Here’s the panel that discussed issues of eschatology in Corinth at the recent SBL annual meeting – from left to right: Linda Belleville, myself, BJ Oropeza, Roy Ciampa, Ben Witherington, Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg.

The session began with my own paper, in which I outlined a proposal that we pursue a modified form of the ‘over realised eschatology’ hypothesis, which I like to call ‘premature triumphalism.’ You can see my conclusion in my previous post. Craig Blomberg then gave a prepared response to my paper, and I was very heartened to hear that he strongly affirmed it. He agreed that ‘premature triumphalism’ is a useful way to describe the situation behind 1 Corinthians, and rightly noted that it fitted well with his emphasis on the Corinthians’ presumed maturity in his own commentary. He added a couple of quibbles, which were helpful to consider.

Roy Ciampa then gave another response to my paper. He does not take an ‘over realised eschatology’ perspective on 1 Corinthians. He opened by pointing out that even in our comfortable twenty-first century setting, there are many elements of our experience that remind us that we are not yet in resurrected glory – jetlag, sickness, discomfort… and death (as BJ Oropeza added). He therefore finds it unlikely that the Corinthians believed that they were already experiencing resurrected perfection. I responded, saying that I don’t believe that the Corinthians believed that the resurrection had already happened. Rather, I think that Paul perceives that they are behaving in a triumphalistic manner that is only really appropriate for the time when Christ himself is revealed in glory.

Next, Ben Witherington gave a paper to which Roy Ciampa responded – but I’ll deal with this separately in a different post, as it didn’t really focus on the same issue.

After this, Craig Keener gave a paper on the topic of over realised eschatology in Corinth. He argued that, although it was a possible valid reading of the texts, it was unlikely. He preferred the suggestion of Hays that the Corinthians were ignorant of Paul’s Jewish eschatological mindset, and therefore had no sense that they were prematurely claiming the things of the end. Linda Belleville responded by giving a detailed account of the Pharisaic eschatological timeline that Paul would have held, and showing that the text of 1 Corinthians betrays the fact that Paul had taught this expectation to the Corinthians when he was with them. For an example, he says – without explanation – ‘Do you not know that we will judge angels?’ I was encouraged that Belleville ended by saying that she had been convinced by my proposal, against her expectations. Keener responded by saying that although we can be sure that Paul held these views, we can’t be sure that the Corinthians properly grapsed them.

My own response – which I spoke through with Keener afterwards, because we ran out of time in the session – was that we do have a clue about how the Corinthians grasped things: they were obsessed with being recognised as ‘spiritual.’ And this was not simply a philosophical category; it was emphatically a Christian category, that was tied to the manifestations of tongues and prophecy. If you think about it, the Corinthians were sparklingly Christian – they were warring with each other over which apostle they belonged to; they were priding themselves in baptism; they were justifying freedoms on theological grounds; they were desperate to outdo each other in the spiritual manifestation of tongues. None of them were claiming, ‘I belong to Seneca’! Such an emphasis on the designation ‘spiritual’ surely constitues an implicit eschatological claim. Thus the proposal, ‘premature triumphalism.’

I was grateful to all on the panel for their helpful, thoughtful discussion, and I was grateful to those who attended the session for their patient attention! I expect to rework my own paper in the light of the discussion, as a journal article.

Here is the essence of a proposal that I’ll be making on the Monday afternoon at SBL. This comes from a full paper which I’ll be condensing to fifteen minutes, following which the proposal will be discussed by a panel. I’d be honoured if you’d like to come along…

Recent criticisms of the hypothesis of over realised eschatology in Corinth carry some weight. It seems unlikely that the Corinthians were divided along the lines envisaged by Baur in his reconstruction of early Christianity; that the Corinthians were impacted by Gnosticism, as popularised by Bultmann; or that the Corinthians held to clearly articulated doctrines of full eschatological inauguration. However, conceptions of over realised eschatology that are tied to Baur or Gnosticism are not the only possible versions of the hypothesis. It is possible to identify a broader conception of over realised eschatology that is now worth defining and foregrounding.

In going about this, it is important to take heed of the criticisms that have been offered, but to retain what is helpful in this broad perspective. This will involve, I believe, a change of name – from ‘over realised eschatology’ to something along the lines of ‘premature triumphalism’. The latter term expresses more clearly that the phenomenon under discussion is chiefly behavioural rather than doctrinal. It is, secondly, largely unwitting rather than conscious. However, I argue that it is highly implausible that the Corinthians had no sense that their behaviour bore eschatological weight. Thirdly, the phenomenon is particularly a Pauline evaluation rather than a coherent, singular Corinthian position. That is, like any social phenomenon, it is an interpreted phenomenon, and this interpretation comes to us through Paul himself. Paul holds that the various behaviours in Corinth constitute an attempt to attain imperishable spirituality without being tied to the Messianic schedule of Jesus himself, whose future appearance in glory is deferred while he is made known in the shame of the cross.

I’ve just reread Christopher Tuckett’s very interesting essay on the Corinthians who say there is no resurrection of the dead. Here are my thoughts…

Tuckett argues persuasively that the strong polemical emphasis on futurity in chapter 15 needs to be taken into account, and that attempts to understand the chapter as simply an extended argument for the corporeality of the resurrection fail to do justice to Paul’s own argumentation.[1] In agreement with Barth, he rightly recognises that verses 1-11 provide no apologetic ‘proof’ of the veracity or corporeality of the resurrection, but rather reinforce the agreed fact of the resurrection of Christ as a basis for necessary belief in the future resurrection of ‘the dead’. Poignantly, this resurrection is announced by witnesses who are themselves stained by death. Of the first group that Paul adds to the received tradition of witnesses (adelphoi), ‘some have fallen asleep’. In the second group that he adds (all the apostoloi), we find an ektroma. This context of resurrection-witness among the dead sets up the chapter to affirm the future resurrection of the dead, rather than simply the corporeality of resurrection.

But while Tuckett provides a convincing demonstration of the fact that Paul is arguing against a denial of the futurity of resurrected glory, I am not persuaded that the Corinthians believed that the eschatological resurrection had, in some sense, already sufficiently happened. I do not think that this is what they meant by the slogan, ‘there is no resurrection of the dead’. This slogan, even if a Pauline caricature, would seem too obscure to be effective in capturing the position of people whose key conviction was that an eschatologically sufficient spiritual resurrection had already occurred. It would seem slightly more natural to say that the Corinthians made no major claim about having achieved personal resurrection,[2] but said or implied that it was not the destiny of ‘the dead’.

It does seem to me undeniable that Paul is not only arguing for a future resurrection of the dead, but also against the present realisation of full life/ spirituality/ imperishability/ immortality of the living. Note the polemical negations of these sorts of assumptions in the resurrection chapter:

  • 15:23: But each in its own order: Christ the firstfruits, then those who belong to Christ at his coming.
  • 15:36: That which you sow will not come to life unless it dies.
  • 15:37: And that which you sow is not the body that it will become, but a bare grain
  • 15:46: The spiritual is not first, but the natural, and then the spiritual.
  • 15:51-3: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…. For it is necessary for this perishability to be clothed with imperishability, and for this mortality to be clothed with immortality.

Paul appears to be insisting – against those who are apparently committed to the opposite – that all people of God are marked by mortality, and must therefore be changed by God. Even apostles have as their lot to ‘die every day’. And even the living – whom Paul assumes will not strictly experience resurrection – cannot presume to have already attained ‘spiritual’ fullness.

From the exegetical data, as mentioned, it does not appear to me (contra Tuckett) that the Corinthians were emphasising an application of ‘resurrection’ language to their present existence, but rather that they accompanied a lack of interest in ‘resurrection of the dead’ with the assumption of their own imperishable, immortal, fully ‘spiritual’ status. Other parts of the letter would back up this picture, evidencing ‘some’ who regard themselves as ‘spiritual’ (chapter 2), free (chapter 7), impervious to the influence of would-be gods (chapters 8–10), and able to manifest the fullness of spiritual maturity (chapters 12–14). Did they consciously emphasise the claim that they had already experienced sufficient eschatological resurrection? I do not think so; but did they behave as though they were as much superior to the dead and cruciform as immortality is to mortality? Yes. And this behaviour was captured by Paul in his cunning attention to the telling comment of some (no doubt influenced by pagan assumptions) that there was no ‘resurrection of the dead’.

[1] C.M. Tuckett, ‘The Corinthians Who Say “There is No Resurrection of the Dead” (1 Cor 15,12), in Reimund Bieringer (ed.), The Corinthian Correspondence (Leuven: Peeters, 1996), 247-75.

[2] I take Tuckett’s point, however, that inaugurated ‘resurrection’ is a reality of the Pauline Corpus, such as in Colossians 3. I am open to the possibility that this featured in the Corinthians’ considerations, though I don’t think it is the key factor here.

I’ve been a public speaking teacher for five years and I’ve found that one of the most important tools in the mental arsenal of a reader, writers, and public speaker is the tool rhetoric/dialectic distinction of Aristotle. Here’s what the distinction is: Dialectic is the art of utilizing logical form well for the discovery and […]


(Nice post from Geoff here – have a read!)

Sorry to have to ask, but does anyone have access to Christopher Tuckett’s chapter ‘The Corinthians who Say There is No Resurrection of the Dead,’ in Bieringer (ed), The Corinthian Correspondence? I no longer have access to it, but would like to re-read it.

On and off I’m giving accounts of how various commentators understand eschatology in the Corinthian church – were they marked by ‘over-realised eschatology’? Under realised eschatology? Something else? You can find my brief comments on Collins here and my longer comments on Thiselton here. In this post I’ll be focusing on Richard Hays’ article ‘The Conversion of the Imagination: Scripture and Eschatology in 1 Corinthians’ NTS 45 (1999) 391-412. Hays comes to what he thinks is the opposite conclusion to Thiselton – i.e., there is no ‘over-realised eschatology’ in the Corinthian church.

The negative point about over-realised eschatology is a sub-point of the article, which is more focused on the positive argument that Paul is advocating for a scripturally informed eschatological mindset… but this, Hays says, is in response to a church that is marked by a lack of eschatology, rather than over-realised eschatology.

It is important to note what ‘over realised eschatology’ is, according to Hays. Hays thinks that this description of the Corinthians:

  • arises from a view of the Corinthian church as proto-Gnostic
  • refers to a doctrinal problem, in which Jewish-Christian eschatological categories are too fully brought forward in the thinking of the Corinthians
  • is a hypothesis that emerged in the early twentieth century

It is this conception that Hays argues against. He says that the features of 1 Corinthians that sound like the church does have an over-realised eschatology (e.g. ‘Already you have become rich!’) in fact arise from the (non-eschatological) influences of Stoicism, Cynicism, and charismatic spiritualism. The problem, Hays thinks, is not that the Corinthians have too much eschatological excitement, but that they don’t have enough. Paul’s arguments throughout the letter aim to oppose the cultural influences mentioned above, and invite the Corinthians into an imaginitive reading of the OT Scriptures – which Hays thinks they know well – such that they gain an appreciation of their place in the God of Israel’s eschatological drama.

Hays makes a number of great points in this article, though to my mind it is let down in two ways: first, it operates with an unhelpful understanding of what ‘over realised eschatology’ actually is; and second, it presents a reconstructed Corinthian church that is very hard to imagine as possible. Let me unpack these two things…

Defining over realised eschatology

I have listed three bullet points above, which attempt to outline Hays’ conception of over realised eschatology. But I would dispute all three of them:

  • Although Hays thinks this description arises from a view of the Corinthian church as proto-Gnostic, Thiselton’s whole 1978 article (with which Hays interacts only very briefly, in one footnote) aims to show that the ‘over-realised eschatology’ hypothesis is a valid alternative to the Gnostic hypothesis
  • Although Hays thinks this description refers to a doctrinal issue, again, Thiselton makes clear in the opening of his 1978 article that he is interested in the behaviour of the Corinthians, not just their beliefs. In other words, ‘over-realised eschatology’ may refer to a way of being that is unwittingly betrayed in behaviour, even if not fully worked out in doctrine. Surely all theology should be viewed in this way – as not merely a matter of cognitive affirmations, but embracing ritual, action, etc
  • Although Hays suggests that this hypothesis emerged in the early 20th century, I have argued elsewhere that John Chrysostom holds the Corinthian church to be wrongly and wilfully ‘present-obsessed,’ which is effectively the same idea

A hard-to-imagine Corinthian church

Hays wants to suggest that the Corinthian church, though overwhelmingly Gentile new believers, was well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures, because they had been well taught by Paul and others. This much I don’t dispute. But, at the same time, Hays seems to think that the Corinthians had been taught almost nothing about the gospel and its eschatological implications. It had never struck them, he thinks, that claims of present spiritual manifestation or status had any eschatological overtones. Is it really conceivable that these people, who aligned themselves emphatically with their mentors Paul and/or Apollos, had no concept of eschatology? I actually agree with Hays that there were strong cultural influences at work in their boasting and status games… but I find it hard to believe that these Christians would have detected no eschatological significance at all in their claims. Why then is Paul so insistent in chapter 15 that spiritual glory is a future reality, which cannot be grasped or claimed in the present? To claim to be ‘spiritual’ is inevitably some sort of eschatological claim for a Christian.

To close, I will admit that I don’t actually use the term ‘over realised eschatology’ myself, because I think it is too easily misunderstood as being barely doctrinal. But I do think that the Corinthians were marked by premature triumphalism.

Mary Margaret McCabe (‘Plato’s Ways of Writing’ in Fine, Oxford Handbook, 99) rightly sees that Plato’s dialogue form constitutes…

a philosophical claim: that theoretical discussion can only be carried out within a particular culture

This has obvious resonances with philosophical hermeneutics in the tradition of Schleiermacher – Heidegger – Gadamer – Ricoeur. I think that the influence of Plato on hermeneutical thought has perhaps been under-recognised when it has been taken up in the field of biblical studies. All of the major players in philosophical hermeneutics have been strongly influenced by Plato. Schleiermacher, for example, translated and edited Plato’s works. But sometimes in biblical studies, the impression is given that Schleiermacher started the modern study of hermeneutics by simply reflecting theoretically on what had been going on in practice in Judeo-Christian traditions of Bible reading. This is only partly illuminative. Plato should be recognised as an important influence.

On the other hand, it is certainly the case that the Hebrew Scriptures can be seen to express Plato’s later conviction that wisdom is found through dialogue with the wise, rather than through the making and reading of countless books. So it’s not out of place to reflect on Judeo-Christian interpretative practices in considering the (pre-)history of hermeneutics.


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