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Dr. Constable's Expository Notes Constable's Expository Notes
1 Corinthians 15
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ dcc/ 1-corinthians-15.html. 2012.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
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F. The resurrection of believers ch. 15
The Apostle Paul did not introduce the instruction on the resurrection that follows with the formula that identifies it as a response to a specific question from the Corinthians (i.e., peri de). From what he said in this chapter he apparently knew that some in the church had adopted a belief concerning the resurrection that was contrary to apostolic teaching. They believed that there is no resurrection of the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12; 1 Corinthians 15:16; 1 Corinthians 15:29; 1 Corinthians 15:32; Acts 17:32).
"Educated, elite Corinthians probably followed views held by many philosophers, such as immortality of the soul after the body’s death. . . .
"Some Greeks (like Epicureans and popular doubts on tombstones) denied even an afterlife. Yet even Greeks who expected an afterlife for the soul could not conceive of bodily resurrection (which they would view as the reanimation of corpses) or glorified bodies." [Note: Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 122. ]
Apparently Paul included this teaching to correct this error and to reaffirm the central importance of the doctrine of the resurrection in the Christian faith.
". . . the letter itself is not finished. Lying behind their view of spirituality is not simply a false view of spiritual gifts, but a false theology of spiritual existence as such. Since their view of ’spirituality’ had also brought them to deny a future resurrection of the body, it is fitting that this matter be taken up next. The result is the grand climax of the letter as a whole, at least in terms of its argument." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 713.]
"This chapter has been called ’the earliest Christian doctrinal essay,’ and it is the only part of the letter which deals directly with doctrine." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 329.]
Evidently most of the Corinthian church believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), but belief in His resurrection did not necessarily involve believing that God would raise all believers in Christ. Christ’s resurrection gave hope to believers about the future, but that hope did not necessarily involve the believer’s resurrection. This seems to have been the viewpoint of the early Christians until Paul taught them that their bodily resurrection was part of their hope, which he did here. Thus this chapter has great theological value for the church.
". . . apparently soon after Paul’s departure from Corinth [after his 18 months of ministry there] things took a turn for the worse in this church. A false theology began to gain ground, rooted in a radical pneumatism that denied the value/significance of the body and expressed in a somewhat ’overrealized,’ or ’spiritualized,’ eschatology. Along with this there arose a decided movement against Paul. These two matters climax in this letter in their pneumatic behavior (chaps. 12-14) and their denial of a resurrection of the dead (chap. 15), which included their questioning of his status as pneumatikos ([spiritual] 1 Corinthians 14:36-38) and perhaps their calling him an ’abortion’ or a ’freak’ (1 Corinthians 15:8). Thus, as elsewhere, Paul sets out not only to correct some bad theology but at the same time to remind them of his right to do so." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 716.]
The Corinthians and all Christians have their standing in Christ as a result of the gospel message.
l. The resurrection of Jesus Christ 15:1-11
Paul began by reaffirming their commonly held belief: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. In this section the apostle stressed the objective reality of both Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
Paul did not entertain the possibility that his readers could lose their salvation by abandoning the gospel he had preached to them. The NIV translation captures his thought well. If they held fast to the gospel that they had received, they would continue to experience God’s deliverance as they lived day by day. Their denial of the Resurrection might indicate that some of them had not really believed the gospel.
As with the events of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23) Paul had heard of the Lord Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances and had then passed this information along to others. Elsewhere he wrote that he had not received the gospel from other people but directly from the Lord (Galatians 1:11). Probably some aspects of it came to him one way and others in other ways. He apparently received the essence of the gospel on the Damascus road and learned more details from other sources.
"He received the facts from the Apostles and others; the import of the facts was made known to him by Christ (Gal. i. 12)." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 333.]
Three facts are primary concerning Jesus’ death. He died, He died for people’s sins, and He died as the Scriptures revealed He would. These facts received constant reaffirmation in the early preaching of the church (cf. Acts 3:13-18; Acts 8:32-35).
"People are wicked and sinful; they do not know God. But Christ died ’for our sins,’ not only to forgive but also to free people from their sins. Hence Paul’s extreme agitation at the Corinthians’ sinfulness, because they are thereby persisting in the very sins from which God in Christ has saved them. This, after all, is what most of the letter is about." [Note: Fee, "Toward a . . .," p. 49.]
"The language ’for our sins’ is a direct reflection of the LXX of Isaiah 53. Since Judaism did not interpret this passage messianically, at least not in terms of a personal Messiah, [Note: Footnote 56: See A. Neubauer, ed., The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, According to [the] Jewish Interpreters, 2 vols.] and since there is no immediate connection between the death of Jesus and the idea that his death was ’for our sins,’ it is fair to say that whoever made that connection is the ’founder of Christianity.’ All the evidence points to Jesus himself, especially at the Last Supper with his interpretation of his death in the language of Isaiah 53 as ’for you’ (see on 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 724.]
Burial emphasizes the finality of the Messiah’s death (cf. Acts 2:29) and serves as evidence of the reality of His resurrection (cf. Acts 13:29-30). He could not have truly arisen if He had not truly died.
The perfect tense and passive voice of the Greek verb translated "was raised" implies that since God raised Him He is still alive. The third day was Sunday. Friday, the day of the crucifixion, was the first day, and Saturday was the second. The phrase "according to the Scriptures" probably describes the Resurrection alone in view of the structure of the sentence in Greek (cf. Leviticus 23:10-14; Psalms 16:10-11; Psalms 17:15; Isaiah 53:10 b; Hosea 6:2; Matthew 12:38-41).
"Though the resurrection is part of the gospel message, it is not part of the saving work of Christ on the cross. The resurrection is stated as proof of the efficacy of Christ’s death. Having accomplished redemption by His death, Jesus Christ was ’raised because of our justification’ (Romans 4:25). The fact that Jesus Christ is alive is part of the Christian’s good news, but individuals are saved by His death, not by His resurrection." [Note: Thomas L. Constable, "The Gospel Message," in Walvoord: A Tribute, p. 203.]
Peter was, of course, the leader of the disciples. Perhaps Paul referred to the Lord’s special appearance to Peter (Luke 24:34) because some in the Corinthian church revered Peter (1 Corinthians 1:12) as well as because he was the key disciple. "The twelve" refers to the 12 disciples even though only 11 of them were alive when the Lord appeared to them. This was a way of referring to that particular group of Jesus’ followers during His earthly ministry (Matthew 10:1).
This is the only record of this particular appearance in the New Testament. That Jesus appeared to so many people at one time is evidence that His resurrection body was not a spirit. Many people testified that they had seen Him on this single occasion. Since the Resurrection took place about 23 years before Paul wrote this epistle, it is reasonable that the majority of this group of witnesses was still alive. Any skeptical Corinthians could check with them.
This James was most likely the half-brother of Jesus. He became the leader of the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 15:13-21). The apostles as a group included Matthias, who was not one of the 12 original disciples. This probably refers to a collective appearance to all the apostles.
Paul regarded the Lord’s appearance to him on the Damascus road as an equivalent post-resurrection appearance and the Lord’s last one.
"Paul thinks of himself here as an Israelite whose time to be born again had not come nationally (cp. Matthew 23:39), so that his conversion by the appearing of the Lord in glory (Acts 9:3-6) was an illustration, or instance, before the time of the future national conversion of Israel. See Ezekiel 20:35-38; Hosea 2:14-17; Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:6; Romans 11:25-27; 1 Timothy 1:16)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1247.]
Another better view, I think, is that Paul meant that he had become an apostle after the Twelve had become apostles.
Paul may have referred to himself as he did (lit. an abortion) not because his apostleship came to him prematurely. The Lord appointed him some time after the others. He may have done so because compared with the backgrounds and appointments of the other apostles Paul’s were unusual. He lacked the normal "gestation period" of having accompanied the Lord during His earthly ministry (cf. Acts 1:21-22).
"Since this is such an unusual term of deprecation, and since it occurs with the article, the ’abortion,’ it has often been suggested that the Corinthians themselves have used the term to describe Paul, as one who because of his personal weaknesses is something of a ’freak’ in comparison with other apostles, especially Apollos and Peter. Others have suggested that the term is a play on Paul’s name-Paulus, ’the little one.’ Hence they dismissed him as a ’dwarf.’ This has the advantage of helping to explain the unusual ’digression’ in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, where he in fact allows that he is ’least’ of all the apostles; nonetheless God’s grace worked the more abundantly in his behalf.
"In any case, whether it originated with them, which seems altogether likely, or with Paul himself in a sudden outburst of self-disparagement, it seems hardly possible to understand this usage except as a term that describes him vis-à-vis the Corinthians’ own view of apostleship." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 733.]
Paul stressed the appearances of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:5-9) because they prove that His resurrection was not to a form of "spiritual" (i.e., non-corporeal, not physical or material) existence. Just as His body died and was buried, so it was raised and many witnesses saw it, often many witnesses at one time.
The apostle probably used their view of him as a "freak" to comment on his view of himself in this verse and the next one. Evidently Paul felt himself the least worthy to be an apostle. He did not regard his apostleship as inferior to that of the other apostles, however (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10; Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:21). The reason he felt this way was because while the other apostles were building up the church he was tearing it down.
Paul’s apostolic calling was a gracious gift from God. The giving of God’s grace proves vain when it does not elicit the appropriate response of loving service. Paul responded to God’s unusually great grace to him by offering back unusually great service to God. However, he did not view his service as self-generated but the product of God’s continual supply of grace to him. God saved Paul by grace, and Paul served God by God’s grace.
Paul and the other apostles all believed and preached the same gospel. Paul did not proclaim a different message from what Peter, James, and the others did (cf. Galatians 2:1-10). This commonly agreed on message is what the Corinthians had believed when those who had ministered in Corinth had preached to them. By denying the resurrection the Corinthians were following neither Apollos, nor Cephas, nor Christ. They were pursuing a theology of their own.
The point of this section of verses was to present the gospel message, including the account of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, as what many reliable eyewitnesses saw and all the apostles preached. Paul did this to stress that Jesus Christ’s resurrection, which most of the Corinthian Christians accepted, had objective reality, not to prove that He rose from the dead. Even though Paul had a different background from the other apostles, he heralded the same message they did. Consequently his original readers did not need to fear that what they had heard from him was some cultic perversion of the truth. It was the true gospel, and they should continue to believe it.
Belief in the resurrection of the body seems to have been difficult for Greeks to accept in other places as well as in Corinth (cf. Acts 17:32; 2 Timothy 2:17-18). Evidently some of the Corinthian Christians were having second thoughts about this doctrine.
"These deniers apparently believe that those who are truly ’spiritual’ (in the Corinthians’ sense) are already ’reigning with Christ’ in glory (see 1 Corinthians 4:8)." [Note: Furnish, p. 74.]
"On the whole the Greek did believe in the immortality of the soul, but the Greek would never have dreamed of believing in the resurrection of the body." [Note: Barclay, The Letter . . ., p. 156.]
The negative alternative 15:12-19
Paul first appealed to the Corinthians’ logic. In this form of logic, called modus tollens, Paul’s argument was that since Christ was raised there is a resurrection of believers. That Paul had believers in view, rather than all people, seems clear in that he was discussing the hope of believers. Other passages teach the resurrection of other groups of people, even all others (e.g., Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:4-5; Revelation 20:12; et al.). Here it becomes clear for the first time in the chapter that some of the Corinthians were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. If they were correct, Christ did not arise, and they had neither a past nor a future.
2. The certainty of resurrection 15:12-34
In the preceding paragraph Paul firmly established that the gospel the Corinthians had believed contained the fact that God had raised Jesus Christ bodily, along with other equally crucial facts. Next he proceeded to show the consequences of rejecting belief in the resurrection of the body.
"Paul uses reductio ad absurdum: if there is no resurrection (i.e., of believers in the future), then Jesus did not rise (1 Corinthians 15:12-13), a point on which he dwells at length (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul provides rhetorical emphasis through a series of seven if-then statements)." [Note: Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 126.]
Belief in bodily resurrection is foundational to the Christian faith. If the resurrection of the body is impossible, then the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fiction. If He did not rise, the apostles’ preaching rested on a lie, and consequently the Corinthians’ faith would have been valueless and misplaced.
This is the first in a series of conditional statements that run through 1 Corinthians 15:19. They are first class conditions in the Greek text, which express the assumption of reality for the sake of the argument. In 1 Corinthians 15:13 Paul did not express disbelief in the resurrection from the dead. He assumed there is none to make a point. This was also his tactic in 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:19.
If there were no resurrection of the body, the apostles would not just be in error, they would be false witnesses against God. They would be saying something untrue about God, namely, that He raised Jesus Christ when He really had not. This would be a serious charge to make against the man who had founded their church and claimed to represent God. Really by denying the resurrection the unbelieving Corinthians were the false witnesses.
Paul repeated his line of thought contained in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 in different terms. If Christ was still dead and in the grave, then confidence in Him for salvation is futile. [Note: See Norman L. Geisler, "The Significance of Christ’s Physical Resurrection," Bibliotheca Sacra 146:582 (April-June 1989):148-70.] This means the believer is still dead in his or her sins. He or she is without any hope of forgiveness or eternal life. Christians who had already died would be lost forever, eternally separated from God.
"The denial of their future, that they are destined for resurrection on the basis of Christ’s resurrection, has the net effect of a denial of their past, that they have received forgiveness of sins on the basis of Christ’s death." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 743.]
Paul evidently meant that, given the Corinthians’ position, the believer has no future of any kind. "Perished" probably has this meaning since even though they denied the resurrection they were baptizing for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29). It seems unlikely that they would have done this if they believed that death ended all.
If the Christian’s hope in Christ is just what he or she can expect this side of the grave, that one deserves pity. Of course there are some benefits to trusting Christ as we live here and now (cf. 1 Timothy 4:8). However, we have to place these things in the balance with what we lose in this life for taking a stand for Him (cf. Philippians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; 1 Corinthians 9:25). If we have nothing to hope for the other side of the grave, the Christian life would not be worth living.
To summarize his argument, Paul claimed that if believers have no future, specifically resurrected bodies like Christ’s, we have no past or present as well. That is, we have no forgiveness of our sins in the past, and we have no advantage over unbelievers in the present.
"It is a point of very great importance to remember that the Corinthians were not denying the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; what they were denying is the resurrection of the body; and what Paul is insistent upon is that if a man denies the possibility of the resurrection of the body he has thereby denied the possibility of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and has therefore emptied the Christian message of its truth and the Christian life of its reality." [Note: Barclay, The Letter . . ., p. 153.]
The argument advances here by connecting the believer with Christ. Christ was the firstfruits of the larger group of those whom God has chosen for salvation. This is the last mention of Christ’s resurrection in the argument, but all that follows rests on this fact.
The Jews celebrated Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month on their sacred calendar. Jesus died on the day Jewish fathers slew the Passover lamb, which was a Friday that year. The Jews offered a sacrifice of firstfruits the day after the Sabbath (Saturday) following the Passover (Leviticus 23:10-11), namely, Sunday. This was the day Jesus arose. Fifty days later on Pentecost they presented another offering of new grain that they also called an offering of firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15-17). The firstfruits they offered following the Passover were only the first of the crops that they offered later. Paul saw in this comparison the fact that other believers would rise from the dead just as Jesus Christ did. He used the firstfruits metaphor to assert that the resurrection of believers is absolutely inevitable. God Himself has guaranteed it.
The positive reality 15:20-28
Paul turned next to show that the resurrection of Christ makes the resurrection of believers both necessary and inevitable. The consequences of this fact are as glorious as the effects of His not being raised are dismal. Those "in Christ" must arise since Christ arose. His resurrection was in the past, but ours will be in the future. Christ’s resurrection set in motion the defeat of all God’s enemies including death. His resurrection demands our resurrection since otherwise death would remain undefeated.
The apostle also drew a lesson from two uniquely representative men: Adam and Christ. Adam derived life from another, God; but Christ is Himself the fountain of life. Adam was the first man in the old creation, and, like him, all of his sons die physically. Christ is the first man in the new creation, and, like Him, all of His sons will live physically (cf. Romans 5:12-19). Obviously Paul was referring to believers only as sons of Christ. Both Adam and Jesus were men. Therefore our resurrection will be a human resurrection, not some "spiritual" type of resurrection. Physical resurrection is as inevitable for the sons of Jesus Christ (believers) as physical death is for the sons of Adam (humans).
The word translated "order" or "turn" is a military one used of ranks of soldiers (tagma). Paul’s idea was that Christ was the first rank and experienced resurrection. Christians are in a different rank and will experience resurrection together at a different time, namely, at the Lord’s coming (Gr. parousia, lit. appearing, i.e., at the Rapture). The apostle did not go on to give a complete explanation of the various resurrections here. There will be other ranks of people who will rise at other times, including Tribulation saints, Old Testament believers, and the unsaved.
"Passages like John 5:25-29 and Revelation 20 indicate that there is no such thing taught in Scripture as a ’general resurrection.’" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:618.]
Paul’s point here was that the resurrection of Christians is just as certain to take place as the fact that Christ’s already took place. He did not mean that our resurrection will be of a different type than Christ’s (i.e., "spiritual" rather than physical).
The end refers to the end of the present heavens and earth in view of what Paul said about it here. This will come more than 1,000 years after the Rapture. Then Christ, who will have been reigning over His earthly millennial kingdom, will turn over that reign to His Father. Christ’s abolition of all other rule, authority, and power will take place when He subdues the rebels that rise up against Him at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-10). He will also defeat death, and from then on no one will die. The saved will enter the new heavens and new earth to enjoy bliss with God forever while the lost will suffer everlasting torment (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:11 to Revelation 21:1).
"Many see evidence of the millennium in Paul’s discourse on resurrection (1 Corinthians 15, esp. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28)." [Note: Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, p. 280.]
". . . it is not only possible but probable that Paul understood this final triumph to take place during the millennial reign of Christ. To sum up the principal evidence, Paul’s use of epeita (’after that’) and eita (’then’) in 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, the syntax of 1 Corinthians 15:24-25, and the parallel use of Psalms 8, 110 in 1 Corinthians 15 and Hebrews 1, 2 all point to the understanding that when Paul mentioned a kingdom and reign in 1 Corinthians 15:24-25, he referred to the reign of Christ on this earth following His return and prior to the eternal state, a time that Revelation 20:4-6 calls ’the thousand years.’" [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "Evidence from 1 Corinthians 15," in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, p. 234.]
Even though Jesus triumphed over death in his resurrection, believers still die. Therefore we must experience resurrection because we are in Christ and because only then will the final enemy, death, be subdued. Only then will God become all in all (i.e., everything that matters; cf. Colossians 3:11).
Paul saw Jesus Christ as the person who fulfilled the prophecy recorded in Psalms 8:7. [Note: See Donald R. Glenn, "Psalms 8 and Hebrews 2 : A Case Study in Biblical Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology," in Walvoord: A Tribute, pp. 44-45; and Martin Pickup, "New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament: The Theological Rationale of Midrashic Exegesis," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:2 (June 2008):353-81.] In the psalm the ruler in view is man, but He will be the Man who regained for humanity all that Adam lost (cf. Psalms 110:1). Of course, God Himself will not be under the rule of the Son of God. He is the One who will finally bring all things into subjection to Christ.
Finally God will be the head of everything (cf. Romans 11:36). The earthly millennial kingdom will end and everything will merge into the eternal kingdom of God (cf. Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:33). [Note: Cf. Saucy, The Case . . ., pp. 321-22.] Some interpreters believe the kingdom Paul referred to is Christ’s present cosmic lordship that he exercises from heaven. [Note: E.g., C. E. Hill, "Paul’s Understanding of Christ’s Kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28," Novum Testamentum 30:4 (October 1988):297-320.] But this view does not harmonize well with biblical eschatology. Christ will be submissive to His Father forever. This is the central passage that affirms the eternal functional (not ontological) subordination of the Son to the Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:22-23; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Mark 13:32; Mark 14:62; John 1:1; John 14:28; John 17:24; Ephesians 3:21; Philippians 2:9-11; Philippians 4:19-20). [Note: John V. Dahms, "The Subordination of the Son," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:3 (September 1994):351-64.] The Resurrection set in motion a chain of events that will ultimately culminate in the death of death. Then God will continue being what He has always been: "all in all."
"The meaning seems to be that there will no longer be need of a Mediator: all relations between Creator and creatures, between Father and offspring, will be direct." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 358.]
In this pericope Paul traced the career of Christ from His resurrection to His final exaltation, which will occur at the end of the present heavens and earth. Undoubtedly he intended his readers to identify with the Savior since he had taught them that believers reproduce the experiences of their Lord when they reproduce His attitudes and actions. In view of what lies ahead, how foolish it would be to deny the resurrection of the body. This passage clarifies the true significance of Easter.
This verse probably refers to proxy baptism, the custom of undergoing baptism for someone who died before he or she could experience baptism. Morris wrote that there have been 30 to 40 interpretations of this verse. [Note: Morris, p. 219. See the commentaries for other views and John D. Reaume, "Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15:29, ’Baptized for the Dead’," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):457-75.] Baptism for the dead was a custom in at least one of the mystery religions, one based close to Corinth in the neighboring town of Eleusis: the Eleusian mystery religion. [Note: Lowery, "1 Corinthians," p. 544.] Perhaps the Corinthians were practicing baptism for the dead for people who became Christians on their deathbeds or under other conditions that made it difficult or impossible for them to undergo baptism in water. However, Paul did not say they were doing this, only that some people did this. Paul’s mention of the custom is not necessarily an endorsement of it, but, on the other hand, he did not specifically condemn it either.
Whether he approved of it or not, the Corinthian believers were evidently influenced by it. It appears again that the spirit of the city of Corinth had invaded the church. Paul used this practice to argue for the reality of resurrection. His point was that if there is no physical resurrection it is foolish to undergo baptism for someone who had died because in that case they are dead and gone forever. [Note: See Barrett, pp. 362-63; and Robertson and Plummer, p. 360.] Suppose, on the other hand, there is a resurrection. When God will raise those baptized by proxy, they would not suffer shame for failure to undergo baptism while they were alive. Those who had not benefited from proxy baptism would suffer embarrassment.
The Corinthians may have carried proxy baptism over into the church from pagan religions. That is a distinct possibility since we have seen that they had done this with other pagan practices. There is nothing in Scripture that encourages this practice, though some have interpreted this verse as an encouragement. Some Christian groups that believe water baptism contributes to a person’s salvation advocate it. Today Mormons do. However the mention of a practice in Scripture does not always constitute endorsement of it. We have seen this in chapters 8-11 especially.
One writer believed the first reference to "the dead" in this verse refers to the apostles who had died metaphorically (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:31). [Note: Joel R. White, "Baptized on Account of the Dead": The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in its Context," Journal of Biblical Literature 116:3 (1997):487-99.] This seems unlikely to me in view of the prevalence of this custom in and around Corinth.
Other arguments for resurrection 15:29-34
Paul turned from Christ’s career to the Christian’s experience to argue ad hominem for the resurrection. An ad hominem argument is one that appeals to self-interest rather than to logic. The Corinthians’ actions, and his, bordered on absurdity if the dead will not rise. This paragraph is something of a digression, and the main argument resumes in 1 Corinthians 15:35.
If there is no resurrection, why did Paul endure so many hardships and dangers in his ministry? The apostle’s sacrifices do not prove there will be a resurrection, but they do show that he believed there would be one. He willingly faced death daily because he believed God would raise him and that his resurrected body would continue beyond the grave.
Paul backed up this assertion with a kind of oath. He said he faced death daily just as he boasted about the Corinthians. In this epistle Paul was quite critical of his readers. Probably he meant that he boasted in their very existence as Christians rather than that he boasted to other churches about their behavior.
One example of facing death occurred in Ephesus where Paul was when he wrote this epistle. His fight with "wild beasts" was not with wild animals. This expression describes his conflict with very hostile human adversaries. The phrase kata anthropon ("from human motives" or "for . . . human reasons," lit. according to man) identifies Paul’s words as figurative language. Furthermore Roman citizens did not participate in hand to hand combat with animals in the arenas. [Note: Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 149; Robertson and Plummer, p. 362.] Perhaps Demetrius and or Alexander were Paul’s antagonists (Acts 19:24-41; 2 Timothy 4:14).
Paul quoted Isaiah 22:13 to prove his point (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). If there is no resurrection we may as well live only for the present.
This quotation, contained in a comedy by Menander titled Thais, but perhaps dating back to Euripides, [Note: Morris, p. 221.] had become proverbial. The Greeks generally recognized it as encapsulating a wise thought. Therefore Paul used it to warn his readers that if they kept company with people who denied the resurrection their character would eventually suffer.
The Corinthians needed to think correctly. Rather than living for the present, as their pagan neighbors were undoubtedly encouraging them to do, they needed to stop sinning and fulfill their present purpose, namely, propagating the gospel. It was a shame that they had neighbors who still had no knowledge of God since they had much knowledge of God (1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 8:1).
"Since salvation finally has to do with being known by and knowing God (1 Corinthians 13:12), what makes the Corinthians’ persisting in sin so culpable is that it keeps others from the knowledge of God (1 Corinthians 15:34). [Note: Fee, "Toward a . . .," p. 40.]
It may be that Paul was also using irony to refer to the "spiritual" viewpoint of the Corinthians. The appearance of "knowledge" here again raises that possibility since, as we have seen, "knowledge" fascinated the Corinthians. Paul had also spoken something to their "shame" earlier (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:5). If he meant to be ironic, the apostle was probably putting down those responsible for taking the church in the dangerous direction that it had gone. He would have meant that his readers should sober up and stop sinning because some of them did not have the truth, which was to their shame.
These ad hominem (experiential) arguments do not prove beyond doubt that God will raise the bodies of people from the dead, but they support Paul’s stronger historical (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), logical (1 Corinthians 15:12-19), and theological (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) arguments in the preceding sections. They show that Christians generally and the apostle in particular believed in the Resurrection deeply. It affected the way they lived, as it should. [Note: For an introduction to reincarnation, which denies resurrection, see H. Wayne House, "Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Humanness," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:590 (April-June 1991):131-50.]
This objection to the resurrection has to do with the reconstruction of the body out of the same physical elements that it formerly possessed. Obviously it would be impossible to reassemble the same cells to reconstruct a person after he or she had been dead for some time. This is the primary problem that Paul solved in the rest of this pericope.
For example, if someone died at sea and sailors buried him, a fish might eat his body. The atoms and molecules of his body would become part of the fish. If a fisherman caught and ate the fish, its body would become part of the fisherman’s body. If the fisherman died and an undertaker buried him in the ground and someone eventually sowed wheat over his grave, the fisherman’s atoms and molecules would go into the wheat. A third person might eat the wheat, and so on. How could the first person’s body ever come together again?
Analogies from nature 15:35-44
A key word in this section of Paul’s argument is "body" (Gr. soma), which occurs 10 times compared to no times in the first 34 verses. The apostle proceeded to offer two sets of analogies (seeds, 1 Corinthians 15:36-38; and types of bodies, 1 Corinthians 15:39-41) that he then applied to the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
3. The resurrection body 15:35-49
Paul next addressed the objection that the resurrection of the body is impossible because when a person dies his or her body decomposes and no one can reassemble it. The Corinthians seem to have wanted to avoid thinking that the material body was essentially good. Hellenistic dualism seems to have influenced their thinking about the human body and, therefore, the resurrection. Dualism is the philosophy, so common in pagan Greek thought, that the body is only the husk of the real "person" who dwells within. The more one can live without the constraints that the body imposes the better. The biblical view, on the other hand, is that the body is essentially good and just as much a part of the real "person" as the immaterial part (cf. Genesis 2:7). The original readers did not, and most people do not, view very positively a resurrection that involves simply resuscitating human corpses. Paul proceeded to show that the resurrection of believers was not that but a resurrection of glorified bodies. Paul taught a more glorious future for believers than the present "spiritual" existence that some in Corinth lauded.
"The Corinthians are convinced that by the gift of the Spirit, and especially the manifestation of tongues, they have already entered into the spiritual, ’heavenly’ existence that is to be. Only the body, to be sloughed off at death, lies between them and their ultimate spirituality. Thus they have denied the body in the present, and have no use for it in the future." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 778.]
"Dead" (Gr. nekros) appears 11 times in 1 Corinthians 15:1-34 but only three times after 1 Corinthians 15:34. This indicates a shift in Paul’s argument.
Such an objection sounds very reasonable on the surface, but it is really foolish, and it drew a sharp rebuke from Paul. The "wise" Corinthians were "fools!" The body that God resurrects will not be the same type of body that died even though it is the body of the same person. Paul proceeded to illustrate with a seed of grain. A new form of life springs forth from death. The body surrounding the life is different before and after death. Likewise human life exists in one form of body before death, and after death it exists in a different type of body. God does this with grain, so He can do it with humans too. This is so obvious in nature that we can understand Paul’s sharp retort in 1 Corinthians 15:36. A fool in biblical literature is someone who excludes God from consideration. That is exactly what the Corinthians were doing when they failed to observe what God did in the seed that they sowed in their fields.
This passage begins and ends by stressing the differences within kinds of bodies.
"(Pet lovers take note: Paul did not teach here that animals will be resurrected. He only used them as an example.)" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:620.]
The second and fifth sentences stress the differences within genus while contrasting the earthly with the heavenly. The central elements state the realities of earthly and heavenly "bodies." Structurally the passage is a chiasm. [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 783.]
A Not all flesh is the same (i.e., earthly bodies).
B Examples of different kinds of flesh: people, animals, birds, fish
C There are heavenly and earthly kinds of bodies.
C’ The splendor of heavenly bodies is of one kind and the splendor of earthly bodies is of another kind.
B’ Examples of different kinds of splendor: sun, moon, stars
A’ Not all stars (i.e., heavenly bodies) have the same splendor.
In 1 Corinthians 15:39 Paul used animal life to point out the different types (substance) of flesh: human, land animals, birds, and fish. This anticipates what he said later about the earthly and heavenly existence of believers. A body can be genuinely fleshly and still subsist in different forms for different environments. The fact that there are different kinds of bodies among animals should help us understand that there can also be different kinds of human bodies. Some human bodies are mortal and some are immortal. Some are corruptible and others incorruptible.
Likewise the fact that celestial bodies differ in glory (brightness) should help us realize that human bodies can also differ in glory. The glory of a perishable mortal human body is much less than that of an imperishable immortal human body. Also the differing glory of the heavenly bodies argues for differences among glorified believers.
The human body goes into the ground perishable, as a seed. However, God raises it imperishable, as grain. It goes into the ground in a lowly condition (in "dishonor"), but it arises with honor ("glory"). It is weak when it dies, but it is powerful when it arises.
It is natural (Gr. psychikon, soulish), belonging to the present age; but it becomes spiritual (pneumatikos, i.e., supernatural), belonging to the future age. The Corinthians had not entered into their eschatological states yet. This would come with their resurrections. Their bodies would become spiritual, namely, fitted for their future existence. Thus "spiritual" here refers to the body’s use, as well as its substance.
". . . for pagans in and outside the church, Paul seeks to show that the fundamental relation of creation to resurrection (and behind that the identification of the Creator as the Redeemer) is a non-negotiable of the metanarrative of the Christian gospel, an essential sine qua non of the Bible’s world view, without which one is lost (1 Corinthians 15:17; cf. Acts 17:30-31)." [Note: Peter Jones, "Paul Confronts Paganism in the Church: A Case Study of 1 Corinthians 15:45," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49:4 (December 2006):736. See also René A. López, "Does The Jesus Family Tomb Disprove His Physical Resurrection?" Bibliotheca Sacra 165:660 (October-December 2008):425-46.]
The Corinthians believed that they were alive in a new kind of "spiritual" existence since they trusted Christ. This is the only type of resurrection they saw. They did not believe that human bodies had any future beyond the grave. Paul wrote to help them see that their physical bodies would be raised to continuing life, but that those bodies, while physical, would be of a different type than their present physical bodies. They would be spiritual, but of a different type than what they thought of as spiritual.
The natural body is physical, the product of Adam who received life from God (Genesis 2:7). That life resides in a body characterized as "soulish" (i.e., alive with material and immaterial components). It eventually dies. However, the resurrection body is spiritual, the product of Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who gives new life. That life will inhabit a body that will never die. Paul called it spiritual because it is ready for the spiritual rather than the physical realm. Moreover it comes to us from a spirit being, Jesus Christ, rather than a physical being, Adam. One can assume full "spiritual" existence, including a spiritual body, only as Christ did, namely, by resurrection. [Note: See Richard B. Gaffin Jr., "’Life-Giving Spirit’: Probing the Center of Paul’s Pneumatology," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:4 (December 1998):573-89.]
The analogy from Scripture 15:45-49
Paul now returned to his analogy between Adam and Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22) to reinforce his argument, which he had brought to a head in 1 Corinthians 15:44.
Even though God breathed life into Adam at Creation, that gift constituted Adam a natural person fitted for the present order. The breathing of new life into believers at resurrection, so to speak, will make us spiritual persons fitted for the eschaton. We have the physical body until the eschaton, not before it begins.
Paul may have included this word of clarification to refute the Platonic idea that the ideal precedes the real. Plato taught that the ultimate realities are spiritual, and physical things only represent them. This is probably a view that some in Corinth held. Paul said the physical body precedes the spiritual body, which is the ultimate body.
God formed Adam out of dust to live on this planet (Genesis 2:7). Jesus Christ had a heavenly origin. However, Paul seems to have meant more than this since he compared two human beings, "the first Adam" and "the last Adam." His emphasis seems to have been that the first Adam was fitted for life in this age with natural life whereas the last Adam was fitted for life in the age to come with spiritual life. God equipped both to live in the realm that they would occupy. Similarly the bodies we inherit from Adam are for earthly existence. The bodies we will receive from Christ at our resurrection will be for living in the spiritual realm. Paul was not speaking of heavenly existence as distinct from life in hell but as spiritual in contrast with earthly.
"Each race has the attributes of its Head. As a consequence of this law . . . we who once wore the likeness of the earthly Adam shall hereafter wear that of the glorified Christ. What Adam was, made of dust to be dissolved into dust again, such are all who share his life; and what Christ is, risen and eternally glorified, such will be all those who share His life." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 374.]
Those born only of the first Adam, whom God equipped to live in the natural world, likewise exist in that world. However those born also of the last Adam, whom God equipped to live in the supernatural world by resurrection, also will exist in that world. Paul concluded this pericope by reminding his readers that bearing the image of the heavenly Adam was still future, and it is certain.
God’s intent to make man in His own image (Genesis 1:26) will finally reach fulfillment when believers eventually receive bodies that enable us to live in the spiritual sphere, as He does. God forming man out of the dust of the ground and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life was only the first step toward God realizing His goal. His creation of resurrection bodies for us will be the second and final step.
"The problem is that the Corinthians believed that they had already assumed the heavenly existence that was to be, an existence in the Spirit that discounted earthly existence both in its physical and in its behavioral expressions. What Paul appears to be doing once again is refuting both notions. They have indeed borne-and still bear-the likeness of the man of earth. Because of that they are destined to die. But in Christ’s resurrection and their being ’in him’ they have also begun to bear the likeness of the man of heaven. The urgency is that they truly do so now as they await the consummation when they shall do so fully." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 795.]
The apostle’s introductory words indicate a new departure in his thought. The phrase "flesh and blood" refers to the mortal body and living mortals in particular. This was a familiar idiom in Paul’s world for humans and human bodies. [Note: Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 133.] It is impossible for us in our present physical forms to enter into, as an inheritance, the heavenly glories in the kingdom of God that Christ said He was going to prepare for us (John 14:2-3). They are of the spiritual order. "The perishable" also describes us now but looks at the destruction of our present bodies through death.
4. The assurance of victory over death 15:50-58
Paul brought his revelation of the resurrection to a climax in this paragraph by clarifying what all this means for the believer in Christ. Here he also dealt with the exceptional case of living believers’ transformation at the Rapture. Transformation is absolutely necessary to enter the spiritual mode of future existence. This transformation will happen when Christ comes.
"Behold" or "Listen" grabs the reader’s attention and announces something important. Paul was about to explain something never before revealed, a mystery (Gr. mysterion; cf. Matthew 13:11; Romans 11:25; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 14:2; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:3-4; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 5:32; Ephesians 6:19; et al.). He had previously written that at the Rapture dead Christians would rise before God will catch living Christians up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). He had just revealed that resurrection bodies will be different from our present bodies: spiritual rather than natural (1 Corinthians 15:35-39). Now he revealed that living believers translated at the Rapture would also receive spiritual bodies. Three key New Testament passages that deal with the Rapture are John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Not every Christian will die before he or she receives a new body, but every one must experience this change, even the "spiritual" Corinthians. Whether we are alive or dead when the Rapture takes place we will all receive spiritual bodies at that moment. "All" negates the doctrine of the partial rapture of the church, the view that only watchful Christians will participate in the Rapture.
This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The Greek word translated "moment" or "flash" (atomos) refers to an indivisible fragment of time. The blinking of an eye takes only a fraction of a second.
This trumpet blast will summon Christians home to heaven (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16). It is the last trumpet that connects with our destiny, the one that signals the end of our present existence and the beginning of our future existence. [Note: See Barnabas Lindars, "The Sound of the Trumpet: Paul and Eschatology," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 67:2 (Spring 1985):766-82.]
"We need not suppose that St Paul believed that an actual trumpet would awaken and summon the dead. The language is symbolical in accordance with the apocalyptic ideas of the time. The point is that the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the living will be simultaneous, as of two companies obeying the same signal." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 377.]
Some posttribulationists equate this trumpet with the seventh or last trumpet of Revelation 11:15-18. [Note: E.g., Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 73.] This does not seem to me to be valid. Other trumpets will sound announcing various other events in the future (cf. Matthew 24:31; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:14; et al.). However, Christians, believers living in the church age, will not be on the earth then, and those trumpets will not affect us. This last trumpet is not the very last one that the Bible speaks of. [Note: Renald E. Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church, pp. 259-69.] The fact that Paul included himself in the group living at the time of the Rapture shows that he expected that event to take place imminently (i.e., at any moment; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). If he had believed the Tribulation precedes the Rapture, it would have been natural for him to mention that here. [Note: For more evidence that the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation, see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 193-218; John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question; idem, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation; and Ryrie, Basic Theology, pp. 482-87.]
"Christ’s return is always imminent; we must never cease to watch for it. The first Christians thought it so near that they faced the possibility of Jesus’ return in their lifetime. Paul thinks he too may perhaps be alive when it happens." [Note: Gaston Deluz, A Companion to I Corinthians, p. 248. See also Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, ch. 6: "The Imminency of the Coming of Christ for the Church," pp. 108-37.]
"The simple fact is that Paul did not know when Christ would return. He was in the exact position in which we are. All that he knew, and all that we know, is that Christ may come at any time." [Note: Lenski, p. 737.]
Paul did not answer the interesting questions of who will blow or who will hear this trumpet probably because the trumpet appears to be a metaphor for God’s summons. Throughout Israel’s history God announced His working for the nation and He summoned His people to Himself with the blowing of literal trumpets (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:18; Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 10:2; Numbers 10:8-10; et al.). So He may use a literal trumpet for this purpose at the Rapture as well.
The dead will rise in bodies that are not subject to corruption, and the living will receive immortal bodies too. Paul may have wanted to contrast the dead and the living by the terms he chose for each in the first and second parts of this verse respectively. [Note: Joachim Jeremias, "Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God," New Testament Studies 2 (1955-56):152.] Still the distinction is not strong enough to be significant. Both the dead and the living will receive imperishable (i.e., immortal) bodies.
This transformation will fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 25:8. What Paul just revealed harmonizes with prophetic Scripture: God will overcome death (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:23-28).
Paul modified for his own purposes Hosea’s defiant challenge for death (personified) to do its worst (Hosea 13:14) and used the passage to taunt death himself. Death is man’s last enemy (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25). God will defeat it when He raises His people to life.
The fatal sting of death touches humans through sin (Romans 6:23). What makes sin sinful is the law of God (Romans 7:7-11). Because Jesus Christ overcame sin and fulfilled the law, death cannot hold its prey (Romans 5:12-21). Death is still an enemy in the sense that it robs us of mortal life. Notwithstanding it is not a terror to the believer because it is the doorway into an immortal life of glory.
The victory over the condemnation of the law, sin, and death comes to us through Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:2). For this Paul was very grateful to God, as every believer should be (cf. Romans 7:25).
Paul concluded his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:40; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33; 1 Corinthians 11:33-34; 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:39-40).
"Despite the magnificent crescendo with which Paul brings the argument of chap. 15 to its climax, the last word is not the sure word of future hope and triumph of 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; rather, in light of such realities, the last word is an exhortation to Christian living (1 Corinthians 15:58). Thus, eschatological salvation, the great concern of the epistle, includes proper behavior or it simply is not the gospel Paul preaches." [Note: Fee, "Toward a . . .," p. 58.]
"Eschatology has moral implications (1 Corinthians 6:13-14; 1 Corinthians 15:30-32; 1 Corinthians 15:58)." [Note: Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 135.]
Specifically, Paul’s exhortation does not just call for ethical behavior (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33-34) but for continued involvement in fulfilling the Great Commission, which is the work of the gospel.
This chapter began with a review of the gospel message from which some in the Corinthian church were in danger of departing by denying the resurrection. The charge to remain steadfast (1 Corinthians 15:58) therefore probably means to remain steadfast in the gospel as the Lord and the apostles had handed it down. Paul’s readers should not move away from it but should remain immovable in it. They should also increase their efforts to serve the Lord even as Paul had done (1 Corinthians 15:10). Rather than living for the present (1 Corinthians 15:32) believers should live in the present with the future clearly in view (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 9:26). One day we will have to give an account of our stewardship (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
No one except Jesus Christ has come back from the dead to tell us what is on the other side. However, His testimony through His apostles is sufficient to give us confidence that there is life and bodily resurrection after death. We will live that life in a changed body that will be incapable of perishing. It is therefore imperative that we make sure that we and all around us enter that phase of our existence with our sins covered by the sacrifice of Christ. [Note: See also Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?; John Wenham, The Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict?; Josh McDowell, More Than A Carpenter; Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection; and Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?]