Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:54-58

This post opens with the Bishop’s brief analysis of 1 Corinthians 15, followed by his notes on 1 Cor 15:54-58. Text in purple indicates the Bishop’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.


The Apostle devotes this, almost concluding chapter, to arrest the progress of an error which teas broached at Corinth regarding the fundamental dogma of the resurrection of the body. Among the Corinthian converts, many, it would seem, were deeply imbued, before embracing the faith, with the scepticism of the Sadducees, and certain doctrines of Pagan philosophy, both equally subversive of the resurrection as well of the soul as of the body. Others among them had adopted the tenets of those who denied the resurrection of the body only. Having embraced the faith at an advanced period of life, they could hardly divest themselves of the false notions which they had for a long period of time entertained. In this chapter, the Apostle proves the resurrection of the body, and, as the basis of this proof, he establishes, on several grounds, the fundamental dogma of the Resurrection of Christ, from which he infers the general resurrection of all men. He first reminds the Corinthians of the gospel preached by himself among them, the leading heads of which were, Christ’s death for our sins, his burial and resurrection (1 Cor 15:1–4). He proves the truth of Christ’s Resurrection from several testimonies and arguments (1 Cor 15:4–12). From the Resurrection of Christ, he infers the general resurrection of all: such being the connection between both, that if we rise not again, neither has Christ arisen. After pointing out the absurd consequences which the denial of the Resurrection of Christ would involve (1 Cor 15:12–22), and having explained the order in which the dead shall arise (1 Cor 15:22–24), he introduces a new argument in favour of the general resurrection, grounded on the total subjection of all things, death included, to Christ (1 Cor 15:24–29). He advances new arguments to prove our future resurrection, and shows the origin of the unbelief of the Corinthians—viz., evil communications (1 Cor 15:34). In the next place, he replies to the principal difficulties against the resurrection (1 Cor 15:34–42). After describing the qualities of glorified bodies (1 Cor 15:42–46), and after showing that as we are now earthly, we shall then be heavenly, he exhorts us to conform to our heavenly model (1 Cor 15:46–50). He points out the mode of the resurrection, and exhorts the Corinthians to the performance of good works.

1Co 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.

And when this same mortal body shall put on immortality, then shall be fulfilled the saying of Scripture: Death shall be utterly destroyed, and swallowed up, without a trace of it remaining, owing to the victory obtained over it by the resurrection.

“And when this mortal hath put on immortality.” In Greek, “ὅταν δὲ το φθαρτον τουτο ενδυσηται αφθαρσιαν, και τὸ θνητον τουτο ενδυσηται αθανασιαν,” and when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, aud this mortal shall have put on immortality. The former part is omitted in the Vulgate. It is wanting in the Coptic and Ethiopian versions. The words, “death is swallowed up,” &c., are supposed by many, to be quoted, as to sense, from the prophet Hos13:14: “From the hand of death I shall deliver them, I shall redeem them from death,” which are in sense the same with these quoted here by the Apostle; for, Christ, to whom reference is made in Hosea, by redeeming men from the hand of death, utterly destroyed death and triumphed over it. The opinion which refers these words to Hos 13:14, derives probability from the circumstance, that the words of the following verse, “O death,” &c., are found in the same place, immediately after the preceding quotation. Others maintain that the passage is taken from Isaiah 25:8, which, although it be rendered by St. Jerome, in our Vulgate, præcipitabit mortem in sempiternum, “he shall cast death down headlong for ever,” may also be rendered, as in this passage of the Apostle, absorbebit ipsam mortem in victoriam, “he shall swallow up death in victory;” for the Hebrew word for, absorta est, “is swallowed up,” may, according to the difference of points, be taken passively, as here, or actively, præcipitabit, or absorbet, shall cast headlong, or swallow up, as St. Jerome has translated it. And the Hebrew word, lanetsach, i.e., “for ever,” also means “victory.” St. Jerome, in explaining the foregoing passage of Isaias, refers to it, as the passage from which these words of the Apostle are taken. It may be, however, as Estius remarks, that the Apostle has taken the quotation, not from any one passage, but from several passages of Scripture.

1Co 15:55  O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? 

 Where, O Death, is thy victory, by which thou were wont to triumph over the human race, deceived by the devil? Where, O Death, is thy sting, by which thou wert wont to wound mankind and domineer over them?

According to the common Greek, the reading is, ποῦ σου, θανατε, το κεντρον; ποῦ σου ἅδη, το νικος,; “O death, where is thy sting? O hell, where is thy victory?” The Vulgate reading is that of the chief MSS. The words, hell, and death, mean the same thing, hell or limbo being the depository of the souls of the dead before Christ. The Apostle follows the Septuagint reading of Osee in this passage, with merely this exception, that he transposes the words “victory,” and “sting,” as found in Osee, and for νικος, victory, we have in Osee, δικη, right or cause; but, the meaning of both ultimately comes to the same.

In the Hebrew and the Vulgate rendering of it by St. Jerome, it runs thus, O death, I will be thy death. O hell, I will be thy bite. In these words is expressed the song of triumph over prostrate death, conquered and vanquished after Christ’s Resurrection, when he brought forth the souls shut up in the prison of Limbo, and led captivity captive. This triumph shall be completed in the general resurrection of all men. It is likely that the word “sting,” contains an allusion to the sting of serpents or scorpions, whose sting constitutes their strength.

1Co 15:56  Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law.

Now, the sting through which death wounds us is sin. But the law it is, that has given to sin, its strength, since by occasion of the law prohibiting sin, it only revived; for our corrupt nature tends to what is prohibited; and, moreover, the knowledge which the laws imparts, aggravates the sin.

“The sting of death,” i.e., the sting through which death wounds us is sin; as the scorpion, even when young, wounds through his sting, so death wounds us through sin. “And the strength of sin is the law.”—(See Paraphrase). The Apostle adds this lest any among the converts from Judaism might imagine that the evils of death and sin were removed by the Mosaic law; so far from that being the case, he says that the law only increased sin.—(See Rom. 7:8).

1Co 15:57  But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

But thanks be to God, who has given us a victory over sin and death, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whose mediation and merits all good comes to us.

God has given us a victory over sin, the sting of death, so as to prevent it from reigning any longer over us, by his gratuitous justification; and over death itself which has now lost its sting, by the earnest he has given us of a future resurrection, and this victory he will complete at a future day, by our own resurrection; all this through the merits of Christ.

1Co 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. 

 Wherefore, my brethren, the truth of the resurrection being now established, continue firm and unshaken in the faith of this fundamental article; advance more and more constantly in the performance of good works which please the Lord, and are performed by the aid of his grace. Being firmly persuaded that all the labour which you shall undergo in the performance of these good works, shall meet with a sure reward, for we shall all one day rise from the dead, and live in blessedness with God for endless ages.

“Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” He calls good actions “the work of the Lord,” because God is pleased with them; and also because he enables us by his grace to perform them. What will faith avail us, unless our actions correspond with this faith?

“Your labour is not in vain.” The labours undertaken for God shall not be in vain, nor shall they be suffered to pass by unrequited; they shall fructify unto glory, when we shall be resuscitated, and these frail mortal bodies clad with a glorious immortality. Oh, how eminently calculated is not the doctrine of the Apostle throughout this entire chapter, to raise up our hearts to the contemplation of heavenly things, to console and cheer us under worldly afflictions and disappointments, and to stimulate us to labour earnestly and perseveringly for the possession of that glory, which is one day in store for us. What a subject for awful, and, at the same time, for consoling meditation have we not in every line of this chapter? How calculated is not the serious thought of the summons of the Archangel, “of the voice of the Son of God,” “of the last trumpet,” which so surely as we now exist, we shall one day hear, louder than thunder reverberating through the heavens, to strike us with holy alarm, and to keep us in the observance of God’s holy commandments! It is said of the great St. Jerome, that, “whether he eat or drank, or whatever else he did, the dreadful trumpet of the Archangel seemed always sounding in his ears: Arise ye dead and come to judgment.” If such were its terrors for the saints, what a subject of just dread for us, sinners? It is, at the same time, a subject of consolation for us to reflect, that these bodies if at present mortified and rendered obedient to the spirit, shall one day rise again, clad in all the glorious qualities of impassibility, clarity, agility, and subtlety. O God! grant us one day to arrive at this happy term, at this rich inheritance, which we have so often and so recklessly forfeited by our sins.

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One Response to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:54-58

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Commentaries: Sunday, August 11–Sunday, August 18, 2013 | stjoeofoblog

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