Rob A. Fringer, in the text, Dying to be the Church,1 demonstrates how important resurrection is for all Paul’s previous arguments. Resurrection is the sin qua non of Christianity – ‘that without which Christian ethics cannot exist’. You give up the resurrection, you give up Christ, the church, and all that comes from Christian thought.
So, not surprisingly (out of sixteen chapters), 1 Corinthians 15 stands as the preeminent portion of the entire book as it relates to doctrine and dogma (174). Paul leaves his most important topic until the very end.
Resurrection was Denied
For some reason, you see, certain factions of the Corinthians must have denied the resurrection.The Corinthians either misunderstood Paul, or now rejected the legitimacy of Jesus’ resurrection, let alone their own (175). And, here, Paul concludes his entire argument with the essential necessity of the resurrection event as it relates to the Christian faith, saying, ‘if the resurrection is not real, our faith is nothing’. (1 Cor. 15:16-17).
That some were tempted to forsake the resurrection not entirely surprising, for the milieu of Greek culture would press and push against the conception. These cultures often had disregard for the body and disregard for the dead (176).
Hellenistic Conceptions of the Afterlife
However, it is not like Greeks and Romans doubted further existence entirely, for Wright and Segal have shown that most Greeks and Romans believed in an afterlife. Essentially resurrection was not seen as particularly fortuitous, for the goal of life is to transcend death and the decay (the limits, finitude) of the body.
Back in the day, both Jews and non-Jews understood ‘resurrection’ to be bodily existence after life. Wright commonly calls this after the after-life ‘life-after-life-after death” (75). And, this ‘resurrection’ was for some reason seen as dubious or doubtable by certain members of the Corinthian Church.
Even if there were not many who denied this facet of Christ’s life, Paul wishes to make sure that they understand all which was spoken about before in this letter rests upon the foundation of Christ’s real, literal, historical, empirically-witnessed, resurrection.
Contemporary Christian’s Disposition Against the Body
Meanwhile, many contemporary ‘Christians’ have the same predisposition against the body. Some seek to run from the pains of this world (toward a ‘future celestial reality’) by escapist, apocalyptical routes in their eschatology. And others go the other direction, who are the same as the Corinthians, who seek to keep their Christian teaching, but deny the resurrection.
Paul would say ‘Of course the believer must suffer and die like Christ!’ That is our honor and witness to the world. The church is the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the preserving force which will show and serve the world in its Christ-like demonstration. Jesus says, in John 17:16-19,
“ I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (NASB)
Believers are to Replicate the Life of Christ
Christ’s resurrection, his prayer that the church show the world through the same sort of demonstration, impacts the church’s ethics (historic and contemporary) – how one should live their lives. Like Christ died, so the believer must ‘die’ – metaphorically and literally.2 – and this death ultimately leads not to a hopeless end, but an endless hope. 3
The Resurrection is the Root of All Ethics
Ultimately, resurrection is the root of all our ethics, all our hope, all our witness, all our ‘wisdom’ (1 Cor. 1), the reason we marry or stay single (1 Cor. 7), the way we conduct our services of worship (1 Cor. 12-14), and even why we collect moneys for those in need (1 Cor. 16). Everything in the letter can be traced to the importance of the resurrection. Greed, manifested in money, may be the root of all evil, but resurrection is the root of all ethics.
- Fringer, Rob A. 2017. “Dying to Be the Church: 1 Corinthians 15 and Paul’s Shocking Revelation about Death and Resurrection.” Evangelical Review Of Theology 41, no. 2: 174-184. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed January 21, 2018).”
- Ibid. pg. 177. “Paul’s use of apothnesko is much more nuanced. It can refer to literal physical death for both believers and non-believers (9:15; 15:32), and is especially used for Christ’s death (8:11; 15:3). Additionally, it can be used metaphorically, as when Paul says, ‘I die every day!’ (15:31).”
- The last two uses of apothnesko are more difficult to interpret: ‘For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ’ (15:22) and ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies’ (15:36). Both could be construed as references to physical death….Nevertheless, those in Christ are made alive (zoopoieo) and freed from the finality of death both in. the present and the future. Likewise, the seed which must die does so in order to be made alive (zoopoieo), changed from death to life in both the present and the future.
- Ibid. 178. Paul uses the word koimad, mean ing to ‘fall asleep’, as a euphemism for death. However, for Paul, it is not synonymous with apothnesko. The former is always used to refer to actual physical death, but only of believers in Christ. This is because koimad ‘carries with it the expectation of awaking to a new dawn and a new day, i.e., the ex pectation of resurrection and the gift of renewed life and vigour’.
- “Since Paul’s audience is rejecting a bodily resurrection, not resurrection in general, it is odd that Paul does not include reference to Christ’s body directly or via the empty tomb tradition…Many hypotheses have been set forth concerning the six resurrection appearances and the order in which they appear. Important here is the recognition that the fist begins with Cephas and ends with Paul. Peter and his position are known in Corinth (1:12) and Paul is the founder of this church (4:14-15).