only that we have put our faith in Messiah, we are of all people the most pitiable.” He questions whether the self-denial, arduous discipline and self-sacrifice of the way of Jesus would be worth it, if this life is the only one. Better to eat, drink and be merry if tomorrow we die. Ancient cynic philosophers and modern Buddhists would point to the unreality and unworthiness of much that we call life, and argue for self-denial as essential to enlightenment. Followers of Karl Marx might say that as long as most people lack the means to eat drink and be merry we must fight in a disciplined way for revolutionary justice. Many ordinary non-believers would say that life is not so bad, and anyway one life is enough. Paul would agree with Marx that there should be some reward for self-denial, but would insist that this cannot be obtained in our present life. We should remember that Paul’s concept of another life is that of a perfected creation. I think that Paul’s second point is well-made but still arguable, but that Christian teachers who deny resurrection should spell out carefully what they think are the benefits of trust in the crucified Jesus.

Readers will see that I’ve subjected Paul’s argument to some scrutiny rather than accepting it as God’s inerrant truth. A few blogs back I suggested that if the Bible is God’s word it is only as a human word, that is, as a teaching that must be treated as we would treat any other human teaching, as something which might be mistaken. I wrote then that we might gain as much from a word we regard as mistaken as from one we regard as true. In the case of today’s passage, I am not suggesting that Paul is wrong in his resurrection faith, or even that his supportive arguments are without value, but that we will appreciate them better if we see their limits.

We should note that the Corinthians are not first of all denying the resurrection of Jesus, but rather denying that any sort of resurrection is possible.It’s worth remembering that contemporary biology insists that what we think of as our selves is not at all separable from our bodies. Personality has a physical basis. Such thinking would be very hostile to any notion that there is some part of us, soul or spirit, that survives death, but might be open to Paul’s view of resurrection, that we are re-created with new bodies.

Pierro Della Francesca: The risen Christ

Pierro Della Francesca: The risen Christ

At heart Paul’s view is that the downward movement of God’s love in Jesus Messiah to bind all things, even death, to itself, along with the downwardly mobile life of God’s servants, only makes sense if it is matched by an upward movement that brings all things into the goodness of God.

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