In 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed his concerns in the church in chs. 1-6 and then replied to their questions to him in chs. 7-15. The Corinthians’ final inquiry concerned the resurrection of the dead. Some in the congregation were being influenced by naturalism and proposed that the dead are not raised. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that such a statement had retroactive effects, necessitating a denial of Jesus’ resurrection. The apostle’s argument for the supernatural was anchored in Christ’s fulfillment of specific Old Testament texts.
(1) In 1 Cor 15:27, Paul quoted Ps 8:6 to distinguish Jesus as the death-conquering representative of humanity. The psalmist wrote that God placed humanity as the stewards of God’s creation. God crowned humanity with glory and honor and placed everything under their feet (Ps 8:5-6). Paul interpreted the Psalm in light of Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation. He wrote, “The last enemy to be abolished is death. For ‘He has put everything under His feet’” (1 Cor 15:26-27). In Paul’s mind, death was the final enemy to be placed under the feet of humanity—and Jesus defeated death. The resurrection of Christ marked the end of the old age and foreshadowed the realization of ultimate victory for God and those who believe in Christ (1 Cor 15:23-28).
(2) In 1 Cor 15:32, Paul quoted Isa 22:13 to argue that if the resurrection was not true, then humanity should live only for the pleasure of the moment. In Isaiah 22, the prophet confronted Israel because the people rejoiced during a period when the Lord sent their enemies against them. The people should have mourned and repented but instead Isaiah heard joy and gladness. Since the end was in view, the people said, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (Isa 22:13). In Paul’s frame of thinking, if the resurrection were not true, then Isaiah’s audience spoke words of truth. But Paul stood in line with Isaiah. The people in Jerusalem failed to trust God and so had some in Corinth. For Paul, the resurrection was personal. He retorted to the Corinthians, “If I fought wild animals in Ephesus with only human hope, what good does that do me?” (1 Cor 15:34). Paul reminded the Corinthians that since bad company corrupts good morals, they should confront those who denied the resurrection lest their sin of naturalism would further harm the church (1 Cor 15:33-34).
(3) In 1 Cor 15:45 Paul cited Gen 2:7 to contrast the nature of Adam and the nature of Christ. After God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, He breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils and Adam became a living being (Gen 2:7). And because of Adam’s sin, God issued a sentence of death for all of humanity, saying, “You are dust and you will return to dust” (Gen 3:19). For Paul, Adam and Christ represented the two ages of salvation history, one act of the former brought about the consequence of death for all those under his dominion, and one act of the latter ushered in the age of eternal life for all who believe. He wrote, “Just as we have borne the image of the man made of dust, we will also bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Cor 15:49).
(4) In 1 Cor 15:54-55, Paul quoted Isa 25:8 and Hos 13:14 to boast of Christ’s resurrection victory. In Isaiah 25, Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would save His people. The prophet portrayed the day of salvation as a festive banquet with aged wine and choice meat. And Isaiah wrote that God’s victory would include resurrection: “He will destroy death forever” (Isa 25:8). Paul proclaimed Isaiah’s words because the prophet confronted the Corinthians for thinking that they could enjoy the blessings of Christ while adhering to naturalism. Paul would have none of it. In Hosea 13, the prophet described God’s wrath against His people. In Hos 13:14, the Lord called to death to come upon His people and destroy them saying, “Death, where are your barbs? Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from My eyes.” Noting Christ’s triumph over sin and death, Paul employed Hos 13:14 as a taunt against death saying, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” While death demonstrates its power and sting upon sinful humanity, through Christ’s resurrection believers have escaped its clutches. Paul exclaimed, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57).