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 15:27-34
27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Paul continues his argument for the resurrection. Verses 27 and 28 are somewhat confusing, when read in English at least, so we’ll turn first to The Pulpit Commentaries for help in interpreting Paul’s message here:
But when he saith. The “he” refers to God. This indirect method of quotation is common in the rabbis. The reference is to Psalms 8:7 (LXX.), and the words, spoken of man in general, are here Messianically transferred to the federal Head of humanity, the ideal and perfect God Man, Jesus Christ. (For the fuller explanation of the matter, see Hebrews 2:5-10.) He is excepted, which did put all things under him. So our Lord says, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father” (Matthew 11:7). The universal dominion of Christ is also insisted on in Eph 1:20-22; 1 Peter 3:22.
Then shall the Son also himself be subject, etc. The words can only be taken as they stand. The attempts to explain them have usually been nothing but ingenious methods of explaining them away. Of these the one usually adopted by the Fathers is the limitation of the statement to Christ’s human nature (John 5:26, John 5:27, John 5:30) and mediatorial kingdom, just as we find in 1 Corinthians 11:3. The head of Christ is God.” We can easily “darken counsel by words without knowledge” in dealing with this subject, and hide an absolute ignorance under a semblance of knowledge; but anything and everything which we can say in “explanation” of this self subjection of the Son to the Father is simply involved in the words which follow. That God may be all in all. “All things in all things” or “all things in all men.” The words involve a complete and absolute supremacy. It is quite an easy matter for commentators to say that the scope of the words “must be confined to believers,” if they chose to make “all” mean “some.” Such methods often lead to an irreligious religionism and a heterodox orthodoxy. The reader will find the same phrase in Colossians 3:11. I confine myself to the comment of the profound and saintly Bengel: “There is implied something new, but also supreme and eternal. All things, and therefore all men, without any interruption, no created thing claiming a place, no enemy creating opposition, shall be subordinated to the Son, the Son to the Father. All things shall say, ‘God is all things to me.’ This is the consummation; this the end and summit. Further than this not even an apostle can go.”
The quoted passage, by Paul, comes from Psalm 8’s LXX (Septuagint) translation. As the note points out, Paul does not provide an exact quote – but the format of quoting that Paul does is common at the time among Rabbis. Paul was trained as a Pharisee.
(LXX) Psalm 8: 6 and thou hast set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet: 7 sheep and all 3oxen, yea and the cattle of the field; 8 the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, the creatures passing through the paths of the sea. 9 O Lord our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth!
subjection = ὑποτάσσω hupŏtassō, hoop-ot-as’-so; from G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively, to obey:—be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.
Verse 28 is confusing to some, as the note states, proffering a few different possible ways to interpret the text. I will defer to the note as the text reads in a relatively straight-forward way to me. Continuing on to verse 29, in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(29) Else.—We can well imagine the Apostle pausing, as it were, to take breath after the splendid outburst of mingled rhetoric and logic which we find in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; or perhaps even postponing until some other day the further dictation of his Epistle, when he could calmly resume his purely logical argument in favour of the doctrine of the Resurrection. Then there will not appear such a startling or inexplicable abruptness in the words with which this new argument is commenced. “Else”—i.e., if there be no resurrection—what shall they who are baptised for the dead do? If the dead be not raised at all, why are they then baptised for the dead? Such is the proper punctuation, and not as in the English version, which joins the clause, “if the dead rise not,” with the preceding instead of with the following portion of the verse. Also the word translated “rise,” is “are raised.” This is an argumentum ad hominem. The practice known as baptism for the dead was absurd if there be no resurrection. To practise it and to deny the doctrine of the resurrection was illogical. What shall they do? i.e., What explanation shall they give of their conduct? asks the Apostle. There have been numerous and ingenious conjectures as to the meaning of this passage. The only tenable interpretation is that there existed amongst some of the Christians at Corinth a practice of baptising a living person in the stead of some convert who had died before that sacrament had been administered to him. Such a practice existed amongst the Marcionites in the second century, and still earlier amongst a sect called the Corinthians. The idea evidently was that whatever benefit flowed from baptism might be thus vicariously secured for the deceased Christian. St. Chrysostom gives the following description of it:—“After a catechumen (i.e., one prepared for baptism, but not actually baptised) was dead, they hid a living man under the bed of the deceased; then coming to the bed of the dead man they spake to him, and asked whether he would receive baptism, and he making no answer, the other replied in his stead, and so they baptised the ‘living for the dead.’” Does St. Paul then, by what he here says, sanction the superstitious practice? Certainly not. He carefully separates himself and the Corinthians, to whom he immediately addresses himself, from those who adopted this custom. He no longer uses the first or second person; it is “they” throughout this passage. It is no proof to others; it is simply the argumentum ad hominem. Those who do that, and disbelieve a resurrection, refute themselves. This custom possibly sprang up amongst the Jewish converts, who had been accustomed to something similar in their own faith. If a Jew died without having been purified from some ceremonial uncleanness, some living person had the necessary ablution performed on them, and the dead were so accounted clean.
This verse broaches the topic of “baptism of the dead.” The comment notes that Paul does not explicitly endorse the practice, and is careful to separate those who do this, from himself, using the word “they.” The practice of baptizing on behalf of the dead is – in the present – most commonly associated with the Latter Day Saints movement (Mormons.) I’ll introduce a little of the topic from its wikipedia article:
Baptism for the dead, vicarious baptism or proxy baptism today commonly refers to the religious practice of baptizing a person on behalf of one who is dead—a living person receiving the rite on behalf of a deceased person.
Baptism for the dead is best known as a doctrine of the Latter Day Saint movement, which has practiced it since 1840. It is currently practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), where it is performed only in dedicated temples, as well as in several other current factions of the movement. Those who practice this rite view baptism as an essential requirement to enter the Kingdom of God, and therefore practice baptism for the dead to offer it by proxy to those who died without the opportunity to receive it. The LDS Church teaches that those who have died may choose to accept or reject the baptisms done on their behalf.
Baptism for the dead is mentioned in (1 Corinthians 15:29) as proof of a physical resurrection, though the exact meaning of the phrase is an open question among scholars. The plainest reading of the Greek text suggests vicarious baptisms performed by the living on behalf of the deceased, but some scholars dispute whether Paul approved of the practice or whether the verse truly refers to an actual physical practice among early Christians. Early heresiologists Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 28) and Chrysostom (Homilies 40) attributed the practice respectively to the Cerinthians and to the Marcionites, whom they identified as heretical “Gnostic” groups, while Ambrosiaster and Tertullian affirmed that the practice was legitimate and found among the New Testament Christians (though Tertullian later recanted his original beliefs in his later life as he became associated with Montanism). The practice was forbidden by the Councils of Carthage in the last decade of the fourth century AD, and is therefore not practiced in modern mainstream Christianity, whether Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or any traditional Protestant churches.
The note and the article give some history on this issue. I think it’s a tricky thing to embrace an idea that has been officially denounced for more than fifteen hundred years, based on a single verse of text. Nowhere else in the New Testament is “baptism for the dead” mentioned, or endorsed. Paul does not overtly endorse it here. What we do know is that the practice apparently existed and that Paul refers to it to make his point re: Resurrection. Continuing on in the text, with Ellicott:
(30) And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?—This is the same kind of argument now applied to the Apostles themselves. Their conduct also would be illogical if they did not believe in a resurrection. Notice the strong contrast between “them,” in the previous verse, and “we” in this verse.
This verse essentially asks why the Apostles would be doing what they’re doing without the Resurrection. There is no worldly benefit to being an Apostle. Their lives are in danger. They’re financially poor. Poverty and violent deaths make more sense if there is an eternal reward at the end of that choice. Paul continues with that point in the next verses. Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries:
I protest. The particle of adjuration here used (νὴ) is found nowhere else in the New Testament. By your rejoicing. This is an erroneous translation. The words mean “by my glorying in you.” St. Paul’s one subject of earthly glory, his “hope, and joy, and crown of rejoicing,” was the conversion of Churches (Romans 15:16, Romans 15:17). In Christ Jesus our Lord. His boasting was not a worldly boasting, but was sanctifled by its reference to the work of Christ. I die daily. St. Paul “died daily” a double death—the ever deepening death unto sin and unto the world; and the daily death of sufferings borne for Christ’s sake (see 2 Corinthians 4:10, 2 Corinthians 4:11). It is the latter to which he here alludes. “For thy sake are we killed all the day long” (Romans 8:36).
After the manner of men. The phrase is a qualification of the strong metaphor, “I fought with beasts.” It is equivalent to “humanly speaking.” This is Chrysostom’s view. It is the most reasonable, and accords with the use of the phrase in Romans 3:5; Galatians 3:15. Meyer, however, explains it to mean “with mere human motives.” I have fought with beasts. Not literally, for in that case he would have mentioned it in 2 Corinthians 11:1-33. as one of his deadliest perils, and it must have been recorded by St. Luke in his full account of St. Paul’s life at Ephesus. A Roman citizen was legally exempt from this mode of punishment. The word points to some special peril incurred in resisting the hostility of the worshippers of Artemis (Acts 20:19), but not to the tumult in the theatre, which did not happen till after this letter was despatched (1 Corinthians 16:8, 1 Corinthians 16:9). The metaphor is not uncommon. Thus in 2 Timothy 4:17 St. Paul alludes to Nero (probably) as “the lion.” David often compares his enemies to wild beasts (Psalms 22:21, etc.). When his jailor informed Agrippa of the death of Tiberius, he did so in the words, “The lion is dead.” St. Ignatius writes of the ten soldiers who were conducting him to Rome as “ten leopards.” Epimenides, in the line quoted by St. Paul in Titus 1:12, spoke of the Cretans as “evil wild beasts,” and the pseudo-Heraclitus gives this same uncomplimentary title to these very Ephesians. Let as eat and drink; for tomorrow we die. Perhaps the “if the dead are not raised” belongs to this clause. He means that such an Epicurean maxim, if never excusable, would at least be natural, if men could only look to life in the present. The sentiment is found on the lips of the despairing and the sensual alike in Isaiah 22:13, and in the writings of the heathen (Horace, ‘Od.,’ Isaiah 1:4, Isaiah 1:13-17, etc.). St. Paul would be all the more familiar with it because it formed the infamous epitaph of a statue of Sardauapalus, which he must have often seen in his boyhood at Anchiale, near Tarsus. It represented the debased king as snapping his fingers, and using almost these very words. It is strange that similar passages should be found even in the Talmud. Shemuel said to Rav Yehudah, “Seize and eat, seize and drink; for the world is like a wedding feast (soon over)” (‘Eiruvin,’ fol. 54, 1).
The note above gives a good history of Paul’s ministry and what he might have meant by fighting beasts in Ephesus. Continuing forward in the text with verse 33 and Ellicott:
(33) Be not deceived.—The previous words are spoken with sarcasm. That is what you must come to if this life be all. The solemn thought then occurs to the Apostle that perhaps these words do only too truly describe the actual state of some of the Corinthians. They had become tainted by the bad moral atmosphere in which they lived and which was impregnated with the teaching of that false philosophy, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” “Be not deceived,” he adds, solemnly; it is a fact, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” This is a proverb, slightly modified in one word from a line in the Thais of Menander. It is impossible to say whether the Apostle was acquainted with the original line in the poem, or not; for in any case he would probably have quoted it in the form in which it was current amongst ordinary people. The force of the proverb is, that even evil words are dangerous. The constant repetition of an immoral maxim may lead to immoral life. Words that seem harmless, because they float lightly like thistledown, may bear in them a seed of evil which may take root and bring forth evil fruit.
As the note says, Paul is rejecting the quoted passage from the previous verse by quoting a line from Thais of Menander.
Menander (/məˈnændər/; Greek: Μένανδρος Menandros; c. 342/41 – c. 290 BC) was a Greek dramatist and the best-known representative of Athenian New Comedy. He wrote 108 comedies and took the prize at the Lenaia festival eight times. His record at the City Dionysia is unknown.
He was one of the most popular writers in antiquity, but his work was lost during the Middle Ages and is now known in highly fragmentary form, much of which was discovered in the 20th century. Only one play, Dyskolos, has survived almost complete.
As a sidenote, you can appreciate how miraculous the New Testament is when you compare it with other documents from antiquity. Menander – as an example – was highly popular in the same period and his work is now all but gone. By contrast, the New Testament survived antiquity and was comparatively very well preserved.
We’ll wrap this section up now in The Pulpit Commentaries again:
Awake to righteousness. The word rendered “awake” means “awake at once from a drunken sleep.” This verb does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word rendered “awake” in Ephesians 5:14 and Romans 13:11 is a different one. The metaphor, however, occurs in the simple verb in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 1Th 5:8; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 5:8, etc. The word rendered “to righteousness” is literally an adverb, righteously. It may mean “as is fit.” And sin not. Here the present tense, “be not sinning,” is contrasted with the instantaneous aorist, “awake.” Have not the knowledge. The original is stronger, “have an ignorance.” They have not a vacuum of nescience, but a plenuum of ignorance. I speak this to your shame; rather, I am speaking to shame you. The object of all I am saying is to excite your shame—not, as in some previous instances, “to spare you.”
Paul delivers a stern command here to the Church in Corinth. He is likening some of the ideas being pushed within the Church here as akin to being in a drunken stupor. He calls on them to wake up from that stupor and cease to sin.
Paul is consistent in calling *both* for unity and for righteousness within the Church. Here he is emphasizing the need for righteousness.
As chapter 15 continues, Paul answers questions about how the dead will be raised.