|In this series I have been examining passages in the Pauline letters from a particular angle. Marcion claimed that the man who wrote the originals was someone who did not believe the god of the Old Testament to be the supreme God. And the letters, said Marcion, had been interpolated by someone who aimed to Judaize them. These claims combined with certain commonalities between Paul and the infamous Simon of Samaria—a man whose teaching allegedly did place the god who made the world far below the highest God—are what led me to consider whether the author of the original letters could have been Simon. Was the name Paul, i.e., the little one, a name that Simon who claimed to be “somebody great” (Acts 8:9) either at some point adopted himself or had given to him by followers or enemies? And could the many inconsistences in the Paulines have been caused by an early interpolator whose insertions were meant to make the original letters compatible with his proto-orthodox beliefs and more moderate toward Judaism?
It is with these possibilities in mind that I have been re-reading the letters. I want to separate the apparent zigs from the zags, and then look to see if the zigs are plausible as expressions of Simon’s teaching and the zags as proto-orthodox insertions.
In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body.
This approach will be continued in this post on chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, a passage in which—if my Simonian scenario is correct—I would expect to find proto-orthodox intervention.
For the main subject of the chapter—the resurrection of the dead—is one about which proto-orthodox belief differed from that of Simon. The Father of Gnosticism is said to have taught that man’s spirit is the only part of him that is from the highest God and, as such, is the only part that can survive the coming destruction of this world. Man’s body is the inferior work of the inferior angels who made the visible world and is radically unfit for the highest world.
In contrast, the proto-orthodox held that this world including the human body is fundamentally good, having been made by the one true God, the God spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. The body, as God’s work, possesses a definite dignity, a dignity that can be marred by sin but can also be restored by him.
Thus proto-orthodox resurrection of the dead is resurrection of the whole man, including the body. For the proto-orthodox, denial of the resurrection of the body is the same thing as denial of the resurrection of the dead. And such denial is incompatible with really being a Christian.
In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body.
I expect that many readers of Vridar are already familiar with Robert M. Price’s article in which he argues that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is not a “window… into the earliest days of Christian belief,” but rather a “piece of later, post-Pauline Christianity” (“Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation”, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery J. Lowder, p. 69 ) The article can be read online at Prices’s website: www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com.
Among the reasons Price gives for rejecting the authenticity of the pericope is its contradiction of Galatians 1:1, 11-12. In the Corinthians passage the Apostle has apparently been taught his gospel by human predecessors, but in Galatians he says he did not receive it from man. Thus it would seem, as Price points out, that
If the historical Paul is speaking in either passage, he is not speaking in both. (p. 74)
Price also has numerous issues with the pericope’s list of Christophanies. And he proposes that in reality verses 3 and 9-11 are
part of an apologia for Paul made by a spirit kindred to the writer of the Pastorals. The writer wished to vindicate Paul’s controversial heresy-tinged apostolate in the eyes of his fellow “early catholics” by doing what Luke did at about the same time: assimilating Paul to the Twelve and James. (p. 90)
I basically agree with Price on the above points and would add a few other observations.
For one thing, the gospel summary in the passage simply says
that Christ died … (15:3)
without specifying that the death was by crucifixion.
But earlier in the same letter great emphasis is placed on the manner of the death. The Apostle proclaimed
Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22)
and insisted that when he was among the Corinthians he
resolved to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
Given the circumstances, is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion?
It is unrealistic to think that the afterlife only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. . . .
The passage would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body like the one the risen Christ has.
And at face value the passage would have us believe that the Apostle had previously neglected to tell the Corinthians what their afterlife existence would be like.
It is important to realize this: the passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection of the dead and that his hearers had not understood it. Nor does it reproach them with forgetfulness of what he had said about that doctrine.
What it says is that the Apostle had preached the gospel to them—a gospel that included the resurrection of Christ—but it makes no claim that he ever addressed the nature of their own afterlife in any of his instructions. This passage together with the defense of resurrection that follows it would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body that is like the one the risen Christ has. It wants us to believe he had wrongly assumed all of them would deduce that on their own, and so he had never expressly said a word about it.
To me this supposed omission on the Apostle’s part is suspicious. The nature of the afterlife is just too central and important a matter to have been completely left out by him. It is unrealistic to think that it only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. It is the kind of thing that would have come up from the beginning in all kinds of discussions about Christian hopes and expectations.
I question whether a bodily resurrection of Christ was part of the original gospel. Philippians 2 and the Vision of Isaiah
Bodily resurrection not original
Even more fundamentally, I question whether a bodily resurrection of Christ was part of the original gospel. The author of verses 3-11 is especially solicitous to underline that it was. But, as we saw in post 7, Philippians 2 contains a very early Christian hymn that doesn’t say a word about such a resurrection. It has the descent of a pre-existent divine Son, and his taking on of at least the appearance of humanity, and the humbling of himself unto death “even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8), and an exaltation that included the conferral of a new name on him by his Father. But there is no bodily resurrection in the hymn. And that is the case too in the S/L2 version of the Vision of Isaiah. Not a word about a resurrection of the Beloved Son’s body, but plenty about his rising back to his Father in heaven.
If, as I hold, the source of Paul’s gospel was the Vision of Isaiah, there are other reasons to think that he would not have subscribed to the gospel summary we find at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15. The Christ of this latter passage dies as a man, not just as the appearance of one, and so after his death he needs to be raised from the dead by his Father. In contrast, the Vision of Isaiah presents the Son—even in death—as a divine figure who, after crucifixion, continues on his way under his own divine steam. He does not need or receive the Father’s intervention to complete his mission. He is rewarded by his Father with an increase of glory, but he is not “raised” from the dead by him. The Son’s rising is active, as in 1 Thess. 4:14 (anestē).
Atonement for sin not original
Furthermore, the gospel summary in 1 Corinthians makes Christ’s death expiatory:
Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).
If Christ has not been raised… you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:17).
But there is not a word about any kind of atonement or expiation in any of the versions of the Vision of Isaiah, or in the Philippians 2 hymn, for that matter. There is not the least hint in these early writings that the purpose of the Son’s mission was to free us from our sins. In these it looks like the purpose was to subdue or destroy unruly lower spirit powers, but there is no indication given that human sin was the cause of our subjection to these spirits.
So my suspicion is that 15:3-11 is a ruse, a set-up. The interpolator is in effect saying: “Let’s take as our starting point this gospel summary. I assure you that it accurately reflects the gospel beliefs of the first Christians. Let’s work with it and work out all its implications, including what it implies about a resurrection of the dead.” But the proffered starting point, I suspect, is bogus. Some of it may reflect the beliefs of the Revelation community, but I doubt it accurately reflects the beliefs of the original author of the letter (Simon/Paul) and his churches. Most likely it articulates the beliefs that the second-century proto-orthodox interpolator wanted to put into circulation as the authentic gospel.
The front line of battle
Price proposes that contact with the original text is reestablished at verse 12. As he sees it
Originally 15:12 followed immediately on verses 1-2. It read, “Now I remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain. But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (“Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation”, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery J. Lowder , p. 90)
But, as should be clear from my observations above, I question whether the original text argued for resurrection of the dead. I think, too, that my Simonian hypothesis can offer an interesting alternative: The extensive defense of resurrection that we find in chapter 15 would be the work of the proto-orthodox interpolator. He believed that without some kind of bodily resurrection there was no worthwhile afterlife at all. His defense of resurrection was intended to counter a denial of it in Simon/Paul’s original letter, a denial that is still present at verse 50, the verse that heretics, according to Tertullian, “placed in the front line of battle” (On the Resurrection, 48), namely:
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50)
In this scenario the Apostle had not neglected to instruct his flock about the nature of their future existence. He had taught them that they were going to be changed (v. 51), but the change was not going to entail any bodily preservation or resurrection. Verse 50 excludes flesh and blood bodies from the kingdom of God not for any reason related to sin, but simply on the basis of their radical inferiority. Since they are perishable they are unfit for the kingdom of God. I see no reason why this could not have been part of the gospel message preached by Simon/Paul if, as I proposed in posts 7-9, the Vision of Isaiah was the source of his gospel.
Saying 1: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
Textually too verse 50 can fit as the point at which the original text reconnected with verse 2. It would be the logos (“word”) that the Apostle urged the Corinthians to hold fast:
1. Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2. by which you are saved, if you hold fast the saying (word) I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 50. What I say, brothers, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Saying 2: Death is swallowed up in victory.
“Logō” in verse 2 is singular in form but can have either a singular or plural sense. Translators regularly give it a plural one here to allow it to cover all the items listed in verse 3b. But my translation (“saying”) is legitimate if 3b was part of the proto-orthodox interpolation and verse 50 originally followed verse 2. The only other time logos occurs in chapter 15 is at verse 54, and there translators regularly translate it as “saying” since they have in view the quotation that follows it: “Then will come to pass the saying (logos) that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
My reconstruction is also in line with the situational context I proposed for the Corinthian correspondence as a whole in my two previous posts. I think the community (at Jerusalem?) behind the oracles now lodged in the book of Revelation was the provenance of the wisdom and mysteries that were being made known at Corinth by Simon/Paul’s competitors. If so, the flesh and blood kingdom of God he is dismissing in 1 Cor. 15:50 is likely the one described in Revelation 20:4-6:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God [and those who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands]. They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
(Note: I have put in brackets a section that could be a later update of an earlier prophecy. Prophecies tend to quickly lose some of their relevancy without ongoing updates.)
If this revelation of a kingdom on earth was what Simon/Paul was up against, it would explain why he uses revelational language to dismiss it. He tells the Corinthians that he “makes known” (1 Cor. 15:1) to them something he had already preached to them. He tells them “a mystery” (1 Cor. 15:51). And since he hardly develops that mystery much further here, it was again apparently a mystery he had already revealed to them.
1. Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2. by which you are saved, if you hold fast the saying I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 50. What I say, brothers, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51. Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye… (my bolding)
In other words, Simon/Paul is admonishing his flock to hold fast to the revelation and mystery he has already preached to them. They should ignore any supposed revelations and mysteries that conflict with his. The vision in Rev. 20:4-6 would qualify as one of these, for it prophesies a kingdom of God in this world. And at least some of its members were to be people who resurrected from the dead. Belief in such a kingdom and resurrection Simon/Paul could not accept.
Superimposition? Or exchange?
Verse 50, then, may be the denial of resurrection that provoked the proto-orthodox interpolator to respond. It may be the Simonian zig that triggered not only the extensive defense of resurrection in verses 3-49, but also a proto-orthodox zag just three verses later:
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on the immortal. (1 Cor. 15:53)
As Robert M. Price remarks in his The Pre-Nicene New Testament (p. 365, note t):
Wasn’t this very notion ruled out as impossible in v. 50?
It is indeed strange to see what looks like an emphatic assertion in verse 50 emptied of its force just three verses later. Why didn’t the Apostle just say straight up that flesh and blood can put on immortality and inherit the kingdom of God? That the perishable, by clothing itself with imperishability, can inherit the imperishable? Verse 53 is an odd way to develop the thought of verse 50. The idea of some kind of imperishable, immortal cloak that will make the body imperishable and immortal looks more like the forced correction of verse 50 than a further development of it. It looks like a zag.
And this impression is strengthened by a subsequent passage in the Corinthian correspondence:
For we know that if our earthly house, a tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor. 5:1)
Here one house or tent (body) is clearly not being superimposed on another. The earthly one is destroyed and the heavenly one awaits in heaven. There is exchange, not superimposition. One’s earthly body is exchanged for some kind of heavenly covering. It also seems to be implied that the earthly, in contrast to the heavenly, was “made by hands” and that this is indicative of its inferiority. But whose hands made the man’s earthly body? According to Genesis, it was the maker of the world who formed man from the dust of the earth. Thus this belittlement of earthly bodies apparently belittles too the hands of the god who made them. This fits what we know about Simon of Samaria’s teaching, but is totally out of step with that of the proto-orthodox.
That the author of 1 Cor. 15:50 envisioned exchange rather than superimposition of coverings also seems indicated by the “change” word used in the verse that follows it:
We will all be changed (allagesomētha).
Richard Carrier has pointed out that the word in question
is not one of the words of transformation, which employ the meta– prefix. The noun allagê means “exchange, barter,” and belongs to the context of trade, buying and selling, exchanging one thing for another. So also the verb alassô, which most commonly appears in the context of taking one thing in exchange for another, even changing location from one place to another. It can mean “change” or “alter,” but usually in the sense of exchanging one thing for another… (“The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb”, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery J. Lowder, p. 136)
Thus it looks to me as if the interpolator has taken belief in a heavenly replacement covering and changed it into belief in a heavenly overcoat for the earthly body. For him the heavenly will not replace the earthly; it will cover it and thereby give it imperishability. It will turn the perishable earthly body into the imperishable spiritual one he described in 15:42-49.
|Just to be clear, this interpolation scenario is not something that Richard Carrier himself subscribes to. In “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” he aims to make sense of the Apostle’s resurrection ideas without having recourse to an interpolation theory. He acknowledges that the words “what is mortal enters into immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53) constitute
a highly abstract phrase, neither clear nor direct, but certainly mysterious, just as he (Paul) claimed it would be. Obviously what he wants to say is not simple. He is struggling to describe it. (p. 138).
But Carrier argues that the verse in question is still speaking of an exchange, since
What I am proposing is that Paul was not the one who was struggling to express himself. It was the interpolator who, by choosing to retain the Apostle’s denial of resurrection (v. 50), caused the awkwardness of the argument. His retention of the verse did not allow him to just say “this mortal body becomes immortal.” He had to devise a “correction” (v. 53) that somehow took in the offensive assertion.
This way of correcting a text can be awkward but it does have advantages.
Interpolation in some ways can be more effective the more it retains of the original. It will give the doctored passage a greater ring of familiarity. And it allows one to generously concede the existence of the offensive reading and just contest its meaning: “Yes, I totally agree that Paul said such-and such (the original passage). But he also said this (the interpolation). The former should be interpreted in the light of the latter.” If someone points out that the text he uses doesn’t have everything that is in yours, you tell him to stop using a version that has been mutilated by heretics.
Note that Carrier uses 2 Cor. 5 to help determine how 1 Cor. 15-50-53 should be understood, and he also ultimately concludes that
But, as mentioned, he doesn’t entertain the possibility that verses 50 and 53 of 1 Corinthians 15 could have different authors or, in general, that the Pauline letters could have been systematically interpolated.
The full reconstruction
If in fact superimposition of imperishability was a later addition to the text I would fill out the remainder of the reconstruction as follows:
1. Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2. by which you are saved, if you hold fast the saying I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 50. What I say, brothers, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51. Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52. in a moment (atomus), in the twinkling of an eye. 54. Then will come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. 57. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
In this reconstruction there is no resurrection of the dead. The faithful will undergo a change, but it does not involve preservation, resurrection or transformation of their flesh and blood. Instead, they exchange their perishable component for an imperishable one. And death’s defeat consists not in resurrection, but in the fact that “we will not all die.” Those alive when this world passes away will be victorious over death, for they will be changed without dying.
The interpolator may have retained all the words of the original passage but, by his insertions, he turned their meaning around. His additions brought bodily resurrection and a last trumpet into it, and made the defeat of death consist both in the instantaneous superimposition of imperishability on the faithful who will be alive at the last trumpet, and in the resurrection of the dead ones. Here is how the passage looks with the restoration of the suspected interpolations (indicated by bold text within brackets):
1. Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2. by which you are saved, if you hold fast the saying I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. [verses 3-49, a defense of resurrection] 50. What I say, brothers, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51. Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. [at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on the immortal. 54. And when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on the immortal,] Then will come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. 57. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
At the last trumpet
“At the last trumpet” implies there will be other trumpet warnings preceding it. The sounding of the last trumpet has been tacked on and could show . . . another point of contact with the Revelation oracles.
The phrase “at the last trumpet” in v. 52 does not sit comfortably next to the words “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” These latter phrases point to the quick and unexpected nature of the event, but “at the last trumpet” implies there will be other trumpet warnings preceding it.
The sounding of the last trumpet has been tacked on, I suggest, by the interpolator and, if so, it could show he knew what kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50) Simon/Paul rejected. It is likely another point of contact with the Revelation oracles wherein the last trumpet is the seventh in a series and signals the arrival of the end, the completion of the mystery of God:
There shall be no more delay. In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he begins to sound the trumpet, the mystery of God will be completed, as he declared to his slaves, the prophets (Rev. 10:7).
And that completion will begin with a military victory by Christ that establishes his kingdom on earth:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed (Christ), and he will reign forever and ever’ (Rev. 11:15).
That victory will be followed by the first resurrection. Those resurrected will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:5) and death will no longer have power over them (Rev. 20:6). Afterwards, at the end of the end, there will be another battle (Rev. 20:7-9), another defeat of death (Rev. 20:14), another resurrection (for the dead who were not part of the first one), and a judgment (Rev. 20:12).
The interpolator appears to have been most concerned to defend bodily resurrection. He does not go into much detail about other end-time events. He does, though, in a short apocalyptic section earlier in chapter 15 say this:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:22-26)
The reign in this passage too, although compatible with the Revelation post-parousia scenario, is ambiguous enough that many scholars deny it has anything to do with it. There are just not enough specifics, they say, to justify interpreting either this passage or 1 Cor. 15:52 in the light of Revelation. I would agree if we were only considering chapter 15 in isolation from the rest of the Corinthian correspondence. But as I pointed out in the previous post, in the letters there are other indications that the wisdom dealt with by the Apostle at Corinth was related to Revelation’s oracles and that the interpolator was aware of the situation.
The fool who denies bodily resurrection
I will bring this post to a close with a few words about a passage located midway through chapter 15:
Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God—I say this to your shame. But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”You fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as he pleased, and to each kind of seed its own body. (1 Cor. 15:33-38)
Just as in verse 5 of 1 Cor. 6—another chapter I tagged as an interpolation—so here in 15:34 the Corinthian church is shamed:
I say this to your shame.
And in 15:33 the Corinthians receive the same words of warning they were given in the other instance:
Do not be deceived (1 Cor. 6:9).
And just as they were warned about their association with the man who reportedly had the father’s wife (“a little leaven leavens a whole lump” – 1 Cor. 5:6), so here they are likewise told that “Bad company corrupts morals.” The bad company in question appears to be some people who “have no knowledge of God” (15:34)
A (hypothetical?) individual, in response to questions he asks, is immediately called a “fool” (15:36). That doesn’t seem an appropriate response to sincere questions. So perhaps his questions should be understood as dismissive and mocking, something along the lines of: “How can you possibly think that the dead are going to be raised? With what kind of miserable body do you imagine they will be clothed?” The questioner’s presupposition would be that any bodies that have anything to do with the bodies of this sad world would necessarily be wretched.
Almost certainly lurking behind that denial is a view of the material order that found the resurrection of material bodies (or dead corpses) to be a doctrine most foul (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 775).
And if that is the context, the epithet “Fool” should be understood in the Old Testament sense, as someone who does not have correct knowledge of the God of the Old Testament. The fool in question doesn’t have correct knowledge of the God who made this world. He doesn’t understand that the Maker gives “a body as he pleased” (15:38). Simon/Paul, I submit, is the fool that the interpolator had in mind. The interpolator has again arranged to make his new Paul correct and ridicule the old one.
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