Formations 04.05.2015: Easter Faith

1 Corinthians 15:1-20

af24_2_040515_a_smThe resurrection of Jesus is Christianity’s greatest story. It is the event that set in motion everything believers hold to as distinctively Christian. In churches around the world, that event will be celebrated on Easter Sunday by remembering once more the Gospel accounts of how Jesus rose from the grave.

As important as it is to reflect on what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us about the resurrection, there are other New Testament voices we need to hear. The focus of this week’s lesson is not so much on the event of the resurrection as on the meaning of that event in the lives of believers.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul recounts a simple creedal statement before going into great detail about the importance of the resurrection of Jesus for the gospel he proclaims. Combating those in the Corinthian church who denied the reality of the resurrection, he spells out precisely why this position is untenable and, ultimately, devoid of Christian hope.

Discussion

• What is your fondest memory of Easter?
• Is the resurrection of Jesus merely a doctrinal position to affirm, or does it make a genuine difference in how Christians live?
• Why does Paul say his preaching and his readers’ faith are “useless” (1 Cor 15:14) without the resurrection?
• How is Christ’s resurrection related to the resurrection of all believers that Paul expected?

Reference Shelf

Implications of Christ’s Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus differs in one crucial respect from the revalent first-century Jewish expectation for a general resurrection of the dead. Jewish expectation was for a corporate resurrection—all the righteous would be vindicated—which would occur at the end of time. The resurrection of Jesus does not diminish the eschatological flavor of resurrection hope but it does relocate the hope radically. The resurrection of Jesus—that which happens to one person—is confessed as an event in history which has eschatological significance. Thus, not only is the resurrection of Jesus a transformation of Jesus, it is also the immedicate cause for the transformation of a resurrection hope from a coporate, eschatological event to a personal, historical event with corporate, eschatological implications.

Richard F. Wilson, “Resurrection in the New Testament ,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 755–56.

SHBC

Formally, the refutation begins with the identification of the point to be rebuffed: that there is no resurrection of the dead (v. 12). At issue here, however, is not simply the opposing idea but also the testimony of those who espouse the idea. Some of the Corinthians are saying that the dead are not raised in contrast to the testimony of the apostles and the apostolic tradition that God does, indeed, raise the dead. The primary issue is the credibility of the claim that the dead are raised….

The refutation itself substantially involves pointing out the consequences of denying the gospel, which is what Paul insists questioning the reality of bodily resurrection actually entails. Note that Paul does not say that anyone in Corinth was denying the resurrection of Jesus. His opening question in v. 12, however, indicates that some of them were having problems with the idea of dead bodies being brought back to life. While it is not so obvious in English translations that render nekros simply as “dead,” the Corinthians’ misgivings are more understandable if the term is given its more usual sense of “corpse.” The raising of corpses appeared both unnecessary and undesirable to some of them. Several scholars have argued that the concept was problematic for the higher-status members of the church who would have ascribed to certain philosophical notions gained through education that considered the human body to be significant only for this life. Such may have been the case, but one does not have to restrict the aversion to raised corpses to the upper classes or to the intellectually elite. The prospect of reinvigorated corpses was alien to most Gentiles, and even for many Jews the apocalyptic construct of resurrected bodies required reinterpretation. For Paul, the denial of the general idea of the resurrection of dead bodies also meant that one must reject the possibility that Christ himself was raised. If one rejected Christ’s resurrection, the personal consequences were serious.

Paul begins by asking how anyone could deny the reality of the dead being raised if he and other apostles are preaching that Christ has been raised, a proclamation that the Corinthians have already accepted. Paul has reminded them of the teaching about Christ’s resurrection and of the fact that they have accepted and believed it. What amazes him is that some people cannot see the connection between the proclamation of Christ’s confirmed resurrection and the raising of other persons’ dead bodies. For those who did not share the presuppositions of Paul described above, however, the dis- connect is not so mysterious. Eventually, Paul will have to include some discussion of those presuppositions in his argument, but for the moment he focuses only on the personal consequences of denying the resurrection of Christ.

What is the result of denying the resurrection of the dead? Twice he insists that it also means denying the resurrection of Jesus (15:13, 16). The first consequence of this denial is that his preaching and their acceptance of it have been in vain (15:14). He has proclaimed and they have believed some- thing that is simply not true. Furthermore, Paul and the other apostolic proclaimers are exposed (heuriskometha) as false witnesses regarding God (15:15). Their preaching is not only “empty” (kenon), it is libelous. They have testified against (kata) God by claiming that God did something God did not do. If, however, it should prove to be the case that they have testified truthfully regarding God’s resurrection of Christ, then those on the other side would be exposed as false witnesses against God because they have claimed that God did not do what God actually did do.

The second consequence is that their faith is meaningless and they are still “dead” in their sins (15:17). That “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” is affirmed by the creedal statement. But that statement also affirms that “Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” If the latter affirmation is invalid, then so must be the former. Furthermore, all those who have died believing have simply perished, for there is no afterlife of any kind (15:18). They died in their sins and have suffered the fate that awaits all unredeemed persons. Believing or not believing the gospel matters nothing because believers and nonbelievers both perish.

Paul’s final loss that comes from denying the resurrection adds a poignant note of pathos. If there is no afterlife, and Christ only has significance for this life, then believers are the most pitiable fools of all (15:19). His last point may raise some eyebrows. “Would it not be better to live now for Christ, to follow his teachings now, to practice Christian love now, and to try to improve the world in his name—even if there is no afterlife—then not to do so?” For Paul, even though such a life might be virtuous, noble, and more commendable than one of immoral self-indulgence, it would still be pitiable. It would be based on an understanding of God that is too limited. It would be rooted in resignation to the admission that the gospel’s message of God’s ultimate triumph over evil is a pipe dream. It would abdicate the hope for justice to the realities of an unjust world. It would sadly accept that human life has no ultimate value or meaning beyond the few fleeting moments experienced here. For some persons, such a perspective might be considered “realistic.” For Paul, it is supremely pitiable.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 401–403.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email