1 Corinthians 15:12–19
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
As you study this passage, it is vital to keep in mind that Paul is writing to people who are totally accustomed to the techniques of persuasion used by speakers and writers. So, he is very methodical in dealing with the issue of the resurrection of the dead. He has just recited the preaching of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:1–11) saying that Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives, just as Paul had preached and just as the Corinthians had believed. That sets the stage for dealing with a theological issue in the church at Roman Corinth.
“Some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12b). Paul first points out a contradiction: The Corinthians have responded to the gospel with its message of Christ crucified and resurrected, so how can some still question resurrection? Next, Paul starts with the false premise that there is no resurrection and shows the butcher’s bill for holding that view.
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus did was not raised either (verse 13). That overthrows all the apostolic preaching and voids the faith in Jesus expressed by the Corinthians. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, the gospel is no more than snake oil peddled by hucksters and bought by rubes.
But Paul is not finished. If the apostles have consistently preached a false resurrection, they are “exposed as liars” (1 Cor. 15:15) not merely about some mundane subject but about the living God. And, by implication, the Corinthians are fools for believing their message.
Next, Paul repeats the false premise and its main consequence: “For if the dead are not raised [false premise], then Christ has not been raised either [main consequence]” (1 Cor. 15:16). Next he moves the argument in to an intensely personal level. No resurrected Christ means, the faith of the Corinthians was useless, and they each still face the wrath of God for their sins (verse 17). Further, their believing, though now dead, family members and loved ones are “lost for good” (1 Cor. 15:18). That is one horror that easily translates across the centuries to believers like us situated in the twenty-first century. It is too painful to think about.
Adopting the false premise that there is no resurrection from the dead leads to the awful conclusion that Christian hope ends at death. Under such circumstances, David Garland says, “Christianity would be an ineffective religion that is detrimental to one’s health since it bestows only suffering on its followers.” Under this assumption, Christians would suffer and find shame like Jesus, but their shame would be well deserved and unrelieved by eternal fellowship with God.
Concepts about death in Roman Corinth
Garland relates the findings of an important study of Roman tombstone epitaphs by saying, “The belief of the ancients, both Greek and Roman, in immortality, was not widespread, nor clear, nor strong.” One tombstone inscription was so common that it was abbreviated by the first letter of every Latin word — to cut costs — and it may be translated to say, “I was not. I was. I am not. I am free from wishes.” The result of such fatalism was that people wanted to live for the moment; thus Paul quotes a popular saying “’Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32).
To avoid getting into Greek philosophy, we will rely on Garland’s summary of what the Corinthians likely believed: “Humans are composed of two inharmonious parts, body and soul, that are of unequal value. At death the mortal body is shed like a snake’s skin, and the immortal soul continues in a purely spiritual existence.” They struggled to understand how an earthly body could possibly exist in a heavenly realm, and that may have led them to question bodily resurrection.
Paul totally rejected any idea of a spirit existing without a body, but his way of resolving the confusion about a resurrection body must wait until 1 Cor. 15:35–55.
Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1219.
 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1221.
 David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 703.
 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 698, quoting R. Lattimore.
 “non fui, fui, non sum, non desidero” abbreviated “nffnsnd” on tombstones.
 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 700.