Text in red are my additions.
INTRODUCTION TO CHAPTER FIFTEEN
The final problem discussed by the Apostle in this Epistle concerns the resurrection of the just, and indirectly of all the dead. It was doubtless among the other questions submitted to him by the Church of Corinth, but it is answered last because of its paramount importance, its unusual difficulty, and its far-reaching consequences.
The resurrection of the body had been denied by the Sadducees among the Jews (Matt 22:3 ff.), it had been ridiculed by the pagans to whom St. Paul preached in Athens (Acts 27:18, 32), had been explained allegorically by certain Christians (2 Tim 2:17), and had been regarded as impossible and absurd by some of the Corinthians who were imbued with false philosophical notions (1 Cor 15:12, 29). Those Christians who denied the resurrection of the body very probably denied also, or at least doubted, the immortality of the soul. About the Resurrection of our Lord, however, it seems there was no special doubt at Corinth. The facts concerning it which had already been made known to the faithful needed only to be restated to evoke a general admission of, and an unshaken faith in it. Hence the Apostle begins to prove the reality of our future resurrection, first by an appeal to the Resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:1-28), and then by referring to a practice of some of the faithful and to the lives of the Apostles (1 Cor 15:29-34). The fact of the resurrection being established, its mode and the qualities of the resurrection body are next described (1 Cor 15:35-58).
If it be objected that the argumentation of St. Paul at times (verses 30-32) seems to prove directly the immortality of the soul, and only indirectly the resurrection of the body, this is doubtless due to the fact that to the Corinthians, as to the Jews generally, the two questions formed but one in reality; the whole man, body and soul, was either living or dead hereafter. Thus perhaps St. Paul had explained the matter when preaching to them. Of course there were some among the Greek philosophers, like Plato and his school, who admitted the immortality of the soul, while rejecting the very thought of corporal resurrection (Phaedo, 114 C; cf. Seneca, Ad Marcum xxiv. 4). These philosophers regarded matter as the source of all evil, as a thing essentially alien to the Divine, and the only barrier between the soul and the Absolute Good. Immortality, therefore, for them meant entire freedom from the body and its evil influences. Hence the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was at first the chief stumbling-block to many of the pagans.
Again we must note that St. Paul proves explicitly only the resurrection of the just, although the general resurrection is referred to in a passing way (verse 26), and is taken for granted as positively declared in other passages of Scripture and in Christian tradition (Matt 25:2, 33, 41; Acts 24:15; John 5:18 ff.). Cf. Cornely, h. 1.; Sales, h. 1.; Coghlan, St. Paul, Pg 154).
CHRIST HAS RISEN FROM THE DEAD
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Lest the Corinthians might think that he was proclaiming a new doctrine, St. Paul first reminds them that the Resurrection of Christ was one of the chief teachings which he delivered to them when founding their Church. It was a doctrine confirmed by the unanimous testimony of the first Apostles, and made certain by numerous apparitions of the Risen Lord to a great variety of other witnesses. To the Apostle himself the Saviour had also finally appeared, so that the preaching of all the Apostles and the faith of all Christians might be one and the same in regard to this fundamental truth.
1 Cor 15:1. Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;
1 Cor 15:2. By which also you are saved, if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain.
I make known (γνωριζω = gnorizo) , i.e., I recall to your minds what I have already preached to you, which also you have received, i.e., have believed, and wherein you stand, i.e., which you have retained till now: by which also you are saved, i.e., in which you are being saved, and shall be saved eternally, if you hold fast, etc., i.e., if you retain, without addition or subtraction, the teaching I have given you. The reference is to all the doctrines, and in particular to that of the resurrection, which he explained to the Corinthians when founding their Church.
Unless you have believed in vain, i.e., unless there is no foundation for your faith.
1 Cor 15:3. For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how
that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures:
1 Cor 15:4. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures:
First of all, i.e., first in order of time, because first in importance. The Apostles were accustomed to begin their preaching with the death and Resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:22 ff.; 10:4 ff.; 13:29 ff.; 17:18, 31).
Which I also received by direct revelation from Christ Himself (1 Cor 11:23; Gal 1:1119).
Died . . . according to the scriptures. Christ’s death for our sins had been foretold by Isaias (Isa 53; cf. Gen 22; Deut 11:24-26; Zech 12:10).
Was buried. The aorist εταφη expresses the single act. The burial of our Lord is explicitly mentioned here, as also in the four Gospels, to show the reality both of His death and of His Resurrection.
He rose. Literally, “Hath risen” (εγηγερται = egegertai) . Whereas the aorist was used to express the single act of our Lord’s burial, the perfect is employed here to denote His continued existence after His Resurrection.
The third day. This circumstance is insisted upon in the various accounts of the Resurrection of our Lord, (a) because He had foretold that He would rise on the third day, and (b) because such a length of time was a proof that the Saviour was really dead.
According to the scriptures, Ps 16:10; Isa 53:10; Jonah 2:10; Matt 12:40; 16:4, etc.
1 Cor 15:5. And that he was seen by Cephas, and after that by the eleven.
The apparitions of the Risen Lord were convincing proofs of the truth of His Resurrection. He was seen by Cephas, i.e., by St. Peter, as St. Luke tells us (Luke 24:34); and afterwards by the eleven, i.e., by the whole Apostolic group, except Thomas, on the evening of the Resurrection (John 20:19 ff.; Luke 24:36).
For “eleven” (Vulg., undecim) the best MSS. and many versions have “twelve.” Even without Judas the Apostolic college was called by its usual name, “the twelve.”
1 Cor 15:6. Then was he seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whommmany remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep.
Five hundred brethren. This is probably the apparition recorded in Matt, xxviii. 16-20, where the “eleven disciples” are explicitly mentioned, and some others are referred to as doubting. It is generally believed that these doubters were among the five hundred here alluded to by St. Paul, as it is very unlikely that any of the Apostles doubted after the appearance of our Lord to the eleven eight days after the Resurrection (John 20:28, 29).
Of whom many. Better, “Most of whom” (εξ ων οι πλειους = ek hon hoi pleiones). What a convincing proof of the reality of the Resurrection that most of five hundred eyewitnesses were still living around A.D. 58!
Fallen asleep, i.e., have died in the Lord and are awaiting the resurrection.
1 Cor 15:7. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
James, i.e., James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem (Matt 13:55; Mark 15:40; Gal 1:19). St. Paul could hardly be referring to James the Greater who was long dead (Acts 12:2) when he preached at Corinth and when this Epistle was written. The apparition here mentioned is not recorded elsewhere in
Then by all the apostles. If St. Paul is relating the apparitions in chronological order, as he appears to be, and if the apparition of verse 5 was the same as that recorded in Matt 28:16-20, we must take the present one to be that which occurred at the Ascension (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9), as most interpreters think, or some other private manifestation just before the Ascension, of which we have no record.
1 Cor 15:8. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time.
St. Paul adds his own ocular testimony to that of the other Apostles. He saw the Risen Lord, when on the way to Damascus he was suddenly thrown to the ground and converted to the Apostolic life (Acts 9:3 ff.; 17:27 ff., etc.).
As by one born, etc., i.e., by one who was spiritually immature, unformed, and unprepared to see Christ and be an Apostle. The older Apostles, including Matthias (Acts 1:21, 22), had been trained and developed in the school of Christ while the Saviour was yet on earth.
If the other manifestations of the Risen Lord which are recorded in the Gospels are omitted here, it is not because they were unknown to the Apostle, but because those given would have most weight with the Corinthians.
1 Cor 15:9. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Another reason why St. Paul considered himself only as an abortive Apostle, unworthy to be named or classed with the rest, was because he had been a persecutor of the faithful (cf. Eph 3:8; 1 Tim 1:12-16).
1 Cor 15:10. But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me:
In spite of what was just said St. Paul is by the grace of God, i.e., by the special grace of his Apostolate, what he is, namely, a true Apostle; and this grace has not been void, i.e., without fruit, in him, for he has laboured more abundantly, in preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, than any other of the Apostles, or, perhaps, than all of them put together.
Yet not I, etc. Lest anyone should think him boasting, St. Paul immediately adds that his Apostolic fruitfulness has been due to the grace of God, with which he has cooperated.
Grace in this verse means the special grace of Apostleship (Eph 3:8; Gal 1:15, 16; Rom 15:15, 16), not sanctifying grace.
1 Cor 15:11. For whether I, or they, so we preach, and so you have believed.
After the digression of verses 9, 10 concerning his own Apostolate, St. Paul returns to his theme of giving evidence for the Resurrection of Christ, and concludes that he, the least of the Apostles, as well as they, i.e., the older Apostles, preach the same doctrine of the Resurrection, which the Corinthians have believed without hesitation.
THE NECESSITY OF BELIEVING IN THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:12-20a
Before coming to the main theme of the present chapter, which is the resurrection of the just, and of all the dead, St. Paul wishes still further to strengthen and enlighten the belief of the Corinthians in Christ’s glorious Resurrection, for it is upon this latter that he will base his great argument for the truth of the former. Therefore, after having cited in the preceding section what he considers to be the best witnesses for our Saviour’s corporal Resurrection, he proceeds now to show the dire consequences that would necessarily follow if Christ were not truly risen. In such an event both the preaching of the Apostles and the faith of Christians would be without foundation. Wherefore, he concludes, we must accept the Resurrection of Christ.
1 Cor 15:12. Now if Christ be preached, that he arose again from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?
1 Cor 15:13. But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again.
These verses show that some among the Corinthians denied the resurrection of the dead, but they imply that those same sceptics believed that Christ was truly risen; otherwise St. Paul’s argument here would avail nothing against those who thought corporal resurrection was absurd and impossible (against MacR.). If they admitted, as seems evident, that Christ was risen, then it is possible for others to rise; and since the faithful form one mystical body of which Christ is the head (1 Cor 6:15; 12:27), their resurrection must naturally follow upon His. It is unseemly that the head should live without the body. Moreover, Christians, by reason of their union and fellowship with Christ, have become the adopted children of God, having a right to share in Christ’s inheritance and in the glory and honor, of body as well as soul, which is His. Thus the admitted Resurrection of Christ makes necessary the further admission that His members will also rise.
If it be objected that this argument proves only the resurrection of the just, of Christians who are united with Christ, we may reply with St. Chrysostom and St. Thomas that St. Paul was writing to, and arguing against those among the faithful of Corinth who denied the resurrection, but who did not consider that they thereby ceased to be Christians, united to Christ.
1 Cor 15:14. And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
1 Cor 15:15. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God: because we have given testimony against God, that he hath raised up Christ; whom he hath not raised up if the dead rise not again.
Terrible consequences would follow, if Christ were not risen again, (a) Both the preaching of the Apostles and the faith of their converts would be vain, i.e., without foundation, because Christ pointed to His Resurrection as the supreme proof of His Divinity and Messiahship (Matt 12:38 ff.; John 2:18 ff.); and if He be not truly risen, then we must conclude that He was a false prophet and has deceived both preachers and believers, and that there is no reason for either the Gospel or faith. The Apostles always proved the divine origin and authority of their preaching by appealing to the Resurrection of Jesus, holding that God would not have raised Him from the dead had He not been all He claimed to be, and had His doctrine not been true (Acts 1:22; 2:24, 32; 3:15, 21; 4:10, 33; 5:30; 10:37; 17:31 ; Rom 1:4; 4:24, etc.).
(b) The Apostles would be false witnesses of God, because they have attributed to Him something He never did, namely, the raising of Christ from the grave. And if it is an evil thing falsely to attribute something of grave moment to another human being, what a serious offence it would be to bear similar false witness to God!
Again, both in verse 14 and in verse 15 should be omitted, as not represented in the Greek.
1 Cor 15:16. For if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again.
For if the dead, etc., a solemn repetition of the conclusion stated above, in verse 13, from which still further evils would result.
Again in this and in the following verse should also be taken out.
1 Cor 15:17. And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins.
1 Cor 15:18. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished.
Your faith is vain, i.e., useless to you, for you could not be redeemed and freed from your sins by an impostor who claimed to be the true Messiah and Saviour of the world.
Then they also, etc. In the event that Christ is not truly risen, then those that died believing in Him and hoping for the remission of their sins through His redeeming merits, have died with their sins still upon them and are lost forever.
1 Cor 15:19. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
If Christ is not risen from the dead, faith in Him is not only useless for the living and the dead, but it is also a great detriment to Christians. If all our faith in Christ does for us is to give us in the present life a groundless hope of something false, causing us to deny ourselves many things which unbelievers enjoy, and bringing upon us numberless persecutions, then indeed we are of all men more to be pitied (ελεεινοτεροι = elleinoteroi, translated above as “most miserable”) than others.
1 Cor 15:20a. But now Christ is risen from the dead.
But all these terrible consequences that have just been described are false, because Christ is truly risen from the dead, and neither our preaching nor your faith is vain.
Christ’s resurrection includes the resurrection of all men
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:20b-28
The Resurrection of Christ is connected with that of others as the first-fruits are connected with those that follow, which they precede in order of time and dignity (St. Thomas). As the spiritual death of Adam involved the physical and spiritual death of all his descendants, so the corporal Resurrection of our Lord involves the corporal resurrection of all the just. After He shall have conquered all the enemies of God and man, Christ, the representative man, will assume for Himself and for all the faithful the position which befits Him as man, that God may be all in all.
20b. the first-fruits of them that sleep:
The first-fruits, etc. Christ was the first man to rise from the dead, but He is only the “first-fruits,” which shows there will be other fruits of the same kind. He is the model and pattern according to which all the just will rise. As the first-fruits of the harvest suppose the harvest, so the Resurrection of Jesus implies the harvest of the general resurrection of all the saved. The earth is the vast field in which our bodies like seed are planted, and since the first-fruits have already appeared, we can hope that soon the harvest will come.
Others, like Lazarus, who were called back to life before the Resurrection of Christ, were not raised to immortal life. Even those whom St. Matthew (Matt 27:52 ff.) speaks of as having come forth from their graves at the time of the crucifixion did not rise till after Christ had risen, and it is not certain that they did not die again.
1 Cor 15:21. For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead.
1 Cor 15:22. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
These verses show how Christ is the first-fruits of the dead. There exists the same relation between our Lord’s Resurrection and that of the just, as between the death of Adam and that of his descendants. As Adam was the father of fallen humanity, so Christ is the Father of regenerated humanity. By one man human nature was corrupted and despoiled of its gift of immortality, and so it was becoming that by one other man human nature should be restored, in the resurrection of the body, to its primitive state and dignity. Therefore, as all those who are born of Adam are condemned to death, so all they who are reborn in Christ shall be regenerated unto immortal life for body as well as soul.
So also in Christ, etc. Most modern interpreters, like Cornely, Le Camus, Bisping, etc., understand these words to refer only to the just, because there is question, they say, only of a glorious and immortal resurrection like that of Christ’s. Others, however, hold with St. Thomas that the Apostle is speaking of the resurrection of all,—of the good to a life of glory, of the bad to an existence of misery and shame (John 5:28 ff.; Dan 12:2).
Came of verse 21 is not represented in the Greek, although it is to be understood.
1 Cor 15:23. But every one in his own order: the first-fruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming.
All shall rise again, but each in his own order of time and according to his dignity. Christ has risen first, preceding all others in time and dignity, and becoming the model of the resurrection of all the saved. Then they that are of Christ, i.e., the just, shall rise at His second coming (1 Thess 4:15).
Who have believed (Vulg., qui crediderunt) should be omitted, as wanting in all the best MSS. and in the early editions of the Vulg.
1 Cor 15:24. Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue.
Afterwards the end, i.e., after the resurrection shall come the end of the present world, the present order of things (Matt 24:14; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9), which shall be replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).
When he, i.e., when Christ, the Redeemer, shall have delivered up, better, “shall hand over” (παραδιδω = paradido, pres. subj., according to the best MSS., instead of παραδω = parado, the aorist subj.), the kingdom, i.e., the Messianic Kingdom of the Church Militant, to God the Father, who as Creator is Lord of all creatures. Although as God Christ is also Creator and equal to the Father, as man He is in a particular way the Lord of the Messianic Kingdom, the Church, which He has purchased with His blood. It is the militant part of this Messianic Kingdom which Christ as man is here said to hand over to His Father at the end of the world, as a conqueror hands over to his sovereign the fruits of the victory he has won. Obviously Christ as God will not cease to reign equally with the Father and the Holy Ghost after the victory is won. But He will not surrender to His Father the Church Militant, until it is in peace, that is, until He has vanquished and brought to nothing all the enemies of God, demons and evil men, who have opposed and persecuted His Church.
The present subjunctive, the better reading, emphasize Christ’s action
Principality . . . power . . . virtue, i.e., all rule, authority and power that is opposed to God and Christ’s Kingdom, the Church.
1 Cor 15:25. For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.
For he must reign, etc., i.e., according to the decrees of God, Christ must govern and guide His Church, combat His enemies, and help the faithful, until He has triumphed over all the adversaries of His Kingdom, as was foretold in Psalm 110:1. In the Psalm it is God the Father who is represented as saying to Christ: “Sit at my right hand, until,” etc., but the Apostle is here plainly alluding to this Psalm and applying it to Christ, whose rule over the Church Militant will cease when the struggle finally gives way to victory. Of Christ’s eternal reign with the Father and the Holy Ghost in the Church Triumphant (Luke 1:32, 33; Dan 7:1414) there is no question here.
1 Cor 15:26. And the enemy death shall be destroyed last: For he hath put all things under his feet. And whereas he saith,
1 Cor 15:27. All things are put under him; undoubtedly, he is excepted, who put all things under him.
Now St. Paul alludes to Psalm 8:8 to show that in the resurrection death will be the last enemy to be destroyed. Literally the Psalm refers to man in the state of innocence, who was lord over visible creation; but in a mystical sense it points to the perfect man, Jesus Christ, the head of the human race.
Death is called the last enemy because, by retaining the bodies of mankind in the dust of the earth, it does an injury to the elect and keeps back their complete happiness after all other enemies have been rendered powerless. Christ, by His Resurrection, has thus conquered death in His own case, but the victory over this dread enemy will not be complete until the bodies of all the dead shall have been reclaimed in the general resurrection.
The resurrection of all the dead, good and bad, is argued from this verse, because if the triumph over death is to be complete, the bodies of all the dead must rise again.
And whereas he saith. These words should be connected with verse 27, as in the Greek. A better translation would be: “When he shall have said” (οταν δε ειπη = hotan de eipe) , i.e., when God the Father shall say at the end of the world that all things have been subjected to the Son, we must not understand the Father Himself to be included among the things subjected. Some interpreters supply αὐτός (autos = Him) from the last sentence, and understand Christ to be announcing the subjugation of all things to Him to whom it is owing (Lias).
1 Cor 15:28. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then the Son also himself shall be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
And when all things, etc., i.e., when all the enemies of the Church Militant shall have been conquered by Christ and the general resurrection takes place, then the Son, etc., i.e., then Christ also, as man, shall subject Himself, together with His redeemed Kingdom, the multitude of the elect, to His Father, without, however, forfeiting His own Kingship over His adoring subjects.
As man Christ has always, from the first moment of the Incarnation, been subject to and less than the Father, His humanity has been less than His Divinity, and less than the Holy Ghost; but in the resurrection when, together with the elect, His victorious army, He gives Himself over to the Father, His subjection will be greater in its extension and fulness (cf. Rickaby.).
That God may be all in all. The purpose of this final and universal subjection of Christ and His elect to the Father is that in the Church Triumphant God the Father may be recognized and glorified as the Lord of all, and as the author and primal source of all the blessings conferred upon Christ Himself, and through Christ upon the Church and the body of the elect; and that thus He may be all in all, i.e., may reign perfectly over all, rendering all perfectly and consummately happy.
A CONFIRMATION OF FUTURE RESURRECTION
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:29-34
After having given the authoritative teaching in regard to the resurrection St. Paul adds, by way of confirmation, two further considerations, one drawn from the practice of some of the faithful, and the other from the labors and trials of the Apostles. A brief exhortation then terminates his proofs of this momentous doctrine.
1 Cor 15:29. Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? why are they then baptized for them?
In the supposition that there is no resurrection of the dead, why, asks St. Paul, do some of the Corinthians receive Baptism for their friends and relatives who died without it? The Apostle is assuming that such a practice had in view the future resurrection of the body.
What was this Baptism for the dead? Many widely different explanations have been given, but by far the most reasonable and the most common is the following: In the time of St. Paul, when a catechumen died without Baptism, it was customary for a friend or relative to have the ceremony performed upon himself on behalf of the dead person, thus publicly affirming, by a symbolic action, that his departed friend or relative had died in union with the Church and was awaiting a glorious resurrection. This is the explanation of Tertullian (Adv. Marc. v. 10; De Resurr. xxviii) and is adopted by the majority of modern exegetes, such as Bisping, Van Steenkiste, Le Camus, Cornely, MacRory, Rickaby, etc. The Apostle simply refers to this practice, which must have been well known to the Corinthians, without approving or condemning it. Although erroneous, it was perhaps tolerated in the early Church until heretics began to attribute to it the efficacy of real Baptism. Cf. Vacant, Bapteme des morts. in Diet, de la Bible; Cornely, h. 1.
Again of this verse should be omitted.
1 Cor 15:30. Why also are we in danger every hour?
If the dead rise not again, then to what purpose are all the sufferings and persecutions endured by the Apostles and by the faithful? If there is no resurrection, all should try to avoid harm and suffering, and get as much as possible out of this present life.
We refers primarily, at least, to the Apostles, who were in constant danger of punishment, prison, and death itself, on account of their faith and the doctrines they preached. This and the two following verses seem directly to prove immortality, and only indirectly the resurrection of the body, unless we say that the danger, persecutions and trials to which the Apostle alludes were occasioned only or chiefly by their preaching the resurrection. This supposition, however, is very improbable, as it is quite evident that the allusion is to sufferings sustained for being a Christian, and for believing and preaching all the doctrines for which Christianity stands. Therefore we hold that these three verses are proofs primarily of immortality, and only secondarily of the resurrection. We must observe, however, with St. Thomas (on verse 19) that if the resurrection of the body be denied it is difficult to maintain the immortality of the soul, because without the body the soul is in an unnatural, and therefore unenduring state. Aquinas, In his lecture on 1 Cor 15:12-19 has this: ” [I]f the resurrection of the body is denied, it is not easy, yea it is difficult, to sustain the immortality of the soul. For it is clear that the soul is naturally united to the body and is departed from it, contrary to its nature and per accidens. Hence the soul devoid of its body is imperfect, as long as it is without the body. But it is impossible that what is natural and per se be finite and, as it were, nothing; and that which is against nature and per accidens be infinite, if the soul endures without the body. And so, the Platonists positing immortality, posited re-incorporation, although this is heretical. Therefore, if the dead do not rise, we will be confident only in this life. In another way, because it is clear that man naturally desires his own salvation; but the soul, since it is part of man’s body, is not an entire man, and my soul is not I; hence, although the soul obtains salvation in another life, nevertheless, not I or any man. Furthermore, since man naturally desires salvation even of the body, a natural desire would be frustrated.”
1 Cor 15:31. I die daily, I protest by your glory, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I die daily, i.e., every day St. Paul, like the other Apostles, was in danger of death for his faith and his preaching (Rom 8:36).
I protest, etc. The Apostle solemnly affirms by the pride he feels in the Corinthian Church, which he founded in Christ Jesus, that he is truly exposed to death every day of his life. Why all this, if there is no future life and no resurrection?
1 Cor 15:32. If (according to man) I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it profit me, if the dead rise not again? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.
If (according to man), etc. There should be no parentheses here. The meaning is: If for merely human motives, without a hope of future life and a consequent glorious resurrection, St. Paul on account of his preaching was exposed to wild beasts at Ephesus, what profit, what advantage was there in his action? He was exposing himself to death for no purpose, if the dead rise not again.
I fought with beasts, etc. The word εθηριομαχησα (thēriomacheō) used here by St. Paul, with its derivatives, became a technical expression for men contending with wild beasts in the amphitheatre. A metaphorical sense, however, is given it in the present instance by nearly all modern interpreters; and this for the following reasons: (a) St. Paul’s actual fighting with wild beasts is not mentioned by St. Luke, who speaks at considerable length of the Apostle’s sojourn at Ephesus (Acts 19:1; 20:1); (b) nor does St. Paul speak of such an experience when enumerating the various kinds of perils and sufferings to which he had been exposed for the sake of the Gospel (2 Cor 11:23); (c) it would be difficult to account for such treatment of a Roman citizen (Acts 22:26). The expression, therefore, must refer to the bitter opposition sustained by the Apostle from the Jews and his other enemies during his two years at Ephesus (Acts 19:1 ff.; 20:19; 2 Tim 4:17). St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the Romans (Ad Rom. 5), employs the very same word in a metaphorical sense: “All the way from Syria to Rome I have to fight with beasts, bound as I am to ten leopards, that is, a file of soldiers.”
What doth it profit me. In Greek the interrogation point is after this clause, and not after the one that follows, as in our version and in the Vulgate. The quotation is from Isaiah 22:13, where the Jews are represented as scoffing at God’s threats to destroy them. The Apostle, by alluding to these words from the Prophet, is only expressing the conclusion which would commonly be drawn from a denial of the resurrection; “for himself it was recompense enough that his action was pleasing to God” (St. Chrys.).
Again should be away (i.e., omitted), and we shall die (Vulg., moriemur) should be in the present tense.
Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. A quote from Isaiah 22:13.
1 Cor 15:33. Be not seduced: Evil communications corrupt good manners.
Be not seduced, i.e., by those who say there is no resurrection.
Evil communications, etc. This is a line from the play Thais of the Athenian comedian Menander (320 B.C.), which in the time of St. Paul had doubtless become a proverbial expression. The meaning here is that false doctrines, such as the denial of the resurrection, corrupt one’s morals and manner of life.
1 Cor 15:34. Awake, ye just, and sin not. For some have not the knowledge of God, I speak it to your shame.
The Apostle now exhorts those Christians who had permitted themselves to be seduced to return to their previous state of justice and right living.
Awake. The meaning of the Greek imperative, εκνηψατε, is that they should awake from their sleep of intoxication and come to themselves again. εκνηψατε (=epnapsate) is used only here in the New Testament. It literally means to sober up from a drunken sleep. The word is certainly meant to contrast with the worldly philosophy of verse 32~Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. The related word, ανανηψωσιν (= ananepsosin =”recover”), is used in 2 Tim 2:26~And they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil by whom they are held captive at his will. Compare with Joel 1:5.
Ye just. Literally, “Righteously” (δικαιως = dikaios). The meaning is: Awake, (a) as you ought; or (b) do what is right and just; or (c) so as to become just. St. Paul is bidding those seduced Corinthians to rouse themselves from their erroneous notions to a state of justice and righteousness.
For some, etc., i.e., those who say there is no resurrection of the dead are like the Pharisees whom our Lord rebuked for their ignorance of divine things (Matt 22:29), they have not the knowledge of God.
In the Vulgate justi would better be juste or ad justitiam.
HOW THE BODY WILL RISE; THE QUALITIES OF THE RISEN BODY
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:35-58
The fact of the resurrection being established, the Apostle now goes on to describe how it will take place. He first shows, by illustrations drawn from what takes place in the natural order of the world around us, that the risen body will be indeed the same body that was buried, but vested with vastly different qualities (verses 35-50). The manner of the resurrection, the transition from the present to the future life, and the effects of the resurrection are next discussed (verses 51-58).
1 Cor 15:35. But some man will say: How do the dead rise again? or with what manner of body shall they come?
The resurrection of the body was a hard doctrine, a stumbling-block to many of the Christians, as it had been before to some among the Jews (cf. Matt 22:23-33). It was difficult to see how it could come to pass. Wherefore St. Paul now begins to explain the nature of the resurrection body and the process whereby the body that is buried is brought back to life.
Again and or are not represented in the Greek, and shall they come (Vulg., venient) should be in the present tense, “are they coming?”
1 Cor 15:36. Senseless man, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die first.
Senseless man. Literally, “O man without understanding.” As in the vegetable world the seed that is planted must die first, i.e., must go into dissolution and lose the form it has before it can burst forth into new life, so in like manner the human body, passing through the process of death, will rise to a new and more beautiful life; as dissolution and corruption do not make a return of life impossible to the seed, so neither do the death and corruption of the body make its resurrection impossible. Our Lord also said: “Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone,” etc. (John 12:24, 25).
Cor 15:37. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be; but bare grain, as of wheat, or of some of the rest.
Although the risen body will be essentially the same as the body that was laid in the grave, it shall be endowed with new and more excellent qualities, just as the wheat and the corn are more wonderfully clothed than the bare grain from which they spring. The identity of the body does not depend upon its material particles, which are in continual flux during this life, and are completely renewed every few years; but upon the soul or form which is the principle of physical life and continuity.
“As the body of Jesus after His Resurrection was endowed with many strange and new qualities (John 20:19, 26), so as often to be unrecognized by His disciples (Luke 24:16, 31, 37; John 20:14; 21:4), though yet it was the same body (Luke 24:39, 40; John 20:20, 27); so we learn that the body we sow in the grave is not the body that shall be, but that the resurrection body—the spiritual body, as St. Paul calls it—while it exhibits visible and unequivocal signs of its connection with the body out of which it has arisen, will be possessed of many wondrous faculties which are denied to us here” (Lias).
1 Cor 14:38. But God giveth it a body as he will : and to every seed its proper body.
God giveth … as he will. Better, “God giveth … as he hath willed” ( ηθελησεν = ethelesen) . The use of the aorist points back to the creation when God established the laws of nature, according to which every seed unfolds into a particular determinate body with the qualities which befit its state. Hence the body that is planted in the grave will unfold in the resurrection into a new form, endowed with new qualities according to the will of God and the consequent laws that govern its nature. The body was made to be the instrument and companion of the soul, and therefore it was also designed that the body should ultimately share the eternal destiny of the soul. In this life certain accidents and qualities appear in the body, corresponding to its earthly condition; but in the resurrection, like the seed that has unfolded into its new existence, the body will be clothed with qualities unknown to it now.
The vult of the Vulgate should be voluit.
1 Cor 15:39. All flesh is not the same flesh: but one is the flesh of men, another of beasts, another of birds, another of fishes.
The principle which has just been applied to plant nature is now applied to the animal kingdom. That God should make a resurrection body, differing in qualities from our present bodies, ought not to cause any more surprise or doubt than do the different varieties and forms of bodily life (σαρξ = sarx) which we behold in men, beasts, birds and fish. If God can produce the latter, why can He not make also the former?
Flesh (σαρξ = sarx) before of men is not in any of the best MSS., nor in the Old Latin or Vulgate, but is plainly understood; on the contrary, it is expressed before birds in most of the best MSS., but is omitted there by A. Rec, Vulgate and Peshitto.
1 Cor 15:40. And there are bodies celestial, and bodies terrestrial: but, one is the glory of the celestial, and another of the terrestrial.
The same principle is now extended to the heavenly bodies. Since God can make bodies differing as widely as do the sun, moon and stars, on the one hand, and the animals and plants, on the other, who will say that it is impossible for Him to make still another, namely, a resurrection body?
The ετερα (= hetera), another, of this verse, as distinguished from the αλλη (=alle), another, of the following verse, shows the wide difference there is between the heavenly and the earthly bodies about which the Apostle has been speaking: it is a difference in kind; while the various heavenly bodies of the following verse are the same in kind but different in degree.
1 Cor 15:41. One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars. For star differeth from star in glory.
Even among the heavenly bodies themselves there is a great variety, one star differing from another in beauty and excellence. It is not strange or impossible, therefore, that there should be a resurrection body different and more excellent than our earthly body. Indirectly also this argument proves that among the risen bodies of the just there will be a vast variety according to their respective merits. There will be hereafter splendordispar; coelum commune (St. Aug.).
1 Cor 15:42. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption.
In this and the two following verses the Apostle digresses somewhat to enumerate certain qualities which shall be common to all glorified bodies, distinguishing them from mortal bodies. Our present body is sown in corruption, etc., i.e., the mortal body that is buried in the earth and given over to corruption, shall rise free from death and from everything that tends to death; it will be impassible.
It shall rise (Vulg., surget) in this and in the two following verses should be in the present tense, according to the Greek.
1 Cor 15:43. It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory. It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power.
It is sown in dishonour, etc., i.e., the mortal body throughout its life is a prey to innumerable miseries, and especially when planted in the grave it becomes subject to corruption with all the revolting and dishonoring accompaniments of the latter; but it shall rise in glory, shining as the sun in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 13:43).
It is sown in weakness, etc. The mortal body is at all times a weak and imperfect instrument of the soul, slow to act and easily fatigued, constantly requiring food and rest to repair its wasted strength; but in the resurrection it will possess the gift of agility, making it the strong, swift and perfect instrument of the soul.
1 Cor 15:44. It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body. If there be a natural body, there is also a spiritual body, as it is written:
A natural body. Our present bodies are called “natural,” or “animal,” because they are subject to the laws and conditions of animal life, such as vegetation, generation, nutrition and the like; but after the resurrection they will no longer need these material aids that serve a present and temporary purpose. Then they shall be spiritual, i.e., entirely subject to the needs and wishes of the glorified soul. This does not mean that the risen body ceases to be material, but that it is freed from those conditions and functions which serve only a temporal end and which make it the imperfect instrument of the glorified spirit. The endowment by which the body thus partakes of the nature of the soul, while not losing its material character, is called the gift of subtility.
If there be a natural body, etc. From the existence of a natural body accommodated to the needs of man’s animal life, the Apostle concludes the existence of a spiritual body suited to the conditions and needs of the soul’s glorified life. The body was created to be the instrument of the soul, and therefore the conditions of its existence should vary according to the different states of the soul.
As it is written. Better, “Even so it is written” (the Vulg. should read: Sic et scriptum est). These words are connected with the following verse in Greek. The Apostle is going to cite a passage of the Old Testament (Gen 2:7), to prove what he has just said about the existence of a natural and of a spiritual body.
1 Cor 15:45. The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit.
The Apostle’s argument here is that there should be two bodies, one natural or animal, and one spiritual, because mankind has two heads, from whom respectively they derive a different life. From the first man Adam, who, in virtue of his origin, abstracting from his elevation to the supernatural order to which he had no claim, had only a natural, or animal body, mankind could derive only natural bodies having the animal qualities mentioned above, in verses 41-43. But from thelast Adam, Jesus Christ, the head and author of regenerated humanity (Rom 5:14), whose soul was at all times essentially spiritual and lifegiving, being filled from the first moment of its existence with the fulness of the graces of the Holy Ghost, and whose body at the Resurrection was allowed to manifest the glorious qualities which always belonged to it by reason of the Hypostatic Union of the divine and human natures,—from such a spiritual head the mystical members can inherit only a supernatural and spiritual body. St. Paul is considering Christ’s spirit as it was at the Resurrection in particular; for it was then that the risen Christ possessed the fulness, not only of grace, but of glory, and that He became in a special manner the communicating principle of grace and glory, for body as well as soul, to the members of His mystical body.
It is true that Adam from the beginning was elevated to the supernatural order, that his soul before the fall was endowed with habitual grace and with many other spiritual gifts, and that, had he not sinned, his natural body would have been transformed into a spiritual and immortal body; but St. Paul is not at present considering any of these endowments. He is confining himself to what was essentially and naturally due to Adam as a creature, and to what consequently could be inherited from him in the natural order by his descendants.
A living soul is a Hebraism signifying a being that has a soul.
A quickening spirit, or “life-giving spirit,” means a being having a spirit that gives life to itself and to others. Therefore, as we inherit our natural body from the first Adam, so we shall inherit our supernatural or spiritual body from Christ, the second Adam.
1 Cor 15:46. Yet that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual.
According to the plan of divine Providence the natural or animal body precedes the supernatural or spiritual body. “Even in the order of nature we see that in one and the same being the imperfect precedes the perfect” (St. Thomas).
1 Cor 15:47. The first man was of the earth, earthly : the second man, from heaven, heavenly.
The first man, etc., i.e., Adam, the first head of the human race, had a body that was earthly in its origin, having been made from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7); it was therefore naturally subject to disease, death and corruption. But the second man, i.e., Christ, the second head of the human race, was from heaven because, as a Divine Person, He was the true Son of God, coexisting eternally with the Father; and in time He took a human body, being “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
The word heavenly (Vulg., coelestis) is wanting in all MSS. except two of inferior authority (F G). Some authorities (Rec. with A and Peshitto) insert “the Lord” before from heaven.
Cor 15:48. Such as is the earthly, such also are the earthly: and such as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly.
The first and the second Adam have bequeathed to their descendants bodies like their own respectively. The first had a mortal and earthly body, and so all his children have inherited bodies that are destined to death and corruption. But the heavenly Adam will give to all His spiritual descendants a body like His own, heavenly, immortal, glorious.
1 Cor 15:49. Therefore as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly.
As we have borne, etc., i.e., before our Baptism we bore the image of the earthly man, that is, a body subject to corruption and death; but now let us bear, etc., i.e., let us become spiritual and lead a holy life, so that in the resurrection we may deserve to have a heavenly and glorified body conformable to the divine image, the risen body of Christ.
It is disputed whether this verse is hortatory or declarative. The great weight of authority is in favor of the former (φορεσωμεν = phoresomen, let us bear), rather than the latter (φορεσομεν = phoresōmen, we shall bear). Note that the difference is one letter, ω (= o) in the former and ο (= ō) in the latter.
Therefore (Vulg., igitur) at the beginning of the verse should be replaced by “And,” et, in accordance with all the Greek MSS.
1 Cor 15:50. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God: neither shall corruption possess incorruption.
The Apostle now instructs his readers that a real change must take place in our bodies before they can enter heaven. Substantially they shall remain the same, but their qualities must be changed completely.
Flesh and blood cannot possess, etc., i.e., the earthly, natural, corruptible body which we have inherited from the first Adam cannot enter into heaven and eternal beatitude.
Corruption, i.e., a corruptible body, destined for corruption and dissolution.
Possess incorruption, i.e., inherit incorruptible life. In the Vulgate possunt (with A C D E F G) should be potest according to the two oldest MSS.
1 Cor 15:51. Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed.
Coming now to describe the way the dead shall rise at the end of the world, the Apostle first solves a difficulty that might arise out of the preceding verse, namely, if our corruptible bodies cannot inherit incorruptible life, what about the just who will be living when Christ appears on the last day? In reply the Apostle says: I tell you a mystery, i.e., a truth of revelation, which human means could not discover (1 Thess 4:14). What is this mystery? It is that the just who are living at the Second Coming of Christ shall not die, but shall be suddenly changed from their corruptible to an incorruptible and glorious state.
This interpretation is (a) according to the best reading of the second part of this verse; (b) it is in harmony with the context, verses 50 and 52, and with the whole drift of St. Paul’s argument; (c) it agrees with the explanation of the same doctrine given by St. Paul elsewhere (1 Thess 4:15-17; 2 Cor 5:1-9; 2 Tim 4:1), and with the teaching of St. Peter on the subject (1 Peter 4:5); (d) it alone gives to mystery the proper and obvious meaning of that term; (e) it finds approval in the words of the Creed, “He shall come to judge the living and the dead”; (f) it has the support of practically all the Greek Fathers, and of all modern exegetes.
There is no “mystery” in St. Paul’s mind about the dead, good or bad, rising again. Neither is there any sense in: We shall not all be changed of this verse, and “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” etc., of the following verse. In fact, we shall not be changed here is in direct contradiction with the words, we shall be changed of the next verse.
The reading, therefore, of the second part of this verse, which is found in our version, in the Codex Bezae, and in the Vulgate, and which was commonly accepted by all the Latin Fathers and Latin versions from the time of Tertullian, must be rejected as erroneous for the reasons given above. The Council of Trent, in making the Vulgate the official version of the Church, was well aware that it contained some wrong readings; but when these are of minor importance, or can receive a correct interpretation from other parallel passages of Scripture, as in the present instance, there is no difficulty. Moreover, the Council approved of all the parts of the original Vulgate, “as they were wont to be read in the Catholic Church”; but the East never read this verse as it is in the Vulgate. “If the Vulgate in the present passage were interpreted to mean that all the just without exception are to rise from the dead at the last day, it would not merely contradict the inspired text and the Creeds, but would be hopelessly at variance with itself” (Lattey, in Westm. Ver.).
The reading, therefore, of the second part of this verse which is adopted by all modern scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic, and which has the support of the Greek MSS. B E K L P, of practically all cursives, and of most versions, is: “We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed.” A rival reading of א C F G and of the cursive no. 17, if read without punctuation, might have the same meaning, thus: “we shall all sleep (die) not but we shall all be changed.” Generally, however, this reading is understood to agree with that of the Vulgate, and is given as follows: “We shall all sleep (die), but we shall not all be changed.”
While it is practically certain that the reading of this verse which we have adopted is the only correct one, it must be admitted that the Vulgate reading, taken by itself, can receive an orthodox explanation. Thus, we shall all indeed rise again may be taken to refer to mankind as a whole, without including the few that will be alive at the end (cf. Titus 1:12, 13; Heb 9:27). In like manner, the words, we shall not all be changed can mean that all the dead shall not be glorified.
It is objected against the above interpretation (a) that verse 22 of this chapter, Rom 5:12, and Heb 9:27 seem to say that all men must die; (b) that St. Paul seemed to expect to be still alive when Christ would come. Answer: (a) Even though all men do not actually die, still there is in them all the liability to death, but the penalty can be taken away by God (St. Thomas, Summa, 1a 2ae, qu. 81, a. 3, ad 3). (b) St. Paul did not really believe or mean to teach that the end of the world was at hand in his time. Doubtless he had no revelation on this subject. If here he associates himself with those who are to be alive at the last day, he elsewhere (1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14) speaks of being among those who are to be raised up from the dead at that time. Hence he seems to have been uncertain about the time of the Lord’s coming.
1 Cor 15:52. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed.
In a moment, etc. These words indicate the swiftness with which the dead shall be called from their graves and the bodies of the living just glorified at the last day.
The last trumpet, i.e., the last sign by which the living and the dead shall be summoned to judgment. Perhaps it will be the voice of Christ (John 5:28), or the voice of an archangel (1 Thess 4:15), or some other signal from on high. The expression, “trumpet,” is metaphorical, being borrowed from the instrument used by the Jews to convoke their religious assemblies (Num 10:2-10).
The dead shall rise again incorruptible, i.e., the just shall rise clothed with glorified bodies.
We shall be changed, i.e., the just who are alive at the last day shall not die as others do, but shall pass in the twinkling of an eye from their mortal to an immortal and glorious state.
1 Cor 15:53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality.
The Apostle again insists upon the necessity of the transformation already spoken of in verse 50. The just who are in their graves must put on incorruptible bodies, and those who are still living must exchange their mortal frames for immortal and glorified bodies.
1 Cor 15:54. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.
Most authorities repeat here both clauses of the preceding verse. The Vulgate reading in this place, however, is found in the Sinaitic MS. and in some other versions. When the transformation spoken of in the preceding verse is effected, then shall come the complete triumph of Christ over death.
Death is swallowed up, etc. The Apostle is referring to Isaiah 25:8, where the Hebrew reads: “He (Jehovah) hath swallowed up death forever.” The Prophet is announcing that in the heavenly Jerusalem there shall be no more death, or pain, or the like; and St. Paul, slightly modifying the same words, proclaims the victory of Christ in the Resurrection over death and its consequences (Gen 3:19).
In the LXX this passage of Isaias is very obscure: “Death having prevailed swallowed up” (κατεπιεν ο θανατος ισχυσας). With the resurrection, death, the last enemy of man, shall be defeated and life shall triumph in all its glory.
1 Cor 15:55. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?
At the thought of the final triumph over death the Apostle bursts forth in a hymn of exultation, freely citing the Septuagint of Hosea 13:14. Literally, the Prophet was foretelling the restoration of Israel, which was a figure of the redemption of Christ.
Where is thy victory over the dead who are risen again from their graves? Where now is the sting of thy cruel dominion over them?
1 Cor 15:56. Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law.
The sting of death is sin, i.e., death wounds us, like a poisonous serpent, through sin. The reference is to original sin by which death first stung and poisoned our race. And the Mosaic Law which was later given only served, by its numerous regulations and prohibitions, to stir up and strengthen the baneful consequences of original sin (cf. Rom 4:5 ff.; 5:13; 7:7-11).
1 Cor 15:57. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
What the Law could not do, Christ our Lord has done for us. By His death He has conquered both sin and death, satisfying for our transgressions and delivering us from bondage.
Who hath given (Vulg., qui dedit). The Greek has the present tense, which better expresses the victory already begun, although its completion is reserved for the resurrection.
1 Cor 15:58. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
The Apostle concludes with a brief practical exhortation to the faithful to steadfastness and zeal because of their faith in a glorious resurrection.
In the work of the Lord, i.e., in all good works, performed by command and with the aid of our Saviour. Some think the work of the Lord means the propagation of the faith (1 Cor 16:10).
Knowing that, etc. The Christians should always be mindful of the reward that is in store for them, being assured that whatever good they perform in union with Christ shall not have been done in vain.
These closing words of St. Paul show very clearly how lawful and commendable it is for us to seek a reward for the good we do.