I’m back from taking a funeral and this has concentrated my mind.
I’ve also discovered the thread of Steven with Tom. It doesn’t leap out of the blog as it’s hidden down in 19th March. I’m new to these things like Tom and actually thought Steven had gone quiet on me. Apparently not!
The funeral I took reminded me that the resurrection teaching from 1 Corinthians 15 Steven and I are debating has at its core a dispelling of the perceived error that what happens to Christians after death has no link to what happened to Christ.
Dazzled by Steven’s rhetoric, getting into scripture in a pastoral context made me see an obvious reality - that Paul is actually quite keen to affirm the resurrection in its potential physicality as opposed to some strands of opinion in Corinth.
Steven says to Tom I’m accusing him of being out of context as a smokescreen for my cause running into the sand. The context I refer to is clearly stated in my engagement with him about seeing Paul as a writer within the New Testament as a whole, writings that have coherence and resonance. This is why I mentioned Mark and Q. I would also add “context-wise” that this resurrection debate is, as I have repeatedly said, a resurrection rather than just a resuscitation debate.
Steven takes a phrase of mine ‘Paul hints strongly’ and uses it as evidence of weak argument. If you look at that context you will see I was in fact examining how he adds ‘was buried’ to the narrative that ‘Christ died…and was raised on the third day’ which is a telling addition given Paul’s alleged reticence about Christ’s empty tomb.
The main point I want to make today is that 1 Corinthians 15 lumps Christ’s resurrection and believers’ resurrections together. It is either both or neither – but both are physical to Christian orthodoxy. ‘Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection off the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…you are still in your sins’ v12-14, 17.
Despite my belief that resurrection is far more than resuscitation I am still uneasy about Steven’s continual harping on about the discontinuity of the resurrection in Paul. The talk of seed sown for harvest in v37f can be seen as affirming that the heavenly bodies in question have difference proportionate to their earthly bodies (birds, fish…but also John, Steven, Tom…). The man of dust may be much less than the man of heaven (v49) but his shade of dust is eternally significant in Christian understanding. There is alleged sameness as well as a difference in the world to come.
What about those passages in Paul that talk about the resurrection as a clothing? Steven is over simple in his use of v53 where Paul talks of an immortal clothing of a mortal body just as in 2 Corinthians 5:4 he speaks of a further clothing. Steven implies flesh life is cast off clothing to be replaced at the resurrection. This is not true to the facts in Paul’s writing.
The passages that survive as the New Testament have a context in the very human struggles of eg. The Corinthian church with its factions. They survive, Christians believe, because of universal teaching within them.
I sense this teaching very strongly when, for example, we read 1 Corinthians 15 at a Christian funeral. ‘Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet’’ (v51-2).
George Bernard Shaw said the trumpets sounding on the other side for Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress were the finest image in the whole of English literature - and he was an atheist.
Only when another trumpet sounds for the return of the risen Lord Jesus will this resurrection debate be finally proved!