I believe in the resurrection of the body – Friday, 24th Week in ordinary time – 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
One must always be careful to separate people’s personal beliefs from that of Church teaching. Popular traditions and personal beliefs have a way of taking a life of its own; as in the case of this text and this issue. Paul is faced with a situation in Corinth that needed an immediate nipping in the bud and the matter in question concerned a central belief of the faith; the resurrection.
Clearly it was not the issue of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that was up for public opinion; that was clearly accepted and established. One verse before our text takes off, Paul clearly states that the Corinthians did believe in the resurrection of Christ. It was not that the Corinthian Christians denied Jesus’ resurrection; there were some who denied our resurrection. They were asserting that the resurrection of Christians is an impossibility.
Who were these people? These are the “spirit filled people” whom Paul spoke of earlier in chapter 12. Somehow the chip they carried on their shoulder had now gone to their heads. These Corinthians were probably under the influence of Philonic wisdom and believed that they already possessed eternal life. So, to them, the resurrection of the body would have been meaningless because they principally attached no importance to the body.
So what could have brought about such a thought?
Corinth was home to many popular mystery religions which I have written/spoken about previously. These mystery cults claimed that their initiates had already overcome death and were living the life of the gods. While this is what we know about the mystery religions of that time, we cannot be sure to what extent these ideas influenced the Corinthians.
Besides this, Greek philosophy looked down on the resurrection as undesirable. They thought a “pure spirit” to be superior to a resurrected body. But within Judaism, we also know that the Sadducees too rejected the resurrection. They thought that the world beyond the dead was just wishful thinking. The bottom line is that some of the Corinthian Christians believed that they lived forever, but not in resurrected bodies.
In Paul’s reply to the Christians, denying that dead men are raised, it is important to note the form of his argument. It is a circular one, designed to reduce to logical absurdity the position of his opponents. Paul shows how the resurrection of Jesus not only proves His own resurrection, but it proves the principle of resurrection. He answers them head on “How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised and then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (15:12-13)
Paul says that there are several consequences to such a belief and goes on to highlight four such consequences. If the resurrection of the dead, that is of men, is impossible, then the reports of the resurrection of Christ, who was truly man, must be false and belief in the reports of his resurrection are just a lie.
Without the reality of Christ’s resurrection, the Christian faith has no foundation. If that is so, then Paul and the other apostles have preached in vain and even worse, are liars; there is no real, resurrected Jesus whom they serve. That also implies that those who have preached Christ’s resurrection have born false witness of God and all that we have believed is futile. Worse still, if Christ is not risen, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If there is no principle of resurrection, then the dead in Christ are lost forever. If there is no principle of resurrection, then the whole Christian life is a pitiful joke! If we don’t have something beyond this life to look forward to, why hassle with the problems in being a Christian?
See how important the truth of the resurrection is! This is not some side doctrine to be believed if one likes it. If you do not believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead in a resurrection body the way the Bible says He did, then you have no right to call yourself a Christian. This is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.