1 Corinthians 15 is known as the “resurrection” chapter in the New Testament (just as 1 Corinthians 13 is referred to as the “love” chapter). The reason for this designation is not that Jesus being raised from the dead occurred at that time; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all describe that event in the last chapters of their gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. Nor does Paul mention it because it was the first time it was ever preached; that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Paul deems it necessary to cover the subject thoroughly because the concept of a future Resurrection Day was being challenged.
Who would dare to challenge this doctrine? Was it some former Sadducees who could not part with what they formerly believed? Or had someone influenced brethren in Corinth that “the resurrection is already past” (2 Tim. 2:16-18). As a result of this teaching, Hymenaeus and Philetus were “overthrowing the faith of some.” Perhaps they (or someone in agreement with them) had been at Corinth. We do not know the source of the error, but some were definitely spreading it in this city. How does one go about proving that there is a future resurrection? Although Jesus had promised it, John had not yet recorded what the Lord said in John 5:28-29. Paul chose a logical way to deal with the false teaching.
He begins by reminding them of their obedience to the gospel. That gospel message includes certain facts: 1) Jesus died on the cross for our sins; 2) Jesus was buried in a tomb; 3) Jesus was raised up from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures. They had received that gospel, which includes the Lord’s resurrection, and they continued to stand in it. It would save them, also—unless they had believed in vain (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Although Paul does not mention it here, he notes in Romans 6:3-5 that repentance and baptism involve our imitation of what the Lord did: We die to sin (repentance) and join Him in His death. We are buried in water as He was buried in the tomb. We arise to walk in newness of life the way the Lord was also raised up in a new existence. So the very gospel of Jesus, which we believe, involves the doctrine of the resurrection.
Jesus Was Raised
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached that the resurrection was foretold by David in Psalm 16:8-11. He also added that Jesus was seen by the twelve after rising; they were all witnesses. Paul does not take the time to make the same Scriptural argument that Peter did, but he does list several occasions on which reliable witnesses saw Jesus after He arose. Paul lists six of them; a more complete list finds seventeen.
1. Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18: Mark 16:9-11).
2. Mary Magdalene rejoined the other women: the other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and other women
3. Cephas (Simon Peter) (1 Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:34).
4. Cleopas and another disciple (Luke 24:12-32).
5. The apostles without Thomas (John 20:19-23).
6. The apostles with Thomas (John 20:24-29; 1 Cor. 15:5).
7. 500 brethren at once (1 Cor. 15:6).
8. James (1 Cor. 15:7).
9. Peter and 6 others at the lake (John 21).
10. The eleven in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20).
11. At the ascension (Acts 1:3-11).
12. Stephen (Acts 7:55).
13. Paul near Damascus (1 Cor. 15:8; Acts 9:3-6).
14. Paul in the temple (Acts 22:17-21).
15. Paul awaiting a hearing (Acts 23:11).
16. At Paul’s first defense (2 Timothy 4:17).
17. John on Patmos (Rev. 1:10-19).
The Flaw in the False Doctrine
Having established what the gospel is and that they had believed it, as well as listing various times Jesus was seen after He was raised up, Paul, in verse 12, asks a fundamental question of the church: “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” If no resurrection ever occurs, then Christ is not raised, either (v. 13). Then he provides several consequences that would result if Jesus did not actually come forth from the grave.
1. Our preaching is vain (14). No one would ever need to be evangelistic.
2. Your faith is vain (14, 17).
3. We are false witnesses (15). We are not just mistaken; we are all actual outright liars.
4. You are still in your sins (17).
5. Those who died in the faith have actually perished (18). They are not enjoying any reward.
6. If Christians only have hope now, we are to be pitied (19). Why? Because we lived and died based
on a lie. None of our expectations shall be met.
“Oh, but we never said any of those things,” one might imagine those in error as saying. “We don’t believe that. You’re not characterizing our position correctly.” That protest fails because everything Paul said was logical. If the dead rise not, then Jesus is not raised. If Jesus is not raised, these things Paul listed must follow. However, he says in verse 20; “But now Christ is risen from the dead….” From verses 21 to 28 Paul speaks on a related subject, but he returns to the list of reasons again in verse 29.
7. Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” Some believe that the Corinthians were baptized for those who had already died before obeying the gospel, much as Mormons think today that they can be baptized for their dead ancestors. Whatever the text means, it cannot mean that because the emphasis is in the wrong place. If the theory were true, then Paul should have said, “What will happen to all those people for whom you were immersed?” Instead, he asks what will happened to the ones being baptized for them, which would be a matter of small consequence since all it cost them was their time and getting soaked. The real concern should have been with those who were dead and remained lost.
8. Why did the apostles stand in jeopardy of losing their lives constantly (30-32a)? Paul continually put his life on the line every day in order to preach the gospel amidst strong opposition—prompted by Satan—who does not want anyone to be saved. Paul had even fought with wild beasts in Ephesus. Either this is literal or figurative. No record exists of a literal confrontation—even in the list of sufferings in his second epistle. How is it figurative?
Paul spent three years in Ephesus and wrote this letter to the Corinthians from there (1 Cor. 16:8-9). It was there that the gospel spread all over Asia Minor (Acts 19:8-10). Not only did he face the usual Jewish opposition, he also accumulated critics such as Demetrius and the silversmiths who caused an uproar because they made their living from making shrines honoring a local, revered goddess. Many citizens were no longer buying them; Paul’s preaching was threatening their livelihood. Another clue was that he admonished Christians there to put on the whole armor of God and to be ready for spiritual conflicts (Eph. 6:10-17). This may have been an ongoing struggle. Why fight all these battles if the dead do not rise? Just because it’s fun?
9. Christians might as well adopt the philosophy of the heathen: “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, let’s just give ourselves over to physical pleasure. None will exist after death, if the dead do not rise. All that we are ever going to have is in this life; so grab whatever is available. Such a philosophy is not conducive to morality; it would lead to stealing, adultery, maybe even murder. If there is no pleasure after death, there can be no punishment, either. A material world yields these results.
A Valid Principle
As a result of the truths that Paul has presented, he concludes with an oft-quoted verse: “Do not be deceived: evil company corrupts good habits.” The King James has: “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” What are the words used in the text? The word for “evil company” appears once as a noun [Strong, 3657]—homilia, from which we obtain homily. It is from homilos , “all who travel” (Rev. 18:17). Homileo , the verb, also derives from homilos (Luke 24:14-15, “talked together, communed”); Acts 20:11, “Paul talked a long while”; and Acts 24:26, Felix “conversed” with Paul. The word, then, includes companions, but usually they are engaged in a discussion.
Paul is talking about listening to false teachers—their evil communications—or as MacKnight put it, “profane discourses”—which is precisely what some in Corinth were doing, and it made this chapter on the resurrection necessary. When anyone communes with false teachers, those men exercise influence over him. First, they teach false doctrine, which, second, frequently leads to immorality, as Paul had just shown. If there is no resurrection, we may as well indulge ourselves in physical pleasures, for we are just going to die anyway. Their evil speech was corrupting good morals.
The word for “morals” is eethos , and it appears only here, but it derives from ethos , which is usually translated “custom” or “manner.” The good manners, morals, or customs, which brethren had been taught were in danger of being overthrown by the false doctrine that no future resurrection will occur.
The alternative, presented in verse 34, is to awake to righteousness. Some did not have the knowledge of God (that they once did); like the Galatians, they had removed themselves from it by listening to false teachers. The Greek word for “not having knowledge” is the one from which we obtain the word agnostic. This was shameful. One must listen to the right person. Whenever anyone starts contradicting God, he is not the right person to heed. When he begins to challenge the resurrection, one of the most fundamental teachings of Christianity, brethren should refuse to listen to him.
Advocates of the heresy in Corinth were mocking the idea of the resurrection by asking difficult questions, such as, “How are the dead raised up? And with what kind of body do they come?” (v. 35). Paul answers that what is sown is different from what is raised. Below is a correct contrast of the two.
Earthly (40) – Heavenly
Corruption (42) – Incorruption
Weak (43) – Powerful
Natural (44) – Spiritual
Mortal (53) – Immortal
Mocking the resurrection is mocking God. Paul concludes the chapter by showing that the resurrection is a vital Christian doctrine because it teaches that Christians can conquer death—through Christ. The Hadean world cannot retain its hold over Christians; Jesus gives us the victory over it. Jesus is our living hope (1 Peter 1:3-5). Paul closes with a final charge—to the Christian. Because the resurrection is true, Followers of Jesus should be steadfast and immoveable—always abounding in the work of the Lord (58). Materialism is not our guide nor earthly pleasure our goal. We are saved to serve God, as well as mankind.