1 Corinthians 15 - Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible - Bible Commentaries - StudyLight.org (2024)

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When darkness falls upon the day of life, when death has come, and when people gather around a grave, then it is that they turn to this immortal chapter, where are recorded the title deeds of man’s highest hope, the Christian gospel’s promise of eternal life. Light from this chapter dispels the darkness surrounding the grave; its message reassures the sorrowful, redefines the meaning of life itself and writes upon the tomb the blessed words, "Asleep in Jesus." It speaks at every funeral.

Apostolic power and inspiration charge every word of this chapter with everlasting significance, which has been neither dimmed nor eroded by the passing of nineteen centuries. Even the mysteries of it, which people may not fully understand, have power to quicken the human spirit and rekindle the fires of faith. The dimensions of this heavenly message are so vast that finite man may neither completely comprehend nor intelligently deny it; thus leaving every man the moral option of trusting the Father’s promise or turning to the blackness of total despair. It is the voice of God the Father of mankind that speaks to people here; and, for all who listen, it promises that nothing can harm the Father’s child, that there is no need to fear, and that even life’s sorrows, infirmities and sufferings are not without purpose, and that none of life’s labors are in vain "in the Lord."


Practically all of this chapter is devoted to teaching concerning the resurrection, Barnes giving the following outline of it:(F1)

I. The dead will be raised (1 Corinthians 15:1-34).

A. The resurrection of Christ proves it (1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

1. The Scriptures foretold it (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

2. Eyewitnesses attested it (1 Corinthians 15:5-11).

B. To deny the resurrection is absurd (1 Corinthians 15:12-34).

3. If the dead rise not, it would mean Christ did not (1 Corinthians 15:13).

4. It would follow that preaching was useless (1 Corinthians 15:14).

5. It would mean faith was worthless (1 Corinthians 15:14).

6. It would mean that the apostles were liars (1 Corinthians 15:15).

7. It would deny all possibility of salvation from sin (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).

8. It would mean that the righteous dead were lost (1 Corinthians 15:18).

9. It would mean all believers in Christ were to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

10. It would mean that even the rite of baptism for the dead, as practiced by the heathen, was absurd (1 Corinthians 15:29).

11. It would mean that sufferings and privations of the apostles were vain and useless (1 Corinthians 15:31-34).

C. An illustration of the reasonableness of the doctrine of the resurrection (introduced parenthetically, as often in Paul’s writings) (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

1. But now hath Christ been raised up (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul could not wait until the conclusion of his argument, but dogmatically declared the truth of the resurrection.

2. As death came to all through one person (Adam), it is fitting that the resurrection should come through one (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

3. The order of the resurrection is given (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).

II. Regarding the nature of the bodies that shall be raised up (1 Corinthians 15:35-41).

A. It is like grain that is planted (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

B. It is like different kinds of flesh (1 Corinthians 15:39).

C. It is like different kinds of celestial bodies (1 Cor. 15:40-31).

D. It is described as:

4. Incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:42).

5. Glorious (1 Corinthians 15:43).

6. Powerful (1 Corinthians 15:43).

7. A spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).

8. It is like the risen body of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45-50).

III. What shall become of those who remain alive at the Second Advent? (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

A. The answer is that they shall be changed in an instant, and thus participate in the resurrection just like others.

IV. The practical application of the doctrine of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55-58).

A. It places the Christian in a position of strength, the great victory already having been won (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

B. All of the Christian’s energies should be devoted fully to the service of God, being assured that his labor is not in vain "in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

While it may be questioned that "This chapter is more important than any other part of this epistle,"(F2) it is nevertheless true that the sacred Scriptures have attained some kind of a climax in the verses of this chapter.

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Verse 1

Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand.

It is rather tragic that the Corinthians required that someone remind them of the fundamental facts of the Christian gospel, at a time so soon after they had heard it, obeyed it, and were enjoying the blessings of salvation derived from it. As Hodge declared, "Certain false teachers at Corinth had denied the resurrection."(F3) There is no profit in trying to identify these false teachers. Satan always has an advocate in every community; and those of Jewish background could have been contaminated by the Sadducees, while those of Greek origin could have cited a hundred of their philosophers who despised any such doctrine as the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32).

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Verse 2

By which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain.

Two clauses in this verse reiterate the principle that even for those already saved, it is yet required of them that they "hold fast the word," and that otherwise even their glorious beginning is a total loss. Many commentators move quickly to soften the meaning here, saying that "Believed in vain" does not indicate loss of salvation as a possibility";(F4) but it is clear enough that the passage cannot possibly mean anything else but the loss of salvation for those who hold not fast the word.

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Verse 3

For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.

First of all … This means "First in importance, not in time, the doctrine of the resurrection being primary, cardinal, central and indispensable."(F5)

That which I also received … Wesley was no doubt correct in the conviction that this meant "I received from Christ himself; it was not a fiction of my own."(F6) To be sure, Paul had contact with other apostles whose testimony corroborated his own; but there can be no meaning here to the effect that Paul was merely repeating what he had heard from others.

Christ died for our sins … Volumes of truth are embedded in this. Christ’s death was not a mere murder, designed and carried out by his enemies; but it was a conscious laying down of his life for the sins of mankind. The great atonement is in view here.

According to the Scriptures … "The double appeal to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) in so brief a statement is deliberate and important."(F7) The magnificent prophecies of the Old Testament which so accurately foretold the death of the Son of God are so important that they deserved and received mention even ahead of the apostolic testimony about to be cited. As to what Scriptures were meant, Psalms 16:10; Isaiah 53:10; Hosea 6:2; Jonah 2:10 (see Matthew 12:40), Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:7 are among them, besides all of the typical things such as the sin offering and the Passover sacrifices.

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Verse 4

And that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

This dogmatic declaration of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ was written while the majority of that generation in which it occurred were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6); and the presence of many enemies who denied it but who were powerless to produce any evidence against it, makes this an argument of eternal power and dependability. In fact all of the evidence in this chapter shows that even the enemies who were denying the resurrection (as a general thing) were compelled to admit the resurrection of Christ, because Paul adduced the latter as proof of the former!

Farrar extolled the apostolic witness of the resurrection in this passage by observing that:

It is a complete summary.

It includes material which is not in the Gospels.

It appeals to ancient prophecies.

It shows the force of the evidence which convinced the apostles.

It appeals to many eyewitnesses still living.

It was written within 25 years of the events themselves.(F8)

And that he was buried … This is one of three New Testament references to the burial of Christ, except in the Gospels, the other two being Acts 2:29 and Acts 13:29. "It blasts the swoon theory; he really died; and it leads naturally to the empty tomb, a witness for the resurrection which has never been effectively denied."(F9)

Hath been raised the third day … The Scripture which affirmed Jesus would rise on the third day is Jonah 1:17 (Matthew 12:40). For discussion of the day Jesus was crucified and the related question of "the third day," see my Commentary on Mark, pp. 341-348.

According to the Scriptures … See under the preceding verse.

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Verse 5

And that he appeared to Cephas; then to the Twelve.

Cephas … is the name for Peter; and one significant thing is that the Lord made a special appearance to the apostle who had denied him, giving hope to all who fall, and showing that the Lord is tender and merciful to forgive our sins (see Luke 24:34). Some have criticized Paul for omitting the appearances to the women (John 20:14); but those do not belong here, since they were "evidential to the apostles, rather than to the world,"(F10) and came at a time when the apostles themselves were in a state of shock and unbelief.

Then to the Twelve … This is a reference to the office of the Twelve, and the fact of Jesus’ appearances being to ten on one occasion and eleven on another is a mere quibble of no importance at all.

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Verse 6

Then he appeared to about five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep.

No infidel can get rid of this testimony. The generation that witnessed this wonder could not deny it; and the subsequent objections of unbelievers are refuted by the simple fact of their total ignorance of what took place, except as attested by the eyewitnesses. Many scholars, as Dummelow, identify this appearance to over five hundred as identical with "the mountain appearance in Galilee (Matthew 28:16 ff)."(F11) It could, however, have been another not reported in the Gospels, just as the appearance to James, given a moment later, is also not given in the Gospels.

The greater part remain … This "is of the highest evidential value,"(F12) because it was written by one who would rather have died than to tell a lie, and who could not possibly have been guilty of making a statement that could have been refuted by any enemy of the truth.

Some are fallen asleep … Reference to death as a sleep originated with Jesus himself and was quickly adopted by Christians when speaking of the beloved dead. See my Commentary on John, p. 275.

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Verses 7-8

Then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.

James … This appearance is nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament. Macknight identified this James as "James the less, author of the New Testament book of James and a brother of our Lord."(F13) As the apostle James was already dead at the time of Paul’s writings, it seems probable that Paul would have been referring to the other James, who was also called an apostle in a secondary sense. He presided over the church in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts. Jerome recorded a curious legend to the effect that James had made a vow that he would neither eat nor drink until he had seen Jesus risen from the dead, and that Jesus, appearing to him, said, "My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from the dead."(F14) Jesus’ brothers did not, at first, believe in him (John 7:3).

Last of all … does not mean that Jesus appeared to no other afterward, because he also appeared to John at a much later time (Revelation 1:16 ff). It has the meaning of "last in this list which I am giving."

Untimely born … The word here is used of an abortion and "denotes the violent and unnatural mode of Paul’s call to the apostleship."(F15) Although himself one of the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, Paul here dissociated himself from the Twelve as being conscious of his own unworthiness from having persecuted the church.

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Verse 9

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

As Kelcy said, "This verse is explanatory of 1 Corinthians 15:8."(F16) The extent of Paul’s persecutions were probably much more extensive than the glimpses of them which appear in the New Testament might indicate.

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Verse 10

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Despite the deep humility expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul nevertheless did not depreciate the glory and dignity of his calling. "The whole verse is a maintenance of official dignity as an apostle."(F17)

More abundantly than they all … Paul’s labors were the most extensive of any of the apostles, and the most fruitful. Such rewards of his efforts Paul ascribed not to himself but to the grace of God.

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Verse 11

Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

The gospel Paul preached was one and the same as that preached by all the others, the point here being that it made no difference whether from himself or others the message had been received. It was one message only, with the same result of salvation no matter who preached it.

We preach … There are two words in the New Testament for preaching. This one means "We proclaim, or herald."(F18) The other is "prophesy" and refers to spiritual teaching and instruction.

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Verse 12

Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?

The certainty of Christ’s resurrection was so solidly embedded in the convictions of the apostolic church that Paul made it to be here an argument proving the resurrection generally of all the dead, a hope stubbornly denied by the Greek philosophers (Acts 17:32). As Hodge declared, this verse proves that some of the Corinthians were denying the general resurrection for all Christians (and all people), while admitting through necessity the resurrection of Christ. Paul affirmed the resurrection of Christ as proof of the resurrection of all. This is the first in a series of arguments proving the validity of the Christian hope of the resurrection. The philosophical conceit which Paul laid to rest by these arguments was: "The Greek idea of the immortality of the soul … that after death the soul escaped from the body to be absorbed into the divine or continue a shadowy existence in the underworld."(F19)

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Verse 13

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised.

If there is no resurrection for all, then the resurrection of Christ itself is meaningless.

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Verse 14

And if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain.

The absolutely fundamental nature of the resurrection of Christ and the legitimate corollaries derived from it are affirmed here. So-called "modernists" who pretend to be Christians while denying the resurrection are not Christian at all in any New Testament sense.

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Verse 15

Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised.

As McGarvey said, "It was not an issue of truth or mistake, but of truth or falsehood."(F20) There can be no middle ground in judging the words of that group of people who bore witness to Christ’s resurrection and then went up and down the ancient empire sealing the testimony with their life’s blood. It was either truth, or it was a bold calculated lie which perpetrated upon mankind the greatest hoax of all time; and the known character and behavior of the blessed apostles makes it impossible to believe the second alternative.

He raised up Christ … Christ’s resurrection is viewed in the New Testament as having been accomplished by the Son himself (John 10:18), and by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). The whole godhead was active in it.

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Verse 16

For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised.

Of course, the denial of any such thing as the resurrection included the resurrection of Christ with that which was denied; but there is more to this than that. The whole purpose of Christ’s entry into our earth life with its sufferings and death, consummated by his glorious resurrection, was the purpose of conquering death upon behalf of all humankind; and, if such a thing as the resurrection of people was impossible, Christ would never have undertaken the mission at the outset. As Shore expressed it:

In other words, if there be no resurrection, the only alternative is atheism, for otherwise one would have to believe that, though there is a God who is wise and just, yet the purest and greatest life that was ever lived is no better in the end than the life of a dog.(F21)

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Verse 17

And if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.

Believing in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely mandatory for all who hope for salvation; and this applies equally to all individuals, institutions and even churches which deny it. There is no redemption apart from the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, inclusive of the doctrine of the resurrection and many other necessary deductions from the prime fact of our Lord’s divinity.

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Verses 18-19

Then they also that have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.

The otherworldliness of Christianity shines in this. The great proposition that undergirds Christianity is that the saved shall be forever with the Lord in that upper and better world where all the problems of earth shall be solved in the light and bliss of heaven. Christianity is not to be advocated merely upon the premise that it is good psychology, or that it leads to a better life in the present world, however true these tangential benefits might be. As Barnes said, "This does not mean that Christians are unhappy, or that their religion does not produce comfort."(F22) Despite the present benefits of serving Jesus Christ, including the undeniably superior virtues that are inculcated in it, and the personal joy of believing, the proposition Paul lays down here is that nobody can be truly better off from believing and advocating a lie. In the midst of all this reasoning on the resurrection, Paul discarded his line of argument for a moment, and thundered once more the apostolic oracle of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

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Verse 20

But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep.

The only historical fact that could have produced the phenomenon known as Christianity was that cited here, the resurrection of Christ. There are no intelligent explanations aside from this. The very existence of Christianity is proof enough that Christ actually arose from the dead. Only the spiritually blind or willfully evil mind may deny it.

The firstfruits of them that are asleep … It is this connection of Christ’s resurrection with all that is implied and prophesied by it that should be noted. See under 1 Corinthians 15:16, above. One of the great Jewish festivals was just approaching, in which the firstfruits of the harvest were waved before the Lord; and, as surely as the first sheaves of the harvest carried a pledge of that harvest, so the resurrection of Christ carried a pledge of the resurrection of all people.

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Verse 21

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

One great truth evident in the Bible is that people would never have been subject to death, if it had not been for the sin of Adam. By that one man’s sin, death has fallen upon all people. The analogy pointed out in this verse is that, in view of death’s having resulted from one man’s sin, it is not unreasonable that the resurrection of all people should come about through one man’s resurrection, that of Christ himself.

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Verse 22

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

This spells out the analogy stated in the previous verse. All who ever lived on earth shall rise from the dead, the wicked and the righteous alike, and all of this as a consequence of Christ’s resurrection. Some would limit the "all" to them that are in Christ, leaving the wicked without any prospect of resurrection; but the total teaching of both Old Testament and New Testament is against such a view. Daniel 12:2 and John 5:28-29 teach the resurrection of all people, both the wicked and the righteous; and this, of course, is the obvious sense of "all" here which means the same in both clauses. As Barnes said, other interpretations are contrived "through reasoning and theology."(F23)

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Verse 23

But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming.

Each in his own order … The word rendered order is a military word, "denoting a company."(F24) Christ outranks his followers, who in turn outrank the unbelieving.

At his coming … The Second Advent will be the occasion of the general resurrection of both wicked and righteous, despite the affirmation that the "dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Both shall occur on the same occasion (Matthew 25:31 ff); and the separation of the wicked from the righteous will take place then.

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Verse 24

Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.

The end … means the end of the world, an event mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, as in Matthew 28:20; 2 Peter 3:10, etc. See my Commentary on Matthew, p. 527.

He shall have delivered up the kingdom … The Second Advent will not be the beginning of the reign of Christ but the end of it. Millennial expectations predicated upon the supposition that Christ will reign on earth with his saints after the Second Advent cannot be harmonized with this.

Shall have abolished all rule, authority, power … The word "abolished" here does not in any manner suggest that all inimical powers opposed to Christ will submit to his will and obey the gospel at some time prior to the end, but that they will be abolished! Speculations by religious teachers on "how" this will be accomplished are certain to be wrong.

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Verse 25

For he must reign, until he hath put all enemies under his feet.

This has the weight of saying that "Christ must keep on reigning until he hath put down all enemies," with the necessary deduction that he is now reigning over his kingdom which is the church.

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Verse 26

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

The general resurrection will thus occur at a time after the full and total authority of Christ has been demonstrated.

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Verse 27

For he put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him.

For, He … refers to God. The quotation is from Psalms 8:6 (LXX). "The words, spoken of man in general, are here transferred to the federal Head of humanity, the ideal and perfect God-man, Jesus Christ."(F25) See my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 45-49.

He is excepted … "All things subjected to Christ" did not mean, of course, that God was subject to the Saviour, all beings of the godhead constituting a sacred unity.

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Verse 28

And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all, in all.

It is a gross error to see this passage as reducing in any manner the status of Jesus Christ and his "equality with God" (Philippians 2:6), the thing in view here being the end of Christ’s mediatorial office. At the time of his kingdom being united with godhead in heaven, the need of those special devices which were necessary in human redemption shall have disappeared. This verse marks the end of the digression which Paul began back in 1 Corinthians 15:20. He at once resumed his argument to show the absurdity of unbelief in the resurrection of the dead.

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Verse 29

Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?

This is branded by many as a very difficult verse; but the proper regard of the third person plural pronouns in this verse makes it easy. Paul here used an "argumentum ad hominem", that is, an argument based upon what people were doing, indicating clearly enough that some persons known to the Corinthians were practicing a baptism for the benefit of the dead; but the one thing that makes it impossible to suppose that Paul approved of such a thing is the use of the third person pronouns. There are no examples in the New Testament of the practice of Christians being designated as what "they" do. Concerning Christian baptism, for example, it is always "we" or "you" who were baptized and addressed in the first or second persons, never in the third person. It is still "they" not "we" who baptize for the dead!

With reference to the practice itself, nothing is known of Christians ever doing such a thing until far later in the Christian era; and, even then, it is most likely that a misinterpretation of Paul’s words here was a contributing factor. Hodge flatly declared that nothing was ever known of Christians doing such a thing "before the second century."(F26) Invariably throughout history, the Christian community has condemned this practice as heretical, there not being a word in the whole New Testament that countenances such a thing. Only the revival of the practice by the Mormons in our own times has appeared as an exception. The whole concept of proxy baptism is contradictory to Biblical teaching.

The objection that Paul would not have referred to such a practice without indicating his disapproval is not well founded. In this same epistle (1 Corinthians 8:10), Paul mentioned "sitting at an idol’s temple" without condemning it. Besides that, the use of any practice (for argument’s sake) may be, even today, referred to without the speaker’s approval of it. This writer once heard a pioneer preacher discoursing on the resurrection, and he said, "The Indians bury a dog and a spear with the fallen warrior; and why should they do that, if there is no resurrection?" That was exactly the "argumentum ad hominem" that Paul used here. Furthermore, Paul had already promised that he would correct certain unspecified disorders at Corinth when he returned personally to visit them (1 Corinthians 11:34); and it may be taken as certain that baptism for the dead was one of them. There are all kinds of fanciful "explanations" of the baptism mentioned here; but with reference to any of them which denies that somebody at Corinth was doing it, the plain meaning of the apostle’s language here (as attested by dozens of scholars) refutes them.

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Verse 30

Why do we also stand in jeopardy every hour?

If the apostles had not been extremely sure of the resurrection, why would any of them have endured such hardship and sufferings, even unto death? This argument is unanswerable.

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Verse 31

I protest by that glorying in you, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

Such a life as St. Paul’s, both as regards the spiritual battles in his own soul, and the ceaseless conflict with enemies around him, was indeed a daily dying.(F27)

That glorying in you … Farrar affirmed that the real meaning of this is, "by my glorying in you."(F28) Paul’s one reason for earthly glorying was the conversion of people to Christ. His "hope, and joy and crown of rejoicing" was the conversion of people and the establishment of churches (Romans 15:16).

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Verse 32

If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

Fought with beasts at Ephesus … Scholars are divided on whether to construe this metaphorically as a reference to great persecutions and dangers Paul endured at Ephesus, or as mention of an event in which the apostle actually did so. There is no way to know, for plausible and weighty arguments may be deployed on either side of the question. The feeling here is that this refers to actual conflict; and Luke’s not mentioning it does not deny it. There were several shipwrecks that Luke did not mention, along with many other hardships of the grand apostle. Besides that, there is a glimpse of some mortal danger to Paul from which he was saved by Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:4), for which the Gentile churches throughout the Roman Empire gave thanks to God; and that mystery could be related to this. In any case, the point should not be forgotten: what was the profit of such danger and suffering endured for the sake of Christianity, if there is no resurrection of the dead?

Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die … This was Epicureanism; and Paul’s words here may be construed as saying that paganism is as good as Christianity if the doctrine of the resurrection is denied.

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Verse 33

Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.

Scholars identify this statement with the works of Menander, a heathen poet; but some believe the expression had passed into the Greek language as proverb. Paul’s use of it here was to warn the Corinthians against any toleration of the evil teachers who were denying the resurrection; for the toleration of them was certain to have corrupted some of the church. The truth spoken is timeless and applicable to all who ever lived in any generation.

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Verse 34

Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not; for some have no knowledge of God: I speak this to move you to shame.

Barnes said this means, "Arouse from your stupidity on this subject!"(F29) The toleration of the skeptical teachers was a public disgrace to the church.

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Verse 35

But some will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come?

This is more than a diatribe which frequently marked Paul’s style; it is a conscious answer directed to allegations and questions actually being pressed at Corinth. Of course, it is no objection to the hope of a resurrection that people are not able to explain it; and in conscience it must be admitted that Paul did not explain it in this great passage. He did, however, prove that it is no more marvelous than many other things, some known and some unknown to people. See discussion of "How Can These Things Be?" in my Commentary on John, pp. 89-90.

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Verse 36

Thou foolish one, that which thou thyself sowest is not quickened except it die.

The continual miracle of seedtime and harvest is not less glorious than the miracle of the ultimate resurrection, only different. Paul’s reference to planting seeds that produce something far different from the seeds, yet identified with the seeds, is similar to Christ’s use of the same analogy in John 12:24, where he applied it to his own death and resurrection. Can anyone understand the principle of seeds dying, growing, and producing a crop? Certainly not. Jesus himself said, "Thou knowest not how!" (Mark 4:26-29). Thus, what Paul means by this is simply that the existence of the common miracle of seeds should enable the believer to receive as truth Christ’s promise of the resurrection.

Thou foolish one … It is worth noting that the word MORE, meaning "fool," is a different word from "the one that was forbidden by the Lord."(F30)

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Verses 37-38

And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; but God giveth it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own.

The Greek word for "body" in these verses, and in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41, is [soma],(F31) which is the same word used for a man’s body. One may take a handful of various seeds which are superficially very much alike; but when they are planted an amazing difference appears. This is God’s doing, "as it pleased him"; and Paul’s argument must be allowed as valid, that the God who does such a thing as that also has the power to provide man with a resurrection body.

The Greeks despised the body; but it is everywhere respected in the New Testament. The mocking Greeks at Corinth denied the possibility of a resurrection, pointing out the impossibility of reassembling all the atoms of the body destroyed by fire, lost at sea, or disintegrated into dust; but the Christian holds that it is no more difficult for God to give one another body than it was to give him the one he now enjoys.

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Verse 39

All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes.

It is the infinite power and diversity of God’s creative ability which is stressed by these words. There is hardly any environment upon the face of the earth, sky, land or sea, which is not inhabited by creatures that God has made and sustained through the ages. Some creatures live in the depth of the sea under pressure and temperature conditions which would be fatal to a man in an instant; and so it is throughout the whole creation. As Barnes observed, "It is not necessary therefore to suppose that the body which shall be raised shall be precisely like that which we have here."(F32)

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Verses 40-41

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory.

The same meaning is apparent in these lines as in those above. "Can it be thought strange if there should be a difference between our bodies when on earth and when in heaven?"(F33) God who has wrought all of the wonders of the sidereal creation, as well as all the wonders on earth, is most certainly able to perform what has been promised with regard to the resurrection. How filled with conceit and unbelief must be that mortal man, who is himself the creature made by an infinite God, and who must soon stumble into a grave, but who has the arrogance and pride to busy himself formulating postulates about what may be possible or not for Almighty God! By such a sin Satan himself fell into condemnation.

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Verses 42-44

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual shall be the new body given in the resurrection; and these qualities of it are contrasted with the corruption, dishonor and weakness of the natural body at the moment of its being "sown’, in death. Paul does not say here that there is any "maybe" connected with this teaching; this reveals what is to be; and the certainty of the spiritual body’s arrival at the due time in the unfolding of the Father’s will is attested and prophesied by the very existence of the natural physical body itself. "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body!" People may disbelieve it if they please, but that unbelief will neither prevent nor delay the fulfillment of God’s will, having no consequence at all, except in the effect it shall have upon the destiny of them that disbelieve.

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Verse 45

So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

For an extended discussion of the similarities and contrasts between Adam I and Adam II, see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 205-212. Of course, there were far more contrasts than similarities between Adam and Christ; but the position that each holds as head of the natural creation (of man) on the one hand, and head of the spiritual creation on the other is similar.

The passage Paul quoted here is Genesis 2:17. "Living soul" is what Adam BECAME; God had breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; but through disobedience Adam became this lower thing, the merely natural man. Through Christ, however, man may enjoy that higher existence which God intended from the first.

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Verse 46

Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual.

The time sequence here applies to people now, their first existence being merely physical, the natural life derived from the great progenitor Adam in whose "image" (Genesis 5:3) all people are born. God made Adam in God’s image; but after the fall, it appears that people were not born in God’s image (except in a limited sense), but in the image of the fallen ancestor. Hereditary depravity is not in this, but there is certainly some kind of limitation, or tendency.

First … that which is natural … "This is a general law; seed-time precedes harvest; and the physical is preparatory for the spiritual."(F34)

The last Adam … Johnson correctly viewed this expression as having been coined by Paul, "to indicate that there can be no third representative man, sinless, and without human father, as were both Christ and Adam.(F35) G. Campbell Morgan loved to preach on "Christ, God’s Last Word to Man."(F36)

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Verses 47-50

The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

The second man is of heaven … This epic declaration is meaningless unless it teaches the pre-existence of Christ, his unity with God the Father, and the virgin birth by which he identified himself with the earthy. God created Adam, but he was still earthy, having been made of the dust of the earth; but Christ had ever been with the Father. As Jesus expressed it, "I came forth and am from God" (John 8:42). And again, "I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23). One can only marvel at the type of Scriptural illiteracy which cannot find the virgin birth in Paul, John and other portions of the New Testament.

The earthy … All people bear the likeness of Adam (Genesis 5:3).


We shall also bear the image of the heavenly … As certainly as people are like Adam and have the same physical nature that Adam possessed, that certain are they to bear the image of Jesus Christ and to possess, ultimately, exactly the same kind of spiritual body that Jesus displayed after the resurrection. A little is known of Jesus’ body after the resurrection, despite the fact that it is but LITTLE: (1) He had flesh and bones. (2) He could appear and disappear at will through closed or locked doors. (3) He could ascend or descend. (4) He could vanish out of sight. (5) He could even change his appearance (Mark 16:12). (6) He could be recognized or not, at will. (7) He was not merely a spirit (Luke 24:39). By the words of this clause, Paul clearly stated that just as our physical bodies are like that of Adam, our spiritual bodies shall be like that of Christ. Significant also is the fact that Christ was the same person after the resurrection as he was before, indicating that there shall be no loss of personality in the resurrection state.

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Verse 50

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

Flesh and blood … has reference to man’s present state; and this is no comment at all upon the composition of the resurrection body. Jesus had flesh and bones (Luke 24:49). This merely says that in man’s mortal state, it is impossible for him to enjoy eternal life.

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Verses 51-52

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

We shall not all sleep … There is nothing in this passage to support the notion that Paul believed the end to be in his own lifetime. Some of the Thessalonians got that impression from Paul’s teaching; but he at once wrote them another letter to dispel such a foolish notion and to point out that great epochs of time were to unfold before the final day. By this word, Paul merely meant those living at the time of the Second Advent would undergo an instantaneous change.

We shall all be changed … Johnson and many others find grounds here for what they call "a partial rapture of the church";(F37) but the meaning of "all" appears to be far too comprehensive to support such a view.

In a moment … Bruce approved the rendition "moment" in this place, calling it "perfectly correct."(F38) He further said:

The Greek word [@atomos] (whence our word "atom") means "incapable of being cut"; and Paul used it here to indicate a division of time so brief that it cannot be subdivided farther, a "split second" if you like.(F39)

The trumpet shall sound … No man may say exactly what this is; but it is clear enough that God would have no need of any literal trumpet. Zechariah said, "The Lord God shall blow the trumpet" (Zechariah 9:14); and the symbolism would appear to be the same as when one might say, "Well, the boss blew the whistle on that practice," meaning, of course, that he stopped it. Something like that is meant here. Jesus mentioned the final day in these words: "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the elect, etc." (Matthew 24:31). Note that it was not a trumpet, but "the great sound of a trumpet." See also 1 Thessalonians 4:16. There will come the time when God will blow the trumpet on this world of ours and summon all people to the judgment of the great day.

I tell you a mystery … This term in the New Testament ordinarily refers to some secret hitherto unknown, but now revealed through the word of God. For a discussion of New Testament mysteries, see my Commentary on Matthew, p. 189, also an entire book on "The Mystery of Redemption."(F40)

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Verse 53

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

The certainty of the change to spiritual bodies in the resurrection is here affirmed by the use of the imperative "must" which has such significant usage in the New Testament. See my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 275-276.

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Verses 54-55

But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

This passage recalls the words from Hosea:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction (Hosea 13:14, KJV).

I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O grave, where is thy destruction? (English Revised Version (1885)).

Nearly two thousand years have passed since this apostolic lightning split the midnight darkness surrounding the tomb; and even yet there is never a day passes in any city anywhere which fails to shout this message over the dead. In Houston, where these lines are being written, it is certain that a hundred times this very week these words have echoed in the chapels and cemeteries where people gather to bury the dead; and so it is all over the world when Christ is known.

Victory in the presence of death! If people wonder why the holy faith in Jesus Christ continues from age to age, let them find at least a part of the answer in these immortal words before us.

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Verse 56

The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law.

Sting of death is sin … Sin brought death into the world as a consequence. However enticing and beautiful sin may appear to be, there is a stinger in it, as discovered by Adam and Eve, and all of their posterity.

The strength of sin is the law … As Dummelow said:

This is true because the law reveals sin and, indeed, intensifies its power, without giving power to overcome it (Romans 7:7-13; Romans 8:2-3).(F41)

See my Commentary on Romans, pp. 265-264, for discussion of the law and its relation to sin. Paul here briefly mentioned the subject that he treated at length in Romans 7.

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Verse 57

But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvelous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation! (Psalms 98:1).

Through our Lord Jesus Christ … In the New Testament this always has reference to being "in Christ" as in the next verse where Paul said "in the Lord." God’s way of saving people is by their being transferred "into Christ," identified with Christ, and thus saved "as Christ." As Farrar summarized it, "Paul’s hope of the resurrection rests, like all his theology, on the thought that the life of the Christian is life `in Christ.’"(F42) See my Commentary on Romans, pp. 318ff.

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Verse 58

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Beloved brethren … It is remarkable how frequently Paul used this term of endearment and affection. Not even the gross sins and mistakes of the sensual and carnal Corinthians could diminish his love for them nor his loving persuasion helping them to conform more perfectly to the will of Christ.

Be ye stedfast … Paul expected Christians to be able to "take it." He wrote the Ephesians, "Stand therefore" (Ephesians 6:14); and the admonition is the same here. Through the ages, there has been no more necessary virtue than the ability to be steadfast amidst changing scenes and times, despite temptations and sorrows, and without regard to every "wind of doctrine" that creates some little stir among people.

Unmovable … The Christian is to be unmovable not in prejudice, but in faith.

Abounding in the work of the Lord … Far from advocating an easy way of salvation by merely believing, Paul demanded and encouraged that the redeemed should abound continually in the Lord’s work. He commanded the Philippians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 1:12). He established a pillar of truth, both at the beginning of Romans (Romans 1:5) and at the end of it (Romans 16:26), stressing the "obedience of faith." He, like every true Christian, would have been outraged by any notion to the effect that people are "saved by faith alone."

Your labor is not in vain … What is done for Christ and his kingdom is work for God; all else is idleness. "Why stand ye here idle all day?" was the question Jesus burned into people’s consciences (Matthew 20:6). They were not idle in the sense of doing nothing, but in the sense of not doing the only thing that mattered; and, alas, it must be feared that the same is true of many today.

In the Lord … This expression, or its equivalent, appears 169 times in the writings of the apostle Paul; and by that fact, it may be claimed that this is the most important phrase Paul ever wrote, because he repeated it more than any other. Salvation is "in the Lord" and nowhere else. Every man should ask himself the question, "Am I in the Lord?" As to how this relation is established, the sacred Scriptures leave no doubt whatever. People are baptized "into Christ" at a time subsequent to their having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and having repented and confessed his name (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). There is no other way to be "in the Lord."

The conclusion of this chapter reveals it as a prime motivation of Christian service. It is unfortunate, in a sense, that its marvelous teachings are stressed almost exclusively at funerals.

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Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-corinthians-15.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

1 Corinthians 15 - Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible - Bible Commentaries - StudyLight.org (2024)
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