Since the days when Gnosticism was viewed as a background to 1 Corinthians (e.g. Barth), it has become almost a consensus that there was some anti-material sentiment in the Corinthian church. There are two places where this is said to be most obvious:
- Paul’s (alleged) citation of the Corinthians’ own stance in ch.7: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”
- Paul’s imagined quotation from a Corinthian interlocutor in ch.15: “How are the dead raised? With what sort of body will they come?”
I’ll leave the first issue to one side and focus on the second. At the time of my dissertation I reluctantly had to concede that this verse did seem to imply Corinthian disdain at the idea of bodies being revivified. But I now think that that was an unnecessary concession.
It is simply not apparent from the key text of 15:35 that the Corinthians perceive bodies as contemptible, yet death as “the moment of the liberation of a primal, immortal spirit,” as Martinus de Boer suggests. In fact, the context seems to suggest that the reverse may be more accurate: 15:32-34 indicates that the
Corinthians are guilty of over-indulging the body rather than disregarding it; and 15:36 indicates that the Corinthians are downplaying death rather than looking forward to its release. Paul’s ensuing proofs demonstrate not the necessity of bodiliness in general, but the necessity of a new body that proceeds from death, and/or differs from one’s present body. One could reasonably read 15:35, then, as the voice of an anxiously indulgent interlocutor, rather than a stubbornly indignant interlocutor: “With what sort of body will they come?” For the triumphalist Corinthians, the body is to be indulged and death is to be scorned, but for Paul, death is to be embraced and the body is to be transformed.
I just don’t see that positing some sort of ascetic anti-corporealist attitude in Corinth provides us with any interpretative payoff. It oversimplifies “Greek thought” and doesn’t help elucidate the letter!