1 Corinthians 15:29-34

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 22, 2024 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day —yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God — I say this to your shame.
- 1 Corinthians 15:29-34

Resurrection is a key focus of Paul’s as he continues to discuss this topic throughout this section of his letter to the church in Corinth. Here, he shares some implications for not believing in the resurrection of the dead.

However, verse 29 starts out with a confusing concept that scholars do not agree on. What is this baptizing for the dead? The verbs are present tense, which implies this was something that the early church was doing and would have understood, which is also why Paul gives no explanation of what that phrase means.

Early church father Chrysostom believed that people would baptize dead bodies in the hope that they would be raised. Other scholars think perhaps it was a superstitious baptism for those who were not part of the church. Still others think that believers may have baptized loved ones’ graves, but there’s no historical evidence for that custom. Some scholars think this refers to living believers being baptized (or rebaptized) for the sake of deceased loved ones, but that does not agree with the gospel message. Another belief is that rather than referring to physical baptism, this verb refers to the concept of identifying: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, why are believers identified as dead men? Why should they be crucified with Christ?” However, the prepositions surrounding this statement do not support that interpretation.

But whatever Paul meant by that phrase, the fact is that it seemed to be understood by the first-century Corinthians and Paul believed it would help them understand and accept the resurrection.

He then brings up another point in verse 30: if the resurrection is not a reality, why are they literally risking their lives every day for the sake of the gospel? Paul knows that the religious authorities are looking to kill Christians; he participated in that practice before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-2). They were risking their lives simply to practice their faith. Why would they do that if there were no point to it if this world was all there is?

In verse 31, Paul states that he faces death every day. It is believed that Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus, where we know from Acts 19 that while Paul did great ministry work there and many believed in the gospel, he was also in physical danger because of it. Then in the first part of verse 32, he specifically mentions fighting wild beasts. This may have been literal, referring to specific punishment by the Roman authorities, but it may also have been figurative, meaning that the human enemies he fought with were like fighting wild animals.

He continues in the second half of verse 32 sharing that there is nothing to be gained if the dead are not raised and this world is all we have. Why go through all that suffering for the sake of the gospel if there is no resurrection after this life? He then quotes Isaiah 22:13, and the context of that passage is God condemning reckless living. If there is no hope for a life beyond this world, we might as well gratify our desires for the pleasures of this world rather than risking our lives for the gospel message that brings hope for a world beyond this one.

While Paul quoted from the Old Testament potentially for the benefit of the Jews in Corinth, he quotes in verse 33 from a Greek poet of the day for the benefit of the Greeks. The saying “Bad company corrupts good character” was from a comedy called Thais by the Greek poet Menander. Those who were in the church who did not believe in the resurrection were a threat to those who did believe in the resurrection. Those who did not believe may have enticed the others through the desires for worldly pleasures rather than the desire for a better life in eternity through being obedient to the gospel message.

Paul delivers a harsh rebuke to them in verse 34. Paul calls it out as a sin to deny the resurrection of the dead; if they deny the resurrection, then they deny Christ. This denial lead to them living in immoral ways as they were living for temporary pleasures rather than the eternal glory of Christ. Those who deny the resurrection deny the truth and are ignorant of God, and Paul says they should be shamed for that.

We see this in our modern culture as well. Those who do not embrace the Christian faith and follow the ways of Jesus generally live more immoral lives and they deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus, and therefore the resurrection of all the dead one day, is a key tenant to the Christian faith. While we in the United States are not (yet) facing death every day for our faith, there may come a day when that will be our reality, as it is for Christians in other countries around the world. Why would we risk our lives for a faith that does not bring hope for the world beyond this one? We must be certain in the resurrection in order to face whatever trials we experience in this life, even including the threat of death.

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