1 Corinthians 15:3-4
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;…
1. In these verses we have the earliest specimen of a Christian creed; the compendious form which Paul habitually used in order that, whatever else they forgot, they might not forget this, and to supply a test of the claims of those who assumed to speak in the name of Christ. Note how in 1 Corinthians 11:23, St. Paul introduces the form of words to be used at the Supper in precisely the same way he introduces the creed before us. The phrase seems to have been that by which St. Paul habitually introduced settled and formal statements of Divine truth.
2. But if this creed were already familiar, why repeat it here? Simply because the Corinthians needed to hear it again and again. There were those who held that matter was the root of all evil, that only as the spirit was redeemed from its thraldom to the body could men hope to rise into a happy spiritual life. And when Paul taught that the death and resurrection of Christ were virtually the death and resurrection of all who believed on Him, they concluded that "the resurrection was past already." Nay, as they reflected on the dignity of Him who had achieved this great spiritual redemption for them, they began to doubt whether the pure Son of God had ever been brought into immediate contact with aught so vile and corrupt as matter; whether all that pertains to His physical life was not a series of illusions. It was in this mood that St. Paul met them.
I. THE APOSTLE'S CREED INCLUDES THE THREE FOLLOWING FACTS.
1. That Christ really died — that His death was a genuine historical event, the date, manner, and place of which were all perfectly well known.
2. That Christ was buried — a real human body being laid in an actual grave, a grave familiar to those who dwelt in Jerusalem.
3. That Christ has been raised, as could be proved by hundreds of witnesses still alive. These three facts are. the cardinal facts of Christian history. To believe in these is, so far forth, to hold the catholic Christian faith.
II. FROM THESE THREE FACTS THE APOSTLE DRAWS TWO DOCTRINAL SEQUENCES.
1. Christ died; but to believe that will do no more for us than to believe that Lazarus died, unless we also believe that "Christ died for our sins."(1) The death of Christ was not a mere natural event. For in Him was no sin, and death is the natural consequence and proper wage of sin: in Him was "the power of an endless life" over which death had no claim or sway. His death, therefore, unlike ours, was a willing sacrifice. He died for the sins of those who were dead in sin, that, coming into their death, He might give them His life.
(2) But St. Paul does not embarrass his affirmation with any theory of the mode in which the death of Christ takes away sin. He is content to leave men to theorise as they will, if only they receive the cardinal fact.
2. The death and resurrection of Jesus are parts of an ordered scheme of a Divine economy. "Christ died, has been raised again according to the Scriptures," the law, the will of God. Now that the Hebrew Scriptures did foretell this (Isaiah 53:8, 9; Psalm 16:10) is obvious.
(1) Mark the value of this fact. It demonstrates that the sacrifice for our sins has found acceptance in heaven. The plan of the work wrought by Christ was designed by God. All the lines of His life were drawn by the hand of God before Christ took our flesh to atone our sin. And therefore to accept the redemption of Christ is to accept the redemption of God. We believe in Christ; we also believe in God.
(2) But here again St. Paul quietly passes by all the subtleties of speculative minds. He simply declares the simple fact that the redeeming work of Christ was in accordance with the will of God. He neither affirms anything nor requires us to believe anything as to the mode in which God accepts the righteousness of Christ on behalf of guilty men. All he demands is, that we should find here an expression of the good-will of God; and he demands this because to believe that Jesus died for our sins will be no "gospel" to us, unless we also believe that "God sent His Son to be the propitiation of our sins." Conclusion:
1. The creed is brief enough, and simple enough when compared with the creeds of the Church, and yet, in the judgment of an inspired apostle, it contains all that is essential to the Christian faith. Nay, St. Paul goes even farther than this. There were those at Corinth who, as yet, could not adopt even this succinct and simple creed in its integrity. But instead of expelling them from the Church, or dooming them to everlasting perdition, he sets himself to teach them more perfectly the way of life.
2. The lessons of St. Paul's wise, gracious conduct are —
(1) The more accurate and full a man's knowledge of Christian doctrine, the greater will be his help, of an intellectual sort, to Christian obedience. And therefore we should spare no pains to get and to give him rounded and complete views of the truth as it is in Jesus. But we must not be impatient with him if he is slow to learn.
(2) If we hold St. Paul's creed in St. Paul's spirit, we shall be very willing to hold as much more as we can. He delivered his creed "first of all." He delivered it first, because the fact that Christ died for our sins was of all facts the most momentous to sinful men — the very first thing they needed to learn. But if he taught this first, he also taught a good deal more than this. Having taught the simple lesson of the Cross, he was for ever urging men to go on to perfection.
(S. Cox, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;