Death Swallowed in Life

God is the one who gives us these new resurrected bodies in accordance with God’s will

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May 12, 2024

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Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57

From 1 Corinthians 11:1 on, Paul has been rehearsing elements that he has taught or passed on to the Corinthians. In some cases, he commends them for adhering closely to what he taught (11:1–16). In other places he admonishes them for misunderstanding the heart of what his teaching entailed (11:17–34). At the beginning of chapter 12, Paul expands on things he has already taught. This carries on through the end of chapter 14. In these chapters Paul focuses on the nature of Christian community: its mutual interdependence, the priority of love, and the role of spiritual gifts in corporate worship.  

Chapter 15 continues this overall theme of reminding the Corinthians of Paul’s initial proclamation and expanding upon that teaching. In this case, the focus is on those who deny the resurrection of the dead. In this way, Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians that the gospel he first proclaimed to them, a proclamation they received, was not a proclamation of Paul’s own devising. Rather, it was passed on to him, and he in turn proclaimed it to them: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; he was buried; he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3–4).  

Although this is wonderful and astonishing good news, Paul primarily wants to assert that his gospel is not his own radical and idiosyncratic innovation. Rather, it happened “in accordance with the scriptures.” Further, this message of the resurrection was confirmed by the many to whom the risen Christ appeared, including some who were still alive. The risen Christ even appeared to Paul himself, though in an untimely way. Paul’s prior life as a persecutor of the church and the unusual nature of Christ’s appearance to him leads to a brief aside where he defends his apostolic credentials (15:9–11).

First Corinthians 15:1–11 provides the foundational material upon which Paul will draw in verses 12–26 as he confronts an assertion within the Corinthian church that “there is no resurrection of the dead” (15:12). Paul begins to confront this assertion by working out its central implication: If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, the gospel Paul rehearsed in verses 3–4 makes no sense. Christ’s death can hardly address human sin effectively if Christ was not raised. If Christ were not raised, there is really no substance to Paul’s proclamation. It can hardly be characterized as good news. Rather, believers are to be pitied for believing in foolishness.

Having established the implications of claiming that “there is no resurrection of the dead,” Paul moves on in verses 20–26 to unpack the implications of Christ’s resurrection for believers. Death is the result of human sin. Christ’s death for our sins and his subsequent resurrection break the power of death, opening resurrection to all who are “in Christ.”

Of course, Paul, the Corinthians, and we ourselves know that death still stalks the earth. Thus, Paul explains that there is an ordering or progression to the death of death. Christ’s resurrection represents the “first fruits” of death’s demise. When Christ comes again, those who belong to Christ will be raised. Then at the end or completion of all things, when all of Christ’s enemies have been subjected to Christ’s reign, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (15:26). 

First Corinthians 15:27–50 continues Paul’s argument. First, he clarifies that the subjection of all things to Christ does not entail the Father’s ultimate subjection to the Son. Rather, since the Father is the power that subjects all things to the Son, then even the Son’s reign will be handed over to the Father so that “God may be all in all” (15:27–28). Verses 29–34 reinforce the implication that the practice of “receiving baptism on behalf of the dead” makes no sense if there is no resurrection. Further, the suffering and danger Paul willingly undertakes in the course of his mission is rendered a pitiable miscalculation if there is no resurrection (verses 30–34).  

First Corinthians 15:12–35 demonstrate Paul’s unshakable confidence in the resurrection of the dead. In verses 35–50 Paul moves into a more speculative area, addressing the questions “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (15:35). Paul relies on the agricultural image of the relationship between a seed (which “dies” when planted) and the subsequent (and very different) plant that is raised from that seed to make the point that there are some fundamental differences between our earthly bodies and their resurrected state. The most prominent difference is that earthly bodies are subject to death. Resurrected bodies are not.  Earthly bodies bear the image of our earthly forebears. Resurrected bodies will be in Christ’s image.  

Although it does not always receive the attention it deserves, 15:38 is really a central verse in this whole passage. Its importance lies in the assertion that God is the one who gives us these new resurrected bodies in accordance with God’s will. Regardless of the mechanics of this process, our resurrected bodies will be marvelous and imperishable. At the same time, these resurrected bodies will bear the imprint of our earthly bodies; we will be recognizably us. 

This week’s reading jumps over this speculative passage to 15:51, where Paul continues to develop the theme of death’s ultimate destruction. Whether Paul, the Corinthians, or we are alive at the time of Christ’s coming, all of us—the living and the dead—will be changed. We will be transformed from perishable into imperishable beings. The power of death will be broken once and for all. 

Paul concludes this passage by alluding back to the tenets of his gospel. Sin (speaking here of “Sin” as a demonic power and not a specific transgression) provides death with its power and distorts the Torah so that it brings death rather than life. Christ’s resurrection breaks Sin’s power, restores the Torah, providing it with its proper telos or goal (Romans 10:4), and swallows death in victory (15:56–57).


Lord of the resurrection, you died and were raised so that ultimately death would not prevail. Remind us daily that sin, and even death, have no power over us. Amen.


Christ is arisen   ELW 372, H82 184
Abide with me   ELW 629, GG 836, H82 662, UMH 700, NCH 99


Death where is thy sting and But Thanks be to God from Messiah, G. F. Handel

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Festival of Homiletics 2024

May 13-16 | Pittsburgh (or digitally from anywhere)

The 2024 Festival of Homiletics is an invitation to lean into a little self-love. Hear from some of the voices of our time, including Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Neichelle Guidry, Brian McLaren, and Angela Dienhart Hancock, and more! Experience inspiring worship along with time for reflection, renewal, and remembering – to recall once again the why for what we do.