The Gospel Teaching.* 1Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. 2Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3* For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;a 4that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures;b 5that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.c 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.d 9For I am the least* of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.e 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me. 11Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
B. The Resurrection of the Dead
Results of Denial.* 12But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised.f 14And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. 15Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.g 16For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, 17and if Christ has not been raised,* your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. 18Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
Christ the Firstfruits.* 20h But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits* of those who have fallen asleep. 21* For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. 22For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,i 23but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;j 24then comes the end,* when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.k 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.l 26* The last enemym to be destroyed is death, 27* for “he subjected everything under his feet.”n But when it says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that it excludes the one who subjected everything to him. 28When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will [also] be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.o
Practical Arguments.* 29Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead?* If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?
30* Moreover, why are we endangering ourselves all the time?p 31Every day I face death; I swear it by the pride in you [brothers] that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.q 32If at Ephesus I fought with beasts, so to speak, what benefit was it to me? If the dead are not raised:
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”r
“Bad company corrupts good morals.”
34Become sober as you ought and stop sinning. For some have no knowledge of God; I say this to your shame.s
C. The Manner of the Resurrection*
35*But someone may say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?”
The Resurrection Body. 36* You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.t 37And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; 38u but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. 39* Not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for human beings, another kind of flesh for animals, another kind of flesh for birds, and another for fish. 40There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another. 41The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. For star differs from star in brightness.
42* So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. 43It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.v 44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.
45So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam,* became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit.w 46But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. 48As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. 49Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image* of the heavenly one.x
The Resurrection Event. 50* This I declare, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption* inherit incorruption.y 51* Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed,z 52in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.a 53For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.b 54* And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:c
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”d
56The sting of death is sin,* and the power of sin is the law.e 57But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.f
58Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
* [15:1–58] Some consider this chapter an earlier Pauline composition inserted into the present letter. The problem that Paul treats is clear to a degree: some of the Corinthians are denying the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12), apparently because of their inability to imagine how any kind of bodily existence could be possible after death (1 Cor 15:35). It is plausibly supposed that their attitude stems from Greek anthropology, which looks with contempt upon matter and would be content with the survival of the soul, and perhaps also from an overrealized eschatology of gnostic coloration, such as that reflected in 2 Tm 2:18, which considers the resurrection a purely spiritual experience already achieved in baptism and in the forgiveness of sins. Paul, on the other hand, will affirm both the essential corporeity of the resurrection and its futurity. His response moves through three steps: a recall of the basic kerygma about Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:1–11), an assertion of the logical inconsistencies involved in denial of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12–34), and an attempt to perceive theologically what the properties of the resurrected body must be (1 Cor 15:35–58).
* [15:1–11] Paul recalls the tradition (1 Cor 15:3–7), which he can presuppose as common ground and which provides a starting point for his argument. This is the fundamental content of all Christian preaching and belief (1 Cor 15:1–2, 11).
* [15:3–7] The language by which Paul expresses the essence of the “gospel” (1 Cor 15:1) is not his own but is drawn from older credal formulas. This credo highlights Jesus’ death for our sins (confirmed by his burial) and Jesus’ resurrection (confirmed by his appearances) and presents both of them as fulfillment of prophecy. In accordance with the scriptures: conformity of Jesus’ passion with the scriptures is asserted in Mt 16:1; Lk 24:25–27, 32, 44–46. Application of some Old Testament texts (Ps 2:7; 16:8–11) to his resurrection is illustrated by Acts 2:27–31; 13:29–39; and Is 52:13–53:12 and Hos 6:2 may also have been envisaged.
* [15:9–11] A persecutor may have appeared disqualified (ouk…hikanos) from apostleship, but in fact God’s grace has qualified him. Cf. the remarks in 2 Corinthians about his qualifications (2 Cor 2:16; 3:5) and his greater labors (2 Cor 11:23). These verses are parenthetical, but a nerve has been touched (the references to his abnormal birth and his activity as a persecutor may echo taunts from Paul’s opponents), and he is instinctively moved to self-defense.
* [15:12–19] Denial of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12) involves logical inconsistencies. The basic one, stated twice (1 Cor 15:13, 16), is that if there is no such thing as (bodily) resurrection, then it has not taken place even in Christ’s case.
* [15:17–18] The consequences for the Corinthians are grave: both forgiveness of sins and salvation are an illusion, despite their strong convictions about both. Unless Christ is risen, their faith does not save.
* [15:20–28] After a triumphant assertion of the reality of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor 15:20a), Paul explains its positive implications and consequences. As a soteriological event of both human (1 Cor 15:20–23) and cosmic (1 Cor 15:24–28) dimensions, Jesus’ resurrection logically and necessarily involves ours as well.
* [15:20] The firstfruits: the portion of the harvest offered in thanksgiving to God implies the consecration of the entire harvest to come. Christ’s resurrection is not an end in itself; its finality lies in the whole harvest, ourselves.
* [15:21–22] Our human existence, both natural and supernatural, is corporate, involves solidarity. In Adam…in Christ: the Hebrew word ’ādām in Genesis is both a common noun for mankind and a proper noun for the first man. Paul here presents Adam as at least a literary type of Christ; the parallelism and contrast between them will be developed further in 1 Cor 15:45–49 and in Rom 5:12–21.
* [15:24–28] Paul’s perspective expands to cosmic dimensions, as he describes the climax of history, the end. His viewpoint is still christological, as in 1 Cor 15:20–23. 1 Cor 15:24, 28 describe Christ’s final relations to his enemies and his Father in language that is both royal and military; 1 Cor 15:25–28 inserts a proof from scripture (Ps 110:1; 8:6) into this description. But the viewpoint is also theological, for God is the ultimate agent and end, and likewise soteriological, for we are the beneficiaries of all the action.
* [15:26] The last enemy…is death: a parenthesis that specifies the final fulfillment of the two Old Testament texts just referred to, Ps 110:1 and Ps 8:7. Death is not just one cosmic power among many, but the ultimate effect of sin in the universe (cf. 1 Cor 15:56; Rom 5:12). Christ defeats death where it prevails, in our bodies. The destruction of the last enemy is concretely the “coming to life” (1 Cor 15:22) of “those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor 15:23).
* [15:27b–28] The one who subjected everything to him: the Father is the ultimate agent in the drama, and the final end of the process, to whom the Son and everything else is ordered (24, 28). That God may be all in all: his reign is a dynamic exercise of creative power, an outpouring of life and energy through the universe, with no further resistance. This is the supremely positive meaning of “subjection”: that God may fully be God.
* [15:29–34] Paul concludes his treatment of logical inconsistencies with a listing of miscellaneous Christian practices that would be meaningless if the resurrection were not a fact.
* [15:29] Baptized for the dead: this practice is not further explained here, nor is it necessarily mentioned with approval, but Paul cites it as something in their experience that attests in one more way to belief in the resurrection.
* [15:30–34] A life of sacrifice, such as Paul describes in 1 Cor 4:9–13 and 2 Corinthians, would be pointless without the prospect of resurrection; a life of pleasure, such as that expressed in the Epicurean slogan of 1 Cor 15:32, would be far more consistent. I fought with beasts: since Paul does not elsewhere mention a combat with beasts at Ephesus, he may be speaking figuratively about struggles with adversaries.
* [15:35–58] Paul imagines two objections that the Corinthians could raise: one concerning the manner of the resurrection (how?), the other pertaining to the qualities of the risen body (what kind?). These questions probably lie behind their denial of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12), and seem to reflect the presumption that no kind of body other than the one we now possess would be possible. Paul deals with these objections in inverse order, in 1 Cor 15:36–49 and 1 Cor 15:50–58. His argument is fundamentally theological and its appeal is to the understanding.
* [15:35–49] Paul approaches the question of the nature of the risen body (what kind of body?) by means of two analogies: the seed (1 Cor 15:36–44) and the first man, Adam (1 Cor 15:45–49).
* [15:36–38] The analogy of the seed: there is a change of attributes from seed to plant; the old life-form must be lost for the new to emerge. By speaking about the seed as a body that dies and comes to life, Paul keeps the point of the analogy before the reader’s mind.
* [15:39–41] The expression “its own body” (1 Cor 15:38) leads to a development on the marvelous diversity evident in bodily life.
* [15:42–44] The principles of qualitative difference before and after death (1 Cor 15:36–38) and of diversity on different levels of creation (1 Cor 15:39–41) are now applied to the human body. Before: a body animated by a lower, natural life-principle (psychē) and endowed with the properties of natural existence (corruptibility, lack of glory, weakness). After: a body animated by a higher life-principle (pneuma; cf. 1 Cor 15:45) and endowed with other qualities (incorruptibility, glory, power, spirituality), which are properties of God himself.
* [15:45] The analogy of the first man, Adam, is introduced by a citation from Gn 2:7. Paul alters the text slightly, adding the adjective first, and translating the Hebrew ’ādām twice, so as to give it its value both as a common noun (man) and as a proper name (Adam). 1 Cor 15:45b then specifies similarities and differences between the two Adams. The last Adam, Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:21–22) has become a…spirit (pneuma), a life-principle transcendent with respect to the natural soul (psychē) of the first Adam (on the terminology here, cf. note on 1 Cor 3:1). Further, he is not just alive, but life-giving, a source of life for others.
* [15:49] We shall also bear the image: although it has less manuscript support, this reading better fits the context’s emphasis on futurity and the transforming action of God; on future transformation as conformity to the image of the Son, cf. Rom 8:29; Phil 3:21. The majority reading, “let us bear the image,” suggests that the image of the heavenly man is already present and exhorts us to conform to it.
* [15:50–57] These verses, an answer to the first question of 1 Cor 15:35, explain theologically how the change of properties from one image to another will take place: God has the power to transform, and he will exercise it.
* [15:50–53] Flesh and blood…corruption: living persons and the corpses of the dead, respectively. In both cases, the gulf between creatures and God is too wide to be bridged unless God himself transforms us.
* [15:51–52] A mystery: the last moment in God’s plan is disclosed; cf. notes on 1 Cor 2:1, 7–10a. The final trumpet and the awakening of the dead are stock details of the apocalyptic scenario. We shall not all fall asleep: Paul expected that some of his contemporaries might still be alive at Christ’s return; after the death of Paul and his whole generation, copyists altered this statement in various ways. We will all be changed: the statement extends to all Christians, for Paul is not directly speaking about anyone else. Whether they have died before the end or happen still to be alive, all must be transformed.
* [15:54–55] Death is swallowed up in victory: scripture itself predicts death’s overthrow. O death: in his prophetic vision Paul may be making Hosea’s words his own, or imagining this cry of triumph on the lips of the risen church.
* [15:56] The sting of death is sin: an explanation of Hosea’s metaphor. Death, scorpion-like, is equipped with a sting, sin, by which it injects its poison. Christ defeats sin, the cause of death (Gn 3:19; Rom 5:12).
a. [15:3] 11:23 / 1 Pt 2:24; 3:18 / Is 53:4–12.
b. [15:4] Acts 2:23–24 / Ps 16:8–11; Hos 6:1–2; Jon 2:1.
c. [15:5] Mk 16:14; Mt 28:16–17; Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19.
d. [15:8] 9:1; Acts 9:3–6; Gal 1:16.
e. [15:9] Acts 8:3; 9:1–2; Gal 1:23; Eph 3:8; 1 Tm 1:15.
f. [15:13] 1 Thes 4:14.
h. [15:20] Rom 8:11; Col 1:18; 1 Thes 4:14.
i. [15:22] Gn 3:17–19; Rom 5:12–19.
j. [15:23] 1 Thes 4:15–17.
m. [15:26] Rom 6:9; 2 Tm 1:10; Rev 20:14; 21:4.
n. [15:27] Ps 8:7; Eph 1:22; Phil 3:21.
p. [15:30] 2 Cor 4:8–12; 11:23–27.
q. [15:31] Ps 44:23; Rom 8:36.
r. [15:32] 4:9; 2 Cor 4:10–11 / Wis 2:5–7; Is 22:13.
s. [15:34] Mt 22:29; Mk 12:24.
v. [15:43] Phil 3:20–21; Col 3:4.
w. [15:45] Gn 2:7 / Jn 5:21–29; 2 Cor 3:6, 17.
x. [15:49] Gn 5:3 / Rom 8:29; Phil 3:21.
z. [15:51] 1 Thes 4:14–17.
a. [15:52] Jl 2:1; Zec 9:14; Mt 24:31; Rev 11:15–18.
c. [15:54] Is 25:8; 2 Cor 5:4; 2 Tm 1:10; Heb 2:14–15.
f. [15:57] Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 5:4.