Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
It would seem that then, as now, certain elements within the church were challenging the resurrection− Paul is using a persuasive outline, and this is his thesis statement in which he points out that our entire faith is based upon the proposition that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
His first point is that Jesus has been seen by hundreds of people post resurrection− there are many eye witnesses who can still tell you that they saw Him. In the old Law, truth was established on the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses− Paul has hundreds of witnesses… and oh yes, he was also a witness. You might also note that he twice said “according to the Scriptures” in this paragraph. It should not have surprised anyone that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the third day since this had all be foretold in the Scriptures.
This is actually a very compelling argument because it might be possible to get a few people to conspire together to perpetrate a fraud, but the more people who participate in a lie, the higher the likelihood that someone will recant their story under pressure, and many of these had been under pressure. In fact, many had been pressured by Paul himself…
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. 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. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
Paul himself had persecuted the Church, had put serious physical pressure on people to renounce their faith, even to deny that they had seen the risen Christ, I would suspect. Yet they did not do so. Then he had been approached on that Damascus road by none other than the risen Christ Himself, and somehow, by God’s amazing grace, Paul had been not only saved from his egregious sins, but he became the Apostle to the Gentiles: He has given reliable testimony to the Corinthians about the resurrection of Christ, and it is because of the resurrection of Christ that they have a foundation of faith.
From here, Paul takes an unusual approach as he continues his case for the resurrection…
As Paul continues to make his case for the resurrection, he makes a point that should be self-evident: If Christ rose from the dead, then a Christian cannot say there is no resurrection of the dead, because if they do, they negate their own faith in Christ. It would appear from 15:12 that certain elements in the congregation were saying just that:
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? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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. (15:12-16)
Yes, it should be self-evident that there either is resurrection or there is not; there is no cherry picking in the matter of resurrection. He continues…
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (15:17-19)
To put it in its simplest form, you can’t really be a Christian and deny the resurrection, for denying resurrection of the dead entirely negates being a Christian.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (15:20)
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the gospel would be a lie; but He did rise from the dead!
In these verses, Paul gives a gospel “refresher course” to the Corinthians, reminding them that Jesus has risen, and that in due course, so will we. He was the first, having risen to reign over the kingdom of God. He reigns today as well, in anticipation of that Great Day when He will return at the consummation of the kingdom, to put an end to all evil on the earth and to raise all who have “fallen asleep” over the centuries (15:20-25).
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 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. 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. (15:26-28)
God has put every enemy under Christ’s feet; He will be the one to judge evil and death, and when this has been accomplished, God will reign over the consummated kingdom forever.
This short summary of the end of this world wasn’t placed in this chapter so that we might indulge in speculation about the details of The End. Rather, it is the conclusion of Paul’s point in the prior passage (15:12-19) in which he made the point that if there is no resurrection, our hope is all in vain. Remember, he is correcting misunderstandings about the issue of the resurrection of the dead, as well as any contentions about the resurrection of Christ.
Before we continue, I wonder how we react when people speculate in our midst about such things. To be clear, I am not referring to unbelievers, I mean people who say they follow Christ. Quite a few Christians question whether or not Jesus actually rose from the grave in bodily form, suggesting that His resurrection was more a spiritual thing, something mystical perhaps, but not physical. Even worse, some even suggest that the whole resurrection is sort of a myth, an oral tradition… or maybe something figurative.
How would we respond to that?
Paul’s reaction is found here in chapter 15− and he isn’t quite finished yet.
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? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 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.”
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 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.
1 Corinthians 15:29-34
Reading this passage, one might have the impression that Paul is going for the kill in dealing with the issues relating to the resurrection that he has been discussing in this section. We might even detect the presence of a bit of ad hominem here. An argument is said to be ad hominem when a person attacks another person in stead of that person’s position on an issue. In our time, we should be quite familiar with ad hominem attacks, for the entire political world is engaged in such tactics. Just turn on any cable news station this afternoon, and you will see examples of this. If someone attacks you for your faith, saying you are “deluded, deranged and dangerous”, you have just received an ad hominem attack.
An ad hominem argument is a logical fallacy, and if this paragraph was all that Paul wrote on the issue in 1 Corinthians, it would’ve been a fallacious argument. However, in this case, after having addressed the actual issue very thoroughly, Paul is really using it as a sort of wake-up call for any remaining holdouts to really consider how poor their arguments against the resurrection are.
He begins with a practice of being baptized for the dead. Read his words carefully and ask yourself if he was endorsing the practice.
We might even infer that whoever was doing this was also promoting the no resurrection point of view: It sounds an awful lot like ridicule to me.
Look at vv. 30-32 in which Paul puts forth a comparison and contrast between his constant danger of being arrested and/or killed for preaching the gospel, and the whole notion of “eat, drink and be merry”. If there were no hope of a resurrection, why would he and those with him expose themselves to such danger? If there is no resurrection, there could be no judgement or eternity, and if that were true, why not eat, drink and be merry?
He winds up this part of the discussion by calling on everyone to set aside such nonsense and to be sensible on the subject. Instead of spreading such ridiculous thinking, they should be spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, and just to be clear about everything, yes, he was trying to shame them.
I can’t help but wonder how our reactions to such teaching would compare to Paul’s.