1 Corinthians 15:51-58
51. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
51. Ecce, mysterium vobis dico: Non omnes quidem dormiemus, omnes tamen immutabimur,
52. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
52. In puncto temporis, in nictu oculi, cum extrema tuba, (canet enim tuba,) et mortui resurgent incorrup-tibiles, et nos immutabimur.
53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
53. Oportet enim corruptibile hoc induere immortalitatem.
54. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
54. Quum autem corruptibile hoc induerit incorruptibilitatem, et mortale hoc induerit immortalita-tem: tunc flet sermo qui scriptus est: (Hosea 13, 14, vel les. 25, 8.) Absorpta est mors in victoriam.
55. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
55. Ubi, mors, tuus aculeus? Ubi tua, inferne, victoria?
56. The sting of death/s sin; and the strength of Sin is .the law.
56. Aculeus autem mortis, pecca-tum est: virtus autem peccati, Lex.
57. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
57. Sed Deo gratia, qui dedit nobis victoriam per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum.
58. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
58. Itaque, fratres mei dilecti, stabiles sitis, immobiles, abundantes in opere Domini semper, hoc cog-nifo, quod labor vester non sit in-anis in Domino.
Hitherto he has included two things in his reasoning. In the first place, he shows that there will be a resurrection from the dead: secondly, he shows of what nature it will be. Now, however, he enters more thoroughly into a description of the manner of it. This he calls a mystery, because it had not been as yet so clearly unfolded in any statement of revelation; but he does this to make them more attentive. For that wicked doctrine had derived strength from the circumstance, that they disputed as to this matter carelessly and at their ease;1 as if it were a matter in which they felt no difficulty. Hence by the term mystery, he admonishes them to learn a matter, which was not only as yet unknown to them, but ought to be reckoned among God's heavenly secrets.
51. We shall not indeed all sleep. Here there is no difference in the Greek manuscripts, but in the Latin versions there are three different readings. The first is, We shall indeed all die, but we shall not all be charged. The second is, We shall indeed all rise again, but we shall not all be changed.2 The third is, We shall not indeed all sleep, but we shall all be changed. This diversity, I conjecture, had arisen from this -- that some readers, who were not the most discerning', dissatisfied with the true reading, ventured to conjecture a reading which was more approved by them.3 For it appeared to them, at first view, to be absurd to say, that all would not die, while we read elsewhere, that it is appointed unto all men once to die. (Hebrews 9:27.) Hence they altered the meaning in this way -- All will not be changed, though all will rise again, or will die; and the change they interpret to mean -- the glory that the sons of God alone will obtain. The true reading, however, may be judged of from the context.
Paul's intention is to explain what he had said -- that we will be conformed to Christ, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. A question presented itself,4 what then will become of those who will be still living at the day of the Lord? His answer is, that although all will not die, yet they will be renewed, that mortality and corruption may be done away. It is to be observed, however, that he speaks exclusively of believers; for although the resurrection of the wicked will also involve change, yet as there is no mention made of them here, we must consider everything that is said, as referring exclusively to the elect. We now see, how well this statement corresponds with the preceding one, for as he had said, that we shall bear the image of Christ, he now declares, that this will take place when we shall be changed, so that
mortality may be swallowed up of life, (2 Corinthians 5:4,)
and that this renovation is not inconsistent with the fact, that Christ's advent will find some still alive.
We must, however, unravel the difficulty -- that it is appointed unto all men once to die; and certainly, it is not difficult to unravel it in this way -- that as a change cannot take place without doing away with the previous system, that change is reckoned, with good reason, a kind of death; but, as it is not a separation of the soul from the body, it is not looked upon as an ordinary death. It will then be death, inasmuch as it will be the destruction of corruptible nature: it will not be a sleep, inasmuch as the soul will not quit the body; but there will be a sudden transition from corruptible nature into a blessed immortality.
52. In a moment. This is still of a general nature; that is, it includes all. For in all the change will be sudden and instantaneous, because Christ's advent will be sudden. And to convey the idea of a moment, he afterwards makes use of the phrase twinkling (or jerk) of the eye, for in the Greek manuscripts there is a twofold, reading -- rJoph~| (jerk,) or rJiph~| (twinkling.)5 It matters nothing, however, as to the sense. Paul has selected a movement of the body, that surpasses all others in quickness; for nothing is more rapid than a movement of the eye, though at the same time he has made an allusion to sleep, with which twinkling of the eye is contrasted.6
With the last trump. Though the repetition of the term might seem to place it beyond a doubt, that the word trumpet is here taken in its proper acceptation, yet I prefer to understand the expression as metaphorical. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, he connects together the voice of the archangel and the trump of God: As therefore a commander, with the sound of a trumpet, summons his army to battle, so Christ, by his far sounding proclamation, which will be heard throughout the whole world, will summon all the dead. Moses tells us, (Exodus 19:16,) what loud and terrible sounds were uttered on occasion of the promulgation of the law. Far different will be the commotion then, when not one people merely, but the whole world will be summoned to the tribunal of God. Nor will the living only be convoked, but even the dead will be called forth from their graves.7 Nay more, a commandment must be given to dry bones and dust that, resuming their former appearance and reunited to the spirit, they come forth straightway as living men into the presence of Christ.
The dead shall rise. What he had declared generally as to all, he now explains particularly as to the living and the dead. This distinction, therefore, is simply an exposition of the foregoing statement -- that all will not die, but all will be changed. "Those who have already died," says he, "will rise again incorruptible." See what a change there will be upon the dead! "Those," says he, "who will be still alive will themselves also be changed." You see then as to both.8 You now then perceive how it is, that change will be common to all, but not sleep.9
When he says, We shall be changed, he includes himself in the number of those, who are to live till the advent of Christ. As it was now the last times, (1 John 2:18,) that day (2 Timothy 1:18) was to be looked for by the saints every hour. At the same time, in writing to the Thessalonians, he utters that memorable prediction respecting the scattering10 that would take place in the Church before Christ's coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:3.) This, however, does not hinder that he might, by bringing the Corinthians, as it were, into immediate contact with the event, associate himself and them with those who would at that time be alive.
53. For this corruptible must. Mark, how we shall live in the kingdom of God both in body and in soul, while at the same time flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God -- for they shall previously be delivered from corruption. Our nature then, as being now corruptible and mortal, is not admissible into the kingdom of God, but when it shall have put off corruption, and shall have been beautified with in-corruption, it will then make its way into it. This passage, too, distinctly proves, that we shall rise again in that same flesh that we now carry about with us, as the Apostle assigns a new quality to it which will serve as a garment. If he had said, This corruptible must be renewed, the error of those fanatics, who imagine that mankind will be furnished with new bodies, would not have been so plainly or forcibly overthrown. Now, however, when he declares that this corruptible shall be invested with glory, there is no room left for cavil.
54. Then shall be brought to pass the saying. This is not merely an amplification, (ejpexergasi>a,)11 but a confirmation, too, of the preceding statement. For what was foretold by the Prophets must be fulfilled. Now this prediction will not be fulfilled, until our bodies, laying aside corruption, will put on incorruption. Hence this last result, also, is necessary. To come to pass, is used here in the sense of being fully accomplished, for what Paul quotes is now begun in us, and is daily, too, receiving further accomplishment; but it will not have its complete fulfillment until the last day.
It does not, however, appear quite manifest, from what passage he has taken this quotation, for many statements occur in the Prophets to this effect. Only the probability is, that the first clause is taken either from Isaiah 25:8, where it is said that death will be for ever destroyed by the Lord,12 or, (as almost all are rather inclined to think,) from Hosea 13:14, where the Prophet, bewailing the obstinate wickedness of Israel, complains that he was like an untimely child, that struggles against the efforts of his mother in travail, that he may not come forth from the womb, and from this he concludes, that it was owing entirely to himself, that he was not delivered from death. I will ransom them, says he, from the power of the grave: I will rescue them from death. It matters not, whether you read these words in the future of the indicative, or in the subjunctive13for in either way the meaning amounts to this -- that God was prepared to confer upon them salvation, if they would have allowed the favor to be conferred upon them, and that, therefore, if they perished, it was their own fault.
He afterwards adds, I will be thy destruction, O death! thy ruin, O grave! In these words God intimates, that he accomplishes the salvation of his people14 only when death and the grave are reduced to nothing. For no one will deny, that in that passage there is a description of completed salvation. As, therefore, we do not see such a destruction of death, it follows, that we do not yet enjoy that complete salvation, which God promises to his people, and that, consequently, it is delayed until that day. Then, accordingly, will death be swallowed up, that is, it will be reduced to nothing,15 that we may have manifestly, in every particular, and in every respect, (as they say,) a complete victory over it.16
As to the second clause, in which he triumphs over death and the grave, it is not certain whether he speaks of himself, or whether he meant there also to quote the words of the Prophet. For where we render it, "I will be thy destruction, O death ! -- thy ruin, O grave !" the Greeks have translated it, "Where, O death, is thy suit?17 where, O grave, thy sting?" Now although this mistake of the Greeks is excusable from the near resemblance of the words,18 yet if any one will attentively examine the context, he will see that they have gone quite away from the Prophet's intention. The true meaning, then, will be this -- that the Lord will put an end to death, and destroy the grave. It is possible, however, that, as the Greek translation was in common use, Paul alluded to it, and in that there is nothing inconsistent, though he has not quoted literally, for instead of victory he has used the term action, or law-suit.19 I am certainly of opinion, that the Apostle did not deliberately intend to call in the Prophet as a witness, with the view of making a wrong.use of his authority, but simply accommodated, in passing, to his own use a sentiment that had come into common use, as being, independently of this, of a pious nature.20 The main thing is this -- that Paul, by an exclamation of a spirited nature, designed to rouse up the minds of the Corinthians, and lead them on, as it were, to a near view of the resurrection. Now, although we do not as yet behold the victory with our eyes, and the day of triumph has not yet arrived, (nay more, the dangers of war must every day be encountered,) yet the assurance of faith, as we shall have occasion to observe ere long, is not at all thereby diminished.
56. The sting of death is sin. In other words, "Death has no dart with which to wound us except sin, since death proceeds from the anger of God. Now it is only with our sins that God is angry. Take away sin, therefore, and death will no more be able to harm us." This agrees with what he said in Romans 6:23, that the wages of sin is death. Here, however, he makes use of another metaphor, for he compared sin to a sting, with which alone death is armed for inflicting upon us a deadly wound. Let that be taken away, and death is disarmed, so as to be no longer hurtful. Now with what view Paul says this, will be explained by him ere long.
The strength of sin is the law. It is the law of God that imparts to that sting its deadly power, because it does not merely discover our guilt, but even increases it. A clearer exposition of this statement may be found in Romans 7:9, where Paul teaches us that we are alive, so long as we are without the law, because in our own opinion it is well with us, and we do not feel our own misery, until the law summons us to the judgment of God, and wounds our conscience with an apprehension of eternal death. Farther, he teaches us that sin has been in a manner lulled asleep, but is kindled up by the law, so as to rage furiously. Meanwhile, however, he vindicates the law from calumnies, on the ground that it is holy, and good, and just, and is not of itself the parent of sin or the cause of death. Hence he concludes, that whatever there is of evil is to be reckoned to our own account, inasmuch as it manifestly proceeds from the depravity of our nature. Hence the law is but the occasion of injury. The true cause of ruin is in ourselves. Hence he speaks of the law here as the strength or power of sin, because it executes upon us the judgment of God. In the mean time he does not deny, that sin inflicts death even upon those that know not the law; but he speaks in this manner, because it exercises its tyranny upon them with less violence. For the law came that sin might abound, (Romans 5:20,) or that it might become beyond measure sinful. (Romans 7:13.)
57. But thanks be to God. From this it appears, why it it was that he made mention both of sin and of the law, when treating of death. Death has no sting with which to wound except sin, and the law imparts to this sting a deadly power. But Christ has conquered sin, and by conquering it has procured victory for us, and has redeemed us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13.) Hence it follows, that we are no longer lying under the power of death. Hence, although we have not as yet a full discovery of those benefits, yet we may already with confidence glory in them, because it is necessary that what has been accomplished in the Head should be accomplished, also, in the members. We may, therefore, triumph over death as subdued, because Christ's victory is ours.
When, therefore, he says, that victory has been given to us, you are to understand by this in the first place, that it is inasmuch as Christ has in his own person abolished sin, has satisfied the law, has endured the curse, has appeased :the anger of God, and has procured life; and farther, because he has already begun to make us partakers of all those benefits. For though we still carry about with us the remains of sin, it, nevertheless, does not reign in us: though it still stings us, it does not do so fatally, because its edge is blunted, so that it does not penetrate into the vitals of the soul. Though the law still threatens, yet there is presented to us on the other hand, the liberty that was procured for us by Christ, which is an antidote to its terrors. Though the remains of sin still dwell in us, yet the Spirit who raised up Christ from the dead is life, because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10.) Now follows the conclusion.
58. Wherefore, my brethren. Having satisfied himself that he had sufficiently proved the doctrine of the resurrection, he now closes his discussion with an exhortation; and this has much more force, than if he had made use of a simple conclusion with an affirmation. Since your labor, says he, is not in vain in the Lord, be steadfast, and abound in good works. Now he says that their labor is not in vain, for this reason, that there is a reward laid up for them with God. This is that exclusive hope which, in the first instance, encourages believers, and afterwards sustains them, so that they do not stop short in the race. Hence he exhorts them to remain steadfast, because they rest on a firm foundation, as they know that a better life is prepared for them in heaven.
He adds -- abounding in the work of the Lord; for the hope of a resurrection makes us not be weary in well:doing, as he teaches in Colossians 1:10. For amidst so many occasions of offense as constantly present themselves to us, who is there that would not despond, or turn aside from the way, were it not that, by thinking of a better life he is by this means kept in the fear of God? Now, on the other hand, he intimates, that if the hope of a resurrection is taken away, then, the foundation (as it were) being rooted up, the whole structure of piety falls to the ground.21 Unquestionably, if the hope of reward is taken away and extinguished, alacrity in running will not merely grow cold, but will be altogether destroyed.