As he approaches the end of this letter, Paul goes into a lengthy defense of the resurrection of the dead. Since Paul does not call those who contradict the doctrine of resurrection false teachers, it appears that those who claimed that there is no resurrection were simply believers who doubted the resurrection. Nevertheless, Paul devotes the most space to this single topic in an effort to dispel any doubt in the resurrection. Paul’s earnest defense is understandable because resurrection is a doctrine that is of fundamental importance to the Christian faith.
Did You Know...?
- “Being baptized on behalf of the dead” (15:29): Many commentators have interpreted Paul’s words to refer to vicarious baptism, i.e. baptism on behalf of people who have died. The assumption is that a deviant Christian group during Paul’s days was practicing vicarious baptism. But it is questionable that Paul would cite the practice of a heretical group in support of an essential Christian doctrine. Besides, there is no historical evidence of such practice during the apostolic period. The Greek preposition, hyper (ὑπέρ), may be understood in the final sense here, i.e., “on account of.” If that is the intended meaning here, Paul would be alluding to those who were baptized with conviction in the resurrection of the dead. To be “baptized on account of the dead” is to be baptized knowing that we will be united with Christ in a resurrection like His (cf. Rom 6:5). [ref]
- Firstfruits (15:20): According to God’s law, the firstfruits of the field or flocks, was to be offered to the LORD and given to the Levites. It was considered the best portion of the produce of the land (cf. Num 18:12–13; Deut 18:4, 26:2–4).
- “God has put all things in subjection under his feet” (15:27): This is likely an allusion to Psalm 8:6.
- “I fought with beasts at Ephesus” (15:32): It was unlikely for Paul, a Roman citizen, to have been engaged in a real struggle with wild animals.
The word “beasts” is used figuratively of those who are carnal and wicked (cf. Tit 1:12). It is best to understand Paul’s words metaphorically as referring to his struggles with those who obey their own desires and oppose the truth (cf.
1 Cor 16:8–9). This interpretation also connects well with the verses that follow.
How does Paul describe the gospel (vv. 1–2)?Hide Answer
• “The gospel I preached to you”
• “Which you received”
• “In which you stand”
• “By which you are being saved”
Why do you think Paul uses such an elaborate description?Hide Answer
By emphasizing the importance of the gospel to the believers’ salvation and by reminding the believers of how they had first accepted the gospel from the apostle, Paul helps his readers see the gospel as a treasured possession. They must hold fast to the words of the gospel and never waver.
How do we hold fast to the word that was preached to us (v. 2)?Hide Answer
To hold fast to the word that was preached to us is to continue to believe and obey the teachings we have received about the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 3:6–18). We must not desert Him who has called us or turn to a different gospel, even if the other gospel may seem to be preaching Christ (cf. Gal 1:6–9). We have to be faithful to the words of our Lord Jesus and to the teachings of the apostles concerning Christ and salvation.
What is the content of the gospel?Hide Answer
• Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (v. 3)
• He was buried and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (v. 4)
• He appeared to the apostles, including Paul, and many other brothers (vv. 5-8).
Why is it important for believers to know that the resurrection of Christ is central to the gospel?Hide Answer
The saving power of the gospel and the hope that it offers rest on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Our remission of sins, justification, and eternal life all depend on the fact that Christ has indeed risen (cf. Lk 24:46–47; Jn 3:14–15; Acts 13:32–39; Rom 4:23–25). Jesus is truly the Son of God because of His resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:1–4). Because Christ has risen and has received all authority from the Father, baptism, footwashing, and the Holy Communion have spiritual saving effect (cf. Mt 28:18–20; Jn 6:53–54, 13:1–5; Rom 6:5–11). Because He is risen, we are able to receive the promised Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 14:18–20; Acts 2:32–33). Our hope in our future resurrection is founded solely on the risen Lord (Jn 11:25–26). A gospel without the resurrection is a total deception (
1 Cor 15:15). A faith that is ignorant of the resurrection is in vain ( 1 Cor 15:14, 17).
What evidence does Paul provide for Christ’s resurrection?Hide Answer
Paul cites the Christ’s post-resurrection appearances as evidence for His resurrection (vv. 5–8). Christ appeared to as many as five hundred brothers at one time—an event that would be difficult to fabricate. Furthermore, Christ also appeared to Paul, making Paul a personal witness to Christ’s resurrection. Paul’s transformation from a persecutor of the church to a preacher of Jesus Christ is itself a powerful testimony to the resurrection.
What can we learn from Paul in the way he views himself?Hide Answer
Paul says that he is unworthy to be called an apostle. He does not forget that he used to be a persecutor of the church of God and that it is by God’s grace that he can be what he is (cf.
1 Tim 1:12–14). In an effort to repay the grace he has received, Paul works harder than all the other ministers. Even then, he acknowledges that it is the grace of God in him that enables him to do this.
If we always keep in mind how undeserving we are to serve the Lord, we will be humble all the time because none of our contributions to the ministry is from ourselves. Even when we are weary or experience hardship in our ministry, we would endure and continue because we remember the Lord’s great love and mercy toward us.
What makes you convinced that Christ has risen from the dead?(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
What are the serious implications for Christians of denying the resurrection of the dead?Hide Answer
• If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised (v. 13).
• If Christ has not been raised, then preaching is in vain and faith is in vain (v. 14).
• If Christ has not been raised, preachers of the gospel are false witnesses (v. 15).
• If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (v. 17).
• If Christ has not been raised, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (v. 18).
• If Christ has not been raised, then our hope as believers is in this life only, and we are the most pitiful (v. 19).
What does verse 19 tell us about the Christian faith?Hide Answer
Our greatest hope as Christians is not to receive present benefits in this life such as healing, protection, or success. Rather, it is in our future resurrection. We must not lose sight of the glorious promise of eternal life and focus on physical comfort or material abundance (cf. Mt 16:24–28). If we are clear about our future hope, we would not give up on our faith when we suffer afflictions and trials (cf.
2 Cor 4:16–18).
What does it mean that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (v. 20)?Hide Answer
Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in the sense that He is the first to have risen from the dead, and those who belong to Christ and have fallen asleep will likewise rise at the coming of Christ (v. 23;
1 Thess 4:14–16). In addition, the idea of firstfruits as an offering to God is also present in Christ’s resurrection. Just as Christ died to sin and lives to God, we who believe in Christ are also to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:10–11). As such, Christ’s resurrection is a prototype for our new spiritual life as well as our future resurrection.
What does this segment teach about Christ’s dominion?Hide Answer
Christ reigns until God has put all things in subjection under the feet of Christ (v 25, 27). He will destroy every rule and every authority and power (v. 24). The last enemy to be destroyed is death (v. 26; cf. v. 54–55). After all things are subjected to Christ, He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father and be subject to the Father, that God may be all in all (v. 24, 28).
Speaking of the dominion of Christ, the anointed one, Psalm 110:1 records that the Christ shall sit at God’s right hand until God makes Christ’s enemies His footstool. Peter cites this Scripture when witnessing about the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:32–36), explaining that Jesus has indeed been exalted at the right hand of God. Thus, when the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, He had begun to reign. But at the present time, not all things are yet put in subjection under His feet (Heb 2:5–9). The time will come, however, when all will be subjected to Christ. Death, the last enemy to be destroyed, will be swallowed up in victory when the dead in Christ are raised to life and put on immortality. That will mark the completion of Christ’s reign.
What three rhetorical questions does Paul pose in this segment in support of the resurrection of the dead?Hide Answer
1. If there were no resurrection, what do people mean by being baptized on account of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on account of them? (v. 29)
2. If there were no resurrection, why are the ministers of the gospel in danger every hour? (v. 30)
3. If there were no resurrection, what does Paul gain if he fought with beasts at Ephesus? (v. 32)
See “Did you know” for the meaning of baptism on account of the dead. Why is baptism on account of the dead relevant to the resurrection?Hide Answer
If we take the Greek preposition hyper (ὑπέρ) to mean “on account of” or “because of” in the current context, then baptizing on account of the dead means doing so with the faith that the dead will be raised to life at the coming of Christ. Paul’s argument, then, is that baptism would be meaningless if there is no resurrection of the dead. Our baptism into Christ is founded on the faith that Christ has indeed risen and that baptism enables us to be united with Christ in resurrection (cf. Rom 6:5–11; Col 2:13).
What kind of lifestyle is depicted in vv. 32–34?Hide Answer
The mentality behind the lifestyle that Paul depicts is that since there is no afterlife, one might as well indulge in pleasure and enjoy this life to the fullest. Such is the mindset of many of those who do not believe or acknowledge God. Paul warns the believers not to be deceived by those who live in this manner.
Why is this lifestyle contrary to our hope in the resurrection?Hide Answer
Unlike what unbelievers may assume, death is not the end. Our lives in the present life have eternal consequences. We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Our bodily existence is but temporary, and we look forward to our future resurrection (
2 Cor 5:1–10). Those who live according to their own desires are destined for destruction, but our citizenship is in heaven and we await our Savior and the final resurrection. Therefore, while we are still in this body, we must live a lifestyle that pleases the Lord (Php 2:17–21; 1 Pet 4:1–5; 1 Jn 3:1–3).