Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 15: Third and Final
If we continue to add parts to the summary for this chapter, I will need to write a summary of the summaries. This should be fairly short. Let’s have at it by starting with a question.
Is there any connection between the themes of the raising of the body and the idea of salvation? In this day and age, the orthodox answer would, of course, be “no”. The bodies of all will be raised and judged and sorted, each getting its just desserts. The question, however, is was that what Paul believed?
To answer this, let’s consider the verb “to save”. As has been noted earlier, when Mark used this verb, he most often meant “to save the physical life”, that is, the life of the body. For example, it’s the verb used to describe the healing of the bleeding woman; however, in that case it’s usually translated as “made whole”. So the word had this physical connotation even when Mark was writing several decades later than Paul. Even in Matthew and Luke, the word often refers to the body. Paul did not use this word in either 1 Thessalonians or Galatians; his use of it here is, remarkably, more ambiguous than it is in the evangelists. Here in 1 Corinthians, it may refer to the body, but the general sense I get from the word is of something else; however, it’s ambiguous. It could be taken in different ways.
When we read 1 Thessalonians 4, the part about rising up to meet the Christ in the clouds, what sense do we get from that? Personally, it seems to me that Paul is referring to bodies rather than disembodied spirits. It seems that way; but it is not at all clear, or made explicit that this is what he means. This in turn means that we have to conjecture or infer what Paul means from…whatever we can. The actual evidence for Paul’s intentions ranges from slim to none. “…it seems to me…” is not evidence. It is conjecture; however, if we only took a stand on what we could prove, then there would be no academic category called “biblical studies”. I tend to suspect that there is a correlation between raising the body and being saved as an individual. I think the latter rests on the former, but there is very little I can offer as evidence. This is something that I will continue to examine as we get to Matthew and beyond.
Somewhat tied up in this is the idea that the Christ died for our sins. But the connection is very tenuous. Or, rather, I think the weakness is that this is not a theme that Paul dwells upon; at least, he has not so far. Three of the four uses of the word ‘sin’ in 1 Corinthians come in this chapter; the word was used three times in Galatians, and one of them was sin in a generic sense. And, interestingly, all seven uses of the word in Mark occur in the first two chapters, and three of them relate directly to the Baptist and his preaching in the first chapter. The word disappears from Mark’s vocabulary after Chapter 2.
Why is that? Unfortunately, that question is rhetorical, because I do not have any real answer for it. I have suggested that this is because the word and the concept were strongly linked to the Baptist, and through the Baptist to the Wonder-Worker Jesus. Given that we saw that Paul, perhaps, was not so keen on baptism (Chapter 1), I still believe that this is possibly the reason Paul is not so keen on this theme. Paul does talk about living moral lives, and being blameless on the day the lord returns, both of which imply a concern with sin and both its avoidance and repentance. The problem for Paul, I think, was that the idea of sin was too much wrapped up in the concept of the Law and its ‘do this/don’t do that’ thinking, while he was concerned with the idea of faith; the idea that Luther and others would turn into sola fides. Notice the difference between how he talks about Jesus/the Christ dying for our sins vs the length in which Paul discusses the Christ’s resurrection being a victory over death. Paul begins the chapter with the former, but ends it much more ( very much more) strongly with the latter. Yes, the two are connected; but, as I see this, Paul apparently feels much more strongly about the latter. Of course, this could simply be something like confirmation bias on my part. I don’t think so, but it could be.
Finally, I’d like to mention the idea of the resurrection body. Perhaps this should have been covered in the previous section, but that one was already too long. It is my sincere belief that this section has the feel of something that Paul was making up as he goes along. I mentioned that the idea of raising a decomposed body was bizarre, if not macabre, to the ancient mind. I pointed out how this was made explicit in the story of Lazarus. Again going back to 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul seems to expect that the Ascension of the Faithful (my term; got something better?) would happen while people were still alive; that is, it would occur pre-mortem, not post-mortem. That was why Paul had to stop and explain that those who had “fallen asleep” in their faith would not be excluded from the ascension. A disclaimer like this would not be necessary unless the idea of the Ascension of the Faithful was expected to be something that happened while Paul was still alive. Note that there, Paul did not talk about a resurrection body for those who predeceased the Parousia.
Now, the problem is that words have implications of which the author may not be aware of when he speaks or writes them. This is especially true when the words are written when these words become subject to a great deal of parsing and scrutiny. Look at how economists still argue about what Adam Smith meant in Wealth of Nations. So when Paul included the predeceased, others started thinking about the implications of this. Wouldn’t their bodies have decomposed in the meantime? As Paul would say, “Of course not!” But, why not? Because of the… resurrection body! It’s a spiritual (pneumatikos) body, not an earthly one!
[Note: I just noticed the inherent contradiction in that term; how can it be spiritual and a body? In our sense of the two terms, they are more or less mutually exclusive, at least when used in philosophical discussion. ]
This is not to say that Paul was making this up as he was writing. Rather, I suspect that he came up with the solution previously, in response to questions before. That is why he was able to go on at such length on the topic. I think delineating this process is important, because it seems to show how the thought developed. Remember, as of this writing, there was not Matthew, Mark, or Luke. There was no virgin birth and no Ascension and no Holy Spirit, let alone a Trinity. Virtually everything we know about Christianity was still in the future, so Paul had to take care of problems as best he could on his own. The degree of his success in this task is remarkable. It has been said (at least by me) that Paul, like Augustine, was not a systematic thinker. Neither of these individuals had the luxury of retreating into an ivory tower and the leisure to think these questions through in a methodical fashion. Both were faced with the rough-and-tumble of actually running a set of congregations. In such circumstances, anything could happen, and often did. It was in such circumstances, one suspects, that the question about decomposing bodies arose. Paul answered the question, but that led to further questions, so the idea grew more elaborate. The thing about Paul, and this is something I get from reading him, is that he was not one to experience prolonged bouts of self-doubt. Yes, he often felt put upon, but he was convinced he worked harder than anyone (15:10). And yes, he has a tendency to feel self-pity (15:10), but he is not one to feel self-doubt. The good news was revealed to him directly by God, without a human intermediary. So, with God providing the answers, how could he go wrong?
Given the discussion about the Parousia, the Ascension of the Faithful, and the resurrection body, let’s go back to the question of “being saved”, and whether the implication was for the physical body. First, there is the idea in 1 Thessalonians in which Paul expected the Parousia and the Ascension of the Faithful to occur while he was still alive in a physical sense. This means that there would be no need for a resurrection of the body because the body had never died. Taking this as a given, as a basis for Paul’s thought, it is entirely consistent to believe that “saved” meant the physical body. Remember: Paul doesn’t talk about sinners being condemned to Hell. He is completely silent on the matter. As such, it only makes sense that “saved” should refer to the physical body. The soul would go along for the ride, of course, but it was the body–and not the soul–that would be saved.
Keep in mind that for the past 1,700 – 1,800 years, Christians have become accustomed to understanding a distinction between “body” and “soul”. In most histories of philosophy, this is called “dualism”, meaning that the human individual is composed of two separate and distinct (as in discreet) elements: body and soul are fundamentally and entirely different from one another, and the two do not mix. In developed, or mature Christian doctrine, it is the soul that is saved. I am not sure that Paul, and possibly Mark, saw it that way. However, let’s keep an open mind about this and examine further when we get to Matthew.
That should do it for this chapter. One more, and it will be on to the Matthew.
Posted on August 27, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, General / Overview, Historical Jesus, Paul's Letters, Summary and tagged 1 Corinthians, Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, biblical scholarship, commenting, epistles, gospel commentary, Historical Jesus, New Testament, NT Greek, religion, St Paul, theology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.