Hearing that there was a difference in the understanding of this subject within the church at Corinth, Paul, in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, addressed himself to teaching, (for the instruction of believers, both in that day and this): the truth.
It is certain that this teaching is not directed towards unbelievers. That is, those not believing that Christ had been roused from among the dead. Three reasons are offered for this assertion.
Firstly Paul was well aware of the futility of attempting to teach unbelievers concerning spiritual matters. Having so written himself in this same epistle that, "the soulish man is not receiving the things of the spirit of God, for they are stupidity to him, and he is not able to receive them" (1 Cor. 2:14). Open denial of, or even a pretended belief in the literal resurrection of Christ makes growth in the knowledge of the truth impossible.
It is perhaps the most simple teaching of scripture that a person is being saved, through an unfeigned acceptance of the teachings concerning the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is set forth in verses 3 - 5 of the chapter under consideration. On this foundation, a valid expectation can be built; through coming into a realization of the truth.
Secondly having reiterated the basic beliefs on which all valid faith is based, Paul concluded in verse 11 "thus we are heralding, and thus you believe." This statement must apply also to the ones specifically addressed in the next section. That is, the doubters of verse 12. For they are also specifically said in verse 15 to have "faith," which is said to be based on, "the heralding."
Thirdly, the argument advanced by Paul as the reason why those who were saying that "there is no resurrection of the dead" should think again is only valid when offered for consideration by those who already believed that Christ had been roused: and also that those said to be "reposing in Christ," would be roused.
The present writer is perfectly confident that what is said in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 1-24 proves that the ecclesia in Corinth, (including the dissidents of verse 12), believed both in a literal resurrection of Christ as an accomplished fact, and in a literal future resurrection for those whom they considered to be "reposing in Christ."
Confident himself of this, Paul proceeds to advance an argument calculated to motivate the dissidents of verse 12 to think again. This is in order to adjust their understanding to conform with the belief of Paul, and the balance of the ecclesia in Corinth.
Whilst no great stress is overtly made concerning the personal glory of the Lord in this passage, He is nevertheless presented in a position of pre-eminence. Not as sovereign, but as the inaugurator of life. Not only that which is subject to the decay associated with mortality; but that which is indissoluble, to be generated by and realised through the resurrection of "the dead."encompassing not only the creation of Adam and all descendants from him in this old creation, but also of that life to be generated by, and realised through, the resurrection of "the dead."
The teaching given by Paul in based on an indissoluble union of three entities in resurrection. These are in the order presented. Firstly: "the dead," - they for whom the dissidents of verse 12 were saying "there is no resurrection." Secondly: Christ Himself.
Thirdly: those said to be "put to repose in Christ."
The correction offered does not concern Christ's rousing, or that of those said to be reposing in Him. Neither of these is the issue in dispute. What was denied by some in Corinth, (who at the same time are said to have faith,) is the possibility of a rousing for the first group mentioned, that is, "the dead."
Paul asserts that the resurrection of this group is as sure as that of Christ Himself. Further, that if the opinion of those in verse 12 should be correct, then Christ is still dead, and all hope and confidence in Him for a life to come, is vain.
No objective proof is offered within the argument itself concerning the resurrection of any of these 3 entities. They are statements of fact, presented for acceptance by those who, unlike the apostle Thomas, hold the resurrection of Christ as an item of subjective knowledge, nor requiring objective evidence for verification. To such as have this faith, which in itself is the evidence of the sealing by God's Spirit, the argument has the power to convince.
On the other hand, to the unbeliever, lacking any spiritual perception, as far as he can see the three statements are as easy to refute on the basis of the logic employed, as they are to make. For when the apostle concludes with statements calculated to cause the dissident believer some discomfort, that is "your faith is vain," "those put to repose in Christ perished" the unbeliever merely replies, "precisely, they have perished." "I am still in my sins." "Christ has not been roused." "There is no resurrection of the dead."
As said previously, the teaching is presented for the edification of believers. Whilst the dissidents of verse 12 are shown to be believers, there is a belief held by the ecclesia as a whole, and which Paul asserts to be correct, yet which those of verse 12 did not share.
Who, then, are "the dead," of whom some in Corinth said "there is no resurrection," and why did they hold this belief.
Verse 12 "Now if Christ is being heralded that He has been roused from among the dead, how are some among you saying there is no resurrection of the dead?"
The dead mentioned three times in verses 12 and 13 are those who were already dead when Christ died, and was Himself dead. Else how can He be said to have been roused from among them?
Now it is an historical fact that those who were dead when Christ died had no knowledge of a resurrected Christ or any of the distinctive teachings revealed by that same Christ through the ministry of the apostle Paul. Some, but by no means all in Corinth, assumed that for such, there would be no resurrection.
Paul's teaching is intended to correct this misunderstanding. The resurrection of the unbeliever then is shown to be as sure as that of Christ Himself, and those who trust in Him. This has in view the vivification of all.
In the Pauline epistles believers are educated to regard the state of death as akin to sleep. A period of unconsciousness from which the Lord will surely awaken them.
For the purpose of correcting an error, those of verse 19 "who are put to repose in Christ," that is, those who had died with an expectation of resurrection, are shown as a separate group from those of verse 12 "the dead" - those who had died before an expectation in Christ was revealed. Once having corrected the error, these groups are now united into one. Both are said to be reposing, both are described also as being dead.
For in verse 20, "Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead" (again those who were already dead when He died) "the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since in fact, through a man came death, through a Man also comes the resurrection of the dead."
Those said previously to be reposing are here stated to be in fact dead. "For even as, in Adam all are dying," (not "dead" but either dead or subject to the dying process without exception). "Thus also in Christ, shall all (again without exception) be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ, thereupon those who are Christ's, in His presence." To many in Corinth what is taught in verses 1-24 was not new. They already held the same belief as Paul. Nonetheless it was set down for the learning of those who did not comprehend the full implications of the work of One Who gave Himself a Ransom for all. This is all taught for acceptance by faith. Before the consummation is introduced and before something not previously taught is revealed - the provision made for the living when the Lord Himself shall descend and death shall be swallowed up in victory.