Paul next turns to the topic that will consume the rest of the chapter: the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for the resurrection of Christians —
(1Co 15:12-16 ESV) Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
Okay. Paul presents us here with a discussion on the necessity of the resurrection. And I just posted a nine-part series on the resurrection over at Wineskins, which I don’t care to repeat and doubt that you care for me to re-post. If you’ve not read those posts yet, here are the links:
The theme of the Wineskins series is not just that we are resurrected, but as Paul teaches in 1 Cor 15, that we resurrected bodily — although not with quite the same body we have while we live on the earth in the present age. Paul will explain more as we proceed through the chapter.
Some in the Corinthian church denied the “resurrection of the dead” (v. 12). Why? Well, although many of the Jews taught a bodily resurrection at the end of time, most Greeks believed that the soul is inherently immortal and will survive death of the body, but in a state of disembodied misery and impotence. They considered continuing to exist while dead to be a miserable experience to be dreaded. To the Greek mind, the resurrection of the body was an absurdity, because they saw the body as hopelessly evil and corrupt, and so not suitable at all to live eternally with the gods.
In Homer’s works, it appears that Hades bears several points of correspondence with the Mesopotamian netherworld depicted in the Gilgamesh Epic. The shades in Hades are only a pale reflection of their former being. Life on earth is to be desired far more than the existence endured by those in Hades, just as life was better than existence in Gilgamesh’s netherworld. Bernstein writes that “[e]ven if they existed, no honors after death can compensate for the loss of life” (Bernstein, The Formation of Hell, 29). In The Odyssey, the character Achilles declares, “Glorious Odysseus: don’t try to reconcile me to my dying. I’d rather serve as another man’s labourer, as a poor peasant without land, and be alive on Earth, than be lord of all the lifeless dead” (Kline, The Odyssey, 11.488–491).
Martin A. Shields, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2012, 2013, 2014.
Aristotle denied the afterlife entirely. That the Greeks generally denied a bodily resurrection is evidenced by —
(Act 17:32 ESV) Now when [the philosophers on Mars Hill] heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”
The Jewish Sadducees were associated with the priestly class, through whom Rome ruled the Jews. Likely as a result of their closeness to Rome, and to the Greeks before them, the Sadducees adopted a Grecian understanding of the afterlife, denying the resurrection.
Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote in the closing years of the 1st century A.D., adds to the information in the NT about this party. He says that the Sadducees, in contrast to the Pharisees and Essenes, gave no place to the overruling providence of God, but emphasized that all that happens to us is the result of the good or evil that we do (Antiq. 13.5.9; War 2.8.14). Josephus, in a way comparable to the NT, speaks of the Sadducees’ rejection of “the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades” (War 2.8.14). “Souls die with the bodies” was what they said (Antiq. 18.1.4).
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1988, 1880–1881.
And so we shouldn’t be surprised that the early church struggled with the question, since it was very counter-cultural at the time. The Pharisees and probably most ordinary Jews — at least those who lived in Judea and Galilee — believed in the resurrection. They particularly found support for the teaching in —
(Dan 12:2-3 ESV) 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
I’ve covered this in much more detail in the Wineskins series.
Now, the argument Paul makes throws modern Christians for a bit of a loop. It’s very simple —
(1Co 15:12-13 ESV) Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
Paul says that we Christians will be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was resurrected. Jesus was raised bodily from the grave, leaving only his burial clothes. His body left the grave.
Paul teaches that Christians will be resurrected in the same way, and so if we are not resurrected, then neither was Jesus — our resurrection and his are but two instances of the same thing. And so Paul argues that the two go together. Deny one and you’ve denied the other. Accept one and you should accept the other.
The challenge to modern Christians is that we imagine ourselves being “resurrected” by our disembodied souls wafting off to heaven when we die, leaving our bodies and physicality behind — and yet Daniel and Paul describe resurrection happening at the end of time, when Jesus returns. It sure doesn’t seem to be the same thing. (And the apparent contradiction is addressed in the Wineskins series.)
Perhaps we can gain some help by thinking of the resurrection body of Christ, for John tells us that ‘we shall be like him’ (1 Jn. 3:2), and Paul that ‘our lowly body’ is to be ‘like his glorious body’ (Phil. 3:21). Our Lord’s risen body appears to have been in some sense like the natural body and in some sense different. Thus on some occasions he was recognized immediately (Mt. 28:9; Jn. 20:19f.), but on others he was not (notably the walk to Emmaus, Lk. 24:16; cf. Jn. 21). He appeared suddenly in the midst of the disciples, who were gathered with the doors shut (Jn. 20:19), while contrariwise he disappeared from the sight of the two at Emmaus (Lk. 24:31). He spoke of having ‘flesh and bones’ (Lk. 24:39). On occasion he ate food (Lk. 24:41–43), though He cannot hold that physical food is a necessity for life beyond death (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13). It would seem that the risen Lord could conform to the limitations of this physical life or not as he chose, and this may indicate that when we rise we shall have a similar power.
L. L. Morris, New Bible Dictionary, 1996, 1012.
The NT is clear that our bodies will be like the resurrected body of Jesus — although it’s not as clear regarding what Jesus’ resurrected body was like. It was plainly different and better and empowered in ways outside the ordinary. And it was built to last for eternity. Paul will have much more to say on the subject as we work through the rest of c. 15.