1 Corinthians 15

by J. Philip Scranton

WE ARE FAMILIAR with the three verbs Paul uses to describe the evangel he brought to the Corinthians: died, entombed and roused (1 Cor.15:1-4). To these the apostle adds a fourth term: seen (15:5-11). He lists the occurrences when Christ was seen after He was roused from the dead. This witness is now a triple-fronted defense for the importance of the resurrection of Christ: (1) It is an indispensable part of the evangel, being associated with God's power to save. (2) It stands on the authority of the Scriptures. (3) It is a documented historical fact.

Having laid this foundation, Paul addresses the Corinthian problem with a question of surprise: ". . . How are some among you saying that there is no resurrection of the dead?" He then begins a logical, thorough and systematic presentation of the indispensability of the resurrection. The Corinthians were among the wisdom-seeking Greeks to whom the cross seemed stupidity (1 Cor.1:22,23). Yet God's grace overflows, even to those holding the standards of current human wisdom. And God's Word testifies to them, in the form of logical reasoning, the essential truth of resurrection.

Five times, with various changes in wording, Paul presents a hypothesis we summarize as: "If there is no resurrection of the dead. . . ." Each time he gives the logical consequences which uphold the necessity of the resurrection. In each case the statement begins with "if." In four of the five statements the word "dead" is used, and it is plural in each usage. This indicates that Paul's argument is of universal scope. He is not arguing for the fact of Christ's resurrection only. Twice he does deal specifically with Christ's resurrection (verses 14 and 17), and there he uses the sub-hypothesis: "if Christ has not been roused." The five primary statements follow the Roman numerals in the outline that follows:

I.   If there is no resurrection of the dead,
          Then neither has Christ been roused;
               if Christ has not been roused,
                    then for naught, consequently, is our heralding,
                    then for naught is your faith (v.14).
          Then we are being found false witnesses also of
               God, seeing that we testify by God that He rouses
               Christ, Whom, consequently, He rouses not if so be
               that the dead are not being roused (v. 15).
II.  If the dead are not being roused,
          Then neither has Christ been roused (v.16);
               if Christ has not been roused,
                    then vain is your faith,
you are still in your sins (v.17)!
          Then consequently those also, who are put to repose
                    in Christ perished (v.18).
III. If we are having an expectation in Christ in this fife only,
          Then more forlorn than all men are we (v. 19).
(Here we skip to verse 29. Verses 20-28 form a parenthetical statement brought on by the weight of the statement that Paul has just made. Verse 29 picks up the argument again, though Paul changes his format slightly.)

IV.  If the dead are not being roused,

          Then what shall those be doing who are baptizing (V.29)?

          Then baptism is for the sake of the dead absolutely;
               why are they baptizing also for their sake (v.29)?

V.   If the dead are not being roused (v.32),
          Then (why suffer persecution for Christ?)
               Why are we also in danger every hour? Daily am I dying.
               By this boast of yours, brethren, which I have in Christ
               Jesus our Lord, if, as a man, I fight wild beasts in Ephesus,
               what is the benefit to me (vs.30-32)?
          Then we may be eating and drinking, for tomorrow
               we are dying (v.32).
VI.  The conclusion of the matter:
          A. Be not deceived: evil conversations are
               corrupting kind characters (v.33).
          B. Sober up justly and do not be sinning,
               for some have an ignorance of God (V.34).
          C. To abash you am I saying it (v.34).

I. The first argument may be summarized as the consequences to Paul's ministry if there is no resurrection of the dead. The first consequence would be that Christ could not have risen, and taking this first consequence as a sub-hypothesis ("if Christ has not been roused"), Paul shows that the issue would be that both his preaching and the faith of the Corinthians would be worthless.

Returning to his primary condition ("if there is no resurrection of the dead"), the second consequence would be that Paul and his fellow laborers are proven to be false witnesses of God. This statement may be understood in two ways: (1) Paul and those who ministered with him are liars in that they misrepresented God; or (2), because they testified by God to the resurrection, God is a liar. Such is the outcome if there is no resurrection of the dead.

II. The second argument may be summarized as the consequence suffered by the Corinthians if there is no resurrection of the dead. Since the faith of the Corinthians was established through Paul's ministry, it will be seen that the second argument is parallel to and overlaps the first. Again, two results are given which must follow the condition of no resurrection. As before, the first is that Christ could not have been roused, and again this would lead to two further consequences: (1) the Corinthians' faith would be vain, and (2) the Corinthians would still be in their sins. Simply put, if Christ has not been roused, they have no salvation. This would then relate back to the primary hypothesis: If there is no resurrection of the dead, then there is no salvation.

The second consequence concerned the Corinthian believers who had died. If the dead are not roused, then believers who have died have perished. This statement speaks strongly and clearly about the state of the dead. "Perished" can hardly be a viable term for describing conscious existence, especially an existence in bliss with Christ. As the third, fourth and fifth arguments will clearly confirm, Paul did not believe the dead have a conscious existence.

III. The final three arguments present contradictions that would confront the believer's life and faith if there was no resurrection. The third argument very logically picks up where the second left off. Its emphasis is on the obliteration of expectation created by this false teaching. In Romans 8:24 Paul had said, "For to expectation were we saved." What is the quality of life for believers if they do not have the resurrection to look forward to? Paul rewords the hypothesis to stress the blessing of expectation. Instead of saying, "If there is no resurrection," or, "If the dead are not being roused," he says in effect, "If our expectation in Christ is only good as long as we are living this present fife . . . ." The consequence would be that believers are more forlorn, in a more pitiful condition, than all mankind. This statement is made in such unqualified terms that it is surely worthy of careful consideration. Notice again that there is no intimation of joy or reward in death.

It is the weight of this thought that causes Paul to digress into the parenthetical passage (verses 20-28) that follows. There Paul names Christ as the Firstfruit of the dead. As the Firstfruit, He is both the assurance and the consecration of the harvest-resurrections to follow. All will be vivified! Death will be abolished! All will be subjected to God and God will become All in all! That is the glorious achievement promised in the resurrection of Christ.

In the final two arguments Paul is putting the Corinthians on the spot. As he mentions later, he is shaming and embarrassing them into forsaking such an untenable doctrine.

IV. Much controversy has developed over this passage composing Paul's fourth argument. The apostle begins by asking, How do those who are baptizing reconcile this with their doctrine of no resurrection? Baptism was an important issue to the Corinthians and had even become a matter of controversy and strife (cf 1:10-17). Paul said the Israelite patriarchs were "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor.10:2). Their baptism was more than a passing through water and deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea. It also included the daily walk of following the pillar of cloud and fire. It also involved a unity of eating and drinking of the same spiritual Rock, Christ. Paul later said, "In one spirit we all are baptized into one body [a living unity]...and all are made to imbibe one spirit" (1 Cor.12:13). In Romans 6:3-11 he speaks of being baptized into Christ. And in unmistakable terms he repeatedly explains that unity with Christ in death is the basis for unity with Him in life.

In all these passages, Paul makes it clear that life, new, resurrection life, is an inseparable part of the teaching of baptism. If, then, there is no resurrection, the teachings of baptism are meaningless. Why be involved with something that proclaims resurrection if you do not believe in resurrection?

V. Paul's final argument needs little explanation. In plain terms he says, "If there is no resurrection of the dead, there is no reason or benefit for suffering persecution for Christ. If there is no resurrection of the dead, eat and drink and take what enjoyment you can from life, for tomorrow you will die, and that is the end." This could not be said if there was any blessedness or benefit in the state of death.

VI. In concluding the matter, Paul make three points: (1) Be not deceived! The results of entertaining such teachings and teachers is corruption, of both faith and life. (2) Wake up to what is going on and do not miss the mark of truth in correcting this matter. It springs from an ignorance of God and His Word. (3) I have carried this argument to the full extreme. Maybe I have even gone overboard, but my purpose in doing so was to shame and stir you into doing what is right.

We have seen that resurrection is a vital aspect of our faith. And in the parenthetical section of verses 20-28 we come to appreciate how critical the resurrection of Christ is to all mankind and God's purpose of becoming All in all. Thank God for the mighty operation of His power in raising Christ from among the dead.

© J. Philip Scranton
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