For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5
by Fr. David Fisher
“According to the Scriptures”
Saint Paul established the Christian community in Corinth around the year 51 during his second missionary journey and wrote his First Letter (Epistle) to the Corinthians in 56 while he was in Ephesus. In this letter as well his letters to the Thessalonians, we are allowed to see the working dynamics of the Church in its infancy and know of the themes of the apostolic preaching.
How did the apostles preach? Saint Irenaeus (c.130-c.202.) was one of the earliest and greatest of Church Fathers and a disciple of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of Saint John the Apostle. Saint Irenaeus tells us in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching that the apostles preached by showing how Jesus was the fulfillment of the scriptures. “Scriptures” in the Apostolic Preaching were the Jewish Scriptures, (i.e., Old Testament), received by the early Church primarily in its Greek translation known as the Septuagint, a translation of the seventy scholars of Alexandria, Egypt, which was compiled in 200 BC.
By making the Jewish Scriptures the context of the Messianic fulfillment in Jesus, the apostles were able to present to Jewish Christians how their scriptures were all about the Eternal Word of the Father, the long-awaited Messiah. For Gentile Christians, the Jewish scriptures became a type of catechism from which could be drawn the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, prefigured in the Old Testament.
In proclaiming to both Jewish and Gentile believers that, according to the scriptures,Jesus died and resurrected. Such an approach made Christian faith a public, historical revelation open to all. Revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was neither a philosophical school or system, nor a mystery cult based on ecstatic experiences of a few elect, but a divine truth revealed in the prophetically-lived reality of a chosen people,always pointing toward the Savior of the world. These chosen people were given the vocation of creating the Sacred Scripture that would eventually be revealed to the world by theApostolicMinistryof the Church. The Apostolic Preaching is a living witness of the divine truth that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan, revealed according to the scriptures.
The Bodily Resurrection
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
The New Testament Church inherited from Judaism a strong belief in the integral unity of the human person. The view of the human person differs with the notions of the surrounding Greco-Roman world with its Platonic philosophy. In the thought of Plato, the person is the soul, distinct from the body. When the body dies, the soul travels down the River Styx to Hades, assumes a new body, and returns to the physical world. One of the greatest challenges to the Apostolic Preachingof the early Church was how to explain the fundamental belief of the Church in resurrection of the body.
The Church overcame the teachings of Platonism by explaining that the body is more than flesh; rather, the body is also a spiritual entity as much as the human soul, or the human spirit. Saint Paul told the Corinthians, ending with the words of the Prophet Hosea (according to the Scriptures):
This I declare, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
- 1 Corinthians 15:50-55
Sharing in the Resurrection of Christ
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The good thief (whom tradition calls Saint Dismas) represents all of us who desire to follow Christ, to share in his Resurrection, to live in His peace, to arrive at Paradise. Like Saint Paul, we come to realize that, “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”(1 Corinthians 15:56). This means that we cannot perfect ourselves nor do we have power to save ourselves; the sting of sin reminds us that we carry death within us, the law reminds us that we always fall short of the commandments of God. Like the good thief, all we are left with is faith in The One who can remember us and share with us eternal life, life in its fullness. In faith we know that only in Christ is our salvation and the preservation of our personal identity: body, soul, and spirit. We long to hear the words of the Lord when we come to the end of our earthly pilgrimage, “Amen, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Then we can say with Saint Paul, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
Father Fisher is a Maronite priest of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles and Adjunct Professor of Theology, Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Sts. Cyril & Methodius