1 Corinthians Chapter 15:20-34

We left off with our only hope being in the anointed.

20 Νυνὶ δὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶ, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων.

And now  the anointed was raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

‘First fruits’, of course, refer to an offering, a sacrifice. So ‘first fruits of the dead’ implies…what, exactly? That the dead are sacrifices, it would seem. So Jesus–or the anointed–was the first to die as a sacrifice. That certainly is in line with later Christian thought, so there’s nothing surprising here.

20 Nunc autem Christus resurrexit a mortuis, primitiae dormientium.

21 ἐπειδὴ γὰρ δι’ ἀνθρώπου θάνατος, καὶ δι’ ἀνθρώπου ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν:

For since through man (came) death, and (so) through man (c0mes) standing from the dead.

The word here is << ἀνάστασις >>, which means ‘standing up’, as opposed to the more common word, which means, ‘to be raised’. Adding the word “comes” is necessary; Paul is being epigrammatic here, and epigrammatic Greek and Latin means leaving words out. And, of course, this is the whole ‘New Adam’ theme.

21 Quoniam enim per hominem mors, et per hominem resurrectio mortuorum:

22 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἐν τῷ Ἀδὰμ πάντες ἀποθνῄσκουσιν, οὕτως καὶ ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ πάντες ζῳοποιηθήσονται.

For as in (through) Adam all die, in the same way in the anointed all will be made to have life.

‘Made to have life’ is sort of a disassembling of the components of the final word/verb. And now Paul makes the connection to the New Adam explicit.

22 sicut enim in Adam omnes moriuntur, ita et in Christo omnes vivificabuntur.

23 ἕκαστος δὲ ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ τάγματι: ἀπαρχὴ Χριστός, ἔπειτα οἱ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ:

But each in his/her own way (is) set in order; (through the/because of the) first fruits of the anointed then those of the anointed (will partake) in his parousia.

It’s very tempting to connect ‘life’ from V-22 with the parousia in this verse. The parousia, of course, is the return of the Christ on the clouds, as explained in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Given the proximity and the flow of the words, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch (if any at all) to infer that those being made alive are made so by virtue of the parousia, but please note that the connection is not explicit. Here we should note that this word is used 4 times in 1 Thessalonians, the most famous of which is Chapter 4:15. This is the only time it’s used to refer to the coming of Jesus in this letter. It seems to appear in only one extended passage in Matthew. It crops up again in later epistles, 2 Thessalonians, James, 2 Peter, and 1 John. It does not appear, as a word, in Luke or John. 

It does not appear in Revelations, where I would certainly expect it, but the concept of the return is certainly clear enough there. Nor does the word appear in Mark; however, as with Revelations, the concept is present, but only in the second half of the gospel, the Christ section. One wishes that Paul would explain this a bit more. Why doesn’t he? I suspect it’s because this was the central core of Paul’s teaching.  

I don’t think he was passing along the sayings of Jesus. Think about it: aside from the possible references to inclusiveness that we saw before, what of Jesus’ message have we heard about? Yes, we got the “quote” about the Last Supper, but that is all, and I fully believe it was something that Paul–or someone else–made up.

The word parousia was used four times in 1 Thessalonians; that, along with the idea of hardships–which may or may not have meant persecution as we think of it–are probably the two most prominent, or at least most persistent, themes in 1 Thessalonians. In Galatians, the theme was the relation of faith in the Christ to the Law. What have been the prominent themes themes here? Sexual immorality comes to mind, and the several chapters Paul spent arguing his superiority to Apollos. And women’s rightful place, in worship, and presumably in the home.

There have been many and varied strands of argumentation put forward to explain Paul’s lack of interest in anything Jesus said. The most popular, and the one that’s always been my default position is that Paul preached about Jesus when he was physically present. These epistles were not, primarily–if at all–intended as ways of teaching about Jesus. The epistles, rather, were intended to respond to specific questions and specific situations. But I’ve come up with another, which could, conceivably, be considered a variation on that.

As I now see it, Paul was not concerned about what Jesus said because what Jesus said did not matter in the long run. Why? Because there was no “long run”. In Paul’s opinion, Jesus was coming back, and soon. As such, the important thing was not what Jesus said about living your life, because you weren’t going to be living it much longer. The return was imminent. That’s why the topic loomed so large in 1 Thessalonians. That’s why the idea of the body not rising is so important here. It was about making yourself one of those of the anointed (works much better in Greek, or Latin), so that you would be ready when Jesus–or, The Christ–returned.

23 Unusquisque autem in suo ordine: primitiae Christus; deinde hi, qui sunt Christi, in adventu eius;

24 εἶτα τὸ τέλος, ὅταν παραδιδῷ τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί, ὅταν καταργήσῃ πᾶσαν ἀρχὴν καὶ πᾶσαν ἐξουσίαν καὶ δύναμιν. then the end, when the kingdom may be handed over to God over, and when, by God all of the rulers and all of those of worth and of power may have been destroyed.

That’s odd; why should the kingdom of God be handed over to God? Perhaps, since the rulers and the powerful will be destroyed, he’s referring in this instance to the earthly realm. And, btw, the verbs are in the subjunctive; I found that a bit odd, too. At first, I thought perhaps it was just me, but I started looking at different grammar books & online sources and I could not exactly come up with a good explanation. The best I can figure is that it’s here meant to signify unreal conditions. But using the subjunctive that way is not exactly the most Greek way to use it. But, there it is.

24 deinde finis, cum tradiderit regnum Deo et Patri, cum evacuaverit omnem principatum et omnem potestatem et virtutem.

25 δεῖ γὰρ αὐτὸν βασιλεύειν ἄχρι οὗ θῇ πάντας τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ. For he must reign until he has placed all the enemies under his feet. 

Another subjunctive, an aorist variety, as was the second verb in the previous clause. This makes sense, because it’s an unreal condition in the past. In one of the JD Crossan books that I read, he talked about apocalyptic writing as revenge fantasy of the downtrodden. I think we can see that here. Now, the thing is, I didn’t put a lot of stock in the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher; however, given the prominence that Paul gives the theme, I may have to re-think that position. This is a classic piece of revenge fantasy, where the oppressor gets his in the end. But then, a large part of the OT has a lot of this sort of talk, so I need to weigh this evidence out more. 

25 Oportet autem illum regnare, donec ponat omnes inimicos sub pedibus eius.

26 ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος: The last enemy, death, will be destroyed will be destroyed.

Now we’re getting into the realm of eternal life. If death is destroyed, what else is there? What is the alternative? So, when we rise up to meet the Christ in the clouds (1 Thess 4:15), we will be rising into eternal life. And this would explain the concern about those who have already ‘fallen asleep’ that was expressed in Galatians, and to a lesser extent, earlier in 1 Corinthians. So the idea of eternal life has entered the arena; it’s part of the thought-world of Paul and his Communities. It’s also present in the last half of Mark, if a bit vaguely. So this was one of the strands of teaching expounded by followers of Jesus. There were others.

26 Novissima autem inimica destruetur mors;

27 πάντα γὰρ ὑπέταξεν ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ. ὅταν δὲ εἴπῃ ὅτι πάντα ὑποτέτακται, δῆλον ὅτι ἐκτὸς τοῦ ὑποτάξαντος αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα.

For all are arranged under his feet. But when he would have said that all have been made subject (lit = ‘arranged under’ again), it is evident that he is outside (i.e. not a part of, not grouped with) all those having been made subject to him (God).   

This seems a bit odd. Why does this need to be stated? Of course God would not himself be included in those who are made subject to him. That would seem to go without saying, but apparently not.

27 omnia enim subiecit sub pedibus eius. Cum autem dicat: “Omnia subiecta sunt”, sine dubio praeter eum, qui subiecit ei omnia.

28 ὅταν δὲ ὑποταγῇ αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, τότε [καὶ] αὐτὸς ὁ υἱὸς ὑποταγήσεται τῷ ὑποτάξαντι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, ἵνα ᾖ ὁ θεὸς [τὰ] πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν.

But when all have been subjected to him. then the son himself will be subject to all those having been subjugated to him (the father?) so that God be all in everything.

Once again, Paul rather explicitly says that the son and the father are not equal. The son will be subjected under the father, so that God may be absolute. This is not, I think, a very Jewish conception of God. Paul is saying that God is absolute, and that was not always the belief of Jews. YHWH was, originally, only one god among many. This absolutist interpretation feels more Greek, more like Plato, but that could only be the result of my background. I am more familiar with Greek ideas, so I see the Greek idea poking through. We see what we expect to see, or what we know how to recognise.

28 Cum autem subiecta fuerint illi omnia, tunc ipse Filius subiectus erit illi, qui sibi subiecit omnia, ut sit Deus omnia in omnibus.

29 Ἐπεὶ τί ποιήσουσιν οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν; εἰ ὅλως νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, τί καὶ βαπτίζονται ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν;

Otherwise what do they do those having been baptized over the dead? If all the dead are not raised, whom did they also baptize over them?

This was tough for me to translate, largely because I don’t especially get in when I read it in English. Here is the NASB:     “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?”

Apparently, people got baptised for the dead? That is, they stood proxy and were baptised with the understanding, or the idea that someone already dead was actually receiving the benefit of baptism? That does make sense, I suppose. To anyone even halfway familiar with the gyrations people went through on behalf of the dead in the later Middle Ages, this makes sense.  Luthere called it “Totenfresserin”; literally, ‘feeders on the dead’. This described the way the Church extorted money from people on behalf of deceased loved ones, to the point that in 15th Century England, a priest could make a good living saying masses on behalf of the deceased at the side altars in the larger churches.

But anyway, this apparently started even here. More important, though are the implications this practice carries for the belief in eternal life. From this we can infer that belief in eternal life was already well-established, at least among, or perhaps within, the communities that Paul had founded; moreover, this belief in the entrance into eternal life was based on the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead. As such, Paul preached that all who “fell asleep” firm in their faith, would also be raised. But, from what we learned in the last section, someone (Apollos? The James Gang?) was preaching otherwise.  It would be very interesting, and it would provide some extremely valuable historical information to know who this was, and what their ‘pedigree’ was; or, perhaps, what the provenance of this teaching was. Did it derive from James? Or Peter? Or someone else? This would very much help untangle the threads of belief in the generation immediately following Jesus. In turn, it would help explain the threads of tradition that reached Mark.

I have said this before: Jesus preached to many people. As a result, many people came away with many different impressions of Jesus’ message, and many of these messages would have flatly contradicted each other. If you have never seen “The Life Of Brian”, there is a scene in which Brian’s mother hears Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount. But she’s at the back of the crowd, and hears “Blessed are the Greeks”. That sort of distortion happened many, many times. Recent research on eyewitness evidence has demonstrated how faulty and plain wrong it often is.  And Paul was not even an eyewitness, but someone to whom the message and meaning of Jesus came through direct revelation after the fact. 

29 Alioquin quid facient, qui baptizantur pro mortuis? Si omnino mortui non resurgunt, ut quid et baptizantur pro illis?

30 τί καὶ ἡμεῖς κινδυνεύομεν πᾶσαν ὥραν;

And why are we endangered every hour?

I’m sorry, but this is a complete non sequitur. Is it a metaphorical danger? The danger to one’s faith? That is how Calvin interprets this. 

30 Ut quid et nos periclitamur omni hora?

31 καθ’ ἡμέραν ἀποθνῄσκω, νὴ τὴν ὑμετέραν καύχησιν, [ἀδελφοί,] ἣν ἔχω ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν.

Each day I die, I affirm by your boasting, [brothers], that which I have in the anointed Jesus our lord.

Here we go with another one of those sentences. In sitations like this, for sentences like this, being a textual analyst, or even an English major would probably be more help. Calvin is not particularly helpful, either. Has the text been corrupted? If not, we’re in one of those passages that we called ‘consesus’ translations’ when we ran across them in 1 Thessalonians, or Galatians. Either that, or your present commentator is simply obtuse. That is a very real possibility.

31 Cotidie morior, utique per vestram gloriationem, fratres, quam habeo in Christo Iesu Domino nostro!

32 εἰ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον ἐθηριομάχησα ἐν Ἐφέσῳ, τί μοι τὸ ὄφελος; εἰ νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, Φάγωμεν καὶ πίωμεν, αὔριον γὰρ ἀποθνῄσκομεν.

If according to (the manner of) humans, I fought wild beasts in Ephesus, what is owed to me? If the dead are not raised, we should eat and we should drink, for tomorrow we die.

First, the part about fighting wild beasts in Ephesus sounds like being thrown to the lions in the Arena. I don’t especially know why he refers to Ephesus; at the time, it was one of the major Greek cities on the coast of what is now Turkey.  And here’s another instance of the fluid nature of tenses in Greek: “I fought” is an aorist, which is the normal tense for describing a discreet act completed in the past. And yet, I do not think we are to take this as meaning that he actually did this. The point is more, “if I should do that, what good will it do for me?” It’s hypothetical, and it does no good if he dead are not raised. And, obviousy, this all smacks of the stories of Christians being torn apart by wild beasts in the arena: their martyrdom won them salvation; so if the dead are not raised, they died for nothing.

I am frankly skeptical about a lot of the martyr stories, and about the general level of persecution Christians faced. There was some, certainly, but I find it difficult to believe that it was occurring at the tine of this epistle Paul was persecuting followers of Jesus, but he was doing it as a Jew, not as a Roman official. That he says this would take place in Ephesus sounds like it’s an offical sort of Roman legal action. Of course, I could be mistaken, and such persecution could have been occurrng at the time of writing; this passage could represent a fairly strong indicator of this,  or it could have been a general sort of thing that could happen to a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

As for the last bit about eating and drinking, I miss the part about being merry. To be honest, I had no idea this was the origin of that particlar sentiment.  I had even less idea that this line is from Isaiah. Regardless, the implication  of ths is clear enough that I can get it: if the dead are not raised, there is no real incentive to be moral, for we’re just going to die (and fairly soon) anyway. And again, I wish I had a better sense of the state of Jewish thought on this. Most Graeco-Roman adjurations to morality were based on appeals to reason in some way, shape, or form. They were not about being moral to attain an eternal reward; or, at least, not something definite. Marcus Aurelius does not advise right-acting because of some sort of reward, although one does sense that he did get something out of it. The idea of ‘virtue is it’s own reward’ is pretty strong in his writing, and one does sense that this slips into the metaphysical. 

32 Si secundum hominem ad bestias pugnavi Ephesi, quid mihi prodest? Si mortui non resurgunt, manducemus et bibamus, cras enim moriemur.

33 μὴ πλανᾶσθε: Φθείρουσιν ἤθη χρηστὰ ὁμιλίαι κακαί.

Do not wander. They corrupt good morals with bad colloquies. (That’s a real cop-out; the base meaning is ‘intercourse’, as in ‘social intercourse’. So…I’m still stumped, largely beacuse I tend to be too formal in my vocabulary. “Bad company ruins good morals” seems to be the standard translation for this.)

The theme of morality, while perhaps not overly emphasized, is persistent. I guess it’s partl that I expected to find some moral stricture lurking behind every other word, but I’ve been a little surprised that it hasn’t come up more often. Still, itis there, not altogether infrequently, so I suppose morality has to count as an important theme. I would hesitate to call it a major theme at this particular moment, but that may change.   

33 Noli te seduci: “Corrumpunt mores bonos colloquia mala ”.

34 ἐκνήψατε δικαίως καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε, ἀγνωσίαν γὰρ θεοῦ τινες ἔχουσιν: πρὸς ἐντροπὴν ὑμῖν λαλῶ.

Awaken justly, and do not sin, for some have ignorance of God; I say this regarding your shame.

34 Evigilate iuste et nolite peccare! Ignorantiam enim Dei quidam habent; ad reverentiam vobis loquor.

I have rendered this pretty literally, since I couldn’t think of what else to do with it, and rendering literally is kind of what I’m doing here. I’m not sure how one awakens “justly”, but there it is. But then I could not come up with an English equivalent that gets across the sense of movement implied by << πρὸς >>, but nothing came to mind.

As for the content, there really isn’t much to say. But that doesn’t mean that we can add “wake up from your drunken stupor” as the NASB does. That is the sort of flagrant addition to the text that convinced me to take this more literally. 


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 22, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, gospel commentary, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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