1 Corinthians 15:1-11


Morris: Some of the Corinthians had denied that the dead will rise, verse 12. Paul sets out to show that such a denial cannot be allowed for a moment.
Kretzmann: There were, it seems, false apostles or very ignorant members at Corinth, men and women that claimed there was no resurrection of the dead. Paul, therefore, includes a detailed defense and exposition of the doctrine in his letter.
One fact was in Paul's favor: those who questioned the resurrection of the dead still believed firmly in the resurrection of Christ. Paul makes Christ's resurrection the turning point for his presentation of the doctrine that we too shall be raised from the dead. Thus the first eleven verses are a restatement of undisputed facts.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

Paul is not declaring the Gospel to them for the first time. NIV and JB translate  "I want to remind you." He is bringing up something which taught them before. His words contain gentle rebuke.

Kretzmann: The words convey a measure of censure, of blame, that it should have become necessary for him so soon to repeat some information which belonged to the fundamental tenets of their faith.

These  Notes use the NIV translation of these verses. The RSV translates:  "Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain." In other words, Paul is reminding them not simply of the Gospel but of the terms by which he had preached it to them.

Lenski: What Paul wants the Corinthians to consider is the particular 'logos' or restatement in which he embodied the vital substance of the Gospel for the Corinthians. All that Paul preached in Corinth centered in his 'statement' of the facts of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ.

Paul is censuring but he still calls the  "brothers." 

Note how prominent and frequent the word  "Gospel" and its cognates are in verses 1 and 2. Paul preached it, they received it, they stand in it, they are saved by it. Paul leaves nothing to the imagination.

Note the repeating of  "to you, to you, to you". Paul is deeply concerned about them. They obviously received the Gospel from Paul.

1 Corinthians 15:2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

With the words  "you are being saved" Paul is reminding his hearers that it is a state, a condition.

Morris: There is a sense in which salvation is once for all and there is also a sense in which it is progressive. It is to this progressive character of salvation that Paul directs attention. It is something that goes on from strength to strength and from glory to glory.
Kretzmann: The benefits of the Gospel, being continuous, are also progressive, salvation is altogether certain to the believer, he has its benefits, he enjoys them day by day.

The NASB translates:  "If you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." Paul is not casting doubt on what he had preached. He is telling the Corinthians to examine themselves.

Rienecker: If the denial of the resurrection is carried to its logical conclusion, then it would be shown that their belief was fruitless.
Kretzmann: The fullness of salvation and all its benefits is given through the Gospel, but the foolishness and frivolousness will lose its glories.
Lenski: 'If you hold fast' merely raises the question, not as a doubt of Paul's part, but as an intimation to the Corinthians to examine themselves on this point. Paul must assume that the Corinthians do continue to hold fast.
Bengel: 'If' here implies a hope, as is plain from what follows.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

This begins an explanation. Verses 3-8 explain verses 1 and 2. Paul is talking about the teaching and preaching which he did among the Corinthians. Paul did not originate the message he passed on to them. Compare 1 Corinthians 11:23. Paul received by revelation what he passed on.

Lenski: In Galatians 1:11 to 2:2 Paul is at pains to prove historically that he did  NOT receive his Gospel from men in any manner whatsoever, not from the apostles who were the first authorities and certainly not from ordinary Christians. He declares in Galatians 1:12 that it was 'through revelation of Christ.'
Bengel: 'Received' from Christ himself. Paul did not fake it or make it up.

Having said that, we must be consistent and say that Paul means that everything in verses 3-8 came to Paul by revelation. We are not saying that Paul did not discuss, for example, Christ's appearance to Peter with Peter, verse 5, but we are saying that this piece of information came to Paul by revelation. Some modern scholars interpret this revelation as coming to Paul from men.

Franzmann: Scholars are generally agreed that these sentences are a quotation from an early Christian catechism.

But, there is no proof for that statement. We agree with Lenski who says:

There is no indication that in verses 3-4 Paul is reciting a fixed formula, such as is found in the Apostle's Creed.

It is easier to conclude that sentences from the Apostle's Creed are derived from these verses rather than the other way around.

There are two prepositional adverbs at the end of verse 3. The first denotes purpose, the second denotes correspondence. On the first phrase compare Galatians 1:4 which refers to the atonement for sins. On the second compare Psalms 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-19; Daniel 9:24-26; Zechariah 12:10; 13:7.

Bengel: Paul puts the testimony of Scripture before the testimony of those who saw the risen Lord. The Scriptures cannot fail of fulfillment.

1 Corinthians 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

"He was buried" attests the reality of Christ's death, and shows that his death was like ours, for we too are buried at death.

Morris: 'Raised' means Christ continues in the character of the risen Lord. The perfect tense verb is used in this way six more times in this chapter, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, and twice only in all the rest of the New Testament.
Rienecker: The perfect tense emphasizes that Christ is risen and indicates a continuing condition which has given rise to a new state of affairs. Christ continues in the risen state.

On this verse look at Psalm 16:10-11; Isaiah 53:1-12; Hosea 6:2.

Kretzmann: Christ's resurrection is a fact, and therefore also our salvation is a fact.
Franzmann: Paul is emphasizing that fact that the resurrection of Christ is of enduring force and significance.

1 Corinthians 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

If Paul received by revelation what he mentioned in verses 3 and 4, then we must insist that Christ's appearance to Peter was also by revelation for Paul repeats the word  "and." Paul is obviously referring to what is mentioned in Luke 24:34 and only there.

Lenski: Undoubtedly this early appearance to Peter alone was intended to assure him personally of the Savior's pardon for the sin of three-fold denial.
Morris: (On the appearance to the Twelve) The Twelve is clearly a general name for the Apostles, for Judas was not there, and, if the reference is to the appearance on the evening of Easter Day, Luke 24:36ff and John 20:19ff, Thomas was absent also.
There were actually only ten on Easter Day. Matthias might have been present. Very likely Paul is including the second appearance of Christ, one week later.

1 Corinthians 15:6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

All there people were witnesses to the risen Christ. Paul call them  "brothers."

Morris: The appearance to above five hundred brethren at once may be that referred to in Matthew 28:16ff. Otherwise it is mentioned only here. Paul's insistence that most of them were still alive shows the confidence with which he can appeal to their testimony. They could be interrogated, and the facts elicited. Death, which is an antagonist no man can withstand, has become for the Christian nothing more than sleep.
Lenski: We have strong reason for combining Paul's statement with Matthew 28:16. Before His death Jesus tells His disciples in a significant way: 'Howbeit, after I am raised up I will go before you into Galilee. Mark 14:28.' Also, referring to Matthew 28:7 and 28:10, all is clear when the eleven together with all of the other disciples of Jesus assemble in Galilee for this especially appointed meeting with Jesus.
Bengel: The greater part were providentially preserved in life so long, to be witnesses. It was of no less importance to adduce these witnesses, those who had died. They had died in this belief, fallen asleep as to rise again.

That is worth noting. For the Christian 'to fall asleep' implies that they would wake up again. Even those who had died were, in a sense, witnesses because Christ will raise them on the last day.

Commentators have determined that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians about 20 to 25 years after Christ's appearances. How did Paul, at such a distance from Palestine, after so many years, know that the majority of the five hundred were still living? The most plausible answer is that God had revealed it to him.

1 Corinthians 15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

Morris: Concerning James, nothing more is known of the appearance to James. Nor is it certain which James is meant. Most think that it is James the Lord's brother and that it was this appearance which led to his conversion and through him to that of his brothers. This is supported by the fact that they did not believe in Jesus during His ministry, John 7:5, but as early as Acts 1:14 we see them among the believers.

Morris, Kretzmann and Lenski are of the opinion that Acts 1:1-13 is meant by Paul's reference to  "all the apostles."

Morris: This muster of witnesses, verses 5-7, indicates the importance Paul attaches to the resurrection of the Lord. So reliable is the evidence that it must be accepted.

1 Corinthians 15:8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Either Paul is saying that he is the last of those to be granted such an appearance or the last of the apostles or he refers to himself as the least of the apostles.

Kretzmann: His great humility causes the apostle to refer to himself in this uncomplimentary way, as an unfit and repulsive creature, brought into the world before the proper time.

Paul is comparing himself to an abortion. The word  "abortion" occurs only here in the New Testament.

Rienecker: 'Untimely birth, miscarriage.' The term points to the results of the birth and was used to indicate that which is incapable of sustaining life of its own volition and requires divine intervention if it is to continue. It emphasizes Paul's weakness and his dependence on God's grace.
Some commentators suggest that the term was one of abuse which had been hurled at Paul by his opponents. In any case it is clear that verse 9 explains verse 8.

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Here begins a subparagraph which is explanatory of verse 8. In verse 11 Paul returns again to the other apostles.

Morris: Paul's character as persecutor had made him the last of them all. Paul holds firmly to two things. The one is the high dignity attaching to his position as an apostle, as we see from several passages in his writings, see chapter 9. The other is his profound sense of personal unworthiness.
Kretzmann: The fact that he had, in the blindness of his Pharisaic pride, been a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious always caused the apostle deep distress, Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13-16, made him protest his unworthiness, his lack of moral qualification, of fitness, of competence.
Lenski: Paul was a persecutor of the Church, a vile, dead thing spiritually, fit only to be carried out and buried from sight.
Bengel: Even after repentance believers impute to themselves what they once perpetrated.

Yes. The Paul, who could say: "Forgetting the things which are behind me" (Philippians 3:13), could not forget the fact that he had been a persecutor. His former sins caused him distress, though they were forgiven. That is a common experience among Christians. Sins committed years ago rise up to haunt people though these sins have been forgiven. The preacher must be sympathetic with people who have such experiences. Maybe the preacher himself experiences such. It is not uncommon.

Bengel: Just as an abortion is not worthy of the name of a human being, so the apostle declares himself unworthy of the name of apostle.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them -- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Note the utter contrast. Note that Paul says "I am WHAT I am" not "I am WHO I am." God's grace and the atonement of Christ remake a person. Not only has his person changed. His works are evidence. All of us should speak as did Paul.

Paul means that he toiled more than all of the apostles put together. And by that he obviously means that he accomplished more than all of them did. But then comes another thought. Paul was not the source of this grace, the forgiveness, the strength.  Quite to the contrary. The context here forbids us to accuse Paul of synergism. Paul speaks here as he does in Romans 8:16:  The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit etc.  The Christian, insofar as he is regenerate, works together with is Redeemer. That is not synergism. That is simply blessed concurrence.

Paul had seen Christ. Paul proves the authority of the Gospel and of his testimony by its effect. Matthew 5:16 is a good commentary on this verse. The proof of salvation by grace becomes evident in the life of the Christian. And this verse plainly indicates that Christianity is not for lazy people. Paul, of course, is not calling the other apostles lazy. But he is showing by comparison and contrast how much the grace of God accomplished in him, a mere abortion.

Paul saw the risen Christ, look at Acts 9:5; 22:7-9; 26:15.

1 Corinthians 15:11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul draws a conclusion to verses 1-10. He says: "It makes no difference whether it's they or I because by the grace of God all of us preach the risen Christ. All of us preach one and the same Gospel which has brought you to faith." 


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 94-98. Used with permission.

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