1 Corinthians 15:1-19

This is another very long chapter, with no really good, clean breaks, so please bear with me. But there are some really good theological concepts and ideas discussed here, so I think it should be, as Spock was wont to say, fascinating.

1 Γνωρίζω δὲ ὑμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ὃ εὐηγγελισάμην ὑμῖν, ὃ καὶ παρελάβετε, ἐν ᾧ καὶ ἑστήκατε,

But I made known to you, brothers, the good news which I have gospelized, and which you have received, and in which you stand,

Nothing shocking here. The rhetorical quirk is that he evangelized the evangelion; that is, he gospelized the gospel, or good-newsed the good news.

Spoiler Alert! John Calvin says that some members of the Community in Corinth have ceased to believe in the Resurrection. I certainly don’t get that from this first verse, so he must have read ahead. If this is true, then this presents some very, very interesting questions about the development of belief among the followers of Jesus.

1 Notum autem vobis facio, fratres, evangelium, quod evangelizavi vobis, quod et accepistis, in quo et statis,

2 δι’ οὗ καὶ σῴζεσθε, τίνι λόγῳ εὐηγγελισάμην ὑμῖν εἰ κατέχετε, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ εἰκῇ ἐπιστεύσατε.

and through which you are saved, for which reason I have gospelized you, if you have it, otherwise out of it you believe vainly.

(= I have gospelized you, if you [still] have it, otherwise, if you are now outside of the news [if you’ve forgotten it], then you believe vainly. 

We’re back to being saved. In Mark, this word is used almost exclusively for a physical salvation, as in saving one’s mortal life, or even being healed in the case of the bleeding woman. In 1 Corinthians–and not before–we get some other sense of saved. At least, I think we do.  I don’t think saving their mortal lives makes sense here. Naturally, the tendency and the impetus is to read this as it came to be read by the Christian Church, in terms of eternal salvation. Honestly, though, if you look at how it’s used even in Matthew and Luke, that later Christian sense is not terribly prominent. It’s not until John 3:17 that, I think, we can be fairly confident that we have moved into the Christian sense of the concept. 

Here’s a thought. Maybe it did mean saving the mortal life, even for Paul. Think back to 1 Thessalonians 4, when Jesus would be coming down to meet us and those who are saved would be raised up to meet him in mid-air, on the clouds. We do not get the sense that this is a spiritual event; rather, it’s a physical one. So maybe Paul does intend this in the more common sense of  ‘to save’. At the very least, we cannot be convincingly certain that Paul is talking about the salvation of the soul. I don’t think this idea is truly present in Paul. It may be implicit, and implied, but it’s not the fully-formed concept that it became in the Christian Church of the Second, or probably more like the Third Century.

But let’s take a look at that very last bit: otherwise you believe vainly. Everyone–including John Calvin and the Vulgate below– puts this in the past tense: you have believed in vain; but it’s a present indicative: you believe. Now, the idea of past & present tenses is much more fluid in Greek than it is in English. And it does make sense to put it in past tense: if you no longer hold what I taught, then you believed in vain. And yet, and yet…He’s not, I think, saying that they don’t believe. I think he’s saying that what they believe is wrong. IOW, they believe one of those other gospels. Perhaps like the one of Apollos. Remember him? How Paul planted the seed, and Apollos watered it? Honestly, I do believe that this is what Paul means.

2 per quod et salvamini, qua ratione evangelizaverim vobis, si tenetis, nisi si frustra credidistis!

3 παρέδωκα γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν πρώτοις, ὃ καὶ παρέλαβον, ὅτι Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς γραφάς,

For I gave over to you first (lit = ‘in first’, which makes no sense in English), and that which you received, that the anointed died for our sins, accordingly as it was written.

Yes, ‘anointed’ = ‘the christ’. The more times I run across this word, the less certain I am about whether to capitalize it or not.

But the anointed, or the Anointed, died for our sins. Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: this is exactly the second time that the idea of Jesus dying for our sins is mentioned. The first came in Galatians 1:4, where Paul uses almost the same expression. And, oddly, it doesn’t show up all that much in Mark, nor even in Matthew. Why not?

Seriously. Why not? Is this not one of, if not the crucial part of the message? This is how we are put right before God; doesn’t it deserve a bit more emphasis? One thing I wonder: the idea of repenting sins was the central message of the Baptist; does that explain the lack of emphasis from Paul? I honesty don’t know, but the very casual attitude towards such a key idea seems really odd.

The ‘according to the writing’ refers, per Monsieur Calvin, to Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:26, and Psalm 22. Who am I to argue? Now, Psalm 22 is the one that begins, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, which Jesus quoted on the cross in Mark, only to be misunderstood by the passersby. And all three of these passages talk about someone who, while innocent, has been punished, perhaps unto death, by God. the passage from Isaiah–technically, Deutero-Isaiah–has become known as the “Suffering Servant” theme. It is largely because of the way that Christians have appropriated this chapter as a prophecy about Jesus, that I, raised as a Christian, assumed Isaiah to be the most significant of the Hebrew profits. Jews, however, would, by and large, assign this role to Elijah. Of course, had I been more educated in the Hebrew Scriptures, I might have arrived at a more accurate conclusion.

The three talk about an innocent man seemingly abandoned by God, and broken by men. And Isaiah pretty explicitly says that this Suffering Servant, whom no one regarded, was punished for the sins of the people, meaning Israel.  So, the scriptural precedent is there, or can be interpreted as being there without stretching the matter too much. It is fairly plain.  The question is, was Paul the first to make this connection? There are echoes of this theme in Mark, especially in the latter half of Mark, even though the remission of sins theme is confined to six references in Chapters 1 & 2, the first two of which refer to the Baptist. But Mark does not link the Suffering Servant with remission of, or forgiveness from, sins. In fact, the word for sin, << ἁμαρτία >> is not used after Chapter 2:10.

So this is a highly significant, and extremely important passage. Too much to be discussed adequately here. So I’m compelled to make note of it and move on–for the moment.

3 Tradidi enim vobis in primis, quod et accepi, quoniam Christus mortuus est pro peccatis nostris secundum Scripturas

4 καὶ ὅτι ἐτάφη, καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ κατὰ τὰς γραφάς,

And that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the writing (=scriptures).

Now this is interesting: M. Calvin cites the passages for the Suffering Servant, but not the part about being raised from the dead. Here we have to go back to the passive voice: he was raised, not he rose, which implies that Jesus was not the actor, but the object. To me, this is a huge distinction. It’s not quibbling over tenses in Greek verbs, whether it’s an aorist or a perfect, or a present indicative. Rather, it’s about the subject of the sentence. The passive voice switches subject and object: she threw the ball vs the ball was thrown by her. 

To the best of my knowledge, there is no precedent for this in the OT. Yes, prophets do raise others–the famous ‘dry bones’ story being the best example, because it’s not a single person, but many. However, none of the prophets themselves rose, or were raised, from the dead. Elijah was taken up into Heaven, as Jesus was later. And, in John, Jesus raised Lazarus, which does parallel the way the OT prophets raised others. But here, Jesus does not rise himself; he was raised by God, as we were told in Galatians 1:1.

Why is this important? It speaks to the question of how Jesus was seen by his earliest followers. Recall that Mark was very ambivalent about Jesus’ divinity for much of his gospel, only describing him in terms of divinity in the latter chapters; that is, in the “Christ Section” of the gospel. Matthew, Luke, and John, OTOH, have no such qualms. Jesus was divine from before birth, divinely conceived by the breath of God.

That Jesus was raised by another agent–God–implies very strongly that Paul did not believe that Jesus was divine. That is, Paul apparently believed that Jesus was a man. The Christ, on the other hand, the one who was raised from the dead, is probably a different story.

Finally, just want to revisit the ‘according to the scriptures’. Which scriptures? Some have pointed out that Paul, on occasion, played a bit fast and loose with his scriptural citations. Sometimes, they say, Paul implied that the OT said things that really didn’t. Here, Paul says that something was written that, maybe, wasn’t. Again, here is where we have to make that crucial distinction between Truth and factual accuracy. Paul, I think, would have been horrified by someone calling him a liar. He did not intend to deceive. Rather, he was speaking to a Higher Truth, rather than recounting dry fact. This is a very important distinction that must always be kept in mind. It is one, I think, that the QHJ completely misses.

4 et quia sepultus est et quia suscitatus est tertia die secundum Scripturas

5 καὶ ὅτι ὤφθη Κηφᾷ, εἶτα τοῖς δώδεκα:

And that he was seen by Cephas, and then by the Twelve.

First, this kind of blows a hole in my idea that the Twelve were a later invention, perhaps as late as Mark. I can, perhaps, massage this, but it gets more difficult. However, it does not mean that the Twelve were created by Jesus. They may have been a creation of the post-Easter community. Because, recall, that there were only Eleven on Easter.

More importantly, Jesus was seen by Cephas. But more to follow.

5 et quia visus est Cephae et post haec Duodecim;

6 ἔπειτα ὤφθη ἐπάνω πεντακοσίοις ἀδελφοῖς ἐφάπαξ, ἐξ ὧν οἱ πλείονες μένουσιν ἕως ἄρτι, τινὲς δὲ ἐκοιμήθησαν:

Then he was seen later by five hundred brothers (any sisters in there?), of whom the majority remained until now, even if some of them fell asleep (= ‘died’).

6 deinde visus est plus quam quingentis fratribus simul, ex quibus plures manent usque adhuc, quidam autem dormierunt;

7 ἔπειτα ὤφθηἸακώβῳ, εἶτα τοῖς ἀποστόλοις πᾶσιν:

Then he was seen by James, then by all the apostles;

7 deinde visus est Iacobo, deinde apostolis omnibus;

8 ἔσχατον δὲ πάντων ὡσπερεὶ τῷ ἐκτρώματιὤφθη κἀμοί.

Last/finally, of all as untimely born, even by me.

A whole bunch of stuff in there. First, note that the Twelve and the apostles are not the same group. He appeared to one, then to the other.  Ergo, the Twelve Apostles is highly problematic, and a great example of how things get expanded and conflated as time passes and the story is retold. This is, I think, an example of how later writers, put two groups together that were not really the same. It’s less confusing that way.

Secondly, the idea of 500 brothers. Now, what my historian’s training is telling me is that Cephas was part of the Twelve, and that the Twelve perhaps were the leadership council of the 500 (and probably others). James, however, was not part of this group; he was one of the apostles, or the lead person of the apostles. So, right from the start, you have two separate factions coming out of the teaching of one person. And note that we are not told how many apostles there were; was this the smaller group? So was Cephas the leader of the larger group? I think there is basis for this conclusion. Paul separates them, and groups them. I think we can justifiably infer that these groupings reflected reality in some way.

(Note: leader should perhaps be rendered as ‘prominent among’ that particular group. Calling someone leader may distort the situation, but it is a useful shorthand.)

Third, there were 500 brothers. That indicates a significant following. Is this why Mark tells us that Jesus was so popular? Most likely. 

Fourth, note the progression: from Cephas, ultimately, to Paul. We are going in a descending order of importance. Cephas was first; ergo he was the important one. Ergo he was probably a companion of Jesus. I believe that we can bank on that as an historical fact. James came later. He was not as important. Now, we have to consider whether the dispute between James and Paul left a certain bitter taste in Paul’s mouth, and he strikes me as the sort of person who could hold a grudge. So, we have to account for that when we assign levels of rank.

Finally, he appeared to Paul. This is a very significant claim, and has major implications for what it means that ‘Jesus was seen by’ someone. In the later gospels, we get Jesus as a physical being, who was physically present, notably eating with them until…when? Luke, of course, tells us Jesus was taken up into Heaven. But Luke is the only one who says this. Matthew and John just sort of leave it all hanging.  

So what happened to Jesus after the Resurrection? Taking Luke’s story, since it’s the only one we have, Jesus was around for 40 days until he ascended into Heaven, never to be seen on earth again. Paul says no such thing. Now, the  << ἔσχατον >> can mean a lot of things; one of them is that Jesus was seen by no one after Paul. And, I think. that is exactly what he means here. IOW, he was the last one in, and he shut the door behind him, so to speak, so that no one subsequently can claim the revelation from Jesus–or the Christ–himself.

Given all this, we can take ‘he was seen’ to mean any number of things. What I do not think we can infer, OTOH, is that Paul saw the Christ in any physical sense. That part, I think, came later, as a means of emphasizing that what those who saw Jesus were not seeing a vision, or some sort of spiritual visitation (common enough among pagans), but the actual, physical Jesus. This would have another raft of theological implications–the raising of the physical body as the Pharisees believed among them–but those are for another discussion.

For now, suffice it that Paul was convinced that he saw the resurrected Christ, and that this Christ imparted the words that Paul was preaching. IOW, how dare Apollos–or anyone–impugn Paul’s message?

8 novissime autem omnium, tamquam abortivo, visus est et mihi.

9 Ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι ὁ ἐλάχιστος τῶν ἀποστόλων, ὃς οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς καλεῖσθαι ἀπόστολος, διότι ἐδίωξα τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ:

For I am the least of the Apostles, I who am not worthy to be called apostle, because I persecuted the assembly (community) of God.

Well, he may be the least, but by gadfrey, he’s still an apostle. And for the life of me, it would be really interesting to know what exactly Paul means when he says he persecuted the communities of God.  This is one of those topics on which it’s hard to get good evidence. Or any evidence at all, really, aside from a few comments like this, and the horror stories propagated by the later Christians.

9 Ego enim sum minimus apostolorum, qui non sum dignus vocari apostolus, quoniam persecutus sum ecclesiam Dei;

10 χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι, καὶ ἡ χάρις αὐτοῦ ἡ εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ κενὴ ἐγενήθη, ἀλλὰ περισσότερον αὐτῶν πάντων ἐκοπίασα, οὐκ ἐγὼ δὲ ἀλλὰ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ [ἡ] σὺν ἐμοί.

By the favor of God I am what I am. and the gift which is to me did not become vain, but more than all others I have toiled, but it is not I, other than the grace of God which is with me. 

This is a bit garbled at the end. I think it’s something like, he’s not the one accomplishing the task; rather, it’s done by the grace/favor/gift of God. Remember, I don’t like using grace because of the overburden of implications that are now loaded onto the word.  

And note how Paul reminds us that he worked more than anyone. These little clues, I think, give some good insight into Paul’s personality. He seems often to have felt put upon, he whines a bit, and he’s not going to pass up a chance to blow his own horn. These hints matter. They matter because they are the traits of someone who is not going to afraid to make decisions, and to make them on his own authority. He may feel a bit nervous about doing so, but this won’t stop him, and he will try his best to tough his way through them. As such, it will be ever more difficult to separate between what he says/decides, and what he got from Jesus.

But!

If he “got it from Jesus” what that means is that he believes that his thoughts are divinely inspired. He has no reason to be concerned with what Jesus the man said; he is only concerned with what the Resurrected Christ revealed to him.

10 gratia autem Dei sum id, quod sum, et gratia eius in me vacua non fuit, sed abundantius illis omnibus laboravi; non ego autem, sed gratia Dei mecum.

11 εἴτε οὖν ἐγὼ εἴτε ἐκεῖνοι, οὕτως κηρύσσομεν καὶ οὕτως ἐπιστεύσατε.

Therefore, whether I or another, we preach in this way and in this way you believe. 

Then, after all that, it doesn’t matter who preaches? This is true if we assume a unity of message. However, I don’t think that is anywhere near having been demonstrated.

11 Igitur sive ego sive illi, sic praedicamus, et sic credidistis.

12 Εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς κηρύσσεται ὅτι ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται, πῶς λέγουσιν ἐν ὑμῖν τινες ὅτι ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν;

But if the anointed should be preached that he was raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?

Recall that back in V-1 of this chapter, M Calvin dropped a spoiler that some in the Community did not believe in the Resurrection. Well, that is not quite what is being said here. The belief here is that there was no resurrection at all. This was the position of the Sadducees, and most pagans did not believe in the resurrection of the body, either. Now, given syllogistic logic–which was invented in Greece, if no bodies are resurrected, and Jesus had a body, therefore Jesus did not rise (technically, was not raised). If P then Q. Not Q. Therefore, not Q.

[Whoa! Time out. The resurrection of the body. This is why it became so critical for Matthew, Luke, & John to emphasis the physical nature of the risen Jesus. To demonstrate that the resurrection of the body was true, as well as True. This is huge! ]

 So, it seems that some among the Corinthians are preaching that the Christ was not raised from the dead, because there was no resurrection of the body. Now, Paul does not (at least, has not yet, anyway) say that anyone is denying that Jesus was raised, but that is the logical conclusion of a denial of the resurrection of the body. And this is what I referred to in the previous chapter: there is no unity in the message being taught. So, with this additional insight, we realize that Paul was being a tad ironic in the last verse: it doesn’t matter who preaches; except we know it does.

But this is a really significant aberration. In 1 Thessalonians and Galatians, and to this point in this epistle, the resurrection has been a mainstay of Paul’s belief and preaching. To the point that we (or maybe I) have been lulled into thinking that this was a generally accepted message. Except now we run into this. All I can say about this is “Wow”. The implications for the historical process of growing a heterogeneous group of followers into a (mostly) unified church was neither a straight nor a simple process.  Again, I want to stress, that, so far at least, we are not told that Jesus raising is being questioned.

12 Si autem Christus praedicatur quod suscitatus est a mortuis, quomodo quidam dicunt in vobis quoniam resurrectio mortuorum non est?

13 εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται:

For if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither was Christ raised.

Well, Paul draws the conclusion, but he still stops short of saying that anyone is actually preaching this.

13 Si autem resurrectio mortuorum non est, neque Christus suscitatus est!

14 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, κενὸν ἄρα [καὶ] τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν, κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν,

But if the anointed was not raised, then our preaching is empty, and empty is our faith, 

I still get the sense he’s hypothetical here. Yes, this is the logical concluision, but that’s still all. So far.

14 Si autem Christus non suscitatus est, inanis est ergo praedicatio nostra, inanis est et fides vestra;

15 εὑρισκόμεθα δὲ καὶ ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦὅτι ἤγειρεν τὸν Χριστόν, ὃν οὐκ ἤγειρεν εἴπερ ἄρα νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται.

but we are also found (to be) false witnesses of God, that we have testified against the raising of God the anointed, whom he did not raise if the dead are not raised.

This is what I mean about Paul. Now he’s turned this back to him: he has been a false witness if he’s been preaching something that did not/cannot happen. He takes this personally. He feels impugned. All of this is important if we’re going to sort through the various layers here.

15 invenimur autem et falsi testes Dei, quoniam testimonium diximus adversus Deum quod suscitaverit Christum, quem non suscitavit, si revera mortui non resurgunt.

16 εἰ γὰρ νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται:

For if the dead are not raise, neither was the anointed raised.

Basically repeats V-13.

16 Nam si mortui non resurgunt, neque Christus resurrexit;

17 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν, ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν.

But if the anointed was not raised, our faith is vain, and you are still in your sins.

This is not surprising. Paul recognised that the resurrection was the sine qua non of the faith. Without it, Jesus was just another wise man, like the Baptist and Socrates before him. 

But, think about this for a moment. What is Paul saying here, perhaps without realizing it? He is saying, he is telling us that Jesus was a man, who was not divine. It was the resurrection that made Jesus The Christ, and the resurrection was what removed our sins.

This is embarrassing, but I have to admit that I only at this very moment understood the whole “New Adam” thing. Death was introduced by Adam’s sin. By dying for our sins, and then be raised, death–the curse of Adam, to which Adam succumbed–was overcome.  Well, maybe I did get that before, but the clarity of it has never been so…clear.

17 quod si Christus non resurrexit, stulta est fides vestra; adhuc estis in peccatis vestris.

18 ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ  ἀπώλοντο.

And so the ones having fallen asleep in the anointed perished.

Here’s something to note. I have been trying to use more value-neutral terms, to avoid falling into the mindset of what “everyone knows” about Christianity: wherever possible, I avoid church, H/holy S/spirit, grace…The latest one is substituting ‘anointed’ for ‘christos’. In the sentence above, no one would blink if I rendered it as ‘fallen asleep in Christ’. That’s how it’s translated. But, I had to render as ‘fallen asleep in the anointed’, just as we would have to say, ‘fallen asleep in the Messiah’. Why? Because we’ve absorbed ‘Christ’ as a surname. It’s not. It was not taken so by the earliest of Jesus’ followers. Translating it as such is, I believe, very misleading.

18 Ergo et, qui dormierunt in Christo, perierunt.

19 εἰ ἐν τῇ ζωῇ ταύτῃ ἐν Χριστῷ  ἠλπικότες ἐσμὲν μόνον, ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν.

If in this life we are only hoping in the anointed, we are pitied of all people.

19 Si in hac vita tantum in Christo sperantes sumus, miserabiliores sumus omnibus hominibus.

We are to be pitied if we only hope in the anointed, and the anointed was not raised from the dead. If if the anointed was not raised, neither will we be, consigning us to a very uncertain, but likely unpleasant, afterlife.  Contemporary concepts of the afterlife varied, but not many of them held out the sort of hope that the Christian afterlife came to promise. I’ve always considered this one of the main reasons why this particular religion eventually won out over all the competitors. And there were many competing religions and systems of belief.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on July 15, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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