Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26

Faith Struggle

Popular Translation

20 Christ has been raised from the dead. What happened to him shows what will happen to everyone who has died. 21-22 After all, when Adam sinned, the result was death for everyone. But, when Jesus rose from the dead, everyone was offered new life. 23 So, this is how the end of the world will happen. First, Christ rose from the dead. Second, the followers of Christ will rise and will be with him. Then, the finale will come when he will take everyone's power away and hands over his Kingdom to God the Father. 25 Christ needs to rule until the time he completely subdues his enemies. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself!

Literal Translation

20 But now, Christ has been risen from the dead, the beginning (point) of those having fallen asleep (in death). 21 For, since death (is) through a man, also the raising of the dead (is) through a man. 22 For indeed, everyone died in Adam, so also everyone will come alive in Christ. 23 (This will happen,) however, each in its own order: Christ, the beginning (point), then those of Christ, in his presence, then the finale, 24 when he can give the Kingdom over to God and Father, when he can do away with all rule and authority and power. 25 For, it is necessary for him to rule as King until which (time) he can place all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy destroyed is death.

Why do we believe in our own resurrection? Because we experience the Risen Christ in our midst. As Christ is risen from the dead, so shall we rise at the End.

Despite the simple logic of faith, many in the Corinthian church denied the general resurrection. In fact, the young community was torn apart by in-fighting, cliques, and turf battles. The instruments of choice for these battles were questions of faith, especially the nature and scope of the resurrection.

Two issues added to the controversy. First, Corinth was a cosmopolitan city on the isthmus that separated upper and lower Greece. Corinth was a port city that had many visitors spreading many ideas and philosophies. Early Christian missionaries, like St. Paul, were some of these foreign visitors.

This first challenge dovetailed with the second: trying to translate the ideas of the Jewish culture into concepts that made sense in a Greek culture. Time and destiny were concepts that were definitely different between the two cultures. Jews believed in linear time; time progressed from a beginning to an end. Greek culture, however, held that time was cyclical; instead of a straight line, time turned like a wheel. The seasons of nature were the primary models of this belief. The progression of time was a mere illusion marked by humanity.

The idea of one's destiny depended upon the concept of the self. Jews believed in a unity of body and spirit. Greeks, however, saw the self as primarily spiritual; human existence was the spirit (i.e., the self) held prisoner in a material body.

What was one's ultimate destiny in time? Even though death meant the separation of the spirit from the body, many Jews (including Pharisees) believed that God would raise up the bodies of the righteous and reunite their spirits in a general resurrection. Many Greeks, however, held that death was a means to true freedom, since the spirit was completely separated from the confines that limited material existence (like time).

Now, imagine preaching the resurrection in a culture that saw time as a series of interlocking cycles. The idea of the resurrection would be translated into an analogy (resurrection is like the coming of spring) or a one time event (like the attainment of nirvana, a complete breaking away from the cycle and from the world). The idea of time ending (much less the resurrection of the dead at the end of time) would seem laughable. Yet, this was Paul's challenge with the Corinthians.

Paul argued that Christ's resurrection and the general resurrection were interlocking realities. If Christ rose, we will rise. But if we do not rise, then resurrection of Christ was a fable. And faith was in vain. Notice that these two events forced the belief in a time concept that had a beginning and an end. No wonder some of the Gentile Christians at Corinth insisted there was no resurrection! (See 15:12-19)

This short detour through philosophy may seem laborious for us today, it was of prime interest to the Greeks that comprised the faithful a Corinth. Through controversies like these, the faith of the Church grew in clarity. When we read the problems of the Corinthians in Scripture, we should grateful that they sought to understand what they believed. Their challenge in many ways reflects our struggles today.

Do you struggle believing a doctrine or practice of the Church? Who do you rely upon to help you understand? How can you place these troublesome doubts into a greater context?