Creation in the Corinthian Correspondence


(system) #1

It does not take long for the reader of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence to realize that the relations between the parties were stormy. Reading the extant letters one finds out that there had been more than two letters, and that Paul made a trip to Corinth intending to remedy the situation, but the Corinthians closed the door in his face (2 Cor. 2:1). Finally Paul sent Titus with another brother to intercede in his favor. Titus and his companion were successful in their mission, and when Paul learned about it, full of joy, wrote about the gospel as reconciliation (2 Cor. 5).

The charged atmosphere of the relationship is reflected in the content of the letters. In his letter to the Romans Paul ties humanity to God directly without intermediaries, even if he admits that there are powers of the air who unsuccessfully attempt to separate humans from God’s love. In the Corinthian letters the activities of these powers play a much more prominent role. Paul defines Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), and admits that in the heavenly spheres there are “many gods and lords” (1 Cor. 8:5). Even while denying that idols have any power, and that eating food offered to them does not make one an idolater, he leaves no doubt that the power of the gods in the heavenly spheres and on earth is real (1 Cor. 8:2). One must be on the alert not to be deceived by Satan, whose ability to do so is considerable (2 Cor. 2:11), and to do it he even makes himself to be “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

In contrast to Romans, in these letters Paul gives these powers direct influence over the affairs of human beings. His “thorn in the flesh” (identifying it is pure speculation) is due to the pounding of “an angel of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7). Instead of blaming the Jews or the Romans for the crucifixion of Christ, Paul accuses the powers of the air. They crucified him because they ignored his true identity (1 Cor. 2:8). This gave rise to a theory of redemption popular in the first Christian centuries, which was later abandoned. To counter the theory that the crucifixion had been the ransom paid to Satan, the theory that Satan had been successfully deceived by Christ gained popularity. The triumph of the cross had been achieved by Christ’s masterful hiding of his true identity.

In his correspondence with the Corinthians Paul explains that within creation there are a number of gods and lords who control the hierarchically stacked heavenly spheres. He is concerned with the enemies of Christ who still exercise control over the creation. These powers must be conquered and subjected under His feet. The delay of the Parousia is due to the fight Christ is now waging against “every rule and every authority and power.” Only then will Christ be able to deliver back to the Father a universe that is fully under His control (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

While in Romans Paul explains that the longing for redemption from the futility of life in the word on the part of all creatures, including those who have received “the first fruits of the Spirit”, is due to the God who has subjected them all “in hope”, in the Corinthian correspondence he offers more details. The world is under the power of “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), and that accounts for the way things are in this world. Even while the resurrection of Christ has established the New Creation, Christians are still eager to discard their bodies of flesh and be redressed with spiritual bodies.

By Paul’s time ancient philosophers had already arrived at some conclusions about the forms in which things could be. They had imagined the chain of being. Beginning at the bottom, in the first place there is non-being. On top are found the inanimate material beings: rocks. Then are found living material beings: plants. Further up are found material beings with life and movement in space: animals. Higher up are living material beings with movement and logos (thought, word, discourse, reason). Still within the realm of material beings are found, even higher, the stars, the moon, and the sun, beings which are light. On top of them are immaterial, intellectual beings: numbers. Higher up still are non-material beings with spiritual bodies: the powers of the air, the angels, archangels and gods. At the top of the chain of being is God. On the basis of this vision of things, Anselm of Canterbury in the XI century postulated that, since God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived and since being in reality is higher than being in someone’s mind, God is in reality.

In his letters to the Corinthians Paul makes reference to the chain of being. For example, he contrasts being carnal with being spiritual, specifying that bodies with different “glories” (2 Cor. 3:11) are involved (1 Cor. 15:44). The body of the Risen Christ was not the body of flesh in which he had been crucified. No one could have seen the signs of the nails in His spiritual, glorious body. In this context Paul not only specifies the different bodies in which things can be. He distinguishes also different kinds of flesh: that of humans, that of the animals, that of fishes and that of birds (1 Cor. 15:39). It must be noted that the flesh, according to Paul, is not primarily, or exclusively, a reference to the material of some bodies. For him it defines a condition of life. To live in the flesh is to live in nature. The flesh is neither evil nor sinful. It is weak, and therefore easily overcome by the power of sin and death. Distinguishing animals, fish and birds as beings with different “flesh” Paul is pointing out that there are different natural states with different relations to death. This, undoubtedly, is a unique view of creation.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is explaining the resurrection of the dead. He is arguing against those who affirm that they have already experienced the resurrection at the time of their baptism. Now as spiritual beings they feel free to use their bodies as they see fit (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:12). Paul is trying to make them understand that those who have been truly raised from the dead no longer have bodies of flesh. The resurrection of the dead involves the disposal of the carnal body and new life in a spiritual body. The resurrection involves an ascent up the chain of being. Even if those who are baptized participate in the death and the resurrection of Christ, and therefore in the New Creation, since they still live in the body of flesh they “groan” still within the old creation, anxious to get rid of their mortal bodies to be redressed with life (2 Cor. 5:1-5).

The creation to life in a body of flesh and the creation to life in a spiritual body are contrasted by the first Adam and the last Adam. It is to be noted that the last Adam is not the baby born in Bethlehem. He is the Risen Christ with a spiritual body. The hope of Christians is that in the same way in which, while living in the flesh, they have the image of the earthly Adam, that is the image of God given to Adam at his creation, so also when they participate in the resurrection of the dead at the final trumpet they will have the image of the celestial Adam (1 Cor. 15:49). The contrast between the first and the last Adam could not be more profound because the quality of life, the glory, of the creation in the flesh cannot be compared to the glory of the Risen Christ. Thus the possession of the image given to the earthly Adam is loosing its value on account of the transformation taking place in Christians who as members of the body of Christ administer the riches of the gospel, and in this service (diakonia) are being transferred from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord who transforms them to the image of His glory (2 Cor. 3:18). Christians who are going through the process of sanctification which culminates in their glorification are not going to have the image of God given to Adam restored in them. They are going to be invested with the image of the last Adam, the Risen Christ.

In this context Paul explains his conviction that the resurrection of Christ makes possible the establishment of the New Creation in the hearts of those who have faith. He refers to “the God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness’” as an explicit comparison to the creation that started with the divine light that shone in the darkness of “the formless and the void” (a left over theogonic pair). The Spirit who moved over the waters when there was no sun, no moon and no stars, that primordial light, is the source of energy that also shines on the face of the Risen Christ and makes possible for our hearts, thusly illuminated, to come to know the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:6).

While in Romans Paul argues that creation by itself is enough to provide every human being knowledge of “the eternal power and divinity” of God, in 2 Corinthians he says that those who have faith receive from the face of the Risen Christ, the object of their faith, the knowledge that they do not belong to the natural world, but to the spiritual world. This revelation of the glory of the Risen Christ gives them knowledge of the glory of God, a higher knowledge than that of His eternal power and divinity. This means that those of faith are transformed and ascend to higher levels in the chain of being, from glory to glory, from one condition of living to another higher one. This is the mysticism of Paul.

Wishing to defend himself from the many charges the Corinthians are making against him, Paul resorts to an enumeration of his sufferings for the sake of the gospel, and to the presentation of his trip to Paradise as evidence of his apostleship. He does not make clear whether Paradise is in the third heaven, or in a higher one. He makes clear, however, that his trip took place while in an ecstasy that prevented him from being aware if he had made the trip through the heavenly regions in his body of flesh or without it (2 Cor. 12:2-4). In the Jewish mystic literature of the first to the fourth centuries there are several descriptions of trips to the higher spheres of the heavens where the travelers learns things which they cannot relate when back on earth. Paul’s narrative of his trip through the heavenly spheres belongs to this literary genre. All these accounts are based on a cosmology and a vision of life on earth characterized by the longing to escape the earthly dungeon and return to the higher regions where humans have their true home. Life on this earth is a sojourn away from home.

This vision of reality is the opposite of the one found in the Old Testament, with the exception of the book of Daniel. There it is taken for granted that the human home is on the earth. By referring to his heavenly trip and by making clear that the resurrection of the dead involves the reception of a spiritual body with the image of the celestial Adam, Paul abandons the view of creation found in the Old Testament and adopts the point of view prevalent in the Jewish culture of his time, which no longer considers the earth as the human home. Both of these views came into Judaism from Platonism.

In Romans Paul affirms that for him Adam is “a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). His role was to anchor the identity of Christ as the last Adam. The disobedience of one man has been countered by the obedience of one man. But in the same way in which the disobedience of Adam was not of the law, neither was Christ’s obedience of the law. His obedience was obedience to death on the cross. In 2 Corinthians Paul’s argument is that those who die and are raised with Christ when they are baptized no longer see their fellow humans “according to the flesh” because they live “for the one who died and was raised for them.” They participate in the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:15-17), even thought they have not yet received their spiritual bodies, as Christ received His when He was raised by God. The carnal Adam, as a type of the one who was to come, only allows us to understand more clearly “the last Adam,” the celestial one, the first fruit of those who are to live in spiritual bodies.

Paul conceives sin and death as almost the same thing. Envisioning biological death, he considers it as indifferent, without significance. The death that concerns him is “the greatest of deaths” (2 Cor. 1:10), eschatological death. Death under the condemnation of sin is not biological death. It is the death that leaves humans outside God’s reach, and of which only God can save them. Pablo calls it “the greatest of deaths.” Biological death is considered “gain” (Phil. 1:21). The last enemy to be conquered is eschatological death (1 Cor. 15:26). The death that entered the world with the sin of Adam is that death, not the biological one. As a type of the one who was to come, Adam plays an eschatological role, not a historical one. The apocalyptic notion of The Fall is not a biological or a historical one. It is a theological notion within the History of Salvation. But the History of Salvation is theology, not academic history, or scientific biology. For the History of Salvation biological death is immaterial, inconsequential.

In his correspondence with the Corinthians Paul concedes creation in the flesh to the powers of the air and focuses his vision in the New Creation in the Spirit, the glory of which is reflected in the hearts of those who have died and been raised with Christ. Life in the world where sin and death reign, where it maintains an intimate relationship with biological death (2 Cor. 1:9), is not to be compared with life “in Christ”, which is not under the condemnation of the law and triumphs over “the greatest of deaths,” the eternal one. In these letters Paul makes repeated reference to the mystery of the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2:7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51). The mystery consists in how the creation in the flesh is being displaced by the creation in the Spirit, of which the resurrection of Christ is the first fruit. His resurrection makes it possible to transfer those who have faith from one sphere of glory to higher spheres of glory in the image of His glory. To remain tied to the creation in the flesh is to be ignorant of the wisdom of God. In contrast to those who lament the loss of Paradise and expect its return, Paul finds joy living “in Christ” and expects being re-created in the image of the Risen Christ.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2645