Thinking Resurrection

In a curious passage, Paul links the resurrection with preaching and preaching with resurrection:

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved….. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared….Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that three is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corin. 15:1, 3-5, 12-14)

Some at Corinth are denying the resurrection. What proof do they have that Jesus truly arose from the dead and appeared to his first followers? In response, Paul says that they know that Christ is raised because that’s what Paul preached to them. Is that all? Listen to Paul’s logic, “I have preached to you that Christ is raised from the dead. Now if I preached that how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?”

Paul goes on to say, in effect, “Now if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised and that would mean that, when I preached, I lied and that your faith is in vain. But I did tell the truth in my preaching and just to prove it, I’m going to preach it to you again. Christ has been raised from the dead.'” There.

Tom Long asks, What sort of circular, merry-go-round logic is this? We want proof of Easter and all Paul gives us is more preaching? “I told you about the resurrection. You don’t believe in the resurrection? Let me tell you about the resurrection,” [1] Logicians says this is an “if this-then this” sort of logic. If X is true, then Y must be true. Such arguments are dependent upon their ability to touch down somewhere in irrefutable human experience. The first proposition must be true. If not, the second proposition is false. If X is not irrefutably true, then there is no way that Y can be true.

This logic moves from what we don’t know for sure back to what we know for certain, rippling back toward affirmation.

Thus reasons Paul:

If there is no resurrection of the dead…
…then Christ has not been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised…
…then our preaching was a lie
And if our preaching was a lie…
…then your faith is futile.

At this point, I think Paul expected the gathered Corinthians to shout in unison, “But our faith is not futile.” The Corinthians may have had problems with love (I Corinthians 13), with getting along with each other in the church, but they had faith — spoke in tongues, worried about eating meat offered to idols, had knock down drag outs over baptism. They were just chock full of faith. Nobody could argue over their experience of Easter. Paul implies that the Corinthians were so full of faith, so dazzled by the resurrection that, when he preached to them, he was forced to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified in an attempt to get them back down to earth for a few moments. Anybody who worshipped at one of their Sunday evening free-for-alls might go away thinking that Christians were weird, out of control, but nobody could deny that some life-giving power had been unleashed among them.

So let’s reverse the order:

Because your faith is not futile,
Our preaching was not a lie,
Christ has been raised,
There is resurrection of the dead.

“Because your faith is not futile….There is resurrection of the dead.” It’s an important truth. Easter begins to dawn, not in the preacher’s assembling alleged “evidence” from history. The dry reconstruction of historians will not get us to resurrection. Easter begins in the recognition that our faith is not futile, in our present experience of the Risen Christ roaming among us. It is the testimony, not just of preachers like me, but of countless believers like you, that is the evidence. When bread and wine touch your lips and you see, feel the real presence. When you thought your heart would break in disappointment and pain, but it didn’t because He was standing beside you in the dark. When you didn’t know what to say and there were just the right words, words not of your own devising, being spoken by you. When you dragged into the church, cold at heart, skeptical, and distant, yet at the hymns, your spirit rose to greet His, your faith is not in vain.

This is the logic of Easter.

Will Willimon

[1] Thomas G. Long, The Senses of Preaching, pp. 92-93.

2 thoughts on “Thinking Resurrection

  1. New Resurrection defined!The first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel and moral teachings of Christ is on the web. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity and the Resurrection, this new interpretation questions the validity and origins of all Christian tradition; it overturns all natural law ethics and theory. At stake is the credibility of several thousand years of religious history and moral teaching.Using a synthesis of scriptural material from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the worlds great poetry, it describes and teaches a single moral LAW, a single moral principle, and offers the promise of its own proof; one in which the reality of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a individual intervention into the natural world; 'raising up the man' correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries. Intended to be understood metaphorically, where 'death' is ignorance and 'Life' is knowledge, this experience, personal encounter of transcendent power and moral purpose is the 'Resurrection', and justification for faith. Here is where true morality, called righteousness begins.Here then is the first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged. This new teaching delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable and 'extraordinary' evidence based truth embodied in action. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must now measure for itself, the reality of a new claim to revealed truth, a moral tenet not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof, an objective basis for moral principle and a fully rationally justifiable belief!This is 'religion' without any of the conventional trappings of tradition. An individual, virtue-ethical conception, independent of all cultural perception in a single moral command, and the single Law finds it's expression of obedience within a new covenant of marriage. It requires no institutional framework or hierarchy, no churches or priest craft, no scholastic theological rational, dogma or doctrine and ‘worship’ requires only conviction, faith and the necessary measure of self discipline to accomplish a new, single, categorical moral imperative and the integrity and fidelity to the new reality.If confirmed, this will represent a paradigm change in the moral and intellectual potential of human nature itself; untangling the greatest questions of human existence: consciousness, meaning, suffering, free will and evil. And at the same time addressing the most profound problems of our age.Trials of this new teaching are open to all and under way in many countries. For those individuals who will question their own prejudices, who can imagine outside the historical cultural box, with the moral courage to learn something new, and test this for themselves, to stand against the stream of fashionable thought and spin, an intellectual and moral revolution is already under way, where the 'impossible' becomes inevitable, with the most potent Non Violent Direct Action any human being can take to advance peace, justice, change and progress. Published [at the moment] only on the web, a typeset manuscript of this new teaching is available as a free [1.4meg] PDF download from a variety of sites including:[www]


  2. I understand that these Corinthians to whom Paul writes this have not denied *Jesus'* resurrection here but rather the resurrection of all the dead (i.e., their own and their loved ones) … and yet these same folks *do believe* in Jesus' resurrection.Paul's argument then I understand as if there is no resurrection of all the dead, then Jesus didn't rise again either … in verse 23 Paul calls Christ the "firstfruits," of the resurrection of all the dead, not simply a demo of his victory over sin and its consequences.I enjoyed the connection you pointed out between this good news and preaching, and the "but our faith isn't in vain" connection.Blessings!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: