Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 15:1-3
15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
As chapter 15 begins, Paul makes an appeal to the gospel and key event of the faith – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He does this by referring to Scripture and then citing the large number of people who witnessed Christ after His resurrection.
If you have ever wondered why Christianity took off like a raging wildfire, across the known world, the existence of Old Testament texts which seem to describe Jesus, and the attestation of *hundreds* of people to have seen Christ resurrected is a big part of it. That is to say nothing of the hundreds of people who witnesses miracles prior to His deatt and resurrection. Paul refers to those witnesses in this chapter and notes that many of them are still alive. The Corinthian who might doubt could go talk to them in person. The Pulpit Commentaries provides a helpful overview of Chapter 15, and I will likely refer back to it as we go through the text.
The doctrine of the resurrection. This chapter, and the thirteenth, on Christian love, stand out, even among the writings of St. Paul, as pre-eminently beautiful and important. No human words ever written have brought such comfort to millions of mourners as the words of this chapter, which form a part of the Burial Service of almost every Christian community. It is the more deeply imprinted on the memory of men because it comes to us in the most solemn hours of bereavement, when we have most need of a living faith. The chapter falls into six sections.
1. The evidence of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-11).
2. The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith in the general resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
3. Results to be deduced from Christ’s resurrection (verses. 20—28).
4. The life of believers an argument for the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:29-34).
5. Analogies helpful for understanding the subject (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).
6. Conclusion and exhortation (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
We’ll cover point one on this site, in (I think) three parts. Continuing on in The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 1:
Moreover. The δὲ of the original merely marks the transition to a new topic. The gospel. He here uses the word with special reference to the Resurrection, which is one of the most central and necessary doctrines of the “good tidings,” and which always occupied a prominent place in St. Paul’s preaching (Acts 17:18; Acts 23:6), as well as in that of all the apostles (Acts 1:22; Acts 4:2; 1 Peter 3:21). Ye have received; rather, ye received. The “also” is emphatic. The Corinthians had not been like Christ’s “own,” who “received him not” (John 1:11).
A fact not well known today is that the use of this word was overtly political. Prior to the now universal use of the word, as a reference to the story of Jesus, it was a reference to Caesar Augustus. I have included an excerpt from an excellent article by nickcady.org below, but I encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing:
An inscription found in Priene, in modern-day Turkey, referring to Caesar Augustus says: “the birthday of [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euangelion) concerning him.” (Priene 150.40-41)
This inscription is found on a government building dating from 6 B.C. Here is more of what it says, which gives us insight into how they understood the “gospel” concerning Caesar Augustus:
The most divine Caesar . . . we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things . . . for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura; Caesar . . . the common good Fortune of all . . . The beginning of life and vitality . . . All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year . . . Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence . . . has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus . . .who being sent to us and our descendents as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest /PHANEIS/, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times.
The “gospel” of Caesar Augustus was what we call today the Pax Romana, the age of peace in the Roman Empire which came about during this time, into which Jesus was born.
Caesar Augustus in this inscription is declared to be: divine, savior, and the beginning of the good news for all people on Earth.
I was into this environment that Jesus was born. Prior to Christ, most of the world would have thought of “the gospel” as a reference to the Roman emperor. Thus, there was something provocative in the decision to use this word in reference to Christ.
Continuing on to verse 2 in the Pulpit Commentaries:
By which also ye are saved; literally, ye are being saved. It is as if some surprise was expressed at the necessity for again making known to them a gospel which
(1) he had preached and
(2) they also received; and
(4) by means of which they were now in a state of safety, they were of the class of sozomenoi (Acts 2:47). If ye keep in memory what I preached unto you. The order, which is peculiar, is, “In what words I preached to you, if ye hold [it] fast.” Possibly the “in what discourse” depends on “I make known to you.” The duty of “holding fast” what they had heard is often impressed on the early converts (1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Hebrews 10:23). Ye have believed; rather, ye believed; i.e. ye became believers. In vain. The word may either mean “rashly,” “without evidence,” as in classical Greek; or “to no purpose,” “without effect,” as in Romans 13:4; Galatians 3:4; Galatians 4:11. In this case they would have received the seed in stony places (Matthew 13:21).
Note that the ESV translation of verse 2 is “are being saved.” This is important inasmuch as it implies an on-going activity, not a one time occurrence in the past.
There is an on-going debate among Christians about the idea of “once saved, always saved.” Can a person lose his or her salvation? The majority view in Christianity is that one *can* lose his or her salvation and that view seems to be supported by the text here. However, for the sake of fairness, I have embedded a debate on the subject in a video below:
Continuing into verse 3, with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(3) For I delivered . . .—Here follows the explanation and illustration of what he meant, in 1 Corinthians 15:2, by “with what word I preached the gospel.” We see here what the subject of apostolic teaching was—not indeed all the gospel that the Apostle taught, but what he considered of the first importance, and therefore put in the forefront of his teaching—viz., the historical fact of Christ’s death for our sins, His burial, His resurrection. This was the first Creed of Christendom.
For our sins.—Not only because of, but in behalf of our sins, in order to take them away (Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5). The fact of the Atonement was not something evolved by the Apostle’s own consciousness, but a fact revealed to him by Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 11:23, and Note there.)
One point mentioned in this verse is that Christ died for sins, in accordance with Scripture. Which Scripture?
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Verse 10 is the key version in this section.
The entirety of Psalm 22 is viewed as a reference to Christ. This view is bolstered by the Gospel account that Christ quoted Psalm 22:1 while on the cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The chapter (it is argued by Christians) describes how the people mocked Christ (Psalm 22:7-8; Mat 27:41-43), how they cast lots to divide up his clothes (Psalm 22:18; Mat 27:35), how his bones were out of joint (Psalm 22:14), how the wicked had surrounded him and pierced his hands and feet (Psalm 22:16) – the scars of which Thomas later got to touch and feel (John 20:27). Psalm 22 ends by saying God’s righteousness would be declared to “a people that shall be born” (Psalm 22:31).
The book of Isaiah also contains many verses which Christians argue prophecy the death and resurrection of Christ:
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
The Book of Job (believed by scholars to have been written before the Torah) is also a prophetic source for Christians:
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
The story of the Passover is also believed to be a prophetic event, with the blood of the lamb, on the wooden door beams of the Hebrews, providing them with protection from death. This history is tied together tightly, for Christians, by the fact of Christ’s crucifixion during Jewish Passover.
There is more (especially if we begin to look at typology), but these are likely among the Scriptures of which Paul is referring.
I think that is a good stopping point and we’ll pick up with the witnesses to the resurrection in the next section.