Based on Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church More and the Corinthians both confess, Paul argues for a general resurrection of the dead and the existence of an imperishable body for those raised on the last day.
Paul reports that some of the Corinthians are saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (15:12-13). From the way Paul argues against this statement, we know that the resurrection of Christ is not disputed. Rather, some believers cannot make any sense of the Jewish apocalyptic vision of a general resurrection of the dead on the last day. Especially repellent to them is the notion of a resurrection of the body. In response, Paul reviews the testimonies to Christ’s resurrection and then argues that Christ is the first fruits of the dead and finally that, “we will not all die, but we will all be changed….and the dead will be raised imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
The first part of Paul’s argument is a review of what he had preached to the Corinthians in person. It is the story of Christ crucified and risen, as well as a catalog of witnesses to the resurrection. Hundreds of people including, finally, Paul himself saw the risen Christ.
After this historical review, Paul argues that Christ is “the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In Jewish apocalyptic thought, the end of the present evil age and the imminent work of God to usher in a new age would be signaled by the resurrection of the dead. Elsewhere in this letter, Paul refers to himself and the Corinthians as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). It is as if two distinct eons have bumped up against one another at the moment of Christ’s resurrection. Christ is the first-only the first-to be raised.
Paul rebukes questions about what kind of bodies will be raised in a general resurrection of the dead. Such a thing, he says, is as difficult to predict as a full grown stalk of grain would be to predict from the look of the seed out of which it grew (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-38). Without speculating at length on specifics, Paul proclaims that the dead will be raised and their bodies will be imperishable.