Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:19–24 “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus”

1 Corinthians 16:19–24

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.”[1] 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.’”[2] 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’?”[3] 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!

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) 1343.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1343.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1351.

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.

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.

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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 God’s orderly process and resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:20–28

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Starting in verse 20, Paul reverses the argument and begins from the true premise that Jesus was raised from the dead — by God the Father — with the current and enduring result that Jesus now lives. Paul is more forceful than the NIV (“indeed”) indicates: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20, NLT, ESV, CEB). The standard Greek lexicon uses the phrase “but as a matter of fact” and says that the Greek word introduces “the real situation after an unreal clause or sentence,”[1] referring to the unreal assumption that there is no resurrection.

For the seventh time since verse 4, Paul uses the relatively rare Greek perfect tense (passive voice) to refer to Jesus’ being raised. The seven verbal forms are identical, so it is plain Paul is making a point. What is the point? As before, the Greek perfect stresses the current result of a past action; here the current result is that Jesus lives after being raised by the Father. This force is hard to express briefly in a Bible translation.

The next critical fact is that Jesus is called “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20b). The concept of Jesus as “firstfruits” is metaphorical. The Law of Moses called on the Jews to offer annually a sheaf of grain from the very first harvest to God (Lev. 23:10–11). David Garland reminds us that the feast of firstfruits occurred on Nisan 16 every year, and Jesus was resurrected on Nisan 16 in 33 A.D.[2]

But the metaphor of firstfruits is more expansive than what has been described so far. Anthony Thiselton explains that firstfruits embodies both a temporal logic and representative logic.[3] As firstfruits, Christ is not only the first to be raised from the dead but also the representative of the full harvest to come. Note carefully that Jesus is the firstfruits “of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20b), a phrase that always refers to Christians. We who are “in Christ” will take part in the full harvest of resurrections of which Christ’s was the first.

Verses 22 and 23 must be interpreted together. Garland gives his interpretation, with which both Thiselton and Gordon Fee agree: “All those bound to Adam share his banishment from Eden, his alienation, and his fate of death for that death becomes the common lot of his posterity. All those bound to Christ receive reconciliation and will share his resurrection and heavenly blessings. Not all humans are in Christ, however.”[4] Those who are “in Christ” include those who have fallen asleep (verse 20) and those who belong to Christ (verse 23).

The other theme introduced in 1 Cor. 15:23 is order. The verse begins with a military term to describe something placed in its proper order, and it is easy to see a definite sequence of events which climaxes in verse 28 with “that God may be all in all.” Paul is showing the Corinthians that events are unfolding in an order that God intended.

Paul has made no attempt to account for what eventually happens to all humanity. It has been his purpose to establish the resurrection of Christ and then the raising of all who are in Christ. A few interpreters have attempted to drag the unsaved dead into the picture by saying that the term translated “the end” (verse 24, Greek telos) necessarily includes them, but that was not the concern of the Corinthians, and the great majority of interpreters rejects the idea for several reasons. The fate of the unsaved dead is recorded in Rev. 20:5, 11–15 (see the study guide titled Apocalypse). In fact, the consummation of world history is seen in verse 24 to be about God rather than about us or the unsaved dead.

Verse 24 contains the phrase “all dominion, authority and power” as a list of those powers Christ would nullify, and that statement might have made some in Roman Corinth nervous. After all, the Roman emperor was portrayed as both divine and the spiritual Father of the empire, but Paul is replacing that imperial propaganda with a picture of Christ voiding all powers and giving everything to his Father. In 1 Cor. 15:25, Paul includes an indirect reference to Psalm 110:1, and putting enemies under one’s feet is a metaphor meaning to bring them into subjection. Jesus is even now bringing all his enemies into subjection, and the last to fall will be death (1 Cor. 15:26). But fall it will!

Verse 27 is tricky because the subject shifts from Christ taking action in the earlier verses to God taking the action in verse 27. Garland explains it by showing an identity in brackets with each pronoun: ”When it says, ‘All things have been made subject’ [by God], clearly that excludes the one [God] who made all things subject to him [Christ].”[5] Paul was being careful to prevent some foolish person from using the phrase “all things” to include God. The scope of the word “all” is always an issue for interpretation.

We can use the same technique to make sense out of 1 Cor. 15:28: “When he [God] has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him [God] who put everything under him [Christ], so that God may be all in all.” Thiselton brings to our attention a subtle idea from another scholar: “’There is no order without subordination.’”[6] Sin threw the world into chaos, but the Son was willing to subordinate himself to the Father as part of the plan to redeem humanity and make a new creation in which God and his people could dwell forever.

Though Paul’s meaning is complex and taxes our minds, we see in verse 28 the culmination of God’s orderly process of redeeming lost humanity and defeating his enemies through Christ. Christ, though equal to the Father and of the same substance, voluntarily subordinated himself to the Father as part of this long salvation process (Phil. 2:6–11). Nevertheless, they remain one, along with the Spirit, and their purpose remains one. Thiselton says, “Thus God remains the source and goal, Christ remains the means through which the goal which God purposes comes to be brought about.”[7]

In Roman Corinth there were other factors in play that likely caused Paul to express himself in this way. Thiselton explains that in the surrounding Greco-Roman culture it was common for various religious groups to gather around their own favorite divine hero, such as Asclaepius the healer, and to worship that divine hero without ever including any serious reverence to a supreme deity, such as Zeus.[8] The supreme deity effectively dropped off their list.

Remember 1 Cor. 8:5, where Paul told us that in Roman Corinth “there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords.’” Paul did not want anyone to see Jesus as just another of the many “lords,” and he did not want them to see God the Father as just some vague, mysterious idea. No, he wanted them to see God as “all in all,” the supreme creator and sovereign ruler over all the world.

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



[1] BAGD, nuni, as a matter of fact, q.v.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 706, footnote 4.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1223–4.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 707, and see 709. (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1227; Gordon Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 750.)

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 713.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1224, quoting T.C. Edwards.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1236.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1237, citing J. Moffatt.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 A false idea and its implications

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] (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”[2] (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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1219.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1221.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 703.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 698, quoting R. Lattimore.

[5] “non fui, fui, non sum, non desidero” abbreviated “nffnsnd” on tombstones.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 700.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:9–11 God’s kindness transforms us

1 Corinthians 15:9–11

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.[1] 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).

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) 1211.