Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles
–1 Corinthians 15:1-7 (NASB)
Scholars commonly see in 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 material of an early “pre-Pauline” confession that focuses on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and appearances to select witnesses. But there are continuing disagreements over what kind of event is referred to in vv. 3-5 where Jesus is described as “raised on the third day,” specifically whether this refers to a resurrection/transformation of Jesus’ mortal body or some other kind of event, e.g., a “spiritual” one that left his mortal body in the grave. I’ve just read a new study of the matter that seems to me pretty effective in guiding exegetes to the correct answer: James Ware, “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3-5.” New Testament Studies 60 (2014): 475-98.
Being just a regular guy and not a Bible scholar or academician, it never really occurs to me that people drill down into such a level of detail regarding certain Biblical events such as the resurrection. I’ve always been taught that Jesus was physically resurrected on the third day and that for the next forty days, he was seen and touched by many, many people, the witnesses of his resurrection, which serves as evidence of the promise of the resurrection of the “saints” in the Messianic Age.
But here we see Dr. Hurtado explaining how James Ware (probably this author) has investigated the various scholarly positions on what “raised on the third day” actually means. Incredibly (from my point of view), there are those who must not believe in a literal resurrection but somehow imagine that Jesus left his body behind and spiritually rose and ascended, something like “Caspar the Friendly Ghost”.
But why is a bodily resurrection important?
He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces…
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from death?
O Death, where are your thorns?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
There are any number of prophesies that speak of a general resurrection from the dead at the end of days and it was upon those prophesies that the Pharisees based their faith. This was the same faith that the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) had since their Messianic beliefs were largely Pharisaic with only a few minor differences that had to do with Gentile admission and status.
While I’m stunned that there are still those who, like the Sadducees of old, deny the resurrection today, fortunately…
Ware reviews a wide range of previous scholarly views, carefully assessing their merits, noting the limited force of some and the dubious force of others. His own particular contribution is a more in-depth analysis of the use of the Greek verb translated here “raised”: εγειρω. Essentially, Ware contends that all other uses of the verb describe one or another kind of action involving the raising up, rising up, or setting up of something or someone from a prone or seated position to an upright, standing position.
This, he argues, means that proposals that the verb here refers to an ascension of Jesus, a transportation of him in some “spiritual” mode to heavenly glory, is ruled out. Instead, Paul refers to a raising up or restoration to life of the executed body of Jesus.
To be sure, as Ware notes, later in 1 Cor 15, Paul engages the question of “in what kind of body” are the dead to be raised (vv. 35-49), and Paul here posits a dramatic and profound transformation, those raised being “changed” powerfully. In vv. 42-44, in particular, Paul makes a series of contrasts between the mortal body and the resurrection body: corruption/incorruption, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, “soulish”/spiritual. And Paul also makes the claim that the resurrection of believers will be modelled on Jesus’ resurrection.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
–1 Corinthians 15:20
Messiah is the “first fruits” of the dead, the first to rise, the first to experience the bodily resurrection from death through “a dramatic and profound transformation” unlike anything that had ever occurred before. As “first fruits,” he illustrates that the promises of God about a general resurrection are true, for the Master powerfully demonstrated the reality of the resurrection with his own body.
The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
I won’t go into an inventory of all the different witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that are recorded in the Gospels, but we have every indication that perhaps five-hundred people or more were witnesses that he physically came alive from the dead, that his wounds were still present, that he ate and drank, and that he wasn’t just some sort of vision or “floaty ghost,” but was a real, live human being who once had been dead. He appeared to witnesses so we would have living accounts of the resurrection, so that we could believe, not mindlessly or blindly, but based on what actual human beings saw and experienced in his presence.
Of course, we have to believe that the Biblical record is accurate regarding these witnesses, and some two-thousand years later, it’s possible to introduce some doubt, but these things can only be discerned through the Spirit:
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
–1 Corinthians 2:10-16
What people saw with their eyes and heard with their ears, we must accept as true by faith and through the Spirit. Without the Spirit, they sound like ridiculous nonsense.
When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.
And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
During the various legal hearings to which Paul was subjected after his arrest in Jerusalem, one of the things the Romans could not comprehend was the matter of a “dead man” coming back to life and the fact that different groups of Jews would argue violently over such a thing. To the pagan Romans, it seems like incomprehensible nonsense.
That’s what it seems like to much of the world today without the ability to read the Bible through “spiritual” eyes, so to speak. But once we have our eyes opened and we can see, then we can believe by faith that not only was the bodily resurrection of Jesus real, but that it is evidence for the faithful that we too will be resurrected when the Master returns for us.
However, there’s one last paragraph from Dr. Hurtado’s blog I want to toss into the mix for your consideration:
So, Paul posits a profound change involved in the resurrection. But, as Ware so deftly points out, all through the passage Paul refers to the body of believers as changed. That is, Paul insists that the resurrection is an event that changes the nature of the embodied existence of those raised. The “spiritual” body, Ware persuasively argues, has to be in context a description of the animating force of the resurrection body, for the contrast is not with a “fleshly” body but with a “soulish” (ψυχικος) one, i.e., the mortal body animated by “soul” (ψυχη), which here appears to be Paul’s reference to what we might call mortal, “biological” life.
When I first read the phrase “Paul refers to the body of believers as changed,” I thought he was referring to the “ekklesia of believers,” the “body” as the corporate entity of Jesus’ disciples. Re-reading that part of the blog, I know now he was talking about the biological, physical bodies of the believers, but consider something for a second. It’s not just that we will be resurrected and redeemed as individuals, but the collective “personality” of the ekklesia or the assembly of Messiah will also be changed, that is, the nature of the body of Christ won’t be as it is today.
Today, we have many arguments and disputes between different churches or different theologies that all acknowledge Christ as Lord and King, but who otherwise have widely (and sometimes wildly) different perspectives on many matters of the faith. I previously mentioned those Christians today who seemingly don’t believe in a bodily resurrection but rather believe that only our souls or spirits will ascend and live with Jesus in Heaven while our dead bodies remain in the grave forever.
But with the bodily resurrection I believe will also come a resurrection of the combined ekklesia such that the “body of Christ,” the unified humanity of disciples will also be transformed radically and demonstratively into something new, alive, and spiritually perfected:
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.
Yes, I know the New Covenant was made exclusively with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and yet I’m liberally sprinkling this covenant language also upon the Gentiles. Many times before, I’ve written about the New Covenant and how I believe it can and must be applied to anyone who comes to faith in the righteous promises of God enacted through the Messiah, including the Gentiles:
Jewish teachers believed that God’s righteousness (his promise-keeping by which he would include the Gentiles) would come through education and conversion. But Paul says “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” and he calls it “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Messiah for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). What Paul means by “the law” here is not a person striving to impress God by their morality, but rather the idea that education in the law and keeping it will make a Gentile acceptable to God in spite of the fact that they were not born into the chosen people. God’s promise-keeping is not dependent on Jewish teachers or Gentile students. It is not by education in or adhering to aspects of the law. God is including Gentiles through his own initiative, through the faithfulness of Messiah who lived (was resurrected) as a result of faithfulness. Messiah lived the commandments and returned to life by his worthiness. Through his merit, Jews and Gentiles are accepted by God.
“What’s Wrong with the Jews (in Romans 9-10)? Part 2”
Messianic Jewish Musings
We know from Joel 2:28-29, 32 that the Spirit will be poured out fully on all flesh, all human beings will benefit and be redeemed and reconciled to God through faith, not just the Children of Israel, but all Children of God among the nations, as long as we endure and run the race faithfully.
Someday each of us will be resurrected, renewed, and perfected, but more than that, as a body of believers, and assembly of disciples, we will collectively be perfected. We will think with one mind and love with one heart, and we will all know God.
The Alter Rebbe interpreted the statement, “Whoever saves a single person of (the people) Israel is as though he saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a): One must perceive a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon. There, each soul stands with all the generations destined to descend from it until the coming of Mashiach, the righteous Redeemer. When one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls until the end of all generations.
-Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.