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1 Corinthians 15:51-58

1 Corinthians 15:51-58 This passage forms the climatic conclusion of the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians. Among other issues addressed in this letter, Paul turns his attention in chapter 15 to the teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12) which apparently had shaken the faith of the believers at Corinth (Note the inclusio of Paul’s concerns regarding the steadfastness of the believers: 1 Cor. 15:1-2, 58). Paul reasserts belief in the doctrine of the resurrection in general and especially the resurrection of believers (15:12-33). However, to formulate a cohesive understanding of the resurrection, he must answer the question of the manner of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:35) which he addresses in verses 51ff. Verse 50 asserts a principle regarding the inability of frail, mortal human beings to inherit the kingdom of God or the imperishable. In the following verses (vv. 51-52), he provides the details of how humanity will inherit the imperishable. Then, he reasserts the necessity: “…this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality” (v. 53, NRSV).There is evidence of interchange to strengthen contrast between the perishable and imperishable continuums of this passage. A comparison is evident between the phrases “the perishable” (vv. 53a and 54a) and “the mortal” (vv. 53b and 54b). These phrases are contrasted with the following recurring phrases: “with the imperishable” (vv. 53a and 54a) and “with immortality” (vv. 53b and 54b). This is evident within the chart below:

In this way, Paul underscores the general principle of verse 50b which is restated in verse 54a. His explanation clarifies the manner in which the living believers, indicated by the phrase “we will not all die,” v. 51, and the deceased believers who “will be raised imperishable” (v. 52) will both (as indicated by the all-inclusive second “we” of v. 51) be transformed in the escaton. The eschaton will bring the fulfillment of the saying (or perhaps two sayings, one from Isaiah 25:8 and the second from Hosea 13:14, contra. the singular ὁ λόγος, v. 54). While the complete fulfillment awaits the eschaton, the atoning work of Christ has brought the eschaton to bear upon the present (2 Cor. 5:4; Heb. 2:14-15; Rev. 20:14; 21:4). As Anthony C. Thiselton asserts, “Paul projects an eschatological vision of a stingless death precisely because Jesus Christ has himself absorbed the sting on the basis of how his death and resurrection addresses the problem of human sin and the law (vv. 55–57).”[1] Despite the fact that the sting of death still remains for believers, the Christian faith is characterized by optimism due to Christ’s decisive victory over the enemies of sin, death, hell and the grave (1 Cor. 15:25ff.; 2 Cor. 5:4; Heb. 2:14-15; Rev. 20:14, 21:4). Such optimism is reflected in the following quotation from Saint Chrysostom: It is clean gone, it is perished, it is utterly vanished away, and in vain hast thou done all those former things. For He not only disarmed death and vanquished it, but even destroyed it, and made it quite cease from being.[2] With similar optimism, “Paul uses the vocative of address as a taunt, like a taunt to a hostile but disarmed, bound, and powerless attacker: ‘Death—where is your victory? Death—where is your sting?’”[3] The passage, indeed the entire chapter, climaxes with the doxology of the Apostle Paul as he celebrates the instrumentality of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ in accomplishing the victory – a victory which will be complete in the eschaton (Rev. 20:14, 21:4). On the basis of the hope of the resurrection, he admonishes his readers to remain faithful and immovable “because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58). Homiletical Lens: There are a number of ways that one might approach this particular passage.1. The Sting of Death: Most congregations or church attendees have experienced the loss of the death of relatives, friends or church members. For those who have attended such services, this passage may have a familiar ring because the text is a part of the liturgy of the committal service for deceased. Thus, the preacher must understand that the triumphalism of the text might not resonate well with the bereaved. We often feel deeply the “sting of death” (v. 55-56). Preachers might choose to begin by relating a story of grief, perhaps from the death of a family member or a prominent member of the congregation. As preachers weave their way through the biblical text, they should climax and conclude the sermon with the triumph of Christ over death. The sermon might borrow the title from Martin Luther’s words “Perpetual Easter.” [4] [1] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1300.[2] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Hubert Kestell Cornish, John Medley, and Talbot B. Chambers, vol. 12, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 257.[3] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1300–1301.[4] John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Corinthians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 352.

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