Letters to the Corinthians: Ressurection Power

Having reminded the Corinthians that the gospel is “Christ and him crucified”, he now moves onto the promise of Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 …

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Here I think we have something in common. When we get a teaching, we love to examine it closely – like the trinity, while not explicitly stated in the Bible, people have debated over the particulars of the persons of the trinity for centuries. I think the Corinthians were much the same with the Resurrection. “So what does it mean for us? That when we die we will miraculously be restored?” “We haven’t seen that happen – so what ought we to expect?” “Can we be sure that the Resurrection is really real?”

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

What jumps out at me first is pointing back to Adam. The Corinthians know one creation myth – the one with Prometheus and Zeus. So pointing to Adam as a first-fruit points to Genesis 2 and 3 as well as some temple-related lingo. This ties into his theme of resurrection – to make a point about how it works; an illustration. I guess Paul thinks that this is a pretty clear teaching for which he doesn’t have to explain what he means by it.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

I always thought it would be an interesting Halloween celebration to consider what baptism of the dead might have meant instead of the ubiquitous Hell House productions. Perhaps it was a way to comfort grieving relatives. I think indulgences performed a similar function: giving the living hope that their actions can help those who are among the dead. Being baptized in the name of someone who has died or paying an indulgence to get somebody out of purgatory fifteen minutes quicker than they would have otherwise, can bring the living comfort and help them accept their loss. The last line is a quote from Isaiah 22:13.

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

I don’t think we understand how serious shame was to the 1st century Greco-Roman society – but this resource will help us gain further insight to the hearts and minds to whom Paul was trying to reach: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/greeksociety/g/shameculture.htm We don’t live in an honor/shame society, so words like “disgraceful” “dishonorable” “shameful” and others have no terror over us. But in shame/honor societies, their compass for right and wrong is set to this way of thinking: it is right to seek honor, and it is wrong to act shamefully. It tends to take an outside part to affirm one’s honor or to testify to one’s shameful actions. interestingly, some of this same language is used in 1 Cor. 11 – which is a curious passage in and of itself. One society that we might be familiar with is that of the Klingons, though fictional, many story lines revolve around honor and dishonor, particularly in The Next Generation. In the last episode – Worf gets fed up with Picard’s appeal to his honor, asking him why he always challenges his honor. “Because it works!” Picard yells back at him. And it does. It gets him what he wants because honor is as precious and fragile as glass – any smudge, any crack and it’s value plummets. If you read the Bible and you aren’t looking for honor/shame language, you’re missing a dimension to Scripture.

The line “Bad company corrupts good character.” Is not from any other verse in the Bible. It’s a quote from Menander, a greek poet. It shows us that as we might make a reference to Star Wars or Star Trek today, Paul wasn’t above copying a line from a popular drama to make his point.


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