if you hold firmly to the good news: The resurrection, part of “the primary doctrine” of Christianity, was under attack in Corinth. (Heb 6:1, 2) Some were arguing that “there is no resurrection of the dead.” (1Co 15:12) Paul drew attention to those who said: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” (1Co 15:32) He may have been quoting Isa 22:13, but those words well reflected the thinking of people influenced by such Greek philosophers as Epicurus, who denied that there was life after death. (Ac 17:32; see study note on 1Co 15:32.) Or some in the congregation who were of Jewish background may have been influenced by the beliefs of the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. (Mr 12:18) Another possibility is that some felt that living Christians had already experienced some kind of spiritual resurrection. (2Ti 2:16-18) If the Corinthians failed to “hold firmly to the good news,” they would become believers for nothing—their hope would not be fulfilled.—See study note on 1Co 15:12.
Cephas: Cephas is another name for Peter. (See study note on 1Co 1:12.) Before Jesus appeared to the disciples as a group, he appeared to Peter—apparently when Peter was alone. (Lu 24:34) Peter must have been greatly comforted by this personal visit, during which he no doubt received needed direction and assurance that he had been forgiven for denying Jesus three times.—See study note on Mr 16:7.
the Twelve: The appearance “to the Twelve” mentioned here seems to be the one recorded at Joh 20:26-29, which involved Thomas. If that is the case, “the Twelve” was here a designation referring to the apostles as a group, even if one or two were absent. (Joh 20:24; Ac 6:1-6) Jesus’ appearance no doubt helped them to overcome their fear and to become bold witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.
he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time: Since most of Jesus’ followers were in Galilee, it may have been on the occasion described at Mt 28:16-20 that the resurrected Jesus appeared to “more than 500 brothers.” (See study note on Mt 28:16.) This group apparently included the women who were told by an angel that the resurrected Jesus would appear to them in Galilee. (Mt 28:7) Most of those who had been present were still alive in 55 C.E. when Paul composed this first inspired letter to the Corinthians. So Paul was telling those who doubted Jesus’ resurrection that there were living eyewitnesses who could personally attest to it as an established fact.
have fallen asleep in death: See study note on Ac 7:60.
James: The James mentioned here is likely the son of Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, and Jesus’ natural mother, Mary. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, James apparently was not a believer. (Joh 7:5) Paul likely here refers to a personal appearance that Jesus made to James, which seems to have helped convince James that his older brother truly was the Messiah. James became a believer and perhaps played a role in converting his other brothers.—Ac 1:13, 14.
as if to one born prematurely: Paul apparently refers to his own experience when he was still known as Saul. When Saul had a vision of Jesus in heavenly glory, it was as if Saul had been granted the honor of being born, or resurrected, to spirit life ahead of time, centuries before that resurrection was to occur. This experience abruptly halted Saul’s course of murderous opposition to the Christian congregation and brought about a remarkable change in him. (Ac 9:3-9, 17-19) He became the apostle Paul, one of the foremost defenders of the Christian faith. Because of this unique vision, Paul was able to add his own experience as a witness to the list of many other witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.—1Co 15:6-10.
by God’s undeserved kindness I am what I am: Paul here humbly acknowledges that he could not take credit for whatever he had accomplished in Jehovah’s service. He emphasizes the point by mentioning God’s “undeserved kindness” three times in this verse. (See Glossary, “Undeserved kindness.”) That emphasis provides the context for Paul’s statement that he labored more than all of them, meaning the other apostles. Paul appreciated God’s mercy in choosing him, a former persecutor of Christians, to become an apostle. (1Ti 1:12-16) To show his gratitude, Paul labored with the utmost intensity to carry out his assignment. He traveled vast distances over land and sea to spread the good news, establishing numerous congregations. In connection with his ministry, Paul was inspired to write 14 letters that became part of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Jehovah also blessed him with the gift of speaking in tongues; with visions; and with the ability to perform other miracles, including a resurrection. (Ac 20:7-10; 1Co 14:18; 2Co 12:1-5) Paul viewed all his service and these blessings as undeserved kindness from Jehovah.
some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead: If this teaching were true, those who died with the hope of living again on earth would remain dead forever. (Mt 22:31, 32; Joh 11:23, 24; see study note on 1Co 15:2.) Anointed Christians could not go to heaven because they first had to die so that they could be resurrected as spirit persons. (1Co 15:35-38; see study notes on 1Co 15:36, 38.) Paul noted that if the resurrection were not a reality, the Christian faith would then be in vain, without purpose. (1Co 15:13, 14) So he staunchly defended the resurrection hope, focusing here on the hope of anointed Christians.
resurrection: See study note on Mt 22:23.
if Christ has not been raised up: The resurrection hope is part of the foundation of the Christian faith, a “primary doctrine.” (Heb 6:1, 2) If Jesus had not been resurrected, he could not have carried out one very important aspect of his work as High Priest, that of presenting the value of his ransom sacrifice to Jehovah in heaven. (Heb 9:24) Christ’s resurrection is also inseparably linked to some other basic Bible teachings, including those about God’s sovereignty, His name, His Kingdom, and the salvation of humans.—Ps 83:18; Mt 6:9, 10; Heb 5:8, 9.
we are also found to be false witnesses of God: Paul here highlights a further implication of denying the resurrection. If that teaching were false, then Paul and his fellow preachers spoke lies, not only about the resurrection of Jesus but also about the one to whom they attributed that miracle, Jehovah God.
you remain in your sins: Another implication of denying the resurrection is that if Christ had not been raised up, it would mean that no ransom had been paid to God. In such a case, imperfect humans would remain in their sins, without any hope of redemption or salvation.—Ro 3:23, 24; 1Co 15:3; Heb 9:11-14.
have perished: If the resurrection hope were untrue, it would mean that Christians who had died—in some cases as martyrs—had perished forever, misled by the false hope that they would be resurrected.
we are to be pitied more than anyone: The apostle Paul and other Christians had suffered loss, experienced persecution, endured hardship, and faced death because they believed in the resurrection. If the resurrection hope had no basis, then Christians were the most pitiable of all people. Paul’s words here are at the end of a list of negative statements that would have been true if Christ had not been resurrected. (1Co 15:13-19) But Paul clearly did not believe these points to be valid, for he continues in verse 20: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead.”
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death: Jesus was resurrected on Nisan 16, 33 C.E., the day on which the Jewish high priest presented before Jehovah some of the firstfruits of the first grain crop. The high priest would wave the firstfruits of the barley harvest, what might be called the first of the firstfruits of the land. (Le 23:6-14) This sheaf foreshadowed the resurrected Jesus Christ—the first one ever to be raised from the dead to everlasting life in heaven. Calling Jesus “the firstfruits” implied that a further harvest of individuals would be raised from death to heavenly life.—1Co 15:23.
firstfruits: See Glossary.
during his presence: This term is first used at Mt 24:3, where some of Jesus’ disciples ask him about “the sign of [his] presence.” It refers to the royal presence of Jesus Christ from the time of his invisible enthronement as Messianic King at the beginning of the last days of this system of things. The Greek word rendered “presence” is pa·rou·siʹa, and while many translations render it “coming,” it literally means “being alongside.” His presence would span a period of time rather than simply involve a momentary coming or arrival. This meaning of pa·rou·siʹa is indicated at Mt 24:37-39, where “the days of Noah . . . before the Flood” are compared to “the presence of the Son of man.” Also, at Php 2:12, Paul used pa·rou·siʹa to describe his “presence” in contrast with his “absence.” (See study note on 1Co 16:17.) Thus, Paul explains that the resurrection to life in heaven for those who belong to the Christ, that is, Christ’s spirit-anointed brothers and joint heirs, would occur some time after Jesus was installed as heavenly King in God’s Kingdom.
the end: Or “the complete (accomplished) end.” (See study note on Mt 24:6.) “The end” (Greek, teʹlos) mentioned here is evidently the end of the Thousand Year Reign (Re 20:4) when Jesus humbly and loyally “hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father.” The Millennial Rule of Christ’s Kingdom will have accomplished its purpose fully. There will no longer be a need for this subsidiary government to remain between Jehovah and mankind. And because Adamic sin and death will have been completely removed and mankind will have been redeemed, the need for Jesus’ role as a Redeemer will end.—1Co 15:26, 28.
death . . . is to be brought to nothing: Or “death is to be destroyed.” Lit., “death is being made ineffective.” Here Paul speaks of the end of Adamic death and its consequences. An essential part of bringing death to nothing involves bringing the dead back to life through the resurrection (Joh 5:28), a teaching that Paul vigorously upholds in this context. However, in order to do away with death completely, all traces of Adamic sin also need to be removed. Therefore, Paul goes on to explain that sin, “the sting producing death,” is to be done away with by means of Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice. By both of these means—the resurrection and the ransom—God destroys death, rendering it ineffective. Paul later says: “Death is swallowed up forever.”—1Co 15:54-57.
will also subject himself: The Son, Christ Jesus, will humbly relinquish rulership to his Father and will subject himself to Jehovah’s supreme sovereignty. By doing this, Jesus offers the greatest possible tribute to the rightfulness of his Father’s rule. Christ also shows that at the end of his successful Millennial Reign, he is still as humble as he was when he walked on the earth as a man.—Php 2:5-11; Heb 13:8.
that God may be all things to everyone: When Christ turns all rulership over to his Father, Jehovah will once again rule directly over all his creations. Perfect humankind will have no need of a subsidiary government, the Messianic Kingdom, to repair the damage done by the rebellion in Eden. There will not be any further need for a ransom, a mediator, or a priesthood. As sons and daughters of Jehovah, humans will enjoy great freedom and direct communication with the Father. (Ro 8:21) Paul’s inspired view refers to the time after Jesus “hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power.”—1Co 15:24.
being baptized for the purpose of being dead ones: In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses the certainty of the resurrection. In this context, he states that spirit-anointed Christians are baptized, or immersed, into a course of life that will lead to a death of integrity like that of Christ. Afterward, they will be raised to spirit life, as Jesus was. This baptism includes trials similar to those faced by Jesus himself and often leads to a death like his. (1Co 15:30-34) Faithful anointed Christians have the hope of being resurrected to life in heaven. So this baptism seems related to the baptism mentioned by Jesus at Mr 10:38 and by Paul at Ro 6:3.—See study notes on Mr 10:38; Ro 6:3.
for the purpose of being: This expression is rendered from the Greek preposition hy·perʹ, which literally means “over,” but it has a number of other meanings that must be determined by the context. Some Bibles translate the phrase “being baptized for the dead” or similar. This rendering has led some to the conclusion that the verse refers to the baptizing of living individuals as substitutes for and on behalf of dead ones. Nowhere, though, does the Bible mention such a baptism; nor is there proof that the practice existed in Paul’s day. Furthermore, this understanding would not be in accord with scriptures that clearly state that those getting baptized were “disciples” who themselves “gladly accepted” God’s message and personally “believed.”—Mt 28:19; Ac 2:41; 8:12.
I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus: The Romans often threw criminals to wild beasts in the arenas. While scholars have suggested that this punishment did not apply to Roman citizens like Paul, there is historical evidence that some Roman citizens were thrown to beasts or made to fight with them. What Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians could describe an encounter with literal wild beasts in an arena. (2Co 1:8-10) If Paul was thrown to literal beasts, then his rescue was likely by divine intervention. (Compare Da 6:22.) This experience may thus have been one of the several “near-deaths” that Paul experienced in his ministry. (2Co 11:23) Other scholars feel that Paul is here referring to wild beasts in a figurative sense, describing the opposition of beastlike opposers in Ephesus.—Ac 19:23-41.
let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die: Paul here quotes Isa 22:13, which epitomized the attitude of Jerusalem’s disobedient inhabitants. Instead of repenting when faced with the threat of destruction, they gave themselves over to pleasure-seeking. Paul may have quoted these words because they reflected the thinking of those who denied the resurrection hope. For example, such groups as the Epicureans did not believe in a resurrection; they focused on living for the present. But as Paul points out, the resurrection is a reality, giving Christians ample reason and motivation to maintain their self-sacrificing course.—1Co 15:58.
Bad associations spoil useful habits: Or “Bad company corrupts good morals.” This appears to be a proverb or an expression used in Paul’s day that conveys a basic principle found in other Bible verses. (Pr 13:20; 14:7; 22:24, 25) Paul quoted this saying to urge fellow Christians to avoid undue association with those who disagreed with the Scriptural doctrine of the resurrection. (1Co 15:3-8; see study note on 1Co 15:12.) Paul knew that association with those who rejected this and other well-founded Christian teachings would be destructive to faith and could “spoil” (Greek, phtheiʹro, meaning “to corrupt, to ruin”) the good habits and thinking of others. (Ac 20:30; 1Ti 4:1; 2Pe 2:1) The congregation in Corinth was plagued with a number of serious problems, which might also have been, at least in part, the result of an unwise choice of associates.—1Co 1:11; 5:1; 6:1; 11:20-22.
Come to your senses: Paul here uses a Greek word that literally means “to sober up.” Because some of the Corinthian Christians gave ear to apostate teachings, such as the denial of the resurrection, they were in a spiritual stupor of sorts, confused and disoriented as if drunk. Paul thus urges them to wake up, to shake off their confusion by getting a clear understanding of the teaching of the resurrection. They needed to do so before their stupor led them to spiritual sickness and even death.—1Co 11:30.
unless first it dies: When discussing the resurrection of an anointed Christian to life as a spirit person, Paul likens the burial of the physical body to the sowing of a seed. A seed dies in the sense that once planted, it disintegrates. Then it becomes a plant that differs entirely from the seed in form and appearance. (Compare Joh 12:24.) Similarly, a Christian who is chosen by God to be a joint heir with His Son and to receive incorruption and immortality in heaven must first die. At 1Co 15:42-44, Paul four times uses the concept of being sown in a figurative sense. He describes how a spirit-anointed Christian gives up the physical body and obtains a heavenly body by resurrection.—See study note on 1Co 15:38.
God gives it a body: Paul here continues to compare the resurrection of a spirit-anointed Christian to the germinating of a seed. (See study note on 1Co 15:36.) He uses the example of a tiny seed of wheat that bears no resemblance to the plant that will grow from it. It “dies” as a seed and becomes an emerging plant. (1Co 15:36, 37) Similarly, anointed Christians first die as humans. Then at his appointed time, God brings them back to life in entirely new bodies. (2Co 5:1, 2; Php 3:20, 21) They are resurrected in spirit bodies to live in the spirit realm.—1Co 15:44; 1Jo 3:2.
one star differs from another star in glory: Some Corinthians found it incredible that a flesh-and-blood human might die and be resurrected with a different sort of body, a spirit body, so Paul provides them with vivid examples. For instance, he refers to the stars. First-century observers could readily confirm that the stars varied in brightness and color. Paul’s point is that the God who created such variety would be able to resurrect a human and create a spirit body.
incorruption: Incorruption (Greek, a·phthar·siʹa) refers to that which cannot decay or be corrupted, that which is imperishable. Having lived, served faithfully, and died in mortal, corruptible human bodies, the resurrected anointed ones receive an incorruptible spirit body. (1Co 15:44) Such a body that is “raised up in incorruption” will inherently be beyond decay or destruction and will apparently be self-sustaining.—Compare study note on 1Co 15:53.
physical: The Greek word psy·khi·kosʹ used here is derived from the word psy·kheʹ, traditionally rendered “soul.” (Compare the rendering “soulical” in the Kingdom Interlinear.) Here it is used to describe the bodies of earthly creatures in contrast with spiritual bodies; it refers to that which is material, tangible, visible, and mortal.—See Glossary, “Soul.”
The first man Adam . . . The last Adam: In the first part of the verse, Paul quotes from Ge 2:7 (“the man became a living person”), but he adds the words “first” and “Adam.” In the second part of the verse, he calls Jesus “the last Adam.” Then at 1Co 15:47, Paul calls Adam “the first man [or, “human”]” and Jesus “the second man [or, “human”].” The first Adam disobeyed his Father and Life-Giver; the last Adam showed complete obedience to Him. The first Adam spread sin to his offspring; the last Adam gave his human life as a sin-atoning sacrifice. (Ro 5:12, 18, 19) Jehovah then restored Jesus to life as a spirit. (1Pe 3:18) Like Adam, Jesus was a perfect man, so in harmony with His own justice, Jehovah could accept Jesus’ sacrifice as “a corresponding ransom” to buy back Adam’s descendants. This ransom sacrifice would restore to humans the life prospects that the first Adam had forfeited. (1Ti 2:5, 6) Thus, Jesus could rightfully be called “the last Adam,” a term that indicates that there will be no need for another Adam after him.—Compare study notes on Lu 3:38; Ro 5:14.
a living person: Or “a living soul.” Paul is here quoting from Ge 2:7, where the Hebrew word neʹphesh is rendered “person” or, according to the footnote, “soul.” This Hebrew word literally means “a breathing creature.”—See Glossary, “Soul.”
the heavenly one: That is, Christ Jesus, “the last Adam.”—1Co 15:45.
blink: Or “twinkling.” The Greek word rendered “blink” (Greek, rhi·peʹ) suggests a rapid movement. In this context, it may refer to a blink or a quick glance of the eyes, indicating that when the last trumpet sounds, the anointed Christians are resurrected instantaneously to immortal life in heaven.—1Th 4:17; Re 14:12, 13.
immortality: The Greek word for “immortality” (a·tha·na·siʹa) occurs three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, at 1Co 15:53, 54 and 1Ti 6:16. The basic meaning is “not subject to death.” It refers to the quality of life that is enjoyed, its endlessness and indestructibility. The anointed followers of Christ, who as mortal humans serve God faithfully, are resurrected as something more than spirit creatures having everlasting life. Jehovah gives them “indestructible life”—an outstanding demonstration of his confidence in them.—Heb 7:16; compare study note on 1Co 15:42.
Death is swallowed up forever: By quoting what was written by Isaiah in the eighth century B.C.E., Paul shows that God had long ago promised an end to Adamic death. The Hebrew text of Isa 25:8 reads: “He [that is, God] will swallow up death forever.” When Paul quotes these words, he uses a Greek expression (here rendered “forever”) that literally means “into victory.” This literal meaning is reflected in some Bible translations that say: “Death is swallowed up in victory” or “Death is swallowed up; victory is won!” However, the Greek term could mean, in some contexts, “permanently; forever.” It was used in the Septuagint to render a Hebrew term meaning “forever,” for example at Isa 25:8 and La 5:20. Therefore, there is solid basis for rendering this Greek expression with the term “forever” at 1Co 15:54, especially in view of the original reading of the Hebrew text from which this quote is taken.
Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?: Paul here quotes Ho 13:14. Hosea’s prophecy was not indicating that those disobedient Israelites would be resurrected from the dead. However, Paul’s application of Ho 13:14 shows that this prophecy was pointing to the time when the dead would be raised to life and the Grave (Sheol, or Hades) would be made powerless. Paul’s quotation is, in part, from the Septuagint, which reads: “Where is your penalty [or “punishment”], O death? O Hades, where is your sting?” By using these rhetorical questions addressed to enemy Death (1Co 15:25, 26), Paul, in effect, is saying: “Death, you will not be victorious again! Death, your sting has no effect anymore!”
sting: The Greek word kenʹtron can refer to a sting of an animal, like that of a scorpion. It is used at Re 9:10, where the symbolic locusts are described as having “tails with stingers like scorpions.” Here at 1Co 15:55, the term is used figuratively of the pain and suffering caused to millions of humans by the enemy death. (1Co 15:26) Just as a scorpion deprived of its stinger cannot sting, death will not have power over spirit-anointed ones who have been resurrected to inherit God’s Kingdom and have gained immortality. (1Co 15:57; Re 20:6) During the Thousand Year Reign of Christ, God will completely do away with the sting of Adamic death when millions are resurrected and death is figuratively hurled into “the lake of fire.”—Re 20:12-14; 21:4; Joh 5:28, 29.
and the power for sin is the Law: Or “and the Law gives sin its power.” Paul here refers to the Mosaic Law. It clearly spelled out what constitutes sin, identifying many acts and even attitudes as sinful. (Ro 3:19, 20; Ga 3:19) In this sense, the Law gave power to sin. As a result, the Israelites would become aware of their sinfulness, their liability to God, and their need for the Messiah.—Ro 6:23.
Therefore, . . . be steadfast, immovable: The Greek word rendered “steadfast” conveys the idea of being settled, firm, solidly in place. At Col 1:23, the same term is rendered “steadfast” and is used in parallel with the expression “established on the foundation.” It involves standing one’s ground by means of implicit faith in God and his promises. (1Pe 5:9) The expression “immovable” conveys a similar meaning and refers to something that is unshakable, not moving from its place. In the face of difficulties and attacks on his faith, a Christian has hope that is like “an anchor” that holds fast a ship so that it is not moved from its moorings. (Heb 6:19) Paul uses the two terms rendered “steadfast” and “immovable” together to express his wish that his Corinthian brothers be absolutely determined to hold fast to their hope and faith, confident that their labors “in the work of the Lord” are never in vain.
the work of the Lord . . . in connection with the Lord: In this context, the Greek term Kyʹri·os (“Lord”) could refer either to Jehovah God or to Jesus Christ. Here “the Lord” may well refer to Jehovah, since Paul says of the Christian ministry, “we are God’s fellow workers,” and he calls this ministry “the work of Jehovah.” (1Co 3:9; 16:10; Isa 61:1, 2; Lu 4:18, 19; Joh 5:17; Ro 12:11) Also, when Jesus spoke about the spiritual harvest work, he referred to Jehovah God as “the Master [or, “Lord” (Greek, Kyʹri·os)] of the harvest.” (Mt 9:38) It is possible, however, that Paul had in mind the work, or ministry, that Jesus spearheaded when on earth. (Mt 28:19, 20) Regardless, Christian ministers have the great privilege of being coworkers with both the Sovereign Lord Jehovah and the Lord Jesus Christ in declaring the good news.