WE ARE FAMILIAR with the three verbs Paul uses to
describe the evangel he brought to the Corinthians: died, entombed
and roused (1 Cor.15:1-4). To these the apostle adds a fourth term:
seen (15:5-11). He lists the occurrences when Christ was seen after
He was roused from the dead. This witness is now a triple-fronted defense
for the importance of the resurrection of Christ: (1) It is an
indispensable part of the evangel, being associated with God's power to
save. (2) It stands on the authority of the Scriptures. (3) It is a
documented historical fact.
Having laid this foundation, Paul addresses the
Corinthian problem with a question of surprise: ". . . How are some
among you saying that there is no resurrection of the dead?" He then
begins a logical, thorough and systematic presentation of the
indispensability of the resurrection. The Corinthians were among the
wisdom-seeking Greeks to whom the cross seemed stupidity (1 Cor.1:22,23).
Yet God's grace overflows, even to those holding the standards of current
human wisdom. And God's Word testifies to them, in the form of logical
reasoning, the essential truth of resurrection.
Five times, with various changes in wording, Paul
presents a hypothesis we summarize as: "If there is no resurrection
of the dead. . . ." Each time he gives the logical consequences which
uphold the necessity of the resurrection. In each case the statement
begins with "if." In four of the five statements the word
"dead" is used, and it is plural in each usage. This indicates
that Paul's argument is of universal scope. He is not arguing for the fact
of Christ's resurrection only. Twice he does deal specifically with
Christ's resurrection (verses 14 and 17), and there he uses the
sub-hypothesis: "if Christ has not been roused." The five
primary statements follow the Roman numerals in the outline that follows:
|I. If there is no resurrection
of the dead,
Then neither has Christ been roused;
if Christ has not been roused,
then for naught, consequently, is our heralding,
then for naught is your faith (v.14).
Then we are being found false witnesses also of
God, seeing that we testify by God that He rouses
Christ, Whom, consequently, He rouses not if so be
that the dead are not being roused (v. 15).
|II. If the dead are not being roused,
Then neither has Christ been roused (v.16);
if Christ has not been roused,
then vain is your faith,
then you are still in your sins (v.17)!
Then consequently those also, who are put to repose
in Christ perished (v.18).
|III. If we are having an expectation in
Christ in this fife only,
Then more forlorn than all men are we (v. 19).
(Here we skip to verse 29. Verses 20-28 form a parenthetical
statement brought on by the weight of the statement that Paul has
just made. Verse 29 picks up the argument again, though Paul
changes his format slightly.)
IV. If the dead are not being
Then what shall those be doing who are baptizing (V.29)?
Then baptism is for the sake of the dead absolutely;
why are they baptizing also for their sake (v.29)?
|V. If the dead are not being
Then (why suffer persecution for Christ?)
Why are we also in danger every hour? Daily am I dying.
By this boast of yours, brethren, which I have in Christ
Jesus our Lord, if, as a man, I fight wild beasts in Ephesus,
what is the benefit to me (vs.30-32)?
Then we may be eating and drinking, for tomorrow
we are dying (v.32).
|VI. The conclusion of the matter:
A. Be not deceived: evil conversations are
corrupting kind characters (v.33).
B. Sober up justly and do not be sinning,
for some have an ignorance of God (V.34).
C. To abash you am I saying it (v.34).
I. The first argument may be summarized as the
consequences to Paul's ministry if there is no resurrection of the dead.
The first consequence would be that Christ could not have risen, and
taking this first consequence as a sub-hypothesis ("if Christ
has not been roused"), Paul shows that the issue would be that both
his preaching and the faith of the Corinthians would be worthless.
Returning to his primary condition ("if
there is no resurrection of the dead"), the second consequence would
be that Paul and his fellow laborers are proven to be false witnesses of
God. This statement may be understood in two ways: (1) Paul and those who
ministered with him are liars in that they misrepresented God; or (2),
because they testified by God to the resurrection, God is a liar.
Such is the outcome if there is no resurrection of the dead.
II. The second argument may be summarized as the
consequence suffered by the Corinthians if there is no resurrection of the
dead. Since the faith of the Corinthians was established through Paul's
ministry, it will be seen that the second argument is parallel to and
overlaps the first. Again, two results are given which must follow the
condition of no resurrection. As before, the first is that Christ could
not have been roused, and again this would lead to two further
consequences: (1) the Corinthians' faith would be vain, and (2) the
Corinthians would still be in their sins. Simply put, if Christ has not
been roused, they have no salvation. This would then relate back to the
primary hypothesis: If there is no resurrection of the dead, then
there is no salvation.
The second consequence concerned the Corinthian
believers who had died. If the dead are not roused, then believers who
have died have perished. This statement speaks strongly and clearly about
the state of the dead. "Perished" can hardly be a viable term
for describing conscious existence, especially an existence in bliss with
Christ. As the third, fourth and fifth arguments will clearly confirm,
Paul did not believe the dead have a conscious existence.
III. The final three arguments present contradictions
that would confront the believer's life and faith if there was no
resurrection. The third argument very logically picks up where the second
left off. Its emphasis is on the obliteration of expectation created by
this false teaching. In Romans 8:24 Paul had said, "For to
expectation were we saved." What is the quality of life for believers
if they do not have the resurrection to look forward to? Paul rewords the
hypothesis to stress the blessing of expectation. Instead of saying,
"If there is no resurrection," or, "If the dead are not
being roused," he says in effect, "If our expectation in Christ
is only good as long as we are living this present fife . . . ." The
consequence would be that believers are more forlorn, in a more pitiful
condition, than all mankind. This statement is made in such unqualified
terms that it is surely worthy of careful consideration. Notice again that
there is no intimation of joy or reward in death.
It is the weight of this thought that causes Paul to
digress into the parenthetical passage (verses 20-28) that follows. There
Paul names Christ as the Firstfruit of the dead. As the Firstfruit, He is
both the assurance and the consecration of the harvest-resurrections to
follow. All will be vivified! Death will be abolished! All will be
subjected to God and God will become All in all! That is the glorious
achievement promised in the resurrection of Christ.
In the final two arguments Paul is putting the
Corinthians on the spot. As he mentions later, he is shaming and
embarrassing them into forsaking such an untenable doctrine.
IV. Much controversy has developed over this passage
composing Paul's fourth argument. The apostle begins by asking, How do
those who are baptizing reconcile this with their doctrine of no
resurrection? Baptism was an important issue to the Corinthians and had
even become a matter of controversy and strife (cf 1:10-17). Paul said the
Israelite patriarchs were "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in
the sea" (1 Cor.10:2). Their baptism was more than a passing through
water and deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea. It also included the
daily walk of following the pillar of cloud and fire. It also involved a
unity of eating and drinking of the same spiritual Rock, Christ. Paul
later said, "In one spirit we all are baptized into one body [a
living unity]...and all are made to imbibe one spirit" (1 Cor.12:13).
In Romans 6:3-11 he speaks of being baptized into Christ. And in
unmistakable terms he repeatedly explains that unity with Christ in death
is the basis for unity with Him in life.
In all these passages, Paul makes it clear that life,
new, resurrection life, is an inseparable part of the teaching of baptism.
If, then, there is no resurrection, the teachings of baptism are
meaningless. Why be involved with something that proclaims resurrection if
you do not believe in resurrection?
V. Paul's final argument needs little explanation. In
plain terms he says, "If there is no resurrection of the dead, there
is no reason or benefit for suffering persecution for Christ. If there is
no resurrection of the dead, eat and drink and take what enjoyment you can
from life, for tomorrow you will die, and that is the end." This
could not be said if there was any blessedness or benefit in the state of
VI. In concluding the matter, Paul make three points:
(1) Be not deceived! The results of entertaining such teachings and
teachers is corruption, of both faith and life. (2) Wake up to what is
going on and do not miss the mark of truth in correcting this matter. It
springs from an ignorance of God and His Word. (3) I have carried this
argument to the full extreme. Maybe I have even gone overboard, but my
purpose in doing so was to shame and stir you into doing what is right.
We have seen that resurrection is a vital aspect of our
faith. And in the parenthetical section of verses 20-28 we come to
appreciate how critical the resurrection of Christ is to all mankind and
God's purpose of becoming All in all. Thank God for the mighty operation
of His power in raising Christ from among the dead.
© J. Philip Scranton