ASK Commentary
August 22, 2003 

Paul's First Message to the Corinthians

Commentary for August 22, 2003 — What Was Most Important to Paul

The most important information that the apostle Paul first taught to the Corinthians was about Jesus Christ; that He was the Messiah and that He died and was resurrected from the dead. After correcting the Corinthians about various subjects where they were in error as immature Christians, “babes” in fact (1 Corinthians 3:1), Paul returns to the basics of the message he first taught to them.

Paul to the Corinthians

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reviews the good news (the Gospel) that he taught to the Corinthians,

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel
  • which I preached unto you,
  • which also you have received, and
  • wherein you stand;
  • by which also you are saved,
if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:1–2

Paul is exhorting them to remember and to keep in their “long-term memory” as we say today, the information to follow in the next few verses. He wanted them to remember it so that they might be able to communicate it to others. The Corinthians were not called to “preach” to other people. They were not called to be apostles or evangelists, but God does expect each of us to understand the knowledge He gives us and to be able to defend our beliefs, especially the basics of His Word. 1 If any person (whether a Corinthian believer or yourself) cannot do that, cannot keep the information “in memory,” then perhaps that person has “believed in vain.”

Have you “believed in vain”? Do you “keep in memory” the basics of the Gospel? Do you claim to “understand” the Gospel, but are unable — or unwilling — to tell others about it when an appropriate moment comes? “Despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). If so, then why bother at all with the Bible, with Christ, with God, or with anything? Are you just waiting; secure in your own little world, merely waiting for the resurrection?

I could not and cannot judge you about those questions. How could I do so? I have my own shortcomings in that area. I merely ask them because they challenge me as I hope they challenge you. I have no doubt that many of you could account yourselves much better than I could at telling people about the hope that is within you, and the basics of the Christian faith. Rest assured that God will give you opportunities to do just that at a time of His own choosing. Be ready, as Timothy was encouraged to be ready (2 Timothy 2:15).

Back to Paul …

Paul then tells the Corinthians, point by point, the powerful evidence of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. He focuses particularly on those who saw Jesus after His resurrection. Here is the passage in full. See if you can pick out all the important points that Paul is making to educate and stimulate the Corinthian believers,

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present [at Paul's time], but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. ”

1 Corinthians 15:3–8

Paul delineates each item as he piles up evidence to demonstrate to the Corinthians beyond doubt that he can back up his information with multiple eyewitnesses. This is different from so much spiritualist or psychic information spread around today that cannot be verified or confirmed by multiple trustworthy witnesses. Let’s break down Paul’s message to the Corinthians item by item,
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ [christos, Messiah]
  • died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that
  • he
    [Christ]
  • was buried, and that
  • he
    [Christ]
  • rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he [Christ]
* was seen of Cephas [by Peter], then [he, Christ]
*
[was seen] of the twelve: After that, he [Christ]
* was seen of above five hundred brethren at once;

of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he [Christ]

* was seen of James; then [he, Christ]
*
[was seen] of all the apostles.
And last of all
* he was seen of me [Paul] also, as of one born out of due time.”

1 Corinthians 15:3–8

Some may object to setting out the text of 1 Corinthians in this way, but it is often useful to separate the clauses and note the strong evidence that Paul presents as to the eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection. That strong evidence was convincing to thousands who were witnesses to many of the events surrounding Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
Testimony from Acts

Paul’s evidence comes on top of the numbers that believed as told by Luke in the book of Acts,

“And as they spoke unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.”

Acts 4:1–4

The number of men alone at that occasion who believed was “about 5,000.” This is quite remarkable! Only men are mentioned because the men represented their households and families which included wives, children and servants. The total number of people who believed at that instance in Jerusalem and the surrounding area must have been considerably more.

This evidence spoken about by eyewitnesses is what convinced “a great company” of priests to follow Jesus as the Messiah,

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

Acts 6:7

These priests were all Levites. Many served in the Temple offering sacrifices. Still other verses in Acts talk about other multitudes that were converted.

The information that changed their minds (as “switched” by God to change their thinking) was the same information that Paul presented to the Corinthians. The most important information, the first information, that the apostle Paul taught was about Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, who died, was buried and was resurrected and was seen by hundreds of people who were testifying to their experiences. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, faith does play a part. Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Faith always comes easier when you are familiar with the events, have participated in many of the events, and know people who witnessed the events (even if you did not personally do so).

The Corinthians had none of that shared experience of events surrounding the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. But the Corinthians knew Paul well, they spent a year or more with him. They ate with him, talked and debated with him, talked with his colleagues and other visitors from Judea, such as Cephas and others who told the same message about the multitude of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. The Corinthians believed.

The message that Paul told the Corinthians was the most important message one person could tell another. It comprised the basics, the milk of the Word of God to the Corinthians. If after years of study, (decades of study for some of you), if you are not prepared to talk to others (when appropriate) about your faith, your beliefs and the evidence of God’s love and Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, then perhaps you are believing “in vain” — and merely living for yourself.

Remember the complaint of Paul to the more (only slightly) mature audience addressed in the book of Hebrews,

“… since you have become dull of hearing, for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Hebrews 5:11–14 (Revised Standard Version)

Are you able to keep the basics that Paul taught about Jesus Christ in your memory?

1 Evangelicals call such things “the fundamentals,” hence they are called and call themselves “Fundamentalists.” This is not a bad thing if the “fundamentals” are what Paul talks about (and not things like the non-existent Trinity, the non-existent immortal soul and the non-existent Hell). DWS

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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