DEUTERONOMY OR GENESIS? AN INTER-CONTEXTUAL NARRATIVE CONVERSATION OF PAUL IN 1 CORINTHIANS 15:39-41
- Author Jurgoi Saleh Jnr
- Published April 3, 2023
- Word count 2,788
Table of Contents
Paper Statement 4
Literary Context Deuteronomy 4:15-19 8
Literary Context of Genesis 1:11-24 9
1 Cor.15:39-41: Recreation of Creation in Gen. 1:11-24 9
David Burnett has proposed a Deuteronomic scriptural matrix as a crucial background for understanding Paul’s narration of the eschatological event of “the resurrection” in 1 Cor 15:20–28, as well as his articulation of the nature of the resurrection body (1 Cor 15:35–49). This article argues that 1 Cor. 15:39-41 has no direct affiliation with Deuteronomy but is a recreation of creation in Genesis 1:11-24. Moreover, I will suggest through an inter-contextual approach that the Deuteronomic passage is a reflection of Gen 1, which is the background for understanding Paul’s narration of resurrection and thereby call into question David Burnett's proposal made in the Scripture and Paul Series . The final part of the article offers some observations concerning the scholarly discussion on 1 Corinthians 15 and its attribution to Genesis.
Keywords: Metalepsis, Inter-contextualization, Deuteronomy, Genesis, Quotation
Discussions concerning the allusions Paul made in 1 Corinthians, whether his quotes are from written forms or oral traditions, and the possibility of his selection of alternative readings from the Old Testament is current ongoing research in the field of biblical studies. Occasionally, many scholars assume Paul’s quotation without questioning the validity of the sources. This appears to be the case with the quotation in 1 Cor. 15:39-41, which is almost attributed to Deuteronomy 4:15-19.
Flipping through the pages of Pauline's letters, Paul has quoted a well-recognized and quite a great number of Old Testament passages. In 1 Corinthians 15 v.27, Paul quotes Psalm 8:6. In v.32 he quotes from Isaiah 22:13…in v.33, and also quoted variant text in v.45. Paul cites Genesis 2:7, and in vv.54 and 55 he also alludes to Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. When it comes to vv.39-41, it becomes the specific matter of concern in this paper. In this article, I will first examine the previous attempts to explain the origin of Paul’s quotation from Deut. 4:15-19. I will then argue that the most probable explanation for Paul’s curious wording is that contrary to the scholarly consensus proposed by Burnett, it never had anything to do with Deuteronomy in the first place, but an inter-contextual conversation in Genesis 1:11-24 instead.
My motivations for this paper started during my graduate research on “Linguistic/Metaphoric Analysis of Paul’s Resurrection Discourse in 1 Cor. 15:35-49 and Its Eschatological Implications. While walking through the pages of Pauline’s corpus; I learned that Paul made a lot of quotations from the Old Testament in almost all of his epistles. Paul’s quotation in chapter 15:39-41 becomes the specific matter of concern in this paper. In 1 Corinthians, we find nineteen quotations. Eleven of these quotations are indicated as direct quotations “from a written source (1:19,31; 2:9; 3:19-20; 9:9; 10:7; 14:21; 15:45, 54-55); one referred to what is said in the Old Testament (6:16); four are given as reasons for statements without mentioning that they are from a written source (2:16; 10:26; 15:25,27), and three are stated without any introductory formula (5:13; 14:25; 15:35).”
B.J. Oropeza suggests that it would be helpful to be diligent about explaining what quotations are. Oropeza defines quotation (or citation) as a “set of words that have a close or fairly close agreement with another text with a citation formula (e.g., “It is written”) or unmarked”. Oropeza asserts that allusions, however, “are more difficult to discern”. The alluding text nonetheless has one or more agreements with another text, whether verbal, conceptual, perceptual, structural, syntactical, thematic or having common background. Echoes have been variously understood as subtle allusions, having conscious or unconscious intentions, or as a word or words drawn in from the context or thematic content of a text, or something else. Biblical scholars back then used echoes and allusions more-or-less interchangeably.
It would also be important to take note of the type of quotation Paul used in 1 Cor. 15:39-41. The quotation Paul used is neither in-text, nor direct quotation, but an allusion or echo. Why did Paul use this type of quotation that is more difficult to discern, knowing fully that the Corinthian Church were people who had a gentile background and had no understanding of the OT? I was not satisfied with B.J Oropeza’s opinion that Paul’s use of Scripture in the letter assumes that the Corinthians’ knowledge of Scripture is competent until I was left with no other option than to agree. Why would he assume that his 18-month ministry in the city is enough to provide them with answers as to where such allusions are being drawn?
Now we don’t have Paul or the Corinthians to tell us where this allusion is drawn from. When I joined the College and later joined the graduate studies; these concerns were not raised in any of the lectures I had. Recently, however, the question has received attention from Scripture and Paul Series. This is an indication that the Functions of Scriptural Quotations is a topic about which contemporary scholars are starting to inquire.
There is a blend of debates among biblical scholars as to where Paul was drawing this allusion. Burnett argues that the list of earthly and heavenly creatures that Paul mentioned in 1 Cor 15:39–42 follows the same order as Deut 4:15–19. Burnett is on the opinion that if this is the text to which Paul quoted, he may be drawing on an exegetical tradition in the Second Temple period that reads Deut 4:15–19 to describe the nature of the cosmos, created and administered by God, having appointed the celestial bodies delegates in his cosmic polis. On the contrary, B.J Orepoza, argues that Paul was alluding to the creation in Genesis 1 in which plants yielded their seed are created on the third day (Gen 1:11–12). I agree with the latter submission of Oropeza that “Paul’s use of Scripture in the letter assumes that the Corinthians’ knowledge of Scripture is competent”.
Literary Context Deuteronomy 4:15-19
Before analyzing the wording of 1 Cor. 15:39-41 and its relation to Deut. 4:15-19, it is useful to briefly examine its immediate context, which plays a role in the argumentation.
15 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore, watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon, and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.
Burnett asserts that the literary context of “Deut 4:35 and 39, starts with a reference to the greatness of God’s work in the creation of humankind (4:32), then moves directly into God’s work in the creation of a people in the exodus (4:33–40), indicating a strong link between the creation of humankind and the exodus/election of Israel as previously noted” .
In contrast to Burnett’s literary work, Adam Pohlman placed the literary Context of this passage in the concluding portion of Moses’ first speech to the Israelites entering Canaan. In the first three chapters, Moses recounted the journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai through the Wilderness and finally to the Jordan River. The fourth chapter progresses from there to give a directive on what Yahweh expects from his people. It introduces many of the themes which are prominent throughout the rest of Deuteronomy 1. Chapter 4:15-19 fall within a segment in which Moses makes a particular application of devotion to Yahweh based on Israel’s experience on Mount Horeb. If the view on the immediate context of Deuteronomy 4:15-19 by Polman is correct, then it could be another indication that Paul did not intend the passage to be where his analogy is drawn from. The immediate context of this passage, which speaks of devotion to Yahweh based on mount Horeb's experience, then it does not tally with Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 15.
Literary Context of Genesis 1:11-24
The opening of Genesis 1:1—2:3 begins with the creation account of the heavens and earth. Genesis 2:4 begins with the words, “this is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven” and continues through Genesis 4:26 which traces what became of the universe God had so marvelously created. Therefore, the connection between Gen 1 and 2 does not mean the two narratives are exact parallel accounts of creation, but two complementary perspectives in contrast to each other.
The first pericope gives the overview, while the second provides more details. Genesis 1:11-24 best fits within the known biblical genre of historical narrative, communicating a very quick and recent creation, consistent with the traditional understanding of 6 successive days of 24-hour duration. Here we see the literal ‘genesis of all things, the very beginning as God, by his word, creates, out of nothing, all that there is and places mankind, made in his image, amid a perfect creation.
1 Cor.15:39-41: Recreation of Creation in Gen. 1:11-24
1 Cor. was written in reply to Stephanus’ and his companions’ report of the situation in Corinth (1 Cor. 16:15– 18), which told of the rejection of traditional moral discipline, intercourse with prostitutes, open participation in heathen temple meals, cluttered innovations in the celebration of the Lord’s supper, and rejection of belief in a future bodily resurrection. For Paul, the Church at Corinth should live in the light of eschatology, anticipating a future glory yet to be unveiled, and they also have some level of participation in that glory in the present.
Cosner asserts that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives a sustained argument for the bodily resurrection of the dead. Cosner continued to say throughout Paul’s argument in the epistle, he alludes back to the Creation and Fall accounts that depict historical events. Paul saves the subject of the bodily Resurrection until the end of the epistle because it is the topic for which the Corinthians pose the greatest challenge, one that he needs to approach with the most caution. The section, beginning in verse 35, is Paul’s response to questions about how the dead are raised. The Chapter moves in a 2 logical sequence, describing the nature of our bodily resurrection, and finally describing in the final verses, the specifics of who will be resurrected.
In verses 39-41, Paul introduces analogies from different kinds of bodies that were common to everyone. There is a blend of debates among biblical scholars as to where Paul was drawing this allusion. Burnett argues that Paul enumerates a list of creatures who inhabit the earth followed by those who inhabit the heavens…in the same order as the aniconic discourse of Deuteronomy 4:15–19 rather than Genesis 1. After that, Paul seeks to demonstrate these bodies through a list of terrestrial and celestial creatures in 1 Cor 15:39–42, which not only follows the same order of creatures as enumerated in the aniconic discourse of Deut 4:15–20 but also links it with the context of Deut 4 in his arguments addressing idolatry in 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1.
Burnett continues to argue that Paul has likely had the text of Deuteronomy in mind since 1 Cor 8, and strategically employs it again here. Across these viewpoints is one common problem I see in Burnett’s argument. Burnett understood this passage as a theme for moral theology or Christian ethics. Burnett’s argument is a failure to attend carefully to how Paul uses the term σῶµα in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul used σῶµα for the individual human body and the corporate believers (1 Corinthians 6); of the eucharistic body of Christ, (1 Corinthian 10-11); of the ecclesial body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14); of cosmic and other natural bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40); and soulish and spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40). In view of Pauline’s theology of the body, Nelson unveils that Paul meant that the style of our Christian belief will be influenced by how we experience ourselves and others.
Paul’s theology of the body in this passage is far beyond the idea of moral theology or Christian ethics promoted by Burnett. B.J Orepoza, also argues that Paul was alluding to the creation in Genesis 1 in which plants yielded their seed created on the third day (Gen 1:11–12). I agree with the latter submission of Oropeza that “Paul’s use of Scripture in the letter assumes that the Corinthians’ knowledge of Scripture is competent,” because whatever passage Paul refers to; it must have been like a piece of common knowledge for the believers in Corinth. Cosner in the same way argues that the comparison between the First and Last Adams in this argument “seems to break the flow of the argument begun in 15:35.” But this is not the case if one understands that Paul has the first chapters of Genesis in mind throughout the chapter. Here Cosner asserts that all the quotations from Paul in this chapter are from Genesis 1. Cosner also adds that there can be no doubt that Paul intends this entire chapter to be an exposition of the renewal of creation, and the renewal of humankind as its focal point.” Paul might not have explicitly/directly quoted the Genesis creation narrative in v.39-41, but it is clearly in his mind during this whole passage.
Although Burnett argues that “v.39-41” has to do with the warning language of Moses to Israel in Deut. 4, I suggest that Paul is, moreover, aware of the varied cultural, social, and economic backgrounds of the Corinthians whom he is addressing. Therefore, Paul may have already taught the congregation the creation narrative so deeply that it became easier for them to identify where the allusion is drawn from. Joseph A. Fitzmyer also holds the view that Paul is indirectly alluding to the creation account of Gen 1:11–12: “. . . fruit trees bearing fruit, in which is their seed, each according to its kind” … there is one kind for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. In the terrestrial realm, Joseph affirms that Paul chooses examples of the diversity of flesh, and they are given in a descending order of intricacy, which reverses the order of creation in Gen 1:20–27. In the same lens, N.T. Wright describes the arch of this chapter as paralleling the creation of the cosmos and mankind in Genesis 1 - 3, with an emphasis on the “renewal of creation, and the renewal of humankind as its focal point.”
Cosner continues to project Paul drawing his themes for the arguments directly from the creation narrative, using images that his audience would be familiar with from everyday life; images of the seed and the plant, …in verse 39, he alludes in reverse order to the creation of various animals in Genesis 1:20–27, and in verse 40 he also brings in heavenly bodies as well. Cosner affirms that “Paul’s point is that God, who created bodies of such known and diverse splendor, has also made human bodies of present and future existence, which may be quite diverse and beyond our present comprehension.” James D.G Dunn also affirms that, according to the Apocalypse of Moses, "the throne of God was made ready where the tree of life was" (22.4) and that the promise to a faithful Adam was of resurrection and renewed access to the tree of life. God, who created all things, is powerful enough to rework and restore bodies from whatever materials or lack of them remain.
Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 only comes together as a coherent whole when one realizes that the imagery of different kinds of bodies in the Creation and Fall narratives is constantly in Paul’s mind. I hope to have shown that my suggestion that Paul quotes only Genesis 1:11-24 is more acceptable than the view based on Deut. 4:15-19. It appears that most scholars have not even noticed the argument of the view in Deuteronomy 4. In future discussions, anyone arguing that Paul quotes Deuteronomy in 1 Cor. 15 should explain the immediate context of both two passages. I also argue that the language of different kinds of bodies in 1 Cor. 15:39-41 does not sit well in the context of Deuteronomy 4:15-19.
I have argued against the Deuteronomic scriptural matrix Burnett made in the scripture and Paul series. Burnett explains Deuteronomy as a crucial background for understanding Paul’s narration of the nature of the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15:39–41, whereas I consider Genesis 1 to be more plausible than Deuteronomy. While numerous scholars notice that Paul’s wording does not correspond to Deuteronomy 4:15-19 and shows an awareness of the strangeness of the assumed quotation, they nevertheless do not question the consensus that 1 Cor. 15:39-41 is based on Genesis 1:11-24.
Cosner, Lita. Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15.
Journal Of Creation 23(3) 2009
Burnett, David A.. A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix for the Nature of the
Resurrection Body in 1 Corinthians 15:39–42? Lexington Books/Fortress Academic,
United Kingdom,2019Article source: https://articlebiz.com
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