Notes on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1‑11  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
But there was another question of the deepest moment, and still more fundamental, which the apostle reserved for the last place. The resurrection of the dead was doubted and denied by some at Corinth. This was grave indeed; but it is incomparably more so now, after the ample testimony to the truth rendered here, and throughout the New Testament. It was inexcusable ignorance then; it is far guiltier and more rebellious if we doubt in presence of the disproof we are about to study, and of much more to the same effect elsewhere.
"And I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I announced to you, which also ye received, in which also ye stand, by which also ye are being saved, if ye hold fast with what discourse I announced [it] to you, unless ye believed in vain. For I delivered to you in the first place that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he was raised the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, after that to the twelve. After that he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain till now, but some also have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, after that to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the abortion, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God; but by God's grace I am what I am, and his grace that [was] towards me became not vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that [was] with me. Whether then I or they, thus we preach, and thus ye believed.” (Vers. 1-11.)
Nothing was farther from the intention of the Corinthian speculators than to compromise the gospel or the resurrection of Christ. But to this exactly does the apostle reduce their question. They forgot that there is an enemy behind who can take advantage of the mind no less than of the body, and whose artifice it is to array falsehood with a fairer garb than the truth, and so not only to gain admission for what is false, but thereby also to expel or undermine what is true, holiness suffering in the same proportion.
It was humbling therefore, but wholesome, to have the gospel made known afresh to saints, who ought rather to be in the fellowship of its activities—to have the apostle insisting on it, (1) as what he had declared to them originally, (2) as what they had received, (3) as that in which they had their standing, and (4) as the means of their salvation. The copulative conjunction, καί defines each consideration recalled to them; the hypothetical particle, εί, supposes the fact of their holding fast the glad tidings; otherwise their faith was worthless. Salvation in this epistle, as in many others, is viewed as going on. (Vers. 1, 2.) It is a σώζεσθε, the present, and neither the perfect, ἐστε σεσωσμἐνοι, as in Eph. 2:5, 85Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) (Ephesians 2:5)
8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8)
, nor the aorist, as in 2 Tim. 1:99Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Timothy 1:9), and Titus 3:55Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5).
If Paul was an apostle, and delivered to thesis especially the glad tidings, it was what he too received, he pretended to no more than a faithful discharge of the trust the Lord had reposed in him as a witness concerning Himself. He received it, as we are told elsewhere, immediately from Christ. There was no intermediate channel, but a direct revelation and a personal charge. And what is the foundation laid? “That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” (Ver. 3.) Not for ourselves merely, not at all for our good ways, but for our bad, “for our sins.” Who could have said or thought it but God? And He has said it, not only now in the gospel, but from of old in the scriptures. From Genesis to Malachi all was a preparing the way for Christ to die for our sins. The law witnessed to it in the sacrifices; the Psalms declared that the sacrifices were but temporary, and that the Messiah must, and would, do the will of God; and the prophets showed that He would do it by suffering and death when Jehovah should lay on Him the iniquities of His people. Without the death of Christ for our sins, not only has the gospel no foundation, but the Old Testament has no adequate meaning or worthy end.
But God would give the amplest evidence. So it is added to Christ's death (ver. 4), “and that he was buried.” Only here is made no mention of the scriptures. This is reserved for the immense fact of the resurrection: “and that he was raised the third day according to the scriptures,” which is followed by the repeated appearances, of course without any such attestation. It is not merely an accessory fact or corroboration of Christ's death. His resurrection is the grand pivot of the chapter, the display of God's glory as regards man, the fullest answer to all unbelief, and the knell of Satan's power. This was the truth which the enemy sought to undermine among some at Corinth; but the result, under the grace of God, is the complete demonstration of its certainty, and of its all-importance.
But this is not all that the apostle points out. Christ was not raised only; He “was raised the third day according to the scriptures.” The first book of the law gave its early preparation for it. For from the beginning, even in Eden, though not till after sin entered, God announced that the bruised Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. Still more distinctly do we see the Father ready to give His beloved and only Son, and that Son under the sentence of death till “the third day” (Gen. 22:44Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (Genesis 22:4)), when a ram in the type was substituted, and Isaac was received as from the dead in a figure. (Heb. 11:17-1917By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11:17‑19).) The Psalms give their intermediate but glowing witness, Psa. 8 showing us the Son of man who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, but crowned with glory and honor, with all things put under His feet; Psa. 16, the dependent One, trusting in God through life and death, and beyond. What possibly more distinct “My flesh also shall rest in hope; for Thou wilt not leave my soul in sheol, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life,” &c., words which, as a whole, apply as clearly to the dead and risen Messiah, as they cannot to David or any other. There is no mention of “the third day” here of course, which would be a foreign element, and destructive of the calm confidence of the psalm; but it is plain that for the soul not to rest in sheol, and the body not to see corruption, there must be not only a raising from the deco, but this without delay. His flesh therefore should rest in hope, and not merely the spirit. But the prophets carry on and complete the testimony, for if Hos. 6 be only the principle applicable to Israel by-and-by, Jonah 1:1717Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17) is the striking type of the Son of man three days and three nights (so it was counted Jewishly) in the heart of the earth: what a sign to the faithless Jew!
The apostle confirms the resurrection of Christ by certain of His appearances afterward, as He had the death by burial. “And that he appeared to Cephas, after that to the twelve.” (Ver. 5.) He omits Mary of Magdala and the other women, important as both might be for the objects which the evangelists had in view. There is no heaping up of proofs in either Gospels or Epistles, but a selection suitable to the design of God by each writer. The apostle gives only men who for weight, number, or other circumstances, furnished evidence unanswerable for every fair mind. The risen Lord appeared to Cephas, or Simon Peter, before He stood in the midst of “the twelve.” (Compare Luke 24:3434Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. (Luke 24:34).) Nor could any individual be of greater importance than Simon, especially at a moment when his soul needed reassurance so deeply. But no individual could have the weight of the entire company which knew him best; and the twelve are therefore next named, without noticing either the two disciples who had enjoyed His company to Emmaus on the resurrection-day, or that the apostolic body wanted somewhat to complete it on the same evening.
But there is another occasion, testimony to which the apostle points, unsurpassed for magnitude: “after that he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain till now, but some also have fallen asleep.” (Ver. 6.) Never was a truth better attested. The greater part of these five hundred united witnesses still survived if any one doubted; even if a person were prejudiced enough to accuse the twelve of a plot, what unreasonable folly to allow such a thought of so large a body of simple disciples, above all suspicion of object or office? The Holy Spirit left Luke to record the Lord's partaking of food when risen, and John the incredulity of the apostle Thomas, only the more to strengthen the truth; but Paul gives us this great body of witnesses, most then alive, if any chose to examine or cross-examine them. Surely had it not been the simple truth, some of that crowd of eye-witnesses must have disclosed the wickedness of thus conspiring in a lie against God.
“After that he appeared to James, after that to all the apostles.” (Ver. 7.) James had a place of singular honor, both in the church at Jerusalem, and as an inspired writer; and as he was the object alone of an appearance of Christ, this is mentioned, no less than His appearing subsequently to all the apostles. All was in place, and each had its separate importance; and this extending over forty days, with such a variety of occasions and circumstances, marks the care with which divine wisdom and grace made the resurrection known. The quiet statement of the fact is in remarkable contrast with what Jerome quotes from the spurious Gospel of the Nazarenes (Catal. Script. Eccl.), how James made a vow neither to eat nor drink till he saw the Lord risen again. Man spoils all he touches in divine things; be cannot even fill up a gap with a trustworthy tradition. James had no such superiority of faith over the rest; nor, if he had possessed it, would he have shown it by any such vow.
One more remained, the most extraordinary of all, and long after date; “and last of all, as to the abortion, he appeared to me also.” (Ver. 8.) It was from heaven, in broad daylight, as he drew near to Damascus, not only an unbeliever, but the hottest of adversaries, in the midst of a like-minded band of companions: all smitten down, all seeing the light, and hearing the sound, but he alone seeing Jesus, he alone hearing the words of His mouth. Unspeakable grace he felt it was, with unaffected lowliness of heart; “for I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (Vers. 8, 9.) If Thomas illustrated the difficulties even of believers, Saul of Tarsus is the best sample of opposition on the part of earthly religion. But he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision; and the sight of a risen, ascended, Lord becomes the end of his old life (closed in grace by God's judgment in the cross), the beginning of what was new and everlasting. No wonder that, as the others preached by Jesus the resurrection from among the dead, to the horror of the skeptical Sadducees, Paul was no less urgent to both world and church. It was the turning-point of his own conversion, and his penetrating, comprehensive, mind soon saw under God's teaching that the death and the resurrection of Christ were none other things than what Moses and the prophets had said should happen, and light through this be announced both to the Jews and to the Gentiles.
Of this ministry the converted persecutor was to be the most honored instrument. And this he himself could not but add; “but by God's grace I am what I am; and his grace that [was] toward me became not vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that [was] with me.” (Yen 10.) The simple truth carried its own weight. His apostleship, which had been assailed by those who were not less hostile to his full preaching of grace, received no small confirmation; the pride of human nature, in its merits or its wisdom, was put down; God was in every way exalted; and the special point in debate had a crowning testimony from Paul himself, which also accounted for a revolution never surpassed, if equaled, in any man's history since the world began; a revolution which was unintelligible otherwise in one trained, as he had been, in the strictest traditions and ways of Pharisaism, and now the boldest minister of the gospel, the most devoted minister of the church, yet withal a mind eminently sober and conscientious, logical and profound. The appearing of the risen Jesus from heaven explained all perfectly, not his conversion only, but his work beyond all laborious and blessed of God. Truly it was the grace of God that was with him, who loved to own it, while he abased himself.
But of those labors, so abundant and fruitful, what was the foundation truth, and what the animating spring? The resurrection of Christ with Paul, as with the apostles whom some pitted against him. “Whether then I or they, thus we preach, and thus ye believed.” (Ver. 11.) There was no change in the preaching: how then such a departure in some of the Corinthians? It was not so when they believed.