Orthodox America

Scripture Commentary - I Corinthians 15 and beginning of II Corinthians

By Archbishop Averky
Part 18 in a continuing series

I Corinthians, chapter 15

Meanwhile, the preaching of the Apostles was accompanied by such striking signs and such remark-able gifts of the Holy Spirit that no one could call it vain. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in you sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (vv. 17-19), for on what basis do we have faith in the remission of sins? On the fact that Christ, in dying on the Cross, brought a redeeming sacrifice, and His Resurrection is evidence that this sacrifice was accepted. If He did not rise, then His sacrifice was not accepted, and His death was the ordinary death of a mortal, incapable of possessing any redeeming significance. In that case, even those who died in the faith and endured martyrdom for Christ's sake-are nothing more than unfortunate people who perished. In that case Christians in general appear as the most unfortunate people: here in this world they are deprived, subject to persecution and themselves exercising self-denial, and there, in the world to come, in which they have such hope, they receive nothing. There is, then, no point in being guided by laws of morality and in battling one's sinful inclinations. In that case it makes more sense to follow the rules of the epicurean school: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (v. 32).

Therefore, to deny the resurrection from the dead is to completely undermine Christian morality. From the truth of Christ's resurrection, the Apostle then draws the truth of the general resurrection from the dead, for Christ is the New Adam, the ancestor of a humanity renewed in Him: For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (vv. 20-28). Further the Apostle says that denial of the truth of the resurrection from the dead would lead to an acknowledgment of the senselessness of baptism, which would have no meaning; all the efforts and labors of the Apostles would be in vain, and all morality would be overturned (vv. 29-32). Desiring to warn the Corinthians against possibly harmful contact with the pagans, who had evidently infected them with disbelief in immortality, the Apostle quotes an ancient maxim: "evil communications corrupt good manners", and shames them that they do not know God, i.e., like pagans they have no conception of God's almightiness, which is powerful to raise the dead (vv. 33-34).

In verses 35-53 the Apostle speaks about the image of the resurrection of the dead: first he answers the question how the bodies of the dead will rise, i.e. by what power (vv. 36-38); then, in what form they will rise (vv. 39-50), and, finally, how the resurrection itself will occur (vv. 51-53). In answering the first question, the Apostle compares a person's body with a seed. Just as a seed in order to send forth a sprout must first undergo decay, so the decay of the bodies of dead people must not be viewed as precluding their resurrection through the power of God. To the second question the Apostle says that the bodies of those who are resurrected will differ from the present, crude bodies: they will be "spiritual" bodies, similar to the body of the Risen Christ: they will be immortal, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption (v. 50), and therefore, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed (v. 51), i.e., those who are still alive at the moment of the general resurrection will be instantly transformed, and their bodies will likewise become spiritual and immortal. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (v. 53).

All these spiritual bodies will be glorified in varying degrees, depending on the moral perfection of each person (vv. 39-49). The holy Apostle concludes his thoughts concerning the resurrection from the dead with the triumphant words of the Prophet Isaiah, that in time death will be swallowed by vic-tory, and the words of Hosea, Where, O death, is thy sting? Where, O hell, is thy victory? (Is. 25:8; Hos. 13:14), and with thanks to God Who has given us victory over death, after which he urges sobriety and steadfastness in the Christian faith and life, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (54-58).

In the sixteenth chapter the Apostle gives instruction concerning the collection of donations for the Christians in Jerusalem. Then he promises to come himself to Corinth from Ephesus, by way of Macedonia; he asks that they receive Timothy with love, and once again exhorts them to be watchful, to stand firmly and courageously in the faith; he conveys greetings from the churches in Asia, from Aquila and Priscilla and all the brethren; upon those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ he pronounces "anathema-maranatha", which means, "May he be expelled [from the Church] until the coming of the Lord". (This is the basis for that "anathema", which is pronounced in all our churches on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.) The epistle ends with the customary apostolic blessing.


His Motivation in Writing the Epistle

Before going to Corinth, Apostle Paul wanted to know what impression his first epistle had made. In addition, he wanted to give Timothy-who had been sent there earlier-the opportunity to complete the collection of alms for the Jerusalem Christians (I Cor. 4:17). At the same time he intended to delay in Ephesus in order that, having finished his mission there, he would have more time to devote to the Corinthians. However, the indignation stirred up by Demetrius the silversmith compelled the Apostle to hasten his departure from Ephesus. To go immediately to Corinth was too early, since Timothy could not be there yet with the collection of alms. More importantly, the Apostle didn't know the results of his first epistle. For this reason he sent to Corinth another of his disciples, Titus, while he himself headed for Troas, enjoining Titus to return to him there with news of what was happening in Corinth. The Apostle's period of waiting in Troas was so intense that, finding no rest in his spirit, he went to Macedonia to meet with Titus as soon as possible. The meeting relieved St. Paul. Here, too, he met Timothy, who was just about to leave for Corinth. Titus told Apostle Paul much gladdening news about the effect his first epistle had on the Corinthians, but there were also some unpleasant consequences. All this news which Apostle Paul received from Titus concerning the situation in Corinth occasioned the writing of the second epistle. This is clearly evident from the epistle itself (7:6-16). St. Titus told the Apostle that his first epistle had a marked effect on the Corinthians, inspiring them with a godly sorrow, which had brought them to repentance; it had awakened in them fear of God and a desire for amendment, and roused them to indignation against the incestuous (II Cor. 7:11), and inspired a rejection of all that was impure or pagan. On the other hand, St. Titus also informed the Apostle that his persistent adversaries were trying by all means to undermine his apostolic authority among the Corinthians. Unable to accuse the Apostle of anything clearly reprehensible, they strained to give some unusual significance in the eyes of the Corinthians to the fact that the Apostle had several times changed his plans for visiting Corinth (II Cor. 1:16; I Cor. 16:3, 6, 7). They evidently wanted to imply that the Apostle was inconstant, changeable, and therefore his teachings were not to be trusted, since he was lightminded and superficial. They tried to cast Paul's humility and his uncommon meekness and unselfishness, manifest during his stay in Corinth, as signs of weakness and timidity. In his letters, they said, he is weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and contemptible (II Cor. 10:10). This could not but trouble the Apostle, for it cast a shadow not only on him personally, but upon what he preached, and for this reason he considered it essential to explain to the Corinthians the groundlessness of the rumors which were being spread about him. Titus also mentioned that not all the Corinthians had come around, that some, having become deeply rooted in impurity, in adultery and promiscuity, had no intention of correcting themselves (II Cor. 12:20-21). Special effort had to be made to rouse these to repentance, using, as the holy Apostle expressed it in the second epistle, sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction (II Cor. 13:10). Furthermore, the Apostle desired to incline the Corinthians towards donating generously to the Palestinian Christians, that he be not ashamed of them before the Macedonians, for the Apostle said that he had already boasted of their good works (II Cor. 9:4). All these reasons served to motivate the writing of the second epistle to the Corinthians.

To be continued

(Translated from the Russian, published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY 1956)