For starters, let’s define some terms. By “hyper-preterism,” I include any belief system that argues for the past fulfillment of all prophecy, which necessarily includes the general resurrection of the dead. Whether a system is labeled “full-preterism,” “pantelism,” or “covenant eschatology,” it makes no difference to this refutation. I can not care less what any of these systems positively state regarding the general resurrection. At one time, I counted at least six different views among them. They can hash out their heretical opinions amongst themselves. But what they all have in common is that an “all-is-fulfilled eschatology” must of necessity deny a general, self-same, bodily resurrection.
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that this same denial existed among a few at the church in Corinth, and in I Corinthians 15, esp. verses 12-18, Paul destroys their false belief. Paul affirms belief in the bodily resurrection, and since this has not occurred, it remains a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with this chapter, so let me set this up. The letter of 1 Corinthians is a corrective epistle by the Apostle Paul, designed to correct numerous problems in their church, including but not limited to misuse of the Lord’s Supper, cliques, abuse of spiritual gifts, and sexual immorality. When we reach chapter 15, Paul addresses a false belief held by some that the “dead are not raised.” We know this to be the case because of verse 12b, where Paul asks, “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Hyper-preterists agree that some in Corinth denied the “resurrection of the dead,” but the nature of the resurrection is questioned.
I will now prove to you that what this small group in Corinth was denying was a self-same, bodily resurrection.
First, I want to draw your attention to how Paul starts his defense:
Verse 1. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me….11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Notice a couple of things from this:
1. Note the essential elements of the Gospel that Paul highlights to begin his defense. The Gospel consisted of Christ’s physical death for our sins, the burial of that same body, and the physical resurrection of that same body. Everything highlighted here by Paul involves the physical body of Christ.
2. Note that Paul informs the Corinthians that hundreds, if not thousands, witnessed a bodily resurrected Christ. And just in case you doubt the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body, Lk 24 reminds you:
…they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Paul does not want you, the reader, to miss the undeniable fact that Jesus physically died, was buried, and bodily resurrected from the grave; and hundreds of people could attest to that fact.
3. Note that Paul reminds them that this Gospel, which includes the essential doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Christ, is the Gospel with “you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached….”
Here is an important observation: these resurrection deniers did not deny the bodily resurrection of Christ! What they refused, for various reasons, was that the rest of the dead would be resurrected. Because they believed in the bodily resurrection of Christ, Paul is now able to capitalize on that shared belief and demonstrate that if they deny resurrection for the rest of the dead, they must of necessity reject that which they accepted – the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Paul hammers this home a couple of times:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
He argues again in v 16:
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
And herein lies the undeniable proof that the resurrection that this “some” in Corinth were denying was of a self-same, bodily nature.
First, note that Paul’s primary argument against these deniers was to establish a LOGICAL, thus NECESSARILY IMPLIED, relationship between the “resurrection of the dead” with the “resurrection of Christ.” It is the LOGICAL relationship between these two beliefs which constitutes the force of Paul’s argument. If we were to convert Paul’s words to the language of logical forms, Paul is essentially arguing in verses 13 and 16 that “if it is true that ‘No A is B,’ then it cannot be true that ‘Some A is B.'”
Now, I could spend a great deal of time getting into a technical explanation of logic, propositional forms, immediate inferences, and syllogisms. But I don’t want to lose some readers. The basic idea is straightforward here. Anyone can grasp this. Let’s put it in plain English:
If a person is claiming that no one can rise from the dead, he is claiming that the resurrection of the dead is UNIVERSALLY impossible. No one can do it. There are no exceptions. And if that is true, then obviously it cannot be true at the same time that a PARTICULAR person can raise from the dead; because now you are making the exception and contradicting yourself. Either no one can do it, or some can. It cannot be both. And the flip side to it is this; if it is true that Jesus rose from the dead, which these deniers accepted, it is false to say that “no one” can rise from the dead. Simple, right?
Secondly, having demonstrated the logical relationship between the two propositions, let us now consider an essential component of logical connections. For Paul’s logical argument to work, his terms have to mean the same thing throughout! Because if a word or phrase means different things in an argument, then the propositions are talking about two different things, and thus the relationship is broken. In logic, this is the fallacy known as equivocation. If “resurrection of the dead” for the general populace does not mean the same thing that “resurrection of the dead” means regarding Jesus, then Paul’s logical argument loses support!
Imagine this: Suppose you argue that, “No man can jump 100ft in the air solely on his own muscle power.” And then a challenger comes along and says, “hogwash! My brother jumped 150ft in the air!”
“Prove it,” you say. So the guy drives home, picks up his brother, and returns to you.
“Alright, let’s see you jump.”
The guy then slips on some futuristic rocket boots by NASA, jumps about a foot high, triggering the thrusters, and launches 150ft into the air.
Did he prove it? OF COURSE NOT. Why? Because jumping with rocket boots is NOT the same thing as jumping “solely on your own muscle power.”
Those are two different things. You didn’t argue that no one could do it with NASA rocket boots. You argued that no one could do it “solely on their own power.”
Again, simple, right?
Paul’s LOGICAL argument is that if we are going to claim that no one, universally, can rise from the dead, then it is impossible for Jesus, a particular example within that universal, to have risen from the dead.
The force of Paul’s argument rests in these two points: (1) he establishes a logical relationship between the “resurrection of Christ” with the “resurrection” of other dead people and (2) whatever is meant by “resurrection” must mean the same thing throughout the argument for the argument to work. And since the self-same, bodily resurrection of Christ is clearly in view, then the self-same, bodily “resurrection of the dead,” is what is in contention for the rest of the dead.
We can paraphrase Paul in this manner to bring out fully his meaning:
And folks, if that is true, then, as Paul goes on to explain, all those who witnessed and spoke of the resurrected Christ were liars. You might as well chunk your Bible. But the bodily resurrection of the dead is not impossible. And Exhibit A is Jesus Christ himself, who not only bodily resurrected, but was seen by hundreds, if not thousands, and was the “firstfruit of those fallen asleep.” (v. 20)
There is no other way to understand Paul’s words here. Some were denying the resurrection of bodies yet accepted that Christ bodily rose, so Paul argues that those two beliefs contradict one another because of the logical relationship between them. They both cannot be true at the same time. And since Christ did bodily rise, then there can be no objection to the rest of us bodily rising. Thus, Paul establishes the physical and bodily resurrection for the rest of us.
If a heretical hyper-preterist (or any other resurrection denier) wants to argue that the nature of their denial involved something other than self-same, bodily resurrection, they have to demonstrate, at minimum, two things: (there is so much more to get into with this chapter)
1. What is the nature of the resurrection that they denied?
2. How does the nature of that denial correspond directly to Christ’s resurrection, so that Paul can include the particular example of Christ within the universal negative and thus not commit a logical fallacy by equivocating on terms?
What hyper-preterists posit cannot make sense of Paul’s logical argument and everything leading up to it.