SUMMARY.--The Essential Facts of the Gospel. The Resurrection of Christ a Central Fact. The Witnesses of the Resurrection. Those at Corinth Who Denied the Resurrection. The Apostles Then False Witnesses. Our Faith Vain. Death in Adam, but Life in Christ. The Resurrection Body. The Victory Over Death.
This chapter is devoted to the resurrection from the dead. Among the various false doctrines which had crept into the church at Corinth, composed of those who had so recently been heathen, and who had so much to unlearn, was one that the resurrection of the soul from sin to a new life; that this resurrection was already past in the case of those converted (2 Tim. 2:18), and that a resurrection after death was impossible. The doctrine of the resurrection was absurd, according to the Grecian ideas (Acts 17:32), and "some" were infusing this kind of skepticism into the church at Corinth. It is likely that the letter (7:1) of the church asked some questions which called out this remarkable chapter. The epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, written about the beginning of the second century, refers to these freethinkers.
1, 2. I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you. He states the fundamentals of that gospel as the basis of the argument he is about to make. That gospel was common ground, for they received it and still professed it. 2. By which, also, ye are saved. Are in a saved state unless you have forgotten the gospel preached and departed from it; that is, unless their faith is vain, which he shows would be the case if there was no resurrection. Observe the tact with which he first presents facts conceded by all the disciples, and upon these builds an impregnable argument. He next states those facts.
3-11. For I delivered unto you, first of all, that which I also received (Acts 18:8). Note the three facts which Paul declares to be the gospel, or the facts on which it rests; viz: the death, the burial, and the resurrection. The facts Paul received by revelation (Gal. 1:12) as well as from men. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is especially exact in the outlines of our Lord's suffering. He quotes it in Luke 22:37. 4. That he was buried and rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. Paul himself quotes Ps. 16:10 as predicting the resurrection. See Acts 13:35. 5. That he was seen of Cephas. He now gives the proof of these facts. The women saw Christ before Peter Cephas, but Paul names the witnesses who would carry most weight to the Corinthians. For the appearance to Peter, see Luke 24:34. Then of the twelve. See Matt. 28:17 and John 20:19, 25. 6. After that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. No other account of this appearance is recorded. It is probable that it took place in Galilee where Christ repeatedly directed the disciples to gather. It is possible that Matt. 28:16 refers to it. Paul had no doubt seen some of "the five hundred brethren," "the greater part" of whom were still alive when he wrote. 7. After that he was seen by James. James, the Lord's brother, not James the apostle. This James was prominent, when Paul wrote, as the chief bishop at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18) and the author of the epistle of James. James, the apostle, had been killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). Then of all the apostles. See Luke 24:50. 8. Last of all he was seen by me. See Acts 9:4. 9. For I am the least of the apostles. As far as human worth is concerned, not fit to be called an apostle. He could never forget that he had been a persecutor. 10. But by the grace of God I am what I am. Not by his own merit, which he considered so small, but by God's grace he had been enabled to do a more abundant work than any other apostle. 11. Whether it be I, or they. I and all the apostles preach the same gospel of a risen Lord and this you accepted when you believed. Their faith was built on the resurrection.
12-19. How say some . . that there is no resurrection of the dead. These seemed to admit that Christ was raised, but denied the resurrection of others. He now shows that if Christ be raised the general resurrection must follow as a result. 13. If there be . . then is Christ not risen. If persons once dying cannot be raised, as these false teachers say, then Christ could not have risen. 14. Then is our preaching vain. For in that case we have preached what is false, and you have believed it, so that your faith is vain. 15. We are found false witnesses of God. In that case we have declared that God did what he never did do. 17. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain. In that case he is not the Savior. He is a dead man, who could not even save himself. Such a one has no power to pardon sins, and ye are yet in your sins. 18. Then they which are fallen asleep, etc. All the Christians who had died had fallen into eternal sleep. There is hope, in that case, only in this life; no hope of immortality. 19. If in this life, only, we have hope in Christ. If there is no life beyond, no hope of it, then Christians who deny themselves in this life and endure persecutions and sufferings for the sake of eternal life, are of all men the most miserable. They "lose life" and gain no eternal life. Such are the consequences of this false belief.
20-28. But now is Christ risen. This is certain. Paul had seen the risen Lord. So had many other credible witnesses. But since he is risen, the resurrection of his disciples must follow. He is the first fruits of those who have slept in death. On the morrow after the first Sabbath of the passover a sheaf of the first fruits of the barley harvest was "waved before the Lord" (Lev. 23:10-16) as a pledge of the harvest to come. So on the morning after the first Sabbath of the passover, Christ, the first fruits arose and appeared living, "the first fruits" of the great harvest of souls gathered into eternal life. 21. Since by man came death. Man, the first man, sinned, and death came upon his race, because in him the race had sinned. By man, also, came the resurrection. By Christ, the Son of Man. 22. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive, etc. All the race in Adam became subject to death; so in Christ all the race shall be raised from the dead to appear at the bar of eternal judgment. The passage does not affirm the final salvation of all, but the final resurrection of all. There is a "resurrection of the just and of the unjust." 23. But each in his own order. In his own rank or division. The first order or division is Christ. The second division is "they that are Christ's," who will be raised at his coming. The time of the third division, the wicked, is not named, but hinted at in the beginning of the next verse (verse 24). "All that are in the grave shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." John 5:28, 29. This is what Paul teaches here. 24. Then cometh the end. The end follows soon after the resurrection of the saints. When he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God. See verse 28. When Christ's work is accomplished he places all in the Father's hands. 25. For he must reign. He is reigning now, and will continue to reign until he has conquered all his enemies. He is not waging a contest for a kingdom, as some contend, but will give up the kingdom when the contest is over and the final victory won. All enemies. All the wicked opposers, human and supernatural; also sin and death. All must be overthrown. 26. The last enemy . . . is death. See Rev. 20:12-14. The order there of closing events is the resurrection, the judgment, and the casting of Death and Hell (hades--the grave) into the lake of fire. 27. For he put all things under his feet. Quoted from Psalm 8:6; a statement that Christ is Lord of all and that God has subjected all to him. He is excepted who, etc. God gave Christ the power, and hence he is excepted. The Father is not subject to the Son. 28. When all things have been subjected. When the world is subdued to Christ. Then shall the son also himself be subjected. Then, as his work is done, he will give up the kingdom to the Father (verse 24). Then Christ will give up the seals of office.
29-34. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead? Paul again returns to the argument for the resurrection. This passage is difficult, and has received almost as many interpretations as there have been commentators. Some have held that there was a custom of baptizing living persons for the benefit of persons who had died without baptism. Had that custom existed, Paul would have rebuked it. It did arise afterwards, as an abuse from the misinterpretation of this passage, among the followers of Cerinthus, and, in our times, of Joseph Smith. I will try to make clear its meaning: (1) All the Corinthians were baptized (Acts 18:8). (2) Their baptism was a "planting" in the likeness of the burial of Christ, and in the "likeness of his resurrection" (Rom. 6:4, 5). They were in, and raised from, a watery tomb. (3) Their baptism in the likeness of the death and resurrection of Christ was in hope of their own resurrection from the dead through Christ's resurrection. (Huper Nekroon, for, or on account of the dead, with the exception of resurrection from the dead.) But if Christ has not risen, and the dead rise not, this memorial and emblematic burial has no meaning. "Why, then, are they baptized for the dead?" that is, for the sake of their own resurrection from the dead. This interpretation harmonizes better with Paul's argument than any I have seen. 30. Why do we also stand in jeopardy every hour? What motive, if there is no hope beyond, can we apostles have for placing ourselves in constant peril by preaching the resurrection? 31. I protest, . . . I die daily. I am in daily peril of death. 32. If, after the manner of men. Speaking humanly. I fought with beasts at Ephesus. Encountered furious opposition, like the rush of wild beasts. The allusion is hardly to be taken literally. If he had been thrown to wild beasts at Ephesus, some record would have been made of it in the record in Acts of his sojourn at Ephesus. Besides, a Roman citizen was preserved from that manner of death. What doth it profit me? All his sufferings are to no purpose if the dead rise not. Let us eat, drink, etc. All Epicurean maxim, a proverbial saying. 34. Awake to righteousness. Such an error leads to Epicurean sensuality. Shake it off, that you sin not. Some have no knowledge of God. Such errors can only spring from ignorance of God and his power to raise men.
35-41. But some will say. But two difficulties are raised: How are the dead raised up? What kind of a body do they have? 36. Thou fool. The idea is, slow of understanding. Why cannot you learn the lesson nature teaches? The grain that thou sowest has to die and be dissolved before it comes forth in a new life. So the body must die and be dissolved. 37. And that which thou sowest, etc. We sow, not the plant that comes forth, but only a bare seed. 38. But God giveth it a body, etc. To the seed planted God gives a new body, the stalk of wheat or corn, or whatever it may be. This new body bears no outward resemblance to the seed planted. 39. All flesh is not the same. All the different animals have bodies unlike, and suited to their conditions. 40. There are also celestial bodies and . . . terrestrial. These, too, have forms and glories, unlike, and suited to their condition. For instance: 41. The sun has its own peculiar form and glory. So of the moon, and the stars. The thought is, that to every condition is given a form suited to that condition. Now an application is made of this thought in verse 42.
42-50. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown. Planted in burial in corruption. It goes to decay. It is raised in incorruption. With a new body suited to the new condition of existence, which is incorruptible; cannot decay. 43. It is sown in dishonor. The dead body is repulsive, becomes offensive, and we bury it out of sight. It is raised in glory. Has a glorious beauty. Sown in weakness. All its powers exhausted. Raised in power. Endowed with heavenly energy. 44. Sown a natural body. A fleshly body with animal life. Raised a spiritual body. A body whose life principle is the spirit. Not a fleshly body, but a spiritual existence. We cannot comprehend the nature of this existence, but we can know that it is not a body of flesh, bones, and blood; perhaps not more material than the forms of the angels. See verse 50. 45. The first man, Adam, was made a living soul. Gen. 2:7. From him came our natural life. The last Adam, Christ, of whom Adam was a type. A quickening spirit. By giving life to the dead, and imparting spiritual existence. 46. Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual. The first Adam came before the second Adam. The natural body which proceeds from the first Adam is our tabernacle first; after this life comes the "spiritual body," which the second Adam gives. 47. The first man is of the earth. Was fashioned out of the earth. Genesis 2:7. The second man is the Lord who came from heaven. 48. As is the earthy. All have earthly bodies like that of Adam. As is the heavenly. When we are raised to heaven we shall have spiritual bodies like Christ's, not like the body he received from Mary, but the glorious body in which he appears to saints and angels on high. Do we ask what body we shall have? It shall be like Christ's glorious body. See Phil. 3:21. Not of flesh and blood, for (verse 50) flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. If of flesh and blood, our bodies would be corruptible, and would not be suited to the eternal kingdom.
51-58. Behold, I tell you a mystery. I disclose to you a secret of which you have had, hitherto, no knowledge. We shall not all sleep. There will be some on the earth who shall be alive when Christ comes. But we shall all be changed. The living who meet Christ, as well as the dead who are raised up. All shall be made immortal and incorruptible. 52. In a moment. The change will be instantaneous. At the last trump. See 1 Thess. 4:16. The trumpet shall sound. This signal for the close of all earthly things. See Matt. 24:31. 53. For this incorruptible. For this corruptible body must give place to the incorruptible body; the mortal frame to an immortal one. One must be "put off," the other "put on." See 2 Cor. 5:2. 54. Then shall be brought to pass the saying. See Isaiah 25:8. This is the final victory, the victory over death. 55. O death, where is thy sting? This is quoted from Hosea 13:14. It is here the triumphant shout of the apostle as he sees by faith the final victory over death. 56. The sting of death is sin. It is sin that gives death his power to sting and destroy. See Rom. 6:23. The power of sin is the law. The law, broken, is sin, and when this law is consciously broken the conscience is wounded. When a moral law is broken, moral death follows. If there was no law of any kind, there would be no sin, no wounded consciences, no moral death. 57. Thanks be to God. For the victory over sin and death through Christ. 58. Therefore . . . be ye stedfast, unmoveable. Firm as a rock, devoted to Christian life, for their "faith is not vain." Their labor is not vain in the Lord. Jesus Christ is The Resurrection and the Life. The hope of immortality hath sure foundations.