What is the gospel?
In our previous posts (here and here), we provided what, to some, might be considered an overly long introduction to this most basic question of Christian theology. After all, surely “gospel Christians”—for that is what “evangelical” means by etymology—must agree about the very matter that defines them sociologically! It is, however, evangelicalism’s dirty little secret that no such unanimity of opinion exists. This is the ugly fact exposed to popular audiences by Professor Scot McKnight in his new book, The King Jesus Gospel.[i] Hence, after detailing the current status quaestionis, we discussed the potential conceptual backgrounds in the Old Testament (Isaiah 40-66) and Greco-Roman literature that serve as the necessary horizon against which any plausible historical understanding of the “gospel” can be proposed.
But where do we look for such an understanding? For once, this is an easy question to answer, for in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 the Apostle Paul provides us with a ready-made definition. This particular definition must take precedence over all others for one simple fact: Paul explicitly states that the content of the gospel he articulates in these verses did not derive from his own theological ruminations, but was rather the verbatim message he himself also received as authoritative tradition (1 Cor 15:1, 3)[ii]. Most likely this instruction took place two-plus years after he was converted on the Damascus Road (Gal 1:18-19),[iii] at the time when he finally met two of the men he later cites as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Paul’s use of the language of authoritative tradition is significant for the simple yet profound reason that the gospel message he records is precisely the gospel message proclaimed by the earliest Palestinian church not more than four years after the death and resurrection of Christ.[iv] The entire paragraph (1 Cor 15:1-11) reads as follows (NIV):
1 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. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Paul repeats this common apostolic kerygma (“preaching”) for one significant reason: Some (tineς) in the Corinthian church apparently were denying that Christians would be bodily raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:12).[v] It is essential to note that these Corinthians apparently did not deny the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as verse 13 clearly implies. Instead, the issue concerned a denial that Christians would ever be raised like Jesus had been.[vi] Verses 1-11, in which Paul cites the authoritative apostolic teaching, serves rhetorically as common ground on which to base his argument for believers’ future resurrection.[vii] The apostolic gospel, in other words, provides conclusive proof—providing, of course, that one operates with the same set of presuppositions—that Christians will indeed be raised at the last day in order to experience eternal salvation in transformed bodies like that of their Lord.
From this paragraph we learn, first and foremost, that the gospel, as Paul both received and transmitted it, consists of theologically interpreted historical events. The content of this gospel may be portrayed structurally as follows:
1. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.
2. He was buried.
3. He was raised the third day according to the scriptures.
4. He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve …[viii]
Thus understood, the heart of the Christian message is summarized in lines one and three, whereas lines two and four provide events that confirm the historical reality of these events.[ix]
The heart of the gospel, therefore, is the message of the death and resurrection of Christ.[x] Note, however, that it is not his death and resurrection simply as historical facts that constitute this gospel—important and essential as such a historical focus is. Instead, these events are constituted “good news” because of their theological significance as interpreted by the apostles. We might unpack this significance in the following propositions:
First, Jesus’ death and resurrection are Messianic events. This is often lost on English-speaking Christians, for whom “Christ” is often assumed to be a second proper name to go along with his given name, Jesus, if not indeed a “divine” title.[xi] And so it has become, and in fact did become very quickly in the early church, which almost immediately began to speak of Jesus, not simply as “Christ Jesus” or “the Christ,” but as “Christ” simpliciter. But this development must not blind us to the significance of the term “Christ” (cristός) as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew māšîaḥ, “Messiah.” The point made when the gospel states that “Christ died” is thus clear: Jesus died in the exercise of his Messianic role. This means that Jesus’ death is related in some, undefined sense, to the attainment and/or exercise of his royal kingship. It also suggests that his death should be understood as a definitive, representative act for the eschatological benefit of his people, Israel. To be sure, individuals benefit from this death, but we err if we desiccate its significance in the interests of an individualistic reductionism unrelated to God’s purposes for Israel.
Likewise, the implied subject of the resurrection (15:4) is “Christ” from verse 3, implying that event’s significance for Jesus’ Messianic capacity as well. Two particular points need emphasis in this regard. The first is that the verb “he was raised” (ἐgήgertai) is in the passive voice. Indeed, this is a classic example of the so-called “Divine passive,” where the agency of God, though not stated explicitly, is nevertheless clearly implied. To put it plainly, it was God who raised Christ from the dead, as Paul consistently states elsewhere (cf. 1 Cor 15:15; Rom 8:11 [bis]; 10:9). This means, in particular, that Christ’s resurrection emphatically does not “prove he was God,” as I have often heard Christians claim. Christ’s resurrection is of a piece with his death: he both died and was raised as a human being, for it is as a human being that he serves as God’s promised Messiah.
The second significant observation about the verb “he was raised” (ἐgήgertai) is that, in contrast to the preceding “he died” (ἀpέqanen) and “he was buried” (ἐtάfh), and the following “he was seen” (ὤfqh), it is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense, as Stanley Porter has argued,[xii] depicts the action of the verb “as reflecting a given … state of affairs.” With regard to past actions, the perfect tense is used when the action results in the emergence of a resulting state of affairs, even at times emphasizing the presence of that state more than the generative act itself.[xiii] In this light, C. K. Barrett expresses Paul’s thought nicely:
… [T]he new clause suggests both that the raising happened, and that it remains in force. Christ died, but he is not dead; he was buried, but he is not in the grave; he was raised, and he is alive now …[xiv]
Hence it is not the bare event of the resurrection that is significant for the gospel, but rather the Christological significance of Jesus’ permanent resurrected status. The gospel proclaims that the Jesus who was crucified on a Roman cross is the risen Messiah, with all the authority inherent in that exalted status.
Second, Jesus’ death was expiatory in significance. “Christ died,” so the tradition maintains, “for our sins” (ὑpὲr tῶn ἁmartiῶn ἡmῶn).[xv] Here is, no doubt, the earliest extant soteriological interpretation of Jesus’ death. Its precise significance, however, is laid out only in general terms. The prepositional phrase is best explained along the lines of the following, interrelated suggestions:
· “For the forgiveness of our sins”[xvi]
· “In order to atone for sins” or “to remove them”[xvii]
· “To deal with our sins;” “to expiate our sins”[xviii]
Sin, according to the biblical witness, incurs a liability to judgment, and must be expiated for the sinner to live in fellowship with God. “Expiation” is a fancy theological term that denotes the means by which sin and its guilt are dealt with. In particular, expiation is the removal or expunging of the guilt and, hence, the liability accruing from sin. Jesus’ death as expiation is very good news indeed for all of us estranged from the holy God by virtue of the sin that characterizes us all.
Third, Jesus’ resurrection, to be good news, must be understood as a bodily resurrection. This conclusion is apparent from the following considerations. First, the juxtaposition of burial and being raised indicates that the two terms are mutually reinforcing and, hence, defining. Jews knew what death was, and they also knew what resurrection meant in their own scriptures and later theological texts based on them. Indeed, they had a clear hope in future bodily resurrection, like that defended here in 1 Corinthians 15, as a defining element of their hope for the coming age to come/kingdom of God.[xix] Spiritual experiences and mystical “visions” did not apply, let alone the modern, existentialist notion that “resurrection” refers to some kind of “ineffable truth beyond history.”[xx]
Second, the tradition emphasized that Christ was raised on “the third day.” This temporal indicator not only coheres with the resurrection narratives later included in the four canonical Gospels, it locates the event in history. By doing so, the tradition explicitly removed the event from potential misunderstanding along the lines of subjective and ongoing personal experiences.
Third, Paul’s exhaustive citation of more than 500 witnesses, spanning from Peter on Easter Day to his own unique experience some time later on the Damascus Road,[xxi] is clearly intended to attest to the historicity of the event. Most significant is the otherwise unattested mention of Christ’s appearance to “more than five hundred brothers at one time (ἐfάpax) (15:6). As Jerome Murphy-O’Connor shrewdly averred, “A small group of close acquaintances might be accused of self-deception, but this is a much less plausible hypothesis when it is a question of a very large crowd.”[xxii]
Fourth, Paul’s entire argument in 1 Corinthians 15 depends on a literal, bodily understanding of Christ’s resurrection. As I mentioned earlier, the apostle’s exposition was precipitated by the denial of some that “resurrection” will be the future lot of Christians (cf. 1 Cor 15:12). It seems that these same people had no qualms about the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:13), and so Paul cites Christ’s resurrection, affirmed in the solemn tradition of the gospel, as definitive evidence disproving the deniers’ assumptions. Without Christ’s bodily resurrection, the apostle’s entire argument falls apart.
Fourth, Christ’s resurrection marks the inbreaking of the new creation into the midst of the old. Jewish thought knew what resurrection was, and they understood it to be a defining blessing of the hoped-for “age to come.” What they had no preparation for was a real resurrection in the middle of history. Christ, by being raised to a transformed mode of somatic existence, thereby heralded the inauguration of this coming age without abolishing the old. Interestingly, this thought may be implied by the reference to Christ’s resurrection on the third day—that is, Sunday, the first day of the week. If so, the historical timing of the resurrection simultaneously serves as a symbolic pointer to its theological significance.[xxiii]
Fifth, Jesus’ death and resurrection find their meaning and significance in the hermeneutical grid provided by the Old Testament scriptures. Most significantly, both Jesus’ death “for our sins” and his resurrection “on the third day” are said to have occurred “according to the scriptures” (katὰ tὰς grafὰς). Through the years scholars have attempted to determine which scriptures that tradition had in mind. Suggestions relating Jesus’ death for our sins have been easier to come by than those for his resurrection. Most notably, the fourth Isaianic Servant Canticle of Isaiah 40-55 (52:13-53:12) has been a prime suspect. Note the following conceptual parallels:
· “our sins” — Isa 53:4, 5, 6
· “for sins” — Isa 53:10
· “their sins” — Isa 53:11-12
Most significant is Isaiah 53:12 (LXX), which clearly lies behind Paul’s confessional statement in Romans 4:25:
· Isaiah 53:12 diὰ tὰς ἁmartὶaς paredόqh
“(who) was handed over because of our sins”
· Romans 4:25 ὃς paredόqh diὰ tὰ paraptώmata ἡmῶn
“who was handed over because of our trespasses”
On the other hand, suggestions as to the scriptural background of Christ’s resurrection “on the third day” have been limited to two texts, Hosea 6:2, which speaks of Israel being “raised up” “on the third day,” and the Book of Jonah (cf. Matt 12:40).
No doubt Paul, and the other apostles before him, could have produced particular scriptural passages to support these claims. Nevertheless, both the preposition used (katά) and the general reference to the “scriptures” (plural) point us in another direction. The point is twofold. First, the events of Christ’s death and resurrection constitute the climax and fulfillment of God’s saving designs as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures as a whole.[xxiv] Barrett, speaking of Christ’s death, captures the thought with his typical lucidity:
Christ’s death happened in fulfillment of Scripture. This means that it was not fortuitous, but willed and determined by God, and that it formed part of the winding up of his eternal purpose, that is, that it was one of those eschatological events that stand on the frontier between the present age and the age to come, in which the divine purpose reaches its completion.[xxv]
The second, related point is that the phrase “according to the scriptures” has a hermeneutical as well as a teleological function. In other words, the Old Testament scriptures provide the lens through which we are able to understand and categorize the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This becomes obvious with texts such as Isaiah 53, which Jesus himself apparently used to interpret his approaching death (e.g., Mark 10:45). Scripture, likewise, determines that Jesus’ resurrection cannot be understood as a random, one-off event, let alone as a window into his “divinity,” but rather as the beginning and determinative act inaugurating the promised new creation.
The gospel, as these verses clearly indicate, is the proclamation of the historical events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, interpreted in accord with the Old Testament scriptures as the climactic saving acts of God for Israel and the world. What, then, about how people participate in the salvation accomplished by Christ? This is where verses 1-2 prove relevant to the discussion.
In verse 2 Paul asserts that the Corinthians are “being saved” (sῴzesqe)[xxvi] through (diά) the gospel they had received and taken their stand if they continue to “hold fast” (katέcw) to the “word” he “preached” to them.[xxvii] The gospel, in other words, is effective for salvation through persevering faith.
This verse could not be clearer. As N. T. Wright has consistently argued, the gospel is emphatically not a message of “how one gets saved,” but rather a proclamation of the saving significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The gospel results in people “getting saved” when they believe in, and take their stand on, the message, but the requirement of faith is not the gospel itself.[xxviii] For some reason, this has become a controversial stance in certain, not least Reformed, circles. R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and others have made it clear that, to them, the doctrine of justification by faith alone—and for them the implied corollary of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience/righteousness—constitutes the pure gospel message. Now I strongly adhere to justification by faith (without the scholastic trappings). Nonetheless, as Daniel Kirk has rightly stated, “Labeling … justification … as the gospel is a category mistake.”[xxix]
In our next post we will take a look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, which elaborates on the theological, and hence, saving significance of Christ’s resurrection, giving further definition as to why this event is central to the gospel message.
[i] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
[ii] This is clear from his use of the verbs parέdwka (“I passed on”) and parelάbete/parέlabon (“you/I received”). It is now commonly accepted that these terms, reflecting the Hebrew qibbēl/māsar, are technical terms that refer to the transmission of authoritative, traditional religious teaching (cf. esp. the Mishnaic tractate Pirkei Avot [m.Abot 1:1]; details provided, inter alia, by Gerhard Delling, TDNT 4:11-14). For the use Paul makes of such traditions in 1 Corinthians, see the important work of Anders Eriksson, Traditions as Rhetorical Proof: Pauline Argumentation in 1 Corinthians (ConBNT 29; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1998).
[iii] Although Acts 9:10-19 speaks of an Ananias who welcomed Saul into the faith and (presumably) baptized him, it says nothing to indicate he provided any catechetical instruction to him. I take it as more probable that this instruction would have occurred, as Paul tells us, when he traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Cephas (Peter) and James the Just for a fortnight “three years” after his dramatic conversion/call. Most likely the expression metὰ trίa ἔth, “after three years,” should be understood inclusively, i.e., “in the third year.” Cf. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 97.
[iv] That is, assuming the date of Jesus’ crucifixion to be 3 April 33 CE. Paul himself dates his second trip to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30 [?]) “fourteen years” after his conversion (that the fourteen years are to be dated from his conversion instead of from his first Jerusalem visit is persuasively argued by J. Louis Martyn, Galatians [AB; New York: Doubleday, 1997] 180-86). Harold Hoehner, in a 1972 revision of his 1965 Dallas Th.D. dissertation on New Testament chronology, persuasively dates this second visit between the autumn of 47 CE and the spring of 48 CE. Using “inclusive” reckoning, this, at the very least, involves a time span of 12+ tears. Hoehner thus dates Paul’s first Jerusalem visit during the summer of 37 CE and his conversion in the summer of 35. It would appear more natural, however, to view the “fourteen years” as indicating that the first Jerusalem visit took place sometime in 36 CE, thus throwing the date of Paul’s conversion back a year to 34, only a little more than a year after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. If, as is alternately possible (though marginally less probable), Jesus’ death is to be dated 7 April 30 CE, this would allow for a less tight chronology, and consequently more time between the Gospel events and Paul’s conversion.
[v] There has been endless debate in the scholarly literature about who these deniers are and why they denied the future resurrection. For years the dominant stream of scholarship understood the denial as a symptom of an “overrealized eschatology” in which all the promised eschatological blessings had arrived in full in the here-and now. Thus, like Hymenaeus and Philetus at Ephesus, they believed the resurrection to have already occurred (2 Tim 2:18; this idea has an impressive pedigree, going back to Chrysostom [Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 38:1]; among recent commentators, cf. especially C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [HNTC; New York: Harper & Row, 1968] 347-48; Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987] 715-17; cf. also Anthony C. Thiselton, “Realized Eschatology at Corinth,” NTS 24  510-26; Ernst Käsemann, New Testament Questions of Today [trans. W. J. Montague; London: SCM, 1974] 105, who sneeringly alludes to the “Schwärmer” at this point). This notion has the benefit of explaining the apparent “pneumatic” tendency of many at Corinth, not least the triumphalist attitude reflected in 1 Cor 4:8-13. Nevertheless, Paul nowhere explains the rationale of their thinking in 1 Cor 15:12, and such is just as easily explicable in terms of their inherited, dualistic Greek philosophical sensibilities. On this understanding some were deducing that the body, by virtue of its very “somatic” or physical nature, is an unfit vessel for believers to experience the benefits of the eschaton. Cf., e.g., Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale, 1995) 104-36; Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1999) 543; (partially) A. C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 1172-75. That such a denial was still a problem for Christians to deal with in the second century is evident from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, 80.
[vi] Cf. Collins, First Corinthians, 543, pointing helpfully to Jean-Noel Aletti, “La disposition rhétorique dans les épîtres pauliniens: proposition de method,” NTS 38 (1992) 385-401.
[vii] For the rhetorical significance of verses 1-11 as part of the narratio of the argument, cf. Eriksson, Traditions as Rhetorical Proof, 232-78. Thiselton (First Epistle, 1177) also points to Duane F. Watson, “Paul’s Rhetorical Strategy in 1 Cor 15,” in S. E. Porter and T. H. Olbricht, eds., Rhetoric and the New Testament (JSNTSS 90; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1993) 231-49; Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck] 1992) 175-77, 283-90.
[viii] I am assuming that the traditional gospel “formula” ends with the appearances to Peter and the “Twelve” in verse 5 in view of the ἔpeita (“then”), a typically Pauline word (10 out of 16 occurrences in the NT), which introduces the later appearances listed in verses 6-8. But it makes no difference to the argument even if the tradition is understood as continuing through verse 8.
[ix] So, e.g., Fee, First Epistle, 723; Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Interpretation: Louisville: John Knox, 1997) 255. This structural observation does not negate the insight that the burial of Christ likewise is intended to determine the nature of the resurrection of Christ to have been bodily, with the result that the confession likely implies what the Gospel accounts present as central, viz., the empty tomb. Cf. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) 321.
[x] Such an understanding coheres well with the earlier and more succinct 1 Thessalonians 4:14: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again …”
[xi] This is not the sole fault of English-speaking Christians. Cf., e.g., Werner Kramer, Christ, Lord, Son of God (SBT 50; trans. Brian Hardy; London: SCM, 1966) 19-64 et passim; Martin Hengel, “‘Christos’ in Paul,” in Between Jesus and Paul (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 65-77. For defense of the “messianic,” titular understanding, cf. N. T. Wright, “CRISTOS as ‘Messiah’ in Paul: Philemon 6,” in The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) 41-55; Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994) 131-37.
[xii] In accessible form, cf. Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2d ed.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1994) 39-40.
[xiii] BDF, §340; Buist M. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990) 103-20; Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 572-82. Porter is critical of each of these authors for their definition of the tense in terms of past action with present results.
[xiv] Barrett, First Epistle, 340.
[xv] Paul utilizes the same prepositional phrase in explaining Jesus’ death in Galatians 1:4, where the purpose of his death “for our sins” is said to be “to rescue us from the present evil age.” Note the explicit eschatological—indeed, apocalyptic—framework of the apostle’s soteriology here. Note also that the plural “sins” belies the traditional character of this confession. Paul himself more often (59x) speaks of “sin” in the singular as a personified power that holds humankind in its enslaving grip and, hence, in need of the saving righteousness of God revealed in the gospel message (e.g., Rom 3:9).
[xvi] Martin Hengel, The Atonement: The Origins of the Doctrine in the New Testament (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 36.
[xvii] BDAG, 1030.
[xviii] Murray J. Harris, “Prepositions and the Theology of the New Testament,” NIDNTT, s.v. hyper.
[xix] For the Old Testament, see especially Daniel 12:2-3. For the intertestamental Jewish hope, see Wright, Resurrection, 129-206; A. J. Avery-Peck and Jacob Neusner, eds, Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part 4: Death, Life-After-Death, Resurrection and the World-to-Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity (Leiden: Brill, 2000). For the function of the resurrection hope in Second Temple Judaism, cf. J. R. Daniel Kirk, Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008) 14-32.
[xx] So, rightly, Hays, First Corinthians, 257, against, e.g., Willi Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 98-111. Several scholars have latched on to the verb used by Paul to speak of Jesus’ post-resurrection “appearances” (ὤfqh) to suggest that the “seeing” was perhaps less physical than it was mental perception of a revelatory word (the classic proponent of this notion was W. Michaelis in his TDNT article on ὁrάw (TDNT 5:315-67 [355-60]). However, it is clear that the verb regularly, if not always, denotes a visible “seeing” of some sort, whether in a dream, vision, or with the eyes. It is the term’s context that always determines the nature of the sight involved. Here in 1 Corinthians there can be no real doubt about the matter, embarrassed scholars notwithstanding. An ancient Jew would have scoffed at any suggestion that “resurrection” was conceptually compatible with the continued presence of a rotting corpse in the tomb. On this, cf. especially Martin Hengel, “Das Begräbnis Jesu bei Paulus und die leibliche Auferstehung aus dem Grabe,” in Friedrich Avemarie and Hermann Lichtenberger, eds., Auferstehung—Resurrection (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]. 2001) 120-83.
[xxi] Paul refers to himself metaphorically, and enigmatically, in view of the uniqueness of his calling, as an ἔktrwma, an “abortion” or “miscarriage.” Interpretations of this have been, like the indwelling spirits in the Gadarene demoniac, legion. With Thiselton (First Corinthians, 1208-10), I tend to agree with the assessment of Johannes Munck, who understood the term in its sense of “a prematurely born dead fetus,” applied metaphorically to denote dire human wretchedness (Johannes Munck, “Paulus Tanquam Abortivus, 1 Cor 15:8” in A. J. B. Higgins, ed., NT Essays: Studies in Memory of T. W. Manson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959) 180-95. Christ’s appearance to the spiritually dead Saul throws God’s creative, life-giving grace to him all the more into sharp relief (1 Cor 15:9-10).
[xxii] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Tradition and Redaction in 1 Cor 15:3-7,” CBQ 43 (1981) 582-89 (586).
[xxiii] Collins, First Corinthians, 531. It is at this point that the striking parallel with Hosea 6:2 (“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”) may be significant. This text is too obscure to justify the supposition that the early Christian accounts of Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day” are secondary and historicized derivatives of a preconceived messianic reading of it. On the contrary, it is much simpler to understand Jesus’ historical resurrection “on the third day” as providing the necessary hermeneutical lens through which to understand Hosea’s prophecy (cf. James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997] 238). Indeed, it is likely that the Hosea text was interpreted in light of Daniel 12:2-3 and Isaiah 26:19 to refer to Israel’s future resurrection, and that the early Christians thus interpreted Jesus’ resurrection as the beginning of the promised eschatological resurrection (cf. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011] 260-61).
[xxiv] Cf., e.g., Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 255; Barrett, First Epistle, 338-41; Fee, First Epistle, 725; Collins, First Corinthians, 530; Thiselton, First Corinthians, 1190-93; Wright, Resurrection, 320.
[xxv] Barrett, First Epistle, 338.
[xxvi] The present tense portrays salvation as a process yet to be completed in the future.
[xxvii] Paul enigmatically adds, “unless you believed in vain (eἰkῇ).” It is possible, as BDAG suggest, that the adverb means that they had believed “without due consideration” or “in a haphazard manner.” But it appears better to understand the term, as it is likewise used in Galatians 3:4, to indicate that their supposed “belief” would have been “to no effect.” Fee (First Epistle, 721) helpfully points to verses 14-19 to expose the irony of the apostle’s language. If indeed Christ has not been raised (the clear implication of their denial of believers’ resurrection), then the apostolic gospel is a sham, believers are pitiable chumps, and the Corinthians’ original faith in the gospel is exposed as being in vain.
[xxviii] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) 40-62.
[xxix] Kirk, Unlocking Romans, 208.