Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Resurrection, resurrection, the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ.

From my seminary discussion board for Intro to the New Testament ...

On the different concepts of resurrection from Paul in 1 Corinthians (the community is the Body of Christ, that is, the community IS Christ, resurrected, metaphorically, and the resurrection of individuals is in the future in spiritual bodies, like Christ's) and pseudo-Paul in Colossians and Ephesians and 1 Timothy (where Christ, in heaven, is the head of the Body of Christ remaining on earth, but the resurrection of individuals is seen variously as already having occurred, thus members of the community already have resurrected, spiritual bodies).

Why the differences between Paul and pseudo-Paul, a generation, perhaps, or less, later? Paul wrote in the 50s. ...

Me: Colossians and 1 Timothy were written after the fall of Jerusalem (circa 70 A.D.), which had to have affected not only their sense of timing for the end, but their theology.

If resurrection is future, and God saving them from Rome was future, then both gave them hope. With Jerusalem having been sacked, and Rome, presumably, cracking down in general, and the end having been delayed and Jesus having not returned, it makes sense to me that in their making Paul's practical plans into something more abstract, seeing themselves as having already been resurrected with Jesus would be a source of hope for strength, or perserverence or something, for the long haul.

(Later) Strike my reference to 1 Timothy, which does not see the resurrection as having occurred. My bad.

Perfesser: You are right in seeing Colossians and 1 Timothy as different. And you're also right to focus on the post destruction of Jerusalem situation. The delay of the parousia clearly impacts the belief in both cases. The question is how and why?

Me: The parousia has not just been delayed, but has been delayed through and past the fall of Jerusalem. So the apocalyptic Christians find themselves living in a post-apocalyptic world -- one that would be dark and grim and would require some fundamental rewiring of assumptions. Being the Body of Christ is one thing when living in hope. But once hope was dashed, they had to have been fairly determined to shore up their theology; envisioning Jesus in heaven as head of the body extends them into the cosmos, and into a reimagined future, in a way that mere metaphor couldn't after the end of their world as they knew it. Or something like that.

Perfesser: Makes sense. What is interesting about apocalyptic is that it appears to have died down after the destruction of the temple, but then flaired up again at the end of the first century. And it has continued the flair up over and over again in the history of Christianity.



Here is my question for all those who discuss the "delay of the parousia" - what was the cultural concept of time, and how does this relate to the early Church's understanding of "when" Jesus would return in fullness? Doesn't Paul, after all, speak of the Incarnation as happening "in the fullness of time"? This indicates that our notions of temporal linearity, the flow from each nanosecond to the next, is simply not a part of the way it was conceived at the time.
Well, what Paul thought is one, or more, things; and what the early church thought is one, or more things.

But I believe Paul when he wrote that the dead in Christ would rise first, followed by "we who are alive." There's no reason that I know of to think that he meant anything other than he thought he and others contemporary with him would still be alive, especially in light of his counsel to stay in whatever state of life one happened to be in -- slave, married, unmarried, whatever.

The point of tthis exercise is to show that Paul thought one thing, and then the author of Colossians and Ephesians, later, thought something else.
Does this not still beg the question of the concept of "time"? Indeed, Paul's explanation of the sequence of the resurrection - in 1 Thess, I believe - offers only the consolation of resurrection as something to come for the saints who have passed. It is not a question of "Well, the parousia is delayed, so now we have to rethink this whole thing." He was speaking to people whose loved ones had passed in Christ, and was offering the consolation of being the first fruits of the new kingdom.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with (a) the rapture; or (b) whether or not there was a perception of the parousia as either imminent or, later on, delayed demanding a rethinking.

As far as different Biblical authors having differing views on specific, secondary topics, all I can say is - what a shock!
Embedded in the option that, as time went on, the content of revelation developed in ways different from expectation... the possibility must be entertained that the canon could not be closed. The church's experience in the Holy Spirit would continue to expand in history: sacraments, conciliar consensus, immaculate conception, dormition, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc. Still, today, homosexuality. Paul was wrong about the ultimate Christian witness: the moment when Christ's victory would be manifest. So, if the texts are about gay sex, then are wrong about gay sex.

ER, you've started traveling the trail that undercuts the central and traditional authority for Protestant theology: the Bible.
The openness of the Canon is its on-going living witness in the life of the Church. It feeds our life and contemplation, our liturgy and ethics. We even look to it for inspiration to overcome the contradictions between the larger message of grace and specific messages of exclusion and death.

The subversiveness of the Bible is proved well enough by the reality that it can even subvert itself.
Well, I've been on this road for a long time. As for the authority of the Bible, it has to rest in dialogue with a community of believers -- and with other parts of itself. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of words on a bunch of sheets of paper.
Re, "This has nothing whatsoever to do with ... whether or not there was a perception of the parousia as either imminent or, later on, delayed demanding a rethinking."

Correct. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is clear as a bell that he believes it will occur in his lifetime, period. That's the earliest Paul, and he remains consistent. Colossians and Ephesians, not being Paul, and having been written after Paul, *are* rethinking the parousia because the apostle they followed, or who they wanted readers to think they followed, who believed it was imminent, had died.
Paul thought he would be walking the earth when the Lord returned:

1 Thessalonians 4

13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.


Do you think he was using an imperial "we" (pardon the expression)? I see no reason to think that.
Interesting question about "we". I cannot answer that because, considering the context, it can go either way. Is it "we" as in "you, me, and others still loping the surface of planet earth"? Is it "we", the church, the large congregation of sinning saints united in the Spirit of Christ? One can, I suppose, insist on the former. Yet, this begs the issue of the whole reason for the resurrection of the dead as a consolation for the living in the first place. Perhaps, Paul was speaking generationally, as in, it is "we" this first generation that will be also the last generation.

In any case, coming to understand the way St. Paul's thinking on the parousia and eschatology generally morphed over time is interesting, but it has many holes. Also, we need to consider whether or not, St. Paul being quite wrong on the question at hand (the parousia has indeed been delayed), whether that renders his views, either in part or in toto, either relevant or important. Does not a strongly held belief, once undermined, weaken the entire structure?
Yes, ER, if I had said it better I would have said, "you're at the beginning point of the question about canonicity"... not that you personally are at a the beginning. In fact, I would almost say that the question of the canon -- the "canon" being the body of authoritative witness that reveals the nature of God to and for the church -- is constituted by, ontological represented in, the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, the canon is open while the victory of Jesus Christ over death remains proleptic. The experience of Christian faith in the face of death continues to experience revelation, continues to interpret the canon, thereby enlarging it, until Death is, in fact, no more.

The bottom line: the canon is open until Christ comes again.

Caveat: it is the Church which is the body empowered to interpret and not the individual. Of course, over time, individuals have persuaded others, and such communities have persuaded the Church to deliberate and come to new consensus on what makes for spiritual truth and fulfillment. Such is the call for individuals to serve the community and the call for community to listen, reason and deliberate with each other.

Protestants, having broken into countless pieces because the "community piece" was left behind, are now in a position of having been built on the foundations of biblical and individualist authority but living in the context where both now have been critically re-evaluted and found deeply wanting without balancing sources of authority.

Catholicity has a kind of reverse problem.
"Does not a strongly held belief, once undermined, weaken the entire structure?"

Not really.

I believe that the US Constitution and its practice by our society is the best system for promoting individual rights and - despite current evidence - provides for the potential for the healthiest of communal practice.

Several cases in point would disprove my belief. The future will no doubt undermine it entirely.

Yet, my belief is built on the sum total of cases in the historical present.

So... no, a strongly held belief, once undermined, does not weaken the entire structure... if, by that, you mean fatally.
"Does not a strongly held belief, once undermined, weaken the entire structure?"
Of course it does. Most people are not religious scholars. Most Christians don't deal in beliefs, trust, or confidences, they require "Faith".
Faith can not be changed or it isn't Faith. That's the core of our problems with "fundamentalist" their Faith is complete, immutable, and constant. Any change is a heresy.
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