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The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3–5

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 September 2014

James Ware*
Department of Religion, University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana 47722, USA. email:


The present essay offers a fresh contribution to the long-standing debate regarding the nature of the resurrection of Christ within the pre-Pauline formula of 1 Cor 15.3–5. The article first provides an analysis of the current state of the discussion, offering new observations and lines of evidence which suggest that a number of common arguments on both sides of the debate are lacking or inconclusive. The essay then offers a new proposal regarding the verb used within the formula for the resurrection event. The article presents previously neglected evidence significant for the debate regarding Jesus' resurrection within this primitive confession.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Cf. Conzelmann, H., ‘On the Analysis of the Confessional Formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5’, Int 20 (1966) 1525Google Scholar; Schlier, H., ‘Die Anfänge des christologischen Credo’, Zur Frühgeschichte der Christologie (ed. Weite, B.; Freiburg: Herder, 1970) 27–8, 56Google Scholar; Kloppenborg, J., ‘An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3b–5 in Light of Some Recent Literature’, CBQ 18 (1978) 351–67Google Scholar; Lüdemann, G., The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (London: SCM, 1994) 33–8Google Scholar; and Gerhardsson, B., ‘Evidence for Christ's Resurrection according to Paul: 1 Cor 15:1–11’, Neotestamentica et Philonica: Studies in Honor of Peder Borgen (ed. Aune, D. E., Seland, T., Ulrichsen, J. Henning; NovTSup 106; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2003) 7591Google Scholar.

2 For compact discussion and the relevant literature, see Schrage, W., Der erste Brief an die Korinther, vol. iv (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2001) 1426Google Scholar.

3 See, for example, Kittel, G., ‘Die Auferstehung Jesu’, Deutsche Theologie 4 (1937) 133–68Google Scholar; Sider, R., ‘St. Paul's Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians XV 1–19’, NovT 19 (1975) 124–41Google Scholar; Pannenberg, W., Systematic Theology (3 vols; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991–8) ii.352–9Google Scholar; Kremer, J., Das älteste Zeugnis von der Auferstehung Christi: Eine bibeltheologische Studie zur Aussage und Bedeutung von 1 Kor 15,1–11 (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1970 3) 1287Google Scholar; Hauger, M., ‘Die Deutung der Auferweckung Jesu Christi durch Paulus’, Die Wirklichkeit der Auferstehung (ed. Eckstein, H.-J. and Welker, M.; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2002) 3158Google Scholar; Wolff, C., Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1996) 361–70Google Scholar; Thiselton, A., The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 11971203Google Scholar; Wright, N. T., The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) 317–29Google Scholar; and Bryan, C., The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) 4654CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Hengel, M., ‘Das Begräbnis Jesu bei Paulus und die leibliche Auferstehung aus dem Grabe’, Auferstehung – Resurrection (ed. Avemarie, F. and Lichtenberger, H.; WUNT 135; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001) 119–83Google Scholar.

5 Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 128, 132.

6 Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 138 (emphasis added).

7 Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 127–38.

8 Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 122.

9 Walter, N., ‘Leibliche Auferstehung? Zur Frage der Hellenisierung der Auferweckungshoffnung bei Paulus’, Paulus, Apostel Jesu Christi: Festschrift für Günter Klein zum 70.Geburtstag (ed. Trowitzsch, M.; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998) 112 n. 7Google Scholar.

10 Bultmann, R., Theologie des Neuen Testaments (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1984 9) 48 (‘Legende sind die Geschichten vom leeren Grabe, von dem Paulus noch nichts weiß’)Google Scholar.

11 Grass, H., Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962)Google Scholar.

12 Grass, Ostergeschehen, 171.

13 Grass, Ostergeschehen, 146–73.

14 Grass, Ostergeschehen, 173–248.

15 Collins, A. Y., ‘The Empty Tomb in the Gospel according to Mark’, Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (ed. Stump, E. and Flint, T. P.; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993) 114Google Scholar.

16 Collins, ‘Empty Tomb’, 111–14.

17 Collins, ‘Empty Tomb’, 111.

18 Collins, ‘Empty Tomb’, 115–31; eadem, Ancient Notions of Transferral and Apotheosis in relation to the Empty Tomb Story in Mark’, Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity (ed. Seim, T. K. and Okland, J.; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2009) 4157CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Collins, ‘Empty Tomb’, 131; cf. ‘Transferral’, 147.

20 For similar reconstructions of the origins of Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection, see Robinson, J. M., ‘Jesus – from Easter to Valentinus (or to the Apostles' Creed)’, JBL 101 (1982) 537Google Scholar; Lampe, P., ‘Paul's Concept of a Spiritual Body’, Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (ed. Peters, T., Russell, R. J., Welker, M.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 103–14Google Scholar; Smith, D. A., Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Early History of Easter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010) 1345Google Scholar; Borg, M. J., ‘The Truth of Easter’, in Borg, M. J. and Wright, N. T., The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999) 129–42Google Scholar; Lindemann, A., Der Erste Korintherbrief (HNT 9/i; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000) 325–36Google Scholar; Holleman, J., Resurrection and Parousia: A Traditio-Historical Study of Paul's Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 (NovTSup 84; Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill, 1996) 142–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Conzelmann, H., Der erste Brief an die Korinther (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981 2) 305–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Walter, ‘Auferstehung?’, 109–27.

21 For the argument, see Grass, Ostergeschehen, 146–7; Robinson, ‘Easter’, 12; Conzelmann, Korinther, 310–11; Lindemann, Korintherbrief, 331–2; Borg, ‘Truth’, 132.

22 Bultmann, Theologie, 48.

23 Cf. Rom 1.3–4; 4.24–5; 8.34; 10.8–10; 1 Thess 4.14; 1 Pet 3.18–22; Ignatius of Antioch, Smyrn. 1.1–2; Trall. 9; Justin, 1 Apol. 21.1; 31.7; 42.4; 46.5; Dial. 63.1; 85.2; 132.1; Irenaeus, Haer. 1.10.1; 3.4.2; 3.16.6; Tertullian, Prax. 2; Praescr. 13; Virg. 1.

24 Cf. the Old Roman Creed (ca. 175 ce): τὸν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου σταυρωθέντα καὶ ταφέντα, καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἀναστάντα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν (‘who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead’); Creed of Jerusalem (ca. 350 ce): τὸν σταυρωθέντα καὶ ταφέντα καὶ ἀναστάντα ἐκ νεκρῶν τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ (‘who was crucified and buried and rose from the dead on the third day’); Apostolic Constitutions 7.41 (fourth century ce): σταυρωθέντα ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου καὶ ἀποθανόντα ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, καὶ ἀναστάντα ἐκ νεκρῶν μετὰ τὸ παθεῖν τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ (‘crucified under Pontius Pilate and died for us, and risen from the dead after his suffering on the third day’); Creed of Milan (ca. 375 ce): passus, et sepultus, et tertia die resurrexit a mortuis (‘suffered death and was buried, and on the third day he rose from the dead’); Creed of Hippo (ca. 400 ce): crucifixum sub Pontio Pilato, mortuum, et sepultum, tertia die resurrexit (‘was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried, on the third day he rose again’); Creed of Ravenna (ca. 400 ce): crucifixus est et sepultus, tertia die resurrexit (‘was crucified and buried, on the third day he rose again’); Creed of the First Council of Toledo (400 ce): crucifixum, mortuum et sepultum, et tertia die resurrexisse (‘he was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day he rose again’); Apostles' Creed (sixth century ce): crucifixus, mortuus et sepultus, descendit ad inferna, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis (‘was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead’).

25 Cf. the Old Roman Creed: πιστεύω εἰς . . . σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν (‘I believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh’); Creed of Jerusalem: πιστεύομεν . . . εἰς σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν (‘we believe . . . in the resurrection of the flesh’); Apostolic Constitutions 7.41: βαπτίζομαι καὶ . . . εἰς σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν (‘I am baptized also . . . into the resurrection of the flesh’); Creed of Milan: credo in . . . carnis resurrectionem (‘I believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh’); Creed of Hippo: credimus in . . . resurrectionem carnis (‘we believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh’); Creed of Ravenna: credo in . . . carnis resurrectionem (‘I believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh’); Creed of the First Council of Toledo: resurrectionem vero humanae credimus carnis (‘we truly believe in the resurrection of our human flesh’); Apostles' Creed: credo in . . . carnis resurrectionem (‘I believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh’).

26 So Pannenberg, Theology, ii.359; Kittel, ‘Auferstehung’, 140; Wolff, Korinther, 362–3; Sider, ‘Resurrection’, 134–6; Kremer, Zeugnis, 36–9; Thiselton, Corinthians, 1192–3; Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 129–32; Wright, Resurrection, 321; and Schnabel, E. J., Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (Wuppertal: Brockhaus, 2006) 882Google Scholar. So now also Lüdemann, G., The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 6971Google Scholar (cf. somewhat differently Lüdemann, Resurrection of Jesus, 45–7).

27 Bryan, Resurrection, 51.

28 On the thought-world of the parable within its Jewish setting, see, conveniently, Fitzmyer, J. A., The Gospel according to Luke x–xxiv (AB 28A; New York: Doubleday, 1985) 1124–34Google Scholar.

29 Kelly, J. N. D., Early Christian Creeds (New York: Longman, 1972 3) 151Google Scholar; contrast Conzelmann, ‘Analysis’, 21.

30 See, for example, Thiselton, Corinthians, 1257–1306; Wright, Resurrection, 340–61; Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 119–83.

31 See, for example, Grass, Ostergeschehen, 146–73; Collins, ‘Empty Tomb’, 111–14; Smith, Empty Tomb, 27–45; Fredriksen, P., ‘Vile Bodies: Paul and Augustine on the Resurrection of the Flesh’, Biblical Hermeneutics in Historical Perspective (ed. Burrows, M. S. and Rorem, P.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 7587Google Scholar.

32 See Engberg-Pedersen, T., Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 838CrossRefGoogle Scholar; id., Complete and Incomplete Transformation in Paul: A Philosophical Reading of Paul on Body and Spirit’, Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity (ed. Seim, T. K. and Okland, J.; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2009) 123–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Similarly Martin, D., The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale, 1995) 108–30Google Scholar and Asher, J. R., Polarity and Change in 1 Corinthians 15: A Study of Metaphysics, Rhetoric, and Resurrection (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2000)Google Scholar.

33 The common assumption (cf. Martin, Body, 126–30) that Paul's ellipsis of the subject in 15.42–4 permits the conclusion that the paired verbs lack a subject, or that the paired verbs have distinct subjects, is founded upon misunderstanding of the conventions of ancient Greek syntax; see especially Kühner, R. and Gerth, B., Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache (2 vols.; Hannover: Hahnsche, 1890–19043) ii.1.32–6; ii.2.560–71Google Scholar, and cf. Robertson, A. T., A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934 4) 391–3Google Scholar.

34 Engberg-Pedersen, Material Spirit, 32; cf. 220–1 n. 84.

35 See Aristotle, Cat. 14; Phys. 5.1; Gen. corr. 1.3–4.

36 See Aristotle, Phys. 7.2; Cael. 1.3; Cat. 14; Metaph. 8.1.7–8.

37 Engberg-Pedersen, ‘Transformation’, 128.

38 So Engberg–Pedersen, Material Spirit, 26–34; similarly Asher, Polarity, 153–68 (esp. 153–4 n. 17) and Martin, Body, 117, 120, 126.

39 Borg, ‘Truth’, 131.

40 Engberg-Pedersen, Material Spirit, 27–8, 37–8.

41 Collins, ‘Empty Tomb’, 111.

42 Pannenberg, Theology, ii.358.

43 Pannenberg, Theology, ii.359. An argument along the lines of Pannenberg's is taken up and set forth at length, with detailed discussion of the textual evidence, in Hengel, ‘Auferstehung’, 150–83 and Wright, Resurrection, 85–206. See also Schnabel, Korinther, 882; Kremer, Zeugnis, 38.

44 Cf. Fredriksen, ‘Vile Bodies’, 79.

45 I Enoch 103.4, which is occasionally cited in this regard, does not employ resurrection language. Similarly in Jub 23.30–1, the term ‘rise up’ does not denote resurrection, but the exaltation of the people of God who ‘see great peace’ and ‘drive out their enemies’. The reinterpretation of the resurrection language of the gospels and throughout the New Testament by so-called ‘Gnostic’ interpreters such as the Valentinians and Ophites, within the framework of an anti-Jewish and docetic Christology which excluded a literal resurrection of the earthly body (cf. Gos. Phil. 56.26–57.22; Irenaeus, Haer. 1.30.13), was a later development.

46 The most extensive treatments are the analyses of A. Oepke in TDNT ii.333–7, and J. Kremer in EDNT i.372–6. Kremer also provides a brief but perceptive treatment in Zeugnis, 40–7. The scant discussion of ἐγείρω elsewhere in the literature focuses largely on the specific question of the transitivity of the passive form of the verb. On this question, see O'Donnell, M. B., ‘Some New Testament Words for Resurrection and the Company They Keep’, Resurrection (ed. Porter, S., Hayes, M. A., Tombs, D.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999) 136–63Google Scholar; Kendall, D. and O'Collins, G., ‘Christ's Resurrection and the Aorist Passive of egeirō’, Greg 74 (1993) 725–35Google Scholar; and Murray, J., ‘Who Raised Up Jesus?’, WTJ 3 (1941) 113–23Google Scholar. Individual aspects of the semantics of the verb are discussed in van Eijk, A. H. C., ‘Resurrection-Language: Its Various Meanings in Early Christian Literature’, Studia Patristica, vol. xii.1 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1975) 271–6Google Scholar. The word is also discussed briefly in Finkenzeller, J., ‘Die Auferstehung Christi und unsere Hoffnung’, Die Frage nach Jesus (Graz, Austria: Styria, 1973) 203–5Google Scholar and Spörlein, B., Die Leugnung der Auferstehung: Eine historisch-kritische Untersuchung zu 1 Kor 15 (Regensburg: Pustet, 1971) 36–7Google Scholar.

47 The verb ἐγείρω denoting resurrection occurs eighty-four times in the New Testament. Compounds of ἐγείρω are also used in the same sense: ἐξεγείρω (once) and συνεγείρω (three occurrences). Other terms used with reference to resurrection include ἀνίστημι (thirty-three occurrences), ἀνάστασις (thirty-eight occurrences), ἐξανάστασις (once) and ἔγερσις (once).

48 See, for example, Homer, Il. 5.413; 24.344; Od. 5.48; 15.46; Aristophanes, Nub. 9; Lys. 18; Plato, Apol. 31a; Tim. 46a; Herodotus, Hist. 4.9.1; Aristotle, Oec. 1345a; Epictetus, Disc. 1.5.6; 4.1.47; Diodorus Siculus 10.29.1; Philo, Somn. 1.174; Jos. 126; LXX Gen 41.4; LXX Prov 6.9; Matt 1.24; 8.25–6; Acts 12.7; Rom 13.11. Cf. Kremer, EDNT, i.372; van Eijk, ‘Resurrection-Language’, 273–4; Frankenzeller, ‘Auferstehung’, 203. On the roots of this meaning within the verb's etymology, see Frisk, H., Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1973 2) i.437–8Google Scholar.

49 A related sense which appears from the earliest period is to rouse up, stir up (trans.) or be roused up (intrans.) from quietude or inactivity (cf. Homer, Il. 5.208; Od. 24.164; Hesiod, Theog. 666; Aristophanes, Lys. 306; Eccl. 71; Plato, Apol. 30a; Resp. 440c; Herodotus, Hist. 7.49.6; Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1116b; Sib. Or. 4.137; LXX Prov 10.12; 15.1; LXX Dan 11.25; Matt 24.7; Justin, Dial. 52.2). Perhaps connected with this sense is the use of the verb with reference to figures or persons rising up, coming into prominence or coming into existence (cf. Matt 11.11; 24.11; John 7.52). This usage also occurs in the LXX, other Jewish literature and the New Testament in the active, transitive sense, of God arousing or raising up prophets, deliverers or kings (cf. LXX Judg 2.16; 3.9; Test. Lev. 18.2; Luke 1.69; Acts 13.22). The verb is also used in this sense frequently of armies or nations stirring up or being roused up to battle or war (cf. Homer, Il. 2.440; 4.352; 1 Esd 1.23; Matt 24.7).

50 Of persons being raised upright: LXX 2 Kings 12.17; LXX Eccles 4.10; LXX Jer 28.12; Acts 3.7; 10.26; James 5.15. Of persons standing up: LXX Exod 5.8; LXX Ps 126.2; Tob 6.18; Matt 26.46; Luke 11.8; Rev 11.1. Related to this meaning is the use of the verb to mean erect various types of physical structures: cf. 1 Es 5.44 (temple); Sir 49.13 (walls); Sib. Or. 3.290 (temple); Philo, Conf. 133 (tower); Post. 54 (cities); John 2.19–20 (temple).

51 Evident in such passages as Aristotle, Oec. 1345a; Xenophon, Oec. 5.4; Plutarch, Pompey 36.4; Matt 2.13–14; 2.20–1; 8.26; 26.46; Mark 14.42.

52 Kremer, EDNT, i.372.

53 On the question see Kremer, Zeugnis, 45; Oepke, TDNT, ii.333–4.

54 IGUR iii.1406 (date uncertain).

55 A tomb inscription from Thessaly of uncertain date (IG ix.2 640) appears to reflect the same conception: θανόντα γὰρ οὐδὲν ἐγείρει (‘for nothing raises up one who has died’).

56 See especially John 12.17, ὅτε τὸν Λάζαρον ἐφώνησεν ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου καὶ ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν (‘when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead’), where the two clauses appear to function epexegetically. Cf. Matt 17.9; Mark 6.14; Luke 9.7; John 2.22; 12.1, 9, 17; 21.14; Acts 3.15; 4.10; 13.31; Rom 4.24; 6.4, 9; 7.4; 8.11; 10.9; 1 Cor 15.20; Gal 1.1; Eph 1.20; Phil 3.11; Col 2.12; 1 Thess 1.10; 2 Tim 2.8; Heb 11.19; 1 Pet 1.21. Cf. also ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, Eph 5.14; 1 Thess 1.10 (v.l.); and ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, Matt 14.2; 27.64; 28.7.

57 So Grass, Ostergeschehen, 146–7; Smith, Empty Tomb, 27–45.

58 Holleman, Resurrection, 143 (emphasis added).

59 Holleman, Resurrection, 144 (emphasis added).

60 Thomasen, E., ‘Valentinian Ideas about Salvation as Transformation’, Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity (ed. Seim, T. K. and Okland, J.; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2009) 169Google Scholar (emphasis added).

61 Lüdemann, Resurrection of Christ, 71 (emphasis added).

62 Lindemann, Korintherbrief, 332 (‘das ἐγήγερται nicht Wiederbelebung, sondern Erhöhung meint’).

63 Martin, Body, 135 (emphasis added).

64 Asher, Polarity, 98 (emphasis added); cf. 91–117, 153–68, 176–7.

65 Engberg-Pedersen, Material Spirit, 28 (emphasis added); cf. 27, 37–8, 221 n. 85.

66 Gerhardsson, ‘Evidence’, 89–91.