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DIVISION VII ABOUT THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD CHAPTER 15
SECTION 27 — THE GOSPEL PREACHED BY PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS PROCLAIMED THAT CHRIST HAS RISEN CH. 15:1-11
I make known to you, brothers, the Gospel which I announced to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, by means of which you are also being saved, if you are holding fast the word by which I announced the Gospel to you, except in vain you believed. For I delivered to you among the first matters, which I also received, that Christ died on behalf of our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He is risen the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to above five hundred brothers at once, of whom the more part remain until now, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James; then to the apostles all. And, last of all, just as if to the untimely one, He appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not sufficient to be called an apostle, because that I persecuted the Church of God. But by grace of God I am what I am. And His grace towards me did not prove vain, but more abundantly than they all I have labored: yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then I or they, thus we preach, and thus you believed.
DIV. VIII., embracing 1 Corinthians 15, introduces suddenly a topic altogether new, viz. the resurrection of the dead. This is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that at Corinth some were saying “that there is no resurrection.” And the tone of surprise of Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 15:12 suggests (cp. 1 Corinthians 6:1) that this matter was not mentioned in the letter (1 Corinthians 7:1) he had received. He prepares the way for his question in 1 Corinthians 15:12 by asserting in § 27 that the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed in that Gospel which was saving his readers, and in the ancient Scriptures, and that it was vouched for by a large number of witnesses of whom the more part were still living. In § 28 he reminds his readers that to deny the resurrection of the dead is to deny that Christ has risen; and gives various proofs that there is a life beyond death, assuming that this implies a resurrection of the dead. In § 29 he uncovers and overturns a foundation of the denial of the resurrection, viz. the unfitness of our present bodies for the life to come; and concludes the whole matter in § 30 with a shout of triumph.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2. Make known to you the Gospel: as though they needed to be told (cp. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 1:11) what it was they had already believed. Of this virtual promise, § 27 is a fulfillment. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:11.
The Gospel etc.: “the good news which as good news I announced to you.”
Also … also … also: proof after proof, from their own experience, of the worth of the Gospel. Long ago it so commended itself to them that they received it: today they find in it a firm ground on which morally and spiritually they stand (1 Corinthians 10:12) erect; and by its means they day by day experience deliverance (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13) from sin and its consequences. (Notice that we stand also (Romans 5:2; Romans 11:20) in the grace of God and by faith: for by faith we receive the good news, which reveals God’s favor towards us.)
Holding-fast etc.: condition on which hangs the truth of the words you stand, are being saved. It is therefore a warning suggesting self-examination; and is an appeal to the readers; inner consciousness that their spiritual erectness and victory are in proportion to the firmness with which they hold fast Paul’s teaching.
The word with which etc.: the verbal form in which Paul preached the Gospel to them.
Except etc.; supports the assertion that, unless they have relaxed their hold upon Paul’s teaching, they now stand firm and are now in the way of salvation: for otherwise, the faith they formerly exercised is an empty thing. And, that it is not such, their inmost heart proclaims. This argument is developed in 1 Corinthians 15:17.
Believed: as in Romans 13:11.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Reason for the broad statement of 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, showing its bearing on the matter in hand. Paul appealed to the effect of the gospel he preached because the resurrection of Christ was a part of it.
Delivered: as in 1 Corinthians 11:2; see note.
The first things: first in importance probably. For this is the chief point: and in what follows there is no reference to time. Paul received the historic details, some of which he gives here, doubtless from the apostles (e.g. Galatians 1:18) and other human witnesses; the spiritual meaning of the great facts, from (Galatians 1:12) Christ Himself. But of all this he says nothing here; except that his teaching was no invention of his own, that he was but the channel through which it came to the Corinthians.
On-behalf-of our sins: i.e. to save us from them. Same preposition in Hebrews 5:1; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 10:12. See under 1 Corinthians 15:29. Cp. “because of our trespasses,” Romans 4:25. Each of these passages is meaningless unless we accept the great doctrine of the Atonement as I have endeavored to expound it under Romans 3:26. Cp. Hebrews 9:26 ff; Hebrews 10:12.
According to the Scriptures: e.g. Isaiah 53:9-12
Buried: the link between Christ’s death and resurrection. These words suggest that the historic details of the death of Christ were put prominently forward by the early preachers, as we find them made prominent in the four Gospels.
[Is-risen: the Greek perfect as in 1 Corinthians 15:12. The addition the third day is no incongruity. See Expositor, vol. xi. p. 301.] Whether according to the Scriptures refers also to was buried, (cp. Isaiah 53:9,) is unimportant. It probably does not refer to the third day: for this is not clearly mentioned in the Old Testament, and is an unimportant detail. But Isaiah 53:10-12 implies fairly the resurrection of Christ. The words according to the Scriptures, which receive emphasis from their repetition, support strongly the teaching of Paul. For they show that it was not only a means of salvation to the Corinthians but was in harmony with the very ancient books held sacred even by the enemies of the Gospel. We have here an important coincidence with the Epistle to the Romans, which we may take to be an epitome of Paul’s teaching, and in which he shows that the Gospel is through-out in harmony with the Old Testament.
1 Corinthians 15:5. Further statement of what Paul had said to them.
To Cephas: a very important coincidence with apparently casual words in Luke 24:34; Mark 16:7.
To the twelve: further coincidence with Luke 24:36 ff, which is confirmed by John 20:19 ff. The twelve had so thoroughly become a technical term for the original apostles both before and after (Acts 6:2) the death of Christ that it is used here although one had fallen from the ranks. This makes it possible and likely that Paul refers to the appearance in John 20:19 when Thomas also was present.
1 Corinthians 15:6. The change here from indirect to direct narration is no proof that Paul had not spoken at Corinth about the facts which follow. For he must have spoken of (1 Corinthians 15:8) Christ’s appearance to himself. The change was prompted by the number of the facts mentioned; and gives reality to the narration by pointing us to the facts themselves rather than to Paul’s mention of them. This gathering of above five hundred brethren and Christ’s appearance to them are not mentioned elsewhere, and the circumstances are quite unknown: but it is easily conceivable, and Paul’s word is sufficient evidence of the fact. (The 120 names of Acts 1:15 were but the enrolled disciples at Jerusalem.) It may have been in Galilee, (cp. Matthew 28:7, confirmed by John 21:1,) where Christ had labored long; or near to Jerusalem before the Passover pilgrims went home. The size of the assembly, however called together, and the appearance of Christ to so many at once, each of whom would compare his view of the Risen One, made this event an indisputable and conspicuous proof of the resurrection of Christ. Its omission from the Gospels is no more remarkable than the silence of the first three about the raising of Lazarus; and is in harmony with John 20:30. That after the lapse of about twenty-five years the more part were still living, seems to imply that Christ chose young men chiefly to be witnesses of His resurrection, who might live long to testify it to others. That Paul knew that the majority were still alive, proves that those who had actually seen the risen Lord were marked men in the early church. Cp. Joshua 24:31, “the elders that overlived Joshua.”
1 Corinthians 15:7. James: “the Lord’s brother;” who when these epistles were written had a position so prominent that in Galatians 2:9 he is mentioned before Peter and John. He was probably not the same as “the son of Alphaeus” in Matthew 10:3. See further under Galatians 1:19. This appearance is not mentioned elsewhere. That in the autumn before His death (John 7:25) the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him, and yet were found with His disciples immediately after His ascension, suggests that this appearance to His oldest brother (probably, see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) led to the conversion of him and perhaps of the others. This verse is thus a link between John 7:5 and Acts 1:14.
All the apostles; seems at first sight to have a compass different from “the twelve” in 1 Corinthians 15:5. But this would involve difficulties nearly or quite insuperable. The apostles held (1 Corinthians 12:28) the first rank in the church. During our Lord’s life this title belonged specifically to the twelve; and in the Gospels is given to none else: see Matthew 10:2; Mark 6:30; Luke 6:13; Luke 22:14. Only Luke 17:5 is open to doubt. And the presence of the twelve only at the Last Supper implies that they held a rank shared by no others. In Luke 24:10, referring to the day of the Resurrection, “the apostles” are evidently “the eleven” of Luke 24:9. Now if to all the apostles be not equivalent to “the twelve” in 1 Corinthians 15:5, we must suppose that during the forty days Christ added to the first rank of His official servants a definite number of new members, and that He appeared to these, either singly or together. And since all is a definite term, we must suppose either that He then appeared to all who afterwards were called apostles, (yet Paul would be an exception,) or that He first called these additional ones to be apostles and then appeared to all whom He had thus called. Both these suppositions are very unlikely. Moreover, after the ascension we find the Eleven still occupying a unique position in the church: as is proved by the record of their names in Acts 1:13, and by the formal addition
(Acts 1:26) of Matthias to their number. This makes it still more unlikely that during the forty days Christ had given to some others the name and rank of Apostle. He did this, however, in later days to Paul; and perhaps to Barnabas, Silvanus, James, and others. Acts 14:4; Galatians 1:19, and especially 1 Thessalonians 2:6. In view of all this it is perhaps least difficult to suppose that 1 Corinthians 15:7 refers to the eleven surviving original apostles, and possibly to the appearance narrated in John 20:26. If this latter supposition be correct, “the twelve” in 1 Corinthians 15:5 would be a general term for the apostolic band, consisting in this case of only ten persons: whereas all the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15:7 would denote the entire eleven.
Notice Paul’s accuracy in stating even the order of these appearances. The exact details were evidently known to him. Of the appearances mentioned, the first (Luke 24:34) was to Peter; the second (Luke 24:36) to the assembled apostles; the third, to a gathering of 500 persons; the fourth, to His brother James; and the fifth (perhaps John 20:26) to the entire apostolic band. To all these well-known persons Paul appeals as witnesses that Christ has risen.
1 Corinthians 15:8. Last of all: of all the apostles, probably; or of those persons to whom the Risen One showed Himself. At the time of the above-mentioned appearances Paul was an enemy. But that he might take rank equal with the rest, long after appearing to the others, Christ appeared also to him.
The untimely-one, in LXX., Numbers 12:12; Job 3:16; Ecclesiastes 6:3 : an abortive offspring born at the wrong time and not reckoned among the children. With deep humility Paul says that among the apostles he was the untimely birth: not that his apostolic birth was a failure, but abnormal in its circumstances. That Paul does not speak between 1 Corinthians 15:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:8 of the ascension, is no proof that he did not believe that it occurred as narrated in Acts 1:9. For he speaks here simply of the fact of the resurrection, of which the appearances to others and to himself were clear proof, a proof not strengthened by Christ’s departure to heaven. 1 John 1 Corinthians 15:9 justifies “the untimely one.”
The least etc.: cp. Ephesians 3:8.
Sufficient: same word in Matthew 3:11; 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5.
To be called: to bear the honored name of Apostle. Although pardoned by God, Paul evidently felt deeply and constantly how sinful, and how perilous to himself, was his former war against Christ; and wondered that such a rebel should be permitted to take any place among the servants of Christ. And he felt that among these, and especially in the apostolic band, such a one must ever put himself in the lowest place. Cp. 1 Timothy 1:13-16. It would be well if similar humiliation were manifested by all who after notorious sin have become Christian workers. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, after speaking of himself as the least of the apostles, Paul remembers that in labors and success he is the greatest of them. And for the glory of Him who has conferred such honor on one so unworthy he cannot pass over this in silence.
What I am; sums up Paul’s entire toil and success: all this he says he owes to the undeserved favor of God. These words all Christians can use touching all that belongs to them except the consequences of their own unfaithfulness.
And His grace etc.: an addition to the foregoing which both explains and proves it.
Did not become vain: so literally; in colloquial English, “did not turn out vain.”
But more etc.: the exact opposite of being vain i.e. without result.
All of them; may, but does not necessarily, mean “all put together.” How far his own labors surpassed those of others, Paul leaves his readers to judge.
The grace of God with me. Although the results were wrought altogether by God, in undeserved favor, yet they were wrought through the instrumentality and with the concurrence of Paul. Now, what a man has done determines his spiritual stature. Therefore, since all that Paul had done had been wrought in and through him by the favor of God, he could say, By the grace of God I am what I am.
1 Corinthians 15:11. Summary of § 27, in a form prompted by Paul’s comparison of himself with the other apostles. Although he was the untimely birth and they were born in due time, and although he labored more than they, yet he and they were alike in that all proclaimed that Christ had risen. And what he and they proclaimed his readers had accepted; with what results, they knew.
Preach: see under Romans 2:21.
Thus we preach; recapitulates 1 Corinthians 15:3-10, and corresponds with “I make known … preached to you” in 1 Corinthians 15:1.
Thus you believed; corresponds with “which also you received … in vain believed.” Paul thus prepares the way, by stating well-attested facts which his readers had themselves accepted, for the argument of § 28.
SECTION 28 — SINCE CHRIST HAS RISEN, HIS PEOPLE WILL RISE CH. 15:12-34
But if Christ is preached, that He is risen from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of dead men? But if there is no resurrection of dead men, not even Christ is risen. And if Christ is not risen, empty then is our preached word, empty also your faith. And we are found to be also false witnesses of God, because we have borne witnesses against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, we should infer, if dead men are not raised, For if dead men are not raised, not even Christ is risen. And if Christ is not risen, vain is your faith; you are still in your sins.
We infer then that they also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we are only men who in this life have hope in Christ, more pitiable than all men are we.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, a firstfruit of the sleeping ones. For since through man is Death, also through man there is Resurrection of dead ones. For just as in Adam all die so also in the Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order. As firstfruit, Christ; then they that are Christ’s, at His coming. Then the end, when He gives up the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have brought to nought all principality and all authority and power. For it must needs be that He reign as king till when He have put all the enemies under His feet. As a last enemy, Death is brought to nought. For, all things He has made subject under His feet. But whenever He shall say that all things are made subject, it is evident that it is with the exception of Him who made all things subject to Him. And, when all things have been made subject to Him, then also the Son will be made subject to Him who made all things subject to Him; that God may be all things in all.
Else what will they do who are being baptized on behalf of the dead ones? If, to speak generally, dead men are not raised why are they being baptized on their behalf? Why do we also incur danger every hour? Day by day I am dying; as witness, the exultation about you, brothers, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. If with human aim I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what is the gain to me? If dead men do not rise, “Let us eat and let us drink: for to-morrow we die.” (Isaiah 22:13.) Be not deceived. “Bad companionships corrupt good dispositions.” Rouse up righteously: and do not sin. For, ignorance of God some have. To awaken shame, to you I speak.
By a question Paul now reveals his reason for stating the facts of § 27, viz. that at Corinth some were saying that there is no resurrection of dead men. The precise intention and ground of this last assertion are discussed at the end of § 28 and of DIV. VII. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 Paul refutes it by developing the facts of § 27 and then refuting a necessary, though not expressly asserted, consequence of it. viz. that Christ has not risen: in 1 Corinthians 15:13-34 he refutes a second and avowed inference from the same chief error, viz. that there is no life beyond death. Thus, by refuting two necessary logical consequences, Paul overthrows the error itself. And in § 29 he dispels a misconception on which in part the chief error rests.
1 Corinthians 15:12-13. Preached; takes up the same word in 1 Corinthians 15:11, which recapitulates 1 Corinthians 15:3-10. Paul does not assume here that Christ is actually risen, but merely that this is proclaimed, as described above. From this proclamation and its results he will prove the fact of the resurrection. Christ is preached. To proclaim that He rose is to proclaim HIM as Prince and Saviour. [The conspicuous perfects in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20 call attention to the abiding effect of Christ’s resurrection.]
How say etc.: question of astonishment, like 1 Corinthians 6:1. The present tense implies that they continued to spread their opinions.
Some among you: evidently church-members. Yet instead of requiring their expulsion as in 1 Corinthians 5:4 f, Paul reasons earnestly with them.
That the inference neither is Christ risen is stated, and in 1 Corinthians 15:16 repeated, without proof but with perfect confidence, implies that it was unmistakably involved in the assertion there is no resurrection of dead men. Consequently, this assertion must be taken as denying in the widest sense that a departed spirit can return to the body. For, in a narrower sense we might deny that a body dissolved in the grace can rise without denying that He rose Whose “flesh saw no corruption.” But the argument implies that no such limited denial was intended by the men referred to here.
1 Corinthians 15:14-17. Proof, from the facts of § 27 summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:11, that the concluding words of 1 Corinthians 15:13 are false. Our preached-word (developed in 1 Corinthians 15:15) takes up “we preached” in 1 Corinthians 15:11 : your faith (developed in 1 Corinthians 15:17) takes up “you believed.” Both the word preached by Paul and the assurance with which the Corinthians received it would, if Christ had not risen, be empty, i.e. destitute of reality. Of these two assertions, the former is developed in 1 Corinthians 15:15. If Christ be not risen, the apostles are found out to be acting under false pretences and giving false testimony even about God.
Because we etc.; proves this, and carries it a step further. Since God has done all that is wise and good, to say that He has done what He has not done, is to bear witness against God.
Whom He did not raise … not even Christ is risen: forceful repetition of the argument of 1 Corinthians 15:13.
1 Corinthians 15:17. Develops “empty also is your faith” in 1 Corinthians 15:14. For a belief which is “empty,” i.e. destitute of reality, must also be vain, i.e. barren of results.
In your sins: your former sins, as the element in which you still live and walk. Cp. Ephesians 2:2; John 8:24. This is better than to expound “under the penalty of sin.” For Paul evidently supposes that, without further disproof from him, these words will be at once contradicted by his reader’s inner consciousness, which would testify that they are no longer committing their own former sins. To the same conscious victory over sin he appeals in Romans 8:13 f. His readers knew well that they were no longer in their former bondage to sin.
Consequently, their faith was not without result. And, if so, it could not be empty credulity; nor could the men whose word they had believed with results so good be false witnesses against God. Yet these men had proclaimed as an essential element of the Gospel that Christ had risen. Therefore, the inward deliverance from sin enjoyed by the Corinthians was itself a proof that Christ had risen. Notice that here, as in Romans 6:17 ff; Ephesians 2:2 f, Paul assumes that all men have been sinners; and with great confidence and courtesy assumes that his readers have been saved from sin.
That Paul took so much pains to prove the first link of the argument of 1 Corinthians 15:13, viz. that Christ has risen, and no pains at all to prove the second link, viz. that His resurrection disproves the assertion that there is no resurrection, shows that the second point was so clear that it would be admitted at once, whereas the former might be doubted. But, that no mention is made of denial that Christ had risen, suggests that, though some at Corinth had denied the resurrection in a sense which, as they could hardly fail to see, excluded the resurrection of Christ, yet they had not thought fit to express their denial to its logical issue. Notice that Paul does not speak directly to the deniers, but to the members generally whom he wishes to protect against error taught in their midst, and with whom he reasons from spiritual facts of their own inner life.
1 Corinthians 15:18. Another inference, in addition to that of 1 Corinthians 15:13, logically involved in the assertion “that there is no resurrection.” The mere statement of this inference proves it to be false; and thus disproves the statement which involves it. If the dead are not raised, then not only are you in your sins but also they who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
Fallen-asleep: frequent metaphor of death, 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; Acts 13:36; 1 Kings 11:43; 2 Maccabees 12:45. So Homer, Iliad bk. xi. 241: “He fell down and slept a sleep of brass.” It is specially suitable here: for we expect sleepers to awake. The metaphor is suggested so naturally by the appearance of the dead that it is utterly unfair to infer from it that they are unconscious. See 2 Corinthians 5:8. But they are at rest.
Fallen-asleep; directs attention to the event of death.
Perished: hopelessly ruined. Same word as destroyed, and lost: see Review of DIV. VII. and note under Romans 2:24. If dead men do not rise, and if consequently our hope of eternal happiness depends upon our surviving till Christ comes, then our departed brethren have lost their share in that happiness, and have thus lost everything and lost themselves. That this is absolutely impossible, Paul leaves his readers to judge. For it could not be conceived that they who had lived in Christ and gone down to the grave trusting in Him, whose very death had been an evident victory over death, had by the hand of death been separated from Him.
Grammatically we might connect 1 Corinthians 15:18 with the foregoing words, and take it as proof that we are not “still in our sins.” But to a Christian man this needs no proof. And, as expounded above, 1 Corinthians 15:18 is a complete and additional argument in support of the main thesis of § 28, viz. that there is a resurrection of the dead. A similarly abrupt argument in support of this thesis, we find in 1 Corinthians 15:29.
1 Corinthians 15:19. An argument supplementary to the last. It implies that some who denied the resurrection were, or might be, nevertheless looking forward with hope to the coming of Christ and to the endless happiness He will bring. Now, if dead men be not raised, i.e. if they “who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished,” the realization of these hopes depends upon our surviving till Christ comes. And, if so, we and all our hopes are at the mercy of death: for they may be overturned at any moment by its approach. Our hopes, like worldly hopes, depend upon continuance in this life.
We are only men who in this life have hope of Christ. If so, men like Paul, whose life was one long peril of death, are in a position most pitiable: and their conduct in braving such perils (1 Corinthians 15:30) is inexplicable. For hopes most glorious hang upon a thread most slender.
The correctness of the foregoing exposition is confirmed by an important coincidence in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff, where we learn that similar doubts existed at Thessalonica.
1 Corinthians 15:20. Triumphant assertion that Christ is risen, prompted by a deep consciousness how far from true were the suppositions involved in a denial of it; followed by an assertion that His resurrection is a pledge of ours.
But now: as in 1 Corinthians 12:18 : “as things actually are.”
First-fruit: Romans 8:23; Romans 16:5 : the first-ripe ears, which are a pledge and a part of the coming harvest. Cp. Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; and, in Appendix A, the Epistle of Clement, ch. 24.
1 Corinthians 15:21. Justifies the expression first-fruit, by explaining the connection therein implied between Christ’s resurrection and ours.
Through man, death: explained in Romans 5:12.
Through; denotes constantly Christ’s relation to us and our salvation. See under Romans 1:5. The conspicuous repetition through man … also through man, embodies an important principle. God has linked men together so closely that each one receives good and ill through his fellows. This abiding relation revealed itself first in the father of our race, through whom comes death to all. And, that this relation might be a channel not only of ill but of surpassing good, Christ became man and made His humanity a channel of life to all who receive Him.
1 Corinthians 15:22. Explains and develops 1 Corinthians 15:21, thus continuing the justification of 1 Corinthians 15:20 b. The whole race and its fortunes were so wrapped in the one father of the race that the punishment inflicted upon him falls upon us: and all of us die because Adam died. We die now in virtue of our relation to one who died long ago.
So also etc.: triumphant parallel.
In Christ: in virtue of our relation to Christ. Since never once are unbelievers said to be in any sense in Christ, since the future state of the lost is never once called life, and since in the foregoing (“firstfruit of the sleeping ones”) and following (“they that are Christ’s”) verses Paul limits his view to believers, we must understand the words all … all in this limitation. Only within these limits is 1 Corinthians 15:43 true. See note under Romans 5:18. That made-alive is perhaps sometimes used in the simple sense of “restore to natural life,” does not weaken this proof. For all men on earth are said to be alive: but never those who are dead and lost. [Hence the absence of
This doctrine rests, as do all the great doctrines of the Gospel (see under Romans 3:22, and Dissertation i. 3) simply and only on the authoritative word of God. That both good and bad will rise from the dust of death, was revealed to Daniel (Daniel 12:2) in his last prophetic vision. It was solemnly announced by Christ, John 5:28 : and the resurrection of believers is announced by Paul to the Thessalonicans “in the word of the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:15. The abundant teaching of the New Testament makes us absolutely certain that it was taught by Christ. Our belief of it rests therefore upon the sufficient authority of Him Who will judge the world. Therefore, to deny the general resurrection, is to dispute this authority and thus practically to deny that God raised Christ from the dead. Consequently, we believe that we shall rise because we believe that He rose. And the connecting link between these beliefs is the express word of Christ. But to this express teaching Paul does not refer in this chapter. For he is dealing with an objection so sweeping that it includes a denial that Christ has risen. Perhaps also Paul knew that this objection to the resurrection of believers was really a covert attack on the resurrection of Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:23-28. The words “will be made alive” open to Paul’s gaze a vision of the future consummation he now describes. In doing so he traces further the relation between the resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection; and thus supports his assumption in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that the one is a pledge of the other.
1 Corinthians 15:23. Each in his own order: found twice word for word in the Epistle of Clement, chs. 37, 41; in reference to military array, and to church order. In the order in which the army of the redeemed marches forth from the gates of death each one keeps the place appropriate to his rank, i.e. the Captain marches first and His followers afterwards.
They that are Christ’s: 1 Corinthians 3:23; Galatians 5:24 : evidently the saved, including those of the Old Testament and of the heathen world. These last, Christ claims expressly in John 10:16, “Other sheep I have;” and declares that they shall be brought into the “One flock.” Cp. Romans 2:26. That we are Christ’s, confirms the teaching that Christ’s resurrection is a pledge of ours.
At His coming: 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15. It gives vividness to the picture by pointing to its most conspicuous feature, the visible return of Christ. This verse does not contradict John 5:28 f, viz. that good and bad men will rise together. For throughout 1 Corinthians 15, (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:43) Paul speaks only of the saved. Here, without denying that all the dead will rise at the same time, he says that Christ’s people will rise later than Himself; as in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that dead believers will rise before the living ones are caught up to Christ. Revelation 20:4
refers only to the martyrs, who for Christ’s sake went down into the grave before their time, and who will have the honor of rising before the rest of the people of God.
1 Corinthians 15:24. The end: of the redemptive reign of Christ, as suggested by the words immediately following, and proved by the emphatic and prolonged reference in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 to the end of Christ’s reign and to His submission to the Father. It is the “completion of the age,”
Matthew 13:39; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20. Meyer’s exposition, that the end is the resurrection of the unjust, cannot be allowed. For this, not being referred to in the whole chapter, would require specific mention. The word “each” in 1 Corinthians 15:23 does not necessarily imply more than two orders, i.e. Christ and His people. Of a third order, viz. the unsaved, not a word is said.
Gives up: as though Paul, in prophetic vision, saw Christ giving up the Kingdom.
When He gives up; expounds the end. After raising His people from death and thus completing their deliverance, Christ solemnly presents His finished work to the Father, the work which the Father gave Him to do: and this presentation will be the last act, the end, of His redemptive reign.
The God and Father: of Christ and of us. He is the Supreme Ruler of the universe and the Loving Parent of the whole family of heaven.
Brought to nought: same word in 1 Corinthians 2:6; Romans 3:3.
Principality, authority, power: Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:15; Titus 3:1 : evidently hostile powers (“enemies,” 1 Corinthians 15:25) human and superhuman. To the men of Paul’s day the hostile human powers were a terrible reality: the hostile spiritual powers are terrible now. Principality, suggests the first rank; authority, control over others; power, ability to produce results. The rank, as the most conspicuous feature, is mentioned first: from this flow the authority and power. 1 Corinthians 15:24 b suggests that till these exalted adversaries are overthrown the Son cannot give up the kingdom to God.
1 Corinthians 15:25. Proof that the giving up of the kingdom will be preceded by the overthrow of all hostile powers, by an appeal to a necessity resting on the immovable purpose of God as revealed in ancient prophecy.
Must-needs: same word in Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:10; Matthew 24:6; Matthew 26:54; Luke 24:7; Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44; John 3:14; John 20:9; Acts 1:16; Acts 3:21; Acts 17:3, etc.
Reign-as-king: in contrast to “give up the kingdom.”
He have put etc.: viz. Christ. For nothing suggests a change of subject.
All the enemies: of him and us. This is an almost exact quotation of Psalms 110:1. The similar quotations in Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34; Hebrews 1:13, prove how familiar it was to the early church, as a prophecy about Christ, from the lips of David. And to Christ, Psalms 110 certainly refers. For it speaks of One who is both David’s king and a priest of an order of Aaron. Now this prophecy declares that on the right hand of God Christ shall sit, ruling among His enemies, until their power shall be utterly destroyed. Therefore, not till then can He give up to God His redemptive reign. For not till then will His redemptive work be complete, or this prophecy fulfilled.
1 Corinthians 15:26. This simple assertion unfolds a truth implied in the just quoted prophecy.
Is-brought-to-nought; portrays the overthrow of death as though now taking place. “All the enemies” in 1 Corinthians 15:25 certainly includes death. For death silences lips which once gave praise to Christ, and binds hands which gladly did His bidding. And, if an enemy, death must, according to the prophecy, be conquered. To Paul’s eye of faith the conquest is already taking place. And when this foe is conquered, all are conquered. It is therefore the last enemy.
1 Corinthians 15:27 a. Another proof, viz. an exact quotation of Psalms 8:6 (quoted also in Hebrews 2:6,) that death is set aside. In the creative purpose of God, the entire universe was put under man’s power. By man’s sin this has been reversed: and man is now in some sense at the mercy of material forces over which he was originally destined to rule. But the purpose of the Creator cannot in the end be set aside. It will be accomplished through Christ; who became man that He might claim its accomplishment, and recover for Himself and for His brethren their lost rule over the universe.
And, therefore, until all things are put under the feet of Christ and of His people, His work will not be complete. Now, of all forces in the world, material and spiritual, least under the control of man is death. Before that dread conqueror all men bow. Therefore, the original creative purpose of God, which Christ came to accomplish, implies the overthrow of death.
He has put etc.: probably God, as in the passage quoted, and in Ephesians 1:22. For in 1 Corinthians 15:27 b God is said to put all things under Christ. But Paul is not careful to specify this: for it is a victory equally of the Father and the Son. Cp. Philippians 3:21. It is, however, better to attribute the victory to the Son in 1 Corinthians 15:25 and to the Father in 1 Corinthians 15:27, because of the prominence given to each in each of these verses respectively.
Both Psalms 110:1 and Psalms 8:6 are virtually proofs that the people of God will rise from the dead. Cp. Philippians 3:21. For their death is death’s victory over them, and in some sense over Christ, whose they are. As long as their bodies are in the grave the temple of God is a prey to corruption; and their souls are exiles from the world which God created to be their dwelling and their throne. Now this thwarting of the purpose of God cannot be for ever. The grave must give up its prey: and man clothed once more in a body, human though glorified, must reign over a renewed world. And all this will be Christ’s work, and a result of His resurrection. Thus, from ancient prophecy, Paul has made good his assertion that Christ is risen as a first-fruit of the sleeping ones.
1 Corinthians 15:27 b. After justifying “when He have brought to nought etc.,” Paul now develops “when He gives up etc.,” in 1 Corinthians 15:24. Thus, as usual, he rises from the Son to the Father. And, in doing so, he strengthens, as we shall see, the argument involved in 1 Corinthians 15:25 ff that Christ’s people will rise.
When He shall say: when God shall declare that the ancient prophecy is now accomplished, and that all things are at length put under the dominion of man as represented in, and united with, Christ. [The Greek perfect, are-made subject, directs our attention to the abiding effect of God’s subjecting all things to Christ.]
It is evident etc.: conspicuous declaration that when the universe will bow to Christ there will be One who will not bow, one exception to the universal homage. This is evident from the words “Thou has put,” (as quoted by Paul, “He has put,”) which are solemnly and conspicuously repeated at the end of 1 Corinthians 15:27, and which imply that the subjection of all things to Christ is a work, not of Christ, but of One other than He.
1 Corinthians 15:28. Having thus prepared the way, Paul now states in another form what he has already stated in 1 Corinthians 15:24, viz. that in the moment of His supreme triumph the Son will bow to the Father.
Will-be-made-subject: a suitable expression; for the Son’s submission, though embraced willingly and cordially by Him, does not originate in His will, but is obedience to the law of His own eternal existence and corresponds with His essential relation to the Father. This verse suggests that Christ will then become subject to the Father in a sense in which He is not now; and in this it is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 15:24 a. We are also told that the Son will be made subject to the Father in order that God may be all things in all. This suggests that the Son’s submission is needful for the complete restoration (cp. Colossians 1:20) of the universe to its right relation to the Father. All things in all persons, probably: i.e. in the inner subjective life of each one, God is to fill up the whole place and be recognized as the one source of all we have and are, the one ruler directing our entire conduct, and the one aim of our entire activity. Cp. Colossians 3:11.
The bearing of these last words on the final destiny of those who die unsaved, I hope to discuss elsewhere. That Paul does not say “all men,” (as in Romans 5:12; Romans 5:18,) and does not refer in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who die without Christ, warns us not to assume that this purpose embraces them.
In this view of the mysterious words of 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28 touching the relation of the Eternal Son to the Eternal Father, rather than speak, the expositor would prefer to bow in silent adoration. But what God has spoken we cannot forbear to re-echo. These verses teach the absolute and eternal submission of the Son to the Father. And, even when receiving the homage of the Son, the Father is spoken of by Paul, not as we should say God the Father as distinguished from God the Son, but simply as God. And to Him the Son bows with the express purpose that thus the Father may be everything in the eyes and thought of all His servants. This absolute subordination of the Son has been already clearly marked in 1 Corinthians 3:23 and 1 Corinthians 8:6; and is recognized throughout the New Testament. But its most complete expression is in this verse.
That from the moment of His final triumph the Son will bow to the Father in a sense in which he does not now, must be expounded in harmony with Luke 1:33, “Of His kingdom there will be no end;” and with Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become our Lord’s and His Christ’s: and He will reign for ever and ever.” In this latter passage the united reign of the Father and Son is described by the remarkable words, “He will reign.” Perhaps the following imperfect human comparison may help to harmonize these apparently contradictory assertions. Conceive a king who never leaves his palace, but commits all public acts of royalty to his son, who performs them in the name, and at the bidding, and according to the will, of his father, whose will his son always approves. Such a son we might call a sharer of his father’s throne; and, in another sense, the sole ruler of his father’s realm. Conceive now that a province is in rebellion, and that, to bring it into submission, the king invests his son, for the time of rebellion with full royal authority. The son begins in person the war against the rebels; but before its completion he returns to the capital in which his father reigns and directs thence the way until order is completely restored. Even in the presence of his father he exercises the full regal authority given to him for the suppression of the revolt. While the rebellion lasts he seems to be an independent ruler; though really ruling only at the bidding, and to work to the will, and restore the authority, of his father. But, when order is restored, the son gives back to the father this delegated royalty: and even the apparent independence of the son’s rule ceases. Henceforth the father reigns with undisputed sway.
The difference between the special authority delegated to the Son for the suppression of the revolt and afterwards laid down and the abiding authority of the Son as the Father’s representative, I cannot define. Probably it is connected with the fact that in consequence of sin the Son did what the Father never did, viz. became man and died. May it not be that in consequence of this he exercises now an authority which is specially His own, and which will continue only for a time?
In 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 a we found an argument for the resurrection of the people of God. Of this argument Paul has now shown the full force by setting it in the light of that day when Christ will give up to the Father His finished work. For that work cannot be pronounced complete while bodies which were once the temple of God are still held fast by the grave and while the spirits of the saved are still exiles from the world which was created to be their home.
1 Corinthians 15:29. Another argument against the teaching (1 Corinthians 15:12) “that there is no rising up of dead men.” Since it deals with the chief topic of § 28, we need not suppose any special reference to the foregoing words. The force of this argument, we cannot now reproduce with certainty. For, not only is it directed against an error unknown to us except through Paul’s refutation, but it rests upon a custom also unknown. We may provisionally accept the hypothesis that the opponents referred to taught that there is no life beyond the grave and that the hope of immortality rests upon the hope of surviving the coming of Christ. See end of § 28. And we can only guess at a custom in the Corinthian church which might be described by the words being baptized on behalf of the dead ones, and to which Paul could point as a witness against the teaching he combats.
Chrysostom tells us in his homily on this passage that the followers of the heretic Marcion, “when a catechumen dies among them, hide a living man under the bed of the dead one, and come to the dead man and ask whether he wishes to receive baptism. Then, when he answers nothing, the hidden man says from beneath, instead of him, that he wishes to be baptized. And so they baptize him instead of the deceased.” Epiphanius says (Heresies xxviii. 7) that the followers of Cerinthus “baptized others in the name of those who died without baptism, lest when they rose in the resurrection they should be punished for not having received baptism.” Now we can well conceive that this custom, which lingered only in small sects, was a perversion, both in practice and doctrine, of an innocent and appropriate custom existing at Corinth in Paul’s day. We may suppose that, for those who died in faith but not yet baptized, others, either baptized members or catechumens, received the rite, perhaps in some cases at the request of the dying man, as a testimony to the church of his faith; that thus he might have, though dead, a name and a place in the church. If death-bed baptism were not practiced in the apostles’ days, (and we have no proof that it was,) this custom of vicarious baptism might easily arise; and would naturally fall into disuse as death-bed baptism became common. Such a custom might easily be described, without supposing any spiritual benefit to the dead man from the rite, as being baptized on behalf of the dead ones. For the rite was performed to supply an omission on their part; and sometimes at their request. And it would be a strong testimony on the part of the dying man, of those who took part in the rite, and of those who approved it, that a happy life beyond death awaits those who died in Christ. For if, as some (1 Corinthians 15:12) said, a place in the future kingdom of God depends on surviving to His coming, the dead believer’s faith is made vain, and himself destroyed, by his death. For one who has thus failed by the failure of his earthly life surely no sacred rite would be performed. Such a rite might easily degenerate into the foolish form ridiculed by Chrysostom, and into the false teaching mentioned by Epiphanius. But in itself it would be innocent and appropriate; and might be mentioned by Paul without disapproval. If it was sanctioned by the church at Corinth generally, Paul’s argument would be an appeal to the faith of the whole church, as against a minority probably small.
Else; introduces a reductio ad absurdum, as in 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:14. In thought Paul sees men receiving the rite, being baptized on behalf of the dead ones; and asks what they are going to do, what result they will obtain. He gives force to his question by repeating it.
If dead men are not raised, states in full what is implied in else.
To-speak-generally declares (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:1) that the words following state a universal truth. Paul asks why men go so far as to be baptized for dead men if these do not rise. No reason can be given. For, as Paul and his readers assume, (see review of DIV. VII.,) if dead men do not rise there is no life beyond death. Consequently, the dead are lost. And their faith has been vain: for by death they have been (1 Corinthians 15:18) separated from Christ. But, if so, to commemorate their faith by receiving baptism for them, is absurd. Thus the custom in question, sanctioned probably by the whole church, attests the faith of the church that their departed brethren are safe and that the dead in Christ will rise. Similarly, Cicero appeals (Tusculan Disputations bk. i. 12) to funeral rites as proof of the general belief of mankind that there is a life beyond the grave.
[Canon Evans, in the Speaker’s Commentary, denies to
This ever-present idea accounts for the much greater frequency of this preposition with persons than with things or abstract of this preposition with persons than with things or abstract terms. But even with these last the same idea is easily traceable. So in 1 Corinthians 15:3; where Canon Evans has no right to impute inconsistency to Meyer, who renders “on account of our sins, i.e. in order to atone for them.” For Christ thus renders us infinite benefit, by saving us from our sins. (So we sometimes say “Do my cough good,” to denote relief from it.) In Romans 4:24 our sins are differently represented, viz. as a motive (
Canon Evans, following Chrysostom and the Greek Fathers, supposes that
The exposition of the Greek Fathers does not seem to me to account for, and justify, Paul’s words. My own exposition is, in the absence of historic proof, simply a suggestion which would account easily for all the facts of the case. Among these last must be counted the customs ridiculed by Chrysostom and Epiphanius. For they must have had an origin. And it is much more likely that heretics would pervert an existing custom than invent a new one. If the custom in question was suggested by the words before us, this would only prove that, in the mind of Greek-speaking Christians of the second century, the words were not fairly accounted for by the existing and ordinary rite of baptism. And this I now say. Certainly the many-sided and far reaching heresy of Marcion cannot be said to have been “founded on this text!”
The exposition I have given is slightly modified from one found in Ambrosiaster. Tertullian twice (Against Marcion bk. v. 10, and On Resurrection ch. 48) quotes this verse; but does not expound it.
1 Corinthians 15:30-31. Why do we also: in contrast to “why are they also baptized etc.,” introducing a new appeal, viz. to the conduct of Paul and his colleagues, in proof of life beyond death. He thus appeals to the respect for himself, which, he knows, still lives, in spite of a factious minority, in the hearts of his readers.
We; cannot be exactly defined. It simply indicates that what Paul says applies to others besides himself. Cp. Romans 1:5. If there be no resurrection of the dead, and therefore no life beyond death, Paul’s exposure of himself to peril is infinite folly. For he thus risks in the same moment both the present life and the life to come. If eternal happiness depends upon living till Christ comes, then deadly peril must above all things be avoided.
Every hour: vivid picture of the apostle’s constant danger. Cp. Romans 8:36. This danger, 1 Corinthians 15:31 depicts in still darker colors.
I-am-dying: same as “we are always being given up to death,” in 2 Corinthians 4:11. Not that each day he actually dies, but that the process of death is ever going on; as though every day the executioner were already at work putting him to death. In proof of this he appeals to his own exultation (see under Romans 2:17) about the Corinthians. The very joy and gratitude evoked by his thought of them recalls the peril he has endured for their salvation.
Which I have: as though his exultation about them were an enrichment to himself.
In Christ Jesus: only in the inner spiritual life which he lives in contact with his Master Christ, does Paul exult above the Corinthians. Notice the force of this appeal to the heart of his brethren. In spite of many defects, they are precious to him. As he stands before his Master, the thought of them gives him joy. And this joy reminds him, and will remind them, of the peril with which it has been purchased.
1 Corinthians 15:32 a. Another question parallel to, and supporting, that of 1 Corinthians 15:30.
With human aim: taking as a standard of conduct men with their purposes and practices. Same words in 1 Corinthians 9:8; 1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 3:5; Galatians 3:15. If Paul had ever been cast into the arena to fight with actual wild beasts, his deliverance must have been little less than a miracle; and so terrible an event would not have been omitted in 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff. We therefore infer, as would his readers unless they knew he had actually fought in the arena, that these words describe deadly enemies encountered during Paul’s long sojourn at Ephesus. They are a terrible picture of the perils which culminated in the uproar of Acts 19:23. He was surrounded by men thirsting for his blood, men against whose fury he was as powerless to defend himself as were the captives thrown to lions in the amphitheater. Cp. Titus 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:17. So Polycarp, (Ep. to the Romans ch. v.,) after speaking of being literally thrown to wild beasts, says: “From Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and by sea, night and day, being bound to ten leopards, i.e. a band of soldiers.” Also Ep. to the Smyrnans ch. iv.: “Guard against the wild beasts in human form.” Notice the climax, “incur danger,” “die,” and the most terrible kind of death, hopeless conflict with lions or panthers. Paul asks “If my voluntary exposure to this deadly peril be from the worldly motives common to men, what is the worldly gain for which I look?” No such gain can be conceived. Consequently, his self-exposure was not from worldly motives. In other words, it was a proof that he believed in a life beyond death. And, that this belief was correct, the admiration which his heroism evoked bore strong testimony. The force of the argument that unless there be a life beyond death moral heroism has often no reward has been felt in all countries and ages.
1 Corinthians 15:32 b. In contrast to his own conduct which is reckless folly if there be no resurrection, Paul now depicts conduct which a denial of the resurrection would justify. And, to reveal the gross impropriety of such conduct, he puts it in the form of advice. “If this teaching be true, it would be right for me to advise you to enjoy the present: for the present is all we have to enjoy.” And the readers would recognize in the words Let us eat … we die an exact quotation of Isaiah 22:13, a description of conduct in Jerusalem which, the prophet declares will be punished with death. That the teaching Paul combats is utterly destructive of a heroism which claims our admiration, and that it prompts to conduct condemned by both man’s moral instinct and by the Scriptures, proves the teaching to be untrue.
1 Corinthians 15:33-34. Be not deceived: in a similar connection, 1 Corinthians 6:9. The solemn earnestness of these words suggests that some at Corinth actually accepted, though perhaps unconsciously, the foregoing practical and immoral inference from this false teaching.
Excellent dispositions, bad companionships corrupt: a line of poetry found in the surviving fragments of the Athenian comic dramatist Meander, who died B.C. 291. Paul rebukes the immoral inferences from the false teaching at Corinth by quoting the words of a pagan. He thus confirms the voice of God (in Isaiah 22:13) by the general moral sense of man. Whether he had read the comedies of Meander, or only quoted this line, as many quote Shakespeare now, from hearsay, we cannot determine. An important coincidence is found in Acts 17:28, where a similar quotation is attributed to Paul. So Titus 1:12.
Bad companionships: intercourse from time to time with bad men. He refers probably, as 1 Corinthians 15:32 suggests, to those who denied the resurrection.
Rouse-up: as though overcome by sleep or intoxication. Same word in Joel 1:5, “Rouse up, drunken ones.” Like be not deceived, it is an appeal to the whole church, whose spiritual sense had become stupefied.
Righteously: in a manner corresponding with the principles of right.
Sin not: result of rousing thus.
For some etc.; justifies the exhortation by pointing to the need for it.
Some: evidently church-members. Otherwise the mention of them would not put the church to shame.
Ignorance of God: interesting coincidence with Matthew 22:29. It leads both to a denial of the resurrection and to practical immorality.
Arouse righteously is parallel to be not deceived; ignorance of God etc., to bad companionships. Paul wishes his readers not to be deceived: and then, fearing that deception has already begun, he urges them to arouse from its influence. The men against whom he warns are bad company; because they know not God.
To awaken shame: that they have such men in their midst. This suggests that they ought to be expelled from the church.
The earnestness of 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 implies that the denial of the resurrection was already producing immoral results. There were men in the church whose presence was a shame to it, because they knew not God. Paul therefore exhorts his readers sharply to arouse from stupor and avoid sin, and warns them that bad company injures even the well-disposed. The immoral maxim in 1 Corinthians 15:32 suggests that the false teachers were bad men. And Paul’s concluding rebuke implies that they ought to be no longer in the church. He does not command their expulsion; but leaves this to the Christian sense of the community.
SECTION 28 presents special difficulties. Like all refutations, it can be understood only by understanding first the teaching refuted: but this is known to us only through the arguments we are now seeking to understand. We will therefore attempt to gather from § 28 itself all indications about the false teaching it combats: and we will then build up in our own words its various arguments.
We notice that, although Paul proves at great length that Christ has risen, he simply asserts, and asserts twice, with perfect confidence but without proof, that Christ has risen. From this we infer with certainty that the denial at Corinth was an absolute denial of the possibility of bodily life for those who have died. For, a denial merely based on the dissolution of the body would not cover the case of Christ. The argument of § 29 suggests that some denied the resurrection because our present bodies are unsuitable to the future life. That Paul contents himself with simply asserting that the Corinthian denial involves a denial that Christ has risen, suggests that this logical consequence must have been so clear that it could not escape the deniers themselves; and that, at least in their hearts, they were prepared to accept it. But Paul’s silence about any express denial that Christ had risen suggests that this consequence had not been formally stated. That Paul meets the denial by arguments of which some do not prove expressly that the dead will rise, implies that both he and the false teachers held that without resurrection there can be no abiding life beyond death. With this agrees Luke 20:37, where Christ disproves the Sadducean denial of the resurrection by proving that the dead servants of God still live. Contrast the Phaedo of Plato and the Tusculan Disputations of Cicero, where life beyond death is strongly asserted but no hint given of resurrection. Paul and his readers evidently assumed that for beings consisting of spirit and body and created to dwell on earth there could be no abiding future life without a return to earth and a reclothing of the spirit in a human though glorified body. That Paul does not speak expressly of denial of life beyond death, but only of denial of the resurrection, suggests that the former denial was based upon the latter, in some cases probably upon the essential unsuitability of our present bodies for a future life. The assertion that dead men cannot rise, and that therefore there is no life beyond death, Paul meets in § 28 by proving that Christ has risen and by direct proofs that there is a future life; and by showing in § 29 that future bodily life does not imply bodies exactly like we now wear. Probably many Corinthians believed, as did some Greeks in Plato’s day, (see quotation in Review of DIV. VII.,) that at the moment of death the spirit ceases to be.
Since the deniers of the resurrection were members of a Christian church, we must suppose that, just as the Sadducees of Luke 20:27 were followers of Moses, so they believed in part the Gospel of Christ. We may conceive that they believed that God accepts as righteous through the death of Christ all who believe and gives to them His Holy Spirit, and that Christ will return to judge the world and to receive His people into glory; but that, since resurrection is inconceivable, our hope of glory depends upon surviving to the coming of Christ. Thus they had (1 Corinthians 15:19) hope in Christ, but a hope contingent on present bodily life. That these were their views is made probable by 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff, where we find similar views prevalent in another Gentile church. In this latter case, however, the doubts about the resurrection of dead believers did not involve (see 1 Corinthians 15:14) doubt that Christ had risen: nor had it led to immoral consequences. It was honest doubt, producing sorrow; not confident and outspoken denial, as at Corinth.
That the denial we are studying was perilous to morals, suggests that in the deniers even the expectation of Christ’s coming had lost power. For this expectation was itself a sufficient motive for sobriety; and is so used in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 ff. Probably, they were Christians only in name.
In disproof of teaching which clearly involves a denial that Christ has risen, Paul expounds the significance of the facts, historical and spiritual, stated in § 27. He and others had asserted that Christ has risen: and their preaching had been the means of saving many at Corinth from the dominion of their former sins. If Christ had not risen, their testimony was a lie against God. And it could not be conceived that a lie would save men from their sins. Again, the Corinthian denial involves, as all admitted, a denial of life beyond death. Therefore, if true, it implies that those who have died trusting in Christ have, by their peaceful and heroic death, lost all; and that the men who cherish hopes of endless glory, hopes liable to be at any moment destroyed for ever by the hand of death, are indeed to be pitied. Since death is evidently an enemy to the Christian, it is destined by ancient prophecy to be trampled under the feet of Christ. And till this enemy is compelled to give up its prey the Son cannot present to the Father His finished work. The church at Corinth has itself condemned this error, by favoring the vicarious baptism of those who have died unbaptized. And the perils to which the apostle daily and willingly exposes himself are a loud expression of his own belief. In absolute contrast to these perils, a denial of the resurrection would justify immoral maxims condemned both by the Old Testament and by heathen writers. In view of this, Paul bids his readers examine whether the presence in their midst of deniers of the resurrection is not already producing immoral results.
SECTION 29 — OUR RESURRECTION BODIES WILL BE QUITE DIFFERENT FROM OUR PRESENT BODIES CH. 15:35-53
But some one will say, How are the dead ones raised? and with what kind of body do they come? A senseless man! Thou, that which thou sowest is not made alive unless it die. And that which thou sowest, not the body which will come into being dost thou sow, but naked grain, of wheat it may be, or of some of the others. But God gives to it a body according as His will was; and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh. But there is one of men, and another flesh of cattle, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. And heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. But of one kind is the glory of the heavenly ones, and of another kind that of the earthly ones. One glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars. For star from star differs in glory.
So also the resurrection of the dead ones. It is sown in corruption: it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour: it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness: it is raised in power. There is sown a soul-governed body: there is raised a spiritual body. If there is a soul-governed body, there is also a spiritual one. So also it is written, “The first man Adam became a living soul,” (Genesis 2:7.) The last Adam, a life-giving Spirit. But not first is the spiritual, but the soul-governed, then the spiritual. The first man is from earth, a man of dust: the second Man is from heaven. Such as the man of dust, such also the men of dust and such as the heavenly one, such also the heavenly ones. And according as we have worn the image of the man of dust, let us wear also the image of the heavenly one.
I mean this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. See, a mystery I tell you. All of us will not sleep: but all of us will be changed; in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For, one will blow a trumpet: and the dead will be raised incorruptible; and we shall be changed. For it must need be that this corruptible thing put on incorruption, and this mortal thing put on immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:35. Adverse questions which Paul knows some one will ask.
With what-kind-of body: expounds how are the dead ones raised, by giving the special point of difficulty in the process of the resurrection.
Are raised, do they come: vivid description, as though we saw them now rising and coming out of the grave.
They come: from the standpoint of living men, of those who are coming back to the land of the living. “A senseless one!” in 1 Corinthians 15:36 suggests that these questions are not for information but to raise an objection. That the objection is made, not to Paul’s proofs, but to the doctrine proved, viz. that the dead will rise, suggests that this objection had been actually brought and was perhaps one ground of the assertion that there is no resurrection. The objectors evidently thought that resurrection implies that our present bodies or others like them will continue into the future life. This they could not conceive; and therefore said that “dead men do not rise.” But Paul, after disproving this denial in § 28 by proving that Christ has risen and that there is a life beyond death, truths inconsistent with the denial, will now show that the just uncovered ground of the denial is itself a misconception of the nature of the resurrection.
In Matthew 22:23 ff we have a similar objection to the fact of the resurrection, based on the same crude notion, common even in Christian ages, that the raised bodies will be exactly the same as those laid in the grave. Our Saviour, like Paul, meets it by proving that there is a life beyond the grave, assuming that this implies a resurrection of the dead; and by showing how incorrect are the common ideas about the life of the risen ones.
1 Corinthians 15:36-38. A senseless one! Thou etc.; rebukes the folly of the objection underlying these questions by pointing the man to a matter belonging to his own daily life.
Made-alive, die: appropriately chosen to suggest the analogy between the dead Christian and the seed hidden from sight in the ground and there perishing as a seed that it may pass into a more abundant life. This analogy teaches that there may be a continuity and a development of life in spite of the dissolution of its outward form; and that death may itself be the only possible way to a higher life. Thus in the very plants under our feet we have a pattern and a prophecy of our own resurrection, and a rebuke to those who deny its possibility. 1 Corinthians 15:37 adds to the analogy pointed out in 1 Corinthians 15:36 a proof from it that continuity of life does not imply continuity of bodily form.
Body; keeps before us the analogy of a dead man.
Naked grain: in contrast to the beautifully clothed plant which will grow from it.
Wheat, or some of the others; suggests the variety of seeds, thus preparing the way for to each of the seeds in 1 Corinthians 15:38. 1 Corinthians 15:38 solemnly introduces God as the Maker of the body which will grow.
His-will-was: literally, has-willed: same words and teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:18.
According as etc. The purpose of God, formed in the eternal past, is the eternal archetype with which correspond even the plants growing today. That God gives to the wheat from His Own infinite resources a body corresponding to the mystery of His Own eternal will, is the strongest contrast to sowing the body which will come to be.
Each of the seeds; suggest the immense variety of seeds. Each of these will have a body of its own, a body appropriate to itself. Consequently the variety of vegetable bodies is as great as the variety of seeds.
1 Corinthians 15:39-41. Paul now develops a thought suggested by “each of the seeds,” viz. the immense variety, and variety of kinds, of living bodies.
Cattle: useful domestic animals, horses, oxen, sheep, etc. Same word in Acts 23:24; Revelation 18:13; Luke 10:34.
Heavenly bodies; might denote in itself, the glorified bodies of the inhabitants of heaven. But here it can only denote the sun, moon, and stars. For the glory of the heavenly ones can be no other then the glory of the sun etc. Thus Paul himself defines the heavenly bodies. As in English so sometimes in classic Greek inanimate substances are called bodies. And the vegetable “body” given in 1 Corinthians 15:38 to a grain of wheat opens the way for inorganic bodies here.
Earthly bodies; may, in itself, include all material objects. But 1 Corinthians 15:39 directs and confines our attention to living bodies: just as 1 Corinthians 15:41 limits heavenly bodies to the stars etc. The word bodies puts in comparison the objects which live and move on earth with those brilliant objects which move or seem to move above our heads and infinitely beyond our reach. Paul thus reminds us that not only is there an infinite variety of material and living forms around us but that far above us there are other bodies; and then goes on to say that these heavenly bodies, which by their splendor awaken our rapt admiration, are of altogether another kind, differing entirely from every one of the endless varieties of earthly bodies.
Glory: admiration, or the objective quality which evokes it; see under Romans 1:21. The splendor which excites our admiration of the sun, moon, and stars, is altogether different from the manifold beauty which evokes our admiration of the works of God on earth.
One glory of the sun etc.; carries the proof of variety still further. Not only is there infinite variety in the objects which surround us on earth, and not only are all these entirely different from those which shine in the canopy of heaven, but even in these latter the law of variety is seen. All are glorious: but their glories differ. One step further. If the stars were all alike Paul would probably have written, according to Greek idiom, “another glory of the star,” naming one as representative of all. He therefore justifies the plural stars, by saying that the law of variety holds good even to the utmost limit of the visible creation, and that even stars differ among themselves. This is much better than taking the word stars to include sun and moon. Thus by a graphic delineation Paul has taught us that endless variety is a law of creation; and that amid this endless variety there is nevertheless an infinite distance between the endless varieties around us and the endless varieties above us.
1 Corinthians 15:42 a. Applies the foregoing facts to the matter in hand. Cp. Daniel 12:3.
So also etc.; refers only to the difference between earthly and heavenly bodies. Of differences among resurrection bodies, we have no mention in § 29. The endless variety of earthly bodies is mentioned only to show that this variety does not preclude the possibility of an altogether different order of risen bodies, in which all will be glorious but infinitely diverse. At the same time, the careful assertion of the difference between star and star suggests, perhaps with design, different degrees of heavenly brightness.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 a. Expounds “so also,” by four powerful contrasts between the body laid in the grave and that raised from it.
It is sown; recalls the metaphor of 1 Corinthians 15:37 f, which overthrew the objection that our present bodies are unfit for the world to come. Conversely, the word “body” in 1 Corinthians 15:37 f kept before us the matter for which the metaphor was used.
In corruption: dissolution actually going on while the body is being laid in the grave.
Incorruption: a state which abides undimmed for ever; see under Romans 2:7.
Dishonour: as if of no value. It was a technical term, in the days of free Athens, for a kind of outlawry involving loss of the rights of citizenship and of state protection. And this meaning would doubtless occur to Paul’s readers and was perhaps designed by him. Funeral pomp is but a mask hiding the truth that the body carried to the grave has lost the rights of humanity. Instead of the kind attentions rendered to it a few days ago, it is left alone in the dark and silent grave, as the meanest living body would not be. In absolute contrast to this is the splendor, exciting universal admiration, in which Christ’s people will rise from the dead.
In glory: see Colossians 3:4.
Weakness: the absolute powerlessness of the corpse, so that the once powerful arm can no longer do the slightest work.
In power: the wonderful and various capacity of the resurrection body.
Soul-governed: literally soulish, an adjective bearing the same relation to
“soul” as Spiritual to “spirit.” Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:45. Same word in 1 Corinthians 2:14. See note below. Paul no longer contrasts the conditions in which the body is buried and raised, but the constitutions of the dead and the rising bodies, derived from the first and the Last Adam. He thus introduces new ideas which he at once develops.
1 Corinthians 15:44 b. Soul-governed; describes the human body not only when dead but, as the quotation from Genesis 2 proves, as it sprang from the Creator’s hands. It is therefore independent of man’s conduct, and even of sin. Our present bodies and their action are subject to the laws of the soul, i.e. of bodily or animal life, which in turn depends upon food, temperature, etc., and is exposed to disease and mechanical injury We are therefore not absolute masters of our own bodies. At least physically our animal nature rules us, i.e. determines what we shall do. And such a body, ruled by forces he could neither control nor fully understand, was given to Adam in Paradise. Our future bodies will be entirely permeated and controlled by our spirits, the seat of our intelligence. Consequently, the resurrection body, instead of limiting the spirit, will be a perfect manifestation of its nature and a passive instrument of its will. Then will our deliverance from, and conquest of, the material world be complete. And our submission to God, complete. For the human spirit, while ruling with undisputed sway over the body and the emotions, will itself be animated wholly by the Spirit of God. The body to be laid in the grave is subject to the laws of animal life: the raised body will be subject only to spirit.
There is also: in the unchangeable purpose of God.
1 Corinthians 15:44 b repeats for emphasis the assertions of 1 Corinthians 15:44 a, in a form which declares that the former assertion implies the latter. The soul-governed body is imperfect: and in the works of God all imperfection is a prophecy of its own consummation. Again, although our body is soul-governed, we ourselves are spiritual: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15; contrast Judges 1:19. And the soul-governed body of those set free from the moral sway of the animal life reveals the change awaiting their body.
1 Corinthians 15:45. So also etc.; adds to the assertion of 1 Corinthians 15:44 b a quotation from Genesis 2:7 in harmony with it.
First: inserted by Paul to give prominence to the fact that Adam was the beginning of the human race.
Adam: the Hebrew word rendered man in Genesis 2:7. It is added here to direct attention to him who bore it as his proper name. By God personally inbreathing the principle of life into a lifeless but organized body, the man, who before was only a lifeless body, became a living soul. The soul was a result of the entrance of the principle of life into a mortal body. That the word soul is used in Genesis 2:7 to designate the entire man who thus sprang into being, implies that of man thus created the soul, i.e. the animal life, was the distinctive name-giving element. This designation therefore proves that the body of man as first created was a soul-governed body.
The last Adam: Christ, as being, like Adam, head and representative of the race, on whom hang the fortunes of the whole. Ancient Jewish writers give the same title to the expected Messiah. See quotations from Schoettgen given on page xix. Its use here is explained and justified by Romans 5:12-19, with which it is a remarkable coincidence.
The last: because after Him there will be no other head of the race; or, more probably, because Paul has in view the final appearance of Christ.
Life-giving: an attribute of spirit, the principle of life; as is living of soul, an individual manifestation of life. We may supply either “has become” or “will become:” for the life which Christ will give results from His death and resurrection which have already taken place. 1 Corinthians 15:45 b is but a repetition of 1 Corinthians 15:22 b. For spirit is the one and only principle of “life.” Therefore, that Christ’s return to earth will clothe us in living bodies, proves him to be a life-giving spirit. And the body He will give can be no other than spiritual. For a soul-governed body is imperfect; and therefore inconsistent with final victory.
Genesis 2:7 was quoted to prove, by his very designation, that Adam as created was imperfect. This imperfection, by its contrast with what we know will be a perfect state, proves the difference asserted in 1 Corinthians 15:44 a between the body laid in the grave and that to be raised from it. Hence, after the quotation Paul simply adds an assertion of his own.
1 Corinthians 15:46. The spiritual: wider than “spiritual body.” Paul asserts a principle, possibly as broad as creation, viz. that God does not begin by creating matter completely under the control of spirit, but under control, more or less, of natural forces and animal life. To conquer matter thus swayed by other forces, and to bring it under its own absolute rule, is the task set before spirit. It was Adam’s work to bring into subjection to his own spirit not only (Genesis 1:28) the world around him but his body and its appetites.
Then the spiritual: emphatic statement of the true order.
This verse casts important light on the story of Paradise. Adam was not created full-grown in moral and spiritual life, so that all he had to do was to retain his position. He was fully equipped for conquest: but the victory was not yet won. Paul tells us that it is so always. The task of our life is to gain complete control of our bodies and bodily life. Our reward will be to have resurrection bodies completely controlled, physically and morally, by the spirit within.
1 Corinthians 15:47-48. Further contrast of the two heads of the race, determining the nature of the bodies we receive from them respectively.
From earth, a man of dust: so Genesis 2:7, literally rendered, “formed man dust from the earth.” Dust is the finest inorganic material. Adam was a man of dust.
From heaven: whence Christ will come (Philippians 3:20) with all the powers of heaven to be Head of the glorified human race; in contrast to Adam who came from the earth beneath us, with all material infirmities, to be the beginning of a race which could not of itself rise above its source. What Adam was, a man of dust, they are who live a life inherited from him. And what Christ is, such are they who partake His life. This comparison pertains only to those elements which come from the heads of the race. Because Adam’s body was soul-governed, so are ours. Christ’s glorified body, which will some day return to earth, is purely spirit-governed. And since He, equally with Adam, is Head of the race, we shall have bodies like His.
1 Corinthians 15:49. Image of the man-of-dust: our present human body.
Image of the heavenly one: our resurrection body, which will “be conformed to the body of His glory,” Philippians 3:21.
Let us wear: so read by all recent editors, except that we shall (A.V. and R.V. text) is in Westcott’s margin: a various reading similar to Romans 5:1. The change is in a single letter. In both cases the subjunctive reading is the more difficult, but is supported by preponderate documentary evidence. “We shall wear” would simply announce the coming glory. Let us wear, (or better, let us put on for wear,) reminds us that it depends upon ourselves whether we share that glory, and exhorts us so to act now as to obtain it. Such exhortation is an appropriate corrective to the absolute assertions of 1 Corinthians 15:43-48. The image of the heavenly cannot be the moral image of Christ. For, the image of the man-of-dust can be no other than bodily likeness to Adam: and the whole context refers to the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:50. I mean, or assert: same word in same sense in 1 Corinthians 10:19. Paul now puts into plain words the practical meaning of his teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 about the soul-governed body of dust, etc.
Flesh and blood: Matthew 16:17; Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 2:14. Bodies such as we now have, consisting of flesh and blood and therefore subject, to the laws of animal life, cannot inherit the kingdom of God: i.e. while wearing them we cannot obtain the royal inheritance (see 1 Corinthians 6:10) belonging to us as sons of God.
Cannot; marks the absolute incompatibility of a natural body with the kingdom in which matter is wholly controlled by spirit. After the concrete, flesh and blood, Paul mentions the abstract quality, corrupting, (never absent now where flesh is,) which prevents our present bodies from entering the kingdom of God; in absolute contrast to incorruption, (1 Corinthians 15:42,) which marks all that pertains to that kingdom. Thus 1 Corinthians 15:50 b gives a reason for the fact asserted in 1 Corinthians 15:50 a.
1 Corinthians 15:51. Mystery: something unknown had not God revealed it. See note under 1 Corinthians 3:4; cp. Romans 11:25; also 1 Thessalonians 4:15, “This we say to you by the word of the Lord.” This mystery, contained in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, explains how we who now dwell in flesh and blood may, in spite of 1 Corinthians 15:50, “inherit the kingdom of God.”
All of us will not sleep; (see Appendix B) cannot mean that all will live till Christ comes. For, with death all around, Paul certainly could not say this. Had he meant this, the error at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 4:13) would have been his own express teaching. The word not negatives all, not shall sleep. [See Moulton’s good note in Winer’s Grammar p. 695.] Paul denies that all, an all including himself and his readers, will die; but asserts that, although some will escape death, not one will escape a total bodily change.
All of us; covers in both places the whole race; as suggested by the general term “flesh and blood.” The repetition lays emphasis on the absolute universality of the change.
1 Corinthians 15:52. In a moment etc.: cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:3; Matthew 24:44; Luke 17:26 ff.
Twinkling of an eye: dwells upon, and intensifies, the idea of suddenness. In the midst of the world’s busy life and without any previous warning, Christ will lay His hand upon the wheels of time and they will stop at once and for ever. This warns the readers that the absence of all signs of Christ’s coming is no proof that it is not near.
Trumpet: so 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:31. As at Sinai (Exodus 19:16) so the last coming of Christ will be announced by an appeal to the ears of men.
The last trumpet: the last of the many signals during the present age of probation, marking the end of the age. This mention of a trumpet Paul supports, in face of those who denied the supernatural, by declaring that one will blow it, and that then the dead ones will rise and the living be changed.
Incorruptible; keeps before us the difference (1 Corinthians 15:43) between our present and future bodies.
We: 1 Thessalonians 4:15 : the living, in contrast to the dead ones. It implies clearly that Paul did not know that long ages would pass before Christ’s coming. But, that he confidently expected to survive the Day of Christ, we cannot fairly infer. For, in rhetorical figure he frequently identifies himself with that which he describes: so 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 10:22; 1 Corinthians 10:29; Romans 3:7; Romans 7:14 ff: cp. James 3:9. Probably, in this matter hope and fear alternated with his circumstances and his frame of mind. In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 he certainly ponders the possibility of his own death. Still, finding himself preserved from day to day amid peril, and not knowing how soon Christ will appear, he would naturally look upon himself as “being left for the coming of Christ,” in contrast to those who had fallen asleep; and might speak of himself, as here, in contrast to those who will die before Christ comes.
Shall-be-changed; refers here only to the survivors: for the dead are already mentioned. But it is true (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:51) of all, both dead and surviving. For the word simply denotes change, whether by death and resurrection or without them. It is used here because change is all that can be asserted of those who will not die. This change is the chief part of the “mystery” which harmonizes 1 Corinthians 15:50 with our entrance into the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 15:53. Must-needs: since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”
This corruptible thing: the body. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:43.
Put-on: clothe itself as with a garment. So 2 Corinthians 5:3 f. The contrast of corruptible and incorruption marks the greatness of the needed change.
This mortal: so 2 Corinthians 5:4 : more definite, and therefore more forceful, than corruptible. Paul lingers, in repetition, over the coming change. The body doomed to decay will clothe itself with absence of decay: and the body doomed to death will clothe itself in deathlessness. He thus concludes § 29 with its chief thought, viz. the necessary difference between our present and future bodies.
SECTION 29 is introduced by a question uncovering an objection to the teaching in § 28 that the dead will rise, an objection based on the supposed impossibility of the process of resurrection. The objection was perhaps prompted by the crude teaching of some Jews that the resurrection body will be exactly the same as that laid in the grave. This objection Paul rebukes by pointing to God’s works in nature, to the difference between the seed sown and the plant which perpetuates its life, and between the endless variety of living bodies on earth and the objects which shine and move above us in the sky. He declares that there is a similar difference between our present and future bodies, a difference of which he gives four powerful parallel descriptions. He thus shows that against his teaching the objection of 1 Corinthians 15:35 has no force. The story of Genesis tells us that the human body, even as at first created, and according to a constant divine order, is imperfect. But through our relation to Christ we shall receive bodies like His. In other words, a change is absolutely necessary before we can attain the goal of our being. And it will come. Though all will not die, every one will pass through the needful change from mortality to immortality. Of this teaching Philippians 3:21 is an epitome.
This section rebukes the teaching, common in all ages, that our future bodies will consist of the same material particles as those we now wear; and thus removes the objection to the resurrection based on this error. In harmony with this section we must interpret Romans 8:11. Yet our future bodies will have some definite (“each his own body”) but now inconceivable relation to our present bodies. We learn also that Adam as he sprang from the Creator’s hands, although unstained by sin, was not, even touching his body, perfect. With him as with us maturity of manhood is the prize of battle and victory.
The word SOUL now claims attention. For the argument of 1 Corinthians 15:44-46 turns evidently upon the difference between soul and “spirit.” (see note under Romans 8:17.) These verses teach that soul is inferior to “spirit,” and bears to our present mortal bodies received from Adam a relation similar to that of spirit to the resurrection body we shall receive from Christ; and that the order in time of our present and future bodies accords (1 Corinthians 15:46) with the nature of soul and spirit respectively. Unfortunately the true sense of the word soul is much obscured by the necessity of rendering it by various English words.
In both Testaments and in classic Greek the word soul denotes usually that in which a lifeless object differs from a living one. It is the life; not as a life-giving principle (the spirit) but as that which itself lives. It is rendered life in Matthew 16:25; Matthew 2:20; Matthew 6:25, and numberless cases. Consequently, the various manifestations of life are attributed to the soul, especially in the Old Testament; e.g. hunger, thirst, need and satiety of food, sensation, desire, and all kinds of emotion. Cp. Proverbs 10:3; Proverbs 27:7; Proverbs 25:25; Psalms 31:10. It also denotes living creatures, as themselves manifestations of life. This use is conspicuous in Genesis 1:20-30, where the words “living soul” (A.V. “living creature”) designate the lower creatures, especially fishes and quadrupeds. Similarly, as being the basis of individual life, human as well as animal, it denotes ah individual man: Genesis 2:7; Genesis 46:18. Very strangely it is used for a corpse: Numbers 6:6. In Revelation 6:9 we have the disembodied souls of murdered men.
We may therefore define the soul to be the life common to men and animals; the “spirit,” in contrast to the soul, that which is very rarely (e.g. Isaiah 1:14) used of God and the word “spirit” very rarely (Ecclesiastes 3:21) of animals, Spirit is declared to be the essence of God. Spirit is that principle which, entering into an organized material form, gives it life; and thus itself assumes an individual, and in man a personal, existence: the soul is the actual individual life resulting from the entrance of the life-giving spirit into a material form, a life conditioned in its nature and its development by the material form it animates. Hence the order in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The soul is that which is nearest to the body and in great part ruled by the body, the seat of bodily emotions, sensations, desires. The spirit is that which is nearest to God, and which thinks and knows. On man’s spirit the Spirit of God, Himself the bearer of the mind of God, directly acts. The spiritual man is he who obeys the influences which through his own spirit the Spirit of God exerts upon him. The soul-governed man (1 Corinthians 2:14, Judges 1:19) is he who obeys the emotions which the material world, acting on him through his body, evokes in his soul. So far as we obey the Holy Spirit, He imparts to our own spirit (which in the unsaved is very weak) power to control the emotions which arise in the soul, and thus to rule our own body and defy the influences of the world. Thus our whole being becomes spiritual and holy. But, so far as we obey the emotions of the soul, our own spirit, the seat of thought and knowledge, falls under their sway, which is practically the sway of the body, and under subjection to the material world around us. Cp. James 3:15. Animals are altogether soul-governed. For their entire action is determined by emotions excited either by simple sensation, or sensation joined with something like memory. And so far as man is soul-governed does he sink towards the level of animals.
Of the use of the word “spirit” to denote the highest part in man only faith traces (e.g. Aristotle, On the World ch. iv.) are found in classic Greek. Consequently, the word soul there covers the entire domain of man’s immaterial nature. But Aristotle, in a most instructive passage, Nic. Ethics bk. i. 13, distinguishes three elements in the human soul, of which the first two and the third correspond very nearly to the soul and spirit in the New Testament. The lowest of these elements man has in common with vegetables, viz. the life which is nourished and grows. Similarly and popularly, in the New Testament “body and soul” denotes sometimes the entire man: Matthew 10:28. In these cases the soul is the whole immaterial part of man, including the spirit. But this popular use does not set aside the plain distinction, here, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12, of soul and spirit.
The clumsy rendering “soul-governed” is due to our lack of an adjective corresponding to soul, as “spiritual” corresponds to “spirit.” the control of the soul over the body justifies the imported idea “governed.”
SECTION 30 — VICTORY! CH. 15:54-58
And when this corruptible thing shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal thing shall have put on immortality, then will take place the word that is written, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (Isaiah 25:8.) Where, Death is thy victory? where, Death, thy sting? The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the Law. But to God be thanks who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, my beloved brothers, become firm, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord always, knowing that your labor is not vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:54. And when etc.: full and majestic reiteration of the change described in 1 Corinthians 15:53, as of something on which Paul loves to linger.
Then; gives definiteness to the hoped-for moment.
Will-take-place: what is now a written word will then become fact.
Swallowed-up: put completely out of sight.
Into victory: when the victory has come, death will have disappeared. This is a quotation, exact in senses. from Isaiah 25:8 : “He has swallowed up death for ever.” The word victory was suggested to Paul by an Aramaic word of that meaning similar to the Hebrew word rendered “for ever.” It also recalls 1 Corinthians 15:26. In this quotation lies an argument. For Isaiah’s words imply clearly a complete and eternal undoing of the work of death: and this can be only by resurrection of the dead. In the moment when the change from mortality to immortality is complete, and not till then, will Isaiah’s words be fulfilled. The latter part of the same prophecy is also quoted in Revelation 7:17, with a similar reference.
1 Corinthians 15:55. A shout of victory evoked by the just quoted prophecy, which to Paul’s faith is already accomplished.
Where? as though looking round for something which has disappeared. So 1 Corinthians 1:20; Romans 3:27.
Death: vivid personification.
Thy victory: once apparently so complete and universal, and so universally acknowledged and dreaded.
Sting: of an animal, Revelation 9:10; 4 Maccabees 14:19 : also a human weapon, especially (Acts 26:14) an ox- or horse-goad. The once deadly serpent has lost its sting; and is therefore harmless. These words were evidently suggested by Hosea 13:14, which in LXX. reads “From the hand of Hades I will rescue, and from death I will redeem them. Where is thy righteous claim, O Death? Where is thy sting, O Hades? This ancient prophecy foretells complete deliverance from death. Thus, in what seems to be merely a shout of victory, Paul adds another Scripture proof to the arguments of this chapter. The passage in Hosea accounts for the mistaken reading of the Authorized Version.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57. Thoughts suggested by the sting and the victory. Sin is the sting of death in that but for sin even death (the abstract power personified) could not have pierced us. For death is the punishment of sin. By committing sin we gave our enemy a weapon with which he slew us. But death cannot hurt those saved from sin. For to them death is gain. To them, therefore, death is a serpent which has lost its sting, retaining its outward form but powerless to injure.
Power of sin: interesting coincidence with Romans 7:7 ff. But for the Law sin would have been powerless to pierce us. For, had there been no law, the abstract power of sin could not have compelled us to break it and thus to incur its penalty. That the mention of death recalls sin and the Law, shows how deeply inwoven in the mind of Paul was the teaching of Romans 7. In the moment of victory he remembers that death’s terrible weapon came from man’s sin, and that but for the Law, in which many Jews trusted for salvation, the power of sin would have been unknown.
1 Corinthians 15:57. To God be thanks: sudden transition (cp. 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Timothy 1:17; Romans 9:5; Romans 16:25, etc.) from things around to “God who is over all.” As usual, the divine Name is placed first, to make the transition.
The victory: the last victory over death. But this implies all earlier victories. For, only those who conquer sin and the world now will “attain to the resurrection from the dead,” Philippians 3:11.
Gives the victory, over death, by giving us day by day victory over sin and the world. For the one victory implies the other.
Through our Lord etc.: Romans 1:5. In 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 we have an epitome of the Gospel: sin, the Law, death, the gift of salvation from God, through Christ. Similar shout of victory in Romans 8:37 ff, summoning up the result of the whole chapter.
1 Corinthians 15:58. Practical bearing of the results summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:57.
Firm: better, firmly-seated.
Immovable; suggests forces tending to carry them away. These words refer to unshaken belief of the Gospel, without which there can be no stable Christian character. A close parallel in Colossians 1:23.
Work of the Lord: 1 Corinthians 16:10 : the work given us by Christ to do.
Abound: Romans 15:13; 2 Corinthians 8:7. Christ’s servants must be always at work.
Knowing etc.: motive for Christian firmness and for abundant work. It thus expounds so then.
Labour; suggests the weariness frequently involved in work for Christ.
Vain: empty of results.
In the Lord; supports not in vain. For Christ is the element in which we toil: and nothing done in Him can be without result. This verse reminds us how often doubts about doctrine lessen the abundance and the constancy of gospel work. For such work appears useless to those who are not firmly convinced of the truth of the Gospel. All Christian activity flows from fully believed Christian doctrine. Of this, negative proof had probably been already given by the church at Corinth.
The ERRORS at Corinth about THE RESURRECTION, and Paul’s ARGUMENTS against them, we will now try to reproduce.
The opinions of the Pagan Greeks about the dead are known to us by various allusions in classic writers.
HOMER, (Odyssey bk. xi. 489,) in a graphic picture of the departed, which doubtless helped to perpetuate the opinions therein embodied, describes the dead as leading a worthless shadow life, which the greatest of the heroes, Achilles says he would change for the very meanest place on earth. PLATO teaches again and again the endless existence of all souls, in happiness or misery according to their action on earth. See, especially Apology p. 40, Phaedo p. 108, Georgias p. 523. But he says expressly, and the seriousness of his argument implies, that very many around him disbelieved in a future life, while others believed that although the soul might survive the body yet it would ultimately cease to be. So Phaedo p. 70a: “Touching the soul men have much unbelief; fearing lest when it has left the body it is no longer anywhere, but in that day it corrupts and perishes whenever the man dies; and as soon as it is removed from the body it goes forth, scattered like breath or smoke, and goes away flying in different directions and is no longer anywhere.” CICERO (Tusculan Disputations bk. i.) argues at length, but with less confidence than Plato, that the soul exists for ever; yet admits that many believed it to be extinguished at death, and that the Stoics taught its final extinction. Cicero, however, only faintly indicates, while Plato teaches most explicitly, that a man’s future happiness or misery depends upon his present conduct. Cp. also Josephus, Wars bk. ii. 8. 11. The arguments both of Plato and Cicero suggest that the common people believed that death was either an extinction of the soul or an entrance into a worthless shadow life. And these views were probably current at Corinth in Paul’s day.
The Greek and Roman writers seem to have had no conception whatever of a resurrection of the body. Plato taught that sometimes departed spirits return to earth to animate other human or animal bodies. See his Phaedo p. 81 etc., Timaeus p. 42 etc. But this he regarded as but a lengthening of their bondage, and taught that at death the purer spirits were free for ever from material clothing. Of a spiritual body, i.e. one over which the spirit will have complete control and which will be a perfect organ for self-manifestation of the spirit, he had no conception. So complete a victory of spirit over matter was utterly beyond his thought.
From Mark 12:18 we learn that the Sadducees, though followers of Moses, denied the resurrection of the dead. In reply to them Christ proves from Exodus 3:6, as Paul proves here, that the dead servants of God still live. That a denial of this was implied in the Sadducean denial of the resurrection, we are told expressly in Acts 23:8; in Josephus, Antiq. bk. xviii. 1. 4, “The souls disappear with the bodies;” and Wars bk. ii. 8. 14.
A very instructive parallel to 1 Corinthians 15 is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul’s earnest announcement that the dead believers, raised from the dead, will in company with the survivors meet Christ in the air, implies that his readers feared that their dead brethren had by their death lost their share in the kingdom Christ was coming to set up, and had fallen into non-existence or into a worthless shadow life. Yet of the piety of the Thessalonicans he speaks in highest terms. Their ignorance is just what we might expect in a church from which Paul was suddenly torn (Acts 17:2; Acts 17:9} after less than a month’s teaching; and is therefore a valuable mark of genuineness. In their case all that was needed was “to supply the deficiencies of their faith,” 1 Thessalonians 3:10. The argument in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 is practically the same as in 1 Corinthians 15:13; except that to the Thessalonicans Paul had no need to adduce proof that Christ had risen.
That in reply to men denying the resurrection Paul brings arguments proving for the more part only that there is a life beyond death, shows that this denial was meant to be a denial of future life. For against Plato’s teaching that all souls will exist in happiness or misery without bodies, the arguments of 1 Corinthians 15:19; 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 have no force. We must therefore suppose that these Corinthians denied, like the Sadducees, all future existence; or, like Homer, all existence worthy of the name.
Yet they were members of the church. Perhaps, like the Thessalonicans, they were looking (1 Corinthians 1:7) for the return of Christ, and thought that their share in the happiness to come depended on their surviving to His coming. At the same time, the warnings of 1 Corinthians 15:32 ff seem to imply that even their expectation of Christ’s return was losing its moral influence over them. For, even if death were extinction, the prospect of His early appearance was a motive sufficient to restrain men from sin. As such it is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 ff; Matthew 24:44. The men referred to here were, probably, (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:34,) Christians only in name, ignorant of God, and a disgrace to the church.
That Paul speaks of them as denying, not a future life, but resurrection of the dead, suggests that they assumed, as Paul did, that without resurrection there could be no future life worthy of the name; and that they denied a future life because to them resurrection was incredible. They seem to have had no conception of Plato’s doctrine of a bodiless but blessed life to come.
Again, that Paul meets their denial of the resurrection by proofs that Christ has risen and by saying that if He has risen so shall we, implies that their denial of the resurrection was so broad that it involved clearly a denial that Christ has risen. Paul’s long proof that He has risen suggests that these skeptics, though they had not expressly denied the resurrection of Christ, (else Paul would certainly have said so,) were not unprepared for this logical result of their own denial. This is another indication that they were Christians in little more than name.
The argument of 1 Corinthians 15:35 ff suggests that some denied that God’s people rise again because they supposed that, if so, they would rise in bodies exactly the same as those laid in the grave, and because the present body seemed to them utterly unfit for the life to come.
These denials and objections Paul meets, not by excommunication, but, for the sake of honest doubters, by careful argument. He adduces abundant proof that Christ has risen; leaving his readers to perceive that the presence in heaven of the now glorified bodies cannot pass into the life to come.
And he proves by various arguments that there is a life to come. He then cuts away one ground of the denial at Corinth by declaring that the Christian doctrine is, not that our present bodies pass unchanged into endless life, but that in every case, whether or not we survive the coming of Christ, our bodies must be completely changed before they can put on immortality. The completeness and the glory of this change, and the complete victory over death which it implies, force from the apostle a shout of victory. But this gives place at once to practical exhortation to do, unmoved by doubt or contradiction, the work of Christ.
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Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent