Resurrection and Apostleship

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

First Corinthians 15 is one of the most interesting chapters in the New Testament. In it, Paul argues at length concerning the doctrine of the resurrection. It serves as an important counterpoint to chapter 13 of the same epistle. It turns out that the Christian faith involves a bit more than gathering folks in a circle and singing, “All you need is love.”

The faith Paul preaches has content: verses 3-5 appear to be a fragment of an early creed or confession of faith. Its structure is very clear:

  • that Christ died – for our sins – in accordance with the Scriptures
  • that he was buried
  • that he was raised – on the third day – in accordance with the Scriptures
  • that he appeared … (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV)

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not only at the heart of the saving faith (15:2) Paul himself preaches, it is central to the apostolic faith that Paul shares with the church universal (15:3).

Frequently I hear the argument that pastors should not rob the divine drama of its awe and mystery by engaging in resurrection apologetics in the Easter season. Throughout this chapter, however, Paul does engage in resurrection apologetics. Perhaps now is an appropriate time for us to do the same. Paul’s opponents may have had a different philosophical orientation than many have today, but the task is just as important.

Unworthy to be Called an Apostle

Side-by-side with Paul’s doctrine of resurrection is his doctrine of grace. Paul briefly alludes to the fact that he once persecuted the very faith that he now proclaims. Paul never gives us the level of detail about his conversion that Luke does in the Acts of the Apostles. He does not dwell on his former life or wallow in his conversion experience. He is not like some converts who like to titillate their audiences with stories of their former debauchery. Nevertheless, he knows the depths of God’s grace to one who formerly caused so much suffering for the people of God.

Paul notes that God’s grace did not lead to passivity but to action. God chose him to be an apostle and he has worked tirelessly at that office, yet even this labor he attributes to the grace of God (15:10).

Although the root of “apostle” is the Greek word “apostello” (to send), the word usually seems to be a technical term for an authoritative office within the church and not just a synonym for “missionary” (although there is some fuzziness in some passages). Being an eyewitness to the resurrection may be a component of apostolic authority (15:7-8). In any case, Paul’s statement of unworthiness assumes some level of prestige and authority for the apostles, and he implies that the circle of apostleship is limited.