1 Corinthians 15 could take us down a lot of back alleys and rabbit trails.
For instance, the Mormon practice of proxy baptism for the dead has been in the news lately (that is what the Mormon interest in genealogy is all about: identifying your ancestors so you can get baptized for them). This practice derived from v. 29.
Also, the hot current controversy about whether there had to be a historical Adam relates to vs. 21, 22, and 45-48.
But I am following up on Paul’s ideas about the resurrection of the body due to having read Carolyn Walker Bynum’s book. So what strikes me is how Paul claims that Christianity stands or falls with the reality of the resurrection.
He says that his preaching is meaningless and false if the resurrection of Christ did not happen (vs. 14-15). He says that the Corinthian believer’s faith is meaningless and to no purpose if this event has not happened (v. 17). He says that their dead loved ones have perished (v. 18). He says that Christians deserve pity more than anybody else, if they are deluded about the factuality of Christ’s resurrection (v. 19). If their hope is only for this short, troubled life, Christianity offers them nothing (v. 19). Life is hard, and then you die.
So to modern and post-modern folks who want to say that Easter has spiritual meaning even though the event never happened, what would Paul say?
It seems that he would say: “But it did happen! I am a witness, and so are lots of people I know.”
The problem for us is that, contrary to Paul’s expectations, Christ’s return and the general resurrection of the dead has not happened yet in 2012. This old world, dominated by death, goes on and on. The cemeteries remain full.
So we try to sell Christianity by saying that it will make you happier in this life. It will fix your relationships. It will help you find purpose in your daily life. It will give you a glow and make you attractive.
I doubt the Paul of 1 Corinthians 15 would have bought any of this. For him the gospel was eschatological, it was about the next world, or it was nothing. But he had a rock-solid belief that the eschatological was real.
I say “the Paul of 1 Corinthians 15”, because there is also the Paul of 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and the Paul of Philippians 1. I will eventually discuss development in Paul’s understanding.
But for now it is important to see how, first of all, Paul thought that there was no question at all that the resurrection of Jesus was a factual event that had taken place openly, before witnesses, in his own time. And second, for Paul, without the resurrection event, we derive no benefit from being disciples of Jesus.
A company in the financial industry has a TV advertisement that says (incorrectly) that the Mayan calendar predicts that we will all go spinning off into space this coming December. If that is true, it says, you don’t need to do any retirement planning. But in case the world goes on, this company can help you.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians at a time when he stood on tip toe anticipating the resurrection of the dead and final events, probably before his own death (v. 51). He wasn’t planning for retirement. He didn’t see the point of marrying or raising a family (chapter 7). The astounding fact that he had already experienced the resurrection of Jesus dominated his perspective.