1 Corinthians 15:50-58


Authorities differ in their opinion as to whether verse 50 is the final verse in the previous paragraph or whether it is the beginning of the final paragraph (verses 50-58) in this chapter. We noted this small problem at the conclusion of the previous textual study. In our estimation verse 50 goes with the following, not with the preceding. TEV makes a separate subparagraph of verse 50.

Robertson-Plummer: The assertion confirms verse 49 and prepares for verse 51: It introduces a fundamental principle which covers and decides the case.

Lenski takes the other view:

A new subject (verse 50) is now introduced, marked as such also be the fraternal address.

We let the reader decide for himself.

1 Corinthians 15:50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

"Flesh and blood," our present mortal nature, not our evil propensities. This is a description of the human body as it exists in this life.

Morris: This is a not uncommon way of referring to life here and now, look at Galatians 1:16; Hebrews 2:14. . . . the expression is thus symptomatic of man's mortality and of the weakness of his mortal frame.

The commentators and translators argue about the meaning of "inherit" here. Some insist on "to inherit." Others say it has the later meaning of "to participate, share, possess." In any case, Paul's discussion is limited to the regenerate among human beings. Even the regenerate are still  "flesh and blood." 

Contextually the term "kingdom of God" here means the spiritual, resurrection life. On the two terms "flesh and blood" and "corruption" Bengel says:

The one denotes those living in the world; the other, the dead. Both must become different.

Now follows the same truth stated in different words. If that is so,  "perishable" is a synonym for "flesh and blood" and "imperishable" is a synonym for "kingdom of God." Here we have an example of Hebrew parallelism for the sake of emphasis. Paul is building up to the change which will be stressed in verses 51-52.

Lenski: Corruption is found in our flesh and blood because of sin; God's Kingdom is incorrupt because sin is excluded from its very nature.
Bengel: A great change must intervene, in making man fit for that kingdom.

1 Corinthians 15:51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--

"Listen" is variously rendered "Lo!" "Behold!" It arrests our attention. A "mystery" is something which only God has revealed. God revealed it to Paul for all of us. What Paul now says can be said by all Christians in any generation. Forget the devastating rationalizations of the higher critics who claim that Paul is saying that he would be alive when Christ would return.

NIC suggests this translation: "We shall all -- although we may not sleep -- we all shall be changed." All believers, whether living or dead, must be changed.

"Sleep" is a future deponent verb used of the sleep of the Christian. The Christian will awaken again. Notice how prominent the word "all" is.

Lenski: This quiet 'we' is general, and it includes all believers who are such now when Paul is writing or who shall be such at any future time. . . . Paul is speaking about our bodies.
NIC: The argument here is exactly the reverse of that in 1 Thessalonians 4. There the question is: will the deceased at the moment of Christ's return receive the same benefits as they that are yet alive? In 1 Corinthians 15 however, the point is: will they that are yet alive also enjoy the fruits of Christ's resurrection, since they have not been sown as those who are deceased.

1 Corinthians 15:52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Verse 52 is a continuation of verse 51. We are told that the change will be very sudden. The second phrase explains the first. It denotes the blinking of an eye. The third phrase reminds one of Matthew 24:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 though the word "last" does not occur there.

Lenski: As miraculous as is the end itself with its stupendous events, so also is this trumpet and its sound.

Contextually "the dead" means the deceased believers. Note that both verbs in this part of the verse are passive, though of different number. Our bodies will no longer be subject to decay or deterioration. In verse 51 we read "all." Here Paul says "we." In verse 51 it is clear that all believers, living and dead, will be changed. Some commentators argue that in verse 52 only the living believers are meant. We think that "we" means "we all," both living and dead.

1 Corinthians 15:53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

This verse continues the explanation.  "Must" denotes the necessity of God's will, compare Luke 2:49. It will surely happen because God has so willed it. "Perishable" and "mortal" denotes the sinful nature of both the living and dead believers. "Imperishable" and "immortality" denote the incorruptible and everlasting, sinless quality and nature of believers at the resurrection. "Clothe" is, of course, metaphorical. It does not simply mean "cover" but rather "put on" in the sense that the corruptible and the mortal will forever be gone.

1 Corinthians 15:54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 

ICC: The Apostle dwells on the glorious change and repeats the details in full.
Bengel: The frequent repetition of these words is very delightful.
Lenski: There is something grand and solemn about the way in which Paul repeats the words of verse 53. Like the chords of a triumphal song he makes them ring in our ears.

The only thing which is not known is the exact time. All else is certain, based on Scripture. Note that, as in verse 53, the verb forms are aorist because the change is momentary.

Most agree that Paul is quoting Isaiah 25:8 from the Massoretic text, not from the LXX. According to the NASB Isaiah 25:8 reads: "He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces." Rienecker-Rodgers consider "in victory" a translation of the phrase "forever." Revelation 21:4 fits both the Hebrew and the Greek: "And death shall be no more." On this verse compare 2 Timothy 1:10 an Hebrews 2:14ff.

We are so surrounded by death that it is difficult for us to imagine what this verse means. TEV: "Death is destroyed; victory is complete!" NEB: "Death is swallowed up; victory is won!" 

1 Corinthians 15:55  "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 

Most agree that Paul is quoting Hosea 13:14 which reads in the NASB: "O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?" Some consider Paul's words an adaptation, not a quotation. Paul does not say that he is quoting. In any case, the meaning is clear. Death was once victorious. Death once had a poisonous sting. Paul addresses death in the vocative case twice. The answer is, of course,  "Nowhere!" 

Bengel: In this hymn of victory, 'where' signifies that death and hell were formerly very formidable; now the case is changed.

ICC reads: "The fear that hath punishment (1 John 4:18) has vanished, and the transition out of death into life (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14) has taken place." 

1 Corinthians 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

Sin gives death its sting, and the Law gives sin its power. The subjects are placed last for emphasis.  The Living Bible gives a thought-provoking translation: "For sin -- the sting that causes death -- will all be gone; and the law, which reveals our sins, will no longer be our judge." 

Bengel: If there were no sin, there could be no death. . . . Without the Law sin is not perceived; under the Law sin rules.
NIC: Death maintains itself in sin. . . . Sin uses the law which stimulates fallen man to sin.
Lenski: Sin is the murderous weapon of death. Take sin away, and death is harmless. . . . The law became the death-power of the sin. Instantly it reacts, makes itself and the God back of it felt -- with invincible power it strikes and kills.

The verse harmonizes with the context, and there is no need to suspect, as some do, that it was added later by a scribe in copying.

1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

On this verse look at Romans 8:37 and 1 John 5:4. Paul evidently has the forgiveness of sins in mind. For the third time in this text we have "victory." What our Lord Jesus Christ was and is and did means everything to us. He has atoned for our sins. He has conquered death. He has overcome the devil. This verse is a beautiful example of the language of faith.

Apology, Art. XII (Tappert 205.146): When death assails us, we must set something else against it. Faith in Christ overcomes death, just as it overcomes the wrath of God.

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

"Therefore" introduces the living application of the whole chapter, the greatest extant treatise on the resurrection of the body. This verse is a beautiful example of what we call the third use of the law. This use of the law nudges and encourages the new man to constant service of the Lord. In spite of their many sins and faults they are addressed as "my brothers, beloved." 

Notice the work is the "work of the Lord." Not just "church work" but "the Lord's work." And "always" allows no vacations from sanctification. Christian living does not free us from assiduous labor or tiring exertion.

Our conviction is in the Lord. Our toil is in the Lord. And our productiveness is in the Lord.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 57-59. Used with permission.

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