I want to explore something a little more that I’ve explored here before, related to the “denial of resurrection” in Corinth: To get you up to speed, I guess I’m wondering whether perhaps the problem was tripartite:
- Some in Corinth were confident in their own present “spiritual” immortality (as many Christians are today – assuming that we are essentially an immortal soul)
- They were dismissive of the plight of those who had died – assuming that “the dead” were at a real disadvantage
- They looked down on Paul’s gospel of present cruciformity
Paul responds by insisting that the life of the believer consists in living an ongoing death (i.e. the pattern of the cross), and looking ahead, with those who have died, to Christ’s future appearing, when the dead will be raised, and will finally share in Christ’s immortality.
Anyway, the further development is that I’ve been looking more into the question of whether point 1 above is reasonable: Is it reasonable to think that people thought of themselves as already having entered a sort of spiritual immortality. I had already noticed that the Epicureans thought that way – presently imperishable and immortal…Epicurus: Letter to Menoeceus, 123 Firstly, think of God as an imperishable and blessed being. 125 Therefore death, the most fearsome of evils, is nothing to us, seeing as when we exist, death is not present; and when death is present, we do not exist. So death is nothing to those who are living or to those who have died, seeing as for the one, it is nothing, and for the other, they are nothing. 135 But you [the follower of Epicurus’ ways] will live as a god among humans. For a person living amidst immortal goods is nothing like a mortal being. Plutarch: Against Epicurean Happiness, 1091b-c What great pleasure belongs to these people [the Epicureans], and what blessing they enjoy, rejoicing about their lack of suffering and grief and pain! Therefore, is it not fitting, on account of these things, also to think and to speak as they do speak, calling themselves imperishable and equal to gods…!
And it has now struck me that Philo seems to envisage something similar – the possibility of entering imperishability/immortality in the present, in some sort of spiritual sense:Philo: The Worse Attacks the Better, 48-49 For the soul from which the love of virtue and love of God have been removed has died to the life of virtue…. So then, the wise person, who seems to die to mortal life, lives the immortal life. But the worthless person, who lives in wickedness, dies to happiness. Philo: On Dreams, 2.253 Whoever, then, has the strength to leave behind war and fate, creation and mortality, and cross over to the uncreated, to the immortal, to free will, and to peace, might rightly be said to be the dwelling-place and city of God.
Perhaps some in Corinth were acting as though something similar had been inaugurated for themselves – having become Christians, they had passed from “creation and mortality” to “the uncreated, to the immortal, to free will” – and thus were in a position to look down on those who had died: “There is no resurrection of the dead”.