Giant Horror Bug Gone Missing!!!

This is one of those instances of intertextuality where what’s interesting is what’s missing. At the end of 1 Cor 15 Paul uses a victory motif to express the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Almost, almost, all of the same words are used again in the BoM, by Abinadi, Aaron and finally Mormon. But there is a bit of a difference.

So…as far as the NT goes, Corinth is kinda the branch from Hell. They seem to have experimented with quite a number of mistaken behaviors, but as Paul points out, these behaviors arise from mistaken ideas.  So in the 15th chapter, Paul is explaining and defending the resurrection.  And in a bit of irony, these are folks who supposedly know and accept the practice of baptism for the dead.  Kinda weird, that.

Anyway, after explaining the whole thing, Paul concludes his remarks by celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ as God’s victory (1 Cor 15:54-57 KJV):

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

To begin, the KJV reading is not the preferred variant. If you were to check a more modern translation, you would find (1Cor 15:54-56 NRS):

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

Now you can see that in the preferred reading, the victory/sting pair in the vocatives is reversed and “death” is repeated rather than a single allusion each to “death” and “the grave.” From an aesthetic standpoint, I think the KJV is superior but that’s probably why it’s not the preferred reading. Some thoughtful soul decided to improve the original, I suppose. So there’s a bit an interesting challenge for folks who like to work the historicity issues, perhaps.

Also, note the line of distinctive Pauline theology, which tends to be a bit confusing to modern readers since they do not think of the law the way Paul’s original audience did: “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” When Paul says that the “sting of death is sin,” he means that sin causes death. So sin is really Sin, that is, some kind of a GIANT HORROR BUG (!)that fatally wounds us. And when Paul writes that “the power of sin is the law,” he means that it is the law that has the power to condemn us to death when we sin; this GIANT HORROR BUG (Sin) is really a lawyer who uses the law to ensure we do not escape its power.

How does the BoM use this idea? Well, it shows up in three places in which the speakers, Abinadi, Aaron and Mormon, are speaking to folks who have an inadequate understanding of God’s gift in Christ. For example, here’s Abinadi (Mos 16:7-8):

And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption. And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.

Abinadi retains the emotional sense of the NT original, that is, his listeners are invited to celebrate what Christ has done as a victory. (No mention of God, though.) And…that little injection of the Pauline doctrine of Sin as a GIANT HORROR BUG and the law as Sin’s witless tool is missing! Much as I miss it, however, I must admit that it is not needed in the BoM. The particular issue that Paul was addressing is not among the shortcomings of BoM characters so there’s no need to confuse folks with GIANT HORROR BUGS  that are really lawyers.  Then again, they might not be all that confused…

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