11 March 2015

1 Corinthians 15:27-34

“Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” (v. 29)

Psalm: Psalm 119:145-160


Oh dear! Some difficult verses today.

Verses 27-28 caused a great deal of controversy in the first few centuries as people argued through the implications relating to the divinity of Jesus as part of the Trinity. If we take a simple approach based on Philippians 2:8 ("he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross"), then when Jesus became human (and "humbled himself") he surrendered himself to God's authority. Perhaps Paul is challenging the Corinthians to do the same in the form of "If it is good enough for Jesus then it is good enough for you".

Next the passage includes a practice that we probably consider very weird. Receiving Baptism on behalf of the dead is not part of normal Christian worship today! Described as the most hotly disputed verse in the epistle there have been over 30 different interpretations. Here is one from the 19th-century Wesley scholar G G Findlay: "Paul is referring rather to a much commoner, indeed normal experience, that the death of Christians leads to the conversion of survivors, who in the first instance 'for the sake of the dead' (their beloved dead) and in the hope of reunion, turn to Christ - eg when a dying mother wins her son by the appeal 'Meet me in heaven!' Such appeals, and their frequent salutary effect give strong and touching evidence of faith in the resurrection."

From verse 30 to the first half of verse 32 we see a perspective based on it being dangerous to be a follower of Christ. Paul says that as it is dangerous and could easily lead to death we wouldn't choose to follow Christ if there were no resurrection.

The last part of the passage presents the moral outcome of denying resurrection that is "the end of hope, which is an invitation to the permissive morality of despair" (Eerdman's Commentary on the Bible) and finishes with a challenge to the Corinthians that because resurrection is true and hope is real they should wake up and get on with living out the gospel and telling others of it.

To Ponder

  • How do you think should we approach difficult verses in a world where the authority of Scripture is often attacked?
  • How do you feel about the idea of converting to Christian faith in order to be reunited with Christians who have died before you?
  • How important is resurrection to hope for you? What impact does hope in resurrection have on the way you want to live?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.