HOW THE BODY WILL RISE; THE QUALITIES OF THE RISEN BODY
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:35-58~The fact of the resurrection being established, the Apostle now goes on to describe how it will take place. He first shows, by illustrations drawn from what takes place in the natural order of the world around us, that the risen body will be indeed the same body that was buried, but vested with vastly different qualities (verses 35-50). The manner of the resurrection, the transition from the present to the future life, and the effects of the resurrection are next discussed (verses 51-58).
51. Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed.
Coming now to describe the way the dead shall rise at the end of the world, the Apostle first solves a difficulty that might arise out of the preceding verse, namely, if our corruptible bodies cannot inherit incorruptible life, what about the just who will be living when Christ appears on the last day? In reply the Apostle says: I tell you a mystery, i.e., a truth of revelation, which human means could not discover (1 Thess 4:14). What is this mystery? It is that the just who are living at the Second Coming of Christ shall not die, but shall be suddenly changed from their corruptible to an incorruptible and glorious state.
This interpretation is (a) according to the best reading of the second part of this verse; (b) it is in harmony with the context, verses 50 and 52, and with the whole drift of St. Paul’s argument; (c) it agrees with the explanation of the same doctrine given by St. Paul elsewhere (1 Thess 4:15-17; 2 Cor 5:1-9; 2 Tim 4:1), and with the teaching of St. Peter on the subject (1 Peter 4:5); (d) it alone gives to mystery the proper and obvious meaning of that term; (e) it finds approval in the words of the Creed, “He shall come to judge the living and the dead”; (f) it has the support of practically all the Greek Fathers, and of all modern exegetes.
There is no “mystery” in St. Paul’s mind about the dead, good or bad, rising again. Neither is there any sense in: We shall not all be changed of this verse, and “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” etc., of the following verse. In fact, we shall not be changed here is in direct contradiction with the words, we shall be changed of the next verse.
The reading, therefore, of the second part of this verse, which is found in our version, in the Codex Bezae, and in the Vulgate, and which was commonly accepted by all the Latin Fathers and Latin versions from the time of Tertullian, must be rejected as erroneous for the reasons given above. The Council of Trent, in making the Vulgate the official version of the Church, was well aware that it contained some wrong readings; but when these are of minor importance, or can receive a correct interpretation from other parallel passages of Scripture, as in the present instance, there is no difficulty. Moreover, the Council approved of all the parts of the original Vulgate, “as they were wont to be read in the Catholic Church”; but the East never read this verse as it is in the Vulgate. “If the Vulgate in the present passage were interpreted to mean that all the just without exception are to rise from the dead at the last day, it would not merely contradict the inspired text and the Creeds, but would be hopelessly at variance with itself” (Lattey, in Westm. Ver.).
The reading, therefore, of the second part of this verse which is adopted by all modern scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic, and which has the support of the Greek MSS. B E K L P, of practically all cursives, and of most versions, is: “We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed.” A rival reading of א C F G and of the cursive no. 17, if read without punctuation, might have the same meaning, thus: “we shall all sleep (die) not but we shall all be changed.” Generally, however, this reading is understood to agree with that of the Vulgate, and is given as follows: “We shall all sleep (die), but we shall not all be changed.”
While it is practically certain that the reading of this verse which we have adopted is the only correct one, it must be admitted that the Vulgate reading, taken by itself, can receive an orthodox explanation. Thus, we shall all indeed rise again may be taken to refer to mankind as a whole, without including the few that will be alive at the end (cf. Titus 1:12, 13; Heb 9:27). In like manner, the words, we shall not all be changed can mean that all the dead shall not be glorified.
It is objected against the above interpretation (a) that verse 22 of this chapter, Rom 5:12, and Heb 9:27 seem to say that all men must die; (b) that St. Paul seemed to expect to be still alive when Christ would come. Answer: (a) Even though all men do not actually die, still there is in them all the liability to death, but the penalty can be taken away by God (St. Thomas, Summa, 1a 2ae, qu. 81, a. 3, ad 3). (b) St. Paul did not really believe or mean to teach that the end of the world was at hand in his time. Doubtless he had no revelation on this subject. If here he associates himself with those who are to be alive at the last day, he elsewhere (1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14) speaks of being among those who are to be raised up from the dead at that time. Hence he seems to have been uncertain about the time of the Lord’s coming.
52. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed.
In a moment, etc. These words indicate the swiftness with which the dead shall be called from their graves and the bodies of the living just glorified at the last day.
The last trumpet, i.e., the last sign by which the living and the dead shall be summoned to judgment. Perhaps it will be the voice of Christ (John 5:28), or the voice of an archangel (1 Thess 4:15), or some other signal from on high. The expression, “trumpet,” is metaphorical, being borrowed from the instrument used by the Jews to convoke their religious assemblies (Num 10:2-10).
The dead shall rise again incorruptible, i.e., the just shall rise clothed with glorified bodies.
We shall be changed, i.e., the just who are alive at the last day shall not die as others do, but shall pass in the twinkling of an eye from their mortal to an immortal and glorious state.
53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality.
The Apostle again insists upon the necessity of the transformation already spoken of in verse 50. The just who are in their graves must put on incorruptible bodies, and those who are still living must exchange their mortal frames for immortal and glorified bodies.
54. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.
Most authorities repeat here both clauses of the preceding verse. The Vulgate reading in this place, however, is found in the Sinaitic MS. and in some other versions. When the transformation spoken of in the preceding verse is effected, then shall come the complete triumph of Christ over death.
Death is swallowed up, etc. The Apostle is referring to Isaiah 25:8, where the Hebrew reads: “He (Jehovah) hath swallowed up death forever.” The Prophet is announcing that in the heavenly Jerusalem there shall be no more death, or pain, or the like; and St. Paul, slightly modifying the same words, proclaims the victory of Christ in the Resurrection over death and its consequences (Gen 3:19).
In the LXX this passage of Isaias is very obscure: “Death having prevailed swallowed up” (κατεπιεν ο θανατος ισχυσας). With the resurrection, death, the last enemy of man, shall be defeated and life shall triumph in all its glory.
55. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?
At the thought of the final triumph over death the Apostle bursts forth in a hymn of exultation, freely citing the Septuagint of Hosea 13:14. Literally, the Prophet was foretelling the restoration of Israel, which was a figure of the redemption of Christ.
Where is thy victory over the dead who are risen again from their graves? Where now is the sting of thy cruel dominion over them?
56. Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law.
The sting of death is sin, i.e., death wounds us, like a poisonous serpent, through sin. The reference is to original sin by which death first stung and poisoned our race. And the Mosaic Law which was later given only served, by its numerous regulations and prohibitions, to stir up and strengthen the baneful consequences of original sin (cf. Rom 4:5 ff.; 5:13; 7:7-11).
57. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
What the Law could not do, Christ our Lord has done for us. By His death He has conquered both sin and death, satisfying for our transgressions and delivering us from bondage.
Who hath given (Vulg., qui dedit). The Greek has the present tense, which better expresses the victory already begun, although its completion is reserved for the resurrection.