Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Four essential events

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul stresses the continuity of tradition[1] in 1 Cor. 15:3. The essentials of Christian faith did not begin with Paul and did not end with the Christians in Roman Corinth — or with us! Note with greatest care the matters of first importance (verses 3-8):

that Christ died for our sins (v. 3)

that he was buried (v. 4)

that he was raised on the third day (v. 4)

that he appeared [to many] . . . . (vs. 5-8)

David Garland explains the first point by saying: Christs atoning death is a central tenet of the faith (Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Eph. 5:2; Titus 2:14; cf. Gal. 1:4). This death was not a sad misadventure but something God destined for him because of (or with reference to, concerning . . .) the sins of humankind.[2] The Romans presented the death of Jesus as that of a rebel, a man guilty of treason — though Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, knew better. The leaders of the Jews saw the death of Jesus as the necessary elimination of a dangerous threat. What Paul gives us is Gods viewpoint on the reason Christ died, the view which will stand. If this were a murder mystery showing on PBS, the final scene would show the reason Christ died to be: us— each of us individually and all of us together. Our sins had doomed us, apart from the death of Christ on our behalf.

The second point, Jesus burial (1 Cor. 15:4a), relates to his death. Garland says, Death and burial are interconnected in Scripture. This detail verifies the reality and finality of Christs death.[3] An empty tomb can mean many things, but burial quite simply tells us that death has occurred.

The third point will prove crucial in chapter 15, because it describes the resurrection of Christ. In 1 Cor. 15:4b, Paul probably makes a deliberate choice to use the Greek perfect tense to say he was raised (NIV). Since the entire chapter is about the implications of Christs resurrection, Paul used the perfect tense here to emphasize the results or present state produced by a past action.[4] As a result, Gordon Fee concludes that Paul is implying that he [Jesus] was both raised and still lives.[5] Oh yes he does!

The tradition Paul is reciting also provides the extra details that Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4b).This resurrection on the third day was exactly what Jesus told his disciples would happen (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). One vital lesson for us is that God is totally faithful to his promises. We will see later in chapter 15 that the resurrection of Jesus was the precursor of our own future resurrection as believers in Jesus Christ. God will prove equally faithful to raise us!

Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter (John 1:42). The tradition Paul is recounting includes appearances by the resurrected Christ to individuals and groups (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul notes that many eyewitnesses to the resurrection are still alive — making verification possible — but some have fallen asleep (verse 6), the encouraging Christian term for dying. Thiselton says, Paul did not think of the resurrection as some sort of [indescribable] truth beyond history; rather, it was an event . . . for which historical eyewitness testimony was readily available.[6] Even more encouraging, Thiselton adds, The metaphor of falling asleep . . . to denote the death of Christian believers carried with it the grammar of being awakened at the resurrection.[7]

The fact that Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7) is interesting. Fee reminds us that This James is the Lords brother, who, along with his other brothers, did not believe in him during Jesus earthly ministry (John 7:2-9) but who appear with the disciples after the resurrection.[8] The resurrection of Jesus transformed people in his own time and still does today.

One final phrase requiring explanation is Pauls reference to himself as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:8). Thiselton accepts the meaning a prematurely born dead fetus which figuratively reflects a use found in the [Greek Old Testament] to denote dire human wretchedness.[9] Paul looks back on his life at the moment Jesus appeared to him and considers his condition. Even though he had been highly educated in the Law of Moses, Paul not only failed to identify Jesus as the Messiah but also actively persecuted those who had committed themselves to Jesus, his assembly of believers that we call the church (1 Cor. 15:9). Viewing the gravity of this failure, Paul compares himself metaphorically to a prematurely born dead fetus, a figure of dire spiritual wretchedness. But the appearance to Paul by the resurrected Christ brought life-giving grace to the dead. Paul was never the same again.

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


[1] David Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 683.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 684.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 686.

[4] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 574.

[5] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 726.

[6] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1205, quoting R.B. Hays.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 12067.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 731.

[9] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1209, quoting J. Munck.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36-40, The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36-40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Pauls arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be spiritual; those who have the Spirit will agree that Pauls commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: They will themselves be ignored (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, It means that the Lord will say to such persons, I do not know you (Matt. 7:22-23).[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. The phrase translated orderly way has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

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


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, What about women?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Imagine for a moment that one of our pastors is preaching on Sunday when his wife rises from her seat and says in an audible voice, “I don’t see how you can teach this church after the way you treated me and the kids yesterday.” A lot of things might happen after that, but spiritual growth or worship are probably not among them! Something like this was going on during the church gatherings in Roman Corinth, and Paul was determined to stop it.

The first thing to remember about the women in Roman Corinth is that they lived in another time and culture. We have previously stressed the interpretive principle that a biblical text cannot mean today what it did not mean at the time it was spoken. So, our initial task is to determine what Paul was trying to achieve in Corinth. Only then will we be in a position to faithfully apply Paul’s instructions in our time and culture.

We have previously considered another highly-charged biblical passage about head coverings for women during worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16). There we found that a crucial cultural concern in Roman Corinth was shame and honor— whether those conditions applied to the individual, the community, the faction, or to the metaphorical head of the person involved. This cultural focus on shame and honor will also play a part in discussing women’s role in controlled speech during church gatherings in Corinth.

The very first thing we must say in sum about women speaking in church during the first century is that such speech was common. Concerning 1 Cor. 11:5, Garland says, “Paul affirms that it is quite permissible for women to pray or prophesy as long as they attend to their head covering.”[1] David Garland further draws attention to 1 Cor. 14:31, where Paul says that all may prophesy in turn. Most readers who give 1 Corinthians a close reading know that Paul was a brilliant man; the likelihood that he would contradict himself is zero!

So, what do we conclude? First, we say on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:5 and 14:31 that Paul not only permitted but encouraged women to speak when the church assembled. How then do we account for Paul saying “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34a)? Thiselton gets the ball rolling: “If we concur with Ben Witherington and others that what is at issue is not speech as much as abuse of speech, a probable scenario begins to emerge.”[2] We will now develop what abuse of speech is in question. Keep in mind that Paul had received a letter from Corinth as well as personal reports about what was going on there.

Yesterday we saw that in 1 Cor. 14:30-33a, Paul was dealing with specific restraints on wives who were in the process of sifting prophetic speech for soundness. In fact, we saw that 1 Cor. 14:29-36 all deals with restraints on prophecy and the evaluation of those messages for their faithfulness to Christ. The point is that the abuse of speech we are dealing with involved women who were sifting or discerning prophetic speech. You can see that this focus is much narrower than all-speech-by-women in church settings.

Thiselton[3] and Witherington suggest that the women in question were sifting the words of prophets by asking probing questions about their theology and lifestyle. This practice became particularly explosive — and disruptive to order — when wives cross-examined their husbands in a personal way that undermined their claim to be uttering prophetic speech. Such an exchange needs to take place at home (1 Cor. 14:35) not in church!

When Paul says, “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35b), he brings honor and shame into the picture. This specific abuse of speech by certain women in relation to their husbands was shaming their husbands. Things got worse from there! Recall that: the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3). By shaming her husband, such a woman was bringing shame on her head, and he in turn was bringing shame on Christ, and that was bringing shame on God.

Such conduct created many problems, all serious. First, it was not loving toward others in the manner of Christ. Second, it could easily give the community the idea that Christians were overturning public order and decency; that would be a serious blow to the spread of the gospel of Christ crucified. (Such a charge created a riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:21-41.) Third, such conduct utterly failed to communicate the love, order, sharing and reciprocity that reflect God’s own nature. A calamity like this could not be allowed to continue, and Paul stepped on it hard!

The practice of abusing prophets should not be surprising. Jesus told the people of Nazareth, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt. 13:57). They demonstrated their appreciation of this insight by trying to throw Jesus down a cliff (Luke 4:29)! This teaching is repeated in all four Gospels and was a well-known concept among the churches. Such boorish behavior may be common, but it does not please God.

Thiselton convincingly argues that the Greek verb eperotao in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask” can express. Here the verb means “interrogate or cross-examine.”[4] For example, in Mark 11:29, Jesus interrogates the chief priests and scribes about how they can reject his authority and yet accept the authority of John the Baptist. There is an earnest, demanding quality about this Greek verb. A wife should speak such words to her husband at home, not in church.

There is little question that similar conduct by men in Roman Corinth, if directed toward other men in a public meeting, would have been considered aggressive but acceptable. But for a first-century woman in Greco-Roman culture to speak in such a manner about her husband would create a scandal. This difference may or may not be fair, but a culture will have its way.

A far more important matter is that interrupting or contradicting a true prophet displeases God! Consider the clause that says, “[The women] must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34b). Garland notes that: “The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent.”[5] However, what Paul likely has in mind is Numbers 12:1-15, where Miriam challenges Moses right to speak as God’s prophet on the grounds of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God intervenes very sharply against this attack on his prophet, and Miriam is shut out from the camp for seven days, shaming her. The Lord explicitly mentions her shame (Num. 12:14). Moses is said to be humble, and this contrasts with Miriam’s self-promotion and self-assertion that she too could speak as a prophet. The parallels to Roman Corinth are plain.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 665.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1156.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1158.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 115960.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.