(f) The Fact and the Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead
Some Corinthians disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead—not, apparently, in Christ's Resurrection, though St. Paul felt this would soon follow, but in their own future resurrection. This occasioned him to write this grand chapter, which has cheered the hearts of so many mourners, read, as the greater part of it is, at the burial of the dead. He first (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) repeats the historical evidence for Christ's Resurrection, a truth taught by all Christian teachers to all their converts; then shows (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) that the denial of the resurrection of the dead leads logically to the denial of Christ's Resurrection, thus overthrowing the whole Christian faith. He next (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) speaks of the consequences of Christ's Resurrection; and (1 Corinthians 15:29-34) the influence of the hope of resurrection upon Christian life and practice.
He then throws light on the nature of the resurrection-body (1 Corinthians 15:35-44), by using the analogy of seed and plant, and reminding his readers of the differences now existing between various bodies. So the resurrection-body will spring from the earthly one, but be far more glorious, a spiritual body, not like Adam's earthly body, but like Christ's glorified one (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). The bodies of the living (1 Corinthians 15:50-52) will experience a similar change. This resurrection change is the final victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:53-58). The Apostle's teaching is to be distinguished from the doctrine of the immortality of the soul taught by the great heathen thinkers like Socrates and Plato. It includes that doctrine, but adds to it the doctrine of the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23); and bases the whole doctrine of the resurrection-life upon the fact that Christ is risen from the dead.
The doctrine of resurrection and future life was not clearly revealed in OT. times. Death was commonly regarded not as the end of all things, but as followed by a shadowy existence, not worth calling a life, cut off from all its joys and even from God Himself (Psalms 6:5; Psalms 88:5, Psalms 88:12; Isaiah 38:18). So the rewards and punishments set before Israel in the Law were temporal ones (Deuteronomy 28). But God gradually led His people on to clearer light. (1) Their consciousness of communion with God was so strong that they felt death could not end it (Psalms 73:24-26). (2) They felt a future life was required to vindicate God's justice. Isaiah (Isaiah 26:19) speaks of a national resurrection (cp. Ezekiel 37); Daniel (Daniel 12:2) of an individual one. The hope gradually grew stronger; in our Lord's day the Pharisees held to it firmly, though the Sadducees denied it (2 Maccabees and the Psalms of Solomon, probably written by Pharisees about 45 b.c., show the prevalence of this hope). But our Lord's Resurrection changed what was previously only partially revealed into a 'sure and certain hope': cp. 2 Timothy 1:10. Not only did it (1) prove the truth of His claim to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4), and (2) assure men that His sacrifice had been accepted (Romans 4:25); it is (3) appealed to by St. Paul as a call to Christians, in virtue of their mystical union with Christ, to live no longer to sin, but to God (Romans 6:4, etc.); and (4) it is the pledge that we too shall rise again (here, and 2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 8:11, etc.). And what we gather as to the nature of Christ's resurrection-body (Luke 24; John 20) throws light upon the change in ours, which will be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:21 RV). It was a real body, bearing the marks of His former 'natural' body (John 20:27); capable of receiving food (Luke 24:43), and of being recognised by those who had formerly known Him, though apparently only when He willed to be recognised: cp. Luke 24:15-16, Luke 24:31. Yet it could be transported mysteriously from place to place, passing even through the closed doors. St. Paul uses the analogy of plant and seed to explain the relation of the resurrection-body to the present one. We may infer that the glorified body will have some relation to the natural body, thus preserving personal identity; but will not be composed of the identical material particles of the body laid to rest; it will be free from its limitations and imperfections, a fit abode for the perfected spirit.
i-ii. The historical evidence for Christ's Resurrection. St. Paul reminds his converts of his original teaching at Corinth—how the Resurrection was one of the essentials of his gospel message. As at Athens (Acts 17:18) he preached 'Jesus and the Resurrection,' and their position as Christians rests upon their adherence to this truth. His great message to them was Christ's atoning death, His burial, and His return from the grave. He mentions five separate appearances of Christ after His Resurrection, and finally mentions the Lord's appearance to himself. He reminds them that, although unworthy to be called an Apostle on account of His former persecution of the Church, God's grace has made him a true Apostle. And he concludes by pointing out that in the matter of proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ he and the other Apostles are at one.
2. Are saved] i.e. are in the way of salvation (see on 1 Corinthians 1:18), by faith in the crucified and risen Saviour. Keep in memory] RV 'hold fast.'
Have believed (RV 'believed,' i.e. at your conversion and baptism) in vain] i.e. without consideration, and so without stability.
3. I delivered.. which I received] see on 1 Corinthians 11:2, 1 Corinthians 11:23. Probably he 'received' the accounts of these appearances of the risen Lord on his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 9:27-28; Galatians 1:18-19), when he saw Peter and James. First of all] As most important. For our sins] i.e. to atone for them.
According to the scriptures] Not by accident, but in fulfilment of God's plan: cp. Isaiah 53; Luke 24:44-46.
4. Buried] This proves the reality of both Death and Resurrection.
5. He was seen] RV 'appeared to.' Not a complete list. Mary Magdalene, e.g., and the two at Emmaus (Luke 24) are omitted. He mentions those personally known to himself, and whose authority would have weight at Corinth.
Cephas, then of the twelve] Luke 24:33-36.
6. Above five hundred brethren at once] probably on the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17). Some are fallen asleep] i.e. dead. Twenty-five years at least had elapsed. Sleep is used of death often in OT. (e.g. 1 Kings 2:10), but Christ, by using it of those He was about to restore to life (Matthew 9:24; John 11:11-13), and by His own Resurrection, which is the assurance of ours, has given new meaning to it, viz. not merely cessation of the work of life, but a sleep from which we shall awake to new life.
7. James] The Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19; Acts 15:13). This appearance is not mentioned in the Gospels.
All the apostles] probably just before the Ascension, Acts 1:4.
The present passage is the oldest account of the appearances of the risen Lord, written years before any of our Gospels, and only about twenty-five years after the events, while hundreds of witnesses were still living. It is thus a most valuable piece of evidence as to the certainty of our Lord's Resurrection, which would remain firmly attested even if the authenticity of our Gospels were denied.
8. Of me also] on the road to Damascus, at his conversion (Acts 9). Born out of due time] Suddenly, without the gradual training of the rest; as inferior as an immature birth is to a mature one.
9. The least of the apostles] cp. 1 Timothy 1:12-16.
10. I am what I am] i.e. an Apostle. Not in vain] i.e. was justified by its results. His apostolic work, as well as his apostleship itself, was due to the grace of God.
11. Or they] i.e. the other Apostles; Christ's Resurrection was taught by all Christian preachers, accepted by all believers.
12-19. Denial of the resurrection of the dead logically involves the denial of Christ's Resurrection, which would overthrow the whole Christian Faith. The belief in the resurrection of the dead is bound up with the Resurrection of Christ. But His Resurrection shows that resurrection is not an impossibility, and as He is Son of man, 'the spiritual head of humanity,' His Resurrection does not stand by itself; it is man's resurrection also. The Corinthians accepted the truth of the Resurrection of Christ, and the Apostle asks them how they can logically deny the truth of the resurrection of the dead. He then proceeds to establish the truth of the resurrection of the dead by the method of indirect proof, showing the awful consequences which would result from its denial. The first of these impossible consequences is that Christ is not risen; another is that they are still unforgiven sinners, their faith being useless; a third is that the Apostles are proclaiming falsehoods; and a fourth is that their beloved dead are hopelessly lost to them. He concludes, therefore, that if their hope in Christ has reference only to the present life they are in a pitiable state, for they are cherishing a mere delusion, if there be no truth in the resurrection of the dead.
12. How say some among you, etc.] Their unbelief probably sprang from the philosophical idea that the matter was essentially evil, so that the soul would be better off when set free from the body; thus the doctrine of the Resurrection was to them a needless difficulty: cp. also 2 Timothy 2:17. The Corinthians, however, accepted the Resurrection of Christ as a fact, and the Apostle argues that they cannot logically deny the fact of the resurrection of the dead, as Christ's Resurrection is a particular case of it.
13. Then is Christ not risen] For if a thing be altogether impossible, there cannot be even one instance of it. In this and the following vv. (see summary) the Apostle shows the logical consequences of disbelief in the resurrection, or, rather, the consequences that would follow were there no resurrection. These consequences, he concludes, are unthinkable or absurd, and, therefore, he argues that the premises which produce them are false.
14. Vain] i.e. there is nothing in it.
15. False witnesses] not merely empty talkers, but positive liars. No thoughtful sceptic now-a-days regards the Apostles as impostors. Their character, as well as their sufferings, forbids this; but he would say they were victims of a mistake—merely imagined they saw the risen Lord. But the idea of this never enters St. Paul's mind; it was to him perfectly impossible that they could have been mistaken.
17. Yet in your sins] not justified from them (Romans 2:25); unforgiven, unrenewed. 'Christ's Resurrection is the seal of our justification and the spring of our sanctification' (Findlay). If there be no resurrection, of what avail are forgiveness and salvation?
18. They also which are fallen asleep] The Apostle here argues from the natural affections of the human heart. It is impossible to believe that those who died in faith in Christ perished utterly. The inference is: 'But we are sure these things are not so; therefore Christ has risen; therefore the resurrection is possible.' He argues from Christian experience.
19. If in this life only we have hope in Christ] If our hope in Him does not reach beyond this life, we are most miserable (RV 'pitiable'), because the hope of future joy and blessing which inspires our toils and sufferings is a mere delusion.
20-28. The fact and the consequences of Christ's Resurrection. Christ is risen as the firstfruits of those who sleep. As death came on all through Adam, so resurrection-life will come to all through Him. But this will only be at His coming, which will be followed by His handing over the Mediatorial Kingdom to the Father, now that all things, even death itself, have been subjected to Him.
20. The firstfruits] The first sheaf accepted by God is a pledge of the coming harvest: cp. Leviticus 23:10-11;
21, 22. The Apostle, as in Romans 5, contrasts Adam, from whom by natural descent we all derive a corrupt nature, with Christ the second Adam, the Son of man, our spiritual head, by union with whom we receive spiritual life. All.. all] The first 'all' means, of course, all mankind. The second may mean the same, in which case shall be made alive simply refers to resurrection, whether to life or to judgment (John 5:28-29 cp. Daniel 12:2; Acts 24:15). But perhaps more probably it means only, 'all those who are Christ's' (1 Corinthians 15:23), who shall enjoy the 'resurrection of life.' Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:23, 'Christ the firstfruits: then they that are Christ's.'
23. In his own order] i.e. rank, or place. Christ comes first, the rest long after.
24. Then cometh the end] Christ's Advent and the Resurrection conclude this dispensation. When he shall have delivered up the kingdom] The purpose of the Incarnation will have been accomplished; Christ will have recovered for His Father the dominion over all things. 'This is no ceasing of Christ's rule, but the inauguration of God's eternal kingdom'(Findlay). All rule] i.e. every opposing power.
25. He must reign] according to prophecy (Psalms 110:1).
26. The last enemy] 'The first enemy of Christ and of Christians is the devil, who was conquered by Christ on the Cross; the second is sin, which through the grace of Christ is conquered by Christians in this life; the third is death, which, as the last of all, will be conquered at the Resurrection' (quoted by Sadler).
27. For he (God) hath put all things under his (Christ's) feet] cp. Psalms 8:6; Hebrews 2:8; Philippians 2:9-11. The Father has bestowed upon Him as Son of man dominion over the whole universe. When he saith, etc.] RM 'when he shall have said, All things are put in subjection (evidently excepting him that did subject all things unto him), when, I say, all things,' etc.; i.e. when Christ announces His complete victory, which is no infringement of God's sovereignty.
28. Then shall the Son also himself be subject] see on 1 Corinthians 15:24. The Son will continue to be subordinate to the Father, as now. This is involved in the very idea of Sonship: cp. 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3. That God may be all in all] The universe, with all it comprises, will wholly answer to God's will and reflect His mind.
29-34. The practical effects of the doctrine of the Resurrection. The Resurrection alone gives an adequate motive for (a) baptism for the dead; (b) running risk of death in Christian work; or indeed (c) abstaining from a life of self-indulgence.
29. Baptized for the dead] a very obscure allusion. There was somewhat later a practice, among certain sects of vicarious baptism; when a man died unbaptised, a friend would receive baptism in his stead. This may have already existed and be meant here. St. Paul mentions 'baptism for the dead,' without expressing his approval; but some think the practice sprang up later from a perversion of this passage. Two other views seem possible. (1) That of St. Chrysostom: 'Before baptism we confess our faith in “the resurrection of the dead,” and are baptised in hope of this resurrection.' (2) That of Godet, who regards the baptism as the baptism of suffering, the baptism with which those were baptised who have by martyrdom entered the Church invisible. But it can scarcely be denied that, as Dr. Dods says, 'the plain meaning of the words seems to point to a vicarious baptism, in which a living friend received baptism for a person who had died without baptism.'
31. By your rejoicing] RV 'by that glorying in you,' i.e. as surely as I am proud of you: cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; I die daily] am daily in danger of death, and my daily sufferings must end in it: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:23.
32. After the manner of men] i.e. from ordinary human motives, for applause or money; and with no hope of reward in the resurrection life. I have fought with beasts] probably a strong metaphor (cp. 1 Corinthians 4:9) for some plot of the Jews or attack of the mob. His Roman citizenship and influential friends (Acts 19:31) would have saved him from actually having to fight wild beasts in the theatre; and this, if it had really happened, would probably have been specially mentioned (2 Corinthians 11:23).
If the dead rise not] RV takes this with the next sentence. Let us eat and drink] Isaiah 22:13. The natural though not the necessary consequence of disbelief in a future life is to care only for self-gratification.
33, 34. Do not associate with those who deny this vital truth. You are in great danger of being corrupted by them. Be aroused to a sense of your condition, and cease from sin. I trust that my words will shame you out of your folly.
33. Evil communications] RV 'evil company,' a quotation from a Greek poet, Menander, warning the Corinthians against the influence of heathen ideas about the future life. The line had probably in St. Paul's day become a proverb, as it is still.
34. Some have not the knowledge of God] hence both unbelief in resurrection, and low moral tone. To your shame] i.e. to shame you; for you ought to surpass the heathen.
35-44. The nature of the Resurrection and the Resurrection body. St. Paul here uses several illustrations of (a) the possibility (b) the nature of the resurrection change. The seed sown in the ground decays, but gives birth to a new plant. So from the body laid in the grave a nobler one will arise. There are in the world many varieties of animal life, each suited to its surroundings, and, moreover, bodies of heavenly beings as well as earthly far more glorious than they. Moreover, sun, moon, and various stars have different degrees of brightness. So our resurrection body will be far more glorious, adapted to its surroundings. Our body sown in corruption, dishonour, weakness—a mere natural body—will be raised in incorruption, honour, power—a spiritual body: see intro. to this c.
36. Thou fool] RV 'thou foolish one.' The Apostle is somewhat impatient of objections to his doctrine of the Resurrection, which the analogies of nature readily refute. That which] i.e. the seed which. Is not quickened, except it die] cp. John 12:24. In nature, death leads to higher life.
37. Not that body that shall be, but bare (RV 'a bare') grain] The actual seed sown does not reappear, but something higher, a complete plant, springs from it.
38. His own body] RV 'a body of its own,' i.e. a plant of the same kind as the seed.
39. There are many different forms of animal life; so there may be of human life.
40. Celestial bodies] probably this refers to angels, not to sun and moon, etc. But this leads him in the next v. to speak of degrees of glory. Bodies terrestrial] i.e. creatures of the earth.
41. One star differeth] The primary meaning is the literal one. Some stars are brighter than others. There are great differences between things of the same class; so also between the natural and the spiritual body.
44. A natural body] (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:14, 'the natural man') endowed with natural life and fitted for an earthly existence. The spiritual body will be filled with spiritual life and adapted for a spiritual existence. The word 'natural' is literally 'soulish,' and suggests the possession of an ordinary human personality; while the word 'spiritual' suggests a relation to the divine. Man possesses the spiritual life through his union with Christ, and the Apostle asserts that there is a spiritual body fitted for the requirements of this spiritual life, and that he will come into possession of it in the resurrection life
45-49. Our bodies will be like Christ's, no longer like Adam's. Adam, made from the earth, became 'a living soul'; Christ, who is from heaven, is constituted a life-giving Spirit. We belong to both, and so share the nature of both; we have borne the image of the earthly man, we shall bear that of the heavenly Man.
45. Was made a living soul] (Genesis 2:7). Life was given to him, while Christ is the Giver of life. The last Adam was made] RV 'became' (i.e. at His Resurrection). A quickening (RV 'lifegiving') spirit] bestowing resurrection as well as spiritual life: cp. John 5:21-29; John 11:25, John 11:26. The last Adam] the new Head of the human race: cp. John 11:21-22, Romans 5.
47. Of the earth, earthy] hence subject to decay and death: cp. Genesis 3:19, 'out of it' (the ground) 'wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.' From heaven] and so, spiritual and eternal.
49. Have borne the image] i.e. have been made like. Our present body is Like Adam's, but it will be conformed to the body of Christ's glory (Philippians 3:21).
50-53. The necessity of this change, in which the living will share. Our earthly perishable nature cannot take possession of God's imperishable kingdom. All men will not pass through death, but all alike will be instantaneously transformed. Our mortal nature must clothe itself with immortality.
50. Flesh and blood] i.e. human nature in its present material and perishable condition. Inherit] take possession of; have rightful entrance upon. The argument is, that such a spiritual body as he has been speaking of is absolutely necessary in the kingdom of God.
51. Not all sleep] for some will be living when Christ comes again.
52. At the last trump] cp. Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16;—a signal which all will hear: cp. also Exodus 19:18. We] i.e. those still living; the quick.
Shall be changed] The Apostle hoped Christ would return in his lifetime.
53. This mortal (body) must put on immortality] cp. 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.
54-58. The Resurrection is the final triumph over sin and death. When this glorious body has been received, then will be the end of death and the grave. Sin, too, shall have disappeared, and the Law will be no longer necessary. Over all God gives us the victory through Christ. Let us therefore praise Him, and seek to abound in His work, which is not in vain if done in Christ.
54, 55. Death is swallowed up, etc.] Isaiah 25:8. O death, where is thy sting, etc.] from Hosea 13:14.
56. The sting of death is sin] which brought death into the world (Romans 5:12), and gives it its bitterness: cp. Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:16. And the strength of sin is the law] which reveals sin and, indeed, 'intensifies its power,' without giving power to overcome it (Romans 7:7-13; Romans 8:2, Romans 8:8). But God giveth us the victory over sin now (Romans 8:1-2), and hereafter over death (Romans 8:11).
Through our Lord] because Christ has overcome sin, and through faith in Him we, inspired by His Spirit, overcome it also.
58. Unmoveable] not shaken by false teaching. Not in vain] contrast 1 Corinthians 15:16-19. In the Lord] Christ is regarded as the atmosphere, so to speak, in which their work is done. It is inspired by Him and done for Hi sake: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:1.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter