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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 15

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) Moreover, brethren.—This chapter is throughout occupied with the DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD. The occasion which caused the Apostle to dwell at such length and with such emphasis on this subject was the denial of the resurrection by some members of the Corinthian Church. It has been suggested by some writers that what the Apostle had to combat was a false conception of the resurrection—that at Corinth there were probably those who refined away the doctrine of the resurrection into merely a rising from the death of sin into a life of righteousness, something after the manner of Hymenæus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17-18), who taught that “the resurrection was past already.” It seems clear, however, from the emphatic statement in 1 Corinthians 15:12, and from the general scope and drift of the entire argument, that what the Apostle is here meeting is not a perversion, but a denial of the doctrine. There were many elements in such a mixed body as the Corinthian Church which would have contributed to the growth of this error. Amongst the Jewish converts would be some traces of the Sadducean (Matthew 22:23) denial of the resurrection, and in the Gentile section of the Church there would linger the spirit of the Athenians who “mocked when they heard of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 17:32), and of the Epicurean philosophers who said, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” From these and from other like sources there had crept into the Church itself a denial of the doctrine of the resurrection. In reading this chapter it is well to remember that the Apostle probably intended it, not only as a reply to these corruptors of the faith, but as supplying those who remained faithful with a confirmation of their own faith, and arguments with which they might meet their opponents. It is always difficult to give a clear, exhaustive analysis of an argument by such a writer as St. Paul. The enthusiasm of his nature leads him to mingle the syllogism of passion with the syllogism of logic; and, as he was not writing himself, but dictating the composition, a word often leads him off from his argument into some splendid outburst of pathetic exhortation, or of prophetic utterance. Still, including such digressions, the general argument of this chapter may be tabulated thus:—

I.—THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION (1 Corinthians 15:1-34).

Subdivided as follows:

(1) The resurrection proved by the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-15).

(2) The resurrection proved by an appeal to the moral consequences involved in a denial of it (1 Corinthians 15:16-28).

(3) The truth of the resurrection involved in certain existing practices (1 Corinthians 15:29-34).



Illustration from analogy (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).

(2) Illustration from our dual descent from. Adam and from Christ (1 Corinthians 15:44-49).


The great change (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).


A song of triumph (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).


Concluding exhortation (1 Corinthians 15:58).

I declare unto you.—The Apostle opens his historical argument by reminding the Corinthians that this is no new nor unimportant matter. It is the original gospel which he had preached to them, which they received, and in which they stand, and by which they are being saved (not “are saved,” as in the English).

Verse 2

(2) If ye keep in memory what I preached unto you.—Better, if ye hold fast with what word I preached the gospel to you, unless you believed in vain. The idea here is not, as implied in the English version, that they were converted, and yet that heretofore no results have followed from their belief; it is the same thought which comes out more fully in 1 Corinthians 15:17. They are saved by their faith in the gospel as preached by St. Paul, unless (which is impossible) the whole gospel be false, and so their faith in it be vain and useless.

Verse 3

(3) For I delivered . . .—Here follows the explanation and illustration of what he meant, in 1 Corinthians 15:2, by “with what word I preached the gospel.” We see here what the subject of apostolic teaching was—not indeed all the gospel that the Apostle taught, but what he considered of the first importance, and therefore put in the forefront of his teaching—viz., the historical fact of Christ’s death for our sins, His burial, His resurrection. This was the first Creed of Christendom.

For our sins.—Not only because of, but in behalf of our sins, in order to take them away (Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5). The fact of the Atonement was not something evolved by the Apostle’s own consciousness, but a fact revealed to him by Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 11:23, and Note there.)

Verse 4

(4) And that he rose again.—Better, and that He has been raised again. The burial of our Lord is dwelt upon and emphasised as the proof of the reality of His death. Similarly in the case of Lazarus, his entombment is brought out strongly as showing that it was from no trance, but from death that he arose. (See John 11:0)

According to the scriptures.—The reiteration with each statement that it was “according to the scriptures,” i.e., according to the Old Testament scriptures, the Gospel narratives not yet being in existence—shows how strongly the Apostle dwelt on the unity of the facts of Christ’s life and the predictive utterances of the prophets. The death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord were all parts of that providential plan which the deep spiritual insight of God’s servants of old illumined by the Holy Spirit had enabled them to foresee. The resurrection was no subsequent invention to try and explain away or mitigate the terrible shock which Christ’s death had given to his followers. (See Psalms 2:7; Psalms 16:10; Isaiah 53:9-10; Isaiah 55:3; Hosea 6:2.)

Verse 5

(5) That he was seen of Cephas.—From the indications of sequence here given we may conclude that the appearances here grouped together are arranged in chronological order. We have these appearances:—(1) To Cephas (see Luke 24:34). (2) To the Twelve—the phrase “the Twelve” being used to indicate, not the number of those present, but the group to which they belonged, as Decemviri might be used, or Hebdomadal Council, not to express the exact number but the corporate body—(see Luke 24:36; John 20:19). This was probably the appearance to the ten Apostles, and is distinguished from a subsequent appearance to “all the Apostles.” (3) To above five hundred brethren at once. This must have been in Galilee, for at a later date (see Acts 1:15) the Church at Jerusalem consisted of only one hundred and twenty disciples. (See Matthew 28:16-17, and Acts 1:15.) (4) To James. This appearance is recorded only here and in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which is quoted by St. Jerome, “But the Lord, when he had given the sindôn” (the same word as that for the “linen garment,” in Mark 14:51) “to the servant of the priest, had a table brought out, and bread on it, which He blessed and gave to James, saying, ‘Eat thy bread now, brother, since the Son of Man has risen from the dead;’ for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from the hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see Him rising from the dead.” (5) To all the Apostles, Thomas being present (John 20:26). (6) St. Paul himself (Acts 9:5). To these facts St. Paul appeals. Most of those who saw Him were alive. Their enemies were alive to dispute it if they could. The witnesses had nothing to gain, everything to lose by telling the truth. The evidence was set forth some twenty-five or thirty years after the occurrence of the alleged facts. The Apostle here maintains the truth of an historical fact. He appeals solely to historical proof, and accumulates a mass of historical testimony, such as in any matter of history, if produced so shortly after the occurrence, would be deemed overwhelming.

Verse 6

(6) Fallen asleep.—The same word is used of Stephen’s death (see Acts 7:60), so also in 1 Corinthians 15:18.

Verse 8

(8) Was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.—Better, Last of all, as to an untimely born one he appeared also to me. The Apostle here distinctly states that he saw the Lord at the time of his conversion as really as St. Peter and others had seen him, though with touching pathos and strongly marked emphasis he adds that it was not at the same time as the “firstborn” had seen Him, but only as an “untimely born” one.

Verse 9

(9) For I am the least of the apostles.Paulus Minimus. Here the mention of his conversion—the thought of what he had been before, what he had become since—leads the Apostle into a digression, occupying this and the next two verses. The two thoughts of his own inherent nothingness and of his greatness by the grace of God are here mingled together in expressions of intense personal feeling. While he was a persecutor he had thought that he was acting for the Church of God; he was really persecuting the Church of God. The Christian Church had completely taken the place of the Jewish Church—not merely abolished it, but superseded it.

Verse 10

(10) But by the grace of God I am what I am.—This whole verse is full of that maintenance of official dignity as an Apostle and a labourer, and of personal humility, which were characteristic of St. Paul.

Verse 11

(11) Therefore whether . . .—Better, Whether, therefore, it were I or they. Such (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4) was and is our teaching, such was your belief. It matters not from whom it came, whether from the greatest or least of the Apostles, the gospel was preached, and was accepted by you. These words thus recall the reader from the strong personal feeling shown in the preceding verse to the main argument.

Verse 12

(12) If Christ be preached that he rose from the dead.—Better, is being preached. It has been proved as a matter of historical fact that a man has risen from the dead; it is therefore illogical to say that there is no resurrection of the dead.

Verse 14

(14) If Christ be not risen.—Better, but if Christ be not raised; and so all through this passage.

Then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.—The Apostles had preached a risen Christ, their converts had believed in a risen Christ, but now the proposition is, There is no resurrection; therefore Christ is not risen; therefore the preaching and the faith which are based on the delusion that He is risen are both vain and useless. The argument is still purely an appeal to historical evidence supporting an historical fact, and to the consequences involved in denying that fact (see 1 Corinthians 15:16).

Verse 15

(15) Yea, and we are found false witnesses.—Not mistaken witnesses, but witnesses testifying to what they know to be false. This is another result involved in a denial of the doctrine of the resurrection, that the Apostles must be regarded as false witnesses—not deceived, but deceivers. The suppressed part of the argument here is the absurdity of the Apostles being such. There was no motive for them to speak untruth.

If so be that the dead rise not.—Better, if the dead be not raised.

Verse 16

(16) For if the dead rise not.—Better, if the dead be not raised. The Apostle has in the previous verse completed the argument as to the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection, which proves that the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection cannot be maintained unless it can be shown that the Apostles are wilfully bearing false testimony, and that their preaching, and the faith of those who accepted it, is vain. He now turns to a different line of argument—a reductio ad absurdum. He maintains the doctrine of the resurrection by showing the incredible absurdities to which a belief in the contrary must lead. If you do not believe in a resurrection, you must believe—(1) That Christ is not raised, and that your faith, therefore, being false, has no result—that you are still slaves of sin. This you know by personal experience to be false. As well might a living man try to believe that he is a corpse. (2) That all who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished; that is, that the noblest and most unselfish perish like brutes. (3) That God gives men a good hope in Christ, and that it, not being fulfilled here, is never to be fulfilled. In other words, if there be no resurrection, the only alternative is atheism, for otherwise you have to believe that, though there is a God who is wise and just, yet that the purest and greatest life ever lived is no better in the end than the life of a dog; that those who have lived the most unselfish lives have perished like beasts; and that God aroused a hunger and thirst of the purest kind in some souls, only that the hunger should never be satisfied, and the thirst never be quenched.

Verse 20

(20) But now . . .—From the hopeless and ghastly conclusion in which the hypothetical propositions of the previous verse would logically land us, the Apostle turns, with the consciousness of truth, to the hopeful faith to which a belief in the resurrection leads. It cannot be so. Now is Christ risen from the dead. And that is no isolated fact. As the firstfruits were typical of the whole harvest (Leviticus 23:10-11), so is Christ. He rose, not to the exclusion but to the inclusion of all Humanity. If St. Paul wrote this Epistle about the time of Passover (see Introduction, and 1 Corinthians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 16:8), the fact that the Paschal Sabbath was immediately followed by the day of offering of firstfruits may have suggested this thought.

Verse 21

(21) For since by man . . .—The image of the firstfruits is followed up by an explanation of the unity of Christ and Humanity. The firstfruit must be a sample of the same kind as that which it represents. That condition is fulfilled in the case of the firstfruits of the resurrection.

Verse 22

(22) As in Adam . . .—Better, as in the Adam all die, so in the Christ shall all be made alive. The first Adam and the second Adam here stand as the heads of Humanity. All that is fleshly in our nature is inherited from the Adam; in every true son of God it is dying daily, and will ultimately die altogether. All that is spiritual in our nature we inherit from the Christ; it is immortal, is rising daily, will ultimately be raised with a spiritual and immortal body. We must remember that the relationship of Christ to Humanity is not to be dated only from the Incarnation. Christ stood in the same federal relation to all who went before as He does to all who have come since. (See the same thought in 1 Corinthians 10:4, and in Christ’s own words, “Before Abraham was, I am.”) The results of Christ’s death are co-extensive with the results of Adam’s fall—they extend to all men; but the individual responsibility rests with each man as to which he will cherish—that which he derives from Christ or that which he derives from Adam—the “offence” of Adam or the “grace” of Christ. The best comment on this passage is, perhaps, the prayer in the Baptismal Office: “O merciful God, grant that the old Adam in this child may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up in him.” There seems to be this moral significance in these words of St. Paul, as well as the obvious argument that, as all men die physically, so all shall be raised from the dead; as we have the evidence of death in the death of a man and of all men, so we have the evidence (and not the mere theoretical promise) of a resurrection in the resurrection of the Man Christ Jesus.

Verse 23

(23) But every man in his own order.—Or, literally, in his own troop. There is to be a sequence in the resurrection of the dead, and St. Paul explains this by the three groups:—(1) Christ Himself, the firstfruits; (2) the faithful in Christ at His coming; (3) all the rest of mankind at the end, when the final judgment takes place. The interval between these latter two, as to its duration, or where or how it will be spent, is not spoken of here. The only point the Apostle has to treat of is the order of the resurrection. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 20:0)

Verse 24

(24) All rule and all authority and power.Not only hostile rule and authority and power, but all intermediate rule of any sort, good and bad. The direct government by God of all creatures is to be at last attained. All the interventions of authority and power which the fall of man rendered necessary will be needless when the complete triumph of Christ comes in. Thus Humanity, having for ages shared the condition of fallen Adam, will be finally restored to the state of unfallen Adam. Man will see God, and be ruled by God face to face.

Verses 24-28

(24-28) When he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father.—The Apostle carries on the thought of a triumph which the use of the word “troop” in the previous verse had commenced or suggested. There rises before the prophetic vision of St. Paul the final triumph of Christ over all evil, over all power, and the Son giving up to the Father (not His humanity, which is “for ever and ever”—Luke 1:32-33) the kingdom of this world, which in His humanity He conquered for the Father as well as for Himself. He will, the moment He becomes conqueror, sit down with the Father on His throne. Christ laying the spoils of a conquered world at the foot of the throne of the Father, shows, by that supreme act of self-sacrifice, that in His office as Redeemer He came, not to do His own will, but the will of the Father. In this sense the Son Himself, as Redeemer, is “put under Him”—God is all in all. We must clearly remember that the Apostle is here speaking of the Son as Redeemer, and is not penetrating into the deeper mysteries of the relation of the Persons in the Godhead. (See John 17:5; Hebrews 1:8.)

Verse 25

(25) He must reign.—It is a moral consequence. God must triumph, and so the Son must reign and conquer till that triumph be complete. Some suggest that the force of these words is that He must reign, &c., because it has been prophesied (Ps. ex.); but the more obvious truth is that it was prophesied because it is morally necessary.

Verse 27

(27) For he hath put all things under his feet.1 Corinthians 15:26 is a parenthesis, and the “for” with which this verse commences goes back to 1 Corinthians 15:25. The connection is, Christ must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. Christ must triumph, for according to the statement in Psalms 8:6 (see also Psalms 110:1), God hath put all things under man, and in a higher sense under the Son of Man. (For a similar application of Old Testament statement regarding man to Christ as the Son of Man, see Matthew 21:16; Hebrews 2:7.) But when God says that all things are put under Him, He evidently is excepted who did put all things under Him. This leads up logically to the complete triumph of God the Father, expressed in the following verse, which is an expansion of 1 Corinthians 15:24, on which see Note there.

Verse 28

(28) That God may be all in all.—In these words are expressed the complete redemption both of the race and of the individual. It is the great and sublime conclusion to which the moral enthusiasm and the earnest logic of the previous argument has necessarily brought us.

Verse 29

(29) Else.—We can well imagine the Apostle pausing, as it were, to take breath after the splendid outburst of mingled rhetoric and logic which we find in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; or perhaps even postponing until some other day the further dictation of his Epistle, when he could calmly resume his purely logical argument in favour of the doctrine of the Resurrection. Then there will not appear such a startling or inexplicable abruptness in the words with which this new argument is commenced. “Else”—i.e., if there be no resurrection—what shall they who are baptised for the dead do? If the dead be not raised at all, why are they then baptised for the dead? Such is the proper punctuation, and not as in the English version, which joins the clause, “if the dead rise not,” with the preceding instead of with the following portion of the verse. Also the word translated “rise,” is “are raised.” This is an argumentum ad hominem. The practice known as baptism for the dead was absurd if there be no resurrection. To practise it and to deny the doctrine of the resurrection was illogical. What shall they do? i.e., What explanation shall they give of their conduct? asks the Apostle. There have been numerous and ingenious conjectures as to the meaning of this passage. The only tenable interpretation is that there existed amongst some of the Christians at Corinth a practice of baptising a living person in the stead of some convert who had died before that sacrament had been administered to him. Such a practice existed amongst the Marcionites in the second century, and still earlier amongst a sect called the Corinthians. The idea evidently was that whatever benefit flowed from baptism might be thus vicariously secured for the deceased Christian. St. Chrysostom gives the following description of it:—“After a catechumen (i.e., one prepared for baptism, but not actually baptised) was dead, they hid a living man under the bed of the deceased; then coming to the bed of the dead man they spake to him, and asked whether he would receive baptism, and he making no answer, the other replied in his stead, and so they baptised the ‘living for the dead.’” Does St. Paul then, by what he here says, sanction the superstitious practice? Certainly not. He carefully separates himself and the Corinthians, to whom he immediately addresses himself, from those who adopted this custom. He no longer uses the first or second person; it is “they” throughout this passage. It is no proof to others; it is simply the argumentum ad hominem. Those who do that, and disbelieve a resurrection, refute themselves. This custom possibly sprang up amongst the Jewish converts, who had been accustomed to something similar in their own faith. If a Jew died without having been purified from some ceremonial uncleanness, some living person had the necessary ablution performed on them, and the dead were so accounted clean.

Verse 30

(30) And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?—This is the same kind of argument now applied to the Apostles themselves. Their conduct also would be illogical if they did not believe in a resurrection. Notice the strong contrast between “them,” in the previous verse, and “we” in this verse.

Verse 31

(31) I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus.—Better, I protest by your boast which I have in Christ Jesus. His converts are his boasting (2 Corinthians 9:3), and by the fact that they are his in the Lord, he utters the solemn assertion, “I die daily.” Such a life as St. Paul’s, both as regards the spiritual battles in his own soul and the ceaseless conflict with enemies around him, was indeed a daily dying (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

Verse 32

(32) If after the manner of men . . .—These words imply here, as elsewhere (1 Corinthians 3:3), “merely from a human point of view.” What is the advantage or necessity of my incurring daily risks, if I am merely a human being, with a life limited by what we see, and no immortality and resurrection awaiting me?

I have fought with beasts at Ephesus.—The question here arises, Are these words to be taken literally or figuratively? Does St. Paul refer to some actual contest in the arena with beasts, or to his conflict with the opponents at Ephesus, whom he thus designates beasts? It is scarcely possible to accept the former interpretation. There is no mention to be found of it in the Acts, and, moreover, his Roman citizenship would have legally protected him against such treatment. We must therefore conclude that the Ephesians themselves are spoken of as “beasts.” Both Hebrew and Greek literature would have made such a form of expression familiar to the Apostle and to his readers. In the Psalms (see Psalms 22:12-13; Psalms 22:20-21) the opponents of God are similarly spoken of. The Cretans are called “evil beasts” by the poet Epimenides, whom St. Paul quotes in Titus 1:12. Heraclitus calls the Ephesians “beasts”—the same word as St. Paul uses here; and St. Ignatius (Epis. ad Rom.) speaks of “fighting with beasts by land and sea,” and having been bound to ‘ten leopards,’ that is a band of soldiers.”

Although the Greek verb implies that reference is made, not to general or prolonged opposition, but to some one outburst of rage on the part of his opponents, we must not take it as indicating the scene described in Acts 19:23-34, which had probably not taken place when this was written; but no doubt the “many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9) at Ephesus had already availed themselves of some opportunity of venting their rage on the Apostle after the manner of wild beasts (See Introduction.)

What advantageth it me?—This sentence is completed with these words, and should be followed by a note of interrogation, thus—“What advantageth it me?” (See next Note.)

If the dead rise not?—Better, if the dead be not raised, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. If the dead be not raised our conduct is illogical. Consistency then belongs to those who disregard God’s call to repentance, and of whom we read in Isaiah 22:13, that they say, “Let us eat and drink.” The reference is directly to this passage in the prophet describing the conduct of abandoned Jews during the siege of Jerusalem; but the words indicate with equal accuracy that school of Epicurean philosophy of which, no doubt, there were many representatives at Corinth. Similar expressions are to be found in many classical writers; but the most remarkable instance of the use of these words is where they occur in an inscription on a statue at Anchiale, a town in Cilicia, which was St. Paul’s native province—“Sardanapalus, the son of Anacyn-draxes, built Anchiale and Tarsus in one day. Stranger, eat, drink, and play, for all the rest is not worth this.” The figure is represented as making a contemptuous motion with its fingers. Saul of Tarsus had probably often seen that statue and inscription.

Verse 33

(33) Be not deceived.—The previous words are spoken with sarcasm. That is what you must come to if this life be all. The solemn thought then occurs to the Apostle that perhaps these words do only too truly describe the actual state of some of the Corinthians. They had become tainted by the bad moral atmosphere in which they lived and which was impregnated with the teaching of that false philosophy, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” “Be not deceived,” he adds, solemnly; it is a fact, Evil communications corrupt good manners.” This is a proverb, slightly modified in one word from a line in the Thais of Menander. It is impossible to say whether the Apostle was acquainted with the original line in the poem, or not; for in any case he would probably have quoted it in the form in which it was current amongst ordinary people. The force of the proverb is, that even evil words are dangerous. The constant repetition of an immoral maxim may lead to immoral life. Words that seem harmless, because they float lightly like thistledown, may bear in them a seed of evil which may take root and bring forth evil fruit.

Verse 34

(34) Awake to righteousness, and sin not.—Literally, Awake to soberness in a righteous manner, With this earnest call to arouse from the sleep of indulgence and of death, the Apostle completes this section of the chapter, and the direct proofs of the doctrine of the resurrection. The exhortation is needed, for there are some who call themselves Christians and still have “an ignorance” regarding God. “To their shame the Apostles speaks this, not only the last words, but the whole preceding argument. It was a shame that to Christians the Apostle should have to vindicate the very fundamental truth of the Faith.

Verse 35

(35) But some man will say, How are the dead raised up?—The proof of the truth of the doctrine of the resurrection is concluded in the last verse. The truth of it is, in the early part of this chapter, maintained—(1) by the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection; (2) by a reductio ad absurdum, showing the consequences logically involved in a denial of it; (3) by an argumentum ad hominem. The former two arguments are still those on which we must rest our belief in the doctrine. The latter is, like every argument of that nature, only of force to those to whom it was actually addressed. The Apostle in this verse turns aside to another line of thought. He assumes that his previous arguments are conclusive; there still remain, however, difficulties which will suggest themselves. The difficulty is expressed in two questions, the second being an enlargement of the first—a more definite indication of where the suggested difficulty lies. “How are the dead raised up”—that is, not by what power? but in what manner? as is further explained by the next question, “In what body do they come?”

Verse 36

(36) Thou fool.—Better, Fool, or more literally, Senseless one. The word in the Greek has not the sense of opprobrium conveyed in the word translated “fool” in Matthew 5:22; Matthew 23:17; Matthew 23:19. You who with your own hand sow seed, ask such a question as that! The Apostle now proceeds to show, by the analogies in Nature, how a resurrection of a body is possible, how substantial identity may be preserved under variation of form. The Apostle does not here prove anything. Analogy cannot ever be regarded as logically conclusive as an argument. The object of analogy is to show how a difficulty is not insuperable. The doctrine of the resurrection has been logically established. A difficulty is suggested as to how it is possible. Analogy shows that the same difficulty exists in theory in other directions where we actually see it surmounted in fact. It is most important to bear this in mind, as some writers, forgetful of the difference between a logical argument and an illustration from analogy, have regarded some of the Apostle’s “arguments” in these verses as inconclusive. The fact of a buried seed rising into flower does not and cannot prove that man will rise; but it does show that the objection suggested in the question, “How are the dead raised up?” is not a practical difficulty.

We have in these verses three illustrations of the preservation of identity under change of form:—(1) Seeds growing into flowers and fruit; (2) flesh in the variety of men, beasts, fishes, and birds; (3) heavenly and earthly bodies in infinite variety of form and of glory.

Verses 37-38

(37, 38) God giveth it a body.—Here it is implied that, though the seed grows up, as we say, “in the ordinary course of Nature,” it is God who not only has originally established but continually sustains that order. Each seed rises with its own “body;” a corn seed grows up into corn, an acorn into an oak. All through this passage the word “body” is used in a general sense for “organism,” so as to keep strictly and vividly before the reader the ultimate truth to illustrate which these analogies are introduced. The points of analogy between the sowing and growth of seed and the life and resurrection of man are not, as some writers put it—(1) the seed is sown, and man is buried; (2) the seed rots, and man’s body decays; (3) the seed grows up, and man is raised. Such a series of analogies are misleading, for there is no necessity for the body of man to decay, but only a necessity for it to die (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The points of analogy are these:—(1) The seed is sown in the earth, and man is born into the world; (2) the seed dies and decays—man dies; (3) the seed grows through its very decay—man rises through death.

Verse 39

(39) All flesh is not the same flesh.—Better, There is no flesh the same flesh. All organisms have the same basis; there is a “structural unit” in all animal life; but God gives this a vast variety of form in man, in beast, in fish. The same divine prescience which gives to all flesh here the form suited to its condition and surroundings can give hereafter another form to it suitable to the new conditions and surroundings in which it will then be placed. If we had only seen flesh in the form of an animal, and were told that “flesh” could live in the sea, we might have equally argued, “How, with what body?” but seeing as we do that there is a variety of bodies, we feel no such difficulty.

Verse 40

(40) There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial.—It is held by many that this is a distinct illustration from that which occurs in the next verse, and that the “celestial bodies” here spoken of are the bodies of angels, whose appearances on earth are accompanied (see Matthew 28:3; Acts 12:7) by a blaze of glory or light. It is better, perhaps, to regard it as a general statement of what is expanded in 1 Corinthians 15:41. The force of the three analogies introduced in this whole argument is that identity of matter is preserved amid variety of form, and on this point the difference between angelic bodies and human bodies would have no bearing. Between the earthly things and the heavenly things, such as the sun, moon, and stars, there is an identity of substance, but an infinite variety of form and of glory.

Verse 41

(41) For one star . . .—Better, for star differeth from star in glory. It is not only that the heavenly bodies differ from earthly, but they differ from each other—sun from moon, moon from stars. And there is a further variety still—even amid the stars themselves there is variety. The word “glory” is naturally used as intimating the aspect in which the difference of the heavenly bodies strikes us, looking at them from earth. The God who is thus not limited to a monotonous form for the substance of which Physical Nature consists, need not be in any difficulty as to some other variety of form for Human Nature beyond that which we see it confined to during its earthly life.

Verse 42

(42) So also is the resurrection of the dead.—Here follows the application of these analogies to the subject in hand. As there is in the vegetable growth, in the varieties of animal life, and in the diversities of form assumed by inorganic matter, an identity preserved amid ever-varying form or variety of “body,” so a change in the form or glory of our organism which we call our “body” is compatible with the preservation of personal identity. The “it,” the personality, remains the same—now in corruption, then in incorruption; now in dishonour, then in glory; now in weakness, then in power.

Verse 44

(44) It is sown a natural body.—Here is a further and different application of the three analogies. It is not only that there is a variety of body in these illustrations, but there is also an adaptability. The “body” which a plant has when it is in the form of seed is suited to the condition in which seed is placed; the “body” which it has when grown into a plant is suited to the changed conditions in which a plant exists; the “flesh” in the “body” form of a bird is suited to its sphere of life; the “flesh” in the “body” form of a fish is suited to its condition; and so on. It is not an accidental but a purposely adapted variety. So it will be in the variety of “bodies” for Humanity. A man’s organism is sown (i.e., is born into this world) a natural body; it is raised (through and by death) a spiritual body. The body which we have here on earth is suited with a marvellous detail of adaptability to the life, physical and intellectual, amid which we are placed, and of which we form a part. It is, however, a hindrance to the spiritual man in each of us. (See 2 Corinthians 5:0) There will be a time for each when the body will become as perfectly adapted to the spiritual man in each as the human body here is to the natural man—no longer its hindrance, but its help. The “willing spirit” will then never be hampered and thwarted by a “weak flesh;” the body, having become spiritual itself, will be spiritually strong.

There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.—This emphatic assertion that there are two bodies for man—as really as seed and a blossom are two bodies yet the same plant—is introductory to the further thought introduced in the next verse.

Verse 45

(45) And so it is written.—Better, And so it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul: the last Adam became a quickening spirit. The quotation which follows here is from Genesis 2:7, and it is the latter part of that verse which is quoted. The Rabbinical explanation of that passage was—that God breathed into man the breath of life originally, but that man became (not “was made”) only a living soul, i.e., one in whom the mere human faculties held sway, and not the spirit. He became this lower thing by his own act of disobedience. Here, then, St. Paul, contrasts the two Adams—the first man and Christ—from whom we derive our natural and our spiritual natures, and our natural and spiritual bodies. The first Adam became, by his disobedience, a mere living soul, and from him we inherit that nature; the second Adam, by his obedience, became a life-giving spirit, and from Him we inherit the spiritual nature in us. The same verb which is expressed in the first clause must be understood in the second clause. The same thought is expressed in Romans 5:19.

Verse 46

(46) Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual.—Here a further thought is introduced. There is not only a variety of bodies—and that variety regulated by adaptability to their state of existence—but there is an ordered sequence in that variety. As the Adam was first from whom we derive the natural body and soul, and the Adam was last from whom comes our spiritual nature, so there will be the like order in regard to our bodies. The natural body first in this life—the spiritual body afterwards in the next life.

Verse 47

(47) The second man is the Lord from heaven.—Better, the second man is from heaven. The words “the Lord,” which occur in the English version, are not in the best Greek MSS. The word which is twice rendered “of” in this verse has the force of “from,” “originating from,” in the Greek. The first representative man was from the earth, the second representative man was from heaven; and as was the first earthly Adam, so are we in our merely physical condition; and as is the second heavenly Adam, so shall we be in our heavenly state.

Verse 49

(49) We shall also bear the image of the heavenly.—Better, let us bear also the image of the heavenly. Such is the reading of the best MSS. The words transport the thoughts of the reader to the future glory, and, at the same moment, show a light on present duty. The resurrection life is to be begun in us even now. “If by any means we can attain to the resurrection of the dead” (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:21).

Verse 50

(50) Now this I say.—This is the phrase with which the Apostle is wont to introduce some statement of profound significance. (See 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 7:29.) The statement so introduced here is that flesh and blood, being corruption, cannot enter into the heavenly state, which is incorruption. This is still part of the answer to the question, “With what bodies do they come?” but the reply is no longer based upon any analogy. It comes now as a revelation of what he had been taught by the Spirit of God. Flesh and blood are indeed corruption. Blood is everywhere the type of this lower animal life. Blood is the life of the flesh; and so, though Jews might eat the flesh, they might not eat the blood, which is the life thereof (Genesis 9:4). All offerings which typified the offering up and sacrifice of “self”—the lower sinful self—were sacrifices by shedding of blood, without which was no remission (Hebrews 9:22). When the supreme Sacrifice was made on Calvary the blood was shed—once for all. So when Christ showed His resurrection body to His disciples He did not say, “A spirit hath not flesh and blood, as ye see Me have;” but “A spirit hath not ‘flesh and bones,’ as ye see Me have.” The blood of Christ is never spoken of as existing after His crucifixion. That was the supreme sacrifice of Self to God. The blood—the type of the human self—was poured out for ever. It is to be noticed also that the phrase “of His flesh and of His bones” (not His “blood,” which the Eucharistic Feast would have suggested) was evidently in ordinary use, as it was interpolated in Ephesians 5:30.

The blood, as the type of our lower nature, is familiar in all popular phraseologies, as when we say, for example, that a “man’s blood is up,” meaning that his physical nature is asserting itself. One characteristic of the resurrection body, therefore, is that it shall be bloodless.

Verse 51

(51) Behold, I shew you a mystery.—It is better to take these words as referring to what follows rather than (as some have done) to the preceding statement. A mystery means something which up to this time has been kept concealed, but is now made manifest (Romans 11:25; Ephesians 3:3-5).

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be Changed.—There are here a considerable variety of readings in the Greek, but the text from which our English version is taken is probably correct. The Apostle believed that the end of the world might come in the lifetime of some then living. We shall not all, he says, necessarily sleep, but we shall all be changed. The change from the earthly to the spiritual body is absolutely necessary. To some it will come through the ordinary process of death; to those who are alive at Christ’s advent it will come suddenly, and in a moment. The dead shall be raised, but we (the living) shall be changed.

Verse 52

(52) The last trump.—The trumpet was used to summon an assembly (Exodus 20:18; Psalms 81:3; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 27:13) or to sound a warning. The last trumpet is the one which concludes a series which have already been sounding at intervals in notes of warning to the nations (Psalms 47:5; Isaiah 27:13; Jeremiah 51:27). This verse states with reiterated emphasis that this change shall not be a protracted process, but a sudden and momentary alteration in the condition of our bodies.

Verse 53

(53) For this corruptible must . . .—Here again is repeated the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:50, which shows the absolute necessity for a change in the nature of the resurrection body. There is, however, an additional thought introduced here. Not only must the resurrection body be suited to the condition but also to the duration of the new life. As a spiritual body, it will be adapted to the needs of a spiritual state; and as an immortal and incorruptible body, it will be adapted to a life which is everlasting.

Verse 54

(54) So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption.—The Apostle now transports himself in thought to the time when there shall be the actual accomplishment of that for which there then is this absolute and moral necessity. These words bring before us with vivid power the intensity of the Apostle’s own belief in what he is teaching.

Death is swallowed up in victory.—These words, originally referring to the Jewish people (Isaiah 25:8), are naturally applied here to the human race, of which they were the chosen type.

Verse 55

(55) O death, where is thy sting?—In the prophet Hosea, where these words originally occur, the passage reads thus—“Where is thy victory, O death? Where is thy sting, O hell?”—the word “hell” referring, not to the place of torment, but to the Hades of departed spirits. This difference between St. Paul’s words and those of the prophet has given rise to a variety of readings in the Greek text here. The weight of evidence is in favour of the reading, “Where is thy sting, O death? Where is thy victory, O death?” the word “Hades,” or “grave,” not being introduced at all. The passage is not a quotation, but the adaptation of the form of a familiar Old Testament phrase.

Verse 56

(56) The sting of death is sin.—Death is pictured as a monster, and it is armed with a sting. Its sting is sin. If there were no sin, death would not be capable of inflicting pain, and the strength of sin springs from the fact that it is the violation of God’s law. (See this thought fully brought out, Romans 5:12; Romans 7:7.)

Verse 57

(57) But thanks be to God.—The future is so certain that the Apostle speaks of it as a subject for present thanksgiving; the victory is one which God gives now through Jesus Christ. His resurrection is the pledge of our resurrection. His death is the power by which we are enabled to conquer that lower self, from whose crucifixion and death we shall rise to the higher incorruptible life of the resurrection day. With this earnest and enthusiastic expression of praise to God the argument concludes. Through arguments historical, moral, philosophical; through explanations from the analogy of Nature, and from the theology of Old and New Testament history, the Apostle has led his readers, vindicating the truth and illustrating the manner of the Resurrection of the Dead. He projects his mind into the future, and, standing in thought with ransomed and raised Humanity after death has been vanquished and the grave been spoiled, he joins in the shout of triumphant praise which shall then ascend to Christ and God.

Verse 58

(58) Therefore.—Because all this is so—because there is a life hereafter—let this life here be worthy of it. You might grow weak and faint-hearted if you could think that all your work for God and truth here might be wasted; but it is not so. It cannot be “in vain if it be “in the Lord.” It is very striking and very expressive of the real spirit of the gospel that a chapter which leads us step by step through the calm process of logic, and through glowing passages of resistless eloquence to the sublimest thoughts of immortality, should at last thus close with words of plain and practical duty. Christianity never separates, in precept or in promise, “the life that now is” and “that which is to come.”

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-corinthians-15.html. 1905.
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