1. Now I make known to you.He now enters on another subject — the resurrection — the belief of which among the Corinthians had been shaken by some wicked persons. It is uncertain, however, whether they doubted merely as to the ultimate resurrection of the body, or as to the immortality of the soul also. It is abundantly well known, that there were a variety of errors as to this point. Some philosophers contended that souls are immortal. As to the resurrection of the body, it never entered into the mind of any one of them. The Sadducees, however, had grosser views; for they thought of nothing but the present life; nay more, they thought that the soul of man was a breath of wind without substance. It is not, therefore, altogether certain (as I have already said) whether the Corinthians had at this time gone to such a height of madness, as to cast off all expectation of a future life, or whether they merely denied the resurrection of the body; for the arguments which Paul makes use of seem to imply, that they were altogether bewitched with the mad dream of the Sadducees.
For example, when he says, Of what advantage is it to be baptized for the dead?(1Co_15:29.) Were it not better to eat and to drink? (1Co_15:32.) Why are we in peril every hour? (1Co_15:30,) and the like, it might very readily be replied, in accordance with the views of the philosophers, “Because after death the soul survives the body.” Hence some apply the whole of Paul’s reasoning contained in this chapter to the immortality of the soul. For my part, while I leave undetermined what the error of the Corinthians was, yet I cannot bring myself to view Paul’s words as referring to anything else than the resurrection of the body. Let it, therefore be regarded as a settled point, that it is of this exclusively that he treats in this chapter. And what if the impiety of Hymeneus and Philetus had extended thus far, who said that the resurrection was already past, (2Ti_2:18,) and that there would be nothing more of it? Similar to these, there are at the present day some madmen, or rather devils, who call themselves Libertines. To me, however, the following conjecture appears more probable — that they were carried away by some delusion, which took away from them the hope of a future resurrection, just as those in the present day, by imagining an allegorical resurrection, take away from us the true resurrection that is promised to us.
However this may be, it is truly a dreadful case, and next to a prodigy, that those who had been instructed by so distinguished a master, should have been capable of falling so quickly into errors of so gross a nature. But what is there that is surprising in this, when in the Israelitish Church the Sadducees had the audacity to declare openly that man differs nothing from a brute, in so far as concerns the essence of the soul, and has no enjoyment but what is common to him with the beasts? Let us observe, however, that blindness of this kind is a just judgment from God, so that those who do not rest satisfied with the truth of God, are tossed hither and thither by the delusions of Satan.
It is asked, however, why it is that he has left off or deferred to the close of the Epistle, what should properly have had the precedence of everything else? Some reply, that this was done for the purpose of impressing it more deeply upon the memory. I am rather of opinion that Paul did not wish to introduce a subject of such importance, until he had asserted his authority, which had been considerably lessened among the Corinthians, and until he had, by repressing their pride, prepared them for listening to him with docility.
I make known to you. To make known here does not mean to teach what was previously unknown to them, but to recall to their recollection what they had heard previously. “Call to your recollection, along with me, that gospel which you had learned, before you were led aside from the right course.” He calls the doctrine of the resurrection the gospel, that they may not imagine that any one is at liberty to form any opinion that he chooses on this point, as on other questions, which bring with them no injury to salvation.
When he adds, which I preached to you, he amplifies what he had said: “If you acknowledge me as an apostle, I have assuredly taught you so.” There is another amplification in the words — which also ye have received, for if they now allow themselves to be persuaded of the contrary, they will be chargeable with fickleness. A third amplification is to this effect, that they had hitherto continued in that belief with a firm and steady resolution, which is somewhat more than that they had once believed. But the most important thing of all is, that he declares that their salvation is involved in this, for it follows from this, that, if the resurrection is taken away, they have no religion left them, no assurance of faith, and in short, have no faith remaining. Others understand in another sense the word stand, as meaning that they are upheld; but the interpretation that I have given is a more correct one. (8)
Moreover – But (δὲ de). In addition to what I have said, or in that which I am now about to say, I make known the main and leading truth of the gospel. The particle δὲ de is “strictly adversative, but more frequently denotes transition and conversion, and serves to introduce something else, whether opposite to what precedes, or simply continuative or explanatory” – Robinson. Here it serves to introduce another topic that was not properly a continuation of what he had said, but which pertained to the same general subject, and which was deemed of great importance.
I declare unto you – (Γνωρίζω Gnorizo). This word properly means to make known, to declare, to reveal Luk_2:15; Rom_9:22-23; then to tell, narrate, inform Eph_6:21; Col_4:7, Col_4:9; and also to put in mind of, to impress, to confirm; see the note at 1Co_12:3. Here it does not mean that he was communicating to them any new truth, but he wished to remind them of it; to state the arguments for it, and to impress it deeply on their memories. There is an abruptness in our translation which does not exist in the original. Bloomfield.
The gospel – See the note at Mar_1:1. The word here means the “glad announcement,” or the “good news” about the coming of the Messiah, his life, and sufferings, and death, and especially his resurrection. The main subject to which Paul refers in this chapter is the resurrection, but he includes in the word gospel. Here, the doctrine that he died for sins, and was buried, as well as the doctrine of his resurrection; see 1Co_15:3-4.
Which I preached unto you – Paul founded the church at Corinth; Act_18:1 ff. It was proper that he should remind them of what he had taught them at first; of the great elementary truths on which the church had been established, but from which their minds had been diverted by the other subjects that had been introduced as matters of debate and strife. It was fair to presume that they would regard with respect the doctrines which the founder of their church had first proclaimed, if they were reminded of them; and Paul, therefore, calls their attention to the great and vital truths by which they had been converted, and by which the church had thus far prospered. It is well, often, to remind Christians of the truths which were preached to them when they were converted, and which were instrumental in their conversion. When they have gone off from these doctrines, when they had given their minds to speculation and philosophy, it has a good effect to “remind” them that they were converted by the simple truths, that Christ died, and was buried, and rose again from the dead. The argument of Paul here is, that they owed all the piety and comfort which they had to these doctrines; and that, therefore, they should still adhere to them as the foundation of all their hopes.
Which also ye have received – Which you embraced; which you all admitted as true; which were the means of your conversion. I would remind you, that, however that truth may now be denied by you, it was once received by you, and you professed to believe in the fact that Christ rose from the dead, and that the saints would rise.
And wherein ye stand – By which your church was founded, and by which all your piety and hope has been produced, and which is at the foundation of all your religion. You were built up by this, and by this only can you stand as a Christian church. This doctrine was vital and fundamental. This demonstrates that the doctrines that Christ died “for sins,” and rose from the dead, are fundamental truths of Christianity. They enter into its very nature; and without them there can be no true religion.
2. If you keep in memory —unless in vain These two expressions are very cutting. In the first, he reproves their carelessness or fickleness, because such a sudden fall was an evidence that they had never understood what had been delivered to them, or that their knowledge of it had been loose and floating, inasmuch as it had so quickly vanished. By the second, he warns them that they had needlessly and uselessly professed allegiance to Christ, if they did not hold fast this main doctrine.
By which also ye are saved – That is, ye are now in a salvable state; and are saved from your Gentilism, and from your former sins.
If ye keep in memory – Your future salvation, or being brought finally to glory, will now depend on your faithfulness to the grace that ye have received.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
ye are saved — rather, “ye are being saved.”
if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you — Able critics, Bengel and others, prefer connecting the words thus, “I declare unto you the Gospel (1Co_15:1) in what words I preached it unto you.” Paul reminds them, or rather makes known to them, as if anew, not only the fact of the Gospel, but also with what words, and by what arguments, he preached it to them. Translate in that case, “if ye hold it fast.” I prefer arranging as English Version, “By which ye are saved, if ye hold fast (in memory and personal appropriation) with what speech I preached it unto you.”
unless — which is impossible, your faith is vain, in resting on Christ’s resurrection as an objective reality.
By which also ye are saved – On which your salvation depends; the belief of which is indispensable to your salvation; see the note on Mar_16:16. The apostle thus shows the “importance” of the doctrine. In every respect it demanded their attention. It was that which was first preached among them; that which they had solemnly professed; that by which they had been built up; and that which was connected with their salvation. It does not mean simply that by this they were brought into a salvable state (Clarke, Macknight, Whitby, Bloomfield, etc.), but it means that their hopes of eternal life rested on this; and by this they were then “in fact” saved from the condemnation of sin, and were in the possession of the hope of eternal life.
If ye keep in memory – Margin, as in the Greek, “if ye hold fast.” The idea is, that they were saved by this, or would be, if they faithfully retained or held the doctrine as he delivered it; if they observed it, and still believed it, notwithstanding all the efforts of their enemies, and all the arts of false teaching to wrest it from them. There is a doubt delicately suggested here, whether they did in fact still adhere to his doctrine, or whether they had not abandoned it in part for the opposite.
Unless ye have believed in vain – You will be saved by it, if you adhere to it, unless it shall turn out that it was vain to believe, and that the doctrine was false. That it was “not” false, he proceeds to demonstrate. Unless all your trials, discouragements, and hopes were to no purpose, and all have been the result of imposture; and unless all your profession is false and hollow, you will be saved by this great doctrine which I first preached to you.
3. For I delivered to you first of allHe now confirms what he had previously stated, by explaining that the resurrection had been preached by him, and that too as a fundamental doctrine of the gospel. First of all, says he, as it is wont to be with a foundation in the erecting of a house. At the same time he adds to the authority of his preaching, when he subjoins, that he delivered nothing but what he had received, for he does not simply mean that he related what he had from the report of others, but that it was what had been enjoined upon him by the Lord. For the word must be explained in accordance with the connection of the passage. Now it is the duty of an apostle to bring forward nothing but what he has received from the Lord, so as from hand to hand (as they say) to administer to the Church the pure word of God.
That Christ died, etc. See now more clearly whence he received it, for he quotes the Scriptures in proof. In the first place, he makes mention of the death of Christ, nay also of his burial, that we may infer, that, as he was like us in these things, he is so also in his resurrection. He has, therefore, died with us that we may rise with him. In his burial, too, the reality of the death in which he has taken part with us, is made more clearly apparent. Now there are many passages of Scripture in which Christ’s death and resurrection are predicted, but nowhere more plainly than in Isa_53:0, in Dan_9:26, and in Psa_22:0
For our sins That is, that by taking our curse upon him he might redeem us from it. For what else was Christ’s death, but a sacrifice for expiating our sins — what but a satisfactory penalty, by which we might be reconciled to God — what but the condemnation of one, for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness for us? He speaks also in the same manner in Rom_4:25, but in that passage, on the other hand, he ascribes it also to the resurrection as its effect — that it confers righteousness upon us; for as sin was done away through the death of Christ, so righteousness is procured through his resurrection. This distinction must be carefully observed, that we may know what we must look for from the death of Christ, and what from his resurrection. When, however, the Scripture in other places makes mention only of his death, let us understand that in those cases his resurrection is included in his death, but when they are mentioned separately, the commencement of our salvation is (as we see) in the one, and the consummation of it in the other.
For I delivered unto you first of all – Εν προτοις· As the chief things, or matters of the greatest importance; fundamental truths.
That which I – received – By revelations from God himself, and not from man.
That Christ died for our sins – The death of Jesus Christ, as a vicarious sacrifice for sin, is εν πρωτοις; among the things that are of chief importance, and is essential to the Gospel scheme of salvation.
According to the Scriptures – It is not said any where in the Scriptures, in express terms, that Christ should rise on the third day; but it is fully implied in his types, as in the case of Jonah, who came out of the belly of the fish on the third day; but particularly in the case of Isaac, who was a very expressive type of Christ; for, as his being brought to the Mount Moriah, bound and laid on the wood, in order to be sacrificed, pointed out the death of Christ; so his being brought alive on the third day from the mount was a figure of Christ’s resurrection. Bishop Pearce and others refer to Mat_12:40; Mat_16:21; and Luk_9:22; “which two Gospels, having been written at the time when Paul wrote this epistle, were properly called by the name of the Sacred Scriptures.” It might be so; but I do not know of one proof in the New Testament where its writings, or any part of them, are called the Scriptures.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
I delivered unto you — A short creed, or summary of articles of faith, was probably even then existing; and a profession in accordance with it was required of candidates for baptism (Act_8:37).
first of all — literally, “among the foremost points” (Heb_6:2). The atonement is, in Paul’s view, of primary importance.
which I … received — from Christ Himself by special revelation (compare 1Co_11:23).
died for our sins — that is, to atone FOR them; for taking away our sins (1Jo_3:5; compare Gal_1:4): “gave Himself for our sins” (Isa_53:5; 2Co_5:15; Tit_2:14). The “for” here does not, as in some passages, imply vicarious substitution, but “in behalf of” (Heb_5:3; 1Pe_2:24). It does not, however, mean merely “on account of,” which is expressed by a different Greek word (Rom_4:25), (though in English Version translated similarly, “for”).
according to the scriptures — which “cannot be broken.” Paul puts the testimony of Scripture above that of those who saw the Lord after His resurrection [Bengel]. So our Lord quotes Isa_53:12, in Luk_22:37; compare Psa_22:15, etc.; Dan_9:26.
For I delivered unto you – See the note at 1Co_11:23. “First of all.” Among the first doctrines which I preached. As the leading and primary doctrines of Christianity.
That which I also received – Which had been communicated to me. Not doctrines of which I was the author, or which were to be regarded as my own. Paul here refers to the fact that he had received these doctrines from the Lord Jesus by inspiration; compare the 1Co_10:23, note; Gal_1:2, note. This is one instance in which he claims to be under the divine guidance, and to have received his doctrines from God.
How that Christ died for our sins – The Messiah, The Lord Jesus, died as an expiatory offering on account of our sins. They caused his death; for them he shed his blood; to make expiation for them, and to wipe them away, he expired on the cross. This passage is full proof that Christ did not die merely as a martyr, but that his death was to make atonement for sin. That he died as an atoning sacrifice, or as a vicarious offering, is here declared by Paul to be among the “first” things that he taught; and the grand fundamental truth on which the church at Corinth had been founded, and by which it had been established, and by which they would be saved. It follows that there can be no true church, and no wellfounded hope of salvation, where the doctrine is not held that Christ died for sin.
According to the Scriptures – The writings of the Old Testament; See the note at Joh_5:39. It is, of course, not certain to what parts of the Old Testament Paul here refers. He teaches simply that the doctrine is contained there that the Messiah would die for sin; and, in his preaching, he doubtless adduced and dwelt upon the particular places. Some of the places where this is taught are the following: Ps. 22; Isa_53:1-12; Dan_9:26; Zec_12:10; compare Luk_24:26, Luk_24:46. See also Hengstenberg’s Christology of the Old Testament, vol. 1:pp. 187,216, translated by Keith.
First of all (en protois). Among first things. In primis. Not to time, but to importance.
Which I also received (ho kai parelabon). Direct revelation claimed as about the institution of the Lord’s Supper (1Co_11:23) and same verbs used (paredoka, parelabon). Four items given by Paul in explaining “the gospel” which Paul preached. Stanley calls it (1Co_15:1-11) the creed of the early disciples, but “rather a sample of the exact form of the apostle’s early teaching, than a profession of faith on the part of converts” (Vincent). The four items are presented by four verbs (died, apethanen, was buried, etaphe, hath been raised, egegertai, appeared, ophthe).
Christ died (Christos apethanen). Historical fact and crucial event.
For our sins (huper ton hamartion hemon). Huper means literally over, in behalf, even instead of (Gal_3:13), where used of persons. But here much in the sense of peri (Gal_1:14) as is common in Koiné. In 1Pe_3:18 we have peri hamartion, huper adikon.
According to the Scriptures (kata tas graphas). As Jesus showed (Luk_22:37; Luk_24:25) and as Peter pointed out (Act_2:25-27, Act_2:35) and as Paul had done (Act_13:24.; Act_17:3). Cf. Rom_1:2.
1Co 15:4 And that he was buried,…. That is, according to the Scriptures; for as he died and rose again according to the Scriptures, he was buried according to them; which speak of his being in hell, in “sheol”, in the grave, and of his making his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, Psa_16:10 and which had their accomplishment through Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, who begged the body of Jesus, wrapped in linen, and laid it in his own new tomb. And besides these Scripture prophecies of his burial, Jonah’s being three days and three nights in the whale’s belly was a type of it, and according to which our Lord himself foretold it, Mat_12:40. Now since this was prophesied of, and typified, and had its actual accomplishment, it was very proper for the apostle to take notice of it, both to confirm the certainty of Christ’s death, and the truth of his resurrection, which his death and burial are mentioned, in order to lead on to, and next follows:
and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: that he should rise again from the dead was very plainly hinted or expressed in several prophecies which speak of the rising of his dead body, of its not being left in the grave so long as to see corruption; and which therefore could not be in it more than three days; and of his lifting up his head after he had drank of the brook by the way; of his ascension to heaven, and session at the right hand of God, which suppose his resurrection, Isa_26:19. And that he should rise again the third day, is not only suggested in Hos_6:2 but was prefigured by the deliverance of Isaac on the third day after Abraham had given him up for dead, from whence he received him, in a figure of Christ’s resurrection; and by Jonah’s deliverance out of the whale’s belly, after he had been in it three days. The Jews take a particular notice of the third day as remarkable for many things they observe (e), as
“of the third day Abraham lift up his eyes, Gen_22:4 of the third day of the tribes, Gen_42:18 of the third day of the spies, Jos_2:16 of the third day of the giving of the law, Exo_19:16 of the third day of Jonah, Jon_1:17 of the third day of them that came out of the captivity, Ezr_8:15 of the third day of the resurrection of the dead, as it is written, Hos_6:2 “after two days will he revive us, in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight”.”
From which passage, it is clear, that they under stood the prophecy in Hosea of the resurrection of the dead; and it is observable, that among the remarkable third days they take notice of, are the two instances of Isaac’s and Jonah’s deliverances, which were Scripture types of Christ’s resurrection. From which observations they establish this as a maxim (f), that
“God does not leave the righteous in distress more than three days.”
That Christ did rise again from the dead, in pursuance of those prophecies and types, the apostle afterwards proves by an induction of particular instances of persons who were eyewitnesses of it.
(e) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 56. fol. 49. 3. (f) Mattanot Cehunah in ib.
5. That he was seen by Cephas He now brings forward eyewitnesses, (αὐτόπτας) as they are called by Luke, (Luk_1:2,) who saw the accomplishment of what the Scriptures had foretold would take place. He does not, however, adduce them all, for he makes no mention of women. When, therefore, he says that he appeared first to Peter, you are to understand by this that he is put before all the men, so that there is nothing inconsistent with this in the statement of Mark (Mar_16:9 ) that he appeared to Mary.
But how is it that he says, that he appeared to the twelve, when, after the death of Judas, there were only eleven remaining? Chrysostom is of opinion that this took place after Matthias had been chosen in his room. Others have chosen rather to correct the expression, looking upon it as a mistake. But as we know, that there were twelve in number that were set apart by Christ’s appointment, though one of them had been expunged from the roll, there is no absurdity in supposing that the name was retained. On this principle, there was a body of men at Rome that were called Centumviri, while they were in number 102. By the twelve, therefore, you are simply to understand the chosen Apostles.
It does not quite appear when it was that this appearing to more than five hundred took place. Only it is possible that this large multitude assembled at Jerusalem, when he manifested himself to them. For Luke (Luk_24:33 ) makes mention in a general way of the disciples who had assembled with the eleven; but how many there were he does not say. Chrysostom refers it to the ascension, and explains the word ἐπάνωto mean, from on high. Unquestionably, as to what he says in reference to his having appeared to James apart, this may have been subsequently to the ascension.
By all the Apostles I understand not merely the twelve, but also those disciples to whom Christ had assigned the office of preaching the gospel. In proportion as our Lord was desirous that there should be many witnesses of his resurrection, and that it should be frequently testified of, let us know that it should be so much the more surely believed among us. (Luk_1:1.) Farther, inasmuch as the Apostle proves the resurrection of Christ from the fact that he appeared to many, he intimates by this, that it was not figurative but true and natural, for the eyes of the body cannot be witnesses of a spiritual resurrection.
And that he was seen of Cephas – Peter; See the note at Joh_1:42. The resurrection of Christ was A fact to be proved, like all other facts, by competent and credible witnesses. Paul, therefore, appeals to the witnesses who had attested, or who yet lived to attest, the truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and shows that it was not possible that so many witnesses should have been deceived. As this was not the first time in which the evidence had been stated to them, and as his purpose was merely to remind them of what they had heard and believed, he does not adduce all the witnesses to the event, but refers only to the more important ones. He does not, therefore, mention the woman to whom the Saviour first appeared, nor does he refer to all the times when the Lord Jesus manifested himself to his disciples. But he does not refer to them in general merely, but mentions “names,” and refers to persons who “were then alive,” who could attest the truth of the resurrection. It may be observed, also, that Paul observes probably the exact “order” in which the Lord Jesus appeared to the disciples, though he does not mention all the instances. For an account of the persons to whom the Lord Jesus appeared after his resurrection, and the order in which it was done, see the notes on the Gospels.
Then of the twelve – The apostles; still called “the twelve,” though Judas was not one of them. It was common to call the apostles “the twelve.” Jesus appeared to the apostles at one time in the absence of Thomas Joh_20:19, Joh_20:24; and also to them when Thomas was present, Joh_20:24-29. Probably Paul here refers to the latter occasion, when all the surviving apostles were present.
Above five hundred brethren at once – This was probably in Galilee, where our Lord had many disciples. See Mat_28:16. What a remarkable testimony is this to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection! Five hundred persons saw him at one time; the greater part of whom were alive when the apostle wrote, and he might have been confronted by many if he had dared to assert a falsity.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
five hundred — This appearance was probably on the mountain (Tabor, according to tradition), in Galilee, when His most solemn and public appearance, according to His special promise, was vouchsafed (Mat_26:32; Mat_28:7, Mat_28:10, Mat_28:16). He “appointed” this place, as one remote from Jerusalem, so that believers might assemble there more freely and securely. Alford’s theory of Jerusalem being the scene, is improbable; as such a multitude of believers could not, with any safety, have met in one place in the metropolis, after His crucifixion there. The number of disciples (Act_1:15) at Jerusalem shortly after, was one hundred and twenty, those in Galilee and elsewhere not being reckoned. Andronicus and Junius were, perhaps, of the number (Rom_16:7): they are said to be “among the apostles” (who all were witnesses of the resurrection, Act_1:22).
remain unto this present — and, therefore, may be sifted thoroughly to ascertain the trustworthiness of their testimony.
fallen asleep — in the sure hope of awaking at the resurrection (Act_7:60).
Above five hundred brethren at once – More than 500 Christians or followers of Jesus at one time. This was probably in Galilee, where the Lord Jesus had spent the greater part of his public ministry, and where he had made most disciples. The place, however, is not designated, and, of course, cannot be known. It is remarkable that this fact is omitted by all the evangelists; but why they should have omitted so remarkable a proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, is unknown. There is a slight circumstance hinted at in Mat_28:10, which may throw some light on this passage. After his resurrection, Jesus said to the women who were at the sepulchre, “Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.” And in 1Co_15:16 it is said, “The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.” Jesus had spent most of his public life in Galilee. He had made most of his disciples there.
It was proper, therefore, that those disciples, who would, of course, hear of his death, should have some public confirmation of the fact that he had risen. It is very probable, also, that the eleven who went down into Galilee after he rose would apprize the brethren there of what had been said to them, that Jesus would meet them on a certain mountain; and it is morally certain that they who had followed him in so great numbers in Galilee would be drawn together by the report that the Lord Jesus, who had been put to death, was about to be seen there again alive. Such is human nature, and such was the attachment of these disciples to the Lord Jesus, that it is morally certain a large concourse would assemble on the slightest rumor that such an occurrence was to happen. Nothing more would be necessary anywhere to draw a concourse of people than a rumor that one who was dead would appear again; and in this instance, where they ardently loved him, and when, perhaps, many believed that he would rise, they would naturally assemble in great numbers to see him once more. One thing is proved by this, that the Lord Jesus had many more disciples than is generally supposed. If there were five hundred who could be assembled at once in a single part of the land where he had preached, there is every reason to suppose that there were many more in other parts of Judea.
The greater part remain unto this present – Are now alive, and can be appealed to, in proof that they saw him. What more conclusive argument for the truth of his resurrection could there be than that 500 persons had seen him, who had been intimately acquainted with him in his life, and who had become his followers? If the testimony of 500 could not avail to prove his resurrection, no number of witnesses could. And if 500 people could thus be deceived, any number could; and it would be impossible to substantiate any simple matter of fact by the testimony of eye-witnesses.
But some are fallen asleep – Have died. This is the usual expression employed in the Scripture to describe the death of saints. It denotes:
(1) The calmness and peace with which, they die, like sinking into a gentle sleep;
(2)The hope of a resurrection, as we sink to sleep with the expectation of again awaking; see the Joh_11:11 note; 1Co_11:30 note.
12.But of Christ.He now begins to prove the resurrection of all of us from that of Christ. For a mutual and reciprocal inference holds good on the one side and on the other, both affirmatively and negatively — from Christ to us in this way: If Christ is risen, then we will rise —If Christ is not risen, then we will not rise— from us to Christ on the other hand: If we rise, then Christ is risen— If we do not rise, then neither is Christ risen. The ground-work of the argument to be drawn from Christ to us in the former inference is this: “Christ did not die, or rise again for himself, but for us: hence his resurrection is the foundation. of ours, and what was accomplished in him, must be fulfilled in us also.” In the negative form, on the other hand, it is thus: “Otherwise he would have risen again needlessly and to no purpose, because the fruit of it is to be sought, not in his own person, but in his members.”
Observe the ground-work, on the other hand, of the former inference to be deduced from us to him; for the resurrection is not from nature, and comes from no other quarter than from Christ alone. For in Adam we die, and we recover life only in Christ; hence it follows that his resurrection is the foundation of ours, so that if that is taken away, it cannot stand The ground-work of the negative inference has been already stated; for as he could not have risen again but on our account, his resurrection would be null and void, if it were of no advantage to us.
Now if Christ be preached, etc. – Seeing it is true that we have thus preached Christ, and ye have credited this preaching, how say some among you, who have professed to receive this doctrine from us; that there is no resurrection of the dead, though we have shown that his resurrection is the proof and pledge of ours? That there was some false teacher, or teachers, among them, who was endeavoring to incorporate Mosaic rites and ceremonies with the Christian doctrines, and even to blend Sadduceeism with the whole, appears pretty evident. To confute this mongrel Christian, and overturn his bad doctrine, the apostle writes this chapter.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
if — Seeing that it is an admitted fact that Christ is announced by us eye-witnesses as having risen from the dead, how is it that some of you deny that which is a necessary consequence of Christ’s resurrection, namely, the general resurrection?
some — Gentile reasoners (Act_17:32; Act_26:8) who would not believe it because they did not see “how” it could be (1Co_15:35, 1Co_15:36).
Now if Christ … – Paul, having 1Co_15:1-11 stated the direct evidence for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, proceeds here to demonstrate that the dead would rise, by showing how it followed from the fact that the Lord Jesus had risen, and by showing what consequences would follow from denying it. The whole argument is based on the fact that the Lord Jesus had risen. If that was admitted, he shows that it must follow that his people would also rise.
Be preached – The word “preached” here seems to include the idea of so preaching as to be believed; or so as to demonstrate that he did rise. If this was the doctrine on which the church was based, that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, how could the resurrection of the dead be denied?
How say – How can any say; how can it be maintained?
Some among you – See the introduction to 1 Cor. 15. Who these were is unknown. They may have been some of the philosophic Greeks, who spurned the doctrine of the resurrection (see Act_17:32); or they may have been some followers of Sadducean teachers; or it may be that the Gnostic philosophy had corrupted them. It is most probable, I think, that the denial of the resurrection was the result of reasoning after the manner of the Greeks, and the effect of the introduction of philosophy into the church. This has been the fruitful source of most of the errors which have been introduced into the church.
That there is no resurrection of the dead – That the dead cannot rise. How can it be held that there can be no resurrection, while yet it is admitted that Christ rose? The argument here is twofold:
(1) That Christ rose was one “instance” of a fact which demonstrated that there “had been” a resurrection, and of course that it was possible.
(2) that such was the connection between Christ and his people that the admission of this fact involved also the doctrine that all his people would also rise. This argument Paul states at length in the following verses. It was probably held by them that the resurrection was “impossible.” To all this, Paul answers in accordance with the principles of inductive philosophy as now understood, by demonstrating A fact, and showing that such an event had occurred, and that consequently all the difficulties were met. Facts are unanswerable demonstrations; and when a fact is established, all the obstacles and difficulties in the way must be admitted to be overcome. So philosophers now reason; and Paul, in accordance with these just principles, labored simply to establish the fact that one had been raised, and thus met at once all the objections which could be urged against the doctrine. It would have been most in accordance with the philosophy of the Greeks to have gone into a metaphysical discussion to show that it was not impossible or absurd, and this might have been done. It was most in accordance with the principles of true philosophy, however, to establish the fact at once, and to argue from that, and thus to meet all the difficulties at once. The doctrine of the resurrection, therefore, does not rest on a metaphysical subtilty; it does not depend on human reasoning; it does not depend on analogy; it rests just as the sciences of astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, botany, and natural philosophy do, “on well ascertained facts;” and it is now a well understood principle of all true science that no difficulty, no obstacle, no metaphysical subtilty; no embarrassment about being able to see how it is, is to be allowed to destroy the conviction in the mind which the facts are suited to produce.
If (saith the apostle) there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen. But some will possibly say: How doth this follow? Suppose it true, that Christ be risen, how doth it follow, that the dead shall rise? The force of it lieth in several things:
1. Christ, as he saith, 1Co_15:20, is the first-fruits of them that slept, the exemplary cause of our resurrection.
2. If we consider Christ as the Head, it is unreasonable, that the Head should be risen from the dead, and the members yet held of death, when it is the office of the Head to communicate sense, life, and motion to the members.
Again, the argument is strong from the consideration of the end of Christ’s resurrection, which was to show his victory over death, that the dead might hear his voice and live, and that he might be the Judge of the quick and the dead (which he could not have been, if the dead did not rise). Now though it be true, that Christ’s headship to his church, and the apostle’s argument from thence, will not prove the resurrection of the wicked, yet, (besides that the resurrection of believers is the main thing the apostle here proveth, having elsewhere abundantly proved the general resurrection), the consideration here of Christ’s being raised, that he might be the Judge both of the quick and of the dead, will prove the resurrection of the wicked, as well as of believers.
But if there be no resurrection of the dead – If the whole subject is held to be impossible and absurd, then it must follow that Christ is not “risen,” since there were the same difficulties in the way of raising him up which will exist in any case. He was dead and was buried. He had lain in the grave three days. His human soul had left the body. His frame had become cold and stiff. The blood had ceased to circulate, and the lungs to heave. In his case there was the same difficulty in raising him up to life that there is in any other; and if it is held to be impossible and absurd that the dead should rise, then it must follow that Christ has not been raised. This is the first consequence which Paul states as resulting from the denial of this doctrine, and this is inevitable. Paul thus shows them that the denial of the doctrine, or the maintaining the general proposition “that the dead would not rise,” led also to the denial of the fact that the Lord Jesus had risen, and consequently to the denial of Christianity altogether, and the annihilation of all their hopes. There was, moreover, such a close connection between Christ and his people, that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus made their resurrection certain. See 1Th_4:14; see the note on Joh_14:19.
14.Then is our preaching vain— not simply as having some mixture of falsehood, but as being altogether an empty fallacy. For what remains if Christ has been swallowed up by death — if he has become extinct — if he has been overwhelmed by the curse of sin — if, in fine, he has been overcome by Satan? In short, if that fundamental article is subverted, all that remains will be of no moment. For the same reason he adds, that their faith will be vain, for what solidity of faith will there be, where no hope of life is to be seen? But in the death of Christ, considered in itself, there is seen nothing but ground of despair, for he cannot be the author of salvation to others, who has been altogether vanquished by death. Let us therefore bear in mind, that the entire gospel consists mainly in the death and resurrection of Christ, so that we must direct our chief attention to this, if we would desire, in a right and orderly manner, to make progress in the gospel — nay more, if we would not remain barren and unfruitful. (2Pe_1:8.)
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
your faith … vain — (1Co_15:11). The Greek for “vain” here is, empty, unreal: in 1Co_15:17, on the other hand, it is, without use, frustrated. The principal argument of the first preachers in support of Christianity was that God had raised Christ from the dead (Act_1:22; Act_2:32; Act_4:10, Act_4:33; Act_13:37; Rom_1:4). If this fact were false, the faith built on it must be false too.
And if Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain – Another consequence which must follow if it be held that there was no resurrection, and consequently that Christ was not risen. it would be vain and useless to preach. The substance of their preaching was that Christ was raised up; and all their preaching was based on that. If that were not true, the whole system was false, and Christianity was an imposition. The word vain here seems to include the idea of useless, idle, false. It would be “false” to affirm that the Christian system was from heaven; it would be useless to proclaim such a system, since it could save no one.
And your faith is also vain – It is useless to believe. It can be of no advantage. If Christ was not raised, he was an impostor, since he repeatedly declared that he would rise Mat_16:21; Mat_18:22-23; Luk_9:22, and since the whole of his religion depended on that. The system could not be true unless Christ had been raised, as he said he would be; and to believe a false system could be of no use to any man. The argument here is one addressed to all their feelings, their hopes, and their belief. It is drawn from all their convictions that the system was true. Were they, could they be prepared to admit a doctrine which involved the consequence that all the evidences which they had that the apostles preached the truth were delusive, and that all the evidences of the truth of Christianity which had affected their minds and won their hearts were false and deceptive? If they were not prepared for this, then it followed that they should not abandon or doubt the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.
15.We are also found to be false witnesses. The other disadvantages, it is true, which he has just now recounted, were more serious, as regards us — that faith was made vain— that the whole doctrine of the gospel was useless and worthless, and that we were bereft of all hope of salvation. Yet this also was no trivial absurdity — that the Apostles, who were ordained by God to be the heralds of his eternal truth, were detected as persons who had deceived the world with falsehoods; for this tends to God’s highest dishonor.
The expression,false witnesses of God, we may understand in two ways — either that by lying they used the name of God under a false pretext, or that they were detected as liars, in testifying what they had received from God. The second of these I rather prefer, because it involves a crime that is much more heinous, and he had spoken previously as to men. (36) Now, therefore, he teaches that, if the resurrection of Christ is denied, God is made guilty of falsehood in the witnesses that have been brought forward and hired by him. (37) The reason, too, that is added, corresponds well — because they had declared what was false, not as from themselves, but from God.
I am at the same time well aware that there are some that give another rendering to the particle κατα. The old interpreter renders it against.(38) Erasmus, on the other hand — concerning.(39) But, as it has also among the Greeks the force of ἀπό, (from,) this signification appeared to me to be more in accordance with the Apostle’s design. For he is not speaking here of the reputation of men, (as I have already stated, (40) ) but he declares that God will be exposed to the charge of falsehood, inasmuch as what they publish has come forth from him.
Yea, and we are found – We are; or we shall be proved to be. It will follow, if the Lord Jesus was not raised up, that we have been false witnesses.
Of God – Respecting God. It will be found that we have affirmed that which is not true of God; or have said that he has done that which he has not done. Nothing could be regarded as a greater crime than this, whatever might be the immediate subject under consideration. To bear false witness of a man, or to say that a man has done what he has not done, is regarded as a grievous crime. How much more so to bear false testimony of God!
Because we have testified of God – Or rather “against” God (κάτα τοῦ θεοῦ kata tou theou). Our evidence has been “against” him. We have affirmed that which is not true; and this is “against” God. It is implied here that it would be a “crime” to testify that God had raised up the Lord Jesus if he had not done it; or that it would be affirming that of God which would be “against” his character, or which it would be improper for him to do. This would be so:
(1) Because it would he wrong to bear any false witness of God, or to affirm that he had done what he had not done;
(2) Because “if” the Lord Jesus had not been raised up, it would prove that he was an “impostor,” since he had declared that he would be raised up; and to affirm of God that he had raised up an impostor would be against him, and would be highly dishonorable to him.
If the dead rise not – If there is, and can be no resurrection. If this general proposition is true that there can be no resurrection, then it will apply to Christ as well as any others, and must prove that he did not rise. The “argument” in this verse is this:
(1) If it was denied that Christ was raised, it would prove that all the apostles were false witnesses of the worst character; false witnesses against God.
(2) this the apostle seems to have presumed they “could not” believe. They had had too many evidences that they spoke the truth; they had seen their uniform respect for God, and desire to bear witness of him and in his favor; they had had too conclusive evidence that they were inspired by him, and had the power of working miracles; they were too fully convinced of their honesty, truth, and piety, ever to believe that they could be false witnesses against God. They had had ample opportunity to know whether God did raise up the Lord Jesus; and they were witnesses who had no inducement to bear a false witness in the case.
False witnesses – As having testified the fact of Christ’s resurrection, as a matter which ourselves had witnessed, when we knew that we bore testimony to a falsehood. But could five hundred persons agree in this imposition? And if they did, is it possible that some one would not discover the cheat, when he could have no interest in keeping the secret, and might greatly promote his secular interest by making the discovery? Such a case never occurred, and never can occur. The testimony, therefore, concerning the resurrection of Christ, is incontrovertibly true.
If so be that the dead rise not – This clause is wanting in DE, Syriac, some of the Slavonian, and Itala; several also of the primitive fathers omit it. Its great similarity to the following words might be the cause of its omission by some copyists.
For if the dead rise not … – This is a repetition of what is said in 1Co_15:13. It is repeated here, evidently, because of its importance. It was a great and momentous truth which would “bear” repetition, that if there was no resurrection, as some held, then it would follow that the Lord Jesus was not raised up.
17.Ye are yet in your sinsFor although Christ by his death atoned for our sins, that they might no more be imputed to us in the judgment of God, and has crucified our old man, that its lusts might no longer reign in us, (Rom_6:6;) and, in fine, has by death destroyed the power of death, and the devil himself, (Heb_2:14;) yet there would have been none of all these things, if he had not, by rising again, come off victorious. Hence, if the resurrection is overthrown, the dominion of sin is set up anew.
Ye are yet in your sins – If Christ has not risen from the dead, there is no proof that he has not been justly put to death. If he were a malefactor, God would not work a miracle to raise him from the dead. If he has not been raised from the dead, there is a presumption that he has been put to death justly; and, if so, consequently he has made no atonement; and ye are yet in your sins – under the power, guilt, and condemnation of them. All this reasoning of the apostle goes to prove that at Corinth, even among those false teachers, the innocency of our Lord was allowed, and the reality of his resurrection not questioned.
Your faith is vain, – 1Co_15:14. The meaning of this passage here is, that their faith was vain, “because,” if Christ was not raised up, they were yet unpardoned sinners. The pardon of sin was connected with the belief of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and, if he was not raised, they were still in a state of sin.
Ye are yet in your sins – Your sins are yet unpardoned. They can be forgiven only by faith in him, and by the efficacy of his blood. But if he was not raised, he was an impostor; and, of course, all your hopes of pardon by him, and through him, must be vain. The argument in this verse consists in an appeal to their Christian experience and their hopes. It may be thus expressed:
(1) You have reason to believe that your sins are forgiven. You cherish that belief on evidence that is satisfactory to you. But if Christ is not raised, that cannot be true. He was an impostor, and sins cannot be forgiven by him. As you are not, and cannot be prepared to admit that your sins are not forgiven, you cannot admit a doctrine which involves that.
(2) you have evidence that you are not under the dominion of sin. You have repented of it; have forsaken it; and are leading a holy life. You know that, and cannot be induced to doubt this fact. But all that is to be traced to the doctrine that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. It is only by believing that, and the doctrines which are connected with it, that the power of sin in the heart has been destroyed. And as you “cannot” doubt that under the influence of “that truth” you have been enabled to break off from your sins, so you cannot admit a doctrine which would involve it as a consequence that you are yet under the condemnation and the dominion of sin. You must believe, therefore, that the Lord Jesus rose; and that, if he rose, others will also. This argument is good also now, just so far as there is evidence that, through the belief of a risen Saviour, the dominion of sin has been broken; and every Christian is, therefore, in an important sense, a witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a living proof that a system which can work so great changes, and produce such evidence that sins are forgiven as are furnished in the conversion of sinners, must be from God; and, of course, that the work of the Lord Jesus was accepted, and that he was raised up from the dead.
18.Then they who are fallen asleep.Having it in view to prove, that if the resurrection of Christ is taken away, faith is useless, and Christianity (41) is a mere deception, he had said that the living remain in their sins; but as there is a clearer illustration of this matter to be seen in the dead, he adduces them as an example. “Of what advantage were it to the dead that they once were Christians? Hence our brethren who are now dead, did to no purpose live in the faith of Christ.” But if it is granted that the essence of the soul is immortal, this argument appears, at first sight, conclusive; for it will very readily be replied, that the dead have not perished, inasmuch as their souls live in a state of separation from their bodies. Hence some fanatics conclude that there is no life in the period intermediate between death and the resurrection; but this frenzy is easily refuted. (42) For although the souls of the dead are now living, and enjoy quiet repose, yet the whole of their felicity and consolation depends exclusively on the resurrection; because it is well with them on this account, and no other, that they wait for that day, on which they shall be called to the possession of the kingdom of God. Hence as to the hope of the dead, all is over, unless that day shall sooner or later arrive.
50.Now this I say: This clause intimates, that what follows is explanatory of the foregoing statement. “What I have said as to bearing the image of the heavenly Adam means this — that we must be renewed in respect of our bodies, inasmuch as our bodies, being liable to corruption, cannot inherit God’s incorruptible kingdom. Hence there will be no admission for us into the kingdom of Christ, otherwise than by Christ’s renewing us after his own image.” Flesh and blood, however, we must understand, according to the condition in which they at present are, for our flesh will be a participant in the glory of God, but it will be — as renewed and quickened by the Spirit of Christ.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom – This is a Hebrew periphrasis for man, and man in his present state of infirmity and decay. Man, in his present state, cannot inherit the kingdom of God; his nature is not suited to that place; he could not, in his present weak state, endure an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory. Therefore, it is necessary that he should die, or be changed; that he should have a celestial body suited to the celestial state. The apostle is certainly not speaking of flesh and blood in a moral sense, to signify corruption of mind and heart; but in a natural sense; as such, flesh and blood cannot inherit glory, for the reasons already assigned.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
(See on 1Co_15:37; see on 1Co_15:39). “Flesh and blood” of the same animal and corruptible nature as our present (1Co_15:44) animal-souled bodies, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore the believer acquiesces gladly in the unrepealed sentence of the holy law, which appoints the death of the present body as the necessary preliminary to the resurrection body of glory. Hence he “dies daily” to the flesh and to the world, as the necessary condition to his regeneration here and hereafter (Joh_3:6; Gal_2:20). As the being born of the flesh constitutes a child of Adam, so the being born of the Spirit constitutes a child of God.
cannot — Not merely is the change of body possible, but it is necessary. The spirit extracted from the dregs of wine does not so much differ from them, as the glorified man does from the mortal man [Bengel] of mere animal flesh and blood (Gal_1:16). The resurrection body will be still a body though spiritual, and substantially retaining the personal identity; as is proved by Luk_24:39; Joh_20:27, compared with Phi_3:21.
the kingdom of God — which is not at all merely animal, but altogether spiritual. Corruption doth not inherit, though it is the way to, incorruption (1Co_15:36, 1Co_15:52, 1Co_15:53).
Now this I say, brethren – “I make this affirmation in regard to this whole subject. I do it as containing the substance of all that I have said. I do it in order to prevent all mistake in regard to the nature of the bodies which shall be raised up.” This affirmation is made respecting all the dead and all the living, that there must be a material and important change in regard to them before they can be prepared for heaven. Paul had proved in the previous verses that it was possible for God to give us bodies different from those which we now possess; he here affirms, in the most positive manner, that it was indispensable that we should have bodies different from what we now have.
Flesh and blood – Bodies organized as ours now are. “Flesh and blood” denotes such bodies as we have here, bodies that are fragile. weak, liable to disease, subject to pain and death. They are composed of changing particles; to be repaired and strengthened daily; they are subject to decay, and are wasted away by sickness, and of course they cannot be suited to a world where there shall be no decay and and no death.
Cannot inherit – Cannot be admitted as heir to the kingdom of God. The future world of glory is often represented as an heirship; see the note on Rom_8:17.
The kingdom of God – Heaven; appropriately called his kingdom, because he shall reign there in undivided and perfect glory forever.
Neither doth corruption … – Neither can that which is in its nature corruptible, and liable to decay, be adapted to a world where all is incorruptible. The apostle here simply states the fact. He does not tell us why it is impossible. It may be because the mode of communication there is not by the bodily senses; it may be because such bodies as ours would not be suited to relish the pure and exalted pleasures of an incorruptible world; it may be because they would interfere with the exalted worship, the active service, and the sleepless employments of the heavenly world; it may be because such a body is constituted to derive pleasure from objects which shall not be found in heaven. It is adapted to enjoyment in eating and drinking, and the pleasures of the eye, the ear, the taste, the touch; in heaven the soul shall be awake to more elevated and pure enjoyments than these, and, of course, such bodies as we here have would impede our progress and destroy our comforts, and be ill adapted to all the employments and enjoyments of that heavenly world.
Hitherto he has included two things in his reasoning. In the first place, he shows that there will be a resurrection from the dead: secondly, he shows of what nature it will be. Now, however, he enters more thoroughly into a description of the manner of it. This he calls a mystery, because it had not been as yet so clearly unfolded in any statement of revelation; but he does this to make them more attentive. For that wicked doctrine had derived strength from the circumstance, that they disputed as to this matter carelessly and at their ease; (127) as if it were a matter in which they felt no difficulty. Hence by the term mystery, he admonishes them to learn a matter, which was not only as yet unknown to them, but ought to be reckoned among God’s heavenly secrets.
51. We shall not indeed all sleep.Here there is no difference in the Greek manuscripts, but in the Latin versions there are three different readings. The first is, We shall indeed all die, but we shall not all be changed. The second is, We shall indeed all rise again, but we shall not all be changed.(128) The third is, We shall not indeed all sleep, but we shall all be changed. This diversity, I conjecture, had arisen from this — that some readers, who were not the most discerning, dissatisfied with the true reading, ventured to conjecture a reading which was more approved by them. (129) For it appeared to them, at first view, to be absurd to say, that all would not die, while we read elsewhere, that it is appointed unto all men once to die. (Heb_9:27.) Hence they altered the meaning in this way — All will not be changed, though all will rise again, or will die; and the change they interpret to mean — the glory that the sons of God alone will obtain. The true reading, however, may be judged of from the context.
Paul’s intention is to explain what he had said — that we will be conformed to Christ, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.A question presented itself, (130) what then will become of those who will be still living at the day of the Lord? His answer is, that although all will not die, yet they will be renewed, that mortality and corruption may be done away. It is to be observed, however, that he speaks exclusively of believers; for although the resurrection of the wicked will also involve change, yet as there is no mention made of them here, we must consider everything that is said, as referring exclusively to the elect. We now see, how well this statement corresponds with the preceding one, for as he had said, that we shall bear the image of Christ, he now declares, that this will take place when we shall be changed, so that mortality may be swallowed up of life, (2Co_5:4,) and that this renovation is not inconsistent with the fact, that Christ’s advent will find some still alive.
We must, however, unravel the difficulty — that it is appointed unto all men once to die; and certainly, it is not difficult to unravel it in this way — that as a change cannot take place without doing away with the previous system, that change is reckoned, with good reason, a kind of death; but, as it is not a separation of the soul from the body, it is not looked upon as an ordinary death. It will then be death, inasmuch as it will be the destruction of corruptible nature: it will not be a sleep, inasmuch as the soul will not quit the body; but there will be a sudden transition from corruptible nature into a blessed immortality.
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Behold — Calling attention to the “mystery” heretofore hidden in God’s purposes, but now revealed.
you — emphatical in the Greek; I show (Greek, “tell,” namely, by the word of the Lord, 1Th_4:15) YOU, who think you have so much knowledge, “a mystery” (compare Rom_11:25) which your reason could never have discovered. Many of the old manuscripts and Fathers read, “We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed”; but this is plainly a corrupt reading, inconsistent with 1Th_4:15, 1Th_4:17, and with the apostle’s argument here, which is that a change is necessary (1Co_15:53). English Version is supported by some of the oldest manuscripts and Fathers. The Greek is literally “We all shall not sleep, but,” etc. The putting off of the corruptible body for an incorruptible by an instantaneous change will, in the case of “the quick,” stand as equivalent to death, appointed to all men (Heb_9:27); of this Enoch and Elijah are types and forerunners. The “we” implies that Christians in that age and every successive age since and hereafter were designed to stand waiting, as if Christ might come again in their time, and as if they might be found among “the quick.”
Behold I show you – This commences the third subject of inquiry in the chapter, the question, what will become of those who are alive when the Lord Jesus shall return to raise the dead? This was an obvious inquiry, and the answer was, perhaps, supposed to be difficult. Paul answers it directly, and says that they will undergo an instantaneous change, which will make them like the dead that shall be raised.
A mystery – On the meaning of this word, see the note on 1Co_2:7. The word here does not mean anything which was in its nature unintelligible, but that which to them had been hitherto unknown. “I now communicate to you a truth which has not been brought into the discussion, and in regard to which no communication has been made to you.” On this subject there had been no revelation. Though the Pharisees held that the dead would rise, yet they do not seem to have made any statement in regard to the living who should remain when the dead should rise. Nor, perhaps, had the subject occupied the attention of the apostles; nor had there been any direct communication on it from the Lord Jesus himself. Paul then here says, that he was about to communicate a great truth which till then had been unknown, and to resolve a great inquiry on which there had as yet been no revelation.
We shall not all sleep – We Christians; grouping all together who then lived and should live afterward, for his discussion has relation to them all. The following remarks may, perhaps, remove some of the difficulty which attends the interpretation of this passage. The objection which is made to it is, that Paul expected to live until the Lord Jesus should return; that he, therefore, expected that the world would soon end, and that in this he was mistaken, and could not be inspired. To this, we may reply:
(1) He is speaking of Christians as such – of the whole church that had been redeemed – of the entire mass that should enter heaven; and he groups them all together, and connects himself with them, and says, “We shall not die; we Christians, including the whole church, shall not all die,” etc. That he did not refer only to those whom he was then addressing, is apparent from the whole discussion. The argument relates to Christians – to the church at large; and the affirmation here has reference to that church considered as one church that was to be raised up on the last Day.
(2) that Paul did not expect that the Lord Jesus would soon come, and that the world would soon come to an end, is apparent from a similar place in the Epistle to the Thessalonians. In 1Th_4:15, he uses language remarkably similar to that which is used here: “We which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord,” etc. This language was interpreted by the Thessalonians as teaching that the world would soon come to an end, and the effect had been to produce a state of alarm. Paul was, therefore, at special pains to show in his Second Epistle to them, that he did not mean any such thing. He showed them 2 Thes. 2 that the end of the world was not near; that very important events were to occur before the world would come to an end; and that his language did not imply any expectation on his part that the world would soon terminate, or that the Lord Jesus would soon come.
(3) Parallel expressions occur in the other writers of the New Testament, and with a similar signification. Thus, John 1Jo_2:18 says, “It is the last time;” compare Heb_1:2. But the meaning of this is not that the world would soon come to an end. The prophets spoke of a period which they called “the last days” (Isa_2:2; Mic_4:1; in Hebrew, “the after days”), as the period in which the Messiah would live and reign. By it they meant the dispensation which should be the last; that under which the world would close; the reign of the Messiah, which would be the last economy of human things. But it did not follow that this was to be a short period; or that it might not be longer than any one of the former, or than all the former put together. This was that which John spoke of as the last time.
(4) I do not know that the proper doctrine of inspiration suffers, if we admit that the apostles were ignorant of the exact time when the world would close; or even that in regard to the precise period when that would take place, they might be in error. The following considerations may be suggested on this subject, showing that the claim to inspiration did not extend to the knowledge of this fact:
(a) That they were not omniscient, and there is no more absurdity in supposing that they were ignorant on this subject than in regard to any other.
(b) Inspiration extended to the order of future events, and not to the thees. There is in the Scriptures no statement of the time when the world would close. Future events were made to pass before the minds of the prophets, as in a landscape. The order of the images may be distinctly marked, but the times may not be designated. And even events which may occur in fact at distant periods, may in vision appear to be near each other; as in a landscape, objects which are in fact separated by distant intervals, like the ridges of a mountain, may appeal to lie close to each other.
(c) The Saviour expressly said, that it was not designed that they should know when future events would occur. Thus, after his ascension, in answer to an inquiry whether he then would restore the kingdom to Israel, he said Act_1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.” See the note on that verse.
(d) The Saviour said that even he himself, as man, was ignorant in regard to the exact time in which future events would occur. “But of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father;” Mar_13:32.
(e) The apostles were in fact ignorant, and mistaken in regard to, at least, the time of the occurrence of one future event, the death of John; Joh_21:23. There is, therefore, no departure from the proper doctrine of inspiration, in supposing that the apostles were not inspired on these subjects, and that they might be ignorant like others. The proper order of events they state truly and exactly; the exact time God did not, for wise reasons, intend to make known.
Shall not all sleep – Shall not all die; see the note at 1Co_11:30.
But we shall all be changed – There is considerable variety in the reading of this passage. The Vulgate reads it, “We shall all indeed rise, but we shall not all be changed.” Some Greek manuscripts read it, “We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed.” Others, as the Vulgate, “We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed.” But the present Greek text contains, doubtless, the true reading; and the sense is, that all who are alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus shall undergo such a change as to fit them for their new abode in heaven; or such as shall make them like those who shall be raised from the dead. This change will be instantaneous 1Co_15:52, for it is evident that God can as easily change the living as he can raise the dead; and as the affairs of the world will then have come to an end, there will be no necessity that those who are then alive should be removed by death; nor would it be proper that they should go down to lie any time in the grave. The ordinary laws, therefore, by which people are removed to eternity, will not operate in regard to them, and they will be removed at once to their new abode.
52. In a moment This is still of a general nature; that is, it includes all. For in all the change will be sudden and instantaneous, because Christ’s advent will be sudden. And to convey the idea of a moment, he afterwards makes use of the phrase twinkling (or jerk) of the eye, for in the Greek manuscripts there is a twofold, reading — ῥοπὣ(jerk,) or ῥιπὣ(twinkling.) It matters nothing, however, as to the sense. Paul has selected a movement of the body, that surpasses all others in quickness; for nothing is more rapid than a movement of the eye, though at the same time he has made an allusion to sleep, with which twinkling of the eyeis contrasted.
With the last trump.Though the repetition of the term might seem to place it beyond a doubt, that the word trumpetis here taken in its proper acceptation, yet I prefer to understand the expression as metaphorical. In 1Th_4:16, he connects together the voice of the archangel and the trump of God: As therefore a commander, with the sound of a trumpet, summons his army to battle, so Christ, by his far sounding proclamation, which will be heard throughout the whole world, will summon all the dead. Moses tells us, (Exo_19:16,) what loud and terrible sounds were uttered on occasion of the promulgation of the law. Far different will be the commotion then, when not one people merely, but the whole world will be summoned to the tribunal of God. Nor will the living only be convoked, but even the dead will be called forth from their graves. Nay more, a commandment must be given to dry bones and dust that, resuming their former appearance and reunited to the spirit, they come forth straightway as living men into the presence of Christ.
The dead shall rise What he had declared generally as to all, he now explains particularly as to the living and the dead. This distinction, therefore, is simply an exposition of the foregoing statement — that all will not die, but all will be changed“Those who have already died,” says he, “will rise again incorruptible.” See what a change there will be upon the dead! “Those,” says he, “who will be still alive will themselves also be changed.” You see then as to both. You now then perceive how it is, that change will be common to all, but not sleep.
When he says, We shall be changed, he includes himself in the number of those, who are to live till the advent of Christ. As it was now the last times, (1Jo_2:18,) that day (2Ti_1:18 ) was to be looked for by the saints every hour. At the same time, in writing to the Thessalonians, he utters that memorable prediction respecting the scattering that would take place in the Church before Christ’s coming. (2Th_2:3.) This, however, does not hinder that he might, by bringing the Corinthians, as it were, into immediate contact with the event, associate himself and them with those who would at that time be alive.
1Co 15:52 In a moment,…. Or point of time, which is very short indeed; what a moment is, according to the Jewish doctors, See Gill on Mat_4:8.
In the twinkling of an eye; these two the Jews not only put together as here, but make one to be as the other; so they say (k), הרגע כהרף עין, “a moment is as the twinkling of an eye”. This phrase, as the twinkling of an eye, is frequently used in Jewish writings (l), to signify how speedily ard suddenly anything is done, and which is the design of it here; and the apostle’s meaning is, that the change upon the bodies of living saints will be so quick, that it will be done in a trice, before a man can shut his eyes and open them again; so that it will be as it were imperceptible, and without the least sensation of pain; this may also be referred to the resurrection, which will be quick, and done at once; though it seems rather, and chiefly, to respect the change of the living; what follows, indeed, favours the other sense also; for all will be quick and sudden, the coming of Christ, the raising of the dead, and the change of the living:
at the last trumpet, for the trumpet shall sound; or “by the last trumpet”, as the Syriac and Arabic versions render it; that is, by means of it, through the sounding of that:
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; free from all frailty, mortality, and corruption, when the trumpet shall sound:
and at the same time also,
we shall be changed; the saints that will be found alive; the apostle speaks in the first person, because of the uncertainty of Christ’s coming, and of the blowing of the last trumpet, he not knowing but it might be in his time; what this last trumpet will be, is not easy to say; it can hardly be thought to be a material one: the Jews (m) have a notion, that a trumpet will be blown at the time of the resurrection of the dead, as at the giving of the law on Mount Sinai; which will quicken the dead, as they say it then did; and that this will be blown by Michael the archangel (n): it seems very likely to be the same with the shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God, 1Th_4:16 all which may be no other than the voice of Christ; at the hearing of which, the dead will rise; but whether this will be an articulate one, as at the raising of Lazarus, or is only expressive of his power, which will then be put forth, is not material, nor a point to be determined: and what if by all this should be meant some violent claps of thunder, as at Mount Sinai, which will shake the whole earth; and when almighty power will be put forth to raise the dead: since such are by the Jews (o) called the voices of the son of David, and are expected by them, a little before his coming? This is called the “last” trumpet, not so much with respect to those that go before, much less to the seven trumpets in the Revelations, of which as yet there was no revelation made, but because there will be none after it; see:
“And the trumpet shall give a sound, which when every man heareth, they shall be suddenly afraid.” (2 Esdras 6:23)
(i) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 11. fol. 202. 3. (k) T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 2. 4. Eeha Rabbati, fol. 54. 4. (l) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 2. 2. Sabbat, fol. 34. 2. Zohar in Gen, fol. 38. 4. & 39. 1. & 65. 4. Caphtor, fol. 75. 2. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 77. fol. 67. 4. (m) Targum. Jon. in Exod. xx. 18. & Kettoreth Hassammim in ib. Abarbinel. Mashmia Jeshua, fol. 11. 4. (n) Abkath Rochel, p. 138. (o) T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 97. 1. & Gloss. in ib. Vid. Megilla, fol. 17. 2.
In a moment – Εν ατομω In an atom; that is, an indivisible point of time. In the twinkling of an eye; as soon as a man can wink; which expressions show that this mighty work is to be done by the almighty power of God, as he does all his works, He calls, and it is done. The resurrection of all the dead, from the foundation of the world to that time, and the change of all the living then upon earth, shall be the work of a single moment.
At the last trump – This, as well as all the rest of the peculiar phraseology of this chapter, is merely Jewish, and we must go to the Jewish writers to know what is intended. On this subject, the rabbins use the very same expression. Thus Rabbi Akiba: “How shall the holy blessed God raise the dead? We are taught that God has a trumpet a thousand ells long, according to the ell of God: this trumpet he shall blow, so that the sound of it shall extend from one extremity of the earth to the other. At the first blast the earth shall be shaken; at the second, the dust shall be separated; at the third, the bones shall be gathered together; at the fourth, the members shall wax warm; at the fifth, the heads shall be covered with skin; at the sixth, the souls shall be rejoined to their bodies; at the seventh, all shall revive and stand clothed.” See Wetstein. This tradition shows us what we are to understand by the last trump of the apostle; it is the seventh of Rab. Akiba, when the dead shall be all raised, and, being clothed upon with their eternal vehicles, they shall be ready to appear before the judgment seat of God.
For the trumpet shall sound – By this the apostle confirms the substance of the tradition, there shall be the sound of a trumpet on this great day; and this other scriptures teach: see Zec_9:14; Mat_24:31; Joh_5:25; 1Th_4:16, in which latter place, the apostle treats this subject among the Thessalonians, as he does here among the Corinthians. See the notes at 1Th_4:16.
Shall be raised incorruptible – Fully clothed with a new body, to die no more.
We shall be changed – That is, those who shall then be found alive.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
the last trump — at the sounding of the trumpet on the last day [Vatablus] (Mat_24:31; 1Th_4:16). Or the Spirit by Paul hints that the other trumpets mentioned subsequently in the Apocalypse shall precede, and that this shall be the last of all (compare Isa_27:13; Zec_9:14). As the law was given with the sound of a trumpet, so the final judgment according to it (Heb_12:19; compare Exo_19:16). As the Lord ascended “with the sound of a trumpet” (Psa_47:5), so He shall descend (Rev_11:15). The trumpet was sounded to convoke the people on solemn feasts, especially on the first day of the seventh month (the type of the completion of time; seven being the number for perfection; on the tenth of the same month was the atonement, and on the fifteenth the feast of tabernacles, commemorative of completed salvation out of the spiritual Egypt, compare Zec_14:18, Zec_14:19); compare Psa_50:1-7. Compare His calling forth of Lazarus from the grave “with a loud voice,” Joh_11:43, with Joh_5:25, Joh_5:28.
and — immediately, in consequence.
In a moment – (εν ατομω en atomo). In an “atom,” scil. of time; a point of time which cannot be cut or divided (α a, the alpha privative (“not”) and τομη tomē, from τέμνω temnō, “to cut”). A single instant; immediately. It will be done instantaneously.
In the twinkling of an eye – This is an expression also denoting the least conceivable duration of time. The suddenness of the coming of the Lord Jesus is elsewhere compared to the coming of a thief in the night; 2Pe_3:10. The word rendered “twinkling” (ριπη ripe, from ριπτω rhipto, “to throw, cast”) means “a throw, cast, jerk,” as of a stone; and then “a jerk of the eye,” that is, “a wink” – Robinson.
At the last trump – When the trumpet shall sound to raise the dead. The word “last” here does not imply that any trumpet shall have been before sounded at the resurrection, but is a word denoting that this is the consummation or close of things; it will end the economy of this world; it will be connected with the last state of things.
For the trumpet shall sound – See the note at Mat_24:31.
And the dead shall be raised – See the note at Joh_5:25.
54. Then shall be brought to pass the saying This is not merely an amplification, (ἐπεξεργασία,) but a confirmation, too, of the preceding statement. For what was foretold by the Prophets must be fulfilled. Now this prediction will not be fulfilled, until our bodies, laying aside corruption, will put on incorruption. Hence this last result, also, is necessary. To come to pass, is used here in the sense of being fully accomplished, for what Paul quotes is now begun in us, and is daily, too, receiving further accomplishment; but it will not have its complete fulfillment until the last day.
It does not, however, appear quite manifest, from what passage he has taken this quotation, for many statements occur in the Prophets to this effect. Only the probability is, that the first clause is taken either from Isa_25:8, where it is said that death will be for ever destroyed by the Lord, or, (as almost all are rather inclined to think,) from Hos_13:14, where the Prophet, bewailing the obstinate wickedness of Israel, complains that he was like an untimely child, that struggles against the efforts of his mother in travail, that he may not come forth from the womb, and from this he concludes, that it was owing entirely to himself, that he was not delivered from death. I will ransom them, says he, from the power of the grave: I will rescue them from death. It matters not, whether you read these words in the future of the indicative, or in the subjunctive for in either way the meaning amounts to this — that God was prepared to confer upon them salvation, if they would have allowed the favor to be conferred upon them, and that, therefore, if they perished, it was their own fault.
He afterwards adds, I will be thy destruction, O death! thy ruin, O grave! In these words God intimates, that he accomplishes the salvation of his people only when death and the grave are reduced to nothing. For no one will deny, that in that passage there is a description of completed salvation. As, therefore, we do not see such a destruction of death, it follows, that we do not yet enjoy that complete salvation, which God promises to his people, and that, consequently, it is delayed until that day. Then, accordingly, will death be swallowed up, that is, it will be reduced to nothing, that we may have manifestly, in every particular, and in every respect, (as they say,) a complete victory over it.
1Co 15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption,…. As at the coming of Christ, both the bodies of living saints, and of dead ones being raised, will: and this
mortal shall have put on immortality; which will be the case, in the resurrection morn:
then shall be brought to pass that saying that is written; then that passage will have its full accomplishment, which stands in Isa_25:8 where it is read,
he will swallow up death in victory, or “for ever”. That is, the Messiah shall by his death, and resurrection from the dead, obtain such an entire victory over death, not only for himself, but for all his people, that in the resurrection morn, when they will be all raised from the dead, death will be so swallowed up, that it will be no more: the Jews acknowledge that this prophecy belongs to the times of the Messiah; so they say (p), that
“the Messiah shall descend from Pharez, and in his day the holy blessed God will cause death to be swallowed up, as it is said, Isa_25:8 “he shall swallow up death in victory”:”
and again (q),
“when the King Messiah comes, the holy blessed God will raise up those that sleep in the dust, as it is written, he shall swallow up death in victory:”
they also say (r), that this passage refers to future time, and to the world to come. The prophet expresses it actively, it being a prediction of what was to be done by the Messiah; the apostle cites it passively, as being accomplished by him after the resurrection, and considered as a part of the song sung by the risen saints; to which is added,
(p) Shemot Rabba, sect. 20. fol. 131. 4. (q) Zohar in Gen. fol. 73. 1. (r) Zohar in, Exod. fol. 108. 1, 2, 4. Misn. Moed Katon. c. 3. sect. 9. Zohar iu Lev. fol. 46. 3. Yade Mose in Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 20. 1. Echa Rabbati, fol. 48. 2.
Death is swallowed up in victory – Κατεποθη ο θανατος εις νικος. These words are a quotation from Isa_25:8, where the Hebrew is בלע המות לנצח billa hammaveth lanetsach: He (God) hath swallowed up death in victory; or, for ever. These words in the Septuagint are thus translated: κατεπιεν ο θανατος ισχυσας· Death having prevailed, or conquered, hath swallowed up. But in the version of Theodotion, the words are the same with those of the apostle. The Hebrew לנצח lanetsach the Septuagint sometimes translate εις νικος, in victory, but most commonly εις τελος, for ever; both, as Bishop Pearce observes, in such kind of phrases, signifying the same thing, because eternity conquers all things; and accordingly, in 2Sa_2:26, where the Septuagint have μη εις νικος καταφαγεται η ρομφαια, our English version has, Shall the sword devour For Ever? And the same may be seen in Job_36:7; Lam_5:20; Amo_1:11; Amo_8:7; from which authority the bishop translates the clause here, Death is swallowed up For Ever.
Death is here personified and represented as a devouring being, swallowing up all the generations of men; and by the resurrection of the body and the destruction of the empire of death, God is represented as swallowing him up; or that eternity gulps him down; so that he is endlessly lost and absorbed in its illimitable waste. How glorious a time to the righteous, when the inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick; when God shall have wiped away all tears from off all faces, and when there shall be no more death. This time must come. Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
then — not before. Death has as yet a sting even to the believer, in that his body is to be under its power till the resurrection. But then the sting and power of death shall cease for ever.
Death is swallowed up in victory — In Hebrew of Isa_25:8, from which it is quoted, “He (Jehovah) will swallow up death in victory”; that is, for ever: as “in victory” often means in Hebrew idiom (Jer_3:5; Lam_5:20). Christ will swallow it up so altogether victoriously that it shall never more regain its power (compare Hos_6:2; Hos_13:14; 2Co_5:4; Heb_2:14, Heb_2:15; Rev_20:14; Rev_21:4).
So when … – In that future glorious world, when all this shall have been accomplished.
Then shall be brought to pass – Then shall be fully accomplished; these words shall then receive their entire fulfillment; or this event shall meet all that is implied in these words.
The saying that is written – What is written, or the record which is made. These words are quoted from Isa_25:8; and the fact that Paul thus quotes them, and the connection in which they stand, prove that they had reference to the times of the gospel, and to the resurrection of the dead. Paul does not quote directly from the Hebrew, or from the Septuagint, but gives the substance of the passage.
Death – Referring here, undoubtedly, to death in the proper sense; death as prostrating the living, and consigning them to the grave.
Is swallowed up – Κατεποθη Katepothe (from katapino, to drink down, to swallow down) means to absorb Rev_12:16; to overwhelm, to drown Heb_11:29; and then to destroy or remove. The idea may be taken from a whirlpool, or maelstrom, that absorbs all that comes near it; and the sense is, that he will abolish or remove death; that is, cause it to cease from its ravages and triumphs.
In victory – (εις νικος eis nikos. Unto victory; so as to obtain a complete victory. The Hebrew Isa_25:8 is לנצח laanetsach, The Septuagint often renders the word נצח drow netsach which properly means “splendor, purity, trust, perpetuity, eternity, perfection,” by νικος nikos, “victory”; Job_36:7; Lam_3:18; Lam_5:20; Amo_1:1-15; Amos 2; Amo_8:7. The Hebrew word here may be rendered either “unto the end, that is,” to completeness or perfection, or unto victory, with triumph. It matters little which is the meaning, for they both come to the same thing. The idea is, that the power and dominion of death shall be entirely destroyed, or brought to an end.
As to the second clause, in which he triumphs over death and the grave, it is not certain whether he speaks of himself, or whether he meant there also to quote the words of the Prophet. For where we render it, “I will be thy destruction, O death! — thy ruin, O grave!” the Greeks have translated it, “Where, O death, is thy suit? where, O grave, thy sting?” Now although this mistake of the Greeks is excusable from the near resemblance of the words, yet if any one will attentively examine the context, he will see that they have gone quite away from the Prophet’s intention. The true meaning, then, will be this — that the Lord will put an end to death, and destroy the grave. It is possible, however, that, as the Greek translation was in common use, Paul alluded to it, and in that there is nothing inconsistent, though he has not quoted literally, for instead of victory he has used the term action, or law-suit. I am certainly of opinion, that the Apostle did not deliberately intend to call in the Prophet as a witness, with the view of making a wrong use of his authority, but simply accommodated, in passing, to his own use a sentiment that had come into common use, as being, independently of this, of a pious nature. The main thing is this — that Paul, by an exclamation of a spirited nature, designed to rouse up the minds of the Corinthians, and lead them on, as it were, to a near view of the resurrection. Now, although we do not as yet behold the victory with our eyes, and the day of triumph has not yet arrived, (nay more, the dangers of war must every day be encountered,) yet the assurance of faith, as we shall have occasion to observe ere long, is not at all thereby diminished.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? – Που σου, Θανατε, το κεντρον· που σου, αδη, το νικος· These words are generally supposed to be taken from Hos_13:14, where the Hebrew text stands thus: אהי דבריך מות אהי קטבך שאול ehi debareyca maueth; ehikatabca sheol: which we translate, O death! I will be thy plagues; O grave! I will be thy destruction; and which the Septuagint translate very nearly as the apostle, που η δικη σου, Θαντε; που το κεντρον σον, αδη; O death, where is thy revenge, or judicial process? O grave, where is thy sting? And it may be remarked that almost all the MSS., versions, and many of the fathers, interchange the two members of this sentence as they appear in the Septuagint, attributing victory to death; and the sting, to hades or the grave; only the Septuagint, probably by mistake or corruption of copyists, have δικη, dike, revenge or a judicial process, for νικος, nikos, victory: a mistake which the similarity of the words, both in letters and sound, might readily produce. We may observe, also, that the אהי ehi (I will be) of the Hebrew text the Septuagint, and the apostle following them, have translated που, where, as if the word had been written איה where, the two last letters interchanged; but אהי ehi, is rendered where in other places; and our translators, in the 10th verse of this same chapter (Hos_13:10) render אהי מלך ehi malca, “I will be thy king,” but have this note in the margin, “Rather, where is thy king? King Hoshea being then in prison.” The apostle, therefore, and the Septuagint, are sufficiently vindicated by the use of the word elsewhere: and the best Jewish commentators allow this use of the word. The Targum, Syriac, Arabic, Vulgate, and some MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi, confirm this reading.
Having vindicated the translation, it is necessary to inquire into the meaning of the apostle’s expressions. Both Death and Hades are here personified: Death is represented as having a sting, dagger, or goad, by which, like the driver of oxen, he is continually irritating and urging on; (these irritations are the diseases by which men are urged on till they fall into Hades, the empire of Death); to Hades, victory is attributed, having overcome and conquered all human life, and subdued all to its own empire. By the transposition of these two members of the sentence, the victory is given to Death, who has extinguished all human life; and the sting is given to Hades, as in his empire the evil of death is fully displayed by the extinction of all animal life, and the destruction of all human bodies. We have often seen a personification of death in ancient paintings – a skeleton crowned, with a dart in his hand; probably taken from the apostle’s description. The Jews represent the angel of death as having a sword, from which deadly drops of gall fall into the mouths of all men.
Hades, which we here translate grave, is generally understood to be the place of separate spirits. See the note on Mat_11:23.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Quoted from Hos_13:14, substantially; but freely used by the warrant of the Spirit by which Paul wrote. The Hebrew may be translated, “O death, where are thy plagues? Where, O Hades, is thy destruction?” The Septuagint, “Where is thy victory (literally, in a lawsuit), O death? Where is thy sting, O Hades? … Sting” answers to the Hebrew “plagues,” namely, a poisoned sting causing plagues. Appropriate, as to the old serpent (Gen_3:14, Gen_3:15; Num_21:6). “Victory” answers to the Hebrew “destruction.” Compare Isa_25:7, “destroy … veil … over all nations,” namely, victoriously destroy it; and to “in victory” (1Co_15:54), which he triumphantly repeats. The “where” implies their past victorious destroying power and sting, now gone for ever; obtained through Satan’s triumph over man in Eden, which enlisted God’s law on the side of Satan and death against man (Rom_5:12, Rom_5:17, Rom_5:21). The souls in Hades being freed by the resurrection, death’s sting and victory are gone. For “O grave,” the oldest manuscripts and versions read, “O death,” the second time.
“O death.” This triumphant exclamation is the commencement of the fourth division of the chapter, the practical consequences of the doctrine. It is such an exclamation as every man with right feelings will be disposed to make, who contemplates the ravages of death; who looks upon a world where in all forms he has reigned, and who then contemplates the glorious truth, that a complete and final triumph has been obtained over this great enemy of the happiness of man, and that man would die no more. It is a triumphant view which bursts upon the soul as it contemplates the fact that the work of the second Adam has repaired the ruins of the first, and that man is redeemed; his body will be raised; not another human being should die, and the work of death should be ended. Nay, it is more. Death is not only at an end; it shall not only cease, but its evils shall be repaired; and a glory and honor shall encompass the body of man, such as would have been unknown had there been no death. No commentary can add to the beauty and force of the language in this verse; and the best way to see its beauty, and to enjoy it, is to sit down and think of death; of what death has been, and has done; of the millions and millions that have died; of the earth strewn with the dead, and “arched with graves;” of our own death; the certainty that we must die, and our parents, and brothers, and sisters, and children, and friends; that all, all must die; and then to suffer the truth, in its full-orbed splendor, to rise upon us, that the time will come when death shall be at an end. Who, in such contemplation, can refrain from the language of triumph, and from hymns of praise?
Where is thy sting? – The word which is here rendered sting (κέντρον kentron) denotes properly a prick, a point, hence, a goad or stimulus; that is, a rod or staff with an iron point, for goading oxen; (see the note on Act_9:5); and then a sting properly, as of scorpions, bees, etc. It denotes here a venomous thing, or weapon, applied to death personified, as if death employed it to destroy life, as the sting of a bee or a scorpion is used. The idea is derived from the venomous sting of serpents, or other reptiles, as being destructive and painful. The language here is the language of exultation, as if that was taken away or destroyed.
O grave – αδη hade. Hades, the place of the dead. It is not improperly rendered, however, grave. The word properly denotes a place of darkness; then the world, or abodes of the dead. According to the Hebrews, Hades, or Sheol, was a vast subterranean receptacle, or abode, where the souls of the dead existed. It was dark, deep, still, awful. The descent to it was through the grave; and the spirits of all the dead were supposed to be assembled there; the righteous occupying the upper regions, and the wicked the lower; see the note on Isa_14:9; compare Lowth, Lectures on Hebrew Poetry, vii; Campbell, Prel. Diss. vi. part 2, 2. It refers here to the dead; and means that the grave, or Hades, should no longer have a victory.
Thy victory – Since the dead are to rise; since all the graves are to give up all that dwell in them; since no man will die after that, where is its victory? It is taken away. It is despoiled. The power of death and the grave is vanquished, and Christ is triumphant over all. It has been well remarked here, that the words in this verse rise above the plain and simple language of prose, and resemble a hymn, into which the apostle breaks out in view of the glorious truth which is here presented to the mind. The whole verse is indeed a somewhat loose quotation from Hos_13:14, which we translate,
“O death, I will be thy plagues;O grave, I will be thy destruction.” But which the Septuagint renders: “O death, where is thy punishment? O grave, where is thy sting?”
Probably Paul did not intend this as a direct quotation; but he spoke as a man naturally does who is familiar with the language of the Scriptures, and used it to express the sense which he intended, without meaning to make a direct and literal quotation. The form which Paul uses is so poetic in its structure that Pope has adopted it, with only a change in the location of the members, in the “Dying Christian:”
“O grave, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
56. The sting of death is sin In other words, “Death has no dart with which to wound us except sin, since death proceeds from the anger of God. Now it is only with our sins that God is angry. Take away sin, therefore, and death will no more be able to harm us.” This agrees with what he said in Rom_6:23, that the wages of sin is death. Here, however, he makes use of another metaphor, for he compared sin to a sting, with which alone death is armed for inflicting upon us a deadly wound. Let that be taken away, and death is disarmed, so as to be no longer hurtful. Now with what view Paul says this will be explained by him ere long.
The strength of sin is the law: It is the law of God that imparts to that sting its deadly power, because it does not merely discover our guilt, but even increases it. A clearer exposition of this statement may be found in Rom_7:9, where Paul teaches us that we are alive, so long as we are without the law, because in our own opinion it is well with us, and we do not feel our own misery, until the law summons us to the judgment of God, and wounds our conscience with an apprehension of eternal death. Farther, he teaches us that sin has been in a manner lulled asleep, but is kindled up by the law, so as to rage furiously. Meanwhile, however, he vindicates the law from calumnies, on the ground that it is holy, and good, and just, and is not of itself the parent of sin or the cause of death. Hence he concludes, that whatever there is of evil is to be reckoned to our own account, inasmuch as it manifestly proceeds from the depravity of our nature. Hence the law is but the occasion of injury. The true cause of ruin is in ourselves. Hence he speaks of the law here as the strength or power of sin, because it executes upon us the judgment of God. In the mean time he does not deny, that sin inflicts death even upon those that know not the law; but he speaks in this manner, because it exercises its tyranny upon them with less violence. For the law came that sin might abound, (Rom_5:20,) or that it might become beyond measure sinful. (Rom_7:13.)
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
If there were no sin, there would be no death. Man’s transgression of the law gives death its lawful power.
strength of sin is the law — Without the law sin is not perceived or imputed (Rom_3:20; Rom_4:15; Rom_5:13). The law makes sin the more grievous by making God’s will the clearer (Rom_7:8-10). Christ’s people are no longer “under the law” (Rom_6:14).
The sting of death – The sting which death bears; that with which he effects his purpose; that which is made use of to inflict death; or that which is the cause of death. There would be no death without sin. The apostle here personifies death, as if it were a living being, and as making use of sin to inflict death, or as being the sting, or envenomed instrument, with which he inflicts the mortal agony. The idea is, that sin is the cause of death. It introduced it; it makes it certain; it is the cause of the pain, distress, agony, and horror which attends it. If there had been no sin, people would not have died. If there were no sin, death would not be attended with horror or alarm. For why should innocence be afraid to die? What has innocence to fear anywhere in the universe of a just God? The fact, therefore, that people die, is proof that they are sinners; the fact that they feel horror and alarm, is proof that they feel themselves to be guilty, and that they are afraid to go into the presence of a holy God. If this be taken away, if sin be removed, of course the horror, and remorse, and alarm which it is suited to produce will be removed also.
Is sin – Sin is the cause of it; see the note at Rom_5:12.
The strength of sin – Its power over the mind; its terrific and dreadful energy; and especially its power to produce alarm in the hour of death.
Is the law – The pure and holy law of God. This idea Paul has illustrated at length in Rom_7:9-13; see the notes on that passage. He probably made the statement here in order to meet the Jews, and to show that the law of God had no power to take away the fear of death; and that, therefore, there was need of the gospel, and that this alone could do it. The Jews maintained that a man might be justified and saved by obedience to the law. Paul here shows that it is the law which gives its chief vigor to sin, and that it does not tend to subdue or destroy it; and that power is seen most strikingly in the pangs and horrors of a guilty conscience on the bed of death. There was need, therefore, of the gospel, which alone could remove the cause of these horrors, by taking away sin, and thus leaving the pardoned man to die in peace; compare the note on Rom_4:15.
57. But thanks be to God: From this it appears, why it it was that he made mention both of sin and of the law, when treating of death. Death has no sting with which to wound except sin, and the law imparts to this sting a deadly power. But Christ has conquered sin, and by conquering it has procured victory for us, and has redeemed us from the curse of the law. (Gal_3:13.) Hence it follows, that we are no longer lying under the power of death. Hence, although we have not as yet a full discovery of those benefits, yet we may already with confidence glory in them, because it is necessary that what has been accomplished in the Head should be accomplished, also, in the members. We may, therefore, triumph over death as subdued, because Christ’s victory is ours.
When, therefore, he says, that victory has been given to us, you are to understand by this in the first place, that it is inasmuch as Christ has in his own person abolished sin, has satisfied the law, has endured the curse, has appeased the anger of God, and has procured life; and farther, because he has already begun to make us partakers of all those benefits. For though we still carry about with us the remains of sin, it, nevertheless, does not reign in us: though it still stings us, it does not do so fatally, because its edge is blunted, so that it does not penetrate into the vitals of the soul. Though the law still threatens, yet there is presented to us on the other hand, the liberty that was procured for us by Christ, which is an antidote to its terrors. Though the remains of sin still dwell in us, yet the Spirit who raised up Christ from the dead is life, because of righteousness. (Rom_8:10.) Now follows the conclusion.
But thanks be to God; – See the notes at Rom_7:25.
Which giveth us the victory – Us who are Christians; all Christians. The victory over sin, death, and the grave. God alone is the author of this victory. He formed the plan; he executed it in the gift of his Son; and he gives it to us personally when we come to die.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ – By his death, thus destroying the power of death; by his resurrection and triumph over the grave; and by his grace imparted to us to enable us to sustain the pains of death, and giving to us the hope of a glorious resurrection; compare the note at Rom_7:25; Rom_8:37.