Well there are now 10 weeks left until I submit my dissertation, so it’s getting to the point when I’m summarising my thoughts. Here’s a summary of my ideas on 1 Corinthians 15:
Paul uses the problem of “denial of resurrection of the dead” as a paradigm of presumptuous human autonomy. In doing so, he strikingly uses terms and concepts that remind of chapters 1-4, where this fundamental pastoral problem was established. This revisiting of previous themes serves to signal a return from hortatory application to densely theological argumentation, and to bring to those themes intensifying reinforcement and climactic resolution: Corinthian boasting in the face of the cross (chs.1-4) swells into proud (but perhaps unwitting) denunciation of the plight of the dead (ch.15); but Paul insists that it is the dead in Christ who will be raised to share Christ’s resurrected Spirituality and immortality.
It may be that the slogan “there is no resurrection of the dead” represents Paul’s entextualisation of a proudly superior attitude in Corinth by which it was implied that “the dead” were disqualified from participating in the present experience of heightened spirituality. It would seem reasonable that the culturally recognisable issues of disregard for the body and disregard for the dead held some influence in the Corinthian church and go some way to illuminating the situation behind this chapter.
It would seem then that the question prompted by John Chrysostom and John Calvin regarding the placement of this discussion at the end of the letter might be answered with reference to the pastoral motivation of Paul’s kerygmatic rhetoric. Hearing about a variety of culturally-driven problems among the Christians of Corinth, Paul creatively perceives a unifying orientation of boastful, present-obsessed human autonomy. He seeks to subject this orientation, with its varied manifestations, to the corrective of his apostolic kerygma, insisting that believers must identify with the cross of Christ in the present, while looking ahead to sharing in Christ’s resurrected glory. The issue of “denial of the resurrection of the dead” thus lends itself naturally to the pinnacle of this rhetorical movement. The issue represents the epitome of bold Corinthian unwillingness to inhabit the cross, and provides an opportunity for Paul to counter this unwillingness with the climactic solution of the divine gift of future resurrection for the dead in Christ.