1 Corinthians Chapter 15: 1-6, 12-18, 50-52, 54-57 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, July 25, 2010 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:

1. NIGTC: First Epistle to the Corinthians by Anthony Thiselton

2. BECNT: 1 Corinthians by David Garland

3. Conflict and Community in Corinth by Ben Witherington III

4. New Testament Text and Translation Commentary by Philip Comfort

1 Cor 15:1-2
The syntax of these verses make more sense if you see them as in temporal sequence:
Gospel I preached which you received (past)
in which you stand, through which you are being saved (present/future)
if you hold fast (future)(Garland)

To no avail: Implies multiple meaning?
1. You believe yet fall away
2.You believe yet don’t really understand what it is you believe
3.You believe something that is untrue, thus worthless.(Garland)

1 Corinthians 15:3
For I passed on to you: paredoka, from paradidomi. To hand over, pass on, entrust
What I also received: paralabon, from paralambano. To take, to receive
As most important: protois, from protos. First, either in time or importance. Here plainly, importance.

These terms, pass on, receive, are the language of tradition and creed. But there is an inevitable clash here between verses 3 in particular and Paul’s statement

Gal 1:11-12 NET. Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. (12) For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ.

The typical understanding is that Paul did not actually witness Jesus’ earthly ministry, but learned the outlines of His life from other Christians. What Paul received from Heaven was the interpretation of those events, which Paul worked out in great detail, using his scriptural training, so he was able to proclaim(Garland)

“that Christ died for the sins of us”- hoti Christos apethanen huper ton hamartion emon. These words have been and continue to be micro-analyzed by scholars. Is Paul talking about an atonement offering (expiation) or a substitution death, or even both? People have written books on the subject. It is perhaps safer (and easier!) to see both senses implied. On the other hand, it is not safe to see this verse as solid affirmation of “Limited atonement”, because Paul here is speaking only about and to Christians.(Garland, Witherington)

People have always thought that it was noble and good that someone die for others, and people of the ancient world could see that evils might be removed or the gods appeased by the death of someone. What was different about Jesus’ death was that it was uniquely inglorious (horribly executed as a common criminal), universally effective (all who believe are redeemed, not just a group, a city, or a nation), and not final (after three days, he arose)(Garland)

That this view nevertheless doesn’t originate with Paul can be seen both here

Mat 26:27-28 NET. And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, (28) for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Luk 22:19-20 NET. Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (20) And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

And also in the words “according to the scriptures”- Jesus pointed out the many “clues” to His life and death to the bewildered disciples after the Resurrection. And how we would like to have a fuller list of those specific scriptures!

“According to the scriptures” also means that this was God’s plan. It was prepared.

1 Cor 15:4
“That he was buried” – a second that (hoti). David Garland points out the structure of this creedal formula:

He died
He was buried
He has been raised
He appeared

All of which are ticked off by those hoti/that.(Garland)

“Buried” is important because this chapter of 1 Corinthians is in fact a long argument about the reality and importance of resurrection from the dead for Christianity. Christ, the first and greatest of the Resurrected, must have died in order to be raised. It is also an argument about the genuine humanness of Jesus, for the idea of a god becoming completely, truly human was very foreign to people (and still is!), and the idea that Jesus merely “seemed” human was one of the earliest heresies (docetism).

“that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”

You cannot really isolate the parts of this phrase. “According to Scriptures” points both to specific texts

Psa 16:10 LITV For You will not leave My soul in Sheol; You will not give Your Holy One to see corruption.

Jon 1:17 LITV And Jehovah had appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Hos 6:1-2 LITV Come and let us return to Jehovah. For He has torn, and He will heal us. He has stricken, and He will bind us up. (2) After two days He will bring us to life. In the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him.

And to the overall context of scripture, the faithfulness of God in His promises.

Hosea 6:2 specifically became a Jewish text concerning the speed of God’s action, and was applied to resurrection, though whether that was before Christianity’s spread or not is hard to say.

Three days, used repeatedly in scripture, is ancient shorthand for “in a short time”.

1 Cor 15:5
“That he appeared” the Greek opthe, became a technical term in the Greek OT for the appearance of God or His messengers. Garland also points out that the term can be interpreted that God took the inititative to show Himself. It is again according to a plan. (Garland)

1Co 15:5-6 NET. and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (6) Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

The account (extending out to 1 Cor 15:8) may or may not be in exact chronological order, though the tendency is to see it as chronological. Notice women are not mentioned. Sad but true, in the ancient world women were considered of little or no use as legal witnesses. If either the Christian community or Paul compiled this list, they were surely making their case according to the ideas of the day. Paul may put scripture at the head of his evidences, but ancient society preferred witnesses to written accounts. This tendency explains, in fact, why it took the Church so long to understand what books should make up the NT. Until the death of the apostles, their immediate disciples and children, ancient Christians preferred to hear people with “reliable” knowledge of Jesus and the faith, supplemented by the apostolic writings, which were, after all, typically written for specific groups and occasions, though it is only common sense that the authors had a widespread audience in mind.

There is a pattern in the fuller list of witnesses in 15:5-8: to emphasize God’s grace. Peter denied Christ, James did not apparently become a believer until after the Resurrection, and Paul notoriously persecuted the church. Yet they were not only brought into the church, they were leaders of it! (Anthony Thiselton, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGNTC)

David Garland gives a list reasons for Paul’s list here:

1)Give the witnesses. He even provides for the “it was a made up vision, wish-fulfillment” theory by noting the appearance to 500 at once, surely not a shared hallucination!
2)Form a chain of witness, from beginning down to Paul himself.
3)Establish the essential unity of the reports. What one says, they all say.
4)Saying some have “fallen asleep” hints at his further discussion in the chapter. Believers have died, but death is like sleep, temporary and non-threatening, for like Christ they will return from the dead. (David Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT)

1 Cor 15:12
Two most common ancient ideas for after death were:
1.No afterlife of any sort. Death is the end.
2.Afterlife involving only the non-physical soul, which has nothing to do with any sort of physical realm.(Garland)

Thus the Corinthians’ likely confusion was over the idea of an afterlife involving a body, which was not in their normal worldview. Also the Corinthians likely only thought of bodies such as one has in life. The notion of a spiritualized body was foreign to them.(Garland)

1 Cor 15:13-18
Paul’s logical to the point of silliness argument that Christianity without belief in a bodied resurrection. Without a belief in bodied resurrection:

1.The gospel is worthless, for the whole gospel depends on Christ being bodily raised.
2.Corinthians’ faith is false, a deception.
3.The Apostles are liars and deceivers, speaking falsehoods as witnesses in their own and God’s name
4.Salvation is a lie, because there is no Redeemer, no Intercessor for humankind with a God who hates sin and judges the actions of the living and the dead.
5.The dead in Christ are actually simply the dead, for they will not be resurrected. Instead the dead will rot or worse, endure punishment for their sins at the hands of the Judge of the Living and the Dead.(Garland)

1 Cor 15:50
While some modern scholars have tried to see “flesh and blood” as referring to the living, and “corruption” as referring to the rotting bodies of the dead, there is still better merit in the traditional interpretation that “flesh and blood” and “corruption” refer to physical bodies. Thus “incorruptible” refers to things Heavenly and spiritual in contrast. This is more of the discussion of the difference between the physical world and the spiritual world as back in 15:12. (Garland)

1 Cor 15:51-52
“Mystery” refers to something once hidden, now revealed by divine action (Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 2:1,7; 13:2)(Garland)

“We will not all sleep” shouldn’t be taken as proof Paul thought he and the Corinthians were the final generation before the day of the Lord. One must reckon with 1Co 6:14 NET. Now God indeed raised the Lord and he will raise us by his power.

This verse implies Paul expects at least some of his readers/listeners (ancient letters were most heard, read aloud) to die before the great final day. (Garland)

Verse 52 states the actual mystery. “All will be changed” includes both the living and the dead being changed, transformed to bodies fit for spiritual/ heavenly life. It will not be a gradual change, but instantaneous, in the “blink of an eye”, in a moment, the Greek word being “atomos”, the smallest indivisible unit to the Greeks. (Garland)

The final trumpet is a familiar end of the world motif (Mat 24:31; 1 Th 4:16; Joel 2:1; Zep 1:14-16; Zech 9:14) and trumpets are commonly associated with divine appearances (Ex 19:13, 16, 19; Zech 9:14)(Garland)

1 Cor 15:54
The OT citations here come from Is 25:8 and Hos 13:14. The Isaiah quote follows the Hebrew textual tradition against a different version found in the Greek OT.

“In victory” isn’t found in the known manuscript traditions of Is 25:8. Paul may have made an alteration, not even intending a real quote. Or it may be Paul is quoting a variant text unknown to us. Most likely, Paul was using a cognate in Aramaic related to the Hebrew for “forever”, the cognate meaning “overcome, prevail over”.(Garland)

1 Cor 15:55
Paul seems to adapt the Greek OT version here, with some alteration. The Greek version reads Hos 13:14 Complete Apostles’ Bible (14) I will deliver them out of the power of Hades, and will redeem them from death. O death, where is your punishment? O Hades, where is your sting? Comfort is hidden from My eyes.

Punishment or penalty in the Greek text is dike, which he changes into nikos “victory”. “Hades” being the Greek god of death, Paul changes it to “death” again, likely to avoid confusion with the Greek god. Paul reinterprets the Hebrew Hosea quote (a condemnation of Israel into Death’s hands) into a taunt at Death’s powerlessness over Christians.(Garland)

Yes, the KJV reads “Hades” in the second portion of verse 55, but a check of the manuscript evidence reveals the reading to be late corrections in earlier manuscripts or likely adaptations to match Hos 13:14 in the later Majority manuscripts. (Comfort)

1 Cor 15:56 -57
Paul identifies the sting of death as “sin” and the power of sin the Law. Paul expands on this more in Romans (5:12-14, 7:7-13). Death gets power over humankind through sin, whose punishment is rightfully death (Rom 6:23). The Law makes us aware of our sin (Rom 4:15, 5:13, 20, 7:7; Gal 3:19) and condemns us for it (2 Cor 3:6). The Cross and Resurrection destroys sin’s power, the law’s condemnation, and death’s penalty. The final day Paul speaks of in these verses consummates Christ’s reversal of the world’s ways by making Christians fit for eternal spiritual life.(Garland)

Important Manuscripts for 1 Corinthians 15:

1) Codex Vaticanus- Originally containing the whole Bible, now missing most of Genesis, parts of 2 Samuel, much of the latter portion of Psalms, a portion of Hebrews, and all of the Pastoral Epistles and Revelation.

Vaticanus, B for short, has resided in the Vatican for centuries. It is dated to the 300s, usually about 350 AD, and is suspected to be one of 50 bibles the Emperor Constantine authorized to be made with government funds, as a way to fill the gap in bibles created during the Diocletian Persecution’s (303-311) mass burning of Christian books.

Vaticanus is renowned for its excellence, especially in the Gospels. The original scribe was nearly the model scribe, copying faithfully if routinely, making no amendments of his own and only the typical errors of a tired worker. It’s excellence is portrayed in its use as the backbone of the Critical New Testament that replaced the Textus Receptus of the King James Version, the Westcott- Hort Greek New Testament of 1881, as well as the base text of Reuben Swanson’s New Testament Manuscripts series (1995-2005).

2) P46- the manuscript contains most of Paul’s epistles except for the Pastorals. P46 was presumably discovered somewhere in the Fayum, Egypt, though a Cairo dealer sold bits of it to Chester Beatty and the University of Michigan between 1930-33. It is conventionally dated 200 AD, with some arguing earlier, 150-175. It is a professionally produced manuscript that was well-used, as evidenced by the multitude of varying handwriting in it. One of these had marked 1 Corinthians 15 to prepare it for reading aloud.

P46 is the beginning of a chain of similar manuscripts that includes Vaticanus and Codex 1739. The remarkable thing is that 1739 is a codex made in the 900s, but somehow it was copied from an anonymous manuscript originating in the famous Caesarean library in Palestine back in the 400s, creating a demonstrable chain of manuscript transmission that runs at least 700 years!


One thought on “1 Corinthians Chapter 15: 1-6, 12-18, 50-52, 54-57 Sunday School Notes

  1. Chuck, I discovered your lesson commentaries on the internet a while back, and have been helped tremendously in studying for my Sunday School each week. I read about your need for surgery and am praying for you in the areas you mentioned. Our class got interested in your situation, and joined in on your request. Thanks for the help you have been in making our lessons easier to understand. Our prayers are with you for a full recovery, and you will be back soon to help us in the Lord’s work. Amen

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