“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
I thought I would follow up on the Bynum book on the resurrection of the body by revisiting Paul’s development of that idea. 1 Corinthians 15 lies behind much of the conversation about this topic.
But since this week is about the events leading up to and including Jesus’ execution by the Romans, let’s look first at Paul’s witness to that.
We don’t know where Paul was that Passover (there are reasons for thinking it might have been in the spring of 33 C.E). Perhaps he was in his home town of Tarsus on the south coast of what is now Turkey. He was not an eyewitness to the crucifixion. But he says, in the verses above, that he “received” this information.
In Galatians 1:18-19 he says that three years after his call he had a 15 day visit to Peter and James in Jerusalem.
The formal language (“I delivered to you first of all that which I also received”) shows that Paul’s knowledge of the events of Good Friday and Easter conform to the instruction he got from the leaders of the mother church in Jerusalem. So his knowledge goes back to what the Jerusalem church taught in the mid 30s of the first century. This was only a few years after the events when plenty of eyewitnesses were still around.
It is important not to treat Paul like a systematic theologian. He was primarily a church planter and troubleshooter. He never wrote in order to lay out a systematic, consistent body of work. He wrote letters dealing with specific problems in specific churches, most of which (Rome being the exception) were churches he had founded.
Also Paul’s own life and the chronology of events has significance, because I am pretty sure that Paul’s approach to the resurrection, for instance, shows development from letter to letter.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is going to argue for resurrection of the body which some, at least, in his little church at Corinth deny. But first, he reminds them of what they already believe, or used to believe. Paul founded the church in about 49 C.E. Now, about 5 years later, he recalls what he taught from the beginning.
He had taught that Jesus died and was buried. The Corinthian church people placed great emphasis on their extraordinary spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14). But Paul cares whether the spirit they experience is the spirit of Jesus or another spirit (see 2 Corinthians 11:4). Some in Corinth may have thought it was alright, even an expression of Christian freedom, to curse Jesus as long at they thought they experienced the higher, spiritual Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3).
So Paul brings them back to the shockingly human Jesus, who had actually experienced the degradation of death and burial.
A spirituality that can’t appreciate the death and stone-cold burial of a Jesus whose heart has stopped beating and whose brain waves have ceased is a spirituality that has gotten away from Jesus and history.