Why Do Some in Corinth Deny the Resurrection of Jesus?

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul comes to the final issue Paul raised by the Corinthian church, the Resurrection of Jesus. It appears someone in the Corinthian church denied that Jesus rose from the dead. In 15:12 he says, “if it is preached that Christ has not been raised,” implying a teacher in Corinth has made that claim. Why would a Christian deny that Christ was raised from the dead?

Resurrection of Jesus

It is possible the objection to the Resurrection of Jesus came from a Jewish Christian teacher. In that case, the objection may be based on Jewish messianic expectations. Although many Second Temple Jews were looking forward to a messiah, no one expected that messiah to die and rise again. The claim of the earliest Christians is that Jesus was the Messiah, but also that he was crucified by the Temple aristocracy. But God raised him to life, proving he was in fact the Messiah. Although some might object to using the book of Acts as illustrating early church preaching, Peter makes this very point when he is questioned in Acts 5:29-32.

On the other hand, the claim that the Christ has not been raised from the dead may come from a Gentile Christian, reflecting a Greek view of resurrection. N. T. Wright many examples of Greek writers denying the resurrection of the dead. For example, in Aeschylus’s play Eumenides: “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” Wright concludes: Christianity was born into a world where its central claim was k own to be false. Outside of Judaism, nobody believed in resurrection” (Resurrection of the Son of God, 35). Dead people go off into some other, dark world from which they can never return. So there was a life after death, but not a return to this life after death.

Gordon Fee points out the vocabulary of the resurrection of the dead (νεκρός) may have been part of the problem. A native Greek speaker would hear “corpses” and find the whole discussion repugnant (Fee, 1 Corinthians 794, note 5). Imagine if a Christian pastor referred to Jesus as a zombie, a reanimated corpse rather than a body transformed into a new kind of life. Fee’s observation explains some of Paul’s language later in the chapter about how a seed dies and rises to a new kind of life (15:35-40).

Paul will argue that Jesus’s resurrection is not only an assured fact of history, but the basis of the future resurrection of the believer. For a Greek, there was no real idea of a future resurrection. As Ben Witherington notes, Greek religion was practiced for present benefits not future, heavenly blessings (Conflict and Community in Corinth, 293). Remember Paul’s sermon in Athens. When he mentioned the resurrection of the dead, some of the philosophically informed audience sneered at him (Acts 17:32). A Jewish audience would understand something about a future resurrection Paul describes in this chapter, but most Gentiles would find this difficult.

Although there may be some combination of these two possibilities, every other issue Paul addresses in the letter is the result of Gentile Christians following their Greek worldview rather than transforming their way of thinking through the lens of Christ. I see that as the main problem here. It may be the case some faction in the Corinthian church tried to blend Christian practice or ethics and Greek philosophy. Just as the message of the cross is foolishness to the Greeks, so too the resurrection of the dead is a strange teaching that might even have offended the philosophically educated in Corinth.

That Paul answers this objection at length at the end of the letter may imply Paul thought this was the most important issue in the Corinthian church. Although most modern Christians are shocked by some of the moral and ethical problems in Corinth, Paul sees the denial of the resurrection as an attack on the foundation of the Gospel itself. He therefore begins by reminding his readers that the Gospel he preached was based on the authentic resurrection of Jesus from the dead (15:1-11) and then making the remarkable claim that if Christ is not raised, people are fools to become Christians (15:12-28).

This is an important point for contemporary Christianity. Almost all Christians profess both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. Easter is a central celebration in virtually all forms of Christianity. Yet Jesus’s resurrection from the dead has always caused people to discard Christianity as a remnant of the medieval past. Modern thinkers know that people cannot return from the dead! Memester theologians mock “zombie Jesus” and others deny the resurrection on historical grounds.

Yet in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul puts the whole of Christianity on the Resurrection of Jesus.

8 thoughts on “Why Do Some in Corinth Deny the Resurrection of Jesus?

  1. The idea of rising to Heaven with God or the gods was only for demigods, the rest were consigned to Hades, the shadowy world of the dead. Jesus rose in a spiritual body, so it makes no difference what happened to his rotting corpse. I know this is radical for most Christians but I would not be surprised if his rotting body was left behind. To be raised to the heavenly realm was enough motivation for most people.

    Woodrow Nichols

  2. It’s clear that the concept of the resurrection was not only an issue for those of the Jewish tradition, but was also an issue for those of the Greco-Roman tradition. Especially considering that both cultures believed that death was the final stage of life, it would be hard for both cultures to have understood the concept of a resurrection after death. Therefore, although modern Christians have a much deeper understanding for both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and believers, those of both the Jewish tradition and Greco-Roman culture struggled to understand due to the strong beliefs of there not being a resurrection after death.

  3. I have always thought that it was such a weird thing to deny the resurrection for the Corinthian church. As an evangelical Christian in the 21st century it just seems like such a vital part of the Christian faith, and Paul makes that very clear. However, it makes sense within the context of the Jewish culture/faith that they would question the resurrection of the dead. The jewish people of the time did not think that the Messiah would die and then be resurrected from the dead, as the writer of the blog post points out. The author of the blog post also points out that this idea of no resurrection might have come from a gentile point of view as well. No one in those times believed that there was a return to life after death. It is funny to think about the fact that they were basically referring to Jesus as a corpse, which probably would not fly today either. I love that Paul puts the entirety of the Christian faith on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. To the Christiam, the hope of our own future resurrection is fueled by this fact. If someone wanted to disprove Christianity they would have to disprove the resurrection. Something that people have been trying to do for centuries, yet that has not succeeded and will continue to not succeed, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

  4. The roman and Greek culture is not that different from the ideology that is common in the western culture that there is no life after this one, so we should enjoy the life we got. Or as Pual says in 1 Corinthians 15:32 “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (ESV). The Greco-Roman world believed that life was meant for the right now and gods were sought to be pleased for the blessing of one’s mortal life (Long, 2022, Reading Acts). Long also states how “For a Greek, there was no real idea of a future resurrection” (2022, Reading Acts). if a gentile did believe they may have believed in God was only going to help them and guide them in their short life much like that of a pagan god. It might also be compared to the belief of the Sadducee’s who did not believe in the resurrection and emphasized God working in one’s life so long as on is alive. Paul states how Christ did rise form the dead and that Christ even appeared to him after having been raised form the dead. That it was through Christ appearing form the dead which bought Paul to his faith in Jeus as the Messiah and lord, that Christ has authority over everything (1 Cor 15:27). Paul continues to say how death will defeated and there will be new bodies with God (55).

  5. You might want to think about the fact that Paul never mentions an empty tomb.

    Woodrow Nichols

  6. It’s fascinating that some Christians would deny the fact of Christ being raised from the dead. I always found this topic to be very unique in the sense that Jesus is still alive today. He is our living Father being present with us during everything we do. Not only is Jesus’ story unique, but also how we have God, the son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit living within us. There were two possible reasons that suggest why a Christian would deny that Christ was raised from the dead. The first reasoning was that this thought came from a Jewish Christian teacher. This would bring the thought from a Jewish perspective which has different thoughts and opinions than the other cultures. The second reasoning that was discussed was how the claim came from a Gentile Christian. Long mentions in his post that N.T. Wright made many examples of Greek writers denying the resurrection of the dead (Long, 2022). These two perspectives gives us a general idea that some Corinthians denied the Resurrection of Jesus because the thoughts came from different Greco-Roman cultures.

  7. Mark invented the resurrection, and one doesn’t even need to read between the lines:
    Jesus exhales, ex-spirits, Һκπνέω; from the verb πνέω (‘to breathe’) that relates to the noun πνεῦμα: ‘blast, wind’,’air, breath’, ‘spirit’. Jesus breathes out – a beautiful choice of word, isn’t it?

    1. Jesus dies in Mark 15:37
    2. Jesus dies in Mark 15:39, by repeating the words from the scene of 15:37 yet this time from the viewpoint of the centurion
    3. Jesus is doubted by Pilate to have died in Mark 15:44, and Pilate expresses said doubt twice in one single verse
    4. Jesus’ death is confirmed once again by the centurion, yet implicitly this time

    What is the literal text to these verses?
    1. Mark 15:37 – Jesus dies: “breathed His last” (explicit)
    2. Mark 15:39 – Jesus dies: “having seen that He breathed His last” (explicit)
    3. Mark 15:44a – Did Jesus die?: “Pilate wondered if already He were dead” (explicit)
    4. Mark 15:44b – Did Jesus die?: “he questioned him whether He had died already” (explicit)
    5. Mark 15:45 – Jesus has died: “having known it from the centurion” (implicit)

    A typical Markan back-and-forth perhaps; two statements, two questions, one final statement reaffirming it all – there can really be no question about the outcome here, but most certainly not about the implied process. And this is the essential difference between Mark and Luke: an enormous, gigantic, overwhelming emphasis on the alleged real, actual death of Jesus. In the space of 9 verses, the death of Jesus gets explicitly named 4 times, and implicitly named 1 time in response to the last explicit mention.
    Luke shares the first of these occurrences in his explicit 23:46, yet rephrases the second in 23:47 with the implicit ‘that which had taken place’, and he skips the entire Pilate-centurion dialogue of the 3 other references made by Mark; then again in 23:48 Luke refers to the crucifixion and death by verbatim repeating the implicit reference of 23:47, as if trying hard to avoid the very words “Jesus is dead / has died”. While Luke refers three times to the death of Jesus, he satisfies himself (and the audience) with the absolute minimum number of times that Luke must explicitly refer to the ‘death of Jesus’ (namely at least once) and that stands in stark and significant contrast with Mark who explicitly refers to it four times.
    Yet Matthew doesn’t even once explicitly name the death of Jesus, and paraphrases it with his 27:50 ‘yielded up His spirit (Ҫφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα)’. In 27:54 Matthew has the centurion bear witness in the same implicit way as Luke with ‘having seen (the earthquake and) the things taking place’. The only time that Matthew uses the literal words occurs in the scene of the guards yet that 27:64 names the very opposite of it all, namely ‘He is risen from the dead (Ἠγέρθη Ҫπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν)’ – Matthew doesn’t even once explicitly state that Jesus is dead, but instead he explicitly states that he isn’t dead (anymore)! Take all of Matthew out of context and the only explicit sentence that refers to the death of Jesus states that Jesus is alive, namely that he is risen from the dead.
    Four explicit references by Mark that Jesus is dead, only one by Luke, and none by Matthew – and these are the subtle ways in which the Synoptics disagree even though all of them agree that Jesus died, was buried, and resurrected

    None of which ever happened, of course – Mark is obviously telling this story with only one goal in mind, next to inventing the resurrection: to blame the three women (2 of which make a cameo) for the fact that no one had ever heard of any resurrection

    For the full story: https://www.academia.edu/76105160

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