One of the discussions we engaged in the Logos Institute during my first year pertained the relationship of history to faith. To what degree can we rely upon historical investigation, and even natural theology, to tell us something about God? Let’s consider, for instance, we developed a perfectly reliable way of investigating history that we knew never gave us wrong conclusions and we verified that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ did happen? Have we then given provided grounds for Christian faith?
In the course of my research on Paul’s Trinitarian epistemology in 1 Corinthians, I have come to the conclusion: no. This starts
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting
God,because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (NRSV)
If we think through Paul’s argument here, he is saying that there a necessary entailment from Christ’s resurrection to the general resurrection of humanity. What happens to Christ happens to humanity, so if one were to deny the general resurrection, one must deny Christ’s resurrection. However, it bears clarifying that Paul’s argument at the beginning is in the form of a enthymeme, a form of logical argument that leaves one of the premises unstated. Put in logical form:
A1 – Jesus was raised from the dead
A2 – [Unstated Premise]
C1 – Therefore, all people will be raised from the dead.
I would contend that the unstated premise is Paul’s understanding of people being incorporated into Christ, which he commonly refers to as being “in Christ” and other similar designations. We see this expression arise in the phrase “died in Christ” and “hoped in Christ,” which does not seem to designate a cognitive state (as in “a person’s hope was focused on Christ”) but rather a reality in which believers have been brought into (“while in the state of being in Christ, people died and hoped.) In 1 Co. 6.14-15, the connection between Christ’s resurrection and
In this case, we can state that the unstated premise of A2 in actually two propositions:
A2a – Some people are incorporated into Christ
A2b – Significant events in Jesus life will also occur for people who are incorporated into Christ.
These two propositions together can be said to close the gap between A1 and C1. It doesn’t get us the entire way there as there is not propositional statement among A1, A2a, and A2b that predicates anything about all people; A2a only address the status of believers. Perhaps, however, one can bridge the argument fully by suggesting that people in virtue of being
At stake for Paul’s assumed logical about believers is that what happens on the cross is pertinent to them as people. It is the message of salvation. The idea that the cross is God’s salvation doesn’t arise out of a vacuum as if the disciple saw a resurrected Jesus and said: “AHA! God is saving humanity!” Rather, they saw it as part of the story of Scripture, as Paul expresses 1 Corinthians 15.3-4:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I
in turnhad received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, (NRSV)
Both Jesus’ death and resurrection are a part of Israel’s story as made known in the OT Scriptures. While there is no consensus on what specific Scriptures Paul is referring to (although Isaiah 53, Ezekiel 37.1-14, and Daniel 12.1-2 are good candidates), what can be stated that is the Scriptures were never understood to simply tell Israel about individual people in chronicling God’s relationships to various Israelites, the nation of Israel, and some non-Israelites. Rather, they were considered to have been written for the people’s behalf. In other words, the Scriptures were intended not simply as a historical account. See Romans 4.23-25:
Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. (NRSV)
At the end of Paul’s discussion about Abraham’s righteousness before God by faith in Genesis 15.6, Paul concludes by saying that it was written with the hearer’s in mind. It wasn’t simply to praise the character of Abraham so that his name would have
This righteousness reckoning is then connected to Jesus’ dead and resurrection; when the type of faith Abraham had in God is had by those who believer in God as the one who raises Jesus, there is a similar justification of such a believer. But it is important to probe this analogy between Abraham and believers in the resurrection a bit further.
Abraham’s faith was had in the midst of difficulty. He was childless and he and Sarah were in an advanced age long past the stage of fertility. The present state of affairs for Abraham was one where it might be considered epistemically irrational to consider he would ever have progeny of his own. Nevertheless, because of a promise God had spoken to Him, Abraham believed despite what otherwise might appear to be an epistemic irrationality because he trusted in God’s promise over the appearance present circumstances. Abraham’s life was directed by what God spoke, not simply what appeared to be the case. Here we might see echoes of Paul’s, “we live by faith and not by sight” in 2 Corinthians 5.7.
I would contend this is the analogy Paul is drawing between Abraham and believers in the resurrection. God has made something known about God’s intentions for them, and the people trust what God has made known even though the circumstances might deem it epistemically irrational. How is this the case? Because what happens in Jesus is what God does for the people in raising the dead, such that their faith can allow them to face difficult tribulations (Romans 5.1-5) because what God did in Jesus He also does for those incorporated into Christ (Romans 6.1-11). The cross of Christ is the word of God’s righteousness to the people, just as the Scripture that is written is for the people.
Here is the point: in the New Testament, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not merely considered an event in history. It is that. But belief in the event of history is not itself a sufficient condition of faith, albeit it is a necessary condition. It is the belief that what happens in Christ is God’s Word to the people. It isn’t some one-shot event that makes Jesus an interesting and praiseworthy character but otherwise says little to our own condition of life; nor is it simply some event that establishes Jesus as possessing some authority within the world. Yes, Jesus is Lord, but the cross doesn’t proclaim that without also saying “How is it that Jesus is Lord?” The cross is a Word of God to the people. This relational act of God to
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile
sinners;yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through Jesus Christ’s faith. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by doing the works of the law,because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law,so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ ; andit is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the Son of God’s faith, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. (NRSV with some personal translatonchanges in italics)
Paul expresses the motivation of Jesus in his own faith leading Him to the cross was understood not about Jesus acting on his own behalf, but that it was an intention of Jesus on Paul’s behalf.2 Jesus’ own action was an act with the intention of others in mind; Christ’s actions and passions addresses other people to adopt the same type of faith. Hence, this beneficent intention is restated as “the grace of God.”
Because the cross is seen as a relational act, faith can only emerge from seeing it as the relational action of God that it is. As a historical event, it would a momentous occasion. But only by being seen as God’s Word to humanity rather than simply a word about Jesus is it efficacious.
I would contend then that it is this that is rejected by the Jew and the Gentiles in 1 Corinthians 1.22-24. The Jew considers Paul’s word of the cross as addressing humanity as a stumbling block because they do not see the signs of God’s resurrection happening around them: the Roman rulers are still in power, whereas the account of the resurrection in Daniel 12.1-2 would suggest such rulers should be put to shame. As a result, in their minds, Jesus cannot possibly be a sign of the resurrection for others. Meanwhile, the Gentiles influenced heavily by Roman Stoicism would have a hard time drawing a universal inference about the nature of the world (a universal resurrection) from a singular event in the resurrection. One would have to have a more universal and widespread observation of the entire cosmos to draw such a conclusion. Thus, as the Stoics considered all propositions that did not reach this high bar of knowledge as foolishness, Paul’s preaching would be
Paul doesn’t contend that these people reject that Jesus’ was raised from the dead; rather, he states they found problems in Paul’s own proclamation. The point being is that there are many ideological and logical frameworks we have that can render a belief in the resurrection of Jesus as falling short of Paul’s understanding of faith. Some of the working ideological assumptions in historiography can do this. One type of assumption is that while
If historians working with this ideology could verify that Jesus was raised from the dead, it wouldn’t lead them to believe that Jesus’ resurrection
So, to boil it all down to something very basic, history cannot lead to Christian faith because historiography is unable to study God’s intentions or to study God’s capacity, even if it can verify God’s actions. Meanwhile, trust is grounded upon the conjunction of a) beneficient intentions with b) the capacity