Any study of eschatology will lead to a study of the resurrection, and any study of the resurrection will lead to 1 Corinthians 15. Thus in these two articles we wish to give attention to this most important chapter. It is often said that 1 Corinthians 15 is the most embarrassing and difficult chapter for those who advocate realized covenantal eschatology, and is the most detrimental chapter in all scripture to this view. Here we will seek to show that such is not the case at all. While there is much more that could be said, in these two articles we want to focus our attention on the nature of the Corinthian denial and the bodily resurrection that Paul teaches. We will present some challenging questions to our traditional view which we request answers for from those who advocate it and condemn covenant eschatology as a false and even dangerous doctrine.
The Corinthian Denial in 1 Corinthians 15
A study of any passage of scripture must begin by setting the proper stage in order to get the full context. Just as God labored ~1500 years with Israel in order to set the stage for Christ, so too must we labor to get the background and historical context of a passage in order to set the proper stage for our study thereof.
A common challenge before us in studying 1 Corinthians is to understand the background. Paul deals with questions they had asked him and problems he and they were intimately aware of. Paul had both visited Corinth and written a prior letter to them which has not been preserved for us, and they had written back to him. (1 Cor.5:9; 7:1) Exegetes have often struggled to understand the exact nature of various problems Paul dealt with. While this presents some challenges, we do nonetheless have enough revealed and preserved for us to gather the pertinent information needed to understand the key matters addressed in this epistle.
What were some in Corinth denying in chapter 15? Obviously they were denying “the resurrection of the dead”, but this alone does not tell us exactly what they believed and denied for there was another group (the Sadducees) who denied the resurrection, yet there are differences between what the Sadducees believed and what “some” in Corinth believed on this topic.
Paul deals with the Corinthian error (particularly in verses 12-19) by using a line of argumentation known as “modus tollens”. Modus tollens argues “if P, then Q. If you don’t believe Q, you cannot believe P, for Q is an inescapable logical consequence of P.” In other words, Paul presents a series of consequences to their doctrine which they would find objectionable, but which logically must follow from that which they believed. The objectionable consequences to their belief were: Christ is not risen, our preaching is empty and your faith is empty, you are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. All of these were logical consequences to “if the dead rise not” and Paul shows them these consequences to bring to light the error of their teaching. As the Corinthians would have found these consequences objectionable, we find that they believed: Christ is risen, the apostles preaching is not empty, their faith is not empty, they are not still in their sins, and those fallen asleep in Christ have not perished. There were some who said “there is no resurrection of the dead” but would not accept the logical inescapable consequences thereof.
Upon seeing this we can discern a key difference between the Sadducees and “some” in Corinth. Though both the Sadducees and some in Corinth said “there is no resurrection” (Mt.22:23; Mk.12:18; Acts 23:8; 1 Cor.15:12), those in Corinth believed in continued existence after death which the Sadducees denied. The Sadducees not only denied the resurrection, but also denied the existence of angels and spirits. (Acts 23:8) They denied the existence of anything other-worldly such as continued life beyond the grave. This is why Jesus refuted the Sadducees by appealing not to instances in the OT where someone physically dead was raised, but rather appealing to the burning bush passage (Ex.3) which proved continued life beyond biological death (Mt.22:23-33; Mk. 12:18-27; Lk.20:27-40).
In doing this, Jesus affirmed (and proved from scripture) what the Sadducees denied. Paul does not use the same line of argumentation against “some” in Corinth as Jesus used against the Sadducees because this argument would not disprove their belief. The argument Jesus used proved continued life beyond the grave, but in this the Corinthians already believed, for to say otherwise was one of the objectionable consequences Paul raises which they would not accept.
This shows that there was a difference between what the Sadducees believed and what “some” in Corinth believed concerning the resurrection. Thus simply saying “there is no resurrection” in and of itself does not tell us exactly what this group in Corinth believed. We must search a little further in scripture to discern fully what the nature of the Corinthian denial was.
I believe a fuller understanding of the Corinthian denial can be ascertained by comparing what Paul says here to what he says in Romans (particularly chapters 5-11). However, as there is more meat in the Roman letter than we can get into at this juncture, I will seek to show and defend from scripture my belief as to what the Corinthian denial was aside from what we see in Romans.
I ask you to consider the possibility that the biggest error and controversy we find in Corinth (the denial of the resurrection of the dead) may very well be one and the same with the biggest error and controversy we find everywhere else in the New Testament. Without question the biggest controversy we find in the New Testament centers around Jew/gentile dissention. While Jews in large part accepted gentiles, many of them at the same time compelled them to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15). In other words, they believed you had to go through Moses in order to get to Jesus. After 1500 years of circumcision and Law-keeping, the teaching that Gentiles could be saved apart from these things was very difficult for Jews to accept. On the other hand, many gentiles saw hardened rebellious Israel still clinging to the Law of Moses and saw Paul’s tremendous success among the gentiles, from which it was easy to conclude that Israel had been cast away, left behind in the past, dead in sin. (This is the main thrust of what Paul deals with in Romans 9-11.) Paul confronts both of these errors. Paul’s aim was to show that Israel had not been cast away, and neither did gentiles have to go through Moses to get to Jesus, but rather the message of the gospel is that of uniting both Jew and gentile as one in Christ Jesus.
Do we find this controversy in Corinth? We most certainly do. The church at Corinth had more issues than any other church we read of in the New Testament. It would seem strange indeed if a church fraught with so many other issues somehow managed to avoid the one issue that plagued so many others.
We find Paul ministering at Corinth in Acts 18:1-17. There were both Jews and gentiles present that he reasoned with in the synagogue every Sabbath. Some of the hardened rebellious Jews opposed Paul’s teaching that Jesus is the Christ which caused Paul to depart from the Jews there and go to the gentiles. It indeed would have been easy for some of the gentiles in Corinth to see this and conclude that after 1500 years the Jews are now being rejected for their rebellion and God is now concerned primarily with having a relationship with gentiles. Paul continued to labor with the gentiles there for 18 months, after which the Jews were angered and rose up against Paul. Some of the gentiles responded to this by beating the ruler of the synagogue. Indeed, we see much Jew/gentile dissention in Corinth.
When Paul wrote his letter to them, we find divisions among them in chapter 1. Among these divisions were those who said “I am of Cephas” and others who said “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos”. Why were these men (Cephas, Paul, and Apollos) mentioned? Why was no one saying “I am of James”, or “I am of Philip”, etc. Specifically, why were some of them saying “I am of Cephas”? Cephas (the apostle Peter) as far as we know never went to Corinth. How then could some of them say they were of Cephas? It is significant that we have mentioned here the apostle to the Jews (Peter) and the apostle to the gentiles (Paul, and his fellow laborer Apollos). Knowing that there were Jews present in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), and that there were some who were saying “I am of Peter” (the apostle to the Jews), and since as far as we know Peter never went to Corinth, it seems that the “I am of Cephas” group were the Jews who said in essence “I am a Jew, Peter is the apostle to the Jews, thus he is my apostle and I am of him.” If this be the case, then not only was there dissention between Jews and gentiles at Corinth, but this served as the primary basis of the divisions that were among them. There were certain Jews saying “I am of Cephas”, certain gentiles saying “I am of Paul or Apollos”, and certain others that got it right and saw no distinction between Jew and gentile and thus said “I am of Christ.”
Furthermore, we find elements of the Acts 15 Jerusalem conference in 1 Corinthians. The Acts 15 Jerusalem conference met over the issue of whether or not gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. The result was the decision that they did not need to do so, but that they were to “abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20) Do we find any of these elements in 1 Corinthians? Indeed we do. Paul deals with whether or not one needs to be circumcised in 7:19. He deals with the eating of things offered to idols throughout chapter 8, and again in chapter 10. He urges them to refrain from sexual immorality numerous placed (5:1-9, 6:13-18, 10:8, and more). It is evident that Paul taught them the same things that were decided at the Jerusalem conference, and he did so to confront the same issues that the Jerusalem conference confronted. This shows us yet further how much Jew/gentile controversy there was in Corinth, just as there was almost everywhere else we find in the New Testament.
As Jew/gentile dissention was the biggest controversy in the New Testament, and as Jew/gentile dissention was present in Corinth, we ought not to be surprised to find that the biggest error in Corinth (those who denied the resurrection of the dead) was centered in such dissention. I believe this is the case, but before we proceed to look at the Corinthian denial, one more point needs to be shown which our traditional view denies: the centrality of Israel in Biblical eschatology.
In teaching the resurrection, Paul affirmed “all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14) and “no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come” (Acts 26:22). If we are still hoping in the resurrection and our hope for it and teaching of it is not “all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” and “no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come”, then we are not preaching the same resurrection Paul preached! For Paul, the resurrection is not a new promise, but the fulfillment of an old promise which God made to Israel.
It was for his teaching on the resurrection that Paul was bound in Acts 24:27 and he affirmed in 28:20 “for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain”. How could Paul have said he was bound for the hope of Israel when in reality he was bound for his teaching on the resurrection? Because for Paul “resurrection of the dead” and “hope of Israel” are synonymous terms. Resurrection was the hope of Israel and the hope of Israel was resurrection. Thus for certain gentiles to say “there is no resurrection of the dead” was to say “there is no hope of Israel”. This is precisely what I believe the Corinthian denial was. “Resurrection of the dead” and “the hope of Israel” are synonymous terms in Paul’s theology even to the extent that you could replace “resurrection of the dead” with “the hope of Israel” in 1 Corinthians 15.
With this let us look at chapter 15 where we find that there are “some” who said there is “no resurrection of the dead?” Who are the “some” who denied this? Would it be the “some” that said “I am of Cephas”, the “some” that said “I am of Paul”, or perhaps another “some” altogether? As part of Paul’s argumentation to refute this error involved debasing himself, it would seem that the “some” who said “there is no resurrection of the dead” were the “some” who said “I am of Paul”. Paul argues against them saying in essence: “Guys, don’t say you are of me, for I am the least of all the apostles, not even worthy to be called an apostle. You think I’m something great because of the tremendous success I’m having while Peter is back in Jerusalem with law-observing Jews? Not so! I am nothing great, but all that you see in my success is not my work, but that of the Lord who works in me, and Peter and I are one, preaching the same gospel, not one for the Jews and one for the gentiles.”
It is in the light of seeing the Jew/gentile controversy at Corinth that I believe an accurate understanding of the Corinthian denial of the resurrection can be seen. There were certain gentiles who were devout followers of Paul and saw Israel as being cast away, left behind, dead in sin. They viewed the church as the displacement rather than the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Contrary to this, Paul saw that the resurrection was the hope of Israel. Thus to deny resurrection was to deny the hope of Israel, and to deny the hope of Israel would be to strip the gospel of its purpose, for Christ came to fulfill the promises of God made unto the patriarchs (Rom.15:8-9) and it is only in so doing that the gentiles have any basis of salvation at all for they are partakers in Israel’s spiritual things (Rom.15:27). Gentiles were not members of their own covenant, but of Israel’s New Covenant (Heb.8:8-13). If God does not keep His promise to Israel, then the gentiles are left with nothing for everything they were receiving was the fulfillment of Old Testament promise.
I believe this is exactly what the Corinthian denial was. There were certain gentiles who were denying resurrection life to OT Israel. The error of their denial was that Christ Himself was born of Israel under the Old Covenant (Gal.4:4) to which He died and was raised as the first member of the New Covenant (Rom.8:29; Col.1:15-18). This is the primary applied meaning of Christ’s resurrection in which He was the first to be born into the New Covenant. It is death to the Old Covenant and resurrected life in the New Covenant that was the focus of Christ’s death and resurrection, thus the thrust of His death and resurrection is rooted in the changing of the covenants. Similarly, the saints of Old had to die to the Old Covenant and be reborn under the New Covenant (as Paul affirms they would be in Romans 11) in order to receive salvation. However, some in Corinth missed this point and instead saw Israel as being cast aside with no hope. Yet Paul affirms they were not without hope. They had hope, and their hope, the hope of Israel, was resurrection from sin-death into a restored right relationship with God. (Of course many, likely the majority, missed the point that their promised resurrection would be deliverance from sin-death and saw it instead in terms of national restoration. Thus they killed Jesus for offering a spiritual kingdom, much as they persecuted Paul for the resurrection He taught, for both Jesus and Paul preached spiritual realities which were not what the Jews wanted.)
Let us return now to the modus tollens of Paul and see if our traditional view or the view presented here is more in harmony with such line of argumentation Paul presents. One of the key arguments Paul makes is “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen”. If our traditional view is correct, then Paul is saying “if there will not be a literal resurrection of the bodies of everyone who has ever lived at the end of time, then the logical necessity is that Christ was not raised.” If this sort of resurrection is in view here, then it must be shown that to deny a literal resurrection of all physically dead bodies of all time logically and inescapably leads to a denial of Christ’s resurrection. How so? Where is the logic in this? Denying the biological resurrection of others does not necessitate denying the biological resurrection of Jesus any more than denying others working various miracles would deny that Jesus did. Would it be a logical argument to say “if we will not one day walk on water, then Christ did not walk on water” or “if we will not one day turn water to wine, then neither did Jesus turn water to wine”? Surely we can see the lack of logic in such statements. Be it walking on water, changing water to wine, raising the dead, feeding the 5000, or any other miracle you wish to insert here, it is not a logical argument in the least to say that if we one day will not do these things then neither did Christ do them. If we can see this with every other miracle Jesus worked, why can we not see it with the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection? Thus “if the dead rise not then Christ is not risen” is not a logical argument if biological resurrection is in view. Therefore, if our traditional view is correct then Paul didn’t use much logic in is argumentation.
Let’s look at it now from the standpoint of the view presented here and test if we can see the inspired logic behind Paul’s line of argumentation. In this view Paul twice states that if there is no resurrection (which remember for Paul is synonymous with the hope of Israel) then Christ is not raised. Is this a logical argument based on what we know from scripture? Absolutely! Jesus came to confirm the promises of God made unto the patriarchs of Israel (Rom.15:8-9) and indeed resurrection was the greatest among these promises (Acts 26:6-8). It was for the nation of Israel that Christ died and was raised (John 11:50-51). Thus to deny salvation (resurrection from sin-death) for Israel is to make void and empty the promises of God. If the promises of God declared unto Israel are made void, then the gentiles are left with nothing for the salvation they had was by partaking in Israel’s spiritual things (Rom.15:27), thus “if there is no resurrection of the dead (hope of salvation for Israel), then Christ is not risen, for this is the very purpose for which He came. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile (for if Christ is not risen, then the purpose for which He died and raised (to save His people, Israel) is not fulfilled, and you gentiles are left with nothing, and thus)); you are still in your sins!”
I believe that the logic of Paul was both inspired and perfect, but I cannot see how his line of argumentation harmonizes with our traditional view.
A key question our traditional view must answer is: did Jesus succeed in what He came to do? He came to fulfill the promises of God made to Israel (Rom.15:8-9) and resurrection was one of those promises (Acts 26:6-8). Thus if the resurrection has not occurred, then Jesus did not succeed in what He came to do! Consider the following two syllogisms:
Major Premise: Christ came to fulfill God’s promises made to the fathers of Israel. (Rom.15:8-9)
Minor Premise: Resurrection was one of the major promises God made to Israel. (Acts 26:6-8)
Conclusion: Christ came to fulfill the resurrection.
The next syllogism is a sorties argument, which is where we take the conclusion from the previous syllogism and make it the major premise of the next syllogism.
Major Premise: Christ came to fulfill the resurrection.
Minor Premise: The resurrection has not occurred. (Our traditional view)
Conclusion: Jesus failed in His mission.
Our traditional view (when carried to its logical conclusion, which fortunately few if any do) challenges the deity of Christ! Yet covenant eschatology is labeled as a “dangerous doctrine”?!?!
Let us test this view against other possibilities of what the denial may have been. The question before us in understanding the Corinthian denial of the resurrection is both what and who. What type of resurrection (physical, spiritual, or both) was being denied, and for whom (Israel, gentiles, all, or all but Christ) was it being denied? Here are all the possibilities of what some in Corinth were denying.
1. Spiritual affirmed but physical denied for all.
2. Spiritual affirmed but physical denied for all but Christ.
3. Spiritual affirmed but physical denied for gentiles.
4. Spiritual affirmed but physical denied for Israel.
5. Physical affirmed but spiritual denied for all.
affirmed but spiritual denied for all but Christ.
7. Physical affirmed but spiritual denied for gentiles.
8. Physical affirmed but spiritual denied for Israel.
9. Both Physical and Spiritual denied for all.
10. Both Physical and Spiritual denied for all but Christ.
11. Both Physical and Spiritual denied for gentiles.
12. Both Physical and Spiritual denied for Israel.
Paul refutes their denial by presenting a series of logical conclusions thereof which the Corinthians would not accept. Therefore by examining the objectionable consequences of their belief we can easily rule out most of these options.
They believed Christ had been raised. In this fundamental truth they stood, and denying Christ’s resurrection was an objectionable consequence to them. From this we can rule out options 1, 5, and 9.
They did not deny their own salvation, or spiritual resurrection, as such was another objectionable consequence Paul offered. From this we can rule out options 6-7 and 10-11, and again 1, 5, and 9.
Their denial was not “the dead are only raised spiritually, not physically” but rather “there is no resurrection of the dead”. They did not believe “the dead” would experience any sort of resurrection at all. Thus any view that has them affirming one sort of resurrection while denying another can be thrown out, thus options 1-9 are all eliminated.
Option 12 is the only view left that fits and harmonizes with what we find in Paul’s line of argumentation.
No matter how hard we try, there is no way we can separate Israel from all Paul dealt with in 1 Cor.15 as for Paul the resurrection and the hope of Israel are synonymous. Until we recognize the centrality of Israel in Biblical eschatology, we will not ascertain an accurate understanding thereof and the wonderful truth taught in what we often term “difficult passages” will continue to evade us. (The “difficult passages” are most often the ones that don’t fit well in our paradigm. It’s not necessarily that the passage is difficult, but that we’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Once our paradigm is in alignment with scripture, so many of these once “difficult passages” will come to light in a very glorious way.)
In closing let us summarize what we have seen. We have seen that the biggest controversy in all scripture was that of Jew/gentile dissention. We have seen that this was very much an issue in Corinth, and thus we ought not to be surprised that it served as the basis for their biggest error. We have seen that the most likely candidate for the “some” in Corinth who were denying the resurrection were the gentiles who said “I am of Paul”. We have seen that in Paul’s theology “the resurrection of the dead” is synonymous with “the hope of Israel”. Thus there were some gentiles in Corinth who were denying the hope of Israel. Paul refutes them by humbling himself and showing them that without Israel they are left with nothing for all they have is coming through God confirming in Christ the promises made unto them.
There is much more we have not seen but could see by comparing Paul’s statements here to his virtually identical statements in Romans. I urge you at this point to read through 1 Cor.15 followed by a reading of Romans (especially chapters 5-11) and take note of the parallels.
As I conclude this article I present three questions to those who disagree with realized eschatology:
1-Did Jesus come to fulfill the promises God made to the fathers of Israel? (Rom.15:8-9)
2-Was resurrection among those promises? (Acts 26:6-8)
3-Did Jesus succeed in what He came to do?
Somatic Change in 1 Corinthians 15
It is often objected that covenant eschatology cannot be true because it denies a bodily resurrection which Paul clearly taught. In this article we hope to give attention to this objection and to Paul’s teaching on the resurrection.
While it is true that covenant eschatology denies that scripture teaches the literal end of time resurrection of the bodies of all who have ever lived, it is not true that we deny a “bodily resurrection”. We affirm that Paul taught a bodily resurrection, we just do not believe our literal flesh and blood bodies are what the apostle had in mind. In this study we will examine the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:35ff where Paul addressed the question “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’”
As noted in the previous article, we believe the nature of the Corinthian denial was that of Jew/gentile dissention. Certain gentiles saw themselves as the displacement rather than the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (“the dead” whose resurrection life was being denied) and were concluding that God had left Israel behind in the past, dead in sin, never to be redeemed. This understanding will factor into our study here of bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Please see the previous article for information on this.
It bears mentioning that our traditional view of the resurrection consistently speaks of “bodies” whereas Paul spoke of “body”. Consider the following passages:
“But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body (singular) do they (plural) come?” (1 Cor.15:35)
“Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our (plural) body (singular).” (Rom.8:23)
“who will transform our (plural) lowly body (singular) that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
Paul made a big deal about singular versus plural in Gal.3:16. Would he then turn around and repeatedly be so careless as to how he used the singular and plural in regards to the resurrection? I’d rather think that we are the ones that have been careless in not closely observing how Paul writes. In teaching the resurrection Paul speaks of the redemption of a singular collective body which has multiple members.
The Greek word here is “soma” which certainly can refer to the physical body (Rom.1:24;,1 Cor.7:4; 1 Cor.13:3; Col.2:23) but more often (particularly in Paul’s writings) does not. (Rom.6:6; Rom.7:24; Rom.8:10; Rom.12:4-5; 1 Cor.10:16-17; 1 Cor.12:12-27; Eph.2:16; Eph.4:4, 12, & 16; Eph.5:23&30; Col.1:18; Col.2:11; Col.3:15)
Again, the question is “with what body (singular) do they (plural) come?” The reference is to one body, not to multiple individual bodies. Scripture often speaks of the “body of Christ” but also speaks of the “body of sin” (Rom.6:6, Col.2:11) and “body of death” (Rom.7:24). Paul’s “body of death” in Rom.7:24 is the body defined by existence under the Old Law of which he has been speaking throughout the chapter. In Pauline theology “body” or “soma” most often refers to man’s mode of existence as determined by his covenantal relationship with God, not to man’s physiological make-up.
One is either in the body of Christ or a body of sin and death. Knowing this, and knowing that Israel of old was not a part of the body of Christ, the gentiles could have asked “with what body do they come?” In other words, they lived under the Old Covenant and thus were not a part of the body of Christ, so if there is no salvation outside of the body of Christ, if in fact they will be raised out of sin-death, how so? Paul concludes that this is a foolish question. The fact that they were dead in sin under the Old Covenant does not mean they will be excluded from the promises that were made to them and whose hope you are participating in, but rather, just as a seed dies and rises, so to shall the elect of Israel be raised out of sin-death and into a right relationship with God.
As noted in the previous article, the parallels between 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans are many and impressive. While we will not delve fully into Romans, we do wish at this point to give special attention to Paul’s use of “body”. Few if any deny that the resurrection of 1 Cor.15 is seen also in Rom.8 (note v.23). Thus if we can discern Paul’s teaching on the matter in Romans, we will go a long way towards understanding the bodily resurrection of 1 Cor.15.
In Rom.7, Paul recounts his former life in Judaism and shows the impossibility of attaining righteousness under the Old Covenant. Although the Old Covenant was holy and just and good (v.12), it was not able to save. What it did was manifest man’s problem of sin and complete inability to save himself, even when shown the way (v.13). It is within the context of Paul describing life under the Old Covenant that he laments in verse 24 “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” That Paul has not switched topics but is still speaking of life under the old covenant is evident by the following verses (on into chapter 8) where he speaks of life in the new covenant. What Paul was yearning for then was full consummated deliverance from the old covenant.
At this point it will be objected that Paul could not have been yearning for deliverance from the old covenant, for the old covenant had already passed away. While this is another (though closely related) matter which we cannot delve into fully at this juncture, we do need to make a couple of comments on it here. First, passages often used to teach that the law had passed at this point actually teach no such thing. Col.2:13-15 for example does no
t say that the law had passed, but that those in Christ had no obligation to keep the law for they had been delivered from it. Similarly, in Romans 7 Paul does not say that the law had died, but that they had died to the law. In Heb.8:13, the Hebrew writer speaks of the old covenant as that which had grown old and was ready (“eggus”, study how this term is used consistently throughout the New Testament) to vanish away. Finally (and more to the point of what we are seeing in Romans) Paul spoke of the passing of the old covenant and full establishment of the new in 2 Cor.3:11, and in verse 12 he states “therefore, having such hope…” As Paul was still hoping for this covenantal change, it was not yet complete. Just as Paul hoped for this in 2 Cor.3, he yearns in Romans 7 for deliverance from the body of death, which is in the context of life under the old law. What Paul calls the body of death in Rom.7:24 he calls the ministry of death in 2 Cor.3:7. Again, the parallels between Paul’s letter to the Romans and his letters to the Corinthians are clear and impressive.
If Paul is not speaking of life under the old covenant in verse 24, what body is he speaking of? In the context he has not been speaking at all about life in his physical body, but about life under the old covenant. To claim that the physical body is in view here not only breaks from the context, but also means that we must be delivered from our physical body in order to have victory in Jesus. Such a view as this is Gnostic to say the least.
We’ll return later to look at Rom.7:25, but for now let us ignore the man-made chapter division and march on into chapter 8. In the first four verses, Paul talks about deliverance from the old covenant and righteousness in Christ under the new covenant. It would seem strange indeed for Paul to speak of this immediately after yearning for deliverance from the “body of death” if there is no connection between the two. In speaking of life under the new covenant Paul affirms in verse 10 “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Seeing our physical bodies in this verse necessitates that one must die physically before Christ can be in him. This again is a Gnostic view, seeing the physical body as essentially evil and needing to be done away with before one can have life and righteousness in Christ. Instead, let us keep with the context of Paul. He has spoken of life under the old covenant as a body of death, and is speaking now of deliverance from the old covenant and life in the new covenant. Thus when Paul says “if Christ is in you, the body is dead” it is the same as saying “the veil is taken away in Christ” (2 Cor.3:14) or “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor.5:17). As Paul has been speaking of law observance but now speaks of freedom in Christ, this statement can also be seen as one and the same with his statement in Galatians 6:15 (a letter that is all about deliverance from the law) “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” Paul is saying the same thing in 8:10 as he said in 7:6, that those in Christ had died to the law (the body of death, v.24).
In 8:13 Paul says “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” In this verse living according to the flesh and the deeds of the body are synonymous. In keeping with the context of Paul, he is not speaking of our physical bodies, but life under the old covenant which he refers to as living “according to the flesh”.
“Flesh” and “spirit” in Paul’s theology are terms often used to describe that which is possible with man versus that which is possible with God. For example, he says Ishmael was born after the flesh, but Isaac after the spirit (Gal.4:21-31). Isaac had a flesh and blood body just as much as Ishmael did. Ishmael, however, was born according to man’s power when Abraham knew Hagar and conceived him whereas Isaac was born according to God’s power when Sarah conceived though she was past age. Earlier in the same epistle (in which Paul was dealing with Christians who were being deceived by Judaizers to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses) Paul said “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal.3:3) In Phillipians 3:3-4 Paul recalls his former conduct in Judaism as that which was “in the flesh”. (Notice how this ties in to his teaching of the resurrection later in the chapter.)
Paul speaks in this same manner in Romans. He says that Abraham was not found “according to the flesh” (Rom.4:1) even though he had a physical body of flesh. In the context Paul is saying Abraham was not justified by his own works, but that of God when he placed his faith in Him. Paul speaks in Romans 7:5 of “when we were in the flesh”. Clearly Paul is not saying he had put off his physical flesh and blood body but rather, as we have seen, is talking about life under the old covenant wherein righteousness was only in man’s ability to keep law perfectly. He affirms that in such fleshly existence there is no good thing (v.18) for though he wants to keep the law perfectly, he is not able. It is this same fleshly existence that he deals with throughout chapter 8. Thus in Rom.8:13, Paul is speaking of deliverance from the old covenant and life in the new covenant. When we view Romans 8 in the context of all he has been saying in chapter 7, we find that Paul is speaking of covenantal change in terms of bodily resurrection. He then states in verse 23 that he is eagerly awaiting “the redemption of our body”. As with 1 Cor.15:35 Paul does not say “the redemption of our bodies” but rather “the redemption of our body”. Again, he is speaking of the redemption of one collective body, not multiple individual bodies. In the following verses in Romans 8 Paul identifies this as his hope, just as he does in 2 Cor.3:11-12. Within the context of the covenantal change Paul is talking about in Romans 7-8, it both breaks from his flow of thought and causes several strange and contradictory statements to make his use of “body” refer to our literal physical bodies.
scussed in the previous article, the nature of the Corinthian denial was that of certain gentiles seeing Israel as left behind dead in sin. It is interesting, therefore, to see the parallels in Romans 7-8 and then read on into chapters 9-11 where Paul deals with the destiny of Israel.
With that let us return to 1 Cor.15. We have seen in Romans that Paul dealt with the doing away of the “body of death” and receiving the gloried spiritual body. This is exactly what Paul says in 1 Cor.15. The “body” that is being sewn in 1 Cor.15 is the “body of death” in Rom.7:24, which is the body, or mode of existence, as determined by life under the Old Covenant. Paul likens the dying and rising of this body to the sewing of a seed. You do not sew a dead seed, but a live seed. In the process, the seed dies and the plant rises. Paul lived at a time of covenantal transition in which the old covenant body of death was being sewn and the new body of life and righteousness was coming to life. The dying and the rising are concurrent rather than chronological actions. If this refers to biological death and resurrection, then in order to keep with Paul’s analogy we’d have to be buried alive, then start to die, and start to be raised at the same time. Again, our traditional view is at odds with the inspired argumentation of Paul. Just as the dying and rising of a seed are simultaneous, so too was the somatic change (the changing from the Old Covenant body of death to the New Covenant body of life). The Old Covenant, the ministry of death (2 Cor.3:7) or body of death (Rom.7:24) was in the process of being fulfilled after which it would vanish away (Heb.8:13). So too was there a futuristic perspective to the completed establishment of Israel’s New Covenant (Rom.11:26-27). Thus covenantal change is what Paul refers to in his saying “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” (v.44)
Paul’s answer to the question “with what body do they (Israel) come” is that though the elect of Israel existed for 1500 years in a body of sin and death, yet now Jew and gentile are being made one in the body of Christ. This is the main thrust of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Unity is the key word in Ephesians, and the primary unity he deals with is that of Jew and gentile being united as one in the body of Christ. Thus Paul states in Eph.2:14-16 “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” Though there is certainly an “already” in what Paul speaks, there is also a “not yet” as this work is tied to the work of the apostles which had not yet completed (v.19-22). The “not yet” is also seen in chapter 4 verses 11-16 where Paul speaks of the same unity and the same “one new man” as he did in 2:15, and in chapter 4 we see the role the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit played in bringing this one new man (which was born in infancy on Pentecost) to a state of maturity.
Finally, let us look at the victory in Jesus that Paul closes 1 Cor.15 with. We would do well to give attention to the prophecies of Hosea 13 and Isaiah 25 which Paul quotes from and ties directly to the resurrection, saying the time of their ultimate fulfillment will be the time of the resurrection of which he speaks. However, for the sake of brevity we will forego such at this time and give attention to Paul’s statement in verses 56-57: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Per verse 56, when the law is removed the strength of sin is removed, and when the strength of sin is removed the sting of death is removed. Therefore we must give attention to which law Paul speaks of here, for the time of its passing would be the time of the resurrection.
Paul uses the phrase “the law” often in his writings, and when it is not modified (such as in Rom.8:2 where he speaks of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”) he consistently speaks of the old covenant, the Law of Moses. One of the most common basic and universally accepted rules of hermeneutics is that a word or phrase is to be given its most common meaning unless the context dictates otherwise. Here the only thing that dictates otherwise is our zeal to uphold our traditional view. The common usage of the term as used by Paul demands that he is speaking of the time of the end of the Old Law as the time of the resurrection.
In order to maintain our traditional view, the law Paul speaks of here would have to be the law of Christ. The law of Christ is the gospel. Is the gospel the strength of sin? God forbid! The gospel is that which delivers us from sin! It is the Old Law that was the strength of sin. It was the ministry of sin-death (2 Cor.3:7) which entered that the offense of sin might abound (Rom.5:20) and it was through it that sin became exceedingly sinful (Rom.7:13). We have ample evidence in scripture that the Old Law was the strength of sin. Paul speaks of deliverance from the law as victory that Jesus gives. But if the New Law is what is under consideration here then we must first lose the victory we have now in the gospel in order to receive the greater victory when we’re finally delivered from the gospel. Furthermore, to make the law that is the strength of sin in 1 Cor.15:56 the New Law (the gospel of Jesus Christ) would mean that we must be delivered from the gospel in order to have resurrection life, thus Christ has to return to destroy what He died to establish. What a dilemma! Does this not undermine the gospel? And yet it is covenant eschatology that is a “dangerous doctrine”?!?!
Finally, let us notice one last comparison between 1 Cor.15 and Romans. Notice that just as Paul anticipated deliverance from the “body of death” as defined by his mode of existence under the law (Rom.7:24) Paul says the same thing in 1 Cor. 15:57
as he says in Rom.7:25. In both places he spoke of the same victory in Jesus, and in both places he speaks of full consummated deliverance from the law. These parallels (and so many more) between Romans and 1 Corinthians 15 are impressive and significant.
One cannot enter into such an understanding as this without rejoicing over the victory we have in Jesus. This is not a prospective victory, but a fulfilled victory over sin for all those in Christ, which fulfillment Paul tied to the changing of the covenants (as we have shown) and which he saw in his day on the immediate horizon (Rom.13:11-12). What a tragedy that so many Christians are anxiously awaiting the end of the world and the end of the Christian age that Jesus established in order to have completed victory in Him. When we awaken to the blessed truth of fulfilled eschatology then we can truly sing “oh victory in Jesus, my savior forever!”