Saturday, August 4, 2018

Robert H. Mounce discusses 1 Corinthians 15:3ff

     The following statements are excerpted from the book The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching by Robert H. Mounce (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), pages 90-93. The footnotes at the bottom of the page are Mounce's. 
     Here's an excerpt from the book from the chapter titled "CLUES TO A PRE-PAULINE KERYGMA":


     This passage is without doubt the most valuable piece of pre-Pauline Christianity in the New Testament. Not only is it authentic tradition, but it also furnishes direct evidence of the missionary kerygma [preaching] proclaimed by the early Church. It relates the very terms6 in which Paul (v. 1) and the others (v. 11) preached the Gospel.
     What are the reasons for accepting this account of the Gospel as genuine pre-Pauline paradosis?
     (1) The verbs that Paul uses for the reception and transmission of the Gospel are equivalent to the official Jewish terms for the taking over and passing on of tradition.7 This would indicate that what follows is to be understood as an authentic block of primitive material.
     (2) The total structure of the passage with its fourfold repetition of hoti ("that") indicates that it is a creedal formulation.
     (3) This formula displays a number of un-Pauline characteristics: (a) The phrase "according to the scriptures" occurs nowhere else in Paul8 (who generally uses "as it is written"). (b) Since for Paul hamartia (singular) is the principle of sin, it is doubtful that he would have used it in the plural, as in verse 3. (c) Certain other expressions, such as "the twelve," are not specifically Pauline.9
     (4) The double reference to the Old Testament Scriptures suggests that it stems from a Jewish-Christian source. So also does the Aramaic "Cephas," and the reference to James.
     (5) Paul indicates in verse 11 that what he has reproduced has been the common proclamation of all the apostles.
     It is not going beyond the evidence to conclude with Meyer that here we have the oldest document of the Christian Church in existence.10 But now we come to the more difficult task of defining the limits of this segment of paradosis [tradition]. Had Paul stopped quoting as decisively as he began, there would have been no problem. But he seems to add a parenthetic remark, extend the final issue, and then trail off into a personal testimony. In view of this we must ask, Where does the kerygma stop, and Paul begin?
     The explanatory remark connected to the phrase "more than five hundred brethren," leads Goguel to strike out all of vese six as a Pauline addition.11 The following phrase ("Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles") is taken as genuine kerygma because of its linguistic similarity to verse 5. The appearance to Paul, says Goguel, was added as a personal testimony.
     While something can be said for this interpretation, it is much more probable that the original formula extended from 3b through 5. This gives a better balance to the entire passage and brings the final item into harmony with the conciseness with which the other three are set forth. This division is also supported by the definite syntactical break at the beginning of verse 6. The reason for expanding this particular section of the kerygma was to establish firmly the fact of Christ's resurrection. From this basic premise, Paul will argue the resurrection of the believer. The choice of witnesses - well-known leaders of the Church and a large body of people who could easily be found and questioned - shows the care with which Paul built his case.
     Where and when did Paul receive this block of tradition? The usual answer is that it was passed on to him by Peter when they first met in Jerusalem for a fortnight visit (Gal. 1:18-20) i.e., about A.D. 35.12 This does not, however, take into sufficient consideration Paul's prior ministry in Damascus (Acts 9). Paul's proof of the Messiahship of Jesus (v. 22) most certainly rested upon the kerygmatic foundation of Christ's death, resurrection, and exaltation.
     It is much more likely that this bit of paradosis had a much earlier origin. Hunter suggests that Paul is here reproducing the baptismal creed of the Damascus church.13 A comparison with the baptismal formula that underlies I Peter 3:18-22 favors this view.14 But whatever its relationship to baptismal or catechetical confessions, it is primarily the terms in which the Gospel was preached (cf. v. 1). It is difficult not to infer from this that it was originally drawn up as a convenient summary of the missionary proclamation.
     And where did it originate? Against Heitmϋller's thesis that it was an evangelical summary current in Hellenistic Christianity and radically different from the Palestinian kerygma, Hunter argues convincingly that it emanated originally from the primitive Palestinian church.15 If this be so, then I Corinthians 15:3-5 may represent the very message that won the first converts at Damascus. In any event, we may safely conclude that Paul received this kerygmatic summary from the Damascus church shortly after his conversion and before beginning his evangelistic ministry.
     Let us now set this passage out as it might have looked had Paul used sermon notes:

           Christ died for our sins -
                  in accordance with the scriptures.
           He was buried.
           He was raised on the third day -
                  in accordance with the scriptures.
           He appeared to Cephas,
                  then to the Twelve.


6 tini logōi ("in what terms") refers to both the form and the substance of Paul's preaching.

7 Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, p. 21. Pirke Aboth 1:1 tells how Moses received the (oral) Law from Sinai, and committed it to Joshua.

8 Interestingly enough, the only other occurrence of this phrase is in James 2:8 - most certainly Palestinian in origin.

9 For further linguistic evidence, see Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, pp. 129-130.

10 H. A. W. Meyer, Ursprung und Anfänge des Christentums, III, 210.

11 Maurice Goguel, The Birth of Christianity, p. 42.

12 Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching, p. 16.

13 Hunter, op. cit., p. 16. Cf. also J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, p. 17.

14 Note the similar pattern: death for sins, descent, resurrection, exaltation.

15 Hunter, op. cit., pp. 16-17.

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