William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;1 Corinthians Chapter 15
But there was another question of the deepest moment, and still more fundamental, which the apostle reserved for the last place. The resurrection of the dead was doubted and denied by some at Corinth. This was grave indeed; but it is incomparably more so now, after the ample testimony to the truth rendered here and throughout the New Testament. It was inexcusable ignorance then; it is far guiltier and more rebellious if we doubt in presence of the disproof we are about to study, and of much more to the same effect elsewhere.
"And I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I announced to you, which also ye received, in which also ye stand, by which also ye are being saved, if ye hold fast with what discourse I announced [it] to you, unless ye believed at random. For I delivered to you in the first place that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he was raised the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, after that to the twelve. After that he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain till now, but some also have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, after that to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the abortion, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God; but by God's grace I am what I am, and his grace that [was] towards me became not vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that [was] with me. Whether then I or they, thus we preach, and thus ye believed." (Vers. 1-11.)
Nothing was farther from the intention of the Corinthian speculators than to compromise the gospel or the resurrection of Christ. But to this exactly does the apostle reduce their question. They forgot that there is an enemy behind who can take advantage of the mind no less than of the body, and whose artifice it is to array falsehood with a fairer garb than the truth, and so not only to gain admission for what is false, but thereby also to expel or undermine what is true, holiness suffering in the same proportion.
It was humbling therefore, but wholesome, to have the gospel made known afresh to saints, who ought rather to be in the fellowship of its activities - to have the apostle insisting on it, (1) as what he had declared to them originally, (2) as what they had received, (3) as that in which they had their standing, and (4) as the means of their salvation. The copulative conjunction, καί, defines each consideration recalled to them; the hypothetical particle, εἰ, supposes the fact of their holding fast the glad tidings, otherwise their faith was worthless. Salvation in this epistle, as in many others, is viewed as going on. (Vers. 1, 2.) It is σώζεσθε, the present, and neither the perfect, ἐστε σεσωσμενοι, as in Ephesians 2:5; Eph 2:8, nor the aorist, as in 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 3:5.
If Paul was an apostle, and delivered to them especially the glad tidings, it was what he too received; he pretended to no more than a faithful discharge of the trust the Lord had reposed in him as a witness concerning Himself. He received it, as we are told elsewhere, immediately from Christ. There was no intermediate channel, but a direct revelation and a personal charge. And what is the foundation laid? "That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." (Ver 3.) Not for ourselves merely, not at all for our good ways, but for our bad, "for our sins." Who could have said or thought it but God? And He has said it, not only now in the gospel, but from of old in the scriptures. From Genesis to Malachi all was a preparing the way for Christ to die for our sins. The law witnessed to it in the sacrifices; the Psalms declared that the sacrifices were but temporary, and that the Messiah must, and would, do the will of God; and the prophets showed that He would do it by suffering and death when Jehovah should lay on Him the iniquities of His people. Without the death of Christ for our sins, not only has the gospel no foundation, but the Old Testament has no adequate meaning or worthy end.
But God would give the amplest evidence. So it is added to Christ's death (ver. 4), "and that he was buried." Only here is made no mention of the scriptures. This is reserved for the immense fact of the resurrection: "and that he was raised the third day according to the scriptures," which is followed by the repeated appearances, of course without any such attestation. It is not merely an accessory fact or corroboration of Christ's death. His resurrection is the grand pivot of the chapter, the display of God's glory as regards man, the fullest answer to all unbelief, and the knell of Satan's power. This was the truth which the enemy sought to undermine among some at Corinth; but the result, under the grace of God, is the complete demonstration of its certainty, and of its all-importance.
But this is not all that the apostle points out. Christ was not raised only; He "was raised the third day according to the scriptures." The first book of the law gave its early preparation for it. For from the beginning, even in Eden, though not till after sin entered, God announced that the bruised Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. Still more distinctly do we see the Father ready to give His beloved and only Son, and that Son under the sentence of death till "the third day" (Genesis 22:4), when a ram in the type was substituted, and Isaac was received as from the dead in a figure. (Hebrews 11:17-19.) The Psalms give their intermediate but glowing witness, Psalm 8 showing us the Son of man who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, but crowned with glory and honour, with all things put under His feet; Psalm 16, the dependent One, trusting in God through life and death, and beyond. What possibly more distinct? "My flesh also shall rest in hope; for Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life," etc., - words which, as a whole, apply as clearly to the dead and risen Messiah, as they cannot to David or any other. There is no mention of "the third day" here of course, which would be a foreign element, and destructive of the calm confidence of the psalm; but it is plain that for the soul not to rest in Sheol, and the body not to see corruption, there must be not only a raising from the dead, but this without delay. His flesh therefore should rest in hope, and not merely the spirit. But the prophets carry on and complete the testimony, for if Hosea 6 be only the principle applicable to Israel by-and-by, Jonah 1:17 is the striking type of the Son of man three days and three nights (so it was counted Jewishly) in the heart of the earth: what a sign to the faithless Jew!
The apostle confirms the resurrection of Christ by certain of His appearances afterwards, as He had the death by burial. "And that he appeared to Cephas, after that to the twelve." (Ver. 5.) He omits Mary of Magdala and the other women, important as both might be for the objects which the evangelists had in view. There is no heaping up of proofs in either Gospels or Epistles, but a selection suitable to the design of God by each writer. The apostle gives only men who for weight, number, or other circumstances, furnished evidence unanswerable for every fair mind. The risen Lord appeared to Cephas, or Simon Peter, before He stood in the midst of "the twelve." (Compare Luke 24:34.) Nor could any individual be of greater importance than Simon, especially at a moment when his soul needed reassurance so deeply. But no individual could have the weight of the entire company which knew him best; and the twelve are therefore next named, without noticing either the two disciples who had enjoyed His company to Emmaus on the resurrection-day, or that the apostolic body wanted somewhat to complete it on the same evening.
But there is another occasion, to which the apostle points as unsurpassed for magnitude of testimony: "after that he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain till now, but some also have fallen asleep." (Ver. 6.) Never was a truth better attested. The greater part of these five hundred united witnesses still survived if any one doubted. Even if a person were prejudiced enough to accuse the twelve of a plot, what unreasonable folly to allow such a thought of so large a body of simple disciples, above all suspicion of object or office? The Holy Spirit left Luke to record the Lord's partaking of food when risen, and John the incredulity of the apostle Thomas, only the more to strengthen the truth; but Paul gives us this great body of witnesses, most then alive, if any chose to examine or cross-examine them. Surely had it not been the simple truth, some of that crowd of eyewitnesses must have disclosed the wickedness of thus conspiring in a lie against God.
"After that he appeared to James, after that to all the apostles." (Ver. 7.) James had a place of singular honour, both in the church at Jerusalem, and as an inspired writer; and as he was the object alone of an appearance of Christ, this is mentioned, no less than His appearing subsequently to all the apostles. All was in place, and each had its separate importance; and this, extending over forty days with such a variety of occasions and circumstances, marks the care with which divine wisdom and grace made the resurrection known. The quiet statement of the fact is in remarkable contrast with what Jerome quotes from the spurious Gospel of the Nazarenes (Catal. Script. Eccl.), how James made a vow neither to eat nor drink till he saw the Lord risen again. Man spoils all he touches in divine things; he cannot even fill up a gap with a trustworthy tradition. James had no such superiority of faith over the rest; nor, if he had possessed it, would he have shown it by any such vow.
One more remained, the most extraordinary of all, and long after date; "and last of all, as to the abortion, he appeared to me also." (Ver. 8.) It was from heaven, in broad daylight, as he drew near to Damascus, not only an unbeliever, but the hottest of adversaries, in the midst of a like-minded band of companions: all smitten down, all seeing the light, and hearing the Pound, but he alone seeing Jesus, he alone hearing the words of His mouth. Unspeakable grace he felt it was, with unaffected lowliness of heart; "for I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (Vers. 8, 9.) If Thomas illustrated the difficulties even of believers, Saul of Tarsus is the best sample of opposition on the part of earthly religion. But he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision; and the sight of a risen, ascended, Lord becomes the end of his old life (closed in grace by God's judgment in the cross), the beginning of what was new and everlasting. No wonder that, as the others preached by Jesus the resurrection from among the dead, to the horror of the sceptical Sadducees, Paul was no less urgent to both world and church. It was the turning-point of his own conversion; and his penetrating, comprehensive, mind soon saw under God's teaching that the death and the resurrection of Christ were none other things than what Moses and the prophets had said should happen, and light through this be announced both to the Jews and to the Gentiles.
Of this ministry the converted persecutor was to be the most honoured instrument. And this he himself could not but add; "but by God's grace I am what I am; and his grace that [was] toward me became not vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that [was] with me." (Ver. 10.) The simple truth carried its own weight. His apostleship, which had been assailed by those who were not less hostile to his full preaching of grace, received no small confirmation; the pride of human nature, in its merits or its wisdom, was put down; God was in every way exalted; and the special point in debate had a crowning testimony from Paul himself, which also accounted for a revolution never surpassed, if equalled, in any man's history since the world began: a revolution which was unintelligible otherwise in one trained, as he had been, in the strictest traditions and ways of Pharisaism, and now the boldest minister of the gospel, the most devoted minister of the church, yet withal a mind eminently sober and conscientious, logical and profound. The appearing of the risen Jesus from heaven explained all perfectly, not his conversion only, but his work beyond all laborious and blessed of God. Truly it was the grace of God that was with him, who loved to own it, while he abased himself.
But of those labours, so abundant and fruitful, what was the foundation truth, and what the animating spring? The resurrection of Christ with Paul, as with the apostles whom some pitted against him. "Whether then I or they, thus we preach, and thus ye believed." (Ver. 11.) There was no change in the preaching: how then such a departure in some of the Corinthians? It was not so when they believed. Could it be of God?
Having thus shown the immense care with which God had provided witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, as it was preached by the apostles, and believed by all Christians, he now proceeds to reason from it to the resurrection of the dead, and also from their denial of the resurrection to its effect on Christ and the gospel.
"But if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from [the] dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of [the] dead? But if there is no resurrection of [the] dead, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, then also empty [is] our preaching, and empty also your faith; and we are also found false witnesses of God, because we witnessed concerning God that he raised the Christ, whom he raised not, if indeed no dead are raised. For if no dead are raised, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, vain [is] your faith; ye are yet in your sins; then also those that fell asleep in Christ perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are most to be pitied of all men." (Vers. 12-19.)
Philosophy may issue in dualism, pantheism, or materialism; it may make reason or experience the sole criterion of truth; it may glory in the creative imagination of a Plato, or the pure reason of an Aristotle; but Stoics and Epicureans mock and evade the resurrection, which displays the power of God in the scene of man's total nothingness and corruption. Of the soul they may boast. It is man's soul; and its capacity, its intellect, may be as great in the wicked as in the righteous. But God alone can raise the dead. Man has not even the idea. Even the well-read Pliny (Nat. H.) denies the possibility: Revocare defunctos ne Deus quidem potest. Then Oriental thought, which ever thinks of matter as essentially evil, and therefore makes liberation from the body the highest blessing, would help in the same direction those who attach weight to such speculations. Christ, Christ risen from the dead, is not only the death-blow to all these workings of human intellect, but establishes, as the great fact presented by God to faith, victory over evil in Him who bore its consequences, in the righteous judgment of God, that He might deal in sovereign grace with man, give the believer power morally by the Holy Ghost meanwhile, and associate him openly and triumphantly with Christ in the same risen condition ere long and for ever.
We can understand, then, the effort of Satan to bring in among the Christians doubt and denial of the resurrection of the dead. As the seal of Christ's grace and glory, of the miracles He wrought, and of the truth He taught, His resurrection is all-important; no less is it the proof of Satan vanquished, of redemption accepted, of God glorified, even as to sin and sins borne in Christ's body on the tree. It is the power of the new and inner life, and it is the object and spring of the most glorious hope, in which the Christian and the church look to be blessed with Christ in heavenly places, and this in fact, as now in title, Christ having already borne God's judgment for the believer, who has passed from death into life.
In vain, then, did reason object to a state of incomparable superiority to the present, or even to the past, before sin entered and spoilt the work of God on earth. In vain did it scorn the re-union of soul and body, as if it must be a hopeless imprisonment, a going back and not forward, and an everlasting degradation for the spirit after its emancipation. Christ risen is the completest possible answer, wherein God gives us already to behold by faith man according to His counsels of glory, flowing from His love, and founded on His righteousness: not an idea, but a fact, attested as none ever was singe the world began, for precision and competency and fulness as well as certainty, those witnesses alone being excluded which were incompatible with its nature, and which constituted therefore a moral impossibility.
It is impossible to read the Acts of the Apostles without seeing that the resurrection of Christ was the all but unvarying testimony presented to souls, Jews or Gentiles: not merely that He died for our sins, but that God has raised Him from the dead. To say that there is no resurrection of dead men is evidently to set that aside. (Ver. 12.) It is the introduction of Christ which brings every reasoning of man in divine things to the test. The universal message, the gospel to every creature, is that the Saviour is raised from the dead after suffering for sin. The denial of the resurrection denies not merely the future hope of the saints, but the standing fact of Christ, the mainspring of God's good news. For it is plain that, if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, what becomes of the apostolic preaching? what of the faith of saints in Corinth, and everywhere else? (Vers. 13, 14.) He had told them before that there is salvation by the gospel for such as held fast the truth preached, unless they believed heedlessly, or at random (εἴκη, ver. 2), in which case they would be as ready to give up as to receive. Now he goes farther, and, instead of speaking of their subjective state as a light reception of the truth, he points out that, if Christ has not been raised, as the gospel declares, the preaching of the apostles was objectively as empty (κενόν) as the faith of the saints. But there is something more precise still: "and we are also found false witnesses of God, because we witnessed concerning God that he raised the Christ, whom he raised not, if indeed no dead are raised." (Ver. 15.)
The resurrection of Christ is thus vital and fundamental. It is no accessory privilege, nor proof ex abundanti, which can be lopped off, leaving the stock of divine grace unimpaired. If it is not true, the foundations are gone, the gospel is worthless, God Himself misrepresented, and the witnesses impostors. The immense fact of resurrection was one which Christ not only predicted over and over again, but on it staked the truth of His mission and Sonship. It is the manifestation of that power of deliverance from death and judgment which is the present joy of the Christian, as it is the brightest witness to the efficacy of atonement, and the pledge of glory with Christ at His coming again. Hence too, if it be not true, the chosen witnesses are convicted of falsehood, because their testimony belies God in attributing to Him the raising of the Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact no dead are raised.
It will be seen how persistently the apostle binds together the resurrection of Christ and of the dead. This is no accident, but the fruit of God's grace and wisdom, who would associate every hope and ground of confidence for His own with Christ; as indeed the Christian is truly united to Him, and knows it. "For if no dead are raised, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, vain [is] your faith; ye are yet in your sins; then those also that fell asleep in Christ perished." (Vers. 16-18.) Again, he argues that, if no dead are raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if He has not, vain (ματαία) is their faith, in the sense of being without purpose, and without effect; or, as the next clause teaches, "ye are yet in your sins." The consequence is, of course, no less serious for the believers already passed away: "then also those that fell asleep in Christ perished." Inferences so shocking as to saints that are gone, as well as for their own souls, yet flowing legitimately from any principle, are no slight evidence of its falsity. But if the conclusions were so inadmissible, who could accept the premisses which make them not only just but inevitable?
Thus the future, according to God, is lost, and we are reduced to a hope in Christ for this life only. But if this be all, the Christian, instead of the happiest, is of all men most to be pitied; for he certainly falls under special trials because of his faith in Christ, which is nevertheless fruitless, and leaves him in his sins, if no dead rise; for in this case Christ has not been raised, and perdition must be the portion of all that sleep in Him; they suffer in the present, and they have lost their hope for the future. None can be more pitiable. (Ver. 19.)
The apostle, having thus brought to a climax of absurdity the consequences that flow from the assumption that no dead rise, turns next to the facts of revelation, and triumphantly displays their blessedness in Christ, as contrasted with the first head of the race.
"But now hath Christ been raised from [the] dead, *first-fruits of those fallen asleep. For since by man [is] death, by man also resurrection of dead. For as in the Adam all die, so also in the Christ shall all be made alive; but each in his own rank: [the] first-fruits Christ; then those that are the† Christ's at his coming; then the end, when he giveth up ‡ the kingdom to him [who is] God and Father, when he shall have annulled all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until"" he put all the enemies under his foes. Death, last enemy, is annulled. For he subjected all things under his feet. But when he saith that all things have bean subjected, [it is] manifest that [it is] except him who subjected all things to him. But when all things shall have been subjected to him, then also the Son himself will be subjected to him that subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all." (Vers. 20-28.)
* ἐγένετο (Text. Rec.) is added by Dcorr. K L, most cursives, Syrr., Goth., etc., contrary to all the rest.
† τοῦ is omitted in Steph. and the early edition, Elz., by mere carelessness.
‡ παραδῳ (Text. Rec.) K L and most cursives, etc., παραδιδοῖ (or -ῳ,) the best authorities.
"" άν (Text. Rec.) is added by a good many authorities, uncial and cursive, but not the more ancient, as is αὐτοῦ by A F G, etc.
Thus the fact is that Christ is raised from the dead, not merely first, but "first-fruits of those fallen asleep." It is uncalled for, therefore, to reason more on the disastrous results of non-resurrection. For not only is a dead man risen, but that dead is Christ, the conqueror of Satan, not only for this life in the wilderness, but from the grave for eternity. He is risen, so that death has no more dominion over Him; He is risen, the pledge that those fallen asleep shall consequently rise. It is the proof that all men shall live, unjust no less than just; but here He is viewed, not in His power to raise His enemies for judgment, but as the blessed spring of the resurrection of His own, first-fruits of those fallen asleep. Consequently He is said to be, as He was, raised from out of (ἐκ) dead men, as His saints will be at His coming or presence. In His and their case it is not only ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν but ἐκ νεκρῶν (that is, resurrection of, but from among dead men), because in both cases other dead remain in their graves; whereas the resurrection of the unjust will be only ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν, and not ἐκ νεκρῶν.
Such is the simple statement of the truth as to this, which is sometimes missed through ignorance, if not prejudice. It is superfluous to argue that the resurrection of the saints is called a resurrection of the dead. Of course it is, as the resurrection of the unjust might be also. But the decisive point of difference is, that only the resurrection of Christ or of His own, who are raised without disturbing the wicked as yet from their graves, could be designated a resurrection from, or from out of, the dead, because the rest of the dead await His voice to wake them up to stand before the great white throne, and be judged according to their works. There are two distinct acts, as well as characters, of resurrection, according to our Lord, in John 5 (and so in Rev. 20); never, therefore, such a notion as one universal or indiscriminate rising of all (good and bad) at the same moment, as tradition supposes with an effort at proof from Daniel 12 (which predicts the revival of Israel on earth), and from Matthew 25 (which treats of all the Gentiles, or the nations which the Son of man will judge when He sits on the throne of His glory here below), neither scripture speaking of resurrection in the true and literal sense.
But more: we are shown the connection of resurrection, as of death, with man. If the weak and fallen Adam brought in the one, the glorious last Adam will bring in the other, Himself already the first-fruits. "For since by man [is] death, by man also the resurrection of dead. For as in the Adam all die, even so in the Christ shall all be made alive." (Vers. 21, 22.) There are two families characterised by the irrespective heads. The Adam family consists of all mankind, and they all die; the Christ family consists of all that are Christ's, and they shall all be made alive, that is, in resurrection. For the question is exclusively of the body, and not of the soul, important as this last may be in its place. What the apostle here demonstrates is, that the bodies of the dead rise, and this in virtue of Christ for all His people, as death is the portion of all Adam's posterity as such. It is impossible to sever "all" in either case from their representative head: only "all" in Adam's case embraces the entire race, whereas "all" in the case of Christ as necessarily attaches to His family alone. And as this is certain to the thoughtful believer, so is it made plain to the simplest in verse 23, "But each in his own rank; [the] firstfruits Christ; then those that are the Christ's at his coming." Then all that are made alive in virtue of the Christ are shown here distinctly to be those that are His, and none else. Are not the wicked, then, to be raised? Unquestionably; but so special is the resurrection here that they are not even named. It is the resurrection of life, and belongs only to those that have practised good. They are His. For them He has won the victory. To them even now He has given eternal life; and they, if fallen asleep, shall rise at His coming.
"Then the end, when he giveth up the kingdom to him who is God and Father, when he shall have annulled all rule and all authority and power." (Ver. 24.) Here it will be noticed that the apostle introduces, not the rising of the wicked dead, but "the end," when Christ delivers up the kingdom in which He is to come and appear. (Compare Luke 19:12; Luke 23:12; 2 Timothy 4:1.) "The end," being the epoch of the delivery of the kingdom in which He is to judge, must be after all judgment is over, and still more after the rest of the dead have been raised in order to be judged. It is in this way, then, that the resurrection of the wicked is not expressed but involved; not in the blessed life-giving resurrection which is for His own, but in that exertion of His power which characterises His kingdom, when all the enemies are to be put under His feet, the last of those to be annulled being death. The unjust are no longer, even seemingly, under that power of death or Satan; for they must be raised, Satan punished, and death annulled. He must reign and judge the enemies, and theirs is expressly a resurrection of judgment according to the Lord's express declaration; whereas believers do not come into judgment, but have life in Him, and will reign with Him then. The risen saints are associated with Him when He takes the kingdom; the wicked are judged before He gives it up. "The end" here is absolute. It is the close, not merely of the age, as in Matt. 13, Matt. 24, and Matt. 28, which inaugurates the Son of man's coming to reign, but of that kingdom. It is strictly "the end," when eternity in the fullest sense begins, the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
It will have been seen that the grand point is God's exaltation of the risen Man, the Lord Jesus, in contrast with fallen Adam. And we must carefully distinguish between the words of the two psalms applied to Him: in verse 25 of Psalm 110, and in verse 27 of Psalm 8. God, according to the latter, subjected all things to the Son of man, once humbled, now risen; and this so absolutely takes in the universe as put under Christ, that God alone is excepted. But according to the former the glorified Messiah sits on the throne on high till Jehovah makes Messiah's enemies His footstool. He is waiting until that moment. Then is the rod of Messiah's strength to be sent by Jehovah out of Zion, and He will rule in the midst of His enemies.
Thus the subjection of all things to Him risen is already true to faith, according to the use made of Psalm 8, while at His coming from the right hand of God His enemies will be made His footstool, and He will rule in their midst. To this last answers the necessity of His reigning till He put all the enemies under His feet, death's annulling included at the last. It is what scripture calls the kingdom, during which the Lord is to reduce all rule and all authority, and power, and then render it up to Him who is God and Father. (Ver. 24.) This will be at the end of the thousand years' reign, which reign is characterised in verse 26, verse 26 adding what will be at its close. Verse 27 states the universality of His present title, as bound up with His resurrection; as verse 28 the eternal condition, when the universe has been subjected in fact, and the Son Himself shall be also, to Him who subjected it all to Him, in order that, not the Father exclusively, but God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) should be all in all, instead of the kingdom of man in Christ exalted and reigning. Thus is the lie of Satan met by the truth, grace, righteousness, and glorious counsels of God: man in Christ governing all first; and finally God all in all, where righteousness needs not to rule, but can dwell in endless blessing and peace.
The apostle now resumes the reasoning interrupted by the great parenthesis of divine revelation in verses 20-28. Therein he had traced out the consequences of Christ's resurrection, and its connection with the kingdom to the end, when God shall be all in all. And the simple apprehension of the unquestionable fact that he does take up again the thread laid down at verse 19 is of all moment in helping us to understand the true bearing of verse 29, which has been singularly misapplied by all who fail to see this reference. It had been shown that the denial of the resurrection affects alike the dead and the living saints. If Christ be not raised, not merely did those that fell asleep in Him perish, but if in this life only we have had hope in Christ, we are more to be pitied than all men. This directly in sense connects itself with the disputed clause.
"Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead? If no dead rise at all, why also are they baptized for them?* Why are we also in danger every hour?" (Vers. 29, 30.) There is no need of departing from the ordinary meaning of "baptized," "for," or "dead." Still less is it admissible that the Corinthians or others, in that early day, had devised a new and superstitious application of baptism, either for catechumens about to die, or for relatives already departed, who had not been baptized. It is incredible that the apostle should have contented himself with so passing a notice of such a nefarious imposture; though Dean Stanley assumes its truth, and characteristically draws from it a testimony to the apostle's charitable dealing with a practice for which he could have had no real sympathy. Calvin justly explodes the notion of any such allusion here. It is probable however that, though with Estius, etc., he is wrong in thinking "the dead" mean those about to die, such a misinterpretation of the language may have suggested the rite later to the excitable and perverted minds of the Syrian Marcionites, or other heretics, of whose practice we hear in the writings of Tertullian, Epiphanius, etc.
* αὐτῶν A B Dp.m. E F G K P, twenty cursives, most versions, etc.
Neander's mind revolts from the idea of such a baptism, yet he so far yields to the reasoning of Ruckert as to allow that it seems the most natural interpretation. (Hist. of the Pl. and Tr. of the Christian Church, i. 164, ii. 117, ed. Bohn.) He suggests the raging of an epidemic about that time in Corinth, which may have swept away believers before baptism, whose relatives were baptized in their stead; but he pleads that, if Paul might for the occasion have borrowed an argument from the conviction lying at the basis of such a custom, he would probably have taken care to explain himself at another opportunity against this custom itself, as he did in reference to females speaking in their public assemblies.
There is not the smallest foundation for any hypothesis of the sort. The context suggests the true substitutionary idea. That ὑπέρ allows of some such shade of thought is certain, not only from its usage in all correct Greek, but especially from the New Testament, where the physical sense of "over,"* so common elsewhere, does not occur. Thus we find the apostle's use in Philemon 1:13, which is distinct. (Compare John 11: 60-52; John 18:14; Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 2Co 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 3:18, etc.) Nor is this found in the inspired writers only. Viger has cited a decisive passage from Dion. Hal. (Ant. Rom. viii. 87, ed. Reiske, p. 1723): οὗτοι τὴν ἀρχὴν παραλαβόντες, ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀποθανόντων τῳ πρὸς Ἀντιάτας πολέμῳ ατρατιωτῶν, ἠξίουν ἑτέρους καταγράφειν.
* Yet this was the thought of Luther, Tyndale, and others here. They took ὑπέρ as meaning over their graves; but the Greek Testament usus loquendi is against the sense.
The apostle then refers to those who had already slept in Christ, as well as the living trials of such as himself. What will become of those baptized for the dead? Why then be enlisted into such ranks, if no dead at all are raised? Why do we too incur danger every hour? It was a forlorn hope indeed, if the light of resurrection did not shine. There is no strange practice supposed, but a forcible association of any now baptized with those who had gone before; still less is there a reprehension, express or tacit, which it is only possible to conceive by indulging in the imagination. Had it been οἱ βαπτισθέντες, there might have been some biding show of argument for an exceptional fact or class, but οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι much more naturally suits the baptized in general, the objects of that action. To infer that the present participle, rather than the aorist, implies a practice not generally prevalent, is as illegitimate grammatically, as it is exegetically to conceive a practice not otherwise known to us. There is not the least ground to gather from the text that it existed then, or was here alluded to. There is no reason, therefore, for translating the phrase "on behalf of the dead." Indeed it seems to me that, were there a reference to friends, believing or not, who had died without baptism, a much more definite and restricted formula would be imperatively called for than ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν, which very naturally refers to those in verse 18, as present danger does to verse 19. This also accounts for the change from the third to the first person; so strict is the analogy, without the strange fancy that by the third person, and by the article before βαπτ., the apostle indirectly separates himself and those to whom he is writing from participation in, or approval of, the practice.
I do not contend for, nor agree with, the views of the Greek fathers; but it is to be noticed that not one of them, as far as I am aware, saw any such reference, as Ambrose, Anselm, Erasmus, Grotius, etc., followed by Ruckert, Meyer, De Wette, Alford, etc.; still less does one state it as "the only legitimate reference," which is indeed not only unfounded but presumptuous, if not to the last degree puerile. Nor do I understand what Hr. T. S. Green means by "baptized concerning the dead," as he translates in his "Twofold New Testament." In his "New Testament Grammar" of 1842, page 251, he cites Romans 1:4, and 1 Corinthians 15:29, as supposed instances where by νεκρῶν only one person, namely, Christ, is really signified; but this is in both a mistake. C. F. Matthaei falls into the opposite error of supposing that, baptism being typical of resurrection, ὑπὲρ τῶν ν. = ἑαυτῶν, comparing Matthew 8:22 and similar passages. This resembles Chrysostom, Theodoret, Tertullian, etc., who taught that "for the dead" meant for our bodies. None of them saw the train of thought.
But G. B. Winer seems at least as uncertain as any in his Grammar of New Testament Greek (Moulton's edition). First, he tells us (page 219) that ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν can hardly refer to (the dead) Christ - in that case we should have had εἰς τοὺς νεκρούς - but must be understood of (unbaptized) dead men. There is no such necessity, as we have seen. But, letting this pass, in page 349 we are told that the text is probably to be rendered, "who allow themselves to be baptized over the dead;" whereas, when formally treating of the prepositions, he admits that the meaning of ὑπὲρ in the New Testament is always figurative, the nearest approach to its local signification being 1 Corinthians 4:6, unless we so render our text. In the same page (478) he gives "for the benefit of, for," as probably meant in 1 Corinthians 15:29. But he does not close the paragraph without admitting that, as in most cases he who acts in behalf of another appears for him, ὑπέρ sometimes borders on ἀντί, "instead of," and cites, besides Eurip. Alc. 700 and Philemon 1:13, Thuc. i. 141 and Polyb. iii. 67. 7. This last evidently sustains the real unforced sense of our text, which is as consonant with the context and argument, as it avoids the need of doing harshness to grammar, exegesis, early doctrine, and history.
It is the resurrection (and all is based on that of Christ) which, as it is the basis of Christianity, so also animates with a calm and constant courage more than human. Here the apostle turns to his own experience, the more vividly and solemnly to impress the saints addressed: "Daily I die, by the boasting of you, brethren,* which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. If after man I fought with beasts in Ephesus, what [is] the profit to me? If no dead rise, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Wake up righteously, and sin not; for some are ignorant of God: I speak unto your shame." (Vers. 31-34.)
* ἀδελφοί, A B K P, many cursives, versions, and fathers.
The Corinthian saints were his boast and joy, whatever their faults, which no one had such reason to feel as the apostle; but he had it in Christ Jesus, which gave it force and permanence. Thus does he protest his dying day by day. It is not a doctrinal standing; there he could say, I died. Death with Christ is a fact; for faith it is never a mere and slow process going on, as mystics dream. Here it is a constant exposure to physical death. So he served the Lord, and boasted in His saints: how absurd if there be no resurrection l But it was not only joy in the saints spite of daily dying; what a spring for endurance in the world outside l "If after man I fought with beasts in Ephesus, what [is] the profit to me?" Faith is not fanatical; it reasons as soundly as it feels loyally and works by love.
Here again it was resurrection which cheered him in the fierce conflict, which, speaking as men do, he calls a fight with beasts. It is no uncommon figure. Compare Titus 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:17; and so, it seems, Heraclitus designated the Ephesians: see also Appian, Bell. C. ii. 763, and Ignat. ad Rom. 5. To me also with some ancients and moderns, κατὰ ἄνθρωπον seems meant to qualify the phrase, so that it should not be taken literally.
To abandon resurrection then is to yield ourselves up to ease, pleasure, and indulgence. It is not the immortality of the soul, but the faith of resurrection, which keeps man from sinking to and below a brute. Men may cry up the soul, without a thought of God and only to self-exaltation; but the resurrection brings in the reality of God's intervention with men, either in salvation or in judgment. And these human thoughts, which looked plausible and even spiritual, had deceived some of the saints in Corinth. Is it not more purifying to think of the soul apart from the body, and in heavenly glory? Not so; it is the hope of the body rising which encourages us to deny self, and mortify our members here below. See the place given to the body in Rom. 6, Rom. 12, as well as in the Epistles to the Corinthians, and elsewhere. Now is the time, here the place, to walk as dead with Christ, and alive in Him to God. In glory we shall dwell at ease, our bodies changed into the likeness of His glorious body.
The word of God maintains this life of unselfish faith and readiness to suffer, not the communications of men, as themselves confess. These puff up and corrupt: so say Euripides, Menander, and common proverbs. Hence the call to wake up righteously, or to righteousness, and not to be sinning. To deny the resurrection is to display ignorance of God. (See Matthew 22:29.) This was not wonderful in a heathen; but what a disgrace to the saints that some among them should be thus ignorant! So ends boastful knowledge. The Corinthians must begin again, and, starting from a dead and risen Christ, use the truth of God to judge the thoughts of men. He loves to be known as the God that raises the dead, while it is also true that all live unto Him.
The apostle next turns from warning to meet objections in the shape of questions physical, as our Lord met the social difficulty raised by the Sadducees. These he quickly exposes in their true character. They are folly; or he rather is a fool who employs his avowed ignorance to reject the testimony of God, who alone knows. Our wisdom is to know the scriptures, and so His word, without a question of His power to give them effect.
"But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what body do they come? Fool, what thou sowest is not quickened unless it die; and what thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may be of wheat, or of some one of the rest; and God giveth to it a body as he pleased, and to each of the seeds its own body." (Vers. 85-38.) Thus severely is the inquisitive mind of man rebuked, and especially so in this instance, where the clear revelation of God is doubted or denied, because the process, the how, of the resurrection may not be understood, or the character of the risen body. It will be found, however, that God does not withhold the weightiest information; but the apostle here administers a reproof which would be deeply felt by those who piqued themselves on their wisdom, yet were foolish enough to overlook the analogies of nature before their eyes, which refute the assumed likeness between the body as it is, and as it shall be. "Fool, what thou" (not God merely, but the feeble objector) "sowest is not quickened unless it die." Death, therefore, was no barrier to the resurrection, of course not its cause, but its antecedent. There may be change, as shown afterwards, but no resurrection unless death be first. There is dissolution in death, but not annihilation. There is disorganisation in death previous to another mode of being. But the seed dies as such in order to pass into a plant; and so he adds, "and what thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but bare grain it may be of wheat or of some of the rest, and God giveth it a body as he pleased, and to each of the seeds its own body."
What springs up differs widely from what was sown, yet each seed issues in its own plant. There is such a thing as species, and this fixed from the first, as God pleased. "Natural selection" is not only contrary to fact but senseless, yet none the less the idol of modern materialists, as Ashtoreth was of the Sidonians and Molech of the Amorites. No doubt there is a germ or principle of life; but what does the objector know of it? If he is utterly unacquainted with this even in the seed, is he in a position to cavil as to the body? One may reason fairly from known truth, not from ignorance. If one rejects whatever is not understood, where is such unconscionable doubt to end? Not only is all spiritual being swept away, but one must begin with denying the existence of oneself and every other being. Nothing is less rational than to make reason the only inlet of thought, feeling, knowledge, conscience, or consciousness.
"Every flesh [is] not the same flesh, but one [is] of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. [There are] both bodies heavenly and bodies earthly; but different is the glory of the heavenly, and different that of the earthly: one [the] sun's glory, and another [the] moon's glory, and another [the] stars' glory; for star differs from star in glory. So also [is] the resurrection of the dead." (Vers. 39-42.) The apostle shows how vain is the assumption of a condition for the body in resurrection similar to the present state, from the diversity even of flesh in the animal world that now is. There is no monotony in God's creation. The flesh is palpably different in men, cattle or quadrupeds, birds, fishes: how unreasonable then, if that ground be sought, to take for granted that the body must be at all like what it is now in a condition so distinct as resurrection! Far more sensibly might one conceive the most striking difference. It is no question, however, either of reason or of imagination, but of faith as far as God has revealed. But there is a farther illustration, which the apostle draws even from sight, to set aside empiricism, petty and grovelling, as it always is.
"There are both bodies heavenly and bodies earthly," and the glory of the one differs from that of the other; and not only this, but the heavenly ones, sun, moon, stars, vary from each other, as do those below. There is no need to suppose angels are meant, like Alford, de Wette, and Meyer; and to introduce saints here as do Chrysostom and his followers, is to confound the things compared. The objection to understanding "heavenly bodies" of the sun, etc., as if too modern a term, is simply want of knowledge; it is mere captiousness to boot that, if we apply these words thus, we must suppose the apostle to have imagined the stars to be endowed with bodies in the literal sense; for similar language occurs in the Hellenistic Greek of Galen (iv. 868, 869, ed. Kuhn), who lived not long after the apostle, as was pointed out by Wetstein, ii. 171, more than a hundred years ago. Yet the object is not to prove different degrees of glory in heaven, as thought by many ancients and moderns, but rather to contrast the risen with the natural state. "So also is the resurrection of the dead." This is made plain from what follows. They are quite wrong who make the glory to be exclusively heavenly or earthly. Both will be found in the kingdom of God. (See John 3:12.)
"It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body: if* there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual." (Vers. 42-44.)
* εἰ A B C D F, etc., while Text. Rec. omits it with the rest: so also with the place of καί after or before ἐστιν, and further against or for σῶμα before πν.
This is one among the scriptures where the present is used, not as an actual or continuous thing, but abstractly: a sense constantly forgotten by grammarians as well as expositors. Yet is it inexcusable ignorance, for the same principle applies to almost, if not all, languages, and seems to flow from the nature of language, the present being most suitable for an abstract, as distinguished from its historical, usage. Here it is impossible rightly to take it otherwise. Resurrection, and even burial, or sowing, as it is here figuratively called (and not the origin of our natural being, as Archbishop Whately understood), excludes a merely actual or a continuing fact. It is the statement of a truth.
The body of the believer is sown in dishonour, corruption, and weakness: so all see; what do we believe? It is raised in incorruption, glory, and power - not a mere ethereal or airy body, as Chrysostom and Origen respectively said, but a body instinct with spirit life, as once with animal life from the soul, yet not a spirit, but a spiritual body, not limited by earthly conditions, but capable either of passing through a closed door, or of being felt, able to take food, though needing none, if we may judge from Him who, risen as the great Head and pattern and power, declared that a spirit has not flesh and bones, as they saw He had.
The suitability of this for heaven is apparent. "If there is a natural (or soulish) body, there is also a spiritual." As surely as there is the body which we have now, suited to the earth and the life that now is, there is also a spiritual body, which we shall have when the Lord Christ comes to raise those that are His. (See vers. 20-23.) God, who constituted the one for the sphere of responsibility and trial, will certainly adapt the other to the conditions of glory, where the eternal life which is now exercised in scenes of sorrow, itself in faith, hope, and love, will then enjoy the unclouded rest of God on high. The εἰ, omitted by most of the later uncials and cursives, and even the Syrr. vv. as well as the Greek fathers, is attested by the most ancient and best manuscripts, uncial or cursive, the rest of the old versions, and the Latin fathers: only some, by ὁμοιοτέλευτον, have left out the entire latter half of verse 44.
Now the apostle comes to the decisive proof of scripture, and the personal test of Christ. "So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam a quickening Spirit: yet not first [is] the spiritual, but the natural, afterward the spiritual; the first man out of earth made of dust, the second man* out of heaven: such as he made of dust, such also those made of dust; and such as the heavenly [one], such also the heavenly [ones]; and even as we bore the image of the [one] made of dust, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly[ones]." (Vers. 45-49.) It is the way of the apostle, and indeed of the inspired in general, to trace up all to the sources; and so it is here at the end, as at the earlier part, of this discussion. Adam and Christ are before us, the first man Adam made only a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. Thus, as usual, first is seen man failing in his responsibility; then the obedient, suffering, victorious Man.
* So p.m. B G D E F G, etc., with many ancient versions and fathers, T. Rec. adds ὁ κύριος, "the Lord," with most of the later uncials and cursives, Syrr. Arm. and Goth. It is even said to be a Marcionite corruption in Dial., and by Tertullian.
It is to be noticed too that the great occasion when scripture shows us the Lord become a quickening spirit was when He rose from the dead. Then, not before, did He breathe on the disciples, and say, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. It was not the new birth merely, but life more abundantly, because in the power of resurrection; and this quite falls in with the doctrine of the chapter, which looks neither at incarnation nor at ascension, however important, nor here at His death, though this be sacrificially and in moral power the foundation of all for us as well as for God's glory.
Such was the order, and this the triumph, not yet in our resurrection, but in His who will raise the sleeping saints at His coming. It is not that Adam had not an immortal soul, or that Christ could not lay His life down; but the one at the beginning became a living soul, the other (after having been manifested in the end of the ages for putting away of sin by His sacrifice) a life-giving spirit as risen. "Out of heaven" is no more inconsistent with this, than "out of earth" with Adam's being made a living soul, but each, on the contrary, most suitable.
And now we can go a step farther in each ease. Such as was the dusty one (Adam), such also the dusty ones (the race); and such as the heavenly One, such also the heavenly ones (Christians); and just as we bore the image of the dusty one, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly One. We were, and are, naturally the family of the first man, and bore his image (cf. Genesis 5:3); we, as now in Christ, shall also bear the image of Christ in the day that is coming. God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He should be first-born among many brethren. It is not a question of any transforming of us meanwhile according to the same image by the Spirit, which is true and momentous day by day; it is that full and final conformity which cannot be till Christ consumates salvation, and transforms our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory, according to the working of His ability even to subdue all things to Himself.
If we go alone by manuscripts, etc., we should have here φορέσωμεν, "let us bear," seeing that the great majority of the best authorities is in its favour, not (it is true) the Vatican, and a few cursives with some versions and fathers, while others lay the express emphasis on the hortative form. The context is decisively in favour of the fut. inc. How then is the erratum to be accounted for? By two considerations: first, the proneness, even of the best copies, to confound o and w; secondly, the readiness of pious men, who feebly know grace, to turn a promise into an exhortation. The rationalist naturally prefers a reading which puts forward man, so as to hide the glorious power of God in raising the dead into the likeness of the risen Christ.
Thus the dying man and the Man of resurrection power stand in full contrast, as do those who are respectively theirs, with the glorious issue for such as once, the first man's, like others, became by grace of the Second, the last Adam. Adam became a sinner, and was sentenced to death before he became head of the family. Christ bore sin, and died to it, before He became Head of those who believed. Till He died He abode alone; after it He had much fruit. And as there never was a hope for man in another, so none other can rival Him. He is the last Adam, no less than the second Man. He who will finally pretend to it, ere the age ends, and secure the worship of what was once Christendom, as well as (strange to say) of the Jew, is only the man of sin, though sitting down in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. He is emphatically from beneath, as the Lord is from heaven, and they that follow him perish everlastingly, while the believer has life eternal in Christ, and shall be glorified with Him.
But we have more. "Now* this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,** in an instant, in [the] twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for it shall sound, and the dead shall live incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the word that is written, Death was swallowed up in victory. Where, death, [is] thy victory?† where, death,‡ thy sting? Now the sting of death [is] sin, and the power of sin the law; but thanks to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, my brethren beloved, be firm, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord always, knowing that your toil is not vain in [the] Lord." (Vers. 50-58.)
* δέ is the reading of A B C K L P, all the cursives known, etc., γάρ "for" of D E F G, etc. So the future κλ. is in C D F G, etc., but contrary to the mass and best.
** The true text is πάντες μὲν οὐ κ., π. δέ ἀλλαγησόμεθα, as in B E K L P, etc. But A F G, and many other excellent authorities support the absurd reading, "we shall all sleep, but we shall not all he changed," as Lachmann actually edited not only in 1831, but in 1850. He also read with many MSS ἀναστήσονται for ἐγ. in verse 52, but this makes scarcely a perceptible difference in translation.
† p.m. B C I M, etc., support this order contrary to Text. Rec., with most.
‡ "Grave," or "Hades," 2 A3 L M P contrary to the oldest as above.
It will be observed that God's kingdom is here viewed exclusively on the other side of death, in accordance with the great theme in hand. "Earthly things" have their place very definitely elsewhere; here, for the reason given, they are not found. Flesh and blood, man, as he is here below, cannot inherit God's kingdom. It is not merely that corruption does not inherit incorruption, being incompatible, but man in his best estate is altogether vanity. Short of resurrection, which is the intervention of another Man, who is also God, he cannot inherit where God reigns. But in Christ we see the power which withdraws the believer completely from death, impossible without His death, not because He could not intrinsically quicken for evermore, but because the believer had been a sinner like others, and could not otherwise be saved consistently with God's righteousness, holiness, truth, and glory.
His victory extends even to the living saints, not merely to keep them alive in the world, but to change them at His coming, without undergoing the humiliation of death in any shape. This is no doubt a truth unknown to Old Testament times, and the revelation there given; it is a secret made known now. "Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for it shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." The earlier communication was not a mystery; this is. Old Testament saints (witness Job) knew certainly the resurrection, not only of man in general (Job 14), but of the saint in particular (Job 19). But who could tell or think of saints being changed without going through death in virtue of the perfect victory of grace in Christ? It was reserved for the days of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, when the infinite work was done whereby souls, once guilty, could be brought into the efficacy and the knowledge of redemption. And what a proof of its efficacy, when the saints that remain alive are changed without dying, or still less any purgatorial process after death, and this, not in some specially known for practical holiness, but in all the saints then waiting for Christ here below!
Here man breaks down utterly. He revolts from what makes nothing of his power or his merits, yea, what exposes his total inability and demonstrates his ruin through sin, while it reveals the free and full and triumphant grace which saves - saves the body as well as soul of the Christian, through Christ, to God's glory. Even saints, themselves owing all to it, find it often so beyond their thoughts, that they are apt to curtail its extent, too bscure its clearness, and to fritter away its power.
A notable evidence of this appears in the singular vacillation here found in the ancient copies and versions. There is no need, perhaps no ground, for accusing any of failure in good faith; but if not, it is hard to account for the departure from the words and truth given by the Spirit, save by the strangeness of it for those who copied or translated.
Thus the Latins followed the reading extant in the first hand of the Clermont manuscript, but corrected there later, ἀναστησόμεθα, οὐ πάντες δέ ἀλλαγησόμεθα, omnes quidem resurgemus, sed non omnes immutabimur, "we shall indeed all rise again, but we shall not all be changed," a double error, directly opposed in each part to positive scripture. Indeed the dead saints shall rise, but all saints are not to die, nay, none found alive and remaining unto the coming of the Lord, when the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living that remain, shall be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. It is appointed unto men, doubtless, once to die; but saints stand on another ground - of the second Man, not of the first; and such as live till He comes look to be not unclothed but clothed upon, that mortality be swallowed up of life, instead of dying and rising again like the rest. Thus those who teach that we shall all rise imply the universal dying of the saints, and in effect deny the power of life in Christ, which it is the great aim of the Spirit to press in 2 Corinthians 5. But they teach still more erroneously that "we shall not all be changed" in no less open contrariety to the invariable declaration of scripture, and the necessary exigencies of that glory of God in hope of which we rejoice.
For we look for the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven as Saviour, who shall change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory. In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. The earthly house of the tabernacle we have now is wholly unmeet for the glory of God: we need therefore a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, which we shall have at Christ's coming. Consequently we must, and shall, be changed then and there. Hence the second clause of the Latin is as false as the first. They together ignore grace and glory in their full character and final issues. Accordingly, without a particle of prejudice against the Vulgate, one may say that it would be difficult to match such a departure from the true text and the truth in general in the worst version that ever was made. Yet human tradition dooms its votaries to the sanction, as authentic scripture, of these gross and grievous errors throughout half Christendom.
But the text of Lachmann the critic, founded on A C F G, and other authorities, is as bad, if not worse, π. [μ.] κοιμηθησόμεθα, οὐ π. δέ ἀλλαγ. For here we are taught in no sense the power of life, but of death, in the very chapter which develops resurrection in and of Christ, and in the part of it, above all others, which discloses the secret of victory by and with Christ when He comes for His own then alive on earth. A singular mystery it were, that "we shall all die (or sleep);" seeing that this is the common lot of the race, and in no way the disclosure of the exemption which grace will confer when the Lord Jesus will come and gather us to Himself. We need say no more of the further error which denies the change, after the pattern of Christ's glorification, to any that are His. Rationalism shares this latter with Romanism; and though they differ as to the former point, the one affirming that "we shall all sleep," the other that "we shall all rise," they agree in adopting mistaken readings, which deny the special grace of Christ to His own who are to be found awaiting His descent from heaven, and the special mystery here added to complete the general truth of the chapter.
This is entirely confirmed by the context (ver. 52), which besides furnishes somewhat more to the believer. We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The glorification of the saints will be effected, immense as it is in itself, and from every spot of the globe, sooner than the mind can reckon, or the eye discern, when the final summons is given to the heavenly host to quit its halting-place. The allusion is to the signal last given on the breaking up of a camp, at that time too familiar a figure to escape the nations of Europe and far beyond it, which had been welded into the empire of Rome. "For it shall sound," however little man may expect it, "and the dead shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed;" not, remark, we shall rise then, nor they only, but "we" too shall be changed, in exact accordance with the true and common text of verse 51, and in opposition to the changes of both rationalists and Romanists.
But we have more explanation, and a scripture rich in its connection of truth, cited from the Old Testament. "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality." (Ver. 53.) The apostle expresses the truth with perfect precision. He does not speak of those corrupting in the grave; nor even of the dead or dying, but of what is "corruptible" and "mortal," so as to take in the body even whilst we are alive, and thus be an object for the change, if not for resurrection. "But when this corruptible shall have put-on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that is written, Death was swallowed up in victory." (Ver. 54.) The epoch of the change is the coming of the Lord from heaven. When the dead in Christ shall rise, and we who are alive be changed and caught up, then shall Isaiah 25:8 come to pass. But it is evident from the prophet that this must be at the end of the age, not of the world; that then the earth's blessing begins, instead of passing away, and that then Jehovah will destroy in this mountain [Zion] the face of the covering cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. . . . In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah, We have a strong city, etc. It is the kingdom come in power and glory, instead of the end of it for eternity; and the risen or changed saints will share it, as well as eternity, with Christ. "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" It is to be feared that many Christians know it less now than the carnal Corinthians of old. Yet it is less excusable for those who have the apostolic correction to profit by.
No wonder that the apostle refers to the challenge of another prophet, "Death, where [is] thy victory? Death, where [is] thy sting?" (Hosea 13:14) with the comment, "Now the sting of death [is] sin, and the strength of sin the law; but thanks to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Vers. 65-57.) What a triumphant answer is the resurrection and the change of the saints at the coming of the Lord! It is sin which gives not only occasion, but its sting, to death; and the law, however righteous, could work no deliverance for the guilty, but proves in effect the strength of sin, by provoking its rebellious will so much the more against the commands of God. His grace; not the law, is the strength of holiness, as we learn from Romans 6:14; and therefore does the apostle here break forth into thanksgiving as he sees God giving us the victory so completely and for ever, through our Lord Jesus Christ. "Wherefore, my brethren beloved, be ye stedfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord always, knowing that your toil is not vain in [the] Lord." (Ver. 58.) Christ's resurrection is the pledge of ours, the witness of salvation, the pattern of deliverance, and the spring of hope in the midst of labour as well as suffering for Christ,
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
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.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
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.
Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
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.
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.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
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.
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
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.
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.
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?
And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
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.
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
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:
But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
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.
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
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.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.
As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
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.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
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.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
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.