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. 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, 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’.
 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.
 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.