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Paul answers an objection to the resurrection raised by his opponents with three comparisons: a seed versus the plant it becomes; Adam who brought death versus Christ who brings life; and natural life now versus transformed life in the kingdom of God.
The majority of 1Corinthians is Paul’s response to questions the Corinthians asked him. 1Corinthians 15 is the last topic he covers: whether there is a bodily resurrection. A group in Corinth denies the idea that believers are looking forward to a bodily resurrection.
So far in 1Corinthians 15, Paul has made three main points:
- We know there is a resurrection because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
- If Jesus was not resurrected, then his death accomplished nothing and we are still trapped in our sins.
- Resurrection is at the heart of the gospel because it is an essential part of how God intends to solve the problem of sin and death.
15:29Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30Why are we in danger every hour? 31I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. – 1Corinthians 15:29-34
- No one knows what Paul is referring to in 15:29 about the baptism of the dead.
- The plain reading of this verse is that the Corinthians are practicing some kind of vicarious baptism.
- Nowhere in the Bible are people commanded to be baptized for the dead nor do we see people being baptized for the dead. It is not a practice that developed in the early Christian church, and there’s no record of it in pagan churches.
- It seems reasonable to assume that the Corinthians have adopted some form of vicarious baptism. Paul doesn’t explain what the practice was because they already knew what it was and he already knew it.
- He does NOT say, “Why do WE have this practice of baptizing for the dead.” He says “they” not we.
- Even though we don’t know the specifics of the situation, most scholars agrees that Paul’s point is this practice is foolish if you don’t believe in a resurrection.
- In 15:30, we find another case of Paul using “we” to refer to himself.
- Why would Paul constantly risking death by preaching the gospel message if there is no hope of resurrection at the end?
- 15:33 is a quote from a Greek poet, Menander. If you hang around with the wrong crowd, eventually you will join them.
- The theology of Paul’s opponents contradicts the gospel and will ultimately corrupt the Corinthian church if it continues.
- This is a very serious issue and you Corinthians need to wake up and take it seriously.
15:35But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. -1Corinthians 15:35-41
- Paul is answering an objection raised by his opponents, not by a question by a confused follower. Understanding the nature of the question sheds light on his answer.
- The objection is essentially how could a decayed, rotted body come back to life? Why would anyone want to resurrect a nasty, evil physical body when our spirits are pure and enlightened (as we know from Greek philosophy)?
- A seed dies in the ground and is transformed into a new form. You don’t plant a tomato seed and get corn. But the seed and the plant have very different forms. This is how God made the world.
- God designed all different sorts of bodies, different creatures and different living beings. They have an order and logic to their design that suits their nature and purpose.
- The glory of the earthly bodies differs from the glory of heavenly bodies.
15:42So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. -1Corinthians 15:35-49
- Paul now draws the analogy.
- Like the seed and the plant, the body that dies differs from the body that is raised. The body that dies is corrupt, frail, weak and fragile. But the resurrected body is full of glory in every way.
- 15:44 “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body“: The natural body is what we are by nature apart from the work of God. The spiritual body is what we are after the Spirit of God has transformed us. We die in a normal, living breathing body and are raised in a glorified, transformed body which is fully under the influence of the Spirit of God.
- The first man Adam became a normal living breathing human being and all of his descendants after him are also normal natural living breathing humans. By contrast, the last Adam — Jesus Christ — will give a life fully transformed by the Spirit to his descendants.
- God has an order. We start with normal living breathing bodies. And he brings us ultimately to life as transformed spiritual people.
- The life that Adam had is normal human existence made of the earth and from the earth. But the life that the risen Christ has is from heaven and made of the stuff of heaven.
- We are going to be spiritual in the sense of fully transformed by the Spirit of God into a new type of existence where we completely reflect the holiness and righteousness of God, free from sin, death and corruption.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.
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Series: 1 Corinthians: Pride & Prejudice in the church
Study: 1Corinthians Resources
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