Shuck and Jive

Monday, October 20, 2008

According to the Scriptures

My sermon on Sunday was based on I Corinthians 15. I read the whole of it, took the offering, then preached. Tip to preachers: you get more dough if you pass the plate before preaching. The sermon, frankly, was pretty lame. My congregation still loves me when I throw a wild pitch on occasion and invites me back.

I disagreed with Paul when he wrote:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Perhaps you can help me with this. Maybe Paul is saying something different than what I think he is saying. But if I understand him correctly, our value, meaning, and hope is in the afterlife or in some other existence outside of our current existence. If that is what he means, I am 100% in disagreement. I told my folks that, then read this thing I posted a couple of weeks ago: An Earthling's Creed. To me resurrection is about the quality of life and our approach to life before the grave. It is about this existence. I like to read Paul as saying what I think, but I don't know if I am correct. One thing I didn't talk about and I meant to was this interesting statement:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
I noticed that this was odd. If Paul wanted evidence that the historical Jesus rose from the dead, you would think he would say "in accordance with these dudes who saw him wandering about" or something to that effect. But, instead, he says "according to the scriptures." What are these scriptures? My guess is that many people when they read or hear this think that "the scriptures" refers to the empty tomb narratives of the gospel writers.

But that can't be. Paul is writing before they wrote. Those aren't scriptures for Paul. Paul means the Hebrew scriptures. The "scriptures" probably has to do with the poetry of Hosea 6:

‘Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.’
Paul is not talking about the historical Jesus being raised after three days. Paul isn't using Hosea as if Hosea is predicting some historical event. Paul is speaking in the tradition of Hosea and is speaking metaphorically about this great hope of life and healing which the third day symbolizes. It is like Jonah in the fish's tummy. Jonah gets barfed up on the third day. Paul claims to have experienced this third day reality "in Christ." It is about forgiveness, new hope, a fresh start, and participation in a community of equals with love as its highest value--among other things.

Oh well, back in the pulpit next week. Maybe I will do better.


  1. John,
    Sorry you had a bad Sunday: )

    The first “according to scripture” is probably: “But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his month; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his month. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; And as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death, because he had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth. …Because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:5-12) I left out a bit it was getting to long.

    Remember the Hebrew scriptures was the only scriptures the early church had. And this is what the Ethiopian was reading when Phillip explained it to him and lead him to Christ.

    Second “according to Scripture: “For you will not abandon my soul to sheol; nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay.”

    Paul was fed the scriptures as a first century Pharisee. Everything he taught about Jesus Christ was backed up by his use of the Hebrew Bible.

  2. Oddly enough, I agree with you Viola. I don't know exactly which scriptures Paul was thinking about when he was creating his Christ, but those you mention sound pretty good.

  3. I definitely think "eternal life," our new life in Christ starts in the here, and now too. It's not just about pie in the sky when we die. But, it does extend through all eternity.

    Perhaps the whole hope of the resurrection will seem more relevant, and important in the face of your imminent death someday, John.

    Our life on earth is so important. No argument at all there. But, it does seem shortsighted to me to have no care for eternity as well.

    Forever is a long time. In truth, our life really is like a vapor that swiftly passes away, like the grass that fades..

    P.S. What Viola said. Hope your next Sun. is better.

  4. Perhaps the whole hope of the resurrection will seem more relevant, and important in the face of your imminent death someday, John.

    You think that would really make a difference? In my experience as a minister, I find that people don't change their views that much regarding how they conceive of the afterlife. They may become more philosophical, but those who didn't particularly care about an afterlife when younger usually don't care when they are closer to death either, and vice versa.

    Forever is a long time. In truth, our life really is like a vapor that swiftly passes away, like the grass that fades..

    Actually, forever is beyond time. Forever is what you were conscious of before you were born.

    It really is a question of meaning. Is your life meaningful now? If not, why not? I see no benefit to claiming meaning beyond here and now.

    Absolutely, our life is a vapor. We ought to live it and savor every moment we can. That to me is resurrection.

  5. John,

    I think Paul's faith is based on revelation. It centers on his encounter with the living Christ. He knew the scriptures well, both the ones we have and others that did not make it into the Canon. According to his understanding of these Scriptures, the followers of Jesus were heretics deserving death.

    Then he meets the resurrected Jesus and it changes everything.

    Since he finds Jesus is alive in all his glory, he has to re-interpret everything else he knows about the Scriptures. And, I imagine, about life.

    So it is easy for me to see why he says that without the resurrection (of Jesus), Christians are most to be pitied. They had cut themselves off from everything everybody knew to be true and were following a myth of their own creation. For which they were also paying dearly.


    The key is that Paul interpreted Scriptures in the light of the living Jesus, not the other way around. He is not using Scripture to prove the validity of his belief. He is using his knowledge of Jesus to prove the validity of Scripture.

    (When he tries to prove Jesus via the Scriptures he fails - according to the Scriptures)

    I think he also may have made use of a common rabbinical school of thought that said all Scripture exists from all time, and is only revealed in pieces, later.

    "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."

    The Law of Moses was the Law from all time, but was only revealed to Moses relatively late. Likewise, that Jesus was to be crucified and raised on the third day had been "written" from all time, but had only recently been "revealed" in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

    There is a school of thought in Christianity that is alive to this day that allows us to interpret and re-interpret Scripture in light of the living Christ, the contemporary teaching of the Holy Spirit, and vetted by the Community of Faith. Its not perfect, it too has pitfalls, but it is there.

    Either way, I am today convinced we Christians must all start from the faith, or hope, in the risen Christ, and work our way from there. It is a mistake to try and derive Jesus Christ from the Scriptures. Those that try are unconvincing. They end up becoming too intellectually contrived to be of any real use, or loosing their hope altogether when they find out they can't.

  6. Very nice post, Jodie. If that is what Paul is saying, then I am with you. I can agree with Paul again.

    I would daresay that your interpretation is probably a minority opinion among Jesus's fan club.

    I would say that most people I have met think when Paul writes: "if for this life only" he means our lives on earth now.

    Is the dead being raised a metaphor for quality of life or is it about life after death?

    As much as I like your interpretation, I still think that Paul put a great deal of importance in life after death. Resurrection for him had a lot to do with that.

    But hey, if you can show me that Paul thought resurrection was primarily about the quality of this life, then I am with him and you!

    He is not using Scripture to prove the validity of his belief. He is using his knowledge of Jesus to prove the validity of Scripture.

    Interesting. He also uses scripture to show that his personal revelation is in continuity with scripture. Also, scripture comes alive as he reads it afresh through his mystical experience.

    That is what I mean by Hosea's "third day" which is not a timetable from tomb to resuscitation but a metaphor that points to the healing of Hosea 6 alive in Paul and his community as they are "in Christ."

  7. John,

    I think that the resurrection of Jesus proved to Paul that the resurrection was real, and that he assumed it applied to all. He talked about Jesus being only the first.

    From all of Paul's writings it seems to me that he went from an anticipation of an immediate eschatology, (there is that passage about marriage, the one about better to marry that to burn) where the only thing that mattered in this life was being ready for that final transformation, believing that some in his presence would not taste death but be transformed in the blinking of any eye, to being more philosophical about things and not so sure when the end would come.

    When he admitted to not seeing clearly, he meant it. This was one of those things, I think.

    But I don't think it made much difference to Paul's every day ethics. Live each day as if one was already in the Kingdom of God, and live each day as if it would be the last in this life. So whether there is an afterlife or not, and whether it comes today or in a million years, I don't think it would affect Paul's basic message of living the Way of Love.

    I would add that Paul's message about life and death is much more involved that the simplistic message of 19th Century revivalism.

    Life in the Kingdom of God begins for Paul at baptism. He considers himself - as all of us - already dead to the world but alive to Christ. He says that Death, as we know it, has lost its sting. All that is left is the final transformation of the resurrection and that is only a matter of time.

    So, while I do not think Paul spiritualized resurrection and eternal life in the way that the 19th Century revivalists and their evangelical descendants have, he definitely believed that death was not the end of one's being. He was focused on the life that begins at baptism, and simply continues on into the resurrection, with what happened to Jesus as the prototype of what would happen to all of us as well.

    When my good friend Cindy stopped drinking, she said she was saved. She said she was saved for eternity, but that eternity had started the moment Christ had saved her from her alcoholism. She said she was already living the benefits of "salvation" every day. And that alone already made it all worth while.

    I think she had the right focus.

    "Is the dead being raised a metaphor for quality of life or is it about life after death?"

    I think the answer for Paul is "Yes". And I think I agree.

  8. Praise God, Jodie. What wonderful, and deep insights.

    Thank you!