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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: