Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:10–18 Helping each other

1 Corinthians 16:10–18

10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

As he has just said, Paul will remain for a time in Ephesus because of the unusual opportunity there to spread the gospel. He had previously told the believers in Roman Corinth that he had dispatched Timothy to Corinth to teach and model Paul’s ways, just as those ways are taught in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17). Next he calls on the Corinthians to pay close attention to how Timothy is treated “for he is carrying on the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 16:10). It is not Timothy who should fear, but anyone who obstructs him should fear the Lord!

Knowing that some in Corinth struggle with pride, Paul makes clear that Timothy is not to be disrespected or undervalued. He must also be enabled to return to Paul with other brothers (1 Cor. 16:11). As the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul speaks with authority and without apology. But Paul was not a king. Apollos made up his own mind to delay his departure for Corinth, perhaps because he saw the same opportunity that kept Paul in Ephesus. Since it is also possible that Paul was imitating Christ in self-sacrifice (1 Cor. 11:1) by sending his associates to Corinth, Apollos may have decided enough was enough. Paul needed his help.

Many have observed how Paul generally follows the letter style of the early Imperial Roman period, and this becomes most apparent in his openings and closings. What made Paul’s letters more distinctive was (1) he spoke as Christ’s apostle, and (2) he inserted Christian content into the standard letter style. Ancient writers often included exhortations in closing a letter, and Paul puts five on them in verses 13–14.

However, several things make this letter distinctive among all of Paul’s letters. Nowhere else does Paul stress the importance of love so many times (verses 14, 22, 24). No other letter concludes with a potential curse (Greek anathema) against covenant breakers. The postscript expressing Paul’s love for the Corinthians is also unique (1 Cor. 16:24).

It is notable that the four commands in verse 13 are all present tense in Greek, meaning here that the need to do these activities is ongoing. He caps all four with the global “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14).

In verses 15–18, Paul recognizes the commitment of certain men and women (“household”) to serving the Lord’s people. Accordingly, Paul makes a personal request (verse 15b) based on his personal relationship to the believers in Roman Corinth: “submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (1 Cor. 16:16). Recognizing leaders who model love and service in the church is a critical task in churches today, but submitting ourselves to work under their leadership clashes directly with values we learn from an American culture of personal independence. We also need to expand our concept of family to include our Christian brothers and sisters.

Though verse 17 may sound like a rebuke toward the Corinthians, Paul is actually saying that what is lacking is the presence of all the Corinthians so that he might enjoy them as well. In Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus, Paul was experiencing a bit of Corinth and wanting more!

Thiselton notes that improvement is needed in 1 Cor. 16:18b: “Fee rightly comments that NIV’s ‘such men deserve recognition’ captures the broad sense but fails to communicate Paul’s use of the imperative [command].”[1] Thiselton applies this to the church today by saying: “It is a live issue in the church today to what extent, if at all, Christian congregations wish to ‘honor’ leaders in the Christian sphere. . . . This may apply at any level of service to the church, where often loyal hard work is simply taken for granted rather than publicly and consciously recognized.”[2] Food for thought! It is not too much to ask that a personal “Thank you!” be words that those who lovingly serve us — both staff and volunteers — hear regularly!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1342.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1342.

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Recent Blog Problems

If you have ever locked yourself out of your own housing or car, then you know how I felt when I locked myself out of my blog while trying to make “improvements.” It has taken about two weeks to get things back to where we were when I fouled things up — I think it was on April Fools Day!

My thanks to the wizards at VaultPress (Rachel and Elizabeth) who swiftly resolved my problems when I finally yelled for help!

I hope God is through humbling me and we can get on with exploring the Bible.

Fondly,
-Barry

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Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:1–9 Sharing the burdens of others

1 Corinthians 16:1–9

1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

5 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you — for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

As I said in commenting on chapter 15, the Apostle Paul was a very practical theologian and church planter. In chapter 16 he deals with vital matters of human need within the body of Christ (verses 1–4) as well as plans for further contact and travel by himself (verses 5–9) and others (verses 11–12). He concludes chapter 16 with a series of exhortations and greetings; they are worthy of more attention than they sometimes receive.

Starting in 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul has stressed the relationship of the believers in Roman Corinth to all others belonging to Christ elsewhere. This expansion of their viewpoint was undoubtedly designed to help them discover their solidarity with Christians outside their own factions in Corinth. In verse 1, Paul reminds them of about the collection being taken to relieve the needs of believers in Jerusalem and urges them to imitate the similar effort of the churches in Galatia (located in what today would be central Turkey).

David Garland explains, “We know from 2 Corinthians and Romans that he [Paul] hoped that the gift would cement the bond between the Gentile and Jewish Christian communities and that it would demonstrate that Christian unity transcended ethnic barriers and did not require Gentile Christians to become Jewish proselytes.”[1] He further states that, in Greco-Roman society, charity toward strangers was not considered a virtue and was not connected with any expectation of reward from the gods. Jesus Christ demonstrated quite the opposite!

It was the common custom of Christians to gather on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), in honor of both the resurrection of Christ and the coming day of the Lord. At that time every person in the church was expected to set aside their own money privately for the collection so that all would be ready for Paul’s arrival. Of course, this begs the question: How much?

The key phrase about “how much” in 1 Cor. 16:2 has been translated as follows:

(NIV) in keeping with your income

(Revised English Bible) whatever he can afford

(New Jerusalem Bible) as each can spare

(NET Bible) to the extent that God has blessed you

(ESV) as he may prosper

(Garland) whatever he or she has been prospered

(Thiselton) in accordance with how you may fare

In our view, the translations shown above get progressively better as you near the bottom of the list. The rare Greek verb means “to be led along a good road, to get along well, to prosper” in its biblical and secular uses.[2] The verb is used in 3 John 2, where the writer prays that “all may go well with you.” Paul has much more to say favoring generosity in 2 Corinthians 8–9.

As was his custom, Paul labored to earn his way while establishing a church, but it was also his custom to permit a local church to meet his needs for travel expenses and companions when he set out for a new destination (1 Cor. 16:6). We all share the mission!

It is easy to sense Paul’s wishes as well as his uncertainty about being able to act on them (verses 5–7). It is obvious that he intended to stay in Ephesus before coming to Corinth because of an unusually great opportunity for evangelism (verse 9). Paul found that when the gospel was moving in a community, the opposition grew more intense; the identical pattern may be seen in the public ministry of Christ in the Gospels. We too must spread the gospel and expect opposition when we do so.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 752.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1323.

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Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:53–58 Different views about death

1 Corinthians 15:53–58

53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Greco-Roman culture inherited the views of Plato (429–327 B.C.) and Socrates (469–399 B.C.) about the body and death. Anthony Thiselton[1] reports that Plato and Socrates held an optimistic view about death as a release of the soul from the prison of the body, thus also revealing a negative view of the body. Socrates and other Greeks held that death was a harmless portal to a higher order of being. Shortly after tasting hemlock poison, Socrates probably changed his mind!

But that is not how Jesus viewed death. Oscar Cullman argues that “the agony of Gethsemane as Jesus faces the prospect of death as a cruel God-forsakenness, as a sacrament of the wrath of God, should be kept before our eyes as a reminder of what death’s sting entails apart from the victory won by Christ.”[2] We have already seen that the Bible reveals a positive view of the body as something created and endowed with life by God; at our resurrection we receive a transformed body, not some sort of bodiless existence.

The radical transformation of the body

Paul is trying to solve a particular problem in Roman Corinth and within other churches (1 Cor. 1:2) as well. So, while he writes about theology, he does so in a way that is intensely practical. Unfortunately, some English versions of the Bible make Paul’s words more abstract, perhaps to make them feel more universally applicable. Here are two examples to compare:

(NIV) 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

(HCSB) 53 Because this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality. 54 Now when this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory.

We have bolded the important words to demonstrate the difference between abstraction (NIV) — something worded as a general principle to apply to everyone in general — and concrete application (HCSB) — something worded to point to each Corinthian to whom Paul is writing, and then applicable to Christians like us who are similarly situated. The Greek text of the New Testament uses four identical demonstrative pronouns (Greek touto meaning “this”) because Paul is drawing attention to his own physical body and that specific body possessed by each of the Corinthians. But, why should you care about such details?

Thiselton explains: “[It] is entirely correct to underline the importance of the fourfold use of touto, this (twice in v. 53, twice in v. 54), as indicating clear continuity of identity (this body) even in the midst of radical transformation. The same identifiable, recognizable, and accountable identity is transfigured into a radically different form, but remains this created being in its wholeness.”

During the resurrection of those in Christ, we do not become just anyone in general; we are still ourselves in a radically transformed condition, including our own changed bodies. This corruptible, mortal body becomes this incorruptible, immortal body. That is Paul’s answer to the question of many as to whether we will recognize one another after the resurrection. We will!

We can further clarify these verses by saying that mortal means able to die, while immortal means incapable of dying. So, when Paul says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (Rom. 6:12), he is speaking to a person who has trusted Christ but has not yet died. Similarly, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit “will also give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11). The Holy Spirit enables us believers, who are still able to die, to resist sin and to live for God.

When we who are in Christ receive our resurrection, death has finally been swallowed up in the victory Christ won through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:54b). Death cannot be victorious over us because we share the resurrection and victory of Christ. Accordingly, Paul taunts personified death in verse 55.

Verse 56 covers a lot of territory with a few words. David Garland explains, in part: “Death gains power over humans through sin because sin demands capital punishment as its moral penalty (Rom. 6:23). The law, not only unable to arrest sin, spurs it on and pronounces death as its sentence.”[3]

Verse 57 declares the only solution to the death–sin–law triad of tragedy: the victory won on our behalf by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In 1 Cor. 15:58, Paul concludes his argument about the resurrection by giving commands to the Christians in Roman Corinth. These commands rest upon the certainty of their future resurrection: “You know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Knowing this, they can give themselves “fully to the work of the Lord.” Because Jesus has won the victory and ensured their resurrection, they must “stand firm” while that victory takes its final form.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1300.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1300, quoting O. Cullman.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 746.

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Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:44b–52 Like the man from heaven

1 Corinthians 15:44b–52

[44a It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.] 44b If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Gordon Fee explains Paul’s starting point in 1 Cor. 15:44 by saying: “Paul now applies the analogy of the differing kinds of ‘bodies’ from vv. 39–41. Thus, instead of describing how the body is sown, the two adjectives ‘natural (Greek psychikos) and ‘spiritual’ (Greek pneumatikos) are used with the noun ‘body’ (Greek s?ma) to describe its present earthly and future heavenly expressions respectively.”[1] This will allow him a way to bridge the conceptual gap between the two different spheres of existence. He does so by using two steps that would have been understood and accepted by his first-century audience:

1. He connects the Greek adjective psychikos (NIV natural) in 1 Cor. 15:44 to a related Greek noun psych? (NIV being, ASV of 1901 soul) in the Greek translation of Genesis 2:7, the creation of Adam. Newer English versions say that Adam became a “living being” and older English versions say “living soul.” In this verse, Adam receives both a body and an earthly life.

2. Adam is used as a representative of all humanity; his name means mankind. The people of Roman Corinth were very comfortable thinking in representative/corporate terms rather than the radically individualistic thinking which characterizes our own culture.

Verses 45–49 resume the discussion about Adam and Christ that began in 1 Cor. 15:21. Verse 45 refers to them as “the first man Adam” and “the last Adam,” meaning Christ, the founder and firstborn of the new creation. While Adam became “a living being,” Christ is a “life-giving Spirit” — capitalizing the word Spirit in agreement with NLT, HCSB, Thiselton and Garland. There is a huge difference between living and life-giving! In this context, life-giving refers primarily to resurrection of those who have died “in Christ.”

Anthony Thiselton reminds us that Adam is no ideal human; he stands for all that is fallen and destructive. Adam’s fall into sin set the pattern for all who descended from him and made the cross of Christ the utterly necessary ground of all our hope. The cross brings reversal, not merely degrees of improvement. Christ does not offer a return to Eden for a re-try; he brings us the promise of a new creation. “Paul does not devalue the physical, which is God’s gift, but the natural is bound up with human sin and bondage, and there is no hope of full salvation without transformation by an act of the sovereign God.”[2] That is why Christ died and rose again.

Verses 47–49 provide the theological logic for the transformation we will undergo in being resurrected. To aid our understanding of “the second man is of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47), Thiselton says, “Heaven is not a locality as such, but the realm characterized by the immediate presence and purity of the living God in and through Christ and the Spirit.”[3] He also quotes a telling slogan: “It is not that in heaven we find God, but that in God we find heaven.”[4]

Garland does an outstanding job of explaining verses 48–49: “If humans take the shape of the first Adam sown with a body made from dust that goes back to dust, then Christians will take the shape of Christ in their heavenly existence, who is from heaven and has a spiritual body. The last Adam, then, sets the pattern for all who will be resurrected and given a spiritual body for their new celestial habitat.”[5]

It is in this way that Jesus says to us: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the one portal that takes you from this realm of existence to that greater realm of eternal life with God. It is only those who are joined to Christ, those “in Christ,” who will rise in the likeness of the same resurrection he has already had. We must ask: have you given your allegiance to Jesus so that you will have this resurrection?

For now, we are like the Corinthians were then; we are vulnerable, fragile and fallible as human beings “who have borne the image of the earthly man” (1 Cor. 15:49a). Yet the Holy Spirit has come to live within us and has begun the transformation that makes us more like Christ, that guides us toward bearing the image of the man from heaven.

Verse 50 speaks in terms that are meaningful first to Jews and then to those of Greco-Roman origin. The idea that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” is pitched for Jewish ears; flesh and blood refer to our current physical existence. “Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” makes better sense to Greco-Roman Christians. Keep in mind that the physical decay bound up with the word perishable was even more obvious to the ancients than it is to us with our nice refrigerators.

The clause “we will not all sleep” (1 Cor. 15:51) makes use of the standard metaphor that Christians fall asleep, whereas unbelievers die. The we who will not all sleep (in death) quite simply refers to those Christians who will be living when Christ returns. But, regardless of whether Christians are alive when Christ comes or have fallen asleep, “we will all be changed.” The transformation that God provides for us in Christ is so powerful that it does not matter whether we are alive or dead when he comes.

Just how long is the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52)? Thiselton informs us that the crucial word is used “outside the New Testament [to] denote the rapid wing movement that causes the buzz of a gnat or the twinkling of a star.”[6] We are talking about fast!

“The last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52) signals a mighty act of God and signals the passing of the present order of reality. This is one alarm that no Christian will sleep through! In that moment God will give us a body like that of Christ — an act that defies description.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 785.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1284.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1287.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1287, footnote 138.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 737.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1295.

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Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:35–44a Far-reaching transformation

1 Corinthians 15:35–44a

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

Starting in verse 35, Paul deals with basic issues blocking the Corinthians from accepting and even embracing the resurrection. Rather than confronting them directly about their flawed ideas, Paul uses the rhetorical tactic of imagining that “Someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” (1 Cor. 15:35). In this way the issue of the body arises for the first time in relation to the resurrection. Even at this early stage, Paul plainly assumes that bodily resurrection is the only way it happens; we do not live with God as disembodied spirits of some sort.

Gordon Fee gives us an understanding of where the Corinthian thinking about resurrection began: “The real concern behind their denial of the resurrection of the dead was an implicit understanding that that meant the reanimation of dead bodies, the resuscitation of corpses.”[1] Apparently, the idea of returning to life as some sort of zombie did not play any better in Roman Corinth than it does with us today.

NIV is taking of the edge by translating Paul’s response as “How foolish!” (1 Cor. 15:36). NET Bible has “Fool!”, ESV has “You foolish person!”, and Anthony Thiselton offers “You nonsense person!”[2] David Garland helpfully points out that the idea of a “fool” has deep biblical roots.[3] A fool says in their heart, “There is no God” (Psalms 14:1). By not taking the creative power of God into account in relation to resurrection, the Corinthians are showing themselves to be fools.

Paul begins his demonstration of their deficiency by using a metaphor from farming: they plant wheat knowing that the seed must die in order to produce a crop and that the crop will look nothing at all like the seed (verses 36–37). Garland says, “He intends only to underscore the change between the naked seed sown in the ground and what will be harvested.”[4] Thiselton adds the idea that, in order to be transformed, we must go through a discontinuity — death — and be reanimated in a different mode of existence.[5]

The key to the transformation the seed undergoes in the ground is that “God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each seed he gives its own body” (verse 38). Thiselton brings out a vital point when he says, “The key phrase remains God gives it a body just as he purposed, but the second principle is that of contrast, differentiation, and variety which simultaneously promotes a continuity of identity.”[6] According to God’s creative purpose, we are not resurrected as clones but with our own distinct identity, just as we had our own individual identity in death. (Parenthetically, did you ever wonder why angels have names? It is because they are different individuals.)

Before we reach two more metaphors in verses 39–40, it is important to note another likely Corinthian belief that stood in the way of their understanding bodily resurrection. Garland explains, “The problem that must be resolved to the Corinthians’ satisfaction is how the polarity between the earthly sphere and the heavenly sphere is to be bridged.”[7] Philosophers in that day taught that it was impossible for an earthly body to ascend to the celestial realm. Spoiler alert: God will do the impossible just as he did in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ! Thiselton says, “What Paul aims to set before his readers is the conceivability, on the basis of a theology of God as creator of diverse orders of beings, of a ‘sort of body . . . entirely outside our present experience.’”[8]

Paul shifts metaphors in 1 Cor. 15:39 by contrasting the different types of flesh: people, animals, birds, fish. This proves the principle “Not all flesh is the same.” God’s creative power is such as to provide what is needed to make each type different. Hold this idea until Paul draws them all together in verse 42. Verse 39 is one of the rare cases where the Greek noun sarx (“flesh”) actually means “the material that covers the bones of a human or animal body.”[9]

Another metaphor shift brings heavenly bodies into view in verses 40–41. This enables him to introduce the Greek noun doxa (“splendor” or “glory”) by way of saying that the splendor of sun, moon and stars differ according to the order God has established. They differ, and each has its own measure of splendor.

As we enter verse 42, Thiselton lists the various elements Paul has established and will now use to make his case:

a. the discontinuity between the old body which is “sown” (v. 37) and the new body which is “raised” (v. 42);

b. the sovereign power of God to enact far-reaching transformation of his own devising, however unimaginable this may be to human mortals now (v. 38);

c. the variety of modes of existence that lie within the sovereign capacity of God to create; and

d. the continuity of identity suggested by such terms as each . . . its own body (v. 38).[10]

 Paul now sets forth (vs. 42–44) four ways to contrast the body we possess in this earthly existence, the old creation, and the body we will receive after resurrection in the fullness of the new creation:

Sown in decay — raised in decay’s reversal

Sown in humiliation — raised in splendor

Sown in weakness — raised in power

Sown an ordinary human body — raised a body constituted by the Spirit.[11]

It is important to say that Paul “affirms the biblical tradition of a positive attitude toward physicality as a condition for experiencing life in its fullness.”[12] After all, it was God who gave us bodies in the first place. The new body that Christians will receive at the resurrection will not have any of the weakness and vulnerability associated with the old body.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Us



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 776.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1263.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 727.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 728.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1263–4.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1265.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 730.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1268.

[9] BDAG-3, sarx, “flesh,” q.v.

[10] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1271.

[11] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1258, 1276–81.

[12] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1279.

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Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:29–34 How love can conquer death and loss

1 Corinthians 15:29–34

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day — yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God — I say this to your shame.

The Christians in Roman Corinth were fortunate to have a social and historical context that allowed them to understand some of Paul’s phrases that have baffled generations of Christian thinkers. Many regard 1 Cor. 15:29 to be the most puzzling in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Although more than forty explanations have emerged, we will offer only two and will prefer just one of them. The first explanation, upheld by a majority of commentators, is that Paul is speaking in verse 29 of some type of vicarious baptism for the dead, a baptism by proxy in which a living person is baptized to confer some type of spiritual benefit upon a dead person — presumably an unbeliever — even the benefit of salvation itself. This view has several serious problems: (1) There is no record of such a baptism in the New Testament or among the early churches; (2) Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant doctrine all reject such a practice, as did several prominent church fathers; and (3) Paul could never allow an act that completely bypasses God’s grace and personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Concerning the proxy baptism view, Gordon Fee says: “It smacks of a ‘magical’ view of sacramentalism of the worst kind, where a religious rite, performed for someone else, can have saving [effect].”[1] We agree with Fee’s rejection of this explanation for verse 29. Today the only religious group that consistently uses this practice of baptism by proxy for the dead is the Mormon Church, which names itself The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

 Two translations and an interpretation of “baptized for the sake of the dead”

In an attempt to make sense of 1 Cor. 15:29, the NIV makes a fairly lengthy addition to the text, and that is shown in italics in this quotation of their translation: “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” Thiselton’s translation is closer to the actual Greek text: “Otherwise what do those people think they are doing who have themselves baptized for the sake of the dead? If the dead are really not raised, what is the point of being baptized for them?”

Anthony Thiselton explains that baptism for the sake of the dead “is ‘not in order to remedy some deficiency on the part of the dead, but in order to be reunited with them at the resurrection.’”[2] Thiselton also makes clear the reason: “Paul is referring rather to a much commoner, indeed a normal experience, that the death of Christians leads to the conversion of survivors, who in the first instance ‘for the sake of the dead’ (their beloved dead) and in hope of reunion, turn to Christ.”[3] So, the survivors of a beloved Christian commit themselves to Jesus and receive baptism out of the desire to rejoin their deceased loved one at the resurrection.

Paul’s point is that the only reason that people trust in Christ in this particular way is because they rely on the fact that resurrection will occur. Otherwise, their conversion and baptism would be pointless. The baptism such people undergo is appropriate in light of their own faith in Jesus.

Paul’s own reliance on the resurrection

If you think Paul is exaggerating when he says, “I face death every day” (1 Cor. 15:31), we should recall that Paul’s bold witness for Christ did indeed lead to his eventual death in Rome. Paul writes to the Corinthians from Ephesus, and he speaks metaphorically of the intensity of the struggle there: “I have fought wild beasts in Ephesus” (1 Cor. 15:32). This is likely a reference to the riot in Ephesus against Paul and his followers (Acts 19:23–41) or similar threats. Garland says: “The ‘wild beasts’ plausibly are bloodthirsty human antagonists who would eagerly tear him to pieces. His Roman citizenship did not provide him protection from mob violence.”[4]

Having presented a picture of his own life being in constant danger of death, Paul drives home the point that this life only makes sense if he has the certainty — biblical “hope” is always a certainty — of resurrection in Christ (1 Cor. 15:32b). Garland describes this hope with skill: “Resurrection means endless hope, but no resurrection means a hopeless end.”[5]

Paul shows both his education and his rhetorical skills when he says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32b). This wording simultaneously appeals to Jews, by quoting Isa. 22:13, and to the other citizens of Roman Corinth by its similarity to slogans used in debate among competing Greek philosophies. A life of self-sacrifice in imitation of Jesus makes little sense if there is no resurrection. Jesus was not kidding when he said you cannot serve both God and money, where the latter term encompasses everything the world has to offer apart from God (Luke 16:13). Paul says we serve God through commitment of our lives to Christ because we believe we will experience a resurrection like his.

Paul has already made it clear that he is dealing with “some” (1 Cor. 15:12) who deny the resurrection, and that makes it more likely than not that we should translate 1 Cor. 15:33a by “Stop being misled” rather than NIV’s “Do not be misled.” Some had already been misled and were adversely influencing the others.

Thiselton expresses an important point: “These two verses [33–34], especially v. 34, express the theological heart of the chapter and the hinge of the argument. Knowledge of God (God’s resources, God’s grace, God’s transformative action through Christ) holds the key to understanding what the resurrection is actually about.”[6]

We might say that “come back to your senses” (1 Cor. 15:34) and “stop sinning” are two ways of saying the same thing. Thiselton explains, “Paul regularly regards sin less in terms (if at all) of acts (plural) of commission or omission than as an attitude, stance, and state in which the human will is granted ‘autonomy’ to turn away from God and to seek self-gratification as the chief end of human life.”[7] That statement is worth thinking about!

Paul’s most devastating charge is that “some . . . are ignorant of God” (1 Cor. 15:34). That is actually a stinging rebuke for people who take pride in their knowledge; to be ignorant of God is similar to the darkness of a pre-Christian state. Paul pushes this knife in with the statement “I say this to your shame” (verse 34). In a culture which found its bearings in relation to honor and shame, that was the ultimate insult.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 764–5.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1248, quoting J.K. Howard.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1248, quoting G.G. Findlay.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 721.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 721.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1253.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1256.

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