The Agora
Bible Commentary
1 Corinthians

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1 Corinthians 15

1Co 15:2

YOU ARE SAVED: What saves us? Grace (Eph 2:8,9). Hope (Rom 8:24). Belief (Mar 16:15). Baptism (1Pe 3:21). Gospel, and its memory (1Co 15:1,2). Blood of Christ (1Jo 1:7). Faith (Rom 5:1). Works (Jam 2:24). Ourselves (Act 2:40). Endurance (Mat 10:22). What saved the "drowning man"? The rock, the rope, another man, himself... or all of them?

IF YOU HOLD FIRMLY TO THE WORD: Cp v 58. Holding fast: Heb 3:6; 4:14; 10:23; 1Th 5:21; Rev 2:25; 3:11; 1Co 15:2.

1Co 15:8

Vv 8,9: Some of the names scornfully given Paul by his enemies.

ABNORMALLY BORN: "Ektroma" = "an abortion, one who is born dead". Only once in NT, but also in LXX in Num 12:12; Job 3:16. How to fit this idea to Paul's use of the word? There are several hints (really calling for a separate study; see Xd 90:49) that Paul saw Jesus in Jerusalem in the course of the Lord's ministry. This was the time when he should have been new-born in Christ. But evidently, judging from Act 7-9, growing conviction was stifled by a savage burst of persecution, so that instead of new-birth there was "ektroma", an abortion. Thus the marvel almost to be heard in Paul's voice was that one in whom new spiritual life had come to nought should be, so to speak, conceived and born afresh.

No other NT use of "ektroma", but cp OT (LXX) occurrences: Aaron pleaded for Miriam in her leprosy: "Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb" (Num 12:12). And, in the LXX, Job 3:16 uses the identical Greek words (which passage is alluding to which?). The LXX does not use "ektroma" in Psa 58:8, but all the other Greek versions of the OT do. Here is a description of the wicked adversaries of God's faithful (eg Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor): "Let (them be) like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun." Here, again, the idea cannot be that of a premature or belated birth, but of one who is born dead. When Paul used the word "ektroma" he must have had his eye either on this passage or on Num 12:12 (himself saved from his own unworthiness by the intercession of Priest and Prophet).

"In classical literature and the OT 'ektroma' is connected with the verb signifying 'to have a miscarriage', and is derived from another verb meaning 'wound, injure, damage'. It is found in secular Greek from Aristotle onwards, especially in medical language denoting a premature stillbirth. It occurs in the LXX in contexts which suggest that an untimely still birth would have been preferable to life (Job 3:16; Ecc 6:3), and of the appearance of an aborted fetus (Num 12:12).

"In the NT the word occurs only in 1Co 15:8 where Paul describes his encounter with the risen Christ... Attention must be paid to the definite article in this passage... Its function is to draw attention to this birth as something singular and even shocking... The words 'also to me' stand at the end in a place of emphasis and contrast Paul with the other disciples in his reprobate hatred of Christ.

"The interpretation of Calvin and Weiss is to be rejected which sees the point of the comparison with the suddenness or violence of Paul's conversion. So too the view of Lange which saw in it a reference to the comparative lateness of Paul's call or his inadequate preparation compared with the other apostles, and that of Wettstein which saw in it a reference to Paul's diminutive stature. Harnack's conjecture is unnecessary that Paul here is using a word which was applied to him in a derogatory manner. Rather, v 9 is decisive for the interpretation. Here Paul alludes to his unworthiness to be called an 'apostle' (a title of honour), because he formerly persecuted the church. If 'ektroma' is thus understood, not as premature birth, but as stillbirth, the significance of Paul's choice of the word lies in his joyful gratitude that God has chosen him to be an apostle despite his utterly reprobate life as a former persecutor.

"It may also be noted that the rabbis could speak of grown men in this way... There may be in it the suggestion that Paul is still an embryo believer; he has not had the same period of gestation as the other apostles. These suggestions are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But they have also to be understood in the context of the argument. The preceding verses are concerned with the proof of the resurrection of Jesus based upon his appearances to the apostles and others. Referring to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, Paul writes; 'Last of all, as to the ektroma, he appeared also to me' (1Co 15:8; cf 1Co 9:1; Gal 1:16; Acts 9:3-6; 22:4-16; 26:9-18). The thought of the appearance of Christ to him leads immediately to the thought of his apostleship (1Co 15:9). Paul's apostleship was questioned by some (1Co 9:1). It could have been queried for a variety of reasons. Paul was a former persecutor of the church. Moreover, he lacked the two qualifications which were laid down when the other apostles considered a replacement for Judas. He had not been a disciple of Jesus in his earthly ministry and he was not a witness like them of Jesus' resurrection (Acts 1:21f). Against this, Paul claimed to have his apostleship directly from the risen Lord whom he had seen (cf the above references). Admittedly, he had not known the earthly Jesus and his encounter had happened after the ascension. Nevertheless, Paul insisted that he had encountered the risen Christ and received his apostleship directly from him. As such, the description of him as the aborted one is triply apt. As a person he was not as acceptable as others. He was premature in the sense that he had not served the period of discipleship like the Twelve and had become an apostle at his conversion, having been a persecutor of the church right up to that point. But above all, he had encountered Christ as 'one untimely born' (RSV) some time after the resurrection appearances to the others had ceased" (NIDNTT).

1Co 15:9

Paul's changing self-image: (1) an apostle (Gal 1:1; etc), (2) least of the apostles (1Co 15:9), (3) less than the least of all the saints (Eph 3:8), (4) worst of sinners (1Ti 1:15). As Paul drew nearer to Christ, so his self-esteem decreased.

1Co 15:10

BY THE GRACE OF GOD I AM WHAT I AM: "Grace must find expression in life; otherwise it is not grace" (Karl Barth).

"I am not what I ought to be. How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good. I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall put off mortality, and with it all sin. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin... I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!" (John Newton).

I AM WHAT I AM: May this not also be a reference to the Yahweh Name? Paul was a manifestation of the Name (Purpose) of Yahweh, in the world of that day!

NOT I, BUT THE GRACE OF GOD THAT WAS WITH ME: Paul is using the familiar Hebrew idiom here: "not only... but also". "Not only did I work, but -- especially -- the grace of God worked with me!"

1Co 15:12

"There were men among the Corinthian brethren who denied the resurrection. Did Paul charge the other brethren with complicity in that heresy because of the presence of such among them? Doubtless their rejection of the resurrection nullified their claims for that place, but still it did not make the true brethren guilty of their false doctrine while merely tolerating it, pending an appeal to Paul" ("True Principles and Uncertain Details", RR, Xdn 92:417).

1Co 15:20

See VL, Christ's resurrection, reality.

FIRSTFRUITS: Not first to be raised, but first to be raised to eternal life.

1Co 15:22

IN CHRIST: Most intimate communion of spirit with Christ, not merely being baptized. If in Christ, morally not technically, we are free from condemnation (Rom 8:1). Cp Gal 2:20; 1Co 6:17.

MADE ALIVE: "Quickened". Cp difference between "raise up" and "quicken" in Joh 5:21. Also "zoopoieo" in Gal 3:21.

1Co 15:23

Vv 23,24: Three stages in the completion of the promise that "in Christ shall all be made alive": First, Christ himself, raised from the dead. Afterward, those who are Christ's at his coming. And then a third and final resurrection at "the end", when the kingdom is delivered up to the Father. Corresponding to the 3 great feasts of Law: (1) Passover and firstfruits -- resurrection of Christ. (2) Pentecost -- further firstfruits -- resurrection of saints in Christ at his return (cp Jam 1:18). (3) Tabernacles -- harvest, final ingathering -- "then the end" (v 24) of 1,000 years. The last great resurrection, after millennium.

1Co 15:24

THEN THE END WILL COME: "Come" Sb omitted; simply, "then the end".

1Co 15:25

This will be in fulfillment of the commandment God gave to Adam in Gen 1:28: "Subdue it (the earth)... and have dominion over every thing."

The first Adam, because of sin, was unable to fulfill this directive. The "last Adam", because of his perfect sinlessness, will be able to subdue all creation to its intended purpose -- the glory of God (Num 14:21; Isa 11:9).

UNTIL: See Lesson, AN, Conditional deferment.

1Co 15:26

THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DESTROYED IS DEATH: This is the goal to which all of Christ's work is pointed. The last enemy to be conclusively destroyed under the heel of the conquering King will be death, the serpent's "offspring" (see Jam 1:13-15). Death, at the end of a slow process of decay, has been an inextricable part of man's nature since Eden. Now, through Christ, it will finally be destroyed -- not merely offset or neutralized, but vanquished, and routed.

1Co 15:28

Christ below God: 1Co 11:3; Act 2:22; Joh 5:19,30; 14:28; Mar 10:18.

1Co 15:29

Vv 29-31: The folly of apostles' sacrifices, if there is no resurrection.

BAPTIZED FOR THE DEAD?: True baptism must be preceded by true belief (Mar 16:16) -- which of course makes "baptism" meaningless if it is undergone on behalf of someone else who had died without such belief. So this v means to be baptized for or because of Christ. The immediate context of 1Co 15 explains: "Christ died for our sins" (1Co 15:3). "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1Co 15:j16,17). To paraphrase Paul, 'Why should we be baptized into Christ, if Christ is [or, those in Christ are] not raised from the dead?' (Perhaps those who were being baptized then in Corinth were in imminent danger of death, due to the "present crisis" of plague or epidemic there: 1Co 7:26.)

Alternatively: "The apostle refers to the case of those, who presented themselves for baptism, immediately after the martyrdom of their brethren, or at their funerals; as if fresh soldiers should enlist and press forward to the assault, to supply the places of those who had fallen in battle. Thus they professed their faith in Christ, and ventured the rage of their enemies, at the very time when others had been put to death for the gospel. But [Paul argues] what advantage could they propose to themselves from such a conduct, if there were no resurrection? Or what wisdom could there be in so doing? For in this case, Christianity itself would lose the great evidence of its truth... believers were yet 'in their sins;' and they who died as martyrs had lost their souls, as well as their lives [we know what this means, whether Scott did or not!: GB]. This might show the Corinthian speculators how greatly their notions [ie, that the resurrection was past: GB] tended to discourage men from professing the gospel in times of persecution, and to make them afraid and ashamed to own the cause of Christ. If this were the case, why did Christians in general, or the apostles and evangelists in particular, live in continual and imminent danger of suffering and death, by their open profession of the gospel, and their zeal in promoting it? They could have no sufficient encouragement for so doing, if the dead should never arise" (Scott).

1Co 15:33

BAD COMPANY CORRUPTS GOOD CHARACTER: "Tell me with whom you travel, and I'll tell you who you are" -- German proverb.

"A man is known by the company he avoids."

"The water placed in a goblet, bowl or cup, changes its form to its receptacle; and so our plastic souls take various shapes and characters of good or ill, to fit the good or evil in the friends we choose. Therefore, be ever careful in your choice of friends, and let your special love be given to those whose strength of character may prove the whip that drives you ever to fair wisdom's goal" (Mushito).

1Co 15:34

The practical expression of resurrection after baptism: Rom 6:4-6.

1Co 15:35

Vv 35-44: What kind of body?

1Co 15:38

That is, the proper body to fulfill His particular purpose with that part of His creation.

1Co 15:42

Vv 42-50: "We drop a seed into the ground,
A tiny, shapeless thing, shrivelled and dry,
And, in the fulness of its time, is seen
A form of peerless beauty, robed and crowned
Beyond the pride of any earthly queen,
Inset with loveliness, and sweet and rare,
The perfect emblem of its Maker's care.
This from a shrivelled seed? --
Then may man hope indeed!
For man is but the seed of what he shall be,
When, in the fulness of his perfecting,
He drops the husk and cleaves his upward way,
Through earth's retardings and clinging clay,
Into the sunshine of God's perfect day.
No fetters then! No bonds of time or space!
But powers as ample as the boundless grace
That suffered man, and death, and yet in tenderness,
Set wide the door, and passed himself before --
As he had promised -- to prepare a place.
We know not what we shall be -- only this --
That we shall be made like him -- as he is" (J Oxenham).

1Co 15:44

So why IS there a natural body? The natural body, with all its imperfections, is allowed by God... for our training and testing.

1Co 15:49

THE LIKENESS OF THE MAN FROM HEAVEN: Our heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), by a heavenly Father (Mat 18:35), through a heavenly word (Joh 3:12), presents to us a heavenly status (Eph 2:6), as we await a heavenly image (1Co 15:48,49), to be a heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22), in a heavenly country (Heb 11:16), within a heavenly kingdom (2Ti 4:18). All this constitutes Christ's brethren as a heavenly people of God!

1Co 15:52

THE TRUMPET: The 7th trumpet: Rev 11:15-19, related to resurrection. Cp Rev 15:8; 20:4.

RAISED: "Egeiro" can mean, as well as lit resurrection, "to be elevated" (Act 13:22,23; Rom 9:17), "to wake up from literal sleep" (Rom 13:11), "to rise from sickness" (Mar 1:37), "to rise in judgment" (Mat 12:42), "to be raised up as a prophet" (Mar 11:11), "to be raised as a savior" (Luk 1:69). Resurrection is not necessarily an instantaneous process, but -- like the "raising" of a crop (sowing, cultivating, reaping, winnowing, storing) -- involves several steps -- in this case, resuscitation, judgment, and glorification. Cp Mat 25:46: the righteous go INTO eternal life.

IMPERISHABLE: "The idea that the righteous dead will spring into being in a state of incorruption, and that the living faithful will be instantaneously transformed, in their scattered places throughout the earth, and changed into the spiritual nature before appearing in the presence of Christ (though apparently countenanced by testimonies which are superficially construed by those who read them) is an error of a serious complexion, since it practically sets aside the NT doctrine of the judgment (itself a first principle), and tends to destroy the sense of responsibility and circumspection induced by a recognition of the fact that we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that we may receive in body according to that we have done, whether good or bad.

"To profess a belief in the judgment while holding this view, is only to retain a form of words out of deference to NT phraseology while having lost that which is represented by the words. If the dead are to awake to incorruptibility or death, according to their deserts, Jesus is robbed of his honour as judge, and the judgment-seat is robbed of its utility and its terror. If the living are to be subject to immortalisation, say in their own houses, before Christ pronounces them blessed, is not the judgment-seat a mere empty form? If (worse than all) the wicked are not to be there to hear and receive their doom, it is no judgment at all, but a mere muster of the chosen; no terror at all, but a ceremony divested of every element of anxiety, since to have a part in it, according to this theory, is to be safe beyond miscarriage; no rendering to every man according to his deeds, whether good or bad; but a mere bestowal of gifts and honours upon the King's accepted friends. Yet this is the mistaken view which many are led to entertain by a superficial reading of certain parts of the apostolic testimony" (Xdm Ast).

"The mistake consists in construing Paul's words too narrowly, and reading them as if he were dealing with the dramatic incidents of the resurrection, instead of the state of existence to which the act of resurrection leads. Paul is not discussing the scientific aspect of the subject. He is not defining the process by which a dead man ascends from the depths of corruption to the nature of the angels the literal details are foreign to the subject before his mind. He is dealing with the broad question propounded by the objector; first, how as a question of possibility are the dead raised? and second, for or to (with not being in the original) what body do they come?

"He introduced Adam and Christ in proof of his proposition that there is a natural body and a spiritual body. He quotes the record of Moses with reference to Adam in proof of the existence of a natural body. The first man, Adam, was made a living soul (or natural body). His proof of the second lies in this: the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Now supposing a person, ignorant of the history of Christ, were to receive his impressions of Christ's history from this statement -- supposing he had no other source of information, would he not come to the conclusion that the last Adam was a spiritual body from the first moment of his existence? Would he ever conclude from it that the last Adam was first a helpless babe at Bethlehem, clad in the flesh-and-blood-nature of his mother; then a boy, submissive to his parents; then a carpenter, helping in the workshop to earn a livelihood for the family; then anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, going about doing good, and performing works which none other man did, and that, finally, he was abandoned of the power of God, and crucified through weakness, even the weakness of frail human nature? Would the uninformed and the superficial reader of Paul's allusion to the last Adam learn from it that not only the first Adam, but the last Adam also, was a natural body for 33 1/2 years, and that he only became a life-giving spirit by the power of God, in his resurrection?

"By no means. All these facts, so familiar to us, are elliptically compressed into the words was made. A process with so many striking features is expressed in a way which, if there were no other information, would conceal it. If this is the case with reference to Christ if we are at liberty to believe against the appearance of things in 1Co 15 that Christ was first a living soul and then a quickening spirit, why need there be a greater difficulty in reference to his people, whose re-awakening in the flesh and appearance at the judgment-seat is kept out of sight, in a phrase which its use in other cases admits to the possibility of covering the whole ground.

"Coincidentally and elliptically speaking, the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we the living shall be changed. Both events will occur at the advent. This is true, speaking broadly of the subject, without reference to details; but it is not, therefore, untrue that both classes will appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive in body according to what they have done, whether good or bad (2Co 5:10). A general statement of truth cannot exclude the involved particulars, though it may appear to do so. The course of true wisdom is, not to set one part of the word against another part, but to harmonise apparent conflict, by giving effect to all details, and finding a place for these in all general forms of the same truth. This course is not taken by those who, on the strength of the chapter discussed, would deny that the dead come forth to judgment with reference to their candidature for immortality. On the contrary, they put Paul here in conflict with Paul elsewhere. They erect his general and elliptical declarations on the subject of the resurrection, as barriers to his own particular statements in other places, and those of Christ and his apostles generally.

"In opposition to this course, we have endeavoured to find, in 1Co 15, a place for all these features; a place unseen by the unacquainted reader, but detectable by those having Paul s general teaching in view. Paul is in harmony with himself. The resurrection includes all that is divinely associated with it. The upshot is incorruption, glory, power, and spirituality of nature, but these are only reached through the tribunal which will make manifest the counsels of the heart. Prior to this, the future is a sealed book, except in so far as it is reflected in a man's conscience. The judgment will settle all, separating the chaff from the wheat, and determining who are the saints, in deed and in truth, and who the unprofitable servants, who have had but a name to live, and are dead.

"We commend to the serious consideration of every one interested, the sobering fact that there is a day appointed when God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus, justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked. It is a fact that will encourage, strengthen, and sustain every person who, having been enlightened and joined to the brotherhood of Christ, is working with a single eye, as seeing him who is invisible: and it is a fact that, vividly realised, will correct and purify those who, in a similar position, may be suffering themselves to be diverted from the path of truth and duty by considerations of a temporal nature. The record exhibited at the judgment-seat is written now in the lives of those who will appear there. The one will be an exact reflex of the other. A faithful stewardship sustained now will be honoured then with praise, recognition and promotion while an opposite course will bring exposure, shame, condemnation, and death. The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools" (Xdm Ast).

1Co 15:54

"And when is this corruptible to put on incorruption? When are the dead to be raised? 'Every man in his own order. Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming' [1Co 15:23]. Could there be more decisive proof that the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the sleeping saints, and the change of those who are alive, the fearful judgments which are to destroy the wicked, and the commencement of the reign of Christ, are all indissolubly linked together? They are all comprised in, and constitute, the grand epoch to which everything is tending, and with which nothing in the history of man, or of the world, can compare" (FLD 274).

1Co 15:56

THE STING OF DEATH IS SIN: The last enemy to be destroyed is the serpent's offspring: Gen 3:15; Jam 1:13-15.

THE POWER OF SIN IS THE LAW: The strength of sin, as a destroyer of men, lay in the law -- the law which, while holy and just and good, nevertheless condemned all men (even the most conscientious) to death as sinners. But in Christ, their righteousness was by faith in him (Rom 3:21,22) -- not their own righteousness, which was by the law, but the righteousness which was of God by faith (Phi 3:9).

1Co 15:58

Sowing: what to sow (Luk 8:11), what not to sow (Deu 22:9), how to sow (Psa 126:5,6), when to sow (Ecc 11:6), reward of sowing (1Co 15:58).

STAND FIRM: Cp v 2: holding firm to the faith.

ALWAYS GIVE YOURSELVES FULLY TO THE WORK OF THE LORD: "There is one thing you should do right now -- this very minute. Do it! Do not sidetrack it; do not procrastinate; do not fiddle with rubbish for mere 'amusement.' That's childish. That's babyish. Grow up! Do the thing right now that should be done. And make that the constant, purposeful, satisfying pattern of your life, from moment to moment. And do it cheerfully, heartily, thankfully, joyfully. Reluctant, unhappy, grudging service is an insult to God, and a self-imposed burden to ourselves. The thing to be done at the moment may be just nothing: it may be just waiting -- patiently and faithfully. Sometimes that's all there is to do. Sometimes that's all we have the physical capacity to do. But do it profitably, and in a godly manner. Fill the mind with profitable and godly thoughts. Always have something profitable at hand to read. Or, failing that, let your mind dwell on the rich treasure of information and instruction you have wisely stored up beforehand, while you had opportunity. Above all: never, never just sit and fret. That's destructive, physically, mentally and spiritually. Always be doing something useful" (GVG).

YOUR LABOR IN THE LORD IS NOT IN VAIN: "Do what you should, rather than what you want to. It will give you far more pleasure and satisfaction in the long run. It will lift you out of fleshly babyhood into spiritual maturity. Self-pleasing now means later regret, for self-pleasing has no lasting benefit. Duty now means permanent satisfaction: pleasure that not only lasts but compounds with time: pleasure that does not need a constantly accelerating input to maintain the output, like all the 'pleasures' of the world that cheatingly end the moment the passing ecstasy stops" (GVG).

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