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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 15

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

1 Corinthians 15. The Resurrection of the Dead.—This discussion seems not to have been elicited by the church letter, but by information which had reached Paul through another source. Some were denying the doctrine of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12). On what grounds they denied it and what view they held of life after death is not said. Probably they held that current in Greek philosophy, that death was a release from the prison-house of the body, that the spirits of the good passed into a state of bliss while their bodies went to corruption. Paul insists that this doctrine cuts away the very basis on which their faith and salvation rest. But his own doctrine is far removed from the crass belief that the body would be simply reanimated. It would be entirely transformed. Neither the principle of continuity between old and new, nor the nature of the resurrection body are clearly explained (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4), but on the latter point especially much is said to define Paul's view, and it was one against which the difficulties urged at Corinth would be less acutely felt.

Although the resurrection of Christ was apparently not denied, Paul restates the evidence for it. He felt that the admission made the position that there was no resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12) illogical. He is not content, however, with registering the admission and drawing the inference. For logic could be satisfied by denying both, as well as by admitting both, and the doubters might advance to the one as well as retreat to the other. It was therefore advisable to anticipate such a possibility by a summary of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It is very fortunate that Paul gave this, for we thus have what is probably our earliest documentary statement, of unimpeachable authenticity and carrying back the belief to within a week of the crucifixion. The view that it is an interpolation is refuted by its manifest independence of the Gospel narratives; at any possible date for such an interpolation it would have been made in a harmonistic interest.

It is very important to remember that Paul is summarising information previously given in detail. It is not clear that he meant to give a complete account of the appearances. The omission of the women might be due to ignorance, and this, considering his opportunities for knowledge, would raise a serious question as to their historical character. On the other hand, it might be due simply to his wish to avoid evidence that would carry less weight, and this would harmonise very well with his general attitude to women. It is intrinsically improbable, whatever view be taken of the appearances, that there were no appearances to women. Paul's reference to "the third day" is entitled to the greatest weight from those who insist that his is our only credible account. It is, however, often regarded as an inference from prophecy. This is favoured by the reference to the Scriptures, and by the fact that Hosea 6:2 might naturally suggest this. It is a serious objection to this view that Hosea 6:2 is never referred to in this connexion either in the NT or in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. It could hardly have failed to be quoted if the early Church had fixed the date of the resurrection by it. Moreover the actual terms of the passage do not very well suit the resurrection of Christ ("raise us up"). We have no right to deny that "the third day" was part of the tradition Paul had received, and if so it was probably an original element in the tradition. In that case the appearances must have taken place first in Jerusalem, not in Galilee. We may probably infer from this that the story of the empty grave is historical, since the apostles can hardly have left this point without investigation if they were in Jerusalem at the time. It is true that Paul does not explicitly refer to the empty grave. But apparently he implies it. Otherwise he would not have emphasized the fact of burial, and perhaps he would have drawn no distinction between the resurrection and the appearances. And, since the very point at issue was the resurrection of the body, he cannot have supposed that Christ's body went to corruption in the grave. It is also important to observe how large an element of agreement Paul asserts between himself and the apostles. It is not simply with reference to matters of fact, the death, the burial, the resurrection, but the interpretation of the death as on account of sins, not the bare facts but what made the facts a Gospel.


Verses 1-11

1 Corinthians 15. The Resurrection of the Dead.—This discussion seems not to have been elicited by the church letter, but by information which had reached Paul through another source. Some were denying the doctrine of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12). On what grounds they denied it and what view they held of life after death is not said. Probably they held that current in Greek philosophy, that death was a release from the prison-house of the body, that the spirits of the good passed into a state of bliss while their bodies went to corruption. Paul insists that this doctrine cuts away the very basis on which their faith and salvation rest. But his own doctrine is far removed from the crass belief that the body would be simply reanimated. It would be entirely transformed. Neither the principle of continuity between old and new, nor the nature of the resurrection body are clearly explained (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4), but on the latter point especially much is said to define Paul's view, and it was one against which the difficulties urged at Corinth would be less acutely felt.

Although the resurrection of Christ was apparently not denied, Paul restates the evidence for it. He felt that the admission made the position that there was no resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12) illogical. He is not content, however, with registering the admission and drawing the inference. For logic could be satisfied by denying both, as well as by admitting both, and the doubters might advance to the one as well as retreat to the other. It was therefore advisable to anticipate such a possibility by a summary of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It is very fortunate that Paul gave this, for we thus have what is probably our earliest documentary statement, of unimpeachable authenticity and carrying back the belief to within a week of the crucifixion. The view that it is an interpolation is refuted by its manifest independence of the Gospel narratives; at any possible date for such an interpolation it would have been made in a harmonistic interest.

It is very important to remember that Paul is summarising information previously given in detail. It is not clear that he meant to give a complete account of the appearances. The omission of the women might be due to ignorance, and this, considering his opportunities for knowledge, would raise a serious question as to their historical character. On the other hand, it might be due simply to his wish to avoid evidence that would carry less weight, and this would harmonise very well with his general attitude to women. It is intrinsically improbable, whatever view be taken of the appearances, that there were no appearances to women. Paul's reference to "the third day" is entitled to the greatest weight from those who insist that his is our only credible account. It is, however, often regarded as an inference from prophecy. This is favoured by the reference to the Scriptures, and by the fact that Hosea 6:2 might naturally suggest this. It is a serious objection to this view that Hosea 6:2 is never referred to in this connexion either in the NT or in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. It could hardly have failed to be quoted if the early Church had fixed the date of the resurrection by it. Moreover the actual terms of the passage do not very well suit the resurrection of Christ ("raise us up"). We have no right to deny that "the third day" was part of the tradition Paul had received, and if so it was probably an original element in the tradition. In that case the appearances must have taken place first in Jerusalem, not in Galilee. We may probably infer from this that the story of the empty grave is historical, since the apostles can hardly have left this point without investigation if they were in Jerusalem at the time. It is true that Paul does not explicitly refer to the empty grave. But apparently he implies it. Otherwise he would not have emphasized the fact of burial, and perhaps he would have drawn no distinction between the resurrection and the appearances. And, since the very point at issue was the resurrection of the body, he cannot have supposed that Christ's body went to corruption in the grave. It is also important to observe how large an element of agreement Paul asserts between himself and the apostles. It is not simply with reference to matters of fact, the death, the burial, the resurrection, but the interpretation of the death as on account of sins, not the bare facts but what made the facts a Gospel.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul reminds them of the Gospel preached by him, accepted by them, the foundation on which they stand, through which they are achieving salvation, and the expression he gave it, if they are holding it fast, as they will be unless they received it with headlong haste. The Gospel consists of certain facts and their interpretation, received from others, handed on by him to them: Christ's death on account of sins as set forth in Scripture, the burial (explicitly mentioned, not merely to guarantee the fact of death, but to indicate that the next clause speaks of what happened to the body), the resurrection on the third day also in harmony with prophecy, the appearances mentioned as a fact distinct from the resurrection. These were made to Cephas (Luke 24:34): to the twelve (strictly eleven, but the term is here technical); to more than 500, presumably in Galilee, where the number is not surprising; to James, probably the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9, Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18)—a legendary account of this is given in The Gospel according to the Hebrews; then to all the apostles, a larger body it would seem than the eleven but including them; finally (therefore all later appearances belong to a different category), to Paul himself, the untimely born, "the abortion," as his Corinthian critics apparently called him (RV blunts the point by omitting the definite article). If Paul coined the description, the point may be the abruptness of such a birth and the immaturity of the infant. If, as is more probable, his enemies so described him, they would mean that he was quite as unfit to be a fully recognised apostle as an abortion is fit to be regarded as a human being, the abusive term gaining an additional sting from the insignificance of his personal appearance (2 Corinthians 10:10). Not wholly unjustly, Paul comments, do they say this of him, for he is the least of the band and not worthy, as a former persecutor, of membership in it. Yet by God's grace he is what he is, and how effectively that grace has wrought! He has laboured more abundantly than any one of them (he may mean than all of them put together, and would this really have been an exaggeration?); the credit is all due to God, so he need not shrink from saying this. Be that as it may, he and the apostles preached this Gospel and the Corinthians accepted it as true.

1 Corinthians 15:3 b. Probably Paul has specially in mind Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, though it is astonishing that the fourth Servant poem fills next to no place in his writings. It was early given a Christian interpretation (Acts 8:32-35, and the still earlier identification of Jesus with the Servant of Yahweh, Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26; Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30).


Verses 12-19

1 Corinthians 15:12-19. How, in face of this preaching, can any Christian say there is no resurrection? If a resurrection of the dead is out of the question this involves a denial that Christ has been raised. This fact, however, stands fast for both parties. They have been convinced by the historical evidence, and on that conviction their Christianity rests. This exception disproves their universal negative. If Christ has not risen, the apostolic preaching, the readers' faith, are alike a delusion. Worse still, they are found out as having told falsehoods about God (Paul's only alternatives are truthfulness and conscious deception, he knows nothing of hallucinations) in saying that He had raised Christ, which He could not have done if there is no resurrection. What terrible consequences follow! their faith empty, their sins unforgiven, those who have died as Christians perished! If in this life they had only hope (mg.) in Christ and nothing more, they were more pitiable than any. He does not mean that they would be objects of pity as having surrendered the solid substance of worldly advantage to grasp the shadow of future blessedness. It was pitiable that their life should be based on a fundamental delusion. Moreover, the guarantee for justification and power for a holy life disappeared with the resurrection of Christ.


Verses 20-28

1 Corinthians 15:20-28. But why discuss this further? Christ has been raised, the firstfruits of the rest of the dead, thus, as one with them, pledging their resurrection. If man brought death, resurrection must equally come through man. The whole race died in Adam, the whole race will be raised from the dead in Christ. This universal resurrection will not be accomplished all at once but in stages according to the different classes concerned. In the first stage there is Christ Himself as firstfruits; in the second, at His return, Christians; in the third stage, the rest of mankind, when He delivers up His kingdom to the Father after He has abolished all hostile powers, for His reign must continue till this has been achieved. The last of them is death. This is foretold in Scripture (Psalms 8:6), which says that God has put all in subjection to Him. (The Psalmist says to "man," which Paul interprets as equivalent to the Son of Man; "son of man" is used in the Ps. in the sense of "man.") Obviously God, who puts all things under Christ's feet, is not included in the things made subject to Him. When this is accomplished, the Son will subject Himself to God, that He may be all in all, that is the indwelling power animating and controlling the whole universe.

1 Corinthians 15:22. There is no reference here to what is known as "universal restoration." But there is to universal resurrection. The "all" is as unlimited in one place as the other. The acts of Adam and Christ are racial acts, done in their capacity as natural and spiritual heads of the race, and affecting the whole race. Christ undoes, and more than undoes, what Adam has done, physical death is cancelled by physical resurrection. This would not have been the case if universal death had been met only by limited resurrection. "In Christ" has here no specific reference to those who are united to Christ by faith. This relation depends on the choice of the individual, but death and resurrection are quite independent of personal volition. The general structure of the Pauline theology would compel us to postulate his belief in universal resurrection; here he explicitly asserts it.

1 Corinthians 15:24. Usually the first clause is translated as in RV, and "the end" is the usual sense. It seems, for various reasons, better to accept Lietzmann's view that it means here "the final portion," "the remainder," i.e. the non-Christian portion of mankind. There is thus a double resurrection of the dead, the former of Christians, at the Parousia, the latter of non-Christians, presumably at the end of Christ's reign.

1 Corinthians 15:29-34. Very abruptly Paul descends from this soaring flight, one of his most daring pieces of speculation, to very practical arguments. What is the object of baptism for the dead? Apparently some received vicarious baptism, hoping that by being baptized in their place they would benefit friends who had died unbaptized. If there is no resurrection, they cannot be profited. Why do Paul and his colleagues run such daily risks of death? for this, he assures them by his Christian pride in them, is no exaggeration. If he had really, as men wished, fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what would that extreme risk have profited him? The consequence of denying the resurrection is to practise the maxim, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (Isaiah 22:13). Let them not give ear to such maxims. The saying (quoted from Menander, the Athenian dramatist, 342-291 B.C.) is true, "Bad company corrupts good morals." Let them awake in a right spirit and not sin; a shameful ignorance of God is only too prevalent among them.


Verses 29-34

1 Corinthians 15:29. Many interpretations have been offered. The most probable remains that given above. A view which deserves mention is that Paul is referring to those who are baptized for the sake of Christian friends who had died. In order to satisfy the hope for reunion some who had been non-Christians submitted to baptism.

1 Corinthians 15:32. That Paul actually fought with wild beasts is highly improbable; it was illegal to expose Roman citizens to this; the Asiarchs (Acts 19:31) were friendly to Paul; and no reference is made in 2 Corinthians 11 to such a trial, from which indeed we should hardly expect that he would have emerged alive. A figurative interpretation is also very improbable. The best view seems to be that of J. Weiss, that it is hypothetical. He supposes that in a popular movement against Paul (probably the riot instigated by Demetrius, Acts 19:23-41) he really was in the peril mentioned. This, he recognises, is exposed to the difficulty that Paul left Ephesus immediately after (Acts 20:1), but our verse, he argues, can hardly have been written in Ephesus, since Paul looks back on his experience there as past. But 1 Corinthians 16:8 was written in Ephesus. Accordingly, unless we are to suppose that 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Corinthians 16:8 belong to different epistles, it is better to infer that it was some earlier unrecorded peril.

1 Corinthians 15:32 b. Paul is not necessarily stating his own inference, but that which will be commonly drawn.


Verses 35-49

1 Corinthians 15:35-49. Paul now meets the objection, "How are the dead raised? in what kind of a body do they come back from the tomb?" Only a fool (in the Hebrew rather than the Greek sense), he tartly says, would ask such an unbelieving question. The objector's own experience ("thou thyself" is very emphatic) shows him that the seed must die when sown or it will not be quickened. It is not identical with the body that is to be, it is a naked grain of wheat or whatever it may be, and God gives it a body corresponding to the particular species. It is not clear how far Paul would have pressed the metaphor to imply an organic connexion between the old and the new. The old body perishes and God provides a new one, and the new is very unlike the old. The universe shows the same principle of variety, the flesh of men, beasts, birds, and fish; heavenly and earthly bodies; sun, moon, and stars. So the resourcefulness of God is seen in the resurrection, where the new body differs so astonishingly from the old. The dead body is placed in the ground like the seed, and as the seed dies (1 Corinthians 15:36) the body decomposes; it is sown in corruption, it rises incorruptible. Dishonoured and powerless, it is raised in glory and strength; sown a natural body, it comes forth a spiritual body. The natural body is one fitted to be the organ of the personality in its natural earthly condition; the spiritual body is such a body as corresponds to man's future condition as spirit. That both types of body exist Paul proves by Scripture (Genesis 2:7). Only 1 Corinthians 15:45 a is actually a quotation, but Paul possibly means to represent 1 Corinthians 15:45 b as also from Scripture; much greater freedom is taken in the Targums. If so, he may argue, like Philo, from the double account of man's creation (Genesis 1:26 f; Genesis 2:7) to two distinct creations, and in 1 Corinthians 15:46 be opposing the view that the spiritual preceded the natural in historical manifestation. The first man is of earthly origin and made of dust, the second man is from heaven. Many scholars find here the doctrine of a pre-existent Heavenly Man, with slender justification. Each class follows its prototype. We successively belong to both; in this life we bear the image of the earthy, in the resurrection life we shall bear that of the heavenly.


Verses 50-58

1 Corinthians 15:50-58. A new question is now introduced, What will happen to those who are alive when Christ returns? (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). The principle that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God finds with them as with the dead its illustration. They will not all die, but all alike will be transformed instantaneously when the last trump (1 Thessalonians 4:16, Matthew 24:31, Revelation 11:15) sounds. The dead will be raised incorruptible, those still living (Paul thinks of himself and most of the readers as among the number) will be transformed. It lies in the very nature of things that the corruptible and mortal should put on over them as a garment incorruption and immortality, that they may be transmuted or absorbed by them (2 Corinthians 5:4). Then the prophecy of Isaiah 25:8 will be fulfilled. Triumphantly Paul quotes Hosea 13:14; death has lost its victory and its sting. Its sting is sin, sin's power is the Law. But thank God for the Christian's victory through Christ! The long theological argument, in noble rhetoric, fitly closes with a practical exhortation.

1 Corinthians 15:56. Some regard this verse as an interpolation, breaking with a prosaic bit of theology the lyrical movement of the passage. But though it may be a gloss intended to explain what death's sting is, yet it is so terse and original, and at the same time so characteristic of Paul's central doctrine, that the phrases are not likely to have been coined by anyone else, nor is their presence in this context at all surprising. Death received its power through sin, but sin itself would have been powerless apart from the Law. This had lent sin its power and provided its opportunity. For the Law stimulated into active rebellion the sin that, till it came, lay sleeping in the flesh (Romans 7:7-11). The Christian died with Christ to the Law; hence sin lost that which conferred on it its strength, while with the paralysis of sin, death lost its power to sting. And the powerlessness of death came to light especially in its reversal in the resurrection.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/1-corinthians-15.html. 1919.

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