Many who use these Study Guides consider themselves sports fans. Another large group of our readers prefer movies. If mixed together, these two groups can resemble oil and water in relation to their preferences, but they have one thing in common. Every sports event and every movie comes to an end at a certain time.
Actually, we are all accustomed to this idea on a broader basis. Every day, week, month, year, decade, century, or millennium comes to an end. So does every life. No one takes the streets to protest the end of Tuesday, November 19, 2016.
Why is it that we can get so much pushback from declaring that a day is coming on which this age and this world will end — a day of judgment? Perhaps the difference is that the day of judgment will be personal; there will be winners and losers. Ecstatic winners. Inconsolable losers.
Is there a way to influence the judge in our favor? Who is the judge? Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, will judge our individual cases, and he has commanded all to repent and submit to the reign of God while each has opportunity.
Some failed to listen or comply, and today we will learn of their end. Or, will it be the end of the beginning, with far worse to follow?
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Here our secular society must consider a troubling possibility from their viewpoint: if Jesus actually had the authority and the power to overrule the natural order by working miracles, as all ancient sources say, then might he also have the authority to bring the existing natural order to an end? Those committed to a world run exclusively by humans and not by God will bring every tool of denial and distraction into play to keep that question quiet!
Verse 20 has a hidden quality that I want to bring to your attention. While the NIV’s translation saying, then Jesus began to denounce the towns is accurate, the underlying Greek verb emphasizes the subject, Jesus. In our society, criticism is so common that we scarcely give it a thought. But, when Jesus denounces you, it is time to go to red alert! The initial Greek verb typically means to rule or govern, but it takes on the meaning “begin” in many contexts, possibly because a person with authority can begin something that lasts. Jesus began things that no one could stop!
Chorazin and Bethsaida lay to the north and east of Capernaum, neither very far away. Archaeology has shown them to be similar in size to Capernaum. In verse 21, Jesus presents us with an if-clause which is contrary to fact since no such miracles were done in Tyre and Sidon. [Stop and consider the implications of Jesus telling us what would have actually happened in a different place and millennium!] Blomberg explains that Tyre and Sidon, in ancient Phoenicia, were paradigms of Israel’s ancient enemies. So, Jesus is shaming these Jewish cities as less responsive to God than those pagan cities already condemned to terrible retribution.
According to one notable authority, “woe” is an interjection that means “how greatly one will suffer” or “what terrible pain will come to one.” The phrase “woe to you” occurs twenty-two times in Isaiah and always marks those who have set themselves against God and his purposes.
These particular towns received the unique honor of having miracles worked within their bounds to benefit people they all knew. After seeing an astonishing shower of God’s kindness from Jesus, the mass of people and their leaders still failed to heed his call for repentance. As France suggests, these towns seem content to go on as if nothing has changed; they have no clue what the reign of God means.
Verse 22 should have sent chills down the spines of all in Chorazin and Bethsaida who were not committed to Jesus. For Jews to hear that the historically-hated Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon would find judgment day more bearable than them would have resulted in profound shock and anger.
But Jesus saves his most searing rebuke for Capernaum (verse 23). Those Jews familiar with Isaiah’s taunts against the proud king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:13, 15) would have found them used in relation to the pride of Capernaum in verse 23. Just as Babylon had considered itself above all others and untouchable, so Capernaum swelled with unjustified pride. Was it not only prosperous and favorably positioned but also the home of the great healer and exorcist of Galilee –Jesus?
But, Jesus says that Capernaum, like the proud king of Babylon, will not ascend to the heavens; it will descend to Hades, the place of the dead (verse 23). Why? Because Capernaum failed to repent after seeing the miracles performed by Jesus, miracles that would have brought Sodom to its knees and spared it from total destruction. In Israelite minds, Sodom was the epitome of the wickedness.
There is, apparently, more than one way to receive God’s severe punishment. One is to indulge in the deepest depravity like Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29). Another is to have the greatest possible revelation from Jesus himself and then refuse his command to repent and submit to the reign of God. Jesus firmly declares that those failing to heed his words and his miraculous deeds, performed before their eyes, will receive God’s severest treatment on the day of judgment.
NIV New International Version (2011) ESV English Standard Version NET New English Translation CEB Common English Bible NLT New Living Translation HCSB Holman Christian Standard Bible
Introduction to the Book of Daniel
To understand any book that is partly historical, it is necessary to understand who wrote it and the context in which it was written. This introduction briefly surveys these issues as well as the theological themes advanced by the author and the literary structure of the book.
Daniel, the statesman-prophet
Daniel was born into the nobility of Judah in (roughly) 620 B.C. Old Testament scholar Stephen Miller describes one probable experience from Daniel’s early years that deserves note: “Jeremiah was preaching in Jerusalem, and it seems almost certain that both Daniel and Ezekiel would have heard Jeremiah preach.” That would mean that Daniel was forewarned about the coming fall of the nation. Since Daniel held high office even after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C., he is believed to have lived to be about 85 years of age.
Daniel’s name means “God is my judge,” and he is mentioned by name five times in the Bible outside of the Book of Daniel (Ezek. 14:14,20; 28:3; Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14). Miller explains: “Ezekiel’s ministry did not begin until about 593 B.C. (cf., Ezek. 1:2), over twelve years after Daniel’s deportation. … No satisfactory explanation exists for the use of the name Daniel by the prophet Ezekiel other than that he and Daniel were contemporaries and that Daniel had already gained notoriety throughout the Babylonian Empire by the time of Ezekiel’s ministry.”
Though some have questioned whether Daniel was an actual historical figure, the matter is conclusively settled by Jesus, who plainly spoke of Daniel and his prophecies as historical and authoritative (Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14).
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon
Miller makes a surprising statement: “With the possible exception of the pharaoh of the exodus, more is said of Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament than of any other foreign ruler.”
Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 634–562 B.C.) reigned over the neo-Babylonian empire from August of 605 B.C. to 562 B.C., a period of 43 years. After Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians and Assyrians at Carchemish in May-June of 605 B.C., his father King Nabopolassar, the conqueror of the Assyrian capital Nineveh, died in August of 605 B.C. Crown prince Nebuchadnezzar rushed home from the conquest of Jerusalem — bringing Daniel and many others with him — to ascend the throne of Babylon on September 6/7 of 605 B.C.
The Book of Daniel shows Nebuchadnezzar to be a man of great ability, towering pride and, when thwarted, burning rage. At the time of his choosing, Yahweh decisively humbled the king, probably with the result that Nebuchadnezzar gave his allegiance to Yahweh. Such unlikely faith seems indicated by Yahweh calling him “my servant” (Jer. 25:9, 27:6, 43:10), a title used only for men such as the Messiah, Abraham, Moses, David, Job, and Isaiah. No other foreign person is ever called “my servant” by Yahweh, and the only person who comes close is Cyrus the Great, the Persian conqueror who is called “my shepherd” by Yahweh in Isaiah 44:28 (Isa. 45:1, 45:13). Cyrus also plays an important role in Daniel’s life.
Nebuchadnezzar’s reconstruction of Babylon, including the famed Ishtar Gate and the hanging gardens, was one of the great wonders of the ancient world.
Historical context of Daniel
The nation that God had established by covenant under Moses later divided into two nations — Judah and Israel (see 1 Kings 12) — at the end of Solomon’s reign (931 B.C.). This period (931 – 586 B.C.) is often called “The Divided Kingdom.” The Divided Kingdom may be considered along two lines, devotion to God and commitment to international alliances. Had these two nations remained strong in their faithfulness to Yahweh, they would never have needed any commitments to other nations. But Judah often followed the lead of its unfaithful rulers into idolatry, and Israel was much worse. Both Judah and Israel made frequent alliances with regional powers, resulting in a steady increase of idolatry.
In the late eighth century B.C., the two great world powers were Egypt and Assyria. After many warnings from his prophets, Yahweh brought Assyria to take the northern kingdom of Israel away into bondage, and this happened in 722 B.C. at the fall of Israel’s capital, Samaria.
Tossed like a leaf in the wind, Judah wavered between relying on Yahweh or, more frequently, on either fading Assyria or historically-dominant Egypt, the ancient regional power. When Pharaoh Neco came up from Egypt to aid the Assyrians at the Euphrates River, King Josiah of Judah blocked him at Megiddo and was killed (2 Kings 23:29). Pharaoh chose his own king for Judah, renamed him Jehoiakim, imposed tribute on Judah (2 Kings 23:34) and then continued northward.
However, on the Euphrates River, at a place named Carchemish, Pharaoh Neco and his Assyrian allies were crushed by crown prince Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (May–June of 605 B.C.). Nebuchadnezzar quickly rushed south toward Jerusalem to deal with the puppet king Jehoiakim of Judah in Jerusalem, the home of a young man named Daniel.
There is no doubt whatever that Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to be in complete control of these events, but he would realize in time that Yahweh was calling the shots. What is more, he said so to the whole empire (Daniel 4)!
Daniel rose quickly to high office under Nebuchadnezzar and survived his death to hold a powerful position under the rule of Cyrus the Great of Persia (c. 600–530 B.C.).
The Book of Daniel as literature
While those who want to deny the possibility of predictive prophecy consider the contents of Daniel to consist mainly of “court legends,” we accept the position expressed by Miller: “Scholars who adhere to the traditional position understand the book to consist primarily of history, prophecy and apocalyptic. … Prophetic-apocalyptic may be the best designation, for Daniel takes on the character of both prophecy and apocalyptic.”
Apocalyptic is an intensification of prophecy. To highlight the difference between apocalyptic and prophecy, consider Samuel’s prophetic words to King Saul: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to one of your colleagues who is better than you!” (1 Sam. 15:28). God could have used Samuel to reveal this same truth by means of a dramatic vision in which the crown is roughly stripped from Saul’s head and placed on the head of David. That would have been an apocalyptic vision — though somewhat mild— in that it is an intensification of the plain, prophetic prediction that Samuel actually made.
New Testament scholar Grant R. Osborne says, “A basic element in defining apocalyptic is its pessimism toward the present and the promise of restoration in a sovereignly controlled future.” That is a simple sentence, but it bears careful thought since it provides a useful interpretive tool. Osborne also has a helpful insight when he explains, “One of my definitions for apocalyptic is ‘the present addressed through parallels with the future.’” He also gives insight about the use of symbols in apocalyptic literature — such as the gigantic tree in chapter 3 — and the way they change the way people think about the world: “The symbols have a special communicative function in addressing the social world of the original readers, thus opening up a new symbolic world for them.” He adds:
The visions guide readers into a [surpassing] reality that takes precedence over the current situation and encourages readers to persevere in the midst of their trials. The visions reverse normal experience by making the heavenly mysteries the real world and depicting the present crisis as a temporary, illusory situation.
The vision of a future offered by Daniel would have greatly strengthened Jews in captivity in Babylon in the midst of a serious trial of their faith in Yahweh.
The literary structure of Daniel is simply presented by Miller:
Part One: The ministry of Daniel in Babylon (1:1–6:28)
Part Two: The visions of Daniel in Babylon (7:1–12:13)
An unusual feature of the Book of Daniel is that over half of it is written in Aramaic, while the balance is written in Hebrew. The dialect of Aramaic, known as “Imperial Aramaic,” was an official or literary dialect that was the dominant language of the Near East during the fifth and sixth centuries before Christ. Aramaic was for a time as dominant as English is today.
Conflict about the meaning and value of Daniel
Traditional interpretation of Daniel — both Jewish and Christian — has always held that the Book of Daniel was written during the sixth century B.C. by Daniel, a Jew exiled to Babylon, to whom God revealed reliable knowledge of future events. That is the view advocated by this study guide, and we have no doubt of its accuracy.
However, beginning in the nineteenth century, a number of scholars attacked many things about the Bible and traditional Christian doctrine. In short, they rejected supernatural acts by God (including the resurrection of Jesus Christ), they scorned the reliability of the Bible as a reliable revelation from God, and they denied the deity of Jesus. Man became the measure of all things. How these ideas are applied to Daniel may be shown by the comments of commentator John J. Collins:
Daniel is not a reliable source of factual information about either the past of the future. … This is apparent from the historical inaccuracies of the tales … as well as from the unhistorical claim that the book recounts the visions of a Jew in the Exile. … Its witness, however, is largely in the language of legend and myth, which appeals to the imagination rather than to the intellect.
It is difficult to understand why anyone holding such views would spend years writing a commentary on Daniel.
For those of us who regard the Bible as an infallible revelation from God to his people, the fact that both Jesus and Ezekiel regarded Daniel and his prophecies as historical, reliable and relevant to future events is sufficient to settle the matter.
The theological themes of Daniel
Miller offers four themes for the Book of Daniel with the first being the most important:
“Every page reflects the author’s conviction that his God was the Lord of individuals, nations, and all of history.”
God’s love and care for his followers;
The person and work of the Messiah;
Prophecies concerning the end times and the subsequent new world.
Commentaries and Bible studies on Daniel
Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994)
This commentary was written for pastors and Bible students but hides the technical details in the footnotes. It gives solid answers to critical and anti-supernatural attacks on the book for those who need them. Dispensational viewpoint.
Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998)
This commentary was first published in 1973 but remains one of the best on history, language, exposition and theology. Dispensational viewpoint. Recommended.
John F. Walvoord, Daniel, The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012)
This commentary was first published in 1966 and remains a classic presentation of Daniel’s prophecies from a dispensational viewpoint. More attention to theology than to the details of the text.
Beth Moore, Daniel (Nashville: LifeWay, 1996)
This personal Bible study contains considerable explanatory material and numerous diagrams. Designed in lesson form for personal study. Not technical. Recommended.
Other books and resources
Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009)
This book does an exceptionally good job of summarizing the teachings of the Old Testament prophets on a book-by-book basis while also dealing with crucial issues. Aimed at college level.
J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965)
This 633-page work does a terrific job of explaining the vast reach of Bible prophecy and how the prophetic events are related to one another and sequenced. It is not technical, but the reader must know that organizing all these details is not for the faint of heart. No subsequent study has attempted the biblical scope of this one.
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.
22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
When Paul mentions “the churches in the province of Asia” (1 Cor. 16:19), he is again sending actual greeting but also making the Corinthians see that they are part of the larger body of Christ. Let them look above not only their factional divisions but also outward to see the bond of love between Christians everywhere. The Roman province of Asia was located in what is now western Turkey.
The role of Aquila and Prisca (a shortened form of Pricilla) is notable. Acts 18:1–3 informs us that Aquila was a Jew who, along with his wife Pricilla, was expelled from Rome (probably as a Christian) in A.D. 49, when Emperor Claudius “closed down a Roman synagogue because of continuous disturbances centering on the figure of Christ.” They emigrated to Roman Corinth where they met Paul, another tentmaker, and both hosted him and worked with him in the trade. They also joined Paul in Ephesus, where a church met in their home.
Anthony Thiselton approvingly describes the research of another scholar concerning Paul’s stay in Corinth: “Murphy-O’Connor convincingly paints a picture of Aquila and Prisca having their home in the loft of one of the shops around the market square (approximately 13 ft. x 13 ft. x 8 ft. without running water) ‘while Paul slept below amid the tool-strewn workbenches and the rolls of leather and canvas.’” Are you feeling the hardship?
Though Paul dictated his letter to a professional scribe or secretary, he could not resist writing a greeting in his own hand (1 Cor. 16:21). This was all typical. One of Paul’s scribes actually identifies himself in Rom. 16:23.
Verses 22–24 serve as a sharp conclusion to the entire letter. The purpose of such a rhetorical conclusion was to reinforce the argument of the letter with emotional force. Here the vocabulary emphasizes Jesus Christ, love, and either the grace or the judgment that all will receive when Christ returns.
It seems most probable that in verse 22 the verb “love” refers to covenant loyalty. Covenant loyalty essentially amounts to obedience, just as Jesus emphasized with his disciples: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). In the Old Testament, the result of maintaining covenant loyalty to God was blessing, while breaking the covenant resulted in curses. The curse is expressed by the famous Greek noun anathema, which has been adopted into English most frequently in reference to a person who has been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
Thiselton summarizes: “Paul has reproached the [message] of the cross and the content of the gospel through the array of pastoral, ethical, and theological issues that bubble away at Corinth: Come on, he concludes; are you ‘in’ or are you ‘out’?” The return of Christ will resolve this question once and for all.
“Come, Lord!” represents the Aramaic term “Maranatha.” Generations of Christians have echoed this appeal.
Paul closes by mentioning the grace represented uniquely by Jesus Christ and Paul’s own special love for all who are joined to Christ (verses 23–24). Amen!
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].” 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.” 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!
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.” 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. 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.
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.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
The break between the previous post and this one is arbitrary, because verse 9 takes up right where verse 8 ended. Paul is not defending himself here; instead he is placing emphasis on the grace of God toward him as manifested through the resurrected Christ.
Anthony Thiselton issues a corrective and a clarification to verse 9 when he disagrees with NIV’s phrase “do not deserve to be called an apostle”because the translation “deserve” suggests that by better moral behavior he could have qualified for the title of apostle. Paul fully understands that by human reckoning he was not qualified to be called an apostle, but Christ made him one as a gift. “Paul [has] theological awareness that he cannot ‘reach up to’ of ‘aspire to’ his calling; he accepts it as a gift of grace.” God’s grace has nothing to do with our worthiness; its whole basis is Christ crucified for our sins and resurrected to give us new life. That is God’s gift to all who will accept it.
Few verses bring more good news to us than 1 Cor. 15:10a — “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” For cultural and historical reasons, the concept of grace is hard for American Christians to fathom. Our tendency is to ask what someone must do to receive grace. But grace is God’s kindness, God’s gift. Think about it: kindness is about the giver, not the recipient. That is what makes it kindness! God gave Christ for our salvation while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:10). The resurrected Christ summoned Paul to faith and apostleship while Paul was on a journey to capture Christians for execution.
Everything about Paul flows from the kindness of God through Jesus Christ. “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10a). Paul’s very identity was rooted in Christ, and so is ours. But equally important is knowing that God’s grace transforms us on a continuing basis: “his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Cor. 15:10a). After Paul accepted God’s grace, he became even more engaged in doing what Christ asked of him than any of his new colleagues.
Pay careful attention to the balance of what Paul says. God did not do these things without Paul, nor did Paul do any of it without “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10b). God could easily do everything without us, but he does not choose to do so.
The tradition that Paul has recounted about the death and resurrection of Christ included all the people Paul named (1 Cor. 15:1–10). (By “tradition” we mean the historical account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that was accepted among those who witnessed the events and was carefully handed down to those who followed them.) All played a role in passing the story down. Paul received the tradition from others and passed it to the Corinthians, who responded to Christ by faith (1 Cor. 15:11).
Having reconstructed the foundational message of Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul next expands their knowledge with further vital knowledge about the resurrection and how it relates to our lives (1 Cor. 15:12–58).