As we continue our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge, we’re finishing off 1 Corinthians with chapters 15 and 16. Let’s get to it!
As we know, chapter 15 is the most concise teaching we have from Paul or anyone else on the resurrection. For some it’s one of the most challenging. So, let’s try and break it down.
First, what does Paul mean by the word “resurrection”? Some think he was talking about a spiritual (i.e., non-material) being; that Jesus didn’t have a material body but was some sort of spirit energy. Others think that the apostles and others were so distraught from Jesus’ death that their emotions got the better of them and they started seeing things. Others contend that they just meant a new sense of G‑d’s presence within their hearts. Others believe that Jesus was resuscitated. That is, he died (or was really close to death) but was brought back to life. Can you imagine Jesus coming to his followers after he’d been beaten nearly to death by the Romans and trying to convince them he’s been raised from the dead? “Yeah, you look it!”
None of these explanations fit the meaning of the word as it was used in Paul’s time. Resurrection always meant a reimbodiment of the soul. Whenever we see the word “resurrection,” that’s the intended meaning — the soul of someone who has died now has a new body; a new physicality (see Acts 17.29ff).*
Paul starts out by stating that he and all of apostles teach the same thing — “Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures” (15.3-4). Now, when Paul says, “in line with the scriptures,” he’s not thinking about a couple of verses from Daniel or Ezekiel. No. When quoting a passage (or alluding to one), the Jews of his day intended the entire context. So when Paul states that “Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures,” he’s meaning that the overall context of the Old Testament story was that the Messiah would have to die and be raised.
We can see now why he then asks the Corinthian followers his question. If the old story’s about the resurrection, and all the apostles teach the resurrection, then “how can some of [them] say, ‘There’s no resurrection of the dead’?” (15.12). It’s a valid question. The resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin for the whole story. Without it, the story of Jesus and what he was about all falls apart. And that’s exactly the position Paul takes (15.12-19).
Paul then goes through a lot of explanation about death and resurrection. But the verse that sticks out for me is verse 22, “In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ.” Paul’s clearly talking about life for everyone here because of the work of Jesus. It’s right here, my friends, where the true hope of the gospel comes in. “Everyone will be given life in Christ.” This is truly “good news.”
In the remaining bits of chapter 15 (15.35ff), some people think Paul’s dabbling with dualism again, what with all his talk about physical and spiritual bodies. The problem is we think spiritual is only immaterial. But Paul’s point is that the “spiritual body” is a different type of material body! A trans-material body, if you will. That is, it’s beyond our categories of what a material body means. It’s more than our understanding of a material body, not less.
In 15.50-55, he seems to make this quite clear. He doesn’t say our current body must be removed so that our true body (the immaterial soul) be set free from it’s shell; it’s prison. He states that our current body “must be clothed” with what can’t die; what can’t decay. So the idea is not to be bodiless, but to replace the current material decaying body with a trans-material body that doesn’t decay.
In other words, a person is made up of their entire self — soul and body (or spirit, soul, and body). G‑d’s reconciliation of creation is the entire creation, not some supposed immaterial part that’s the “real” creation. That’s one of the points of the incarnation and the resurrection — the material creation is “supremely good” (Genesis 1.31) and has been redeemed and reconciled to G‑d.
That’s why what we do in the world matters. In fact, that’s the way Paul finishes off this chapter, “As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord” (15.58; emphasis added; cf. 3.12-13). The idea that G‑d will destroy creation and start over (as some people maintain) is not the biblical story! G‑d’s story ends with G‑d’s Realm and our realm becoming one (Revelation 21). That’s why our “labor isn’t going to be for nothing.” It matters in the implementation of G‑d’s Realm.
We now turn to the last chapter of this first letter to the Corinthian followers of The Way of Jesus. Paul talks about gathering a collection for relief in Jerusalem (16.1-4), his travel and visitation plans (16.5-12), and his final thoughts (16.13ff). There one thing I want to touch on here — “Everything should be done in love” (verse 14). Love should be the foundation of everything we do. Love should also be the starting point and the goal. Love should be the motivation for every action we have. When we’re at our jobs and serving others, it should be “done in love.” When we spend time with our families and friends, it should be “done in love.” When we pay our bills, shop for food, take our pets for walks, whatever it is, it should be “done in love.” If we don’t know what love looks like, look back to chapter 13; Paul explains it there. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if our actions don’t look like 1 Corinthians 13, then we aren’t acting out of love. Can we see that our actions, our intentions, look like 1 Corinthians 13? Can we say that we do everything for love?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* For a very in-depth study on the resurrection, I highly recommend N. T. Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God.