1 Corinthians 15:45-58 (O, Death, where is your victory?)

deathPaul next returns to an earlier theme, the comparison of Adam and Jesus.

(1Co 15:45 ESV) 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Paul quotes Gen 2:7 to show the superiority of Jesus (the last Adam or last human being) as the giver of life (through the Spirit) rather than a mere recipient of life.

[Jesus] is not just a soma pneumatikon [Spiritual body] in his own right, so to speak, the first example of the large number of such beings the creator intends to make through resurrection, but he is also the one through whom the creator will accomplish this—because he is the one who, as ‘life-giving Spirit’, will perform the work of raising the dead. Genesis 2:7 is thus not so much a proof-text, more a part of the larger story which the Christian, looking at Jesus’ resurrection, can now tell; and the good news which emerges from this is that Jesus has pioneered the way into the long-awaited future, the new age which the creator has planned (verse 46). The pneumatikos [Spirit-empowered] state is not simply an original idea in the mind of the creator, from which the human race fell sadly away; this model of humanity is the future reality, the reality which will swallow up and replace merely psychikos [mortal] life.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 355. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Commentaries

biblepage-781x1024For those new to serious Bible study, a “commentary” is a book that explains one or more books of the Bible in detail, generally verse by verse. Most commentaries are published as part of a set intended to cover the entire NT or entire OT or both. But many excellent commentaries are published as stand-alone volumes.

There are far too many commentaries for me to cover them all, and the quality varies from series to series, and volume to volume. But maybe I can offer some thoughts to help sort through the overwhelming amount of information contained in commentaries.

First, I do not use old, out-of-copyright commentaries. The Internet and Bible software are filled with archaic commentaries that, in their day, were excellent. But a lot happened in the last century to greatly improve Bible scholarship. For example —

* We discovered vast troves of First Century papyrus writings that shed new light on the language of the NT. Continue reading

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Bill Withers: “Grandma’s Hands”

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1 Corinthians 15:35-44 (How are the dead raised?)

deathPaul next begins to deal with much more serious objections — the sort a Greek philosopher might ask — beginning with, “With what kind of [dead] body do they come?” After all, the ancients weren’t stupid. They knew that the body rotted away. If there’s to be a resurrection, what replaces the decayed corpse? How could such a thing be re-animated?

(1Co 15:35-41 ESV) But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There 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. 41 There 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.

Paul does not give much in the way of detail regarding our resurrection bodies. Rather, he analogizes to several things to illustrate that a body can “die” and come back in a new a better form. A grain of wheat goes into the ground and rises up a new plant. There are, he says,”heavenly bodies and earthly bodies” — and all with glory but with different kinds of glory. In short, we’ll have bodies but different kinds of bodies. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Restoration Movement materials

biblepage-781x1024I’ve had readers ask me for recommendations on books regarding Restoration Movement issues. For those of us who grew in the Churches of Christ, it’s helpful to know some of the books and authors that address the issues that are peculiar to our tribe.

The two best histories of the Restoration Movement are Leroy Garrett’s The Stone-Campbell Movement and James Deforest Murch’s Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement. Nothing else is close to the quality or scope of these two books.

Garrett writes from the perspective of the a cappella Churches of Christ. Murch writes from the perspective of the instrumental independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

For a consideration of the historical issues that shaped the 20th Century Churches of Christ, I highly recommend Leonard Allen’s Distant Voices: Uncovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church and Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, written with Richard T. Hughes. I’ve read all these books multiple times.  Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 15:29-34 (Baptism for the dead; Eat, drink & be merry)

deathWe now come to one of the most puzzling passages in all of scripture —

(1Co 15:29 ESV) 29 Otherwise, 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?

The Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) take this quite literally, undergoing immersions for the sake of deceased ancestors  (“vicarious baptism” we’ll call the practice). But that seems just too far removed from the rest of all of Christianity to be right. It’s Christianity, not magic. But then, Paul’s words really need to mean something.

There are nearly as many theories as there are commentators. Some believe that the Corinthians engaged in vicarious baptisms for deceased loved ones who’d not been baptized during life, but it’s hard to imagine that this was a real need in the early church. Acts records converts being baptized essentially immediately! Of course, many, many years later, converts were sometimes required to wait years, even until near the point of death, for baptism, but there is no evidence that the Pauline congregations ever delayed baptism. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Authors

biblepage-781x1024Where to begin? Let’s see …

Most Christians don’t buy commentary series, theological encyclopedias, Greek lexicons, or the like. Most people buy individual books on topics that interest them. And most people buy more based on author than topic (which is generally wise).

My own Bible study has been immensely aided by learning who among the great scholars of this age to read. And I wasted a lot of time and money reading bad books before I learned better.

So let’s suppose my 25-year old son or daughter came to me wanting a list of authors or books to read to supplement his or her Bible knowledge. What would I recommend? Well, I’d recommend the books that influenced me the most — taking into account the fact that young people don’t have to face some of the issues that I had to face. My kids don’t need to be cured of legalism.

So for the reader who doesn’t have legalist issues to wrestle through — Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 15:27-28 (that God may be all in all)

deathPaul next builds on his explanation of Psalm 8 —

(1Co 15:27-28 ESV) 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Paul is quoting from —

(Psa 8:3-9 ESV) 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,  4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [or God] and crowned him with glory and honor.  6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,  7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8 seems, on first reading, to be about humanity in general. But Paul takes the parallels “man” and “son of man” in v.4 and applies these to Jesus — taking Jesus as representing humanity as the ultimate human. “Son of man” in the OT just means “human,” but Jesus is the human par excellence. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Study Bibles

biblepage-781x1024I think anyone new to Bible study should own a good study Bible. A “study Bible” is simply a Bible with a whole bunch of study aids added.

Typically, they’ll contain introductions to each Bible book giving some background and purpose for the book. Many contain supplemental notes throughout the text. For example, a good study Bible might have an article on the tabernacle inserted somewhere in the midst of Exodus to show a picture, to explain the purpose of the tabernacle in Judaism, the history of tabernacle practice, and such.

Study Bibles often contain timelines of Bible events, persons, and books, more extensive maps than the typical Bible, and articles on all sorts of Bible topics. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 15:26 (The last enemy to be destroyed is death)

deathWe at last come to one of Paul’s “greatest hits” quotations, one we need to ponder for a while.

(1Co 15:26 ESV) 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

This passage has to remind us of —

(Gen 2:16-17 ESV)  16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 

Paul prophesies the end of the curse that resulted from the sins of Adam and Eve.

(Gen 3:2-5 ESV)  2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,  3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”  4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

The serpent lied to Eve, promising her God-like knowledge of good and evil — a half-truth. But he denied that she’d die as a result. The trouble, of course, is that once we lose our innocence and learn good from evil, we become accountable for that knowledge.

(Rom 5:12-14 ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned —  13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 

Paul explains that, due to Adam’s sin, all mankind became mortal because all mankind became sinful.

I believe that Paul is speaking of eternal death — the denial of immortality to those not in Jesus. After all, unless we’re still alive when Jesus returns, we will die insofar as our mortal bodies are concerned.

(Rom 5:17 ESV) 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 

“Death reigned through one man” refers to physical death. Not everyone was damned. And for the saved, although we die, it’s not truly death. Rather, we pass from mortality to immortality at the general resurrection. We “reign in life” — that is, as promised in Gen 1:26-28, we are given rule over the earth. “Reign” means to rule as a king rules.

(Gen 1:26-28 ESV) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The Psalms declares this to be true of God’s children —

(Psa 8:5-9 ESV) 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,  7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

As we’ll see shortly, Paul applies this Psalm, plainly written about mankind generally, to Jesus. We’ll get there.

This lesson did not get past the Revelator —

(Rev 5:9-10 ESV)  9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

(Rev 22:5 ESV)  5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever

Now, I don’t know just what this means, quite honestly. But the “life” we’re promised is much more than existence. It’s existence reigning over the new heavens and new earth in a place of honor. Paul promises that we will “reign in life,” and it’s for good reason that he says so. Victory over death is not merely remaining alive. Although every instinct in our bones and souls yearns to keep on living, as we get older and our bodies begin to fail, most of us realize that life merely for the sake of life is not enough. Imagine an eternity trapped in a body that is decomposing, diseased, cancered, and painful! Life is nothing without the hope of a better, victorious existence. The goal is not mere survival but defeat for death — God’s final enemy.

A couple of further thoughts to reflect on —

Paul is building his case on Psalms 8 and 110. For example,

(Psa 110:1-2 ESV) The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 

God promised his Messiah defeat over all his enemies. These enemies include the principalities and powers — both earthly and heavenly enemies. Hence, when the war is over, death will be defeated because death stands in opposition to the will of God.

We’ve already seen that Paul applies Psalm 8 (quoted earlier) to mankind, and extends it to the Son of Man as the ultimate king who will win mankind’s victory for them. Hence, the “dominion” that Psalm 8 promises is far greater than just over the created animals and such. We learn that it include rule over all that stands in opposition to the will of God.

There’s a translation issue in Psalm 8. “Heavenly beings” is elohim, which is often used to mean God but can also refer to the heavenly hosts, including angels. But Paul seems to be using this passage to mean that the Messiah will defeat the principalities and powers, which include heavenly beings. Therefore, I’m inclined to go with the NRSV translation —

(Psa 8:5 NASB)  Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!

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