Friday, June 6, 2014

Resurrection Now?

Those who believe Colossians and Ephesians were not written by Paul often appeal to their teachings on resurrection. On this issue, it seems these letters do not match the undisputed Pauline letters. While Romans and 1 Corinthians speak of resurrection as a future hope, Colossians and Ephesians present resurrection as a present reality for those believe. For this reason, most scholars consider Colossians and Ephesians to not be from the hand of Paul.

The evidence is rather convincing. In Romans 6, Paul is careful to show that believers have only experience Christ’s death, not yet his resurrection.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Chris Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”(6:3-8).

The closest Paul comes to proclaiming a present resurrection in his undisputed letters is also in Romans. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”(6:11). They must consider themselves to be risen despite the fact that the resurrection has not yet come.

In the Letter to the Colossians though, this language of future glory is absent. Instead, the resurrection is spoken of as already having taken place. “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead”(2:13).
One writer preaches a baptism into death, and another writer a baptism into death and into life.

One method of arguing for the authenticity of Colossians and Ephesians is to say that Paul’s theology developed over the course of his life. The undisputed letters then, represent an earlier theology of baptism and resurrection while the “disputed” letters represent a latter development in his thought.
Those who find this argument convincing will also often claim that the Pastoral Letters of Paul, including 2 Timothy, are similarly authentic. The problem with this is that 2 Timothy, a letter which claims to be written in the last days of Paul’s life, attacks those who believe the resurrection has already occurred.

“As for me, I am being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”(2 Timothy 4:6-7).

“Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place”(2 Timothy 2:17-18).

If one were to only have the Letter to the Colossians, he could not be blamed for believing that the resurrection had already occurred. The writer of 2 Timothy has set out against just such teachings.

It seems, then, that Paul could not have written both Colossians and 2 Timothy. Either his theology developed later in his life as is seen in Colossians and Ephesians, or he remained adamant that believers had not yet experienced resurrection. If 2 Timothy is authentic, then even in his last days Paul was teaching against this false doctrine of present resurrection. It would be truly perplexing if all of these letters were by the same person. What other ways are there to make sense of them? 

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