Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;Ch. 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. The Doctrine of the Resurrection
1. Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you] This gospel was indeed good tidings. Beside the fact that Christ had been offered for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) St Paul, as well as the rest of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:11), taught that He had risen again in order to communicate to us that new and Divine life whereby our own resurrection should be assured—a life which should make the human body, though laid in the grave, a seed from whence in God’s own good time, a new and more glorious body should arise. This chapter is one of the deepest and most mysterious in the Bible. It is the one exception to the statement in ch. 3 that St Paul was unable to feed the Corinthians with meat; for it ranks with the profound exposition of the principles of Justification in the Epistle to the Romans, and the weighty but most difficult enunciation of the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge and man’s call in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. The chapter may be divided into six parts. See Introduction.
which also you have received] Rather, which ye received, that is, when it was preached.
and wherein ye stand] Stand fast, that is, against the assaults of sin. Cf. Romans 5:2; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:13-14. Our faith in Christ, the giver of the new life of holiness, can alone defend us from evil.
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.2. by which also ye are saved] i.e. are in a state of safety, the verb being in the present tense. The idea includes safety from sin as well as its punishment. See St Matthew 1:21.
if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you] Literally, if ye hold fast the discourse with which I proclaimed good tidings to you.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;3. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received] The close resemblance of this passage to the Apostles’ Creed shews that this summary of the doctrines of our faith is actually what it professes to be, a short compendium of Apostolic teaching. Irenaeus, a writer in the second century, and a careful observer of Apostolic tradition, gives a very similar summary in his treatise against Heresies, Book iii. c. 4. Dean Stanley calls attention to the fact that this bold affirmation of the truth of the Resurrection, possibly the earliest we have (see above ch. 1 Corinthians 11:23) was written barely twenty-five years after the event St Paul does not state here from whom he received his doctrine, but he must have acquired some elementary instruction in the first principles of the Christian faith from his intercourse with the disciples (Acts 9:19), and even at his admission into the Christian body. And what he had received from others he tested by examination of the Scriptures, by prayer and silent communing with God, till it became his own, by revelation and by that inward conviction which none but God can give. See Galatians 1:12; Galatians 1:16.
died for our sins] Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Corinthians 8:11. Also St Matthew 20:28; St Mark 10:45; Romans 5:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Peter 1:19, &c.
according to the scriptures] What Scriptures? Those of the O. T., clearly. Those of the New (see ch. 1 Corinthians 4:6 and note) were hardly any of them in existence. If it be asked what Scriptures of the O. T. are meant, we may refer to Psalms 22.; Isaiah 53., as well as to Genesis 22.; Deuteronomy 9:24-26; Zechariah 12:10. For the same words in the next verse see Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10; Hosea 6:2; Jonah 2:10. This latter passage having been applied to the Resurrection by Christ Himself (St Matthew 12:40; Matthew 16:4), may not unnaturally be conceived to be among those St Paul had in his mind here.
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:4. was buried, and that he rose again] Literally, was buried and hath risen again, the aorist referring to the single act, the perfect to Christ’s continued life after his Resurrection.
And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:5. of Cephas] See Luke 24:34. St Paul and St John alone use the Aramaic form of the Apostle’s surname, the former only in this Epistle and once in the Epistle to the Galatians. This, coupled with the fact that St John only uses the Aramaic form in the narrative in ch. John 1:42, is one of those minute touches which speak strongly for the genuineness of his gospel.
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.7. of James] It would seem from this (see Stanley and Alford) that St James was an Apostle. But it does not necessarily follow that he was one of the twelve. See Professor Plumptre’s elaborate note on the brethren of our Lord in the Commentary on St James in this series.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.8. of me also, as of one born out of due time] Deed borun, Wiclif. The word here (after Tyndale) translated born out of due time refers to a birth out of the usual course of nature (cf. Psalm 58:8), about which there is therefore, (1) something violent and strange. Such was the nature of St Paul’s conversion, an event unparalleled in Scripture. Moreover, (2) such children are usually small and weakly, an idea which the next verse shews St Paul also had in mind. St Paul saw the Lord on more than one occasion. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 9:1.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.9. because I persecuted the church of God] Acts 7:58; Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1. Cf. Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13.
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.10. But by the grace of God I am what I am] St Paul is willing to admit his personal inferiority to the other Apostles, but such willingness does not lead him to make a similar admission regarding his work. For that was God’s doing, not his, or only his so far as God’s grace or favour enabled him to perform it. See ch. 1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 3:9, and cf. St Matthew 10:20; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 3:7; Php 2:12-13.
I laboured more abundantly than they all] St Paul does not hesitate to place his labours for the Gospel’s sake on a par with, or even above, those of the twelve. The work of an Apostle of the Gentiles must necessarily have been more arduous than that of an Apostle of the Jews
Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.11. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed] The word preach (derived from the Latin praedicare, to proclaim) has now acquired the conventional sense of discoursing publicly about religion. The word used by St Paul refers to the work of a herald, the formal proclamation of matters of importance by one who was commissioned to make it. The substantial identity of the message, by whomsoever it was at first delivered, is a matter of fact, as the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists plainly shew. “By his earnestness in saying this, the Apostle testifies to the immense value and importance of historical Christianity.” Robertson.
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?12. how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?] There were three different schools of thought among those outside the Christian Church which denied the doctrine of the Resurrection from the dead. The first was the materialistic school, represented by the Epicureans among the heathen and by the Sadducees among the Jews. They thought that man would entirely cease to exist after death, and that any other idea was only the result of man’s vanity and his insatiable longing after existence. The second, in which the Stoics were the most prominent body, taught, what amounted to the same thing, the Pantheistic doctrine of the ultimate reabsorption of the soul into the Divinity from which it had sprung, and therefore the final extinction of the individual personality. The third school, of which the disciples of Plato were the chief representatives, while maintaining the eternal personality and immortality of the soul, regarded matter as the cause of all evil, the only barrier between the soul and the Absolute Good, a thing, in fact, essentially and eternally alien to the Divine, and therefore could not conceive of immortality except through the entire freedom of the soul from so malignant and corrupting an influence. Hence the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body was the principal stumbling-block in the way of an early reception of Christianity. It aroused the antagonism of an influential section among the Jews (Acts 4:1-2; Acts 5:17; Acts 23:6-9), and was considered by heathen philosophers inadmissible and absurd (Acts 17:32). This doctrine for many centuries has proved the principal hindrance to the progress of Christianity. It produced the numerous Gnostic sects, which were willing to accept the doctrine of eternal life through Christ, so long as it was not encumbered by the necessity of believing in the resurrection of the body. The Manichaeans and their followers maintained for many centuries a conflict with the Christian Church, mainly on this point, and were able for many years to boast of so distinguished a convert as St Augustine, who describes them, after his return to the Church, as holding that “Christ came to deliver not bodies but souls.” De Haer. 46. For information concerning the tenets of the heathen philosophers on this point, the student may consult Archer Butler’s Lectures on Philosophy; for the early Christian heretics, Neander and Gieseler’s Church Histories, and Mansel’s Gnostic Heresies, and for both Ueberweg’s History of Philosophy,
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:13. But if there be no resurrection of the dead] The question has here been raised, against whom was St Paul contending? against those who maintained the immortality of the soul, but denied the resurrection of the body, or those who maintained that man altogether ceased to exist after death? 1 Corinthians 15:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32 would appear to point to the latter class, but this (see note on 1 Corinthians 15:17) cannot be affirmed with certainty. There were some, moreover (see 2 Timothy 2:17-18), who perverted St Paul’s teaching (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:1) into the doctrine that the resurrection taught by the Apostles of Jesus was the spiritual awakening from sin to righteousness, the quickening of moral and spiritual energies into activity and predominance. The fact would seem to be that St Paul so contrived his argument as to deal with all antagonists at once. The whole question whether there were a future life or not, according to him, depended on the fact of Christ’s Resurrection. If He were risen, then a resurrection of all mankind was not probable, but certain. If He were not risen, then there was not only no resurrection, but no immortality, no future life at all (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14, as well as 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 of this chapter).
then is Christ not risen] If a resurrection from the dead be impossible, the principle embraces the Resurrection of Christ Himself, which, if this postulate be granted, becomes at once either a mistake or an imposture. And since, on the Apostle’s principles, there is no hope of a future life but through Him, we are driven to the conclusion—a reductio ad absurdum—that “the answer to His prayer ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,’ was Annihilation! that He Who had made His life one perpetual act of consecration to His Father’s service received for His reward the same fate as attended the blaspheming malefactor.” Robertson. And we must infer also, he continues, that as the true disciples of Christ in all ages have led purer, humbler, more self-sacrificing lives than other men, they have attained to this higher excellence by “believing what was false,” and that therefore men become more “pure and noble” by believing what is false than by believing what is true.
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.14. vain] i.e. useless, in vain, as we say. Literally, empty. Vulg. inanis. “You have a vaine faith if you believe in a dead man. He might be true man, though He remained in death. But it concerns you to believe that He was the Son of God too. And He was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.’ Romans 1:4.” Dr Donne, Sermon on Easter Day.
Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.15. Yea, and we are found false witnesses] Not only is our authoritative proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection useless, but it is even false, though it has been made from the beginning. See Acts 1:22; Acts 2:24; Acts 3:15; Acts 3:21; Acts 4:2; Acts 4:10; Acts 4:33; Acts 5:30; Acts 10:40; Acts 13:30; Acts 13:33-34, &c. Dean Stanley reminds us that this Epistle was written within twenty-five years of the event to which it refers with such unhesitating confidence. Yet that event is not merely affirmed, but is actually made the foundation of the Apostle’s whole argument. “There is a certain instinct within us generally which enables us to detect when a man is speaking the truth.… Truth, so to speak, has a certain ring by which it may be known. Now, this chapter rings with truth.” Robertson. It certainly has not the appearance of having been written by a man who was endeavouring to persuade others of what he did not believe himself.
of God] i.e. concerning Him, but the genitive (which is here found in the original) implies also that they had claimed to be God’s special ministers and witnesses.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.17. your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins] Christ came, not only to make reconciliation for sin, but to free us from it. Cf. Romans 6:11-23; Romans 8:2. And this He did by proclaiming a Life. He first conquered sin Himself. Then He offered the acceptable Sacrifice of His pure and unpolluted life to God in the place of our corrupt and sinful lives. And then, having at once vindicated the righteousness of God’s law and fulfilled it, He arose from the dead. Having thus led sin and death captive, He redeemed us from the power of both by imparting His own Life to all who would enter into covenant with Him. Thus the Resurrection of Christ was the triumph of humanity (see 1 Corinthians 15:21) over sin and death; the reversal of the sentence, ‘the soul that sinneth, it shall die.’ Had He not risen from the dead, humanity had not triumphed, the sentence had not been reversed, man had not been delivered from the yoke of sin, and therefore those who had ‘fallen asleep’ could never wake again. “None of these things would have taken place, had He not emerged victor from the conflict by rising again.” Calvin.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.18. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ] See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 7:39. “The word does not apply to the soul, for that does not sleep (Luke 16:22-23; Luke 23:43), but it describes the state of the bodies of those who sleep in Jesus.” Wordsworth.
are perished] “You are required to believe that those who died in the field of battle, bravely giving up their lives for others, died even as the false and coward dies. You are required to believe that when there arose a great cry at midnight, and the wreck went down, they who passed out of the world with the oath of blasphemy or the shriek of despair, shared the same fate with those who calmly resigned their departing spirits into their Father’s hand;” in short, “that those whose affections were so pure and good that they seemed to tell you of an eternity, perished as utterly as the selfish and impure. If from this you shrink as from a thing derogatory to God, then there remains but that conclusion to which St Paul conducts us, ‘Now is Christ risen from the dead.’ ” Robertson.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.19. we are of all men most miserable] Literally, more to be pitied than all men. Because of the sufferings and labours and persecutions they endured for a creed which was false after all. See notes on ch. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.20. But now is Christ risen from the dead] St Paul considers it needless to argue the point further. He appeals not so much to the reason—on points like this (see ch. 1 Corinthians 2:14) it is likely to deceive us—as to the moral instincts of every human being. Of course a man has power to stifle them, but they tell him plainly enough that love of purity and truth, desire of immortality, belief in the love and justice of God, are no vain dreams, as they would be if the ‘wise man died as the fool’ (Ecclesiastes 2:16). Accordingly, the Apostle now (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) proceeds to unfold the laws of God’s spiritual kingdom as facts which cannot be gainsaid. He may appeal (as in 1 Corinthians 15:29-32) to his own practice and that of others as a confirmation of what he says. But from henceforth he speaks with authority. He wastes no more time in discussion.
and become the firstfruits of them that slept] The firstfruits (Leviticus 23:10) were the first ripe corn, under the Law, solemnly offered to God, a fit type of Him Who first presented our ripened humanity before the Throne of God, an earnest of the mighty harvest hereafter to be gathered.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.21. For since by man came death] Cf. Romans 5:12; Romans 5:17; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23; James 1:15; and the narrative in Genesis 3.
by man came also the resurrection of the dead] Athanasius remarks that here we have not παρά but διά, as pointing out that even in Jesus Christ man was not the source, but the means of the blessings given to mankind in Him; that He took man’s nature in order to fill it, and through it us, each in our measure, with all the perfections of His Godhead. “As by partaking of the flesh and blood, the substance of the first Adam, we came to our death, so to life we cannot come unless we do participate in the flesh and blood of the Second Adam, that is, Christ. We drew death from the first by partaking of the substance; and so we must draw life from the second by the same. This is the way; become branches of the Vine and partakers of His Nature, and so of His life and verdure both.” Bp Andrewes, Serm. 2 on the Resurrection.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.22. For as in Adam all die] In the possession of a common nature with Adam all mankind are liable to death.
even so in Christ shall all be made alive] By possession of a common nature with Christ all shall partake of that Resurrection to which He has already attained. Cf. St John 5:21; John 6:27; John 6:39-58; John 11:25.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.23. But every man in his own order] This explains why the last verb in 1 Corinthians 15:22 is in the future. Christ’s resurrection must necessarily precede in order the resurrection of the rest of mankind, for as in the world at large, so in every individual, the natural necessarily (1 Corinthians 15:46) precedes the spiritual. Christ’s mediatorial work was, in truth, but begun when He ascended to His Father. It continues in the gradual destruction of the empire of sin, the ‘bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Meanwhile the natural order for the present still exists. We live under it, subject to the law of sin and death, until Christ, having first destroyed the former (1 Corinthians 15:24-25), shall finally, as a consequence, destroy the latter (1 Corinthians 15:26), and then, and not till then, shall we be made fully partakers of the completed work of Christ.
Christ the firstfruits] Cf. Acts 26:23; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; also St John 14:19. “How should He be overcome by corruption, Who gave to many others the power of living again? Hence He is called ‘the first-born from the dead,’ ‘the firstfruits of them that slept.’ ” Cyril of Alexandria.
at his coming] The word here translated coming is most nearly expressed by our English word arrival. It implies both the coming and having come. See ch. 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6. It is the usual word used for the Second Coming of Christ, as in St Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:39, and 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15. We are not restored to life until Christ comes again, because not till then will the present, or natural order of things, be brought to an end, and the spiritual order of things be finally and fully inaugurated, so that ‘God will be all in all.’ See succeeding notes, and note on last verse.
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.24. Then cometh the end] The end, the completion, that is, of the present order of things, when sin and death cease to be, and ‘the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,’ Revelation 11:15.
when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father] The passage suggests to us the idea of a prince, the heir-apparent of the kingdom, going out to war, and bringing the spoils and trophies of his conquest to his father’s feet. Such an idea must have recurred with fresh vividness to the minds of the early Christians a few years afterwards, when they saw Titus bringing the spoils of the holy city of the old covenant, the ‘figure of the true,’ to his father Vespasian, and must have led them to look forward with eager expectation to the time when types and shadows should have their end, and the kingdom be the Lord’s, and He the governor among the people. At the Last Day, Christ as man shall receive the submission of all God’s enemies, and then lay them, all His triumphs, all those whom He has delivered captive from the hand of the enemy, at His Father’s feet. “Not,” says Estius, “that Christ shall cease to reign,” for ‘of His kingdom there shall be no end,’ St Luke 1:33 (cf. Daniel 7:14; Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 2:8), but that He will, by laying all His conquests at His Father’s feet, proclaim Him as the source of all authority and power. There were certain heretics, the followers of Marcellus of Ancyra, who taught that Christ’s kingdom should come to an end, holding the error of the Sabellians that Christ was an emanation from the Father, and would be finally reabsorbed into the Father’s personality. It is supposed that the words, “Whose kingdom shall have no end,” were inserted in the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople, a. d. 381, with a view to this error. The words, God, even the Father, are perhaps best translated into English by God the Father. So Tyndale renders.
when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power] Put down, literally, brought to an end. See ch. 1 Corinthians 13:10. All rule, that is, all exercise of authority save his own; princehead, Wiclif; all authority, that is, the right to exercise dominion; all power (virtus, Vulg.; vertu, Wiclif, see note on ch. 1 Corinthians 1:18), that is, all the inherent faculty of exercising authority. For earthly relations, such as those of father, magistrate, governor, prince, are but partial types and manifestations of the Divine Headship. Even Christ’s Humanity is but the revelation and manifestation of the Being of God. But ‘when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.’ Such human relations shall cease, for they shall be no more needed. Cf. Colossians 2:10.
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.25. For he must reign] i.e. Christ as Man and Mediator. For at present we can only discern God through the medium of Christ’s Humanity. Cf. St John 12:45; John 14:9. In the end, we shall be able to ‘see Him as He is,’ 1 John 3:2. For the present He must reign in His Church, in His sacraments and ordinances, in His ministers, ecclesiastical and secular (Romans 13:4; Romans 13:6), all of them (see last note) the reflex of His power as He sits at God’s Right Hand.
till he hath put all enemies under his feet] Either (1) the Father, Who put all things under His Son, or (2) Christ, Who puts all things under His own feet. The analogy of Psalm 110:1 (cf. St Matthew 22:44) would cause us to suppose the former; the grammatical construction, as well as the course of the argument, the latter. The enemies are all who ‘oppose and exalt themselves above all that is called God or an object of worship’ (2 Thessalonians 2:4), and therein especially pride of rank, wealth, intellect, reason, whatever casts off or disowns the universal empire of God. Cf. Ephesians 1:21-22; Php 2:10; Php 3:21 (in the Greek); Hebrews 1:4. “This passage,” says Cyril of Jerusalem, “no more implies a cessation of the reign of Christ than the words ‘from Adam until Moses’ (Romans 5:14) imply a ‘cessation of sin after Moses.’ ”
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.26. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death] Cf. Revelation 20:14. Death shall be the last of all, because (Romans 6:23) it is the ‘wages of sin,’ and must continue to exist until sin has come to an end. Then what we know as death, the separation of soul and body, the dissolution of the complex nature of man into its constituent elements, shall henceforth cease to be.
For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.27. For he hath put all things under his feet] Here the meaning clearly is (see Psalm 8:6, and the rest of this verse) that the Father hath put all things under the feet of the Son. “All things are put under His feet,” says Cyril of Alexandria, “because He made all things.” St John 1:3; John 1:10; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1.
it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him] This passage ought to be compared with the analogous one in Hebrews 2:7-9. Each of these supplies what is wanting in the other. In the one we have the Son, the manifestation of the Father’s glory and love, bringing everything in this lower world, which the Father has put under Him, into the most complete subjection to, and the most entire union with, His Heavenly Father. In the other we see the Eternal Father, while permitting, for His own wise purposes, the humiliation and suffering of Christ, doing so in order that all things should finally be put in subjection to ‘His Beloved Son, in Whom He was well pleased.’
And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.28. And when all things shall be subdued unto him] If everything is put under Christ, it is in order that there may be no divided empire. ‘I and my Father are One,’ He said (St John 10:30). Cf. St John 17:11; John 17:22, as well as ch. 1 Corinthians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 11:3 of this Epistle.
then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him] This passage is one of great difficulty. Athanasius gives two explanations of it; (1) in his treatise De Incarnatione, that Christ is subject to God not in Himself, but in His members; (2) in his first dialogue against the Macedonians (so also Chrysostom), that Christ is subject not by the nature of His Divinity, but by the dispensation of His Humanity. “For this subjection,” he further remarks, “no more involves inferiority of essence, than His subjection (St Luke 2:51) to Joseph and Mary involved inferiority of essence to them.” Hooker remarks (3) of Christ’s mediatorial kingdom on earth, that “the exercise thereof shall cease, there being no longer on earth any militant Church to govern,” and regards the passage as referring to the surrender, on Christ’s part, of that mediatorial kingdom at the end of the world. Cyril of Jerusalem (4) regards the subjection as one of voluntary surrender, as opposed to necessity. But perhaps (5) the true explanation may be suggested by the passage in Philippians 2, as translated by some, ‘He snatched not greedily at His equality with God.’ Though He were God, yet He was always a Son. And the object of His mediatorial work was not, as that of the unregenerate man would have been, to obtain this kingdom for Himself, but for His Father. See St Matthew 26:39; St John 5:30; John 6:38; John 7:18; John 8:50; John 8:54; Ephesians 1:10. So that the disorder and confusion of the universe shall henceforth cease, and one vast system of order, peace and love shall reign from the Father and source of all things, down to the meanest creature to whom He has given to have eternal life. And this was the object of His Resurrection from the dead. See last note.
that God may be all in all] The restoration of God’s kingdom over the moral and spiritual part of man was the object of Christ’s Mission on earth, St Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:33, and ch. 13.; St John 3:5; John 3:17; Romans 8:2; Romans 8:4. This was to be brought to pass by means of the revelation of the Divine perfections in the Man Christ Jesus, St John 1:14; John 14:8-10; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9. God was thus revealed to us, that we might obtain fellowship with Him. See St John 16:23-28; Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:20. “Therefore He is called the door, and the way, because by Him we are brought nigh to God.” Athanasius. And thus in the end each believer will have immediate and individual relations, not only with the Man Christ Jesus, but with the whole of the Blessed Trinity. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 13:12. For all in all see ch. 1 Corinthians 12:6. Theodoret remarks that the same expression is used of Christ in Colossians 3:11. Cf. St John 17:22-23; John 14:23; John 16:7; John 16:13-14; 1 John 2:24; 1 John 4:13.
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?29. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead] St Paul now abruptly changes the subject, and appeals to the conduct of Christians as a witness to their belief. This is again a passage of extreme difficulty, and it would be impossible to notice one tithe of the explanations which have been proposed of it. We will only touch on three: (1) the natural and obvious explanation that the Apostle was here referring to a practice, prevalent in his day, of persons permitting themselves to be baptized on behalf of their dead relatives and friends. This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that Tertullian, in the third century, mentions such a practice as existing in his time. But there is great force in Robertson’s objection: “There is an immense improbability that Paul could have sustained a superstition so abject, even by an allusion. He could not have spoken of it without anger.” The custom never obtained in the Church, and though mentioned by Tertullian, is as likely to have been a consequence of this passage as its cause. Then there is (2) the suggestion of St Chrysostom, that inasmuch as baptism was a death unto sin and a resurrection unto righteousness, every one who was baptized was baptized for the dead, i.e. for himself spiritually dead in trespasses and sins; and not only for himself, but for others, inasmuch as he proclaimed openly his faith in that Resurrection of Christ which was as efficacious on others’ behalf as on his own. There remains (3) an interpretation suggested by some commentators and supported by the context, which would refer it to the baptism of trial and suffering through which the disciples of Christ were called upon to go, which would be utterly useless and absurd if it had been, and continued to be, undergone for the dying and for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:18). The use of the present tense in the verb baptized, the close connection of the second member of the sentence with the first, and the use of the word baptized in this sense in St Matthew 3:11; Matthew 20:12, are the grounds on which this interpretation may be maintained.
And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?30. And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?] Not only those who were daily being baptized for the dead witnessed to the universal belief among Christians in a resurrection, but the lives of daily peril in which St Paul and the other missionaries of the Gospel lived were sufficient evidence that they did not conceive all their hopes to be summed up in this life.
jeopardy] Pereil, Wiclif. Jeoperty, Tyndal. This word is derived from the French jeu parti, drawn game. It is spelt jupartie by Chaucer, and is mentioned by Ben Jonson as one of three English words only in which the diphthong eo appears. The others are yeoman and people. Leopard was probably a trisyllable in his day. The other derivations, jeu perdu, given by Minsheu in his Ductor in Linguas, published in 1617, and j’ai perdu, seem less agreeable to the meaning of the word, which clearly indicates a position of the utmost danger, in which the chances for death and life are equal. Cf. Shakspeare’s “at the hazard of a die.”
I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.31. I protest by your rejoicing] The word here rendered rejoicing is translated boasting in Romans 3:27, and less correctly whereof I may glory in Romans 15:17. It may mean either (1) that St Paul boasted of the fruits of faith in his Corinthian converts, or better (2) that their boasting in Christ was also his by reason of their common indwelling in Jesus Christ, Whom he had been permitted to minister to them. Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Corinthians 3:3. He makes this asseveration, because it was to that daily death of his (ch. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13) that they owed their conversion.
I die daily] Cf. Romans 6:3-4; Romans 6:11; Romans 7:24; Romans 8:13; Romans 8:36; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 4:10-12; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24; Galatians 6:14; Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:3; Colossians 3:5. The death of Christ was a death to sin, a death which must be imitated in His disciples by their putting all the sinful affections of their bodies to a lingering death. But such a task they would never be likely to undertake, but for the prospect of a Resurrection.
If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.32. If after the manner of men] After man, Wiclif. Either (1) as margin, ‘to speak after the manner of men,’ or (2) for purely human and temporal objects, like those of men in general. See for this expression ch. 1 Corinthians 3:3, and Romans 3:5, Galatians 1:11; Galatians 3:15.
I have fought with beasts at Ephesus] It must have been a metaphorical, not a literal fighting with beasts of which the Apostle spoke. His Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37; Acts 22:25) protected him from being thrown to the lions in the arena. And it is generally believed that he eventually died by the sword, as a Roman citizen. He means to say that he contended with men who had the passions of beasts (as in Acts 19:29-34, though it is not certain that this particular event had yet occurred). So did Ignatius afterwards, who, referring to the demeanour of the Roman legionaries by whom he was conducted to Rome, says, “I am bound to ten leopards, that is, a troop of soldiers, who are only made worse by kindnesses.” Cf. Ad Romans 5. 2 Timothy 4:17. Also Psalm 22:20-21; Psalm 35:17.
what advantageth it me] i.e. as we should say, where is the use of it?
let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die] “With our hopes of immortality gone, the value of humanity ceases” and life becomes not worth living. “Go, then, to the sensualist Tell him that the pleasure of doing right is a sublimer existence than that of self-indulgence. He will answer you … ‘The victory is uncertain, present enjoyment is sure.’ … Do you think you can arrest that with some fine sentiment about nobler and baser being? Why, you have made him out to be base yourself. He dies, you tell him, like a dog. Why should he live like an angel?… The instincts of the animal will be more than a match for all the transcendental reasonings of the philosopher.” Robertson. Perhaps the words, ‘if the dead rise not,’ should be taken in connection with this sentence, rather than with that which precedes.
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.33. evil communications corrupt good manners] This passage is taken from the Thais of Menander, and like Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12, shews that St Paul was familiar with classical literature.
Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.34. Awake to righteousness] The word here translated ‘Awake’ signifies to arise from the stupefaction of a slumber produced by overindulgence (cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1 Corinthians 12:2). The word translated ‘to righteousness,’ literally righteously, may either mean (1) as is just and proper, or (2) to what is just and proper, or (3) as in our version, so as to become righteous. The Vulgate renders by justi, Wiclif by juste men. Tyndale truely, Luther recht (i.e. rightly, properly), Calvin juste. Diodati has giustamente. De Sacy follows the Vulgate.
for some have not the knowledge of God] The original is remarkable; some have ignorance of God. So Wiclif. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 14:38. As there were some among them who denied the resurrection, so there were some who were ready to pervert such denial to every form of fleshly indulgence. See Php 3:18-19; 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 2:18-22; Judges 4, 7, 8, 10.
I speak this to your shame] The original is even stronger, to shame you. To reuerence, Wiclif, following the Vulgate. To youre rebuke, Tyndale. Ad pudorem incutiendum, Calvin. St Paul was usually very anxious to spare the feelings of his converts (2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 2:3). But when the question was of making shipwreck of Christian purity, he had no such scruples. See 2 Corinthians 7:9; 2 Corinthians 12:20; 2 Corinthians 13:2; 2 Corinthians 13:10.
But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?35. But some man will say, How are the dead raised up?] We now proceed from the fact of the resurrection to its manner, a question which the Apostle discusses as far as 1 Corinthians 15:54, where he begins to treat of its result.
and with what body do they come?] It was the doctrine of the Resurrection of the body which was the stumbling-block of many hearers of the Gospel. Estius remarks that the Pharisees taught that men would rise again with bodies possessing in every respect the same functions as those in which they were laid in the grave. This was a difficulty to many, especially to the Sadducees. See St Matthew 22:23-33. To remove these difficulties St Paul now explains the nature (ποίος) of the Resurrection body, and of the process whereby it is brought into being.
Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:36. Thou fool] Literally, O man without understanding. Insipiens, Vulg. Unwise man, Wiclif. The stronger term fool (μωρός) (except in ch. 1 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Corinthians 4:10) seems in the Scriptures to imply moral as well as intellectual error.
that which thou sowest] The word thou is emphatic in the original: “Thou who art mortal and perishing.’ Chrysostom. “The force or emphasis may be gathered thus. If God doth give a body unto that seed which thou sowest for thine own use and benefit, much more will the same God give a body unto the seed which He himself doth sow.” Dr J. Jackson.
is not quickened, except it die] “Thus what they made a sure sign of our not rising again he makes a proof of our rising.” Chrysostom. Cf. St John 12:24. It is a law of the spiritual as well as the natural world that decay is the parent of life. From the Fall came corruption, from ‘the likeness of sinful flesh’ a new and higher life. Humanity died to sin in Christ: it arose again to righteousness in Him.
And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:37. and that which thou sowest] “There are two parts in this similitude: first that it is not wonderful that bodies should arise again from corruption, since the same thing happens in the case of the seed; and next that it is not contrary to nature that our bodies should be endowed with new qualities, when from naked grain God produces so many ears clothed with a wonderful workmanship.” Calvin. Tyndale renders, And what sowest thou?
thou sowest not that body that shall be] “The same, yet not the same. The same, because the essence is the same; but not the same, because the latter is the more excellent.” Chrysostom. The identity of the body does not depend upon its material particles, because physicists tell us that these are in a continual flux, and that in the course of seven years every material particle in the body has been changed. Personal identity depends upon the principle of continuity. The risen body arises out of that which has seen corruption, in the same way as the plant out of its germ. The length of time that elapses is nothing to Him to Whom ‘a thousand years are but as one day.’ But as the seed is to all appearance very different to the plant which arises from it, although science tells us that it contains that whole plant in miniature, as the Body of Jesus after His Resurrection was endowed with many strange and new qualities (St John 20:19; John 20:26) so as often to be unrecognizable by His disciples (St Luke 24:16; Luke 24:31; Luke 24:37; St John 20:14; John 21:4) though yet it was the same body (St Luke 24:39-40; St John 20:20; John 20:27); so we learn that the body we sow in the grave is ‘not that body that shall be,’ but that the resurrection body—the spiritual body—while it exhibits visible and unequivocal signs of its connection with the body out of which it has arisen, will be possessed of many wondrous faculties which are denied to us here. See notes on next verse and on 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, and cf. Romans 8:11 (margin), Revelation 21:4.
but bare grain] i.e. naked grain. A nakid corn, Wiclif. Our version follows Tyndale here, only substituting grain for corne.
But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.38. but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him] Literally, as He willed. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 12:11 (where however the word is not the same in the Greek). “Life even in its lowest form has the power of assimilating to itself atoms.” Robertson. And these are arranged and developed according to the law that God has impressed on each seed.
and to every seed his own body] “That body with which it is raised may be called its own body, and yet it is a new body. It is raised anew with stem and leaves and fruit, and yet all the while we know that it is no new corn: it is the old life in the seed reappearing, developed in a higher form.” Robertson.
All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.39. All flesh is not the same flesh] The same principle is now applied to animate which has been applied to inanimate nature. There are different varieties and forms of bodily life (σάρξ). The Apostle in this and the two following verses lays down the doctrine (see note on 1 Corinthians 15:42) that the life hereafter will depend in every way upon the life here; that the body raised will correspond to the body sown; that the character impressed upon it during this life will remain with it throughout eternity. And this not merely in the broad general distinction between good and bad (see Galatians 6:7-8) but in the minuter shades of individual character. Recent editors, following the best MSS. and versions, place fishes in their proper place, last in the text, as in zoological order.
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.40. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial] The principle is now further extended to the heavenly bodies, and another argument thus drawn from the close analogy which subsists between the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of grace. Meyer, De Wette, and Alford consider the heavenly bodies to be those of angels. But we nowhere read of angels having bodies, though we read of their assuming visible forms. Chrysostom refers the phrase to the resurrection bodies. This is unquestionably the meaning of ἐπουράνιος in 1 Corinthians 15:48 : but here it would seem to be in more strict opposition to ἐπίγειος, that which exists on the earth, since the Apostle refers to the sun, moon, and stars as ‘heavenly bodies’ in the next verse.
but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another] The celestial body is superior to the terrestrial. In like manner, and to a similar extent, shall the risen body surpass the present human organism.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.41. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon] The argument is pushed a step farther. The celestial bodies are not all alike. They differ in beauty and excellency. And so to all eternity it shall be true of men raised and in possession of their heavenly bodies, that ‘one star differeth from another star in glory.’ So Chrysostom on 1 Corinthians 15:38. “Augustine elegantly says, ‘splendor dispar: cœlum commune.’ ” Wordsworth. An erroneous interpretation of St Matthew 20:10 has led some to the conclusion that all rewards shall be exactly alike in the world to come. As the Apostle here shews, the analogy of nature makes against this in every way. And the passage just cited has reference not to the equality of rewards, but of the principle on which such rewards are given. The labourer is rewarded, not for length of service, but for the spirit in which that service has been rendered.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:42. So also is the resurrection of the dead] The fact is now plainly stated that all shall not possess the same degree of glory in heaven. ‘So,’ i.e. as has been before stated. But St Paul goes on to deal less with the fact than with the manner in which the fact is accomplished.
It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption] Cf. Romans 8:21; Colossians 2:22; 2 Peter 1:4 for corruption (in the Greek). And for incorruption see Romans 2:7, Ephesians 6:24 (margin), 2 Timothy 1:10, and Titus 2:7. The English version in the first and third of these passages renders by immortality, in the second and fourth by sincerity. The rendering in the text is the more accurate.
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:43. it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory] The dishonour is, of course, corruption, with its revolting accompaniments. What the glory will be we may learn, to a certain extent, from the Transfiguration of our Lord, and from the account of the majesty and splendour of His Resurrection-Body in Revelation 1:13-16. Cyril of Jerusalem, after citing Daniel 12:3 and St Matthew 13:43, goes on to say that “God, foreseeing the unbelief of man, gave to the smallest of worms to emit beams of light, that thereby might be inferred what was to be looked for in the world to come.”
it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power] For power see note on ch. 1 Corinthians 1:18. What the weakness is, we scarcely need to inquire. Decay of strength and vitality, ending in the absolute powerlessness of death, is the destiny of the body which is to be laid in the grave. But when it is raised, not only can it never be subject to the same weakness again, but it will be endowed with new faculties, as superior to those of the former body as those of the plant are to those of the seed.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.44. it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body] For the word natural see ch. 1 Corinthians 2:14. The ‘natural body’ is the body accommodated to, and limited by, the needs of the animal life of man. Man possesses a spiritual life through union with Jesus Christ, but his present body is not adapted to the requirements of such a life. It is called a ‘body of death,’ Romans 7:24 (‘this body of death,’ in the E. V. ‘the body of this death.’). ‘The corruptible body (Wis 9:15) presseth down the soul,’ and we groan under its weight, and look earnestly forward to its redemption (Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:4). But the spiritual body will not only be a body in which the spiritual principle dominates the whole organism (Theodoret), but it will be adapted to the needs of that principle, and therefore will be possessed of powers hitherto unknown. So St Chrysostom. See also last note and 2 Corinthians 5:1, ‘we have in the heavens a house not made with hands.’ “The earthly and celestial body are not identical, but not absolutely different; the elements of the former are employed in the formation of the latter, the operation of Christ in believers gradually transforms the one into the other.” Olshausen. This remark, however, leaves out of sight the fact that however gradual the transformation of the natural man into the spiritual man in this life, it is completed by a process which is not gradual, namely the Resurrection.
There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body] Most modern editors have received the better supported reading, ‘if there is a natural body, there is a spiritual one also.’ It is also the reading of the Vulgate and of Wiclif. The reading in the text, which is that received by Tyndale, is the more easy to understand, but perhaps it is for that very reason that it has been substituted for the other. If we receive it, the passage is a simple assertion of the existence of a spiritual as well as of a natural body. If we prefer the other, it affirms that the life spiritual of necessity demands a proper vehicle as much as the life natural; that if the latter has—and we see that this is so—a body corresponding to its demands, it follows that the life spiritual will have one also.
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.45. And so it is written] In Genesis 2:7. This applies only to the first part of the verse. But did not St Paul know that the words had been uttered, and would one day be recorded, which make it true also of the second part? See St John 5:21; John 6:33; John 6:39-40; John 6:54; John 6:57; John 11:25.
The first man Adam was made a living soul] Rather, became a living soul. The word here translated soul, the adjective formed from which is rendered by the word natural in the last and in the next verse, is translated indifferently by life and soul in the N. T. As instances of the former see St Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; of the latter, St Matthew 10:28; Matthew 16:26. We must not press this so far as to say that before Christ came man had no πνεῦμα or spiritual nature (though the Hebrew word corresponding to πνεῦμα is noticeably absent in Genesis 2:7), but we are justified in saying that until Christ recreated and redeemed humanity the higher nature existed only in a rudimentary state, in the form of an aspiration after higher things, and that it was overborne and subjected by the lower, or animal nature. “Adam was therefore a ‘living soul,’ that is, a natural man—a man with intelligence, perception and a moral sense, with power to form a society and to subdue nature to himself.” Robertson.
the last Adam] So called because Christ was a new starting-point of humanity. Thus to be in Christ is called a ‘new creation,’ 2 Corinthians 5:17 (cf. Galatians 6:15). He is called the ‘new man,’ created after God in righteousness and holiness,’ Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10, Whom we are to ‘put on,’ Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27. “For being from above and from heaven, and God by nature and Emmanuel, and having received our likeness, and become a second Adam, how shall He not richly make them partakers of His Own Life, who desire to partake of the intimate union effected with Him by faith? For by the mystic blessing we have become embodied into Him, for we have been made partakers of Him by the Spirit.” Cyril of Alexandria.
a quickening spirit] See texts quoted under ‘it is written,’ and last note; also Romans 6:11 (Greek); 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:4. “He does not call the second Adam a ‘living spirit,’ but a life-giving one; for He ministers the eternal life to all.” Theodoret. The word ‘quickening’ means that which gives life, as we speak of the “quick and the dead” in the Creed. The idea of activity to which the word quick and its derivatives is now confined, comes from its original idea of life. We use the word lively in a similar manner. The word is really kindred to the Latin vivus and the French vie.
Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.46. Howbeit that was no first which is spiritual] See note on 1 Corinthians 15:23. “The law of God’s universe is progress.” Robertson. His whole lecture on this passage will repay study. He shews how the Fall was an illustration of this law, a necessary consequence of a state of mere natural life; a “step onward,” if for the time “downward.” He traces it in the history of nature and of nations, and finally applies it to individuals, and shews how our natural feelings and affections are the sources of our spiritual ones; how the moral life, the fulfilment, that is, of the law of our being as discerned by natural religion, the living up to the light we have (cf. Romans 2:14), leads up to the spiritual life, and how temptation and sorrow, themselves the fruit of a state of things undeveloped and incomplete, are necessary elements in the formation of the perfect, the spiritual man. Cf. Hebrews 2:10. Thomas Aquinas remarks how the law holds good in nature, even of one and the same being, that what is imperfect precedes what is perfect.
The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.47. The first man is of the earth, earthy] See Genesis 2:7. The word earthy (χοϊκός from χοῦς dust) is an allusion to the ‘dust of the ground’ in that passage, in the Septuagint χους.
the second man is the Lord from heaven] The Vulgate reads, is from heaven, heavenly, Tyndale follows the Vulgate, and also Wiclif, who translates however, the secunde man of heuene is heueneli. Alford reads the second man is from heaven, with the majority of MSS. and versions. The law of progress, above referred to, is illustrated by the creation of the second man. The first man was ‘dust of the ground,’ and God breathed a breath of life into his soul. But the second man is not created anew altogether, but takes the first man as the starting-point of the new life. By the agency of the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ took our flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, being a new creation, but not directly from heaven. See note on 1 Corinthians 15:21. This passage bears a strong resemblance to St John 3:31; and in the reading we have mentioned the resemblance is even stronger than in the authorized version. The margin of St John 3:3 may also be compared.
As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.48. As is the earthy] i.e. Adam. Man, when united to Christ by faith, partakes of both natures. He is liable, therefore, still to the weakness and infirmities of the former. “This infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated.” Art. IX. And this he must bear to the end. He must be subject to the law of the natural order of things, before he attains fully to the law of the spiritual order. He must receive the wages of sin, namely death. But, possessing faith in Christ, he possesses the imperishable principle of life.
as is the heavenly] i.e. Christ. ‘When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be brought to an end.’ ‘Mortality shall be swallowed up of life:’ the old Adam shall be done away in Christ Cf. Php 3:20-21.
And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.49. And as we have borne the image] The image or likeness. In this present life we are like Adam: in the next we shall be like Christ, cf. Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Php 3:21; Colossians 3:10; 1 John 3:2.
we shall also bear] So Tyndale. Many MSS. read ‘let us also bear’ in this passage. But St Paul is not exhorting here, but teaching (“non esse exhortationem, sed puram doctrinam.” Calvin). And, moreover, the exhortation would seem a little out of place, since “regeneration cannot be obtained by striving or even by faith itself, it is an act of positive grace.” Olshausen. Tertullian, however, remarks expressly that St Paul says ‘let us bear,’ speaking in exhortation, not in doctrine. So Chrysostom, whom—with the Vulgate—Wiclif follows, translating “bere we also;” while Theodoret, on the contrary, says that St Paul here was not speaking hortatively, but prophetically.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.50. Now this I say, brethren] We enter here upon a new phase of the argument. The Apostle now tells us how this great result shall be accomplished. We cannot inherit eternity as we are: a change is necessary. And this change will in the end be a sudden one, but will consist rather in the modification of the external conditions of the body than in any destruction of its essential properties. See note on 1 Corinthians 15:53.
that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God] It is not the material particles of our body which endure for ever. They are subject to corruption and dissolution. It is the spiritual principle of life which abides, and like the seed, attracts to itself such material particles as shall serve it for a suitable habitation. (See notes on 1 Corinthians 15:37-38.) The early heretics mentioned above, 1 Corinthians 15:12, caught eagerly at this verse as disposing of the idea of a material resurrection. But the early Fathers of the Church shewed conclusively that it was not to be so understood. They cited St Luke 24:39 to prove that Jesus Christ had ‘flesh and bones’ after His Resurrection. And we may observe, moreover, that in St Paul’s language ‘flesh and blood’ stood for our ordinary humanity, as distinguished from everything of a spiritual nature. See Romans 8:1-10; Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12.
neither doth corruption inherit incorruption] An additional proof of what has just been stated. Our ordinary flesh and blood is by its very nature destined to corruption. It is not with such flesh and blood that we can become partakers of the incorruptible life.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,51. Behold, I shew you a mystery] See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 4:1. Human reason unaided is of course incapable of arriving at the truth on a point like this.
We shall not all sleep] There are two other very important readings of this passage. The first, that of the Vulgate and of Tertullian, is omnes quidem resurgemus, sed non omnes immutabimur (alle we schulen rise aghen, but not alle we schullen be chaungid. Wiclif). The other is, we shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed, which is found in some important MSS. and versions. There seems little reason to doubt that the reading of our version is the true one. The others have probably arisen from the fact that St Paul and his contemporaries did sleep. But he was obviously under the impression (see 1 Thessalonians 4:17)—an impression in no way surprising, even in an inspired Apostle, when we remember St Mark 13:33—that the coming of Christ would take place during his life-time, or that of some at least of those whom he addressed. Estius gives six reasons against the received reading of the Vulgate, of which two appear by themselves to be conclusive. First, that the reading ‘we shall not all be changed,’ is not suited to the words ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye’ which follow; and next, that this reading is in direct contradiction to the words ‘we shall be changed’ in the next verse.
but we shall all be changed] “For we who have gone to rest in faith towards Christ, and have received the earnest of the Spirit in the time of our corporeal life, shall receive the most perfect favour and shall be changed into the glory which is of God.” Cyril of Alexandria (on St John 10:10). The Apostle explains that this change shall also take place in those who ‘are alive and remain’ until the coming of the Lord. See Php 3:21.
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.52. in a moment] The literal meaning of the word here used is, that which is so small as to be actually indivisible.
in the twinkling of an eye] Some MSS. read ῥοπῇ for ῥιπῇ, i.e. the downward motion of the eyelid (literally, the inclination of the scale), for the rapid movement suggested by the word twinkling. The latter suits the context best.
at the last trump] Some have referred this to the last of the seven trumpets in Revelation 8-11. See especially Revelation 10:7. But this cannot be, since the visions recorded in that book had not yet been seen. It must therefore mean the trumpet which will sound on the last day. Cf. St Matthew 24:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
and we shall be changed] The we is emphatic; therefore the Apostle here expresses once more his belief that he will be alive at the coming of Christ; for, “since the last times were already come, the saints expected that day from hour to hour.” Calvin.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality] Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:4. The Apostle has just said that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ He now explains in what sense these words are to be taken. The mortal body is not destroyed entirely and created again. “Change,” says Tertullian, “must be dissociated from all idea of destruction. For change is one thing, destruction another.” It receives an addition of qualities which it did not possess before. It is ‘clothed upon’ with immortality. That which was corruptible is now freed from that liability (“sanctified and cleared from all impurity.” Irenaeus). That which is mortal is swallowed up, and disappears in the vastness of the life which knows no end. See note on 1 Corinthians 15:38.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.54. Death is swallowed up in victory] The English version translates Isaiah 25:8, the passage here quoted, by ‘He will swallow up death in victory.’ But the literal meaning of the word so translated is ‘for ever,’ and the Vulgate here renders ‘in sempiternum,’ though the Septuagint frequently, but not here, renders it by victory, following the analogy of the Syriac and Chaldee, where a kindred word signifies victory. The verb also is in the perfect tense in the Hebrew, as speaking of the fixed purpose of God, and is here rendered by the aorist, and thus referred to the Death and Resurrection of Christ, in which, by ‘the determinate purpose and foreknowledge of God,’ death ‘was swallowed up unto victory.’
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?55. O death, where is thy sting?] This quotation follows neither the Septuagint nor the Hebrew of Hosea 13:14. The former is ‘Where is thy penalty, O death, where is thy sting, O Hades?’ following, most probably, a different reading from the present Hebrew text, which runs thus: ‘I will be thy plagues, O death, I will be thy pestilence, O grave’ (or ‘Hades,’ for the Hebrew word has both significations). See next note.
O grave, where is thy victory?] In the Greek, O Hades. The Vulgate (which is followed by Tyndale) as well as most of the best MSS. read death here for Hades. So do Irenaeus and Tertullian, writing in the second century. But the ancient Syriac version reads Hades. Bishop Wordsworth suggests that the text was altered from a fear lest the passage should give any countenance” to the idea of a god of the shades below, known to the Greeks by the name of Hades. But in later Greek and in the Septuagint its use to denominate the place of departed spirits was well established.
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.56. the strength of sin is the law] That the sting of death should be sin is very easy to understand. It is not so easy at first sight to account for the introduction here of St Paul’s favourite doctrine (see Romans 7) that ‘the strength of sin is the law.’ Yet the sequence of thought may be discovered. What gives sin its power at that supreme moment is the fact that it is the transgression of the righteous Law of an all-wise and all-holy being. (Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14; 1 Timothy 1:8.)
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.57. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ] This sense of having transgressed that righteous law need disturb us no longer. Our shortcomings have been fully atoned for by the Life and Death of Jesus Christ. The mortal part of us must pay the penalty due to sin (Romans 6:23), but the spiritual part remains unsubdued, because it is united to Him Who has fulfilled the law, has taken our condemnation upon Himself, has acknowledged its justice on our behalf, and has enabled us through fellowship with Him to attain to the victory over evil which He Himself has attained.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.58. Therefore, my beloved brethren] The aim of St Paul is always practical. Even this magnificent passage comes to what from a merely oratorical point of view is a somewhat tame conclusion, a conclusion however which, regarded from the point of view of Christian edification, is full of beauty. “Be not weary in welldoing,” the Apostle would say. “Labour on in faith and courage till life comes to an end. For your life is hid with Christ in God; and therefore your efforts and struggles here are not thrown away. Not one of them shall be lost sight of before the Eternal Throne.”