Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 22 Nov 2009
1. Now, I am making known to you, brothers, the gospel:
which I preached to you,
which also you received,
in which also you have been standing,
2. through which also you are being saved,
if you hold fast in the particular word I preached to you;
otherwise you believed vainly.
3. For I delivered to you in first [place] what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
4. and that He was buried,
and that He has been raised during the third day according to the scriptures,
5. and that He was seen:
then by the Twelve,
6. then He was seen by over 500 brothers at once
(of whom most remain [alive], though some sleep [in death]),
7. then He was seen by James,
then by all the apostles,
8. and last of all, as to the stillborn, He was seen even by me.
9. For I am the least of the apostles.
I am not one who is fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God,
10. but by God’s grace, I am what I am,
and His grace which [came] into me did not become void,
but rather I toiled harder than all of them
(yet not I, but the grace of God which is with me).
11. Anyway, whether it was me or them, this is how we preached, and this is how y’all believed.
12. Now, if Christ is being preached that He has been raised out of the dead,
how come some of y’all are saying that there is not a resurrection of the dead?
13. Now, if there is not a resurrection of the dead,
Christ has not been raised either. 14. And if Christ has not been raised,
then our preaching is also empty,
and your faith is empty,
15. and we are also found to be false witnesses of God
because we testified concerning God that He raised the Christ
whom He had not raised, if, in fact, the dead are not raised.
16. For, if the dead are not raised,
Christ has not been raised either. 17. And if Christ has not been raised,
your faith is done in;
you are still in your sins.
18. Then also the ones who fell asleep in Christ perished.
19. If we are only existing in this life, having hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiful of all men!
When I was in High School, a comedy movie named Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail was popular. I don’t recommend watching the movie, but some of the skits in the movie had some clean humor, one of the more memorable ones being the trial of a woman accused of being a witch. The humor is in the obvious logical fallacies that the judge commits in reasoning through the case, although there is actually nothing funny about injustice in the legal system. First, the judge establishes that the punishment for witchcraft is to be burned to death. Then he reasons that since wood is also burned in the fire, the properties of wood can be used in determining whether the accused woman had practiced witchcraft. After some deliberation, he establishes that ducks also share a property in common with wood, for both ducks and wood float in water. “So, logically,” judge concludes, “if she weighs the same as a duck, then she's made of wood, and therefore – she’s a witch!” And they go on to put the woman on one side of the scales and a duck on the other side to see if they weigh the same or not. In the movie, an innocent woman was killed as a result of this faulty reasoning. Likewise, if we live our life based on false information and faulty logic, the results can be tragic.
All humans develop some idea of what is wrong with the world and how to deal with what is wrong.
The danger is when we have the wrong idea of what is wrong and therefore the wrong idea of how to deal with it.
Someone once said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” This doesn’t hold true if you sincerely believe you are in a car that is not moving, when in fact, you are in a car that is going at 60 miles an hour towards a cliff. Falling off a cliff matters, whether you believe you are moving toward it or not. You may be sitting in that car and you may be just sure that the uncomfortable wind blowing in your face is not the result of careening at 60 miles an hour toward a cliff with the windows rolled down, but rather is the result of the air conditioner fan being stuck on High. If you have the wrong idea of what is wrong like that, you are going be still fiddling with the air conditioner knob as you go hurtling off the cliff.”
False information and faulty logic have dire consequences, and they require holding fast to the truth.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul raises the issue in chapter 15 v. 12 that some of the Christians in Corinth were saying that there is not a resurrection of the dead – that once a person dies, that’s it; there is no more life for the body after that, it just rots in the ground and that’s the end of that.
Such a belief was common among Greeks. We see from Paul’s encounter in Acts 17 with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens that the resurrection was particularly hard for them to accept. Dr. Ralph Earle, wrote on this point that the word “resurrection” in Greek (anastasis) meant to erect a monument or to stand a statue up, and that the concept of bringing a dead body back to life was a foreign concept to the Greeks.
In verses 13-19, Paul shows that a denial of the resurrection of the dead is a faulty premise with horrible ramifications, for if we were to deny that the dead are raised, we would also have to deny that Jesus Christ was raised. If Jesus Christ was not raised, then Paul dwells on two problems:
1) v.14-15 “Our preaching is vain/useless/empty… We are found to be false witnesses” who are misrepresenting God.
a. Act 1:22 Peter said, “…one of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (23) And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
b. Act 3:15-17 Peter preached that the Jews “killed the Prince of life; whom God raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.”
c. Act 4:33 And with great power [God] gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
d. This is no different from what Jesus taught: In Mat 22:13 Jesus corrected the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, saying, “have you not read what was spoken to you by God: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!”
2) vs.17-18 “Your faith is fain/futile/worthless/done in/lit. manhandled – so damaged as to be useless; you are still in your sins and also those who have fallen asleep in Christ perished/are lost.”
a. Eph 2:12 “Y’all were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
b. 1Th 4:13 “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring back with him.”
c. 1Pe 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy made us be born again into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
In recent centuries, the testimony of the Apostle Paul has also been criticized as misguided or false. Let’s consider this possibility:
Josh McDowell, whom I’ve met on a couple of occasions, describes how, as a pre-law student, a Christian student challenged him to examine the evidence in favor of Christianity. He took on the challenge in an attempt to prove once and for all that the gospel story was not true. He even dropped out of school and traveled abroad to gather his evidence, but in the end concluded that Christianity is true after all. In chapter 10 of his book, More than a Carpenter, McDowell examines a number of alternatives to the resurrection as Paul proclaimed it in the gospel:
o British biblical scholar Kirsopp Lake propounded that the disciples were confused and went to the wrong tomb, an empty one, and concluded that Jesus had been raised.
Both the Jewish and Roman leaders were threatened by the news of Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus was still dead, they would have produced the dead body for the world to see and squashed the rumor quickly. The problem was, there was no dead body to produce. Jesus was alive and walking around talking to people, so all the leaders could do was bribe the tomb-guards to cover up the story.
o There is also the “Swoon theory” popularized by the German rationalist, Karl Venturini. In this alternative to the gospel, Jesus didn’t die; He merely fainted on the cross, then regained consciousness after a rest in the cool tomb.
There are several problems with this theory too. Roman soldiers were knowledgeable about death, and they determined that Jesus was already dead when it came time at the end of the day to finish off the crucified men by breaking their legs so that they would die faster because they would not be able to raise themselves up to breathe anymore. The comment in John 19:33 that they did not break Jesus’ legs is significant not only because it fulfilled prophecy, but because it is proof that Jesus was actually dead. And in case there is any doubt, John adds in his Gospel that when the soldiers pierced Jesus in the side, He had been dead long enough that the body fluids were already separated into blood and water. Paul’s statement in the gospel that Jesus was then buried underscores that Jesus was really dead.
o Many Muslims teach that someone else who looked like Jesus died on the cross instead of Him, but Muslims still believe in the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
It stretches the limits of credibility, to think that Jesus’ own mother and best friend John could have watched some other man die and taken him down from the cross and carried him to a tomb all without recognizing that it was a stranger. Furthermore, the problem of the missing body of the man who once was dead remains.
o Some people who don’t believe in miracles but who still like Christianity have suggested that the story is all symbolic. The German Neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth taught that the word “resurrection” simply describes each Christian’s personal happiness at imagining Jesus being alive, although it did not happen in fact.
The 12 disciples would not have all died painful deaths for believing in Jesus if they knew He was not truly the Son of God who died for their sins and was raised. At least one of them would have admitted it was a myth to save their skin, but all of them gave their lives to seal their testimony that this was true.
o Other theories to explain the resurrection story without believing it center around a claim that the disciples were so horrified at the thought of Jesus dying and so wishful that He might be alive, that they talked themselves into believing He actually had risen from the dead.
This flies in the face of the actual accounts of Jesus’ disciples, like Thomas who said he would not believe unless he could touch the nail marks in Jesus’ palms, and then there is the story of the Men on the road to Emmaeus – one of whom may have been Jesus’ own step-father, who did not recognize Jesus because they were not expecting to see Him resurrected.
o Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association once stated, “Let’s assume that the written accounts of His appearances to hundreds of people are false. I want to pose a question. With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eyewitness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? …The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.”
o Thomas Arnold, author of the famous 3-volume History of Rome and chair of modern history at Oxford wrote, “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
So, what is the truth, the good news, the gospel which Paul preached first and foremost and the Corinthians received and were saved by?
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
and that he was buried and that He has been raised during the 3rd day according to the Scriptures.
Dr. Gordon Clark has drawn my attention to three components of this good news:
1) Historical facts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection
a. It is interesting to note that in this historical accounting, the fact that Christ died and the fact that he was buried are in Aorist tense, indicating a one-time event that happened in history, but the resurrection of Christ is in the Perfect tense, indicating an event in the past which has results that continue into the present. The resurrection was not, for Paul, merely a historical event, but something which continues to affect us in the here and now.
2) Theological interpretation – “for our sins”
a. Tit 2:14 who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works.
b. 1Pe 3:18 Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; (cf. 2:24)
3) Full Epistemology – “according to the Scriptures”
a. Luk 24:46 ASV and he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day;
b. Isa 53:5-9 ASV But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (6) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (7) He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. (8) By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? (9) And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
c. Ps. 16:10 ASV For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. (quoted in Act 2:25-27)
d. Hos 6:2 ASV After two days will he revive us: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before him.
e. cf. Great Commission in Mt. 28: “Baptize and Teach to obey everything I commanded.”
A presentation of the Gospel needs to have all these elements: History, Theology, and point to the Scriptures.
Then you’ve got the true Gospel; you are a Christian.
And if you have received the true Gospel and are holding it fast:
1. You will stand in it (v.1c) with certainty and find security, for “the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are safe” (Ps 18:10),
2. And it will continue to save you. The verb “saved” in v.2 is in the Greek present tense, indicating ongoing action. Not only are we saved by the one-time atoning death of Christ on the cross in the past, not only is that salvation applied to us as we place our faith in Him, but from then on, He has been working in you to purify you of sin and prepare you to be with Him in heaven.
How do we know this gospel is true? Could there be some credence to the skeptics who believe that when you die, that’s the end of you? Do Christians have good reason to believe the staggering claim that Jesus was raised from the dead? Can we really saved by Him?
Paul offers two kinds of witnesses to the truth of his claim about the resurrection.
1. The Scriptures. “He was raised during the third day according to the Scriptures”
a. We’ve already seen a little bit of how the prophets in the Bible made many prophecies concerning Jesus which were fulfilled in detail as Jesus lived and died for us.
b. The Bible is entirely reliable, more reliable than anything else, even your personal experience.
c. It is significant that Paul puts the scriptures above other witness. But he doesn’t stop there.
a. Paul lists six appearances of the resurrected Christ in chronological
In the gospels, five more resurrection appearances are recorded.
b. v.5 mentions Cephas
i. cf. Luke 24:34, where he is called Simon.
ii. Cephas is Aramaic for “Rock,” just like Peter is Greek for “Rock.” “Rock” was Jesus’ nickname for Simon the son of Zebedee. Jewish writers like Paul and James (Acts 15) who knew Aramaic sometimes called Peter Cephas for that reason.
c. then to the Twelve
i. A few Greek and Latin mss have “Eleven” here instead of 12. Judas was dead, but Acts 1 indicates that Matthias was there the whole time, so there were 12.
ii. This was probably the times in the Upper room in Jerusalem when Jesus visited the disciples.
d. v.6 – then over 500 brothers at once
i. It would have been difficult to get 500 people together in Jerusalem safely, as tense as the situation was there.
ii. This was probably on the mountain in Galilee where Jesus arranged to meet with followers, and where the great commission was given in Matt 28
iii. Paul wrote this letter less than 25 years after the resurrection, so if anyone in Corinth wanted to talk to more eyewitnesses themselves, plenty were still around in Palestine.
e. v.7 then James
i. This was probably Jesus’ half-brother.
ii. Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in the list of early believers in Acts 1:14.
iii. Clark suggests that James may not have been a believer until meeting the resurrected Christ. He became a leader in the church, though.
f. Then all the apostles
i. Chrysostom suggests that this was a meeting with the 70 in Jerusalem.
g. v.8 finally to Paul
i. cf. Acts 9:3-6
ii. The word Paul uses to describe his glimpse of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus is translated “untimely born/born out of due time/abnormally born/dead-born/aborted/stillborn. It is made of two root words meaning “wound-out” and was used consistently in Greek literature to indicate an abortion or miscarriage (Num. 12:12, Job 3:16, Eccl 6:3)
iii. It is not clear precisely what he meant by this term:
o His condition of being a persecutor of believers at the time of his call (Vin)
o An epithet from an enemy embraced by Paul (Clark)
o The irregularity of becoming a disciple as the result of a brief vision rather than through the normal course of years of discipleship (JFB)
o Maybe just the fact that he didn’t see Jesus until after Jesus ascended into heaven. (ATR)
SUMMARY: Not only do we have the reliable witness of the scriptures, we also have the witness of hundreds and hundreds of people who met Jesus after His resurrection. Combined with the logical and historical integrity of their accounts as I mentioned earlier, we have every reason to be confident that Jesus was raised from the dead, and thus that we shall be as well.
Even if we have the right understanding of sin and the gospel of salvation, there is a danger that we will lose our grip on these truths and accept other things unthinkingly in their place. Believing something that is not true can have tragic results.
You don’t have to be a nice person to believe the Gospel that Jesus died for your sin and rose to make you right with God. Paul was not a nice person. He was a terrorist who murdered many Christians. He did not deserve to be saved, but by the grace of God, he not only was saved, he became a leader of the church. Finding a place in the church, through faith in Jesus, is a gift from God to all who feel they don’t deserve it.
Have you believed in Jesus in the past but find you have doubts? That’s normal. I encourage you to keep returning to God’s grace.
Have you worked hard and feel like you’ve earned your keep in the family of God and wish those half-hearted Christians around you would get on with God’s program? don’t be like the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal. Remember that you never deserved God’s love; instead He has graciously given it to you. Keep holding fast to that!
o Grow roots into it: Luke 8:15 And [the seeds that were sown] in the good ground, these are such as in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, hold it fast, and bring forth fruit with patience.
o Let go of the peanut in the monkey-trap so you are able to hold fast the good: 1 Cor 7:30c those who shop like those who do not own/hold firmly to [anything], 31. and those who use this world like those who are not making absolute use, for the order of this world is passing away.
o Follow Godly examples: 1 Cor 11: 2. Now, I’m praising y’all because you have remembered all my traditions, and just as I delivered to you, you are holding fast to them.
o Be courageous before God and before man: Heb 3:6 but Christ as a son, over his house; whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end.
o Connect to Christ: Heb 3:14 for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end:
o Keep believing Bible truth: Heb 10:23 let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not…
The alternative in v. 2 is to “believe in vain” Dr. Jack Arnold wrote on this point, “A person can have an emotional or intellectual superficial human faith that accepts the words of the gospel as a kind of insurance policy against going to hell, but he gospel has not penetrated in to and changed that person’s life so there are new desires for Christ, new striving for righteousness, new patterns for living. There can be a mechanical conformity to Christianity that never sees any need for faith… Christianity is not facts, head knowledge, ritual or religion. Christianity is knowing and loving the resurrected Christ.”