If There Is No Resurrection of the Dead, Research Paper Example
Words: 5350Research Paper
Approximately two decades after Christ’s crucifixion, the apostle Paul journeyed to the Greek city-state of Corinth on the Peloponnesus. His purpose and mission was to address the Corinthian church expressly to remedy misunderstandings in the practice of their faith and to reprimand them for their misapprehended and misguided beliefs which they falsely attributed to credence with respect to resurrection of the dead. His arrival in Corinth was coincidental with the return of a delegation from the Corinthian congregation that had been dispatched to speak with Paul about the church of Corinth. It is not clear if a letter this delegation carried to Paul contained any reference to the resurrection of the body controversy engulfing the church of Corinth.
In the passage Corinthians IC 30. 15:1–11., Paul clearly states his purpose, and shows his faith to the community to strengthen their faith. As Barrett (1) states: “the resurrection of Christ played an essential part in Paul’s preaching, and indeed in all Christian preaching”. Therefore, recalling his own memories of the resurrection, Paul is giving a first hand account for Christians, who are on their journey towards faith. Through close analysis of the primary text, and Barrett’s commentary, the author of the current review will attempt to review the methods that Paul uses to strengthen the belief of early Christians in salvation and resurrection.
There is some disagreement about the delegation from Corinth. If he met with the delegation of his congregation they would have apprised Paul of certain discomforts they were experiencing with some members of the church. Paul discloses in the letter to the Corinthians that he met with Chloe’s people who would most certainly have acquainted Paul with the controversies in his church. He also received a letter from the church in Corinth delivered by the delegation. (1C 16: 17) There seemed to be a lot of in-fighting and status seeking amongst members who were forming cliques and arguing amongst his Corinthian congregation So it seems logically feasible to believe that he would have spoken with these gentlemen about the situation extant in Corinth based on the content in his Epistle to the Corinthians and the nature of the concerns his words reveal in this letter. The dispute and Paul’s words to the Corinthians are detailed in the gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and especially in the letter transported by him to Corinth. This paper will look at that celebrated communication, particularly with respect to the Corinthian belief that, ‘there is no resurrection of the body’ and some of the implications of that statement, not solely for Corinthians but for all believers in this fundamental precept that is foundational to the Christian faith in AD 54 and henceforth. (1C 15: 12-19)
To understand the gravity of the argument put forward by both Paul to his church and why the Corinthians, to whom it is addressed felt as they did, this paper will provide some rudimentary background on Corinth at the time of Paul’s visit concerning Greek, Jewish, and Christian beliefs in resurrection with respect to the soul and the body. It must of needs be, to briefly discuss Paul’s conversion as well to appreciate his logic and inflexibility on the issue of resurrection of the body, and his deep commitment on this central theological tenet of Christianity. At the conclusion, the necessity of Paul’s critique to the Corinthian church will be understood given that in the absence of this clarification the church’s superstructure might very well have suffered a mortal wound from which it would not have recovered.
The story of Paul’s conversion from Jewish Pharisee to Christian is a familiar one to both Christian and non-Christian alike. It is clear from his own ministry and words that Paul was not simply Jewish born; he was a Pharisee (Mason, 169) in particular and boasts occasionally of his Jewish genealogy in letters of rebuttal to other missionaries who were the source of problems within the new church, not just his Corinthian flock. (Soards, 19)
When looking at the Corinthian problem, it is quite natural (at least for contemporary observers) to side with Paul and his fears ignoring due diligence for Corinthian concerns. Taken in the context of Corinth at the time however, it seems culturally acceptable for the Christian community of Corinth to act as they did also. Since Homeric time several centuries before Christ, the ancient Greeks believed in a hereafter but not of the type Paul was describing. Though a Pharisaic Jew by birth, his belief, according to Josephus for example, was that ‘in resurrection the body of the dead rise again.’ (Mason, 169) Paul was a Greek as well and would have been familiar with the history and belief systems of his contemporaries. Perhaps that is what alerted his suspicions to the Corinthian dilemma to begin with was his Hellenist background since it is understood that he was born in Tarsus, which was part of the what was then Magna Grecia, or Greater Greece.
However, context notwithstanding, to say that Paul was Greek because of his birth-right in Tarsus is to say that being born in Hong Kong is tantamount to making a person British. It does in fact fill the legal requirement but not the socio-cultural one since each are geographically half a planet distant from the other and subject to local tradition and cultural influences. Tarsus is northwest of Antioch in modern day Syria and is in the extreme southwest of Asia Minor in what we know of as Turkey, south of Cappadocia. During Paul’s life, this coastal area had been extensively Hellenised but the point made here is that though Greek in terms of (nation) identity, Paul was closer to Middle Eastern geographically and whatever influences that area would have generated in him.
Another consideration when speaking of the Corinthian church is that they were a converted congregation as was its founder, Paul, also a convert. Converts tend to be more ardent in their observances than do long term practitioners if for no other reason than they need to educate themselves in what others have known (culturally) since birth. In suggesting that the reasons for his visit to Damascus were mysterious seems odd too because his home in Tarsus was much closer to Damascus than it was to the Greek mainland cities of Athens or Corinth for example. Even so, it was while traveling on the dusty ‘road to Damascus’ that Paul had his encounter with the risen Jesus.
Essentially, he was travelling to Damascus as part of a group of Pharisees whose mission it was to persecute and/or arrest followers of Christ. At some stage of his journey nearing the city of Damascus a bright light from heaven flashed around him. Paul fell down on the ground and a (disembodied) voice spoke to him asking why he was persecuting his people. Those traveling with Paul also heard the voice and like Paul, could not see anyone. (Acts 9:3-4) From this moment henceforth however, Paul is a changed man, in the service of the newly formed Christian church. His former loathing for those who worshipped a man tried, convicted as a criminal, and crucified as one, is well documented. His conversion occurred on Easter Sunday, exactly three days following the Crucifixion. It is not clear how Paul knew he was speaking with Jesus; they never met in life and this encounter on a road to Damascus was post mortem. It is however a pivotal moment for Christ, a man called Paul, and the church, since from that instant they are inseparable and linked in Christian discourse. (Corley, 1)
For the Apostle Paul, the notion of resurrection is more than possible; it is for him a reality of his Judaic upbringing and later encountered on a dusty road to Damascus. Therefore, life after death is not theoretical insofar as he was a witness that at least one man had risen from the dead. He was not the only witness as scripture speaks of the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and as many as five hundred other unnamed witnesses to the risen Christ, including those who were traveling with Paul at the time of his encounter. (O’Connor, 240)Thus it was that when Paul learned that his Corinthian church was espousing that there is no resurrection of the dead, he made haste to correct this aberration of doctrinal belief.
There were many in the Corinthian church who denied resurrection (1C 15: 12), had even dispatched a letter and delegation to communicate with Paul the church’s discomfort with some members but it is unknown if they spoke of this in the letter. (1C 6:17)It is possible however that Paul drew the inference that this eventuality could ensue in his Corinthian parish due to Corinthian attitudes and perception of the body, in life and in death. Prevailing belief amongst Greeks at the time was that the earthly physical body was of no real consequence other than as a vehicle transporting a sole occupant and prisoner; the soul. What need of a body in the afterlife? (1C 6:18; Hays, 360)
Pharisaic Jews in Paul’s time believed in resurrection and afterlife. Death was associated with the Genesis interpretation and understood as punishment. While everyone died, people believed they would survive. The Maccabean rebellion challenged this certainty by providing Jews the right to give their lives obeying God’s covenant promising everlasting life (Maccabees 7:9)which meant that now the human body was inextricably linked to the spiritual soul, in terms of life and after life. (Murphy-O’Connor, 168)
Similarly, Greeks at the time of Christ believed that the person was composed of a soul whose character was indestructible; immortal and eternal. The soul resided within the physical or material body. Though the body perished it was the desires of the body that distracted the soul whose goal was to understand beauty and truth. Both were distinct and separable from each other. When the body ceased to exist, ancient Greeks interpreted this as releasing the soul from its corporeal prison, no longer subject to the body’s cravings. Jews, who made up a large portion of Christian converts, did not believe in the immortality of the soul but did accept however that the soul’s survival was predicated on wisdom, which it had and it was this wisdom that gave the soul immortality. (Murphy-O’Connor, 169)
In 50 AD during Paul’s time, there two very distinct ideas in vogue of how Greeks viewed the afterlife: the first considered the physical body and its renewal upon death while the second did not. In Corinth there were many people who thought of themselves as possessing wisdom which automatically led them to believe that with wisdom their soul would arise for eternity. This was a fashionable belief at the time. Nonetheless, for Paul, a conviction such as this was untenable because the belief in only the soul’s immortality foreclosed the alternative of the body resurrecting. For Paul, this left only one possibility and that was resurrection of the body. Why? Because one man had already done so and risen from the dead. (Murphy-O’Connor, 169)
There are many instances of the phrase ‘on the third day’, and it instilled the idea in a lot of people that they would be saved on the third day. There was the issue of Jesus’ burial site as well which on Easter Sunday was empty seemingly reinforcing the belief and allowing people to infer that basically, a person’s resurrection would occur on the day of salvation, or the third day following death. (Murphy-O’Connor, 169)
Paul’s vision of Christ on Easter Sunday is not unique but his appeal to Corinthians is not dependent on this encounter and relies on the testimony of those whose fortune it was to come upon the risen Jesus and there were many according to scripture. Nonetheless, the Greeks invented skepticism and there were many in Corinth and elsewhere who were wary that the resurrection could be a scam imagined by Christ’s disciples and even the Apostles themselves, an invention to support of the resurrection claim. In other words, spin doctors in current parlance. Thus, in AD 54, Paul’s reinforcement of his Corinthian converts’ faith was not optional; it was imperative. Furthermore, Jesus crucifixion happened at least twenty years prior to his visit and in that intervening time, whether his body had remained in the tomb or not, it would have disintegrated, so he chose to leave the issue of a bodiless grave out of the conversation. Consequently, he instead spoke about witnesses to the resurrection, many of whom were still alive at the time (including Paul and his Damascene companions). (Murphy-O’Connor, 172)
Murphy-O’Connor says that Paul’s words have often contained errors in translation when using the word ‘He’ as in ‘He was seen by Peter and others’. ‘He’ is a passive noun making the experience of being ‘seen’ a subjective one, dependant on the witness. To say ‘He appeared’ to Peter however, is active and relies on the action of Jesus, as opposed to the observations of Peter and others. His reprimand to his disciples for example or Mary Magdalene’s grief over the risen Jesus. (John 20:11, 19) It is obvious that with Jesus death, they were not grief-stricken over his resurrection inasmuch as the death of the man brought with it the death of their dreams too. Thus, with the resurrection all this changed. There is no question that something transpired on that Easter Sunday to those who witnessed his resurrection. (Murphy-O’Connor, 172).
Barrett (2), however, states that by providing a list of people who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection Paul makes a stronger statement than simply giving first hand testimony. “The list of appearances is given in simple, paratactic style” (Barrett 3). By stating that “he appeared to more than 500 brothers at once, of whom the majority remain to this day”(30. 15:1–1.6), he further adds credibility stating that the accounts can be checked.
Paul cites as many as five hundred other witnesses (Murphy-O’Connor, 169) to the resurrected Jesus, unnamed but many still alive and by extension able to be examined. These were not people with high offices to maintain and many were simply common folk with nothing to gain materially from their disclosure of their experience, adding further proof to ‘resurrection of the body’.
Paul does not speak about his conversion, but does mention that he was the last person to witness the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. (Murphy-O’Connor, 174) His experience seems to resonate with that of the other witnesses. The common thread in each of these religious experiences is the absence of expectation; Jesus is active, not passive; he displays his wounds (hands and torso) to identify himself; and importantly, his disciples recognize him. (John 20: 19-20)
In his version (Philippians 3:12) of his encounter with the risen Christ he says he was ‘laid hold of by Christ, Jesus’. (Murphy-O’Connor, 174) How could Paul have known it was Jesus speaking with him that day? There were many other people who were personally acquainted with Jesus and could have easily identified him, but not Paul. True, Paul had travelled to Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime but there is no record of either of them having ever met or even passed in the street. Neither one knew of the other. Therefore, on this version of events, undoubtedly, Paul’s basis of recognition of the risen Christ is problematic.
Prior to this, there is nothing in Paul’s past of a need for moral intervention in how he conducted his life as a Pharisee or to be taken-in-hand by a man he professed to despise. Yet, his words from that moment forward are awash in love in his comprehension of the relationship between God and humanity. He says that ‘God shows his love for us while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’.. (Murphy-O’Connor, 175) From that moment forward, he was a convert and travelled extensively in his missionary work. It bears repeating that in every place he travelled, he had one very clear message to deliver; Jesus died for us, and on the third day he arose from the dead, or more accurately, his body was resurrected. (Murphy-O’Connor, 174)
Paul’s incentive for travelling to Corinth then is based on the misconception, error, or faulty Corinthian belief that there was no resurrection of the body. We have already seen that Paul had experienced personally, the resurrection of Jesus and with evidence of his own encounter with the risen Jesus knew that resurrection of the body was more than a possibility; it was a reality. (Murphy-O’Connor, 174)
Chapter fifteen of First Corinthians contains the final subject of Paul’s letter to Corinth and is his discussion of the resurrection, the keys to the kingdom (1C 15:24), the destruction of death (1C 15:26), and, God in all of us (1C 15:28). This section of Corinthians is vital to Christian thought because it lays out God’s vision of the present and the future. (Taylor 365) The subject changes from one about Spirit to the resurrection of the dead. This is a serious matter for Corinthians, the Church, believers, and Paul. What is at issue is that some members of the Corinthian church are saying “There is no resurrection of the dead.” (1C 15:12) This is the crux of Paul’s visit and his letter to the Corinthians.
Paul opens his speech by directing his first salvo across the bow of the so-called knowers in Corinth who are the source of the problem he now faces in his church. The body resurrection theme is front-and-center and Paul lets them understand straight off, saying “By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead (1C 15: 20-23) and he will raise us also (1C 15: 20-23) (Taylor 366) He then asks, ‘How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?’ (1C 15:12) We do not know how Paul knew about the existence of this dispute; he may have arrived with the delegation’s letter never delivered or via a report. In any event, the denial of resurrection does not imply a denial of Jesus’ resurrection in particular, but rather a denial of resurrection in general. As mentioned earlier, this probably is derived from Greek philosophy of the era that believed in immortality of the soul but not in the resurrection of the body. (Taylor, 366)
In essence, the Greek mind was trained philosophically to accept the immortality of the soul while the notion of a resurrected dead body contradicted a century’s long philosophical tradition. Corinthian reservations were predicated upon; if there is resurrection of the dead, how will they be raised and in what form will they come, a not unreasonable inquiry given their training and history. Paul responds but not directly to the question but with a statement, saying that to deny resurrection of the dead is to claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead and consequently denies his humanity. (1C 15:13, 16, 21) The consequences that flow from this assertion are devastating and far reaching, challenging God’s sovereignty. (1C 15: 20-28). The chapter looks at some of the problems generated by ‘if there is no resurrection of the dead’, including the ramifications of Jesus resurrection, and considers the resurrection body. (1C 15: 35-58; Taylor 368)
At this time, there was universal agreement in the church and amongst the apostles of the resurrection of Christ. Paul must address the issue of the body resurrection with the Corinthians. His argument is Socratic, in the form of ‘if and only if’ and ‘if not a, then not b’. It is a constraint that must be dealt with or the framework collapses as a non sequitur, whereby the conclusion does not follow logically from the premise. How this happens is not difficult to envision. To deny resurrection of the dead is to repudiate the resurrection of Christ in particular with the accompanying demoralising effect it would have on theology. The complete structure of Christianity collapses as well as the fact and implications of Christ’s non resurrection in particular, because his resurrection allows for the resurrection of others (1C 15: 20-23) who by his coming will be raised. If the Corinthians cannot grasp this Archimedean point, all is lost, and resurrection of the dead reduces to a null hypothesis. (Taylor, 378)
Paul realizes the problem is not necessarily about the Corinthian view of life after death per se but rather of the body itself in an afterlife or more specifically, the resurrected body. (1C 15:18; Taylor 379)
The reality of ‘no resurrection of the dead’ negates preaching of any kind since the denial void its content (Taylor, 381) and challenges the testimony of five hundred spectators who claim to have witnessed the resurrection and who encountered the resurrected Christ, including, incidentally, Paul and the disciples. Paul is paraphrasing the Corinthians when he says; ‘Christ was not raised from the dead if the dead are not raised either.’ (1C 15: 13) It further carries the connotation that any witness to the resurrection, notably Paul since he was in the room addressing his Corinthian church, is a false witness; a liar.
Apart from the resurrection itself, faith is futile and believers are still in sin and the dead in Christ have perished. Furthermore, if Christ has not risen from the dead, faith has not resulted in forgiveness of sins and means that believers remain in sin. Those already dead are perished and irrecoverable via resurrection of the dead. (Taylor 381) In the text, there are several interesting references to Christ’s resurrection and its impact on faith. Paul’s passage is showing early church members that Christ’s sacrifice has an impact on people’s lives, indeed, Paul’s own life has been turned around as well. In 30. 15:1–11.3, he states: “I handed on to you that which I too received,”, and further down, at 30. 15:1–11. 11, he concludes: “so we preach, and so you believed”. Through these two sentences, Paul shows the connection between witnessing the resurrection and believing. By preaching and giving first hand testimony of the events, Paul is attempting to pass on his faith and belief in resurrection and salvation to others. This logical connection is a crucial part of the passage, and allows the apostle to connect with his audience.
As Barrett (2) states: “Paul is not the originator of tradition, but a link in the chain”. He is a tool in God’s hands and solely serves the purpose of the divinity. He has a task ahead, and does not put himself in the centre of the events: he refers back to the events that made him become a believer and God’s servant.
Another way of connecting with the audience that Paul uses in the passage about resurrection is by lowering himself down, and stating that although not being deserving, as he used to prosecute Christ’s people, he also received salvation. This way, the apostle is able to make himself appear as one of the people who make up the early church. He can handle objections of people who are afraid that they are not worthy to receive God’s grace.
Paul makes his message simple and easy to understand, starting with three simple short clauses (Barrett, 2). Christ died, he was buried, and resurrected the third day. It is possible that the apostle is trying to clarify the message here: in the lives of early Christians, it is possible that several theories and legends were in circulation regarding Jesus’ death. By clarifying the events, providing evidence of the resurrection by stating the names of people Jesus appeared to after his crucifixion, he again attempts to strengthen the belief of the Corinthians, and make their doubts disappear.
Clarifying the purpose of Jesus’ death, “Christ died on our behalf, that is, to deal with our sins.” (Barrett, 3) is another strength of the passage. He also adds: “according to the Scriptures”, which might be referring to prophecy about the Salvation before Christ. According to Barrett (3), the clause is added in order to increase credibility and trust in the speaker’s account. Further, it is also attempting to show Christ’s death as the manifestation of God’s will, instead of the victory of God’s enemies. It is important to note here that after Jesus’ death, resurrection was the only hope believers had. In Corinth, people are used to accepting only historical facts. By making Jesus’ resurrection one of these facts, and further stating that it resulted in the salvation and resurrection of sinners and believers, he makes a logical connection between the events and the faith. This answers several questions early Christians might have regarding Jesus’ death. As the Grace Institute’s commentary (1) states, people could have been asking the following questions: “Why should you believe a man who claims to be God, but then cannot even avoid arrest and execution by a human governor? However, a man who rose from the dead, this is a man with credibility”. By making the resurrection a historical fact, Paul is able to strengthen the faith of believers.
However, Christ’s death alone has no redemptive quality relative to sin if there is no resurrection of the dead. (Taylor 381) What is confirmed in the Gospels is that Christ died for our sins. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead. Now however, if the Corinthians are correct and there is no resurrection of the dead, then nothing happened and the crucifixion is meaningless. It simply transforms into a story of a man called Christ who was tried and convicted and put to death on a cross in Palestine. On this alone, death is victorious. (1C 15:19) Again, Paul is showing Christ’s death not as a loss, but a victory of God’s will.
The argument and the consequences of denying resurrection of the dead concludes with this statement: ‘if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.’ The Christian community does not deny that there are benefits to what we call ‘life’. The community has integrity however, if and only if, it is premised on truth and the ultimate truth is the fulfilment of God’s promise. What is that truth? It is the righteous judgement that is to come that is made possible not just by Jesus’ death but by his resurrection as well. (Taylor, 382) There are other implications for Corinthians for denying the resurrection of Christ and this paper will briefly deal with them below.
Hypothetically, what if there was no resurrection? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then by logic, God is not sovereign. (1C 15:20-28) Paul begins this part of his address reaffirming the resurrection and that the risen Christ is the ‘first fruit’ of those who have ‘fallen asleep,’ (15:20) The affirmation is a hallmark of Christian faith and those whose belief it was that there was no resurrection of the dead are wrong and according to this Pauline description of Christ, Paul paints him as the first fruits with sleep referencing the dead believers in Christ. The fruit metaphor is to illustrate Christ as the first to be risen from the dead and is representative of those who will be raised in the future and who will follow. This is akin to saying he is first born, ire., the New Adam. (Taylor, 384)
The notion of correcting or repairing Adam’s harm through Christ’s resurrection is important for another reason; Adam is essential to the creation of man which is why we are all of us connected to him through birth. If that is the case, according to Paul’s argument, and Christ’s resurrection will lead to the salvation of all through his resurrection, then Christ is risen as essential to the new creation in that sense. If there is no resurrection, as claimed by the Corinthians, and by extension Christ is not resurrected, then nor is there a new creation through Christ, i.e.; reparation of Adam’s damage to humanity through Christ with the consequence that death is victorious. This should not be surprising since resurrection has a very specific objective, namely ‘new’ creation. Thus, if there is no resurrection of the dead, there is no resurrection of Christ, and therefore, no ‘new’ creation through Christ’s death and resurrection. (Murphy-O’Connor, 403)
We should also not lose sight of what Christ’s redemptive work means to salvation. Gordon Fee puts it this way when he says;
We may conclude that for Paul, Christ has made the new covenant effective for the people of God through his death and resurrection; but the Spirit is the key to the new covenant as a fulfilled reality in the lives of God’s people. (1 Thessalonians 4:8; Fee, 16)
Another casualty of the Corinthian congregation’s denial of the resurrection is pointed out by Fee as well.
In contrast to pagan polytheism for us there is only one God, the Father, and only one Lord, Jesus Christ (1C 8:6); yet at the end of the ages, when the final victory of death is won through our resurrection, the Son turns it all over to the Father so that the one God may be all in all. (1 C 15:28).
Plainly, this cannot come about in the absence of the acceptance and belief of Christ’s resurrection because ‘if there is no resurrection of the dead’ as claimed by some members of Paul’s Corinthian congregation, our resurrection cannot occur and the consequences elucidated above. (Fee, 39). Preaching the resurrection is effective in strengthening the faith of early Christians, and it has been found that Paul effectively used his clauses and statements to create trust and credibility. As Barrett (7) states, Paul believes that “resurrection of Christ is an inalienable element in all Christian preaching”.
The above paper looked at First Corinthians and especially two verses within 1C 15: concerning the controversy emanating out of the Corinthian church Vis a Vis, ‘if there is no resurrection of the dead’. It also considered Paul’s conversion and Grecian views in general of resurrection in late antiquity. The initial thesis statement that Paul is using the passage to strengthen Corinthians’ faith and trust in God has been confirmed by several textual analyzes. The rhetoric logical argument that Paul makes is effective in clarifying facts regarding Jesus’ death, and positioning Crucifiction as a victory instead of a defeat.
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