At Bible study this week, the text was I Corinthians 15:1-11. Here are some items. This is what the pastor said, but I will make clear where I am adding my own thoughts.
A. Paul cites what appears to have been an early Christian creed, a declaration of what Christians believe that is affirmed in the churches. The creed states that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again on the third day, and that he then appeared to people. Paul cited this creed for at least three reasons. First, Paul was responding to the incorporation of Hellenistic ideas into Christianity. These ideas embraced the spiritual over the material, so Paul stressed that Christ was crucified and resurrected bodily, then appeared physically to people. Second, the Corinthian Christians were engaging in spiritual one-upsmanship, with some of them acting as if they were superior on account of their visions, ecstatic experiences, and deeper level of knowledge. Some may even have held that these spiritual experiences marked them off as saved. Paul, however, draws their attention to the Gospel: people are forgiven on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Third, Paul is defending his own apostleship. People questioned that Paul was a true apostle because he had not followed the earthly Jesus. Paul responds, however, that the same Jesus who appeared to the apostles also appeared to him.
B. This item reflects my meandering thoughts. On that first reason in (A.)—-Paul responding to Hellenistic ideas—-why, if Paul were refuting anti-materialism, did he stress that Jesus rose with a spiritual body? Even if the spiritual body is a physical body, why would Paul muddy the waters by calling Jesus’s resurrection body a spiritual body? What is more, why would Paul deny that flesh and blood shall enter the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 15:50)? And, in contrast with the Gospel accounts that scholars cite as a refutation of Docetism (i.e., the belief that Jesus lacked a material body), Paul in I Corinthians 15 does not emphasize Jesus’s physicality at all. Paul does not present Jesus eating fish (Luke 24:42), showing people his nail-scarred hands (John 20:27), or denying that he is a spirit while pointing to his flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). One could argue, of course, that even the Gospel accounts muddy the waters, a bit. Christian apologists have pointed out that, if the Gospel authors were inventing those resurrection stories to combat Docetism, they had an odd way of going about it. Why, if their goal was to present the risen Jesus as physical and human, would they depict him vanishing into thin air (Luke 24:31), or suddenly appearing in his disciples’ midst in a locked room (John 20:26). Regular humans do not do that! If the Gospel accounts and I Corinthians 15 have Docetism in mind, they are not going to the opposite extreme from Docetism by saying that the risen Jesus was physical in the ordinary sense. They are responding to Docetism, not by going to the opposite extreme, but by citing the truth, which transcends both extremes. Was the risen Jesus physical or spiritual? Paul’s answer, I think, is “yes!”
C. I asked the pastor why Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to Cephas, then the Twelve, etc., whereas the Gospels depict the risen Jesus appearing first to the women. The pastor replied that he does not think that Paul was being strictly historical but started with Peter on account of the authority and respect that Peter had in the early church. Paul was establishing his own apostolic credentials by linking them with Peter. Similarly, Paul in Galatians 1 stresses his association with Peter after his conversion, whereas Acts 9 depicts Ananias as the first Christian whom Paul encountered after Christ appeared to him.
D. Paul in I Corinthians 15:8 likens himself to one who was stillborn. Saul of Tarsus was going about his merry way, trying to earn a gold star by arresting those heretics (i.e., Christians), when Christ ripped him away from that and made him an apostle.
E. Paul in I Corinthians 15:2 states that the Corinthian Christians are being saved. Why the present tense? The pastor said that Lutherans believe in two levels of salvation. There is an objective level: the person becomes legally justified before God right at the initial moment of faith. Then there is the subjective level, or sanctification: “this salvation works itself out in faith and life practice, changing our relationships and our lifestyles” (pastor’s handout). Sanctification starts at the initial moment of faith, but this aspect of salvation is progressive: it continues past the initial moment of faith. Paul in his writings treats Christians as being already saved, forgiven, and justified, and as belonging to God as God’s children. There is a completed aspect to salvation. Yet Paul also regards salvation as something that is still going on: Christians are still in the process of being saved.
F. The pastor said that one indication of sanctification is when something stands out to us in a Bible passage that did not stand out to us before. He did not say that people who do not experience this are unsaved, but rather that noticing something new in a Bible passage may indicate that the Spirit is growing your believing. Also, Christians may find themselves getting to the point where they do not do the things that they used to do, because they find that those things are unhelpful to their faith.