Full Text for The Resurrection of the Dead: I Corinthians 15 and Its Interpretation (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER January 1975 Volume 39, Number 1 The Resurrection of the Dead: 1 Corinthians 15 and Its Interpretation Thc nzlthor, a i\lis.so~iri 52 ]cod Pastor, l/oiris n cloctor'.\ degree fr.orr~ thil CJZII~I'~ sit!! of Ca,cl tr~rri! ~r'ill be 1cc3t1~r.cl* 11 it37 thc ~(17~1: of iv\trllcto? ut the 1t1?il7ersilie\ of W/~irzb~trg n72d (:otti~lg~tz 117 the coifzi71g scruester ' I G A Clcca~ise of their views concerning the resurrection of the dead. 111- stead they buried their dead in underground chambers 1v21icll for convenience were turned into gallcries or cataconlbs."' The earl:. Christians had just as much or little eviclencc of the resurrection as ~vc have toda~~-~inless they were among those to ~vhom the Risen Christ had appeared. Yet Illany went into dcath wit11 joy and under- stood that "the ltingtlom of God is where Jesus Christ isv-in all its fulncss of ~neaning.' Oi~c of the carlics~ creedal formulations of the church is recorded in St. l'anl's corrcspondcnce rvith the Corinthians. The "gfcntest al~ostlc ant1 theologian of early Christ~ndorn"~ presents not his own (1. will and spcc~~lation but his Lord's commission. Hc is but an lnstr~l- merit of the Risen Lord.".' St. Paul himself points out that he only passes on what he has received. It is quite evident from historical data that :it was not Paul who first saw the significance of the dcath of Christ n~ld the significance of the resurrection, but he passes on what he has received and is in line with the thought of the original congre- gation." Since St. Paul does not add cxylanatory notes before present- ing this creed, he seems to take for granted that it was familiar to the Christians at Corinth. He even states that "I delivered to you . . . what I also rcceived." This means that "from the very first thc Christian conlmunity was acknowledging the Lordship of Christ."" For the identification of Christ as liorcl depends upon the actuality of the resurrection event. "The Lord is risen" was the church's confes- sion from its earliest days.' After St. Paul has presented the creed which speaks of thc resurrection of Christ and has supplied a list of the appearances as "evidence," he continues with an explanation of thc resurrection by referring to analogies in nature and concludes with a discrlssion of the "resurrection body" as a glorified and trans- formecl and radically new dimensior~ of eternal life. "At the same time, however, by drawing such a sharp contrast (Christ raised, the dead not raised) he implies that the erring Christians are doing violence to the Christian faith."" Richard R. Niebuhr gi~,es his estimate of this chapter by pointing out that "Paul's warning to the Corinthians is probably the most con- cise expression of the self-admonitory mood in which modern Protes- tant theologians reflect. on resurrection."!' However, in an essay entitled "The Easter ,Message as the Essence of Theology" (1962), Walther Iiuenneth of the University of Erlangen rightly pointed out that the "basic thesis that thc Easter rncssage is of the essence of theology is by no rneans self-evident.""' Icuenneth stated that in the history of Christiar~ thought the resurrection has often been treated like a step-child, "rcmainecl unclarified," "contested," even sometimes "attacketl," and in the practical sphcrc neglected more often than not, if not denied. Preachers from the pulpits often said too much, not showing nxin's limitation in spea1;ing of this new event in history, or they said too little as if embarrassed by this very key to Christian hope. Such hesitation about the resurrection of Jesus, and consequently of the dead, was especially characteristic of leading German Protes- tant theologians of thc nineteenth and t~ventieth centuries. Their attitude to 1 Corinthians 15 is of partic~!lar significance in this con- test. Let us briefly look at some German Protestant theologians iv11o seer11 to have influenced the theological discussion not or11y of their own day, but also of later generations. Our study of modern rejections of thc reality of Christ's resurrection has to begin with Ferdiiland Christian Baur. He gave the real impetus to historical-critical Pauline studies, and his rncthod, though no.r.il in many ways modified, is still being usetl. IVe shall conclude with I\'. I~uenneth, who already early in his career ( 1930) was convinced that theology is only Pauline and Christian if it is "resurrection theology ." F. Chr. Baur (1792-1860) represents the systematic-historical view of the New Testanlent. He is the father of the historical-critical theology and has directly or indirectly shaped German theology of the twentieth century. Baur began his critical work with the Apostle Paul, and it can be assumed that this is ivhere Pauline research has its start. No serious scholar has done research since Baur in the Pauline corpus without being influenced by Baur's thor qh investigations. Baur considers the resurrection of utnlost impor \ ance for theology. "Nur das TvVunder der Auferstehung konnte die Zweifel zerstreuen . . ."I1 (Only the miracle of the resurrection could remove doubts.) If .rve expected a "reasonable" solution to the concept, placing it into the whole system of reality of the nineteenth century world-view, we see now that Baur seems to be willing to break the system, the com- pact and li~nited world-view. The resurrection phenomenon had be- come for the early Christians one of "uttermost certainty," LZaur speaks of it in a sentence which is so similar to Bultmann's formula- tion that one cannot help but see the latter's dependence on Baur as to the resurrection's interpretation. Says Baur: "What is the necessary presupposition for history for everything else that follows is not the facticity of the resurrection of Jesus itself, but ratlhcr the faith in the resurrection.'"? 13ultmann states in Iressed or renloved. This typical line car1 be traced in theological liberalism fro111 Schleicrn~aclier tllrough Ritschl to Herr- rnann. Thesc theological scllools mere interested in entirely different thenles."'" Evcn 13aur's contemporaries realized that he had placed too rnuch emphasis on the hunlanity of Jesus and too little on His divinity. Ironically enough, it 1.i-as his student and friend David Friedricll Strauss 1~110 l~rovided the most penetrating and severe critique of his lvorlc in a lctter addressed to Baur on 17 November 1846. Here Strauss comparcd his own ncgatii7c criticislll with Baur's positive rcsults. "Einc saltbere Position clas, wircl cJer IVaechter [Zion] rufen; der Eine s3gt.: cs ist nicht ~vahr, der ~Inderc sagt: es ist gelogen und ich weiss den fiamhaft ZLI machen, der cs crlogen hat: fort ]nit beiden ins gleiche Loch!" (An interesting situation the watchman of Zion will call it-"One sq7s, 'It is not true.' The other says, 'It is a lie an0 I Icnow the one who lied.' Away with both into the same abyss")." Baur aild Strauss fully rcalizecl that Paul was thinking in 1 Corinthians 15 of thc glorified and resurrected Christ in real external way i~nd prcsentetl the appearances in a fully objective and present \.clay, but this did not force them to understand it objectively. This New 'Testament hope for thc resurrection with its concreteness and reality in the resurrection of Christ was interpreted by Strauss as the scnsual longing of the Jews for the days of the Rtessiah when everything would turn their way. From a historical perspective one could no~v view the resurrection only as a result of "Wnh~tglat~ben" (neurotic faith). Strauss had already given his critique of the resur- rection appearances in his 1,eherr Jesu, 1n his monograph on Ileimarus, his last work, he again ul~derlined his l>re\lious conclusions: The dis- ciples had saved the ~vorlc of their "mastcr" by the fabrication of the concept of the resurrection. It was not necessarily intentional decep- tion, but was surely at least self-deception in "seeing" thc Resurrected Christ, giving way finally to legends. Reimarus had suggested that the disciples had stolen the body in order to claim thereafter that he was raisecl and thus to establish the new faith and their spiritual reign by means of this deception. Strauss considered Reimarus the most "courageous and worthy representative" of eighteenth century the- ology." "The warning of Reimarus, however, should have been that, while objective historical investigation is essential in letting the sources speak for themselves, there are realities behind the sources that l~istorical method itself is not able to disclose. The historian must know the limitations of his method."2G Strauss himself, in a letter of 22 July 1 846 confessed that he was not a historian : "My whole work is the result of dogmatic/anti-dogmatic interest."27 In his early writ- ings Strauss still held to Christ as one great moral teacher among others. Ilc-csarnillation of the Gospels, honrever, "forced" him to q~iestion even this vieii: of' Jesus, because he could not ~intlerstantf how one coultl hold, on the one hancl, that Christ's resurrection was a fabrication and, on the other li~tnil, trust tllc moral teachings trans- illittctl by thc disciples. 13ejecting the reality of Christ's resul-rection, S~rauss suggested :I "new F;lithJ'--ivorlcl evolutionis~n. Man slioulcl be thankful that he could hc part of the lnachirlc of the universe, even if: only for :I brief time, ;lnd s11oul.cl stop asking of the after-lifc. J. E. l'hillips has set forth concisely the dilen~n~a ivhich Strauss clcarly saw confronting Ilinl: "Many people, who havc not read thc Gospels since cl~ilcll~ood, imagine t2l;lt: they can cluitc easily tletach the '~niraculous' elenlcnt of the Resurrection and still rctain Christ as an Idcnl, as thc lxs~ Moral Teacher the world 1x1s e.cJcr lcnoivn--and all the rest. But the Gospels, all four of thelli, bristle with super- ni~t~~rnl claims on the p;lr~ of Christ, and u~llcss each man is going to constiti~tc Ilimself a judge of what CIirist said and ivhat IIc dicl not say (which is not far from every man 1)cing his o.tvn evangelist), it is .inll)ossiLlc to avoid the conclusion that He hclieved I-Iimseif to be Gocl ancl spolic thercfol-c ~vith cjuitc unique authority. Now if He I~clicvchz.trch 7Joglitcrt.ic.s I-ic considers tl~e .resurrection of Christ as so~nething new, but also only a xi-olatiol~ non. of that which already always was. 'l'he rcs~~rrection of the dead is for the apostle not ]>art of truth, but rather thc truth of .c\-hich he spcal;s as gospel :itself. \\'hen Rultmann holds the opinion that fo~: l?:lul the resurrection is nothing but the ~neaningf~llr~ess of tIlc cross, 13al-t21 opposcs this view by speaking of thc ~-L'SLII-I.~C~~O~I AS ;I sep;trat.c> event fronl the cross and as a new deeci of God.::: 'The appearances ;Ire for Earth the seal Easter-cvcnt. 1x1 his later ~vritinqs l3arth is also able to spealc of the resurrection as an ?vent ill time uhd space and ;IS ;I real occnrrencc, hut not historicall! coiilpre- hensible because of its "pre-historic" character. The resul-rcction for Bart11 occurred as special history in the midst of gcncral 11uni:ln histor); in concrete objectivity. Bnrth .in his interpretation of 1 Corintllians 15, as rvcll as in Ronzans and later works, rlgain and again asserts that the res~irrection of Christ and the dead "is not llistory but belongs in thc rcalm above history." Death can be understood as "i~istory," but the resurrection callnot he gr;jsped in this innnncr. It seems to mr, however, that to understand f~111y Jesus' dcath 11-oulcl bc i~ist as in]- possible as to understand his resurrection and that in Paul ~vc ]lotice no such differentiation, but both tleath and resurrcctio~~ ;Ire spolic11 of as being like "facts." While Barth seeills to ]lave :r futuristic aspect in his eschatologi- cal views, Bultmann's existe~~tial interests sceh to I~avc rcduccd the Pauline futuristic eschatology to ;i ne~;cr-rnding esclintological csist- ellce. Bultmann's intcrest forces a "l~roof" of (:oci's cxistilzg rather tIlnll existcwcc, ant1 it :is in this respect ive fcel !:is lre~cI~atol~gyJ' is devoid of futuristic content and remains "escliaiological existence" --always existing. Tlic Cuturc of Inan is the fuliillnient of man's authentic existence in ~vhicl~ the question of inaa's existcncc is talcen seriously ancl aslroiving mir;iclc 1)ccnuse (:I) it is i~nbcliev:~I)le, (b) ii~itncsses can not 17rove ~t, ilnd illost important (c) I~ccausc. .it is itself an object of faith and one object of faith cannot prove another."':' The result of 13ultinann's re-intcrpi-etatio]~, demyth- ologization, and de-historization has been that thc historical and futuristic aspect of l'itulinc concrete futuristic cschatology has re- ceived a r;ldical reduction, h4an lives and is rcsurrected already inso- far as his sclf-understanding has been and .is realized by the existential cncon~itcr-an existential rcsurrcction. Tcnney can therefore rightly sq7: "If thc language of thc New Testament means only that tlic truth of resurrection was exp~:essecl ;IS n phenomenon to make it intelligible for the mentality of the iii-st ccntury, ~vhat guarantee . . . that his [Bultmann'sl is more valid?"::- Even if the New Testament should ~~sc mythical and apocalyp- tical ternii~~ology, it nlust bc ~l~:~intained that Gocl's \Vord shatters m)lths by virture of its .trery nature as revelation.:;" To slight the revela- tory character of the Paulinc corpus ~vould mean that the apostle was enslaved to cnvironmentnl factors. If one reads the tcxts closely one notices horn radicaIIy the New 'Testament ~vritei-s brcak through their environmental conceptions. If this nlcre not so, then wc co~~ld indeed spcnli of Christianit)' as o11r2 religion among inany, and everything ~vould haw becolnc rel, LI t' I\:c. IYaltel- I<~~ennetIl has sho\,r:n a definite concern that the New 'Tcstalnent: doci~rnents anil their claim to be revelation sliould be taken seriously at ~;ICC valtle : "\Vithout the resurrection there would be no Ne\\: 'I'csta~nent.'"~: Kuenneth sees his ~vork as "resurrection theology" iind hi~s :I tendency to over-einphasize the resurrection at thc cspcnsc of tllc c1:oss. But \\!hetiler one agrees with him in his special "rcsu~-~:cc:tion" empl.iasis in a11 its details or not, he does seem to be aslting thc q~~estion ~vhich is crucial according to the jvords of thc Apostle Il?;i~11 and t11c carliest c~:ccdal formulation available to us. If Bartli t~nd. Cultma1111 arc given credit for having called our attention anew to the cscl~ntologicnl sigrlificnncc of the scriptures, [(ucnneth deser~*cs at least as much for having restored the question of thc historjcitv of the resurrection to the inlportancc in the scholarly world that it apl?:ircntlv 11elcl in the carly Church. The resurrection- qucst darc not l)e taken lightly 01.1 either side of the discussion. 111 thc ]!,aster llzristo~/.zlrrts ijr 1lc7itcstn7~7c7ztlichr,- Zcii (:Diisscltlorf: l'atmos, 1967), p. 217. 4. 110 llcicl;c, "'I-he 1'' ,]sen . I.ol-(1 ant1 His Churcli," l.l~fcrpr~?tntin~z, XI11 (1959), pp. 158, 161. 5. A. \:on Harnnck, D(rs \Yesc~r t7cs CYzris~e~~tznns (1.-cipzig: Hinricli, 1900; Ncuauf'logc, 1950), p. 92; cf. 11. H. hIoungc, "Continr~ity of the Primi- tive 'I-rndition," 17~tcl,.j~r.ct(rtior1, XI'[X (1959), p. 423. 7. V. 'l';~ylor, 7'hc Nrrmcs of Jcs~rs (London: Maemillan, 1953), p. 47; cf 1'. E. D~IV~CS, "Espcrir.ncc. ;~ntl Mvrnor):," 1?1ferpretation, XVI (1962), 1~1~. 181-1 93. 8. F. 1%'. Groshcitlc, Conzlizcntnry o~i t3i.c First Episflc to the C:ol-intl?icl7zs (Grant1 lZ;~pitls: licrtlmnns, 1953), 13. 356. 9. llichard 1j. Nicl)uhr, "llcsurrcction," 11 IIrr17rll)ook of Cln-istin11 Tlrcology (New Yorlc: klr,ridinn Books, 1958), p. 326. IO. W. I(l~cnncth, "'Ihc I:;~stcr R.Ic.ss:~gc ;IS tllo Essence of Theology," I>.inIog, 1 (1962), 13. 16. 11. 1:. CChr. J