1 Corinthians 15:12-16 (But if there is no resurrection of the dead …)


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:

Part 1: A Definition.

Part 2: The early church fathers; Asking better questions.

Part 3: Bodies in the afterlife?

Part 4: 2 Peter 3:10-13: The heavens will pass away

Part 5: The Rapture

Part 6: A New Hope

Part 7: Why song leaders lead bad songs

Part 8: The Thief on the Cross and Lazarus

Part 9: Conclusions

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to 1 Corinthians 15:12-16 (But if there is no resurrection of the dead …)

  1. Jeff Hennen says:

    Of greatest importance in this text, to me, is how Paul essentially says the hope of the christian lies entirely in the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. If there was any truth whatsoever to “ghost salvation” or going somewhere “when we die” it certainly seems to have eluded Paul. He even goes so far as to assert that if the dead do not rise, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Now wait a minute Paul, shouldn’t we still live holy and righteous lives so our disembodied “soul” doesn’t go into torment? (the “bad” side of Hades, etc.) It’s interesting to me how Paul leaves absolutely no room for any such “afterlife as a ghost” arrangement outside of the resurrection. The hope of the christian is clearly an embodied hope, rather than a disembodied hope of instant bliss in heaven at death, or in another realm of some sort.
    Jesus came to give us the promise of a bodily resurrection unto eternal life, not just another version of “life after death.” Oh how I wish my brethren could get this right!

  2. Price says:

    Some things are hard to accurately define with our human understanding.. ? Is there something about heaven and the spiritual realm that we might have to plead an ignorance concerning ? Not having died and returned it is difficult to know with certainty… Some saw Moses and Elijah in some sort of bodily form.. How did that happen EXACTLY ? Can anyone know ? Was Jesus able to have a different body because He was God and Man ? Why did He need to return to heaven before Mary was to touch Him ? Why EXACTLY ? Can anyone know…? Why did Paul say that it was difficult to know whether to be with those he was ministering to or to be in the presence of the Lord ? Was it just figurative speech ? Or, did he know something ?

  3. John F says:

    Perhaps much of our problem has to do with our concept of “time”. We make comments about eternity in terms of time (Grain of sand from one ocean to another, when the sand is gone from the one, only a day in eternity, etc.). But God is outside of time (He created it, after all). So to die is end our own relationship to time — I don’t know how that works. So outside of time, there is no restriction in regard to “day of judgment”, “to die is to be with the Lord” “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him” “soul sleep” or other confusing considerations that we make based on “time”

    I’m not sure that I can get my head around all of that, because “time” is all we have with which to make comparisons

  4. R.J. says:

    I firmly believe the line “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, and God will do away with both.” is purely a Corinthian quote, not Pauline in origin. Plus this quote figuratively signified the impulsive sexual drive they felt they couldn’t help. So Paul’s response does not imply that he agrees with them whatsoever. But the body is not meant for fornication”!

  5. Jeff Hennen says:

    James Burton Coffman commented that due to the scarcity of information in the scriptures concerning the domain of the dead, we should be cautious about waxing overly dogmatic with our viewpoints and assertions. I do seem to get more irritated as the decades pass while funeral preachers and Bible class teachers continue to speak of death as “life in another realm” or a “better place” as if it is all settled scholarship. If the dead have truly “gone on to their reward” in a “better place”, why did Jesus bring Martha’s brother Lazarus back to this cruel world? Why does Paul seem to include himself as a participant in the resurrection and expect to receive his own reward “in that day” if it happens instantaneously at the moment of death? It seems to me that in every scriptural account where it “appears” that the dead are experiencing some sort of conscious existence, one of three things is taking place. 1. Someone is seeing a vision. (Mt. 17: “Tell the vision to no man…”) 2. A fictional story or parable is being told. (including, in some cases, talking trees) 3. A miracle is being performed. (or other extraordinary phenomenon involving spiritual powers as with the witch or Endor)
    This is a great and much needed series and discussion. If the traditional Greek/Platonic/gnostic understanding of death and the anthropology of man is correct, then the resurrection doesn’t make much sense.

  6. Monty says:

    There are many anecdotal stories of people who were not living(as Christians) who died and either caught a glimpse of hell, or saw Jesus, or both. Many of these people, who by their own admission, were living in a lost state, were (according to them)-returned to life by Jesus and immediately started living as faithful believers. And many of these immediately started being fervently evangelistic. What happened? A dream? Endorphins released at or near death? A deception of sorts? They grew a conscience? While many of these stories often vary(as in the case of eye witnesses who view differently a wreck or some other event), many have core similarities.

    I believe there are far too many of these stories for there to be nothing to them. Not all are legit no doubt, but that doesn’t negate the more authentic sounding ones. When Paul said he was ready to die and be with Christ, I don’t think he was blowing smoke or that he believed that he would die, be buried(and sleep and be out of consciousness)until the resurrection 2,3,4,5 thousand years later. Doesn’t sound like anything to look forward to in an immediate context. Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord for the believer. Sounds immediate to me.

    Many make a big deal out of being saved by grace(as they should), not by works, and that the gift is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, and then believe that we cannot know we are saved until Christ judges us? If he doesn’t judge us because of his grace, then we are saved when we die. If we have to pass some judgment based on our own ability to be good, then who can be saved? The apostle John wrote: “these things were written that you may know you have eternal life.” Question: Did Paul know he had eternal life before he died? He said he was ready to go and be with the Lord. Can we not say the same thing? Was Paul technically wrong? Certainly death can be a better alternative than living in unbearable pain as in end stage cancer. But that wasn’t Paul’s state when he wrote Philippians or 2 Corinthians.

    Many of my brothers sit in church every Sunday morning and sing without any expression of joy on their faces (IMO) because they have had it grilled into their heads(not by me) that we can’t know we are saved until the judgment and that if we can know we are saved prejudgment then that somehow rules out whatever Jesus or the writers were referring to in those passages. I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive. As long as we believe that we cannot know that we are saved before we die and look forward to our reward laid up beyond the blue, then we have to have a final judgment to pronounce if you made it or not, and if so, based on what?

  7. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for the note. The scriptures say next to nothing about the state of the dead between death and the general resurrection other than to refer to the dead in Christ as sleeping. As you say, there are mentions here and there — the Transfiguration, for example — but it’s really hard to discern a clear teaching. Hence, I don’t buy the Paradise/Tartarus waiting room theories. If you’re waiting on judgment seated next to Hitler, with a very high thermostat setting, well, you won’t be surprised when God announces his judgment.

    I actually tend to prefer what John F said in an earlier comment: God is outside time and therefore so is judgment. And therefore God can let Elijah pop in on Jesus for a visit whenever it suits God. Time is no limit to the Creator of Time.

    That being the case (and it’s incontrovertible as a matter of physics — and both Jews and Christians have taught this for a very long time), we could all appear at Judgment at once without delay. Our consciousness could move from death to the general resurrection to the new heavens and new earth in a flash — a twinkling of an eye.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    As I mentioned to Jeff H in the last comment, I agree. I think your analysis is dead on.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Jeff H,

    Again, right as rain. Paul seemingly over-argues his case. I mean, why so insist on resurrection in a body if a disembodied soul would do? Paul wasn’t so much trying to draw the lines of heresy as to explain what to him was obvious. If Jesus was the first to be resurrected, then obviously we’ll be resurrected with the same sort of body.

    (1Jo 3:2 ESV) 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

    (Phi 3:20-21 ESV) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

    Paul sure seems to think it’s important.

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