Subject: Saint Paul’s Letters
Prof. Dr. B. Repschinski, S.J.
Scholastic: Paul Nguyen Van Chi, S.J (Third Year Theology).
In early time, like other churches, the Corinthian church has also many problems to deal with. Namely, there are problems such as factions (1 Cor 1:10-4:21); behaviors (1 Cor 5:1- 11:34); charisms and the response of love (1 Cor 12: 1-13:13); resurrection of the Christ and of the Christians (1 Cor 15). Rather, the fourth part, Paul talks about eschatological hope.
In this research, I focus on understanding what the purpose of Paul’s chapter on the resurrection is.
Issue without resurrection
Initially, it is necessary to talks about background because there are informations which help us why problem of resurrection arises in this community. In the New Testament times, the Corinth is in Achia which is a province belonging to Roman. It is the most prosperous cities in the ancient world. Besides, this city was proud of its reputation as a city that was open to new ideas and tolerant of diversity. Most of the Corinthian Christians also appear to have come from the lower classes (1Cor 1:26), but not all. Moreover, inhabitants usually were as a crass antithesis to that intellectual center. In any way, we can see this in the first letter to the Corinthians.
Indeed, in the early church, the Corinthians wondered the resurrection. In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells that: “how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Fitzmyer thinks that the Corinthians Christians considered death to be the end of everything. Whereas, Conzelman remarks that the Corinthian do not doubt the resurrection, but some of them have been denying the consequence of it. Powell explains that it is possible that the Corinthians interpreted resurrection as a spiritual experience in which people could participate here and now. Udo Shnelle points out more clearly that they probably thought of the human person as a dichotomy, distinguishing between the self, as the visible I-soul, and the visible body. The body is merely an earthly-temporary entity exclude from the eschatological redemption. It is the earthly house for the soul, it has no bearing on the matter of salvation. On contrary, the soul is immortal. It is the higher part of the person. It is only the soul that has hope for a life beyond. Because of this view, the Corinthians rejected the idea of an eschatological bodily resurrection in future. For them, life is not attained when death is overcome at the Lord’s parousia but when the Spirit is conferred at baptism. This is place where the essential transformation of the self occurs. In some way, the soul obviously already participated in immortality through the gift of the spirit appropriated in baptism.
In summary, there are two issues concerning the resurrection: (1) the body of human being can not have eternal life; (2) they misunderstand the role of Jesus’s resurrection. It only grants human being to have life of soul.
Perhaps Pauline theology of the resurrection originates from tradition of the Jews and continues in the Christian. In fact, the Genesis give us the view of human being. First, man is created from two elements body-soul: “The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being ” (Gn 2:7). Second, man is created in God’ image: “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God …” (Gn 1:27). So, man have relationship with God not only by soul but also body. Consequently, there are not disparity between body and soul likewise conceptions of the Greek. Both of elements unify each other. Afterward, the belief of resurrection develops in Jewish tradition such as Is 25: 8; Hos 13:14 and then 2 Mc.
Correct conception of man continues to be reinforced by experience of Jesus’s resurrection. Perhaps, Paul wants to explain that the resurrection of man not only belong to soul but body. This is the crucial truth of Christian.
First, Paul cites apostles’ tradition. It names “kerygma”. Maybe, the kerygma was proclaimed to the Corinthians. It includes five elements form the basic framework of the Easter event: (1) statement about Jesus’ death for our sins in accordance with the scripture (1 Cor 15:3); (2) a reference to the grave (1 Cor 15:4a); (3) a statement about the resurrection (1 Cor 15:4b); (4) a report of an appearance to Cephas (1 Cor 15: 5a); a report of appearing to a group of disciples (1 Cor 15: 5b) such as five hundred brothers and sisters, even the last witness (Paul). Fitzmyer holds that Paul doesn’t employ these proofs to demonstrate the resurrection, but makes use of it as event that has already been proclaim by the church’s preaching. This preaching proclaims about God’s saving in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. This resurrection is as a bodily event. It isn’t event of past but impacts to believers at present as well as future. To make clearly this point, Schnelle comments that the tense of the verbs ἀπέθανεν – died and “ἐτάφη- burried (1 Cor 15: 3-4) designate an event completed in the past whereas the perfect passive (ἐγήγερται – raised up) stresses the continuing effect of the event.
Briefly, the line of argument 1Cor 15:3-11 as a whole is determined by a constantly increasing emphasis on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Second, Paul discusses the coming resurrection of the dead as rooted in Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-34). Concretely, Paul argues about existence and the body. For him, there is no human existence apart from bodily existence. Likewise, there is not the resurrection without body, because there is no reason which prevents God from saving body. This is demonstrated in event of Jesus’ resurrection with his body which the early Church professes. Furthermore, Paul explains more that the resurrection doesn’t belong to the circle of natural laws (nativity, becoming old, getting diseases, death), but a grace of God. Paul believes that the resurrection of body is thanks to Jesus Christ who has resurrected from the death. Possibly, Paul is not trying to establish for pagans either the fact the resurrection of the dead. He is seeking to point out that the belief in the resurrection of Christian faith inevitably implies a belief in the resurrection of the dead.Therefore, Paul concludes strongly that “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).
Besides, Paul insists of impact Jesus’s resurrection on believers. In effect, the risen Christ is ruling all things even death. When Christ returns, the general resurrection of the dead will occur (1 Cor 15: 20-28). By this point, few authors accepts Paul’s argument being quite logical. Concretely, if the dead has no resurrection, Christ has been raised. Consequently, preaching of apostle as well as Paul are vain. They become false witness of God. Faith of the Corinthians is vain. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (1 Cor 15:16-18). In fact, Jesus Christ has risen, so the dead has resurrection. However, Paul’s argument is not an ideal Aristotle syllogism. Because there is a big gap between Jesus’s resurrection and resurrection of the dead as general resurrection. Hurd holds that such an interpretation fails to reckon with the physical nature of death; how could the resurrection be experienced this side of the death. Eventually, we can only accept Paul’s argument as his faith: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:21).
Third, Paul talks about how the resurrection of body is (1 Cor 15:35-49). Paul bases on his experience of Jesus’ resurrection to explain how the resurrection of body is. He argues that death is the necessary condition of the new life (1 Cor 15:36-38). New life connects with new body. Paul holds that if God grants every thing one σῶμα, He will grant other σῶμα in new life. To make clearly, Paul uses image of seed to explain. The perishable is sown and the imperishable rises. Similarly, the physical body is sown and the spiritual body is raised. It is Christ who creates the spiritual resurrection body (1 Cor 15: 45). This body is imperishable. It is in the transformed situation. In the course of this explanation, it is possible Paul is still affected by two central categories of Greek philosophy and cosmology. Nevertheless, Paul adopts Greek models of argument to include the body within the realm of God’s act. Concretely, Paul employs the image of seed and plant. Through these images, Paul emphasizes in transformation from this state to other: such as from seed to plant; or weakness to strength; from physical to spiritual; from dust to heaven. Perhaps, Paul thinks that this transformation happens in his age. In any way, he strives to overcome these categories to talk the world of life after death by means of concept of transformation. By this conviction, Paul wants to assert for the Corinthians that the power of God raised Jesus from the dead, and it is God who will also act in the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the Corinthians who are still alive with bodily existence.
Fourth, the resurrection as victory over death through Christ (1 Cor 15:50-58). In this passage, Paul makes use apocalyptic genre (such as Is 25:8; Hos 13:14) to describe the future resurrection of those who die in Christ. Probably, Paul makes efforts to “translate” the Semantic concepts into language that can be understood by a Hellenistic audience. “Flesh and blood” is perishable. “Perishable” is mortal. Paul affirms that there is a radical incompatibility between the present state of the human condition and the resurrected state.
Furthermore, it is seemed that Paul hints to talk about the end of time. By this argument, Paul’s view is different from the authors’ one (Mt 25:31-46; Lk 16:19-31). For them, the end of time is the judge. Meanwhile, Paul holds that the end of time is fullness of grace when Jesus Christ leads everybody to come with him (1 Cor 15:57).
Finally, Paul advices the Corinthians to get patience in difficulties with the hope of resurrection (1 Cor 15:58). In fact, when Paul gives out these advices for the Corinthians, it is he lives in dangers which harm his life. If there is not resurrection, his sufferings are meaningless: “if at Ephesus I fought with beasts, so to speak, what benefit was it to me? If the dead are not raised” (1 Cor 15:32). Perhaps, Paul’s sharing describes difficulty in mission of proclaiming the Gospel. In many times, missionaries feel very hard to make others to understand message of the Gospel. They only can manifest by their life of.
In short, the purpose of Paul’s chapter on the resurrection (1 Cor 15) is a response in to question of life after death. However, Paul doesn’t have intention to convincing the Corinthians to believe in resurrection of the dead. In fact, he only wants to give out explanation of Christian faith. From the tradition of apostle as well as his own experience of the risen Christ, Paul has a conviction that Jesus has risen, the dead also has been risen. Those who have a deep faith in risen Christ understand Paul’s explanations of resurrection. We can not know how the Corinthians accept this preaching of resurrection (1 Cor 15), but the fact that the first letter to the Corinthians has kept up to now is sign of values of Paul’s preaching. Right now, Christians have confessed the belief of resurrection in Creed.
- MARK ALLAN POWELL. Introduction the New Testament. Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009
- JOSEPH A. FITZMYER. First Corinthians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2008.
- UDO SCHNELLE. Apostle Paul His Life and Theology. Translated by Eugene Boring, Michigan: Baker Academic 2003.
- FRANK J. MATERA. God’s saving Grace a Pauline Theology. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012.
- RAYMOND F. COLLINS. First Corinthians. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.
- WILLIAM BARCLAY. The Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. Translated into Vietnamese, Ha Noi: Ton giao.
 See Mark Allan Powell, Introduction the New Testament (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 276-278.
 See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2008), 559.
 Ibid., 544.
 See Mark Allan Powell, Introduction the New Testament (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 282.
 See Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul His Life and Theology, (translated by Eugene Boring, Michigan: Baker Academic 2003), 37-38.
 See Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, (Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press), 574.
 See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2008), 541.
 See Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul His Life and Theology, (translated by Eugene Boring, Michigan: Baker Academic 2003), 35.
 Ibid., 38.
 See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2008), 558.
 See Frank J. Matera, God’s saving Grace a Pauline Theology (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012), 173.
 See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2008), 559-560.
 See William Barclay, The Letters of Saint Paul to The Corinthians, (translated into Vietnamese, Ha Noi: Ton giao), 147.
 See Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul His Life and Theology, (translated by Eugene Boring, Michigan: Baker Academic 2003), 40-41.
 See Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, (Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press), 573-576.