The "Ifs" of the Resurrection: Particles and Hope in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Resurrection1.jpg

My friend Graham Ware posted something on Facebook about 1 Corinthians 15 and the language of the "ifs." So this post is inspired by his comment and I wanted to give him that shout out.

Almost every verse in vv.12-19 begins with the particle εἰ (ei, "if"): only v.15 and v.18 are excluded from this. The significance of these particles is that they are rhetorically conditional. Paul is offering the idea of a possible counter fact: "what if" X happened or did not happen?

12 Εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς κηρύσσεται ὅτι ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται…

"But if Christ is proclaimed that he has been raised from the dead…"

13 εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised."

14 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, κενὸν⸀ἄρα τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν, κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν,

"But if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is empty and our faith is empty."

15 εὑρισκόμεθα δὲ καὶ ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ὅτι ἤγειρεν τὸν Χριστόν, ὃν οὐκ ἤγειρεν εἴπερ ἄρα νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται.

"And we are even found to be bearing false witness against God, for we testified concerning God that he raised the Messiah, whom he did not raise, if indeed the dead are not raised"

16 εἰ γὰρ νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"For if the dead are not raised, nor has Christ not been raised."

17 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν, ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν.

"And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins."

18 ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have utterly perished."

19 εἰ ἐν τῇ ζωῇ ταύτῃ ἐν Χριστῷ ἠλπικότες ἐσμὲν μόνον, ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν.

"If in Christ we have hope this life only, we are people to be utterly pitied."

The Christian faith is predicated upon the historical fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul's use of these six conditional particles should cause us to stop and tremble at these thoughts. "If Christ is not raised…" should force us to reflect upon the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus, and his subsequent vindication as Lord and Messiah.

Now, in the days before Easter, we live in these "ifs," hoping in the blessed hope of the resurrection. If indeed Christ was not raised on that one day, then those of us who are "in Christ" will perish utterly, dust back to dust, life into darkness.

May it never be.

But let it sit and linger with us, that Christ himself sat where we sit, and took upon himself the full enfleshment of the human race, for our future glory, for our life itself.

As Paul says in Colossians, our lives are hidden "in Christ" (Col 3:1-4), and he is our treasure chest, the one who locks us away with him for the hope of glory.

But now, as the early Christian men and women did, we wait. And we sit in the dust of the earth, awaiting the God of the Living to beckon us home.

There are no more "ifs," only "whens." So we wait. And we hope.

Nick

The Incorruptible God: Corruption, Mortality and the Triumph of Paul's Eschatology

Only in Paul's epistles do we have the Greek word ἀφθαρσία (aftharsia). Many believe it refers to 'immortality' and has been translated as such in numerous Bible translations. However, there is reason to expand the semantic range of this word to include concepts of "imperishability" or "incorruptibility." I will walk through several of Paul's epistles, and we will see that this word has an eschatological flavor—not because of the word itself per se, but because of how Paul uses the word.

I will translate the following Pauline texts, with some commentary on why I chose to render certain terms in the way I do, and then I will explain the significance of the word in Paul's narrative. Finally, I will attempt a synthesis on why this word is important and what it means for Christians today.

Also, Merry Christmas.

Rom 2:7 τοῖς μὲν καθ᾽ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν ζητοῦσιν ζωὴν αἰώνιον·

"And those who persevere by good work, seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility, will gain life eternal"

The noun ὑπομονὴν refers to 'perseverance,' especially within certain Pauline contexts. For instance, 2 Thessalonians 1:4 refers to those enduring διωγμοῖς ("persecution") and θλίψεσιν ("oppression"). Paul elsewhere tells the church to "pursue" (δίωκε) good things in 1 Timothy 6:11—among these attributes is ὑπομονήν. The conjunction καὶ linking δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν suggests these attributes are a unit, or at least are meant to be taken as a single concept. Glory and honor are comparable to incorruptibility, and if one seeks after these things, there is "life eternal."

Immortality, while a likely facet of incorruptibility, is too narrow here. Rather, glory and honor suggest a kind of virtue that lacks corruptibility, especially of the human (Gentile) person not identified by the sins of Romans 1:18-32. 

1Cor 15:42 Οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·

"In this same way also the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption."

Most of the uses of our noun in question occur in the discourse of 1 Corinthians 15.

The verbal linkage is fairly obvious with the contrast: both verbs (singular third person middle) refer to an object via the preposition ἐν ("in," "by," "among"). The contrast is highlighted by the comparative noun φθορᾷ, which in other contexts refers to slavery (Romans 8:21) and general depravity and destructive tendencies (Colossians 2:22). Paul seems to imply that the human person—the body—is born into a world of depravity and subjection by foreign powers (Death and Sin being two sides of that coin: c.f. 15:26), and instead of the person in Christ being raised again into corruption and death, she is raised instead to incorruptibility. Mortality, driven by the kingship of Death, is what is sown naturally according to the known rules of the world.

However, for Paul, to be raised by Christ is to participate in his incorruptible body: where glory and honor and an inability to be subjected to Death's reign.

We will see a further Pauline contrast in 15:50 and 53.

1Cor 15:50, 53, 54 Τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται, οὐδὲ ἡ φθορὰ τὴν ἀφθαρσίαν κληρονομεῖ…δεῖ γὰρ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀθανασίαν. ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ ⸃ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν, τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος· Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος.

"But this I say, my brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood is unable to inherit the Kingdom of God, not can corruption inherit incorruption…for it is necessary for this corruption to put on incorruptibility and this Mortal to put on immortality, but whenever this corruption should have put on incorruptibility, and this Mortal should have put on incorruptibility, then this word that has been written will come to pass: Death has been devoured in victory."

Whole monographs could be written on this particular section, and I believe it is a concretized exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:26, where Death is utterly annihilated. However, some exposition is needed. The contrastive nature of φθορά and ἀφθαρσία confirms Paul's distinction between a present reality (φθορά) guided by the dictatorship of Death, and Paul's hope in ἀφθαρσία, where Death cannot exercise rule over any Mortal.

Paul uses similar words that are complementary, but they are not synonymous. He uses ἀθανασίαν which does refer to immortality (literally 'not dying'), which displays an affinity with his chosen vocabulary. The corruptible Mortal must be clothed in both incorruptibility and immortality, in order that both concepts may abolish Death. One can be immortal, and still sin, at least in theory. However, to be incorruptible suggests that the future eschatological age is a place where all of those in Christ are in a state of 'not dying' and also in a state of being unable to be corrupted by Sin and Death.

No longer does Death reign, nor will Death have any presence in God's Kingdom. Rather, the mortal person, she is enveloped by Christ in the power of the Spirit, where Death has no sting.

Eph 6:24 ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαπώντων τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ.

"Favor be with all of the one's who are loving our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptibility."

Paul ends his exhortation to the church with battle imagery earlier in chapter 6. Paul, here, is capitalizing on said imagery and exhorting the believers to remain incorruptible. Instead of referring in a blanket sense to immortality, Paul desires that they live a life "loving" God and the Messiah. This is characterized by εἰρήνη ("peace") in 6:23, and suggests that warfare, spiritual or literal, should not characterize the believer's identity: for these things corrupt, but faithfulness to God is incorruptible.

2Ti 1:10 φανερωθεῖσαν δὲ νῦν διὰ τῆς ἐπιφανείας τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ⸃, καταργήσαντος μὲν τὸν θάνατον φωτίσαντος δὲ ζωὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου,

"And made manifest now through the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ, the one indeed annihilating Death, and having illuminated life and incorruptibility through the Gospel."

The theophany of the Messiah signals something interesting. Life and incorruptibility are connected (same case ending) and suggest, in already similar fashion, that Paul is playing these terms together in a complementary way. To have the life of Christ is to have incorruptibility. Death being utterly annihilated, removed from the cosmos, suggests that now life and incorruptibility may reign. Only once Death has been destroyed can these two things thrive. This suggests a coordinate meaning with 1 Corinthians 15, where Death/Mortality/Corruption are first destroyed, so that Life/Immortality/Incorruptibly may reign supreme in the Kingdom of God and Christ.

Tit 2:7 περὶ πάντα σεαυτὸν παρεχόμενος τύπον καλῶν ἔργων, ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ ἀφθορίαν, σεμνότητα,

"In all things making yourself a model of good works by teaching, incorruptibility, dignity."

In a short word, this pericope is concerned with how one lives as a minority within a world of oppression. By living in a manner worthy of the name of Christ, one must live by these three nouns (though one is not limited by them). I translate the preposition ἐν as "by" because I think the active agency on the part of the recipients of Titus are enjoined to live a certain way: hence, make yourself a model "by" doing these three things.

Immortality, unlike elsewhere, is not in view in most of Paul's uses of ἀφθαρσία. Rather, the noun in question refers to the conduct and character of one's witness to the world: not being guided by corruption or falsity, but rather through the incorruptibility of Christ.

In short, the term ἀφθαρσία, while it may denote a concept of immortality, is far more concerned with the character of how one lives, and what one inherits. Incorruptibility refers to something given by God eschatologically, it must be sought after (Romans 2:7), and Death and depravity are the chief opponents to this ἀφθαρσία. Death, with its reign of decay and slavery, cannot co-exist with ἀφθαρσία. Only one may win, and one might say, one already has.

Thus, ἀφθαρσία has an ethical component that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Eschatology, at least in Pauline perspective, is about ethics and the life of hope lived for future anticipation.

Merry Christmas again.

NQ

Why the Resurrection is better than going to Heaven: Sermon Notes

"Resurrection"  ©  Allison M. Quient

"Resurrection" © Allison M. Quient

Philippians 3:17-4:1. The text (my translation):

Join in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and likewise take note of those who already live according to the example you have in us, for I have told you often about the many who live, but now I say this even while weeping, that the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is utter destruction; their God is the belly; and their “glory” is their shame; these are the people concerned about earthly matters.  For us, however, exists citizenship in the heavens, and from these heavens we anticipate a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ will transform our subjugated body, for our body will be conformed to his glorious body according to his power, who is being able to subject everything to himself. So, my beloved brothers and sisters whom I long for, my joy and my crown, persevere in this way in the Lord, beloved!

In the ancient world, life sucked. It really did. The majority of people were in extreme poverty, and this directly affected the marginalized groups within urban settings like women, who often died young or in childbirth. In a setting of rival religious viewpoints, how is Paul to communicate to this fledgling church in Philippi? How does he communicate the authority of Christ when Caesar is Lord? How do the various social hierarchies and dynamics affect slaves, women, Gentiles and Jews in such a small and volatile setting?

Because I cannot hope to answer all of these questions directly or fully, I have two main points that I want to stress as we walk through God’s word tonight. The first is the nature of “somatic ethics,” or how we live as bodies, as both a community and as individuals. Ethics of this sort include sex, food, power and the nature of what it means to be a human being in the ancient world.

The second is more controversial and will likely get me in trouble, but I’m already preaching and it is bad manners to take the mic away from an honored guest. The controversial point is that, for Paul, resurrection is better than heaven.

Rival religious groups or people in Philippi were dominant, as were religions in the ancient world. When Paul speaks of these rival groups, perhaps even movements within the church, he is filled with weeping. The “enemies of the cross of Christ” are concerned like most people: they desire money, prestige, sex, power, and social status, all of the things we all kinda want but shouldn’t desire. Paul characterizes them as people entirely devoted to themselves and their own pleasure: their “bellies” are overflowing as the many grow sick in the streets, and they pursue “earthly things,” that is, things that are not of God. We can see this in our own lives, desiring things that are not good for us: pornography, drugs, better clothes, better phones (hopefully the kind that don’t explode if you are a Samsung user like myself), better cars, anything to keep from thinking about the deep things of God.

Don’t worry if you see yourself in there: that just means you are in good company with me and everyone else.

For Paul, the eschaton—the end of all things—was immanent. He was waiting, like we are, for the return of Christ. Instead of participating in Christ and in the church, their pleasure becomes their “god.” Pleasure in the ancient world, much like today, was not about the autonomous freedom of a person to seek pleasure apart from another person. Pleasure was taken, bought, or stolen. It was about power, greed, and avarice: in that sense, the ancient world looked a lot like Game of Thrones. We see this in numerous places throughout the New Testament, where people in power abused those who were not in power.

For Paul, the eschatological end for such people was utter destruction in v.19. The end result of a life lived in sin apart from Christ was annihilation, a shameful eternal death that is hardly glorious. The word for “destruction” appears throughout the New Testament: for instance, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew to:

”Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We see this similar mindset, albeit with an economic focus, in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, where the author says:

“ Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

It seems that the “enemies of the cross” in Philippi are cut from the same cloth as these people in Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 6. In our text tonight, we have people who have embodied the very lifestyle that God hates. So when Paul evokes the “destiny” of those who are leading wicked lives, Paul is being a bit sarcastic by saying, “their glory is their shame.” The shame of a life lived in utter selfishness, apart from the participatory suffering of God’s people. Hardly glorious, hardly worth remembering. As Paul says in Romans 6:23: “the wages of sin is death.” Death is the payout for a life lived in rebellion, in Sin.

We do not let our lives be defined by “our pleasures.” Rather, Christ defines us. Thus, our ethical framework is that we treat our bodies as a temple, as something noble and good. What we do with our lives, our actions, our deeds, matters deeply to God. He gave you life, and he wants you to live a life that does not destroy his image (c.f. Gen. 1:26-27); whether male or female, you image God. That is why what you do and how you live matters.

This leads us nicely into Paul’s second point, where he draws a specific contrast between those whose destiny is destruction. Rather than being citizens of Caesar’s Republic, our citizenship is defined by Christ, by the cosmic realm. We are not citizens of earth, that is, we do not belong to the reign of Death or the reign of Caesar. To be earthly is to be mortal, under subjection. To be a “citizen” affords a person with certain rights: that is, as citizens of heaven, we have a specific claim or right:

That right is resurrection.

Christ’s return signifies that our bodies, our subjected, broken bodies will be “conformed.” The Greek word σύμμορφον is a compound word: the prefix σύν means “with” (among other things) and the word μορφή (“form”): literally, “formed with.” This same word (though it is not a compound word) is used in Philippians 2:6 to describe the preexistent Christ as being “in the form of God.” That σῶμα (“body”) is to be transformed means the totality of the human person is to be formed by Christ: mind, heart, skin, everything. All that you are will be transformed, not left unburied in shame and contempt, or left in the corrosive grasp of Death.

We aren't going to be like Casper the Ghost in New Creation.

Christ is not coming back as Casper the Ghost.

Like it says in Romans 8:29 “being conformed to the image of his son.” As opposed to “glory” being shame, like in v.18, rather glory here describes the body of Christ in his true form, as the eternal Son of God. He came from Heaven, relinquished his authority to life a life marked by slavery and death, but he also comes as savior, as deliverer, to rescue people from suffering and that evil, narcissistic tyrant, Death. His resurrection is liberation.

His resurrection is our liberation, gang.

Liberation from what?

What does resurrection mean?

It means that death is destroyed.

Death is a significant force in Paul. In Romans 5, he speaks of Death having “reigned,” describing it like one would a king, like how one would describe Caesar. If Christ is not risen, what? We’re dead and gone. We’re like those earthly ones, whose destiny is utter destruction. Our gods might as well be our belly. What good is there? Porn, adultery, sexism. What good is there?

But.

But.

Christ is risen.

The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of God over the forces of evil that prey upon you, upon me, upon us. Resurrection is not about going to heaven when you die. Resurrection is about God saying “no” to Death and to Evil.

Resurrection is God’s way of saying, “I freaking love you,” and I will not abandon you to Death. This magisterial love of Christ then pushes us to say, like Paul did:

“Persevere!” “Christ is risen!”

This is good news! The best news! God loves you, and wants you to participate in resurrection life: a life lived in service, as brothers and sisters, ministers and pastors and priests. Be holy! Be righteous! Be gracious when people fail, so basically be gracious always. The greatest sign of God’s love is that he raised Jesus from the dead, and you can be like Jesus in his resurrection. Love triumphs over sin, over evil, over Death.

There is hope! There is hope for those of us who suffer now, and will suffer in the future. For the woman who is oppressed by sexism in the church, there is hope. For the man who struggles with his sexuality, there is hope. For the person who is the chief of sinners, there is hope.

Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God. Death has been utterly and completely destroyed, and we wait in anticipation of the coming Son of God.

Heaven hath no joy like a resurrecting God, and that is why our resurrection is better than going to heaven. There are not ghosts in New Creation.

There be dragons – there be resurrection, brothers and sisters. Now go live it, and go love those who most desperately need it.

NQ

Outline

o   3:17-19: Paul begins this section with an imperative to be like him, and to observe the conduct of those already in the assembly. He has already argued against “adversarial ones” (1:28), and has stressed ethical unity (2:5-11). With tears in his eyes, he says the trajectory of the “enemies of the cross of Christ” is utter destruction.

§  Somatic ethics—ethics of how one lives, eats, etc.—are important to Paul here. For example, somatic ethics are stressed by Paul to treat our bodies like a temple (1 Cor. 3).

§  While it is not entirely obvious that the people of Philippi are suffering, suffering is surely a probable outcome.

o   3:20-21: In drawing a contrast between those concerned with earthly things, Paul asserts that the believers in Philippi are already citizens of the heavens. The word “savior” (σωτῆρα) means “deliverer” or “one who rescues.” Paul tells the readers to “anticipate” the coming Christ

§  Eschatology is the study of the “end” of all things: heaven, hell, new creation.

·      Paul stresses what one does as a human being—as an embodied person—matters to Christ. Because Christ is not going to discard your body like a plastic wrapper from a snicker’s bar.

·      Jesus thinks the body is good. Our bodies will be like Christ’s: glorious, immortal, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

o   4:1: Paul exhorts his brothers and sisters to be steadfast and persevere despite suffering, for we hope for the resurrection. Death was a tyrant until Christ was raised from the dead: now, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:55).

o   Conclusion: Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God.

§  How then should we live in light of the defeat of Death?