1 Cor 15:1-58
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VI. The Gospel of the Resurrection (Chapter 15)
• Topic 9: "How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? ..." (15:12)
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- 1 Cor 15:1-2. This verse gives evidence that Paul believed that one could fall from grace. One must keep the gospel in constant remembrance, otherwise, any belief one once had is in vain. This is also part of the LDS sacramental ordinance: "that they may always remember..."
- 1 Cor 15:5-14. Paul in this chapter makes clear that Jesus' resurrection is an essential doctrine. Beginning in verse 5, he emphasizes that the Resurrection is a historical, actual event: Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples (verse 5), then more than 500 people at one time (verse 6, an event not otherwise recorded in scriptures), James and the apostles (verse 7), and ultimately Paul (verse 8). He notes in verse 6 that most of those who saw the resurrected Jesus are still alive, possibly because he is encouraging anyone skeptical about the resurrection to talk to one of the witnesses. Without the resurrection, Paul says later (verse 14), there is no meaningful substance to the Christian faith.
- 1 Cor 15:6. Adelphoi, the Greek word translated as "brethren" in verse 6, means both "brothers" and "brothers and sisters."
- 1 Cor 15:7. In conjunction with verse 5, this passage indicates that the "twelve" and the "apostles" are two different groups. As the earliest Christian author, Paul provides an interesting insight into this division. Luke in Acts is the first to limit the "apostles" to "the twelve".
- 1 Cor 15:8. The phrase "born out of due time" in verse 8 comes from the Greek word ektroma, which refers to either a miscarriage or a premature birth. This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used.
- Paul's reference in verse 8 to seeing the resurrected Jesus "as of one born out of due time" (or, more literally, as to a child prematurely born or miscarried) probably refers to the nature of Paul's conversion experience. Not only was it sudden and unexpected (as a premature birth or miscarriage would be), but at the time it would have appeared to any objective observer that Paul wasn't a person who was ready to see Jesus.
- 1 Cor 15:10. This scripture gives additional insight on Paul's "grace vrs. works" paradigm. Paul first says that he was such a wicked man before he was converted that he had to make up for it by "labouring more abundantly" than any of the other apostles after his conversion. Then he corrects himself, lest he be accused of working out his salvation by works: "Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Paul was not the one who worked, but only God's grace within him. To Paul, works are the fruit of God's grace, not our own personal contribution to the building of the kingdom. None of us can glory in our own works, for God gave us the spirit and the ability to perform them.
- Does this make Paul a biological, environmental, or rather spiritual determinist? Does he believe that we are all merely acting out according to the pre-determined or pre-destined will of God? Paul might argue that we do make the first choice to believe, and then we chose to retain that belief in remembrance (verse 2). According to Paul, if we truly believe in an honest and complete way, God's grace will bear the fruit of many good works within us. Therefore, it is in choosing to believe that our free agency is manifest. Other apostles, such as James might disagree, arguing that it is possible to have faith without works, and that accomplishing works requires a diligent, conscious effort that comes from our own personal determination and self-discipline.
- While Paul's view that "works are the sole fruit of God's grace" is perhaps a bit idealistic, it is good to keep in remembrance, lest we think too highly of ourselves, and become proud of our accomplishments. We all owe so much to God-given factors beyond our control: parental guidance, a healthy, sound mind and body, educational opportunities, inspiration from the Holy Ghost, and much, much more. Truly we can't take credit for anything we have accomplished, for it all would be impossible without God's grace.
- 1 Cor 15:12. Paul attempts to defend his teachings concerning the future resurrection of the dead on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. The primary problem in this text is understanding the position of the opponents. Though the text itself offers a quotation from the opponents, “there is no resurrection of the dead,” it is difficult to understand exactly what is meant by this. We have seen Paul quote other slogans of the opponents in this letter (6:12, 13; 8:1, 4) followed by a defense or explanation of his own position. However, these other quotations don’t contribute to our understanding of the text. There are a number of different possibilities that have been suggested.
- Perhaps the most prominent position that has been proposed has been that the Corinthians believe in a “realized resurrection,” that they have already been resurrected, perhaps at baptism. This view sees the Corinthian opponents as “Gnostics” or “proto-gnostics”. This reading is frequently supported by 4:8, which mentions that the Corinthians see themselves as partakers “already” in certain aspects of salvation. In this reading, the Corinthians reject a future resurrection, or a resurrection of the dead, in favor or a resurrection of the living.
- A second approach has argued that the Corinthians don’t deny a future resurrection, only that they deny a bodily resurrection. In this view, the dispute with the Corinthians centers more on the latter half of chapter 15 in the discussions of the nature of the resurrected body (15:35ff). He focuses on the question that is proposed, “with what kind of body do they come” (15:35).
- 1 Cor 15:17. One of the difficulties that the text presents is how Paul justifies the argument from Christ’s resurrection to a general resurrection. Paul takes Christ as primary evidence of the possibility of the resurrection. Paul seems to assume that the Corinthians don’t deny Christ’s resurrection, only a more general resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is seen as a miraculous, exceptional event, exactly the way that it has been presented to them, but it doesn’t follow that this is necessarily the fate of all believers. In this reading, the denial of the resurrection in 15:12 and the first question in 15:35, “How are the dead raised?” represent more closely the skeptical position of the Corinthians. We may have another clue in verse 19 that indicates that the Corinthians might have believed that we hope in Christ for our benefit in this life "only". In this view, the question about “what kind of body” can be seen in a larger skeptical view about the possibility of the resurrection and life after death, rather than a debate over its nature per se.
- Paul’s claim about Christ’s resurrection seems to rely upon the fact that the Corinthians believe in Christ’s resurrection. His opening rehearsal (15:1-11) of these resurrection accounts is meant more to set up the argument in 12-19 than to prove that Christ was resurrected. In fact, he says that they have accepted Christ’s resurrection in 15:1 (Gr: parelabete) and 11 (Gr: epistevsate). He even suggests that they believe in the salvation from their sins through Christ’s resurrection (17). It may not be possible to discern the precise position of the Corinthians, but this doesn’t preclude a study of the competing notions of the body and afterlife that Paul sees are at stake.
- 1 Cor 15:32. Paul likely means that he encountered fierce opposition from men at Ephesus, and not that he actually fought with beasts. 
- 1 Cor 15:32-33. Paul believes that a knowledge of the resurrection is a deterrent to bad behavior, or rather, that those who don't believe in the resurrection are more likely to sin in the flesh, as they will never get the chance to be "in the flesh" again. Much is written about Paul's "mortification" of the flesh: his frequent call to live after the spirit and not after the flesh. There is some question as to whether he thought of the "flesh" as evil. Paul spoke pessimistically of marriage and at the same time rails against fornication, indicating that for him, the sexual pleasures of the flesh are a necessary evil. Additionally, Paul speaks frequently about his suffering in the flesh, his "thorn in the flesh" and "dying daily" in verse 31.
- Yet Paul's celebration of the Resurrection as a place to experience the "flesh" again, so we don't have to sin in this life, is evidence that he also believed the flesh was a positive aspect of life, that could be looked forward to in the next life as well as this.
- 1 Cor 15:37. Paul compares death and burial to the sowing of a seed. Just as a farmer plants a seed in the earth that springs forth into various plants and trees, so also a dead body planted in the earth will spring up into a new body at the resurrection. Paul .says, "thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain," This means that the grain does not spring up from the earth in the form of another single piece of grain, just like the seed, but rather into a completely new plant of wheat or some other grain. Paul means to say that in the resurrection, we will have a new body, one far superior to our mortal body, just as a seed differs from the plant it becomes. Later Paul notes, "it is sown in corruption, raised in incorruption, sown in weakness, raised in power.
- 1 Cor 15:39-40. Doctrine and Covenants 76 is the first recorded instance where the degrees of heaven are specifically named Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial. However, in this verse, Paul notes two types of bodies: "celestial," often translated as heavenly, and "terrestrial" often translated as earthly. Joseph Smith added a third kind of body in the JST: the "telestial." Some contend that Joseph Smith changes Paul's meaning by adding "telestial" when Paul only meant to describe heavenly versus earthly bodies. However, there is bountiful evidence that Paul and other early Christian writers understood that there were multiple degrees of heaven. In 2 Cor 12:2 Paul speaks of being caught up in the "third" heaven. And in this chapter Paul goes to great lengths to give examples of many different kinds of bodies: beasts, fishes, birds, wheat, other grains, celestial, terrestial, sun, moon, and stars. Paul's intent is to compare the diversity of bodies in this world, with the diversity of glory in the resurrection. There will not be a kind of "one-size fits all" resurrection, or a simple return to our mortal state. Rather, like various kinds of seeds planted in the earth, human bodies will spring up into many different types and glories depending on their spiritual nature.
- 1 Cor 15:44: Natural and spiritual. The word translated here as "natural" can sometimes give the reader a false impression of a physical body as opposed to a non-physical body. However, the Greek word translated "natural" is psychikos, meaning, quite literally translated, "psychical," "according to the mind." Accordingly, the word "spiritual" translates the Greek pneumatikos, "according to the spirit" or even "according to the Spirit." When Paul goes on to say that "there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body," it must be absolutely clear that both bodies are bodies, but that one is "according to the mind," and the other is "according to the spirit." (cf. Matt 10:28 where the same Greek word translated here as "natural" is contrasted to the body). In other words, the body we have here is a body that is dominated by the mind, by our fallen thoughts and our pathetic take on the world. The body to be had in the resurrection is a body that is dominated by the spirit, one that allows for communication with the Spirit.
- 1 Cor 15:45: Living soul and quickening spirit. The phrase "living soul" is a direct citation of Gen 2:7 where God is forms man by "breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." The phrase translated "quickening" in the KJV in the phrase "quickening spirit" comes from the Greek word zōopoieō which translates, roughly, as "life-giving." The contrast here, then is between the first Adam's "living soul" and the last Adam's "life-giving spirit." The word for "soul" here, psychē, shares the same root as the word "natural" in the previous verse, as noted above. Rhetorically, then, "natural" in v. 44 and "soul" in v. 45 are parallel, as is "spiritual" in v. 44 and "spirit" in v. 45.
- 1 Cor 15:45/ This verse can be, at first, confusing, but it can quickly be sorted out: though it appears that Paul is quoting some text that compares two Adam's, it is clear that the second half of this verse is Paul himself, adding to the text he quotes. "And so it is written": the reference is Gen 2:7. There one reads "and man [Hebrew: `dm, "Adam"] became a living soul [Hebrew nphsh]." The Septuagint (Greek OT) translates nphsh as psyche, "mind" or (roughly) "soul," which is the word Paul uses here, and of which he uses a cognate in the previous verse (poorly translated as "natural"). It is important to note that the word "first" does not appear in the OT text at all, that Paul himself has added it, as he has everything that follows the semi-colon. It would be better, then, to render this verse: And so it is written: The first man "Adam was made a living soul"; the last Adam a quickening spirit. Rendered thus, it becomes clear that Paul is not attempting here to quote a proof text, but rather to offer an interpretation of a very important text: the creation story as recorded in Genesis. That interpretation is not only vital to his own argument here, it is an incredibly fruitful reading of the Old Testament. It deserves some careful attention.
- As is certainly the case in the immediately preceding and also in the immediately following verses, Paul divides the "history" of the world up into two eras, what one might (following the prevalent themes of the chapter) call "the old creation" and "the new creation" (following, perhaps more closely in the end, C. S. Lewis' similar distinction in Miracles). In doubling the verse from Gen 2, Paul relegates the story told in that verse to "the old creation," suggesting that beyond the creation story of Gen 2, there is another creation story, one in which a "last Adam" is made "a quickening [or lifegiving] spirit." In "the new creation" story, the "soul" is foregone in favor of the "spirit," in the same distinction drawn in verse 44: instead of having a body according to mind, as the first Adam did (and following the Hebrew text of Gen 2:7!), the last Adam, the Adam from "the new creation" story is to have a body according to spirit. Most important in all of this is the fact that Paul draws a careful distinction between two creations, or really, between two creation stories. The story as told in the second chapter of Genesis he effectively labels the story of "the old creation." The implication is either that the story of "the new creation" is as yet unwritten, or perhaps that Gen 1 is the story of the new creation. This latter turns out to be Paul's interpretation, as the next verse makes clear.
- 1 Cor 15:46: Natural. The word for "natural" here is more accurately translated as "psychic," or perhaps "soulish" (Gk: ψυχικος). The same term is used in 1 Cor 2:14. The term may refer to how some of the members of the Corinthian community characterized themselves.
- 1 Cor 15:46.Paul makes very clear here, following the commentary at verse 45, that he understands Genesis as his primary text. Since Adam became a "living soul" (Gen 2:7) after the "breath" (Greek: πνεη) or "spirit" was given to him, it shows that the first Adam was actually made of earth and then he was given spirit. Paul reads this episode allegorically (verse 47). He argues that the "soulish" ("natural") human is actually the body that we inhabit now. Paul suggests that the soul is no greater than the dust of the earth and that instead we should seek the spiritual. Paul is entering into ancient debates about the anthropology of the body as composed of flesh, soul, and spirit.
- If Paul is indeed making this argument, it should be noted that he explicitly offers a counter to prevailing interpretation at the time. The Rabbinical writings, and Philo more explicitly and earlier, make reference to the apparently double creation story of Gen 1-2. The prevailing interpretation is that Adam was creation in Gen 1 as nearly a god, only afterwards to be recreated in the flesh in Gen 2. The idea seems to be that the Fall was a separable event from the creation, and that, as such, the hope of a Messiah was the only hope for overcoming such a horrible event. This reading makes the plan of history a three-fold plan (creation, fall, and atonement--whatever atonement means according to the Rabbis), whereas Paul suggests here rather a two-fold plan (creation/fall and atonement, the old creation and the new creation). In any event, Paul's interpretation is quite fruitful. Paul doesn't read the double-creation story, just Gen 2.
- 1 Cor 15:50. This text seems problematic for understanding the resurrection of the flesh. This problem may be averted if Paul here is speaking of realms rather than substances. Those who exist within the realm of the flesh may not enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Gal 5). Additionally, some LDS writers have discussed the nature of the resurrected body as being made of "flesh and bone" rather than "flesh and blood", picking up on Luke 24:39. It is suggested that Paul is working with the same distinction.
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- 1 Cor 15:14-19: Importance of the Resurrection. Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Sunday Will Come," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 28–30. Elder Wirthlin reminds us that "the Resurrection is at the core of our beliefs as Christians. Without it, our faith is meaningless." Elder Wirthlin also bears a "solemn testimony that death is not the end of existence."
- 1 Cor 15:29: Baptism for the dead.
- 1 Cor 15:40-42: Three degrees of glory. See this link for a fascinating discussion of ancient Christian writings that anticipate our modern understanding of the three degrees of glory.
- 1 Cor 15:51-55: Music inspired by the Resurrection. Several great composers have been inspired by 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. Some of the best settings include:
- George Frederick Handel: The Messiah, "The Trumpet Shall Sound"
- Johannes Brahms: A German Requiem, 6th Movement
- Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection Symphony," 5th movement (not exactly a setting of this Biblical text, but a very similar resurrection text)
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