In chapter 15, Paul now moves to the subject of the Resurrection of the dead; and he has much to say to them on the subject, making this the longest chapter of all his epistles. There were some at Corinth saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. Despite the nature of some of the problems Paul has had to address with them, this was probably the most troubling, since it is among the most basic facts of the gospel. We do not know the source of these false teachings. It is plausible that it was Sadducee influence among the brethren, but it just as likely came from the philosophic influence from those of Greek origin. It seems somewhat hard to imagine this lapse of faith accompanying a continued practice of their Christianity – and so soon after they had been converted, as well as blessed with spiritual gifts!
In any case, Paul points out that denial of resurrection would necessarily include that of Jesus; and if Jesus was not raised, their entire faith is futile (verses 16-17). Paul most aptly states the obvious in verse 19 – “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” He then recounts the eyewitness accounts by the apostles of Jesus death and his appearances to them after he was raised. Then he makes the point that they (the apostles) were all threatened and constantly in danger of losing their lives for continuing to boldly bear that witness to others. It was absurd to suggest that they would continually risk their lives for an outright lie!
Verse 29 seems to be a very difficult passage, and is interpreted by some as indicating Paul’s approval of people being baptized (by proxy) for the dead. Whether or not this verse is actually talking about such baptisms is disputed by many. Parsing the Greek for the words translated “for the dead” in this verse has led many to different theories, but we can reach the proper conclusion easily by taking these and other scriptures into account for what Paul and the other apostles taught about baptism. Advocating the baptism of living people in place of those who have died would run contrary to the importance of the active profession of faith and of repentance that the Scriptures require (Acts 2:38, John 3:18), as well as the conscious act of putting on Christ that Paul speaks of in relation to baptism in Galatians 3:27.
So then in verse 35, Paul turns to the question of what sort of body the risen will have if we are truly to be raised from the dead. He uses the seed as an illustration of this, as they are well familiar with the fact that the seeds that are buried and decompose become reborn into something more magnificent – that God gives it a body just as he has chosen. Paul reveals that the resurrection body will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual, and that even those who are living will be transformed at the same time when Christ comes again (verse 51 – “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…”).
The Lord, who has created all things, is certainly able to accomplish this promise to have the mortal and perishable body put on immortality (verses 53-54). Just as we bear the image of the first Adam while we are here, we will bear the heavenly image of the last Adam (Jesus), who became a life-giving spirit (verses 45-49). Paul refers to Hosea 13:14 in verse 55 then, as verse 26 promised, says in verse 57 “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What comfort!
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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