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 deaths 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 Pauls 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 Pauls 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 deathsinlaw 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.

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.

Commentary

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 butchers 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 ones 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 Garlands 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 snakes 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 Romans 5:12-14, Everywhere death reigns, sin has preceded

When the great influenza of 1918 struck the world, more people died from it than even the Black Plague had taken. Everywhere the influenza pandemic spread, it came on two legs.

Sin entered the world in the same way, and it immediately became a pandemic that extended throughout humanity. You may easily identify sin’s victims they always die. Where is the cure?

(ESV) Romans 5:12-14

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Paul decisively changes subject by analyzing the origin of sin and talking about Adam. Douglas Moo tells us what is going on in the second half of Romans 5:

In a passage that rivals 3:21-26 for theological importance, Paul paints with broad brush strokes a birds-eye picture of the history of redemption. His canvas is human history, and the scope is universal. . . . The power of Christ’s act of obedience to overcome Adam’s act of disobedience is the great theme of this paragraph [through verse 21].[1]

That 5:12 has inner logic is obvious; the structure is chiastic:

A Sin results in (5:12a)

B death (5:12b);

B all died (5:12c)

A because all sinned (5:12d)

Moo says, “If this reading of the structure of the verse is right, then verse 12d has the purpose of showing that death is universal because sin is universal.”[2] When Paul says, “death spread to all men” (5:12c), he uses the verb dierchomai, which is used for moving from one village to another to preach (Acts 10:38) or for news spreading about Jesus (Luke 5:15); death spread throughout humanity like a deadly plague moving from one village to the next. It could be found everywhere there was sin. Death is universal because sin is universal.

Romans 5:12 has spilled a lot of ink due to various attempts to explain Paul’s grammar and logic. A majority of Bible translations (ESV, NET, NASB, NIV) and commentators think Paul began to say something in Romans 5:12 and then abruptly stopped. You see, for example, the long dash at the end of verse 12 in the ESV translation above. Moo says, “Paul becomes sidetracked on this point and abandons the comparison, only to reintroduce and complete it later in the text.”[3]

Other Bible translations (HCSB, NLT) and commentators, whom I join, say Romans 5:12 is a complete sentence as it stands. The broken-sentence view (above) has insufficient respect for Paul and utterly fails to explain how the Roman recipients would have unraveled Paul’s meaning; after all, commentators over twenty centuries have been unable to agree on the resumption point for the allegedly broken sentence!

Aside from these disputes, keep your eye on the point that sin is lethal! Christians have the remedy in eternal life through Christ, but that does not alter the fact that every time we sin we spread death. That is exactly what Adam did, as we will see.

C.E.B. Cranfield makes a telling observation: “It is difficult for those who are in the habit of thinking of death as natural to come to terms with this doctrine of death [being caused by sin].”[4]

(ESV) Romans 5:13-14 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

The statement “sin indeed was in the world before the law” (5:13a) captures the main idea, but the Greek imperfect verb here can emphasize that sin continued for the duration of the period before the law. The absence of specific commands from God between Adam and Moses does not imply that sin took a vacation. This is obvious because death reigned from Adam to Moses (5:14), see below.

The clause “sin is not counted where there is no law” (5:13b) can be confusing. The Greek verb ellogeomeans: “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[5] Thomas Schreiner says, “The purpose of that verse is to explain that apart from the Mosaic law sin is not equivalent to transgression. . . . Adam’s sin was different in kind from those who lived before the Mosaic law in that he violated a commandment disclosed by God.”[6]

Paul appears to argue that, even if sin does not rise to the level of transgression, it still killed everyone between Adam and Moses (5:14). In this way Paul continues to press the idea of 5:12 that all die because all sin. That argument would be strong in relation to those present or former Jews who might claim never to have transgressed God’s law; in effect, Paul answers, neither did the people before Moses transgress, but sin still brought about their death!

Grant Osborne says, “There was still moral transgression even if there was no official law that identified it as such, and the fact of death (God’s legal punishment on sin) proves that this was the case.”[7]

To explain the relative clause about “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (5:14b) — Cranfield says, “Adam in his universal effectiveness for ruin is the type which . . . prefigures Christ in his universal effectiveness for salvation.”[8]

Is death natural or caused by us?

If death is a natural thing, then we may look for its cause among the ever-changing molecules that make up our bodies. A pill, perhaps, or an exercise regimen or a diet will eliminate the problem one day. Perhaps a little genetic engineering will save us all — or not!

The Bible presents a different theory of death; it reveals that sin causes death. That means death is not natural but caused by human rebellion against God. Medical care, exercise and nutrition have their place in maintaining life for a longer period, but sin is a spiritual/theological problem whose solution comes from the hand of God.

1. Read Gen. 2:16-17, Gen. 3:19 and Exod. 20:12. How do the first two verses show that death is caused by disobedience and subject to spiritual consequences? How does the last verse demonstrate that our obedience to God has an effect on the length of our lives?

2. Read Romans 8:11 and John 11:25-26. In what ways do the power of Jesus and the Spirit transcend even the bounds of human mortality?

“It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44, NET)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 314315.

[2] Moo, Romans, 321.

[3] Moo, Romans, 319.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 281.

[5] BDAG-3, ellogeo, charge to the account, q.v.

[6] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 279.

[7] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 140.

[8] Cranfield, Romans, 283.