1 Corinthians 15:35-16:24
First Corinthians 15 addresses those who say that there is no resurrection of the dead. In verses 1-11 Paul reviewed the basic gospel with its affirmation of Christ's resurrection. Verses 12-19 showed the worthlessness of Christian faith if Christ's resurrection is denied. Verses 20-28 affirmed resurrection hope for those who belong to Christ declaring that his resurrection had set in motion a series of events that would lead to the full exercise of the sovereignty of God. Verses 29-34 added two more arguments in support of the resurrection. Verses 35-49 turn to another question from the skeptics.
The Resurrection Body - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
One of the ways those questioning the resurrection expressed their doubts was by a mocking question, "What kind of body will those who are raised have?" It was easy enough to observe the decomposition of corpses in the weeks following death. There was a persistent influence in Greek culture that the human body was evil simply because of its physical nature. For people who believed a human body to be evil while the person was alive and who saw the corpse rot away after death the idea of resurrection of the body was odd, to say the least.
There are two clues that Paul especially felt the pressure of this objection. The first evidence is the opening word of verse 36. Nowhere else in his letters do we find Paul addressing an individual person as, "Fool." This is so harsh that not every English translation has been willing to transmit its forcefulness. Such a strong expression reveals Paul's frustration and how difficult the question was to answer. The second evidence of the difficulty of this question is the fact that Paul devotes 15 verses to respond to it.
Paul's point is simple: the resurrection body is different from the physical body, but it is recognizable. To make the point the apostle uses three analogies in verses 36-44. The first analogy is between resurrection bodies and seeds. Verses 36-38 introduce the analogy and Paul takes it up again in verses 42-44. The first point of comparison between seeds and resurrection bodies appears to be the necessity of death according to verse 36. A seed that is planted cannot come to life unless it dies. Paul does not seem to think that he will die so his point regarding the seed is that death does not mean the end. Seeds show the possibility of new life arising from death.
The second point of the seed illustration is that the new life is not identical to the seed. Verse 37 states that you do not plant the "body" which rises from the death of the seed. Rather the "naked" seed is planted but a plant grows up that is quite different from the seed. However, the difference is not random. Wheat seeds always produce wheat plants. Apple seeds always produce apple trees. Wheat seeds never produce apple trees.
Verse 38 summarizes the point, "God gives … to each kind of seed its own body." The seed illustrates the possibility of life out of death. The fact that the plant is not the same as the seed shows that the resurrection body will not be the same as one's physical body. The decomposition that characterizes the corpse need not happen to a resurrection body. But it can still be appropriately called a "body" because there will be some kind of continuity. Though the wheat stalk is not the same as the wheat seed, both are wheat. Though a person's resurrection body is not the same as that person's physical body, they both are that person!
Verse 39 points out that not all physical flesh is identical. Human beings, animals, birds, and fish all have different kinds of flesh. No one argues for the impossibility of fish because the basic physical process of human breathing is impossible under water. In the natural realm one accepts differences in the composition and form of bodies according to their environment and nature. Thus no one should deny the possibility of resurrection simply because human flesh as we now know it decomposes after death.
Verses 40-41 introduce another illustration that different bodies have different compositions. Paul mentions heavenly bodies and specifically refers to the sun, moon, and stars. Each heavenly body has a different kind of splendor, but no one thinks of arguing that one is impossible because it is not like the other. Fee (p. 783) points out that Paul has constructed the argument of verses 39-41 in a form called chiasm.
This careful structure reminds us that the patterns of thinking developed by oral cultures enabled Paul to organize his thoughts in a memorable pattern even while he was delivering significant theological concepts.
Verses 42-43 apply the illustrations that the apostle has given to the question of resurrection. Three rapid-fire contrasts paint the picture of the resurrection that Paul wants to portray. The earthly body is sown (buried) as that which is perishable or corruptible. The word means liable to decomposition. But it is raised imperishable, incorruptible, no longer liable to decomposition. The physical body is sown (buried) in dishonor. From the stand point of the Corinthians the physical body has no value or glory. However, in contrast it is raised with glory. The word of verses 40-41 was the word "glory" meaning splendor or brilliance with reference to the light of the sun, moon, and stars. The same word "glory" was used in Jewish writings to describe the splendid and beautiful existence of heaven and that is the use Paul appeals to in verse 43.
The final pair of contrasting terms is weakness and power. Weakness is the term Paul often used to describe human existence. Humanity is weak. We are susceptible to sickness and death. We fail to remember or to follow through on our promises. Our energy gives out at the most inopportune moments. Death is the ultimate expression of human weakness. Dreams, hopes, and promises are frustrated by death. The most serious human commitments vanish at death. All that human beings regard as powerful come to nothing at the moment of death. The physical body is sown (buried) in weakness.
But Paul proclaims that it is raised in power. The transformation from perishable to imperishable, from being with honor to the state of glory is climaxed by the transformation of weakness into power. Power identifies God. Power was the mark of spiritual forces that directed human affairs. Power was the substance of heavenly existence and resurrection signifies the release of God's power into the ultimate human weakness.
Though Paul has been implying contrasting types of bodies he now directly states it in verse 44. There is a physical body and there is a spiritual body. The words he uses are familiar from 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:1. The adjective translated "physical" here is psychikos the same word used in 1 Corinthians 2:14 to say that the psychikos person does not receive the things of the Spirit. The term is derived from the Greek word psyche which meant "self, person, or living being." It was used in the Greek translation of Genesis 2:7 where God breathed the breath of life into the first human body and the person became a "living psyche." A psychikos body is the psycho-somatic means of existence that we all share.
The other term is spiritual or pneumatikos. The Corinthians would have had difficulty understanding Paul's concept of a pneumatikos body. For that reason the apostle devotes verses 45-49 to attempting to the difference between a psychikos or physical body and a spiritual or pneumatikos body.
Paul turns to an analogy between Christ and Adam that he had already developed to clarify the difference between the physical and spiritual bodies. In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 the apostle had contrasted Adam and Christ. Both were representative beings who could be viewed from the perspective of their own personal and individual history or from the perspective of the group (race) of people springing from them. Here in verses 45-46 Paul's concern is with the group of people that derive from Adam and from Christ.
The opening expression of verse 45 virtually quotes the Greek text of Genesis 2:7. Only the words "first" and "Adam" are added to the text of Genesis 2:7. Adam was a living psyche. In contrast, the last Adam, Christ, became a "life-giving spirit." The word "last" may be an unfortunate translation. It does not imply the final Adam in a long series of Adams. Rather, the Greek word is eschatos from which we get eschatology - the study of end times. Thus the contrast is between the beginning of time Adam who was psyche and the end-times Adam who is spiritual.
The chronology is significant as verse 46 argues. The psychikos or physical came first and then came the spiritual. Part of Paul's point is that the Corinthians, as physical people, should not expect totally to comprehend the spiritual body. After all, it still lies ahead in human history.
The comparison with Adam is expressed in different terms in verses 47-49. Verse 47 defines Adam in terms of his earthly character and the chief element of his composition, dust. Christ is defined in terms of heaven. Verse 48 picks up the representative character of Adam and Christ and points out that those who derive from Adam are also defined in terms of earth and dust. Those who are defined in terms of Christ are defined in the terms of heaven.
Verse 49 re-states the case with one important shift. Just as we as descendants of Adam have borne the image and imprint of Adam, so we who belong to Christ will also bear the image and imprint of the one from heaven. The key shift is from the past tense to the future tense. Paul has finished this section by declaring that those who are Christ's will (at the second coming?) be in the image of Christ. He has already described Christ as spirit in verse 45. Thus the reader is left to conclude that those who belong to Christ will end up with a spiritual body as opposed to a physical body. The degree to which Christ's resurrection body by which he made appearances following the resurrection is the model for our resurrection bodies is not stated by Paul. Most Christians have assumed some similarity. Christ's resurrection body fits Paul's argument that the resurrection body is different in substance, but similar enough in form to be recognizable.
Our Confidence for the Future - 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
In a great crescendo Paul brings the argument of 1 Corinthians 15 to a climax in verses 50-58. These verses specifically answer the question raised in verse 35 of the kind of resurrection body to which Christians look forward. Though not all commentators agree, it appears that Paul discusses the transformation of those who are still alive at the second coming of Christ.
Verse 50 introduces the contrast Paul will make between those who are living and those who have died by the time of the second coming. The statement, "Flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God," is a statement about the living. Paul does not often mention the "kingdom of God" in his letters. First Corinthians contains more references to the kingdom than any other single writing of Paul. All but one of the New Testament references to inheriting the kingdom of God are found in Paul's letter, mostly in 1 Corinthians. The kingdom was Paul's way of speaking of the future consummation of the God's complete sovereignty. To inherit the kingdom was an expression he used to describe human participation in the benefits of that final climactic event of history. Flesh and blood, humanity as we now exist, cannot participate in the benefits of God's ultimate victory over evil.
Verse 51 then reveals the truth of the matter. The expression, "I will tell you a mystery," suggests that Paul is revealing to his readers truth that had been hidden in the previous ages of human history, but had been revealed in Christ. That truth is that not everyone will die, but we - those who belong to Christ - will be changed. The word that Paul uses here had a commercial background. It was used for money changing hands in a business deal. The idea is one of exchange. The flesh and blood bodies of believers who are alive at Christ's coming will not pass directly into heaven and resurrection existence. "We will be changed," Paul declares. The use of "we" shows that the apostle expects to still be alive to experience the transformation.
The change is not one we initiate, but it is accomplished by God. That is the point of the passive voice. Literally, we will be exchanged and the context makes clear that our flesh and blood, physical bodies will be exchanged for spiritual bodies.
That change will be instantaneous for all practical purposes. Verse 52 describes this transformation as occurring in the smallest unit of time. The instant of an eye flicking from one focus to another is all the time that will pass. At that time two things will happen. The dead will be raised and transformed from decomposing corpses to imperishable bodies and "we," the living, will be transformed from flesh and blood to spiritual bodies.
The transformation of both the dead and the living will take place "at the last trumpet." This is not a reference to the final trumpet in a series of trumpet sounds, but again the end-time (eschatos) trumpet. Jewish literature had many references to a trumpet blast signaling the end of this present, evil age. The similarity between verses 51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 is instructive.
At the last trumpet the perishable will be transformed into imperishable and the mortal will be transformed into immortality. When that happens Paul declares prophetic scripture will be fulfilled. The final sentence of verse 54 quotes fairly closely from Isaiah 25:8. Verse 55 gives a free paraphrase from Hosea 13:14. As Paul understood them these Scriptures spoke of the ultimate defeat of death, a victory that would finally be accomplished by the resurrection. In their Old Testament contexts these prophecies were part of a literary form called a "taunt song." In joyful anticipation of the final resurrection Paul taunts death asking it what became of its victory and where its sting had gone. It was the resurrection of Christ that guaranteed that final victory to be enjoyed by all God's people when death is put to death.
Verse 56 states that the sting of death is sin. By this Paul seems to mean that sin is the angry bee's stinger that leads to sickness and death. Fee (p. 805) states, "In Pauline theology sin is the deadly poison that has led to death." The second part of verse 56 declares that the power of sin is the Law. Paul understood that it was God's commandments that created the opportunity for Sin to enter. The free human choice to disobey God is the sad by-product of God calling for a free human choice to obey him.
But when the kingdom envisioned in verses 24-28 comes into reality death will be gone. That means that sin will be gone. That means that the Law will no longer be necessary. The promise of Jeremiah 31:33-34 will be fulfilled and obedience will be written into the fabric of the transformed human heart. At that day the struggles of human mortality and spiritual weakness will be over. Paul cannot help but rejoice with verse 57, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Significantly, the tense has changed back to the present in verse 57. The victory is not future; it is a present reality that has been brought about by the resurrection of Christ and it is being given to those who belong to Christ by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to imagine Paul giving no instruction on how to live the Christian life as follow-up to doctrinal teaching. Verse 58 provides that closing word of instruction. Appropriately it points out that a life of faithful obedience is not in vain.
Instructions About the Collection - 1 Corinthians 16:1-12
Chapter 16 begins with the familiar phrase, "now concerning," that indicates a response to a question in the letter from the Corinthians to Paul. The subject is "the collection." This is the first time in Paul's letters that we read of this offering. Second Corinthians 8-9 and Romans 15:25-32 provide more lengthy discussions of the collection. The word "collection," which literally means "taking up," and Paul's instructions here imply that the question in the Corinthian letter was about how to best get their money together. The passage in Romans gives more information about why the offering was needed. Apparently Paul had already explained that issue to the Corinthian church.
The picture that emerges from the three passages dealing with the collection is that of a massive effort by Paul to raise money for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem impoverished by a cycle of famines and economic depression in Palestine. Paul's own report of the Jerusalem Conference described in Acts 15 presumably appears in Galatians 2:1-10. (Some scholars believe Galatians 2 refers to a previous meeting alluded to in Acts 11:30.) The apostle concludes that the only request from Jerusalem was that he remember the poor.
Romans 15:26 mentions that the churches of Achaia and Macedonia participated in the collection. Second Corinthians 8 and 9 reveal Paul attempting to motivate the Corinthians to participate more generously by describing the generosity of the Macedonian believers. The Macedonian churches would include at least Philippi and Thessalonica. Thus the collection appears to have been raised by churches planted as a result of Greek portion of Paul's second missionary journey.
Verse 2 is significant in that it is one of the earliest indications of Sunday worship as the day of worship in the Greek-speaking portion of Christianity. Where the Christian church was primarily Jewish in composition it appears that worship was held on both the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord's Day. Paul advises the Corinthians to receive what money they could for the collection each Sunday they came together for worship.
Most commentators assume that the apostle thought such a strategy would raise more money than he could do with a single offering when he arrived. That is no doubt true, but Paul's statement in verse 2 is that the purpose of weekly offerings is so that no offering need be taken when he arrives. His goal was for the Corinthians to have finished their giving for the poor believers in Jerusalem by the time he arrived. Paul is then quite clear that he does not intend to take the money to Jerusalem himself. He instructs the Corinthians to select their own couriers to whom he will give appropriate letters of introduction and recommendation. If they desired he would consider accompanying the couriers, but he would not be responsible for taking the money to Jerusalem himself.
Verses 3-4 illustrate the early wisdom of Paul in caring for financial matters. The two greatest strikes against the Christian faith throughout church history have been incidents of sexual immorality by the clergy and suspicious handling of finances. Paul took care to see to it that there could be no suspicion raised against him or against the concept of the offering by the possibility of any funds being diverted to his personal use. If every Christian leader would use similar wisdom the reputation of the Christian faith would be much stronger throughout the world.
Verses 5-9 discuss Paul's travel plans as they related to the Corinthians. These verses are most helpful in helping us understand 1 Corinthians in relationship to the information provided in Acts to reconstruct the history of Paul's ministry. They also provide useful information not mentioned at all in Acts. These verses also provide important background for understanding 2 Corinthians. Second Corinthians 1:15-2:4 makes it clear that Paul did not complete the plans described here and that fact created problems for him with some of the Corinthians.
Verses 10-12 discuss the travel plans of Timothy and Apollos. The implication of these verses is that Paul had a certain responsibility for directing these "assistants" in his missionary work, though verse 12 makes it clear that he did not control Apollos' intentions.
Concluding Exhortations and Greetings - 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Verses 13-18 contain Paul's closing exhortations in 1 Corinthians. Verses 13-14 urge the Corinthians to be faithful, to stand firm, to be alert, to be strong, and to conduct all their relationships in love. Verse 14 provides a powerful reminder of chapter 13.
Verses 15-18 urge the Corinthians to put themselves at the service of the household of Stephanus. The language of these verses is a bit awkward. Perhaps Stephanus was the person Paul wanted to exercise pastoral leadership at Corinth. Perhaps the household of Stephanus was the "party" at Corinth that was most loyal to Paul. Perhaps members of the household of Stephanus were to be the ones who carried 1 Corinthians from Paul to Corinth and they would provide further explanation of his position on the difficult issues raised in this epistle. We do not know the exact nature of the relationships but these verses urge loyalty and support for Stephanus and the members of his household.
The final greetings of the letter come in verses 19-24. Verses 19-20 are similar to greetings statements found near the conclusion of almost all the Pauline letters. Verse 21 contains a one sentence greeting written by Paul himself. (The rest of the letter would have been written by a scribe.)
Verse 22 is more difficult to understand. Fee (p. 837) describes it as Paul's "last shot at his Corinthian opponents." He pronounces a curse on any who do not love the Lord. It is immediately followed by an Aramaic sentence, Marana tha, which means "Our Lord, come." This expression was used in early Christianity as a prayer for Christ's presence in the Communion meal.
For this reason several mid-twentieth century scholars suggested that 1 Corinthians was written to be "sermon" of the day it was read in Corinth and the closing words became the transition to the Lord's Supper. This liturgical interpretation of the conclusion is now waning in popularity.
Verse 23 gives a benediction of grace that is characteristic of Paul. Verse 24 provides a more personal note of conclusion as it extends the great apostle's love to the recalcitrant believers at Corinth. This verse is an appropriate ending to this letter of such puzzling problems and strong feelings. May God grant us the grace to conclude our communication with our most frustrating opponents with such words of love.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are a review and reflection on 1 Corinthians.
As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life. You may wish to spread this final review of 1 Corinthians out over a longer period of time than 6 days.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Corinthians 15:35-16:24. Look up the Scripture references that are given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you. Describe why they were significant.
2. Select a spiritual truth that has a personal application in your own life. Describe how it applies to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to live out of the confidence that hope in the resurrection makes available to us.
Second Day: Read 1 Corinthians 1- 3.
1. Now that you have finished your study of 1 Corinthians what impression of the Corinthians and their relationship with Paul do you get as you read 1 Corinthians 1:4-17?
2. In your own words summarize Paul's teaching on the message of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. What does the message of cross demand from you as you live your life in a very secular and self-centered world?
3. What is Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4? Write a brief prayer expressing your desire for maturity, wisdom, and to be truly spiritual.
4. What view of the church arises from 1 Corinthians 3:5-23? What areas of the life of your church need to change if your church is to live up to the vision of these verses? What can you do to facilitate those changes?
Third Day: Read 1 Corinthians 4-6.
1. What is the main message that you find in 1 Corinthians 4? What would need to change in your life for you to be able to say with Paul, "Be imitators of me?"
2. On the basis of chapters 5 and 6 write a brief statement of Paul's view of the sexual morality appropriate for members of the church. Is there anything he says that is not applicable to our contemporary church? If so what is it and why is it no longer applicable?
3. On the basis of 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 what is Paul's position on judging and believers going to court? What questions that modern believers deal with does Paul not cover in these chapters? How would suggest we deal with these new situations?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 7-10.
1. In review what issues seem most important to you in chapter 7? What issues do we deal with in today's church that Paul does not provide answers for? How would you extend his principles to deal with these new situations?
2. At the root of Paul's advice that seems to be against marriage is his conviction that the second coming was near and marriage would unnecessarily entangle believers in the short period before Christ returns. 1940 years have passed and Christ has still not returned. Does that make Paul's advice worthless? How should we interpret chapter 7 in light of the delay of Christ's coming?
3. Summarize your understanding of the problem Paul was dealing with in chapters 8-10.
4. What principles did Paul draw on to solve that problem? How are those principles applicable in the life of the church today?
Fifth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 11-14.
1. What problems in the life of the church does Paul deal with in these chapters? How would that list compare with a list of contemporary problems in the life of the church? How much have things changed?
2. Based on chapters 12 and 14 write out a brief statement of what you believe is a biblical view of the issue of speaking in tongues.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to teach you the kind of love described in chapter 13.
Sixth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 15-16.
1. On the basis of chapter 15, write a brief summary of your beliefs about the importance of the resurrection of Christ for Christian faith. Describe how the resurrection affects your own personal faith.
2. Review how you were taught and came to believe in the resurrection. Describe the strategies by which you believe the church can best keep this doctrine alive and meaningful for the next generation.
3. Review chapter 16. What final words would you write to the Corinthians based on what you have learned about them and their problems?