1 Corinthians 15:45-58 (O, Death, where is your victory?)

deathPaul next returns to an earlier theme, the comparison of Adam and Jesus.

(1Co 15:45 ESV) 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Paul quotes Gen 2:7 to show the superiority of Jesus (the last Adam or last human being) as the giver of life (through the Spirit) rather than a mere recipient of life.

[Jesus] is not just a soma pneumatikon [Spiritual body] in his own right, so to speak, the first example of the large number of such beings the creator intends to make through resurrection, but he is also the one through whom the creator will accomplish this—because he is the one who, as ‘life-giving Spirit’, will perform the work of raising the dead. Genesis 2:7 is thus not so much a proof-text, more a part of the larger story which the Christian, looking at Jesus’ resurrection, can now tell; and the good news which emerges from this is that Jesus has pioneered the way into the long-awaited future, the new age which the creator has planned (verse 46). The pneumatikos [Spirit-empowered] state is not simply an original idea in the mind of the creator, from which the human race fell sadly away; this model of humanity is the future reality, the reality which will swallow up and replace merely psychikos [mortal] life.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 355. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Commentaries

biblepage-781x1024For those new to serious Bible study, a “commentary” is a book that explains one or more books of the Bible in detail, generally verse by verse. Most commentaries are published as part of a set intended to cover the entire NT or entire OT or both. But many excellent commentaries are published as stand-alone volumes.

There are far too many commentaries for me to cover them all, and the quality varies from series to series, and volume to volume. But maybe I can offer some thoughts to help sort through the overwhelming amount of information contained in commentaries.

First, I do not use old, out-of-copyright commentaries. The Internet and Bible software are filled with archaic commentaries that, in their day, were excellent. But a lot happened in the last century to greatly improve Bible scholarship. For example —

* We discovered vast troves of First Century papyrus writings that shed new light on the language of the NT. Continue reading

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Bill Withers: “Grandma’s Hands”

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1 Corinthians 15:35-44 (How are the dead raised?)

deathPaul next begins to deal with much more serious objections — the sort a Greek philosopher might ask — beginning with, “With what kind of [dead] body do they come?” After all, the ancients weren’t stupid. They knew that the body rotted away. If there’s to be a resurrection, what replaces the decayed corpse? How could such a thing be re-animated?

(1Co 15:35-41 ESV) But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

Paul does not give much in the way of detail regarding our resurrection bodies. Rather, he analogizes to several things to illustrate that a body can “die” and come back in a new a better form. A grain of wheat goes into the ground and rises up a new plant. There are, he says,”heavenly bodies and earthly bodies” — and all with glory but with different kinds of glory. In short, we’ll have bodies but different kinds of bodies. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Restoration Movement materials

biblepage-781x1024I’ve had readers ask me for recommendations on books regarding Restoration Movement issues. For those of us who grew in the Churches of Christ, it’s helpful to know some of the books and authors that address the issues that are peculiar to our tribe.

The two best histories of the Restoration Movement are Leroy Garrett’s The Stone-Campbell Movement and James Deforest Murch’s Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement. Nothing else is close to the quality or scope of these two books.

Garrett writes from the perspective of the a cappella Churches of Christ. Murch writes from the perspective of the instrumental independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

For a consideration of the historical issues that shaped the 20th Century Churches of Christ, I highly recommend Leonard Allen’s Distant Voices: Uncovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church and Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, written with Richard T. Hughes. I’ve read all these books multiple times.  Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 15:29-34 (Baptism for the dead; Eat, drink & be merry)

deathWe now come to one of the most puzzling passages in all of scripture —

(1Co 15:29 ESV) 29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

The Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) take this quite literally, undergoing immersions for the sake of deceased ancestors  (“vicarious baptism” we’ll call the practice). But that seems just too far removed from the rest of all of Christianity to be right. It’s Christianity, not magic. But then, Paul’s words really need to mean something.

There are nearly as many theories as there are commentators. Some believe that the Corinthians engaged in vicarious baptisms for deceased loved ones who’d not been baptized during life, but it’s hard to imagine that this was a real need in the early church. Acts records converts being baptized essentially immediately! Of course, many, many years later, converts were sometimes required to wait years, even until near the point of death, for baptism, but there is no evidence that the Pauline congregations ever delayed baptism. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Authors

biblepage-781x1024Where to begin? Let’s see …

Most Christians don’t buy commentary series, theological encyclopedias, Greek lexicons, or the like. Most people buy individual books on topics that interest them. And most people buy more based on author than topic (which is generally wise).

My own Bible study has been immensely aided by learning who among the great scholars of this age to read. And I wasted a lot of time and money reading bad books before I learned better.

So let’s suppose my 25-year old son or daughter came to me wanting a list of authors or books to read to supplement his or her Bible knowledge. What would I recommend? Well, I’d recommend the books that influenced me the most — taking into account the fact that young people don’t have to face some of the issues that I had to face. My kids don’t need to be cured of legalism.

So for the reader who doesn’t have legalist issues to wrestle through — Continue reading

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