mosaic painting of Saint Paul writing

Studying 1 Corinthians 15 1-8 …

We are studying 1 Corinthians 15 (specifically, verses 1-8, 12-14, 20-23, and 42-45) for Sunday, April 12, Easter! Hallelujah! Despite not being able to assemble physically, we will be assembling spiritually, which may make this week’s text particularly appropriate, since it will ultimately turn our attention to the paradoxical concept of a “spiritual body.” Here are my notes on this text:

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: The letter we know as 1 Corinthians was written by Paul in the early 50s CE to the church in the city of Corinth. As far as I know, no one disputes any of this.

There is excellent background material on the Corinth of the early church, along with a map and some discussion of Paul’s letter, at Bible Odyssey.

In brief, Corinth was a major 1st century commercial center, with a typically 1st century CE Greco-Roman socio-cultural and economic profile. We think there were highly unequal social groups, including slaves; people were status conscious, self-absorbed, and competitive. So different from now. We think the church included both Jews and Gentiles, although tension between Jews and Gentiles isn’t the same dominant theme in this letter that it is in the letter to the Romans.

Instead, the two long letters from Paul to the church in Corinth tell us a lot about other specific community issues in the church at that time. While it’s far from everything that people would like to know, it’s enough to have made the Corinthians the most famous “troubled congregation” in the history of Christianity.

Some of those issues are practical and behavioral, others more abstractly theological – although even abstract theological issues often have practical consequences. By the time we get to our focus text in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul has already laid out a general theological view of the essential unity of the church, addressed a number of specific, concrete issues of congregational practice, including the problem of sexual morality and church discipline, the problem of the relation of the church community to the larger community (as expressed in the matter of using courts of law against fellow Christians), the problem of good order in worship, including what to say to people who want to talk all the time during worship, the proper attitude to take towards the celebration of communion, how to think about the division of labor in the church, and how to understand what is most central and important in the Christian value system, and how to keep spiritual gifts in proper perspective with that in mind.


Now he has to deal with some questions about the resurrection, which is the subject of chapter 15. After that all that remains are some concluding instructions about “the collection for the saints,” some information about travel itineraries, and closing greetings.

Most of 1 Corinthians 15 comes up in the lectionary as a series of epistle readings for the 5th through 8th Sundays after Epiphany in Year C. Some verses from 1 Corinthians 15 also show up on Easter in Year b (1-11) and again in Year C (19-26). In other words, people may have heard portions of 1 Corinthians 15 in worship over the years.

CLOSER READING: In verse 1, Paul more precisely says he “makes known” the “good news” that he literally “good news-ed”, using a verb that specifically means “proclaimed good news” or “proclaimed a good message” or “evangelized.” So the “evangel” figures prominently in the first sentence or so.

That emphasis makes a strong statement that Paul’s message has been good news.

Starting with verse 3, Paul positions himself as a go-between, a middle man between the source of this message and the Corinthians: he received it, then handed it over, and they received it. He has shared what he had to share.

He lays the message out again in verses 3-8: Christ died, was buried, was raised – here, the verb is what we would use for someone woken from sleep, or helped up from sitting or lying down – and appeared, over and over, to a long list of people, including, at last, Paul himself.

Until now, I have been accustomed to reading “as to one untimely born” as meaning something like “as to one born too late.” Sort of the way someone might feel about having been too young to be a Freedom Rider or go to Woodstock. That was before I looked it up in Greek.

That word in Greek seems normally to refer to miscarriage. The expression gives the statement an entirely different tone, more like Paul is referring to himself as premature, incompletely formed, snatched from death.

Verses 9-11 might strike us as almost defensive on Paul’s part. There’s no reason to think he’s insincere here; his being sent as an apostle is all grace, extended to someone who didn’t deserve it at all, from his perspective.

Evidently there are folks in Corinth who deny the “resurrection of the dead,” literally, a “standing again.” In Greek, anastasis, from which we get the name Anastasia. What specifically they deny is not entirely clear, although verses 12-14 imply, to me, that some of the arguments going on involved hair-splitting semantics. That would explain Paul’s making the point that being “raised/awoken” just means “a resurrection from the dead.” One implies the other; they are interchangeable, not two different ideas.

To me, that suggests that maybe someone was saying they were.

In verse 14, “in vain” is literally “empty.” Like an empty box. Like those caper films where the robbers open up the bank vault to find … nothing. “Proclamation” here is not that specific “proclamation of the good news” Paul uses earlier, linked to his story in verses 3-8, but the more generic “kerygma.” Maybe because, if a message were empty, it wouldn’t be good news.

As Paul’s argument continues, it doesn’t seem to be an argument designed to appeal to atheists. It’s rather pitched to folks who seem to want to have some part of the gospel message, but without Christ’s resurrection. Because his point seems to be: you can’t have the things you want or value in the gospel without the foundation of the resurrection. That’s an argument addressed to people who do find something to value in the gospel.

Calling Christ “the firstfruits of those who have died,” which conjures up the image of reaping, will have an echo later when Paul talks about sowing seeds in verses 36-44.

In Adam, all are dying. It’s not just something that will happen at a discrete point in the future, it’s present, it’s happening now.

I don’t know why we have to skip verse 24, in which Christ, in a particularly satisfying image, literally puts a stop to every ruler and every authority and power. Good riddance.

Paul makes an analogy between the resurrection, which his readers don’t understand, and plants, which his readers also don’t really understand, but at least have some experience of. Seeds don’t look anything like the plants they become. Analogously, our resurrected bodies will be different in significant ways from our mortal bodies.

The final rhetorical climax comes in verses 42-44. “It is sown a physical / natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” The language should probably lead us to set aside our usual contrast between physical-bodily and spiritual-immaterial. Maybe a spiritual body is filled or completely animated by the Spirit, maybe Paul has something different in mind, but whatever the spiritual body is, it is related to our mortal body, and yet thoroughly transformed.

It is, after all, new life.

We can’t accurately imagine this reality.

That makes it endlessly fascinating.

red line embellished

mosaic painting of Saint Paul writing

8 responses to “Studying 1 Corinthians 15 1-8 …”

  1. Saint Paul says that Christ rose and appeared to Cephus then to the 12 after that he appeared to Paul… But as I read the scriptures he didn’t appear to Cephus until he appeared to the 11 not to the 12 because Judas was already committed suicide so where does Paul get these statements that first Jesus appeared to Cephus and then to the 12 when it should say first appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to the 11 after the road to Emmaus


  2. Looking forward to your reply of where Saint Paul got these statements from
    since Mary Magdalene was the first to see Christ at the tomb resurrected and after the road to Emmaus ….. Jesus appeared To the 11 not 12
    The above is Regarding first Corinthians chapter 15 verses one through eight


      • As you requested of me … I am asking because I am an evangelist and have for years been telling people that Mary Magdelan was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection .. based on the Bible references I have used for years … and … I tell people that Jesus did appear to the 11 (not 12 because Judas was gone … and Jesus did appear to the 11 … after Jesus appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus. so this is why I am asking … because 1 Cor 15 by St. Paul says Jesus appeared first to PETER (Cepheus) … and then it says that Jesus then appeared to the 12 (not saying the 11)?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Got it.

        So, based on that, I feel the answer I would give may or may not feel entirely congenial to you. And obviously, isn’t authoritative. But it’s the one I’d give. And that is: Paul knew what Paul knew, or thought what he thought, or said what he said. Maybe he did not get everything precisely correct. At least not when it came to the details of the resurrection appearances. And the specific details are probably not, in the end, the main thing.

        To clarify: I am not one of those people who thinks that, if someone had been there with a video camera and a notebook, and had been following the risen Christ around keeping track of his post-resurrection schedule, there would not be SOME down-to-the-minute clock-time-accurate timeline. I actually think there would be. But whether we are in a position to reconstruct that from the accounts in the scripture as we have it, I doubt. In general. In the main outlines, yes. But in the specific details (one angel or two??! Who was there first, Mary or Peter?? etc. etc.) – the witnesses remember what they remember, and tell us what they tell us, and things (even some biggish things!) don’t all agree 100%. Not even across the 4 gospels.

        So – yes, I am saying, I think there are “contradictions” in scripture – I’d use the word “differences” probably. Certainly when it comes to whether Paul or John the evangelist was more accurate about who first saw the risen Christ. Assuming Paul was even meaning to be that precise – like, if you could talk to him, and said, “Hey, wasn’t it first Mary” he might say “Oh, right, forgot about that … I was thinking about the guys.” And “wasn’t it the 11??” he might say “Yeah, but when I’m talking about the first apostles I always just say ‘the 12’ y’know?” Or any one of several plausible real life human explanations for that discrepancy.

        I don’t think any of this ought to give us less confidence in affirming that yes, Christ is risen, and yes, the risen Christ appeared to people, and yes, the authors of the Biblical text are trustworthy. But I also think they are human, and that God did not supernaturally prevent them from ever making a factual error, or even from saying something that could be misconstrued and then become the source of massive controversy within the church at a later point in time.

        That’s what I would say. Idk if that will help, though.


      • I decided to check the Jerusalem (annotated Bible) which gives cross references for about 1/2 of every line in the Holy Bible so that we can see at a glance where other verses in the Bible support or confirm certain other verses.
        … It turns out that the situation of different wordings is due to a simple fact that each writer is in-spired to give accounts to their particular audience at the time and in this case that is what happened.
        … for example one writer says that Mary Magdalen ran to the tomb … but it just does not also say (with several other woman) … like the other authors of the synoptics might say) …
        … also Paul says Jesus appeared to Peter first …. and the synoptics just do not say the word (first) … but that does not mean that Peter was not first!
        … and where Paul says that Jesus appeared to 500 … the other synoptics or ACTS … just do not mention it (perhaps because it was at Galilee … after Mary told Peter … that Jesus was going to Galilee in Luke 16 …

        I am happy to see now that we can have three authors just quoting certain aspects or facts of an event and not all saying (every single fact in unison) … because of the points that The Holy Spirit wanted to stress for the audiences at the times of the writings.

        May God continue to bless your work for His purposes.
        Tony at … https;//

        Liked by 1 person

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