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1 Corinthians 15

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul considers the centrality of Resurrection for the Christian faith: both the historical resurrection of Jesus, and the resulting hope of resurrection for those who belong to Him.

Read 1 Corinthian 15:1-8

  • What do you notice about Paul's list of gospel-facts here - what is 'of first importance' to Paul? Is there anything that you're surprised is here? Or anything you're surprised is missing?

Paul goes on to explain why he's bringing all this up:

Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

  • Why do you think there was so much confusion about 'the resurrection of the dead' amongst the Corinthian church? [1]

  • Do you think it matters what we believe about the resurrection? (Consider questions like: Was Jesus' resurrection a real, physical thing, or just a spiritual experience his disciples had? Will we live in a physical eternity one day, or are we going to be disembodied spirits in heaven?) Why/why not?

  • From these verses, why does Paul seem to think it matters what we believe about resurrection?

Read 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

  • What does Paul add to his argument here?

  • How is the future hope of resurrection connected with the past event of Jesus' resurrection?

  • In what sense are 'all' made alive in Christ? (v22)

Read 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 [2]

  • What does Paul add to his argument here?

  • How does a belief in the resurrection give Paul the courage to "face death every day"?

  • How does disbelief in the resurrection lead people to be corrupted and sinful? (v 33-34) What could be the process that Paul has in mind here? [3]

  • How does our future hope of the resurrection impact on our lives in the here and now? What does it mean to live in light of the resurrection?

Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

  • How does Paul describe the resurrection body?

  • How do the appearances of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples help us to understand the words of Paul here?

  • What does it mean that the resurrection will be in a new body? [4] What are the implications of this? (Think especially of Paul's own conclusion in verse 58)

Spend some time in quiet contemplation of the resurrection of Jesus, and the promise of our own coming resurrection. Then spend some time praying that our future hope would deeply impact our lives as Jesus' followers.

[1] Leon Morris explains why some people might have been saying there is no resurrection of the dead:

The exact views of those who said ‘there is no resurrection of the dead’ (v. 12) are not clear. They may have held the typical Greek view of the immortality of the soul and rejected any idea that the body would rise. Death for such meant the liberation of the soul from its prison in the body, for the body (sōma), they held, was a tomb (sēma). They may have thought of the state of the departed as the life of the ‘shades’ in Hades. They may have rejected the thought of bodily resurrection as a reaction to some Jewish views that the body will be raised exactly as it was when it died. Or, starting from the fact that the Christian has risen with Christ (Rom. 6:5–8; Col. 3:1–4, etc.), they may have held that the resurrection life believers live now is all the resurrection there is.

- Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians Tyndale Commentary, p202

[2] The 'baptism for the dead' in verse 29 is a practice that we know very little about, as David Prior explains:

It seems that, on at least one occasion, the Corinthians had held a baptism service on behalf of the dead (29). Barrett describes this as ‘a practice no doubt as familiar to them as puzzling to us’. Morris assures us that ‘between thirty and forty explanations have been suggested’; he believes that the most natural explanation is that some believers got themselves baptized on behalf of friends or relatives who had died unbaptized. In quoting the practice Paul was not expressing approval, but simply using their practice as an argument against their assertion that ‘there is no resurrection of the dead’. If there is no such thing as resurrection, what is the point of the practice?

- David Prior, 1 Corinthians Bible Speaks Today Commentary, p269

[3] N.T. Wright concludes his commentary on these verses with this very helpful principle:

When faced with a new idea, especially the questioning of some central aspect of the faith, the wise Christian will ask: does this fit with what we regularly do as Christians? Does it make sense of the suffering which many have undergone for the faith? Does it show the tell-tale signs of being imported from pagan ideas? And, above all, does it show a true understanding and knowledge of the one true God, the creator, the life-giver?

- N. T. Wright, 1 Corinthians for Everyone, p218

[4] David Prior and N. T. Wright both describe the ways in which our understanding of this passage is hampered by our language and culture as modern English speakers:

In the whole of this section, we are particularly hamstrung both by the limitations of English in rendering key Greek words, and by popular views of man which divide his nature into different parts (e.g. body, mind and spirit). The Greek word, psychē, often translated ‘soul’, is used by Paul to describe our natural physical existence as human beings. Paul here is contrasting the body which expresses this natural human life (44, sōma psychikon) with the body which will eventually express the supernatural life of God’s Spirit in the fullness of his kingdom (sōma pneumatikon). Even now God’s Spirit dwells in our mortal bodies: but the more the Spirit makes us like Jesus, the more these mortal bodies groan under the strain of anticipating their own demise and the freedom of totally new bodies designed for glory and power. Therefore the English words used in this section can bring more confusion than clarity. Perhaps the most helpful single clue is to note Paul’s contrast between the bodies we have now for our natural human existence and the bodies we will be given when we enter into our full inheritance in heaven. The first body has all the limitations of our earthiness; the second body has all the capacity of God’s Spirit. From this perspective it is obvious that the first body (flesh and blood) cannot inherit the kingdom of God, because decay and corruption cannot be part of what is eternally incorruptible (50).

- David Prior, 1 Corinthians Bible Speaks Today Commentary, p274.

We may as well go to the heart of the passage, to the verse that has puzzled people many times in the past, and still does. In verse 44 Paul contrasts the two types of bodies, the present one and the resurrection one. The words he uses are technical and tricky. Many versions translate these words as ‘physical body’ and ‘spiritual body’, but this is highly misleading... If you go that route, you may well end up saying, as many have done, that Paul is making a contrast simply between what we call a ‘body’, that is a physical object, and what we might call a ghost, a ‘spiritual’ object in the sense of ‘non-physical’. But that is exactly what he is not saying. The contrast he’s making is between a body animated by one type of life and a body animated by another type. The difference between them is found, if you like, in what the two bodies run on. The present body is animated by the normal life which all humans share. The word Paul uses for this often means ‘soul’; he means it in the sense of the ordinary life-force on which we all depend in this present body, the ordinary energy that keeps us breathing and our blood circulating. But the body that we shall be given in the resurrection is to be animated by God’s own spirit. This is what Paul says in a simpler passage, Romans 8.10–11: the spirit of Jesus the Messiah dwells within you at the moment, and God will give life to your mortal bodies through this spirit who lives inside you.

- N. T. Wright, 1 Corinthians for Everyone, p221


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