1 Corinthians 15 – The Coming Resurrection

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

The Bard Card

Happy Easter, everyone. I’ve stumbled across yet another beautiful passage in the Bible that makes me think of Shakespeare.  1 Corinthians is another letter from the apostle Paul (whom we discussed at length earlier this year, starting with this post.) This chapter is the climax of the letter, and Paul is at his best: he manages an epic humble-brag that even Polonius would envy at the beginning. He then lays out an almost courtroom argument to refute anyone who doubts the resurrection. Finally he goes on to describe in lyrical detail the wondrous miracle of our coming resurrection.  His euphemism for death of people being asleep in Christ is gentle and beautiful, and sounds Shakespearian in and of itself.  I also love the imagery of the seed being planted as and analogy for the transformation that will take place at the resurrection. But the part that really got me thinking about The Bard was vv. 51-52, which reads (per the Geneva Bible, the translation Shakespeare probably used): “Behold, I show you a secret thing,  we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall blow, and the dead shall be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  Perhaps “our bones of coral made” and “pearls that were our eyes” won’t be part of our new, resurrected bodies, as is the supposed fate of Ferdinand’s father in The Tempest, but the following lines “Nothing of him doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change” sounds like it could be inspired by this very chapter.

What will resurrection look like?

Easter is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  As Paul says in v. 20, Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” and the rest of “those that belong to him” will follow after Jesus destroys “the last enemy,” aka Death.  This is what Christianity is all about: our hope and faith in Jesus Christ (and the power of his own faith) that allows us to beat death and enter into a glorious future as the children of God.  This chapter, particularly the passages about resurrection, are so beautiful that I want to take today to really meditate on them.

So, will the resurrection look exactly like Paul describes it?  There’s no way to answer that question.  But, looking at the Bible passages that describe resurrection, it seems that our resurrected selves will indeed be physical (not just spiritual), that we will retain those things that make us individuals, we’ll have metaphysical powers (like being able to walk through walls), and that we’ll glow.  More than anything else there is talk about the “luminosity” of the resurrected in the books of Matthew, Luke, Corinthians, Revelations, even way back in Exodus and Daniel.  I love how Paul describes it, likening our differing and individual degrees of luminous resurrection glowing to the heavenly bodies: “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.”  I personally like the idea of glowing like a star.

Physical and Spiritual Resurrection

I do want to point out the one part of this chapter I take a slight issue with, and to do so we need to start with a little context.  In its formative days, newborn Christianity was developing alongside Greco-roman philosophies that often emphasized a division between body and spirit, or emphasized the spirit as being “truer” than flesh.  Some of that made it’s way into the teachings of this new Christianity, and has been coloring the religion ever since.  If you look critically at the Old Testament you can see how this division is just not there.  The Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) may be an elaborate metaphor for God and his Church, but it is a salaciously sexy metaphor.  I’ve talked at length about Hosea giving Gomer an orgasm in the desert.  The body (and saving the body from physical ailment) is a major theme in the Psalms.  Paul was “afflicted” in some way we don’t know.  Some suggest lingering vision issues, others lameness, but in some way he was weak, physically, in a broader society that (while emphasizing the separation of body and soul) was also one obsessed with golden ratios and perfect physical specimens.  Perhaps in part because of this perceived shortcoming, as well as being well-versed in predominant philosophy, Paul was a major proponent of this division between body and soul.

Now I’m not disagreeing with Paul that our new, resurrected bodies will be different, and perhaps even that there will be a larger spiritual aspect to them. But I do flat out disagree with Paul when he says in v. 50 “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”  It goes directly against his point that our physical bodies will be resurrected.  Again, yes, they will be different – we’ll go through a metamorphosis like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, but that flesh will still be physical flesh of this world.  I firmly believe so, because Jesus came back in the flesh to appear to his followers, not just as some holy apparition.  He showed his fleshly wounds to Thomas to prove that he was indeed Jesus. Don’t you think that evidence of harm inflicted on the body would be the first thing to disappear if these bodies of flesh were also to disappear? I do. But they were there for Thomas to see and even feel.

Kintsugi is a Japanese method of repairing fine pottery with gold, and I’ve seen it used as an analogy for the healing of major trauma: The scars are still there, visible, but made beautiful.  I think it may also be an excellent analogy for the physical nature of these resurrected bodies to come.  We will be the same, but different, put together by God in a new way that makes us whole but acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of our past life.  This analogy probably wasn’t available to Paul, but as someone who suffered from some sort of physical impairment himself, perhaps it would have made him receptive to the idea of a more earthy resurrection.

In Closing

All of this is conjecture.  Perhaps I’m totally wrong, and perhaps Paul is too.  We do not know what the resurrection will look like, though it is fun to hypothesize.  Today we celebrate Jesus’ defeat of death and resurrection to life so that we may live as well, in whatever glorious form that will take.  I’ll close once again with Paul’s words: “thanks be to God! He gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen, Paul, and Happy Easter.  Christ is risen. Hallelujah.

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Romans 13 – Did Paul really write this?

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

I’m going to go right out and offer my inexpert opinion: I don’t think Paul wrote vv. 1-7.  I think they are a later addition.  Remember, the New Testament has has undergone almost 2,000 years of transcriptions and translations.  It is very possible someone slipped a little something extra in there along the way thinking that Paul’s message needed to be clarified, or that it needed to be made more palatable, even.

It interrupts the flow of the letter

It’s placement it weird.  Paul ends the previous section talking about overcoming evil with good, essentially expounding upon the “love thy enemies” idea, and then in the next section, continues the love theme by expounding upon “love thy neighbor.”  So why this unrelated insert about respecting authority and paying taxes between those two sections?

One could argue it’s a continuation of the “love thy enemies” theme, but I think that’s rather weak because the word “love” isn’t used at all, where it is used often in the preceding and following sections.  Also, Paul was never one to shy away from punishment.  He had been whipped, imprisoned, put on trial, stoned, and was on a loose house arrest when writing this letter.  Why would he be concerned about avoiding punishment, as he mentions in verse five, or stress that doing right by the authorities is doing right by God, when he has so clearly angered the authorities himself many times over?

Paul had removed himself from the Roman “Honor System”

I find it particularly suspect that Paul talks about paying “respect” or “honor” to someone or something.  As N.T. Wright, Karen Armstrong, and probably many others have written, Paul removed himself from the honor system of ancient Rome in very deliberate way.  In ancient Rome, there was a strict social hierarchy.  Those lower down strove to pay “honor” to those higher up in an effort to gain recognition and status.  Whole cities vied for Caesar’s honor erecting statues and temples to the empirical court.  In short, this created a culture of boasting and bragging, with people crowing about their faithfulness to the empire, their achievements on Caesar’s behalf, and the achievements of those from which they were trying to gain favor.

Paul turns that tradition on its head, bragging not only of his own ignominies and weaknesses (most famously in 2 Corinthians), but also of Jesus’.  Paul again and again stresses Jesus’ death on the cross.  Death on the cross was not some mere tragedy, it was a fall from social grace, a punishment for the most reviled of society.  In addition, it was also often hard to recover and prepare the body for proper burial.  Scavenging animals often further ravaged those that were executed, soldiers may prohibit collecting the remains, and honestly, it may have been just too risky to even try.  Burial rites were an important ritual in ancient times, not least of all for the Jews, so the fact that Jesus died, defiled on the cross, like a base criminal, would have been proof for many that he was not the Messiah.  Where is his honor, his glory? How can we possibly respect someone with such a base demise?  Paul argues that Jesus power comes from his weakness – by accepting such a fate as the cross Jesus brought about the fullness of God’s kingdom to those who need it most: the weak, the oppressed, those crying out for justice and love.  So I ask again, why would Paul suddenly be urging readers to pay their honor and respect to the civil authorities?

I have seen the case that Paul is possibly referring to synagogue authority, and not Roman authority. Paul did take up a collection from diaspora churches and bring that back to Jerusalem before writing Romans, and perhaps he was hoping to do the same thing in Rome.  This, I suppose, is possible, but I again have my doubts.  I think that Paul would have alluded to the synagogue directly, and probably wouldn’t have referred to his collecting money as “taxes.” Returning to Paul talking about fearing authority, I doubt that Jesus-followers in Rome had much to fear from Jerusalem Jewish retaliation.  There were Jews in the city of Rome, but they had only recently been allowed back to the city after being kicked out, and tensions were high.  A Jew attacking a Gentile for any reason (such as being a Jesus-follower) would have only been detrimental to the Jewish individual.  As for the Jewish Jesus-followers, perhaps there was a bit more to fear from local intra-Jewish retaliation, but again, being a large city with several enclaves of Jesus-followers, I think that they could have found a safe haven with like-minded believers.  So we’re left to conclude that the synagogue is not the fearful authority to which this section refers.

The real author of this section

So who did write it?  My guess is an early Gentile contributor, maybe about the time the Deutro-Pauline letters (letters attributed to Paul but probably not written by him: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, possibly 2 Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians) a few decades after Paul’s death.  Early church leaders, when they weren’t ignoring Paul’s dense rhetorical letters, often down-played his Jewishness, focusing on the creation of a new religion in a way Paul had not.  An addition about paying “honor” and “respect” to the civil authorities can be seen as an attempt to assimilate Jesus-following practices into the wider Roman culture, distancing themselves from the Jews. Jews had special dispensation to not worship Caesar (aka not participate in the honor culture), and it often deepened Greco-Roman suspicion of the Jews.  If these new Jesus-followers paid honor as the rest of society did, then they might have been viewed with less suspicion than the abstaining Jews.  Of course, as Christianity gained first acceptance and then power in the centuries to come, early Christian rulers would look approvingly upon this passage condoning God’s support of earthly rulers, and thus it’s canonical status would not be often or seriously challenged.

How we should view this addition

Let’s say I’ve convinced you that Paul didn’t write this little blurb.  What does that mean in the grand scheme of things?  Honestly, nothing revolutionary.  It’s just a little historical Easter egg that hints to the long and storied history of the Good Book.  It’s a perfect example of just how the Bible isn’t separate and apart from history, but very much effected by history and affecting history.

Even with “inauthentic” additions, if you want to call it that, I still think reading the Bible is important. I still think we can gain deep insight to ourselves and God through it.  I still think we can turn to the Bible for guidance.  But it once again highlights the fact that we need to understand the Bible in context of when it was written and why it was written, and remember that even if it was divinely inspired, fallible people were the ones doing the writing (and later interpreting).  The important thing is not to get too bogged down in the details, or limit your understanding of the Bible to just a few verses, because then you’ll miss the broader themes.  And here, the broader theme is love.  I’ll remind you once again: The previous section was Paul expounding upon “love they enemies.” The following section is Paul expounding upon “love thy neighbors.”  This little hiccup in between doesn’t change that message.  And it certainly doesn’t negate our responsibility to be caring of our neighbors, our community, and the world.

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Acts 09 – Here comes Paul

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Paul: From Persecutor of Christians to Author of most of the New Testament

I’ve made it over a year in this project and have only mentioned Paul – aka the Saul of this passage – three times in passing.  It’s time to remedy that.  Paul’s importance cannot be overstated.  He has been definitively named as the author of seven out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.  Traditions over the centuries have linked him to thirteen out of the twenty-seven books.  Even in some of the letters where his authorship is highly doubtful, it is often accepted that the actual author was a follower of Paul, influenced by Paul’s teachings.  Like I said, it’s time we gave the guy some attention.

As as alluded to here in the beginning of today’s chapter (and directly described in chapter seven of Acts), Paul actively persecuted early Christians before this divine intervention on the road to Damascus.  Remember, saying that Jesus was the Son of God and Messiah was radical to the point of heretical, a threat to not only Jewish but also Roman authority, and therefore a punishable offense through multiple avenues.  Paul was a man quashing rebellion and upholding the society of which he was a part, yet he became God’s chosen instrument.

God’s Chosen Instruments are often new and strange people.

God’s chosen instruments are some interesting people.  Abraham was a 100 year old man with a ninety year old wife, promised descendants more numerous than the stars after decades of being unable to conceive.  Jacob was a trickster who cheated his brother out of his rightful inheritance.  Jesus chose the socially undesirables of the time – tax collectors and prostitutes – to be among his closest friends and carry on his message. Now here comes Paul, hater of all things Jesus becoming one of the biggest missionaries in Jesus’ name.  Despite their shortcomings, maybe because of their shortcomings, God chose all of them.

I think that’s an important message to remember when we see something going on in Jesus’ name that isn’t appropriately “church-y” enough for us.  I’m not saying throw out all your beliefs and traditions every time something new and strange comes along, but do pay attention to it.  Social changes only come when the status-quo is challenged.  Sometimes that is uncomfortable to the point that we fight against it.  For example, Paul, as a Hellenized Jew, was protecting the societies of which he was a part (Roman and Jewish both) when he persecuted early Christians.

Perhaps we should be actively seeking the “new and strange” messengers.  If God chose David as a favorite son when he was just a young musician, what right do we have to dismiss Autumn Peltier, a fifteen-year-old Indigenous clean-water activist (and others like her)?  Maybe we shouldn’t even write Kanye off, yet, either.  I honestly don’t know what to think about Kanye and am inclined to believe he just needs some help…but there have been crazier people cannonized:  St. Vladimir performed human sacrifice and had so many kids he lost count before converting to Christianity, and everyone’s favorite St. Francis literally tried to get himself martyred by going on a quest to convert an Islamic Sultan.  But they all challenged the societies of their – and in the case of Autumn and Kanye, our – time.

Regardless of our opinion of Paul, he pushes us forward in Spiritual Learning

So really, Paul is just one in a long line of strange converts, strange messengers within Christianity.  It took Jesus literally smiting Paul off his horse, yelling at him, and striking him blind to get it to happen, but it happened.  Jesus shook Paul out of his complacency with the social status quo Paul had been a part of.  I think you would have to be open to new ideas after that experience, right?  Hopefully it won’t take the same amount of intervention for the rest of us.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to discern what is done out of love and compassion and what is done out of greed and fear.  If we approach people with an open but discerning heart, we will be able to make that judgment call when presented with something that isn’t part of our current set of beliefs and values, and possibly presented by someone new and strange to us.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Paul  as we dive into the book of Romans next post.  He was a controversial figure in his own day, and continues to be so today.  Perhaps you don’t like – or even agree with – all of his writings.  In all honesty, I think some of the most abused passages from the Bible come from Paul.  All that shit about women being subservient to men and not being able to lead in the church etc etc?  That’s all Paul. But maybe that makes listening to him extra important.  Even if we don’t agree with everything Paul says, (or everything that has been written about what Paul says), perhaps it has pushed us to examine our beliefs, come to a deeper understanding of them and of Jesus’ message, and taught us to do the same the next time we hear something new and strange.