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 15:12-19
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Paul boldly marks the argument that the entire faith of Christianity hinges upon the Resurrection, and that without it, Christians are people to be pitied.
Starting in verse 12, Paul seems to be addressing a point of confusion and/or disbelief among the Corinthians. The way that he states the passage implies that the Corinthians believed that Christ rose from the dead, but that nobody else will do so. The idea that nobody else will do so is in opposition with Christian teaching. Paul argues that the two ideas are linked and inseparable. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead. St. Paul sees that if One has risen from the dead, the fact of that miracle, taken in connection with the rest of the gospel, furnishes Christians with a sufficient proof that they shall rise. “For,” he had already said to the Thessalonians, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (see the same argument in Romans 8:11). That there is no resurrection of the dead. These deniers of the resurrection are usually called “the Corinthian Sadducees.” After the state of social and moral laxity of which we have been reading, we can scarcely be surprised at the existence of any disorder or anomaly in the Church of Corinth. Yet it comes with something of a shock on our paralyzed sense of astonishment to read that some of these Christians actually denied a resurrection! The fact at once proves two remarkable truths, namely,
(1) that the early Christian Church had none of the ideal purity of doctrine which is sometimes ecclesiastically attributed to it; and
(2) that there was in the bosom of that Church a wide and most forbearing tolerance. We have no data to enable us to determine what were the influences which led to the denial of the resurrection.
1. They can hardly have been Jewish. The mass of Jews at this time shared the views of the Pharisees, who strongly maintained the resurrection (Acts 23:6). If they were Jews at all, they could only have been Sadducees or Essenes. But
(1) the Sadducees were a small, wealthy, and mainly political sect, who had no religious influence, and can certainly have had no representatives at Corinth; and
(2) the Essenes, though they had considerable influence in Asia, do not seem to have established themselves in Greece, nor are we aware that they were hostile to the doctrine of the resurrection.
2. Probably, then, they were Gentiles. If so, they may have been
(1) either Epicureans, who disbelieved in a future life altogether; or
(2) Stoics, who held that the future life was only an impersonal absorption into the Divine. Both these schools of philosophers “jeered” at the very notion of a bodily resurrection (Acts 17:32). In 2 Timothy 2:18 we read of some, like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who erred, saying “that the resurrection was past already.” These teachers were incipient Gnostics, who spiritualized the resurrection, or rather said that the term was only applicable to the rising from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. The Corinthian doubters seem from the arguments which St. Paul addresses to them, to have been rather troubled with material doubts which they may have inherited from their Gentile training
The note provides a lot to consider, both in the picture it paints of the world in the 1st century, and in the proof it provides that there was never a period of ideological purity within Church age. This second point is a difficult one, I think, to square with the Protestant Reformation and the protestant attitude toward Church authority in general. In its earliest days, the Church did not split over theological disagreement. Continuing in the Pulpit Commentaries:
Then is Christ not risen. If the possibility of a resurrection be generically denied, it cannot in any instance be true. Yet you admit as Christians that Christ rose! and his resurrection “has begotten us again to a lively hope” (1 Peter 1:3; see 2 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; John 14:19).
Vain. You accepted our proclamation (kerugma), yet it would be utterly void if its central testimony was false. The word translated “then” has a sort of ironic force—”after all,” or “it seems.” The whole argument is at once an argumentum ad hominem and a reductio ad absurdum. Your faith is also vain. For it would be faith in a crucified man, not in the risen Christ.
Paul’s point here is that the argument against the general Resurrection is logically inconsistent. If it was possible for Christ, then it is possible for the Church. If it is not possible for the Church, then it was not possible for Christ.
vain = κενός kenós, ken-os’; apparently a primary word; empty (literally or figuratively):—empty, (in) vain.
Continuing on to verse 15, with a note from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(15) Yea, and we are found false witnesses.—Not mistaken witnesses, but witnesses testifying to what they know to be false. This is another result involved in a denial of the doctrine of the resurrection, that the Apostles must be regarded as false witnesses—not deceived, but deceivers. The suppressed part of the argument here is the absurdity of the Apostles being such. There was no motive for them to speak untruth.
If so be that the dead rise not.—Better, if the dead be not raised.
This is an important point also. If the Resurrection is not possible, then the witnesses to it – Paul is one and describes hundreds of others earlier in the chapter – are all liars. We might expect people outside the Church to call Paul a liar, but here he infers that those within the Church who deny the Resurrection are essentially calling him a liar also. Continuing in Ellicott:
(16) For if the dead rise not.—Better, if the dead be not raised. The Apostle has in the previous verse completed the argument as to the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection, which proves that the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection cannot be maintained unless it can be shown that the Apostles are wilfully bearing false testimony, and that their preaching, and the faith of those who accepted it, is vain. He now turns to a different line of argument—a reductio ad absurdum. He maintains the doctrine of the resurrection by showing the incredible absurdities to which a belief in the contrary must lead. If you do not believe in a resurrection, you must believe—(1) That Christ is not raised, and that your faith, therefore, being false, has no result—that you are still slaves of sin. This you know by personal experience to be false. As well might a living man try to believe that he is a corpse. (2) That all who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished; that is, that the noblest and most unselfish perish like brutes. (3) That God gives men a good hope in Christ, and that it, not being fulfilled here, is never to be fulfilled. In other words, if there be no resurrection, the only alternative is atheism, for otherwise you have to believe that, though there is a God who is wise and just, yet that the purest and greatest life ever lived is no better in the end than the life of a dog; that those who have lived the most unselfish lives have perished like beasts; and that God aroused a hunger and thirst of the purest kind in some souls, only that the hunger should never be satisfied, and the thirst never be quenched.
This argument puts those who deny the general Resurrection of the Church into the impossible position of arguing that the Resurrection is possible for Christ but not for anyone else after. If you believe that Christ rose from the dead, then you cannot logically deny that hope for the Church. If you deny that hope for the Church, then you must deny it also for Christ. Continuing, now again in The Pulpit Commentaries:
Vain; rather, frustrate. The word used (mataia) is different from the word used (kene) in ver 14. Ye are yet in your sins. Because a dead Redeemer could be no Redeemer. Christ’s resurrection is the pledge of his Divine power. He was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). It is only “as a Prince and Saviour” that “God hath exalted him to give repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31; Romans 5:10).
Which are fallen asleep in Christ. Christians whose bodies have sunk into the sleep of death. Are perished. A notion which he feels that Christians must reject as utterly impossible. All that goodness, faith, tenderness, love, have not been dissolved to nothing.
The word from verse 17 sometimes translated as “vain” is translated as “futile” or “worthless” in other translation.
Paul explains that without the Resurrection, faith is empty because people remain in their sins AND he says that those who have died in Christ (“fallen asleep”) died in their sins and truly perished. Without the Resurrection, there is no point to Christianity at all. Continuing in the Pulpit Commentaries, to verse 19:
If in this life only we have hope in Christ. The word to which “in Christ” should be joined is uncertain; the order st the original is, “If in this life in Christ we have hoped only.” The “only” seems therefore to qualify the whole sentence: “If we have merely hoped in Christ, and that only in this life.” We are of all men most miserable; literally, we are more pitiable than all men. The remark only has an absolute bearing when Christians really are suffering from persecutions, as they did in St. Paul’s day (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:12). But to some extent all Christians have to bear their cross, and if all that they give up and suffer is sacrificed to a delusion, they deserve most pity in one sense, because they have been most conspicuously befooled. In another sense they are still the happiest of men; for their delusion, judged by its fruits, is more blessed than the dreary blank which is the only alternative.
Paul drives home the argument by explaining that without the Resurrection, not only are Christians no better off than others around them, but that Christians should be uniquely pitied for their delusions. The note states that even if it is a delusion, Christians would still be the happiest of men. Perhaps that is the case. However, I suspect that depends on how one defines happiness. The Christians life is a difficult one in times of persecution. Paul was certainly writing in an age of persecution.
In the next section of verses, Paul makes the argument again that Christ did rise from the dead, tying Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to the story of the Fall. Here we will see the purpose of Christ and the Resurrection in the grander scheme.