Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 Part 1: Resurrection

We are very clear that this was a long chapter. More, though, it was extremely rich, full of significant themes and dense with information. Nothing, however, compares to Paul telling us that someone is preaching that there was no resurrection of the body. And apparently this teaching also meant that the Anointed, the Christ had not been raised from the dead, either. Shame on me, perhaps, but I had never encountered this part of this letter before; however, there are a lot of parts in this letter which I had never encountered.

It would be difficult, I think, to overstate the ramifications of the existence of this belief. Jesus’ resurrection is the central tenet of the Christian religion. Without the resurrection, Jesus was truly just another wonder-worker.  That there were purported followers of Jesus who did not believe that the resurrection occurred is startling. That this belief dates back to within a decade of Jesus’ death is both astonishing and to be expected. I say this because I believe it establishes, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Divine Jesus was a creation of a later time. Or more accurately description perhaps is that the Divine Jesus narrative became dominant, overshadowing the Wonder-Worker narrative, only after a certain amount of time had passed. If Paul did not create the narrative of the Divine Christ, then he at least pushed the ball forward and got it rolling with some momentum. Mark carried it, if perhaps reluctantly at first, forward far enough that Matthew was able to become the first author that placed a truly divine being in the center of what was by then the proto-Christian universe. The process was taken further, or at least reinforced by Luke, and culminated in the words of John 1:1: “In the beginning, was the logos…”

This reinforces, I believe, my contention that Mark was very much on the fence about Jesus. At least, it reinforces my theory that Mark received two very different views of Jesus  and then tried then to weave, or weld the two different stories into a unified narrative. In the first part, more than a third, but less than a half,. Mark records the story of the Wonder-Worker. But somewhere around Chapter 7 the transformation into the Christ begins. It reaches a culmination in Chapter 9, with the story of the Transfiguration. In a way, Mark’s narrative echoes the transformation of the view of Jesus, the man of whom people still talked, into the divine son of God who was, or at least became, the Christ. For Mark, Jesus may not have been divine at birth as he was by the time Matthew wrote. I think Mark truly believed that Jesus was directly connected to God, and that Jesus became the Christ while still alive,  but he was writing at a time when the story of the wonder-worker was still too strong to be disposed of easily. Or, more likely, I believe, he wanted to reconcile these two different streams into a single, unified whole, thereby producing a single belief system. Mark wanted an orthodox narrative.

So, like the Arthur legend, the story of Jesus grew over time. Or, at least, it solidified around the basis of Jesus’ divinity.

Because the fact remains that Paul believed, sincerely and deeply, that Jesus had been crucified, and that he had been raised from the dead. And he believed this a generation before Mark wrote trying to reconcile the two traditions. Many people have suggested that, for Paul, it was at the Resurrection that Jesus stopped being a man and became the Christ. There is probably some truth to this, and it would certainly explain Paul’s lack of interest in anything Jesus said or did before the crucifixion. The question is, did others believe this before Paul? That is a very important question. I suspect that others had believed this before Paul. For likely candidates, I would certainly suggest Peter, the 12, and the 500 brothers. I am not as certain about James, presumably that same James who was the brother of Jesus, and who led the Community in Jerusalem. But if context is to be trusted, James apparently commissioned apostles, emissaries that he sent out to talk about Jesus. James comes late in this list; James and the apostles come just before Paul himself. Was this because James, as the brother of the lord, resisted accepting Jesus’ divinity longer than Cephas?

We know, or can infer, that James remained more attached to the Jewish heritage than Cephas. Paul told us as much in Galatians and I see no reason not to accept this testimony. And the idea of a god-on-earth was not part of the Jewish heritage; it was, however, definitely part of the pagan heritage, and specifically the Greek heritage, at least from the time of Alexander the Great. Before that, the belief in an incarnate god was part of the Egyptian belief system. Then, men-becoming-gods entered the Roman heritage, as Julius Caesar became the Divus Julius, whose cult was established and promoted by Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavian, who became Augustus. He became a god, too. We have seen other creeping syncretisms  with pagan thought: the flesh/spirit dichotomy; but even the idea of the god-who-dies-and-rises was a very, very old motif among the peoples of the Near East and Egypt. However, even a cursory reading of the OT demonstrates the horror with which a devout Jew viewed such pagan thought. Really, the entire OT is a prolonged jeremiad against adopting pagan ideas and practices, so it is not surprising that James may have resisted longer than others.

Given this, and given that no historian is qualified to make a theological statement, we have to say that it is not at all surprising that at least one thread of the traditions that came to Mark taught that Jesus was not divine. As historians, we have to assume the human Jesus gradually came to be seen as something more than human, ultimately becoming one of the Three Persons in One God, and the One Who Would Return, coming down from heaven as we rose to meet him.

So we should not be surprised that some, or many, of the early followers of Jesus may not have believed that Jesus was divine, which means that they probably did not believe that Jesus raised from the dead. These same followers may have believed that Jesus had been divinely appointed or chosen–at least in his own mind and/or that of his followers–but he was not a demi-god, let alone a god, and certainly not God. What is surprising–at least to me–is that Paul corroborates this. In the discussions of Mark, I was very hesitant to state with any degree of certainty that some of Jesus’ followers did not think he was raised from the dead. There is the final ambiguity in Mark that he has no resurrection story. This latter is not conclusive; it could have been lost, or detached, or whatever, but the testimony of Paul himself that there were such non-believing followers should pretty much put that hesitation to rest. We have, I think, as clear a statement about the status of beliefs in Jesus in the first decade after his death as we’re going to get.

Another question: why haven’t I come across this before? I’m not surprised, really, that I’ve never heard this read in any church I’ve attended; but I am surprised that I’ve never come across this in the secondary literature. JD Crossan didn’t mention it (IIRC), but neither did Akenson (IIRC). And I think I would have remembered that. It’s surprising that it’s not discussed more widely because the fact that Paul tells us this has enormous implications for the QHJ.

Offhand, I’m not sure what, exactly, those implications are, but that will come to me as I ponder this further. At least, there has to be some implications for Jesus’ apocalyptic thinking, or possibly a lack thereof. Paul obviously believed that the End was coming; however, he seems to believe it might be a little farther off than he felt in Galatians. Why? Simply because of the passing of time? If so, the question becomes, why did he feel it was so imminent when he wrote 1 Thessalonians? Was it due to Jesus’ teaching? If so, what part(s)? I think this does nail down the teaching of the kingdom as dating back to Jesus. Assuming this to be true, the question then becomes, what did Jesus mean by ‘the kingdom’?

There has been a tendency to associate ‘the kingdom’ with an eschatological event. That is, that the kingdom would come “at the end of times”. Or the end of time. And Mark’s little apocalypse in Chapter 13 seems to confirm this. Or does it? We see Paul becoming less insistent about the Parousia; was the idea of an End Time something that developed later? By this I mean that these stories began to circulate to 1) explain why Jesus had not returned; and 2) to explain the outcome of the Jewish War of 66-70. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul didn’t talk about a time of tribulation–at least, not like Mark would a generation later. Rather, Paul talks about Jesus just coming. There would be no wars, or rumours of wars, no seven angels with seven trumpets; just the Christ coming down from the sky. I don’t think I want to get too far into this right now; with Matthew coming up, that might be the more appropriate time. At this point, we will say that Paul had expected the Parousia very soon in his earlier letters; he expects it less soon now.

Since we’re not even close to being done with the themes of the chapter, I’m going to break. To Be Continued…


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 August 20, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Historical Jesus, Paul's Letters, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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