From: A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 15 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2012
Problem Texts and Interpretive Issues
15:6: The appearance to “five hundred” at one time: the incident not mentioned in the gospels.
15:8: The seeming inappropriateness of Jesus appearing to Paul.
15:8: Was Jesus’ appearance to Paul a vision?
, 25, 28: The return of the Kingdom to God and Christ being “subject” to the Father again.
: Baptism for the dead.
: In what sense and manner did Paul fight
“with beasts at
: The corrupting power of having the wrong friends.
15:6: The appearance to “five hundred” at one time: the incident not mentioned in the gospels. Different analysts have suggested specific references in the Synoptics and John that Paul probably has in mind when he lists the various eyewitness appearances. Whether the specific identifications are always correct or not is not as interesting in the present context, as the reference to an appearance not alluded to at all in the four gospels: “Five hundred” saw him at once, asserts Paul.
This is mentioned, primarily, because the information Paul has indicates it happened. It also served an additional, very practical purpose: the greater the number of witnesses the lesser the chance of fraud and deception. (Even if these were not as closely involved in Jesus’ ministry as the apostles who are named.) Furthermore, since “the greater part remain to the present,” it was a report that could still be personally verified.
Hence it was not one of those myths that took place in some vague location among individuals one had no chance of ever meeting even if one zealously sought them out. These were people in the (then) “here and now.” Their contemporaries. It makes for fascinating speculation that the Corinthians might have known one or two of these [Page 126] people; on the other hand if there had been a clear local tie-in, one would anticipate Paul having alluded to such to reinforce his argument.
That still leaves us with the question of exactly when and where the incident occurred. And for that we have no direct information at all. To assume that this is, somehow, an alternate account of the events at the Pentecost of Acts 2 is utterly improbable. It would have taken an incredible deviance from Act’s version to come up with such a story. (1) The numbers were vastly larger at Pentecost. (2) The perspective of Acts 1 is that the period of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances had already ended. (3) At Pentecost the effects of the Holy Spirit are seen, but not the body of Jesus Himself (4) It is unbelievers who are addressed rather than the followers who actually saw Jesus.
reasonable is to assume that the place was
argue that the 500 were present at the giving of the Great Commission in the
last verses of Matthew: “Then the eleven disciples went away into
Hence the introduction of an additional group of people into the narrative seems a reasonable deduction—ones who had not yet had the opportunity to come to terms with the resurrection the way the apostles had. And it was to this broader group—not just the apostles—that the commission to go into all the world and teach the gospel was given (Matthew 28:18-20). Admittedly this would not have to be the 500 but Occam’s razor about not introducing needless hypotheses--in this case, a second very large group of observers--would suggest it better to concede the two groups are one and the same. (Of course there is the assumption here that the “others” in Matthew 28:18-20 were a “large group!”)
On the other hand, the Great Commission seems to be a direct order to travel widely with the gospel message. This would seem an onerous burden for 500 “normal” disciples tied down with family and economic commitments. If intended as such—rather than on an “as opportunity arises” basis—it fits far better the smaller group of just apostles.
Furthermore if we go by the chronology in 1 Corinthians 15, we have the appearance to the 500, then James, “then by all the apostles” and then by Paul. This would make a strictly apostolic presence at this meeting far more likely, especially since [Page 127] only the apostles are specifically mentioned. But only if we assume an exact chronological listing is intended throughout Paul’s list and that being seen by the 500 was fully completed on a single day and not repeated. (The account’s brevity certainly sounds like strict chronology is intended. But such brevity can lead to unintended distortion in the minds of later readers not as fully informed of the entire event as the original writer.)
there are weighty arguments against the appearance to the 500 having Matthew 28
specifically in mind. But that still
leaves a problem when limiting it to the apostles, “Then the eleven
disciples went away into
One blogger suggests that there is an undocumented transmission error in the text: “If the auton referring to Jesus in verse 17 were amended to auto, the neuter pronoun ‘it,’ verses 17-18 would read, ‘When they saw it [i.e., the mountain], they worshiped; but some doubted. And then Jesus came up and spoke to them.’ In this scenario, the doubt is an issue after they arrive at the appointed place and worship but before they actually see Jesus.” In the time lag between personal arrival and that of Jesus, their own concerns might well act up and they wonder whether things would transpire as expected.
I find Randy Klassen’s response to this post even more interesting in analyzing what was going on,
I think a better solution . . . lies in a careful definition of 'distazo,' commonly translated "doubt." I think "hesitate" works better here (the root reflects "being of two minds, split"); it's not necessarily a word reflecting their ‘belief’ (as with Thomas being 'apistos' "unbelieving") but could also refer to their actions: "what do we do next? What's going on here?" This makes more sense if we understand the previous verb 'proskuneo' as primarily the action "bow down", more than simply a disposition of the heart/mind. Thus, they have done the first thing that makes sense in encountering the Risen Lord--bow down before him. Now what?
To all of these hesitations, Jesus gives both reassurance of his identity and authority, and something for the disciples to do.
Whether linked with the
presence of the 500 or not, this would be a quite natural reaction. In
To have doubts about the
reality of Jesus’ resurrection at this stage would have been irrational. To have concerns about “what happens now that
we are away from
15:8: The seeming inappropriateness of Jesus
appearing to Paul. In 15:9 Paul
infers the reason for the appearance. It
was not merely to lay the groundwork for his conversion, but also to prepare
him to become an apostle even though he was “not worthy” because he had
previously “persecuted the
The apostle describes the appearance as that to “one born out of due time.” We might immediately think in terms of a prematurely born child, but coming at the end of the list it would be unlikely to have that significance. In a positive interpretation, it could carry the idea of one born late, born long beyond the time when Jesus ended His appearances to men and women. That fits the historical circumstances and Paul’s own claim that he was the last Jesus so appeared to.
there is a clear cut “time delay” in the appearances. A number of years had passed between the
appearances in the gospels and the one on the road to
An overlapping negative implication could well be intended as well, due to his guilt over his preconversion behavior, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (because I inflicted so much brutal adversity on the assembly of God, ATP)” (15:9). Such an overtone would be in keeping with the literal and secondary usages of the Greek term translated “born out of due time (as to one born at the wrong time, ATP).” Literally, it means a “miscarriage” i.e., “an aborted fetus” and is so used in the LXX (Numbers ; Job ; Ecclesiastes 6:3). Its secondary usage means the person is “an object of horror and disgust.”
This leads some to suspect it may have been “a derogatory nickname given Paul by his opponents,” quite possibly due to “something repulsive about Paul’s physical condition or appearance.” Reference to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (1 Corinthians 12:5-10) can be introduced as collateral evidence pointing in the same direction.
However Paul is discussing his own view of himself not that of others. Furthermore, since the context deals with being the last to see the risen Christ (15:8) and his unworthiness to be considered as apostle because of his role as persecutor (15:9), physical appearance seems hardly likely to be in his mind. Perhaps, rather, as Henry Alford powerfully expresses it, Paul considers himself “as unworthy to be called an apostle as an abortion is to be considered a man.” True, he was such, but it just seemed so terribly inappropriate in light of his violent past.
[Page 129] The disturbing physical imagery of the word fitted well with just such a situation: since he had persecuted the church, he was a terrifying “object of horror and disgust” to the church at the time of the events--and to himself afterward as he remembered the injustices and violence he had inflicted. Although the expression can even carry the connotation of “monstrosity,” for Paul to have applied that label to himself would surely have risked impugning the very apostleship he is defending. Yet even here, do we not still refer to extreme cases of violence or injustice as being inflicted by “monsters?”
Was Jesus’ appearance to Paul a vision? Even very religiously conservative
individuals have been known to refer to what happened on the
* Paul called this an “appearance” (ophthe), the same word used of Christ’s literal appearances to the other apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). Indeed, Paul calls it the “last” appearance of Christ to the apostles.
* Seeing the resurrected Christ was a condition for being an apostle (Acts ). Yet Paul claimed to be an apostle, saying, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1).
* Visions are not accompanied by physical manifestations, such as light and a voice.
A. The pattern of no external phenomena accompanying visions. Geisler’s point about such not being expected is easily substantiated in the book of Acts.
1. The death of Stephen. While facing a mob of angry critics, Stephen “being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ ” (Acts 9:55-56). The audience had clearly not seen anything visible or audible occur for they would also have been looking at the same thing, hate Jesus or not—it would have forcibly jerked their attention away from what they were doing. Instead they “stopped their ears” to Stephen’s words ()—not “closed their eyes to what they were seeing”--and took him out of the city and stoned him to death.
2. The Gentile Cornelius is described as one who “gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ ” (Acts 10:2-3). Ending one verse with “prayed” and with the next verse describing the vision, easily makes one conclude that it was during a period of prayer that the vision occurred. At the very least there is no hint of any external phenomena to alert any others who might have been present.
3. Peter and Cornelius. He saw his vision preparing him for the arrival of Cornelius’ men while in “a trance” (Acts , 17, 19; 11:5). Although Cornelius’ [Page 130] vision coming during a prayer session is only a reasonable (rather than conclusive deduction) from the text, the connection is even firmer in this case: “Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance” (Acts 10:9-10). Again, nothing external for others to behold is even hinted at; no noise, no nothing. It was all internal—unlike what is described as happening to Paul and his traveling companions.
4. Four other visions
to Paul himself. Case One: “Now it happened, when I returned to
Case Two: In the very “vision” telling Ananias to go see Paul in spite of his severe reservations because of his persecution record (Acts 9:10)—again, not accompanied by any hint of a visible external phenomena accompanying it--Ananias is told that Paul “in a vision has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight (Acts 9:10).
This is not the road to
Case Four: In
5. Vision distinguished from real world events in the dramatic escape of Peter from certain death. The miraculous release of Peter from prison (Acts 12) is worth quoting in detail for it deals with issues that are central to whether visions were normally (ever?) accompanied by external phenomena that could be seen or heard by others,
6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said [Page 131] to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people."
First, notice how “seeing a vision” (12:9) is contrasted with what happens in the “real world.” (Today we would likely say, if we were in his place, “I thought I was hallucinating,” seeing things that weren’t really happening; just things we wished would happen.) Secondly, note how he “thought he was seeing a vision” implies that it wasn’t a vision at all (12:9). In a real “vision” he would still have still been in the jail—just as John was still on Patmos after his vision(s) were completed. He finally “came to himself” () and recognized that was not the case—that it was real life, not a visionary experience.
Interestingly, what occurred in this miraculous intervention
involved “a light sh[ining] in the prison” (12:7). Not as dramatic as the light Paul saw that
was brighter than the sun but startling enough in the middle of the night! And in this case the light is explicitly
presented as not part of any vision.
Do we have adequate reasons to think the case was otherwise on the road
6. Summary. In short, we have a uniform pattern throughout Acts—of visions lacking visible and audible phenomena that others could see and hear, which is so clearly described as present in the conversion of Paul in Acts. In our judgment, this argues strongly that this places that incident as something far above and beyond a mere “vision,” but as the objective, physical reality of Jesus literally and personally appearing before the future apostle.
About the only case in Acts that does not provide any clue on the matter seems to be the Old Testament prophecy quoted in Acts 2:17 about “young men” seeing “visions.” There is no textual reference to what, if any, external phenomena would accompany it nor the circumstances that would surround the actual usage, unlike the above cases. Hence there is not enough of a “context” for us to introduce this as an argument for our approach. On the other hand, it is totally bereft of anything introducible for the opposite approach either.
B. Tangible external phenomena—rather than
subjective, purely personal visions—are explicitly attributed to what happened
on the road to
Regardless of one’s stance on what Paul saw, few if any would disagree that there were two verifiable external phenomena—a bright light and a voice speaking.
[Page 132] 1. Acts 9:3: “As he journeyed he came near
2. Acts 22:6 "Now
it happened, as I journeyed and came near
Yes there is a “discrepancy” here between “hearing a voice” (9:7) and “did not hear the voice” (22:6), usually resolved by religious conservatives in the latter case as meaning they didn’t understand what was being said; hearing words, yes, comprehending, no. Some will argue that in 9:7 “hearing a voice” would be better rendered “hearing a sound.” Unless Luke was incredibly blind, however, he was fully aware of these tensions within his narrative. We haven’t “discovered” anything he didn’t already know was there.
The reader may find it interesting to read a “parallel” incident in John 12:27-30 where God speaks publicly to Jesus. Some in the audience respond with it being an angelic communication but how could an angel say to Jesus that I “have both glorified [My Name] and will glorify it again”? Self-glorifying angels sounds oddly strange, perhaps like they didn’t really understand (grasp?) the significance of what was being said? Yet others dismissed it all as “thunder.” They hadn’t “heard” anything—that is words, so they claimed, it was all just “thunder.”
In similar fashion it is easy to imagine those accompanying Paul speaking in more than one way of whether they had “heard” anything and, if so, in what sense. So if you repeated what they said, it was likely to come out with varying nuances according to where, when, and under what circumstances you repeated it.
For our purpose this whole controversy is actually irrelevant. In this case there is also a visible, objective phenomena—the sun so bright at it terrified them. Not a vision—an externally grasped reality.
3. Acts 26:13 "At , O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.” Here we again have an external, objectively witnessed phenomena—the bright light, though no mention is made of what the fellow travelers saw or heard. (This is hardly unusual. These lessons of Paul strive to cram a lot of data into a short space, naturally resulting in different points being emphasized in different places.)
C. The argument that a vision is the only way to explain Paul seeing anything under the conditionss that are described. Ironically, the bright light that we have so emphasized also constitutes one of the major arguments for an implied vision being present. (There would still, however, be the major oddity that you have objectively “real” phenomena—the light and the voice—while at the same time—the actual “seeing” of Jesus—was a subjective vision. Would one not expect it to all be of “the same fabric” rather than the merger of two dramatically different phenomena?)
[Page 133] 1. The very fact that he was blinded can be argued to mean that Paul couldn’t, literally, have seen anything. We know “a light shown around him” (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13); not at him, which would likely blind him due its brightness. “Around” rather suggests being surrounded in a orb of light, which might or might not blind him.
9:8 records, “Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he
saw no one. But they led him by the hand
and brought him into
2. Acts 22:1 can be read to directly assert that
the light so blinded him that he could not have literally observed Jesus. That text certainly
seems to initially point in such a direction of light caused blindness, “And
since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand
of those who were with me, I came into
Furthermore, if it were the brightness by itself, then all the traveling party should have been blinded as well. It shouldn’t have been able to blind one, without blinding all. Indicating that something special happened to Paul above and beyond the light. The literal appearing of Jesus would certainly meet that criteria and is the only other “separate” factor mentioned in connection with the appearance of the light. (True, they heard a voice, but that voice is attributed to Jesus, again making Him the second factor involved.)
We may have inferential data that the light was as much to draw Paul’s emphatic attention as to be an obstacle to his fellow travelers. Acts 22:9 refers to them in these words, “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.” Does anyone really think they saw the image/body of Jesus either? But if they could not hear or see what was being said, does it not seem likely that the bright light was just as much for their benefit, to keep them from seeing what only Paul was chosen to see?
D. What of Paul’s explicit description of the event as a “vison?” In contrast to the light centered argument, the visionary scenario does have one major thing to say in its defense. Acts 26:19 has Paul summing up that day, “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”
Some attempt to avoid this stumbling block by arguing that the vision refers to some later event. This is, however, textually very weak: When verse 18 ends the account of the appearance of Jesus and verse 19 refers to how “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,” it is extremely hard not to read it as a reference to what was just said.
Stronger is the approach that one still, objectively, sees what is being observed. The seeing isn’t invented; what is changed is the how and the why one sees. One writer [Page 134] on this theme points to the vision of Peter where he saw various “unclean” animals and was commanded to rise and kill one of them for food. If the animals hadn’t had all the appearance of genuine and real animals it would have been a nonsensical command even in a vision. Likewise, if Paul saw Jesus in a vision, he still saw that person and no one different: He looked the same; He acted the same; He spoke the same. Hence Paul could with 100% clear conscience attest that he had seen the risen Lord.
The texts we have examined typically use horama (Strong’s 3705) to describe visions in Acts, while the Greek word for “vision” in Acts 26:19 is optasia (Strong’s 3701) and is used four times in the New Testament. The other three cases are Luke 1:22, 24:24; 2 Corinthians 12:1, and we need to examine these texts to see what impact they might have on our conclusions.
1. The example of Zacharias—While burning incense (Luke 1:9) “an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense (). Zacharias was informed of how he would be having a son in his old age who would bring a message of moral reform to the people (-17), a boy who ultimately grew up to be John the Baptist. This appearance involved so much time that those outside wondered what was taking so long ().
Zacharias came out, unable to speak because of his doubt that it would come true: “And they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless” (). They called it a “vision” but to us the text reads like a miraculous angelic appearance rather than a vision, but it did put a supernatural event into language they had no trouble understanding or accepting.
2. The first women at the tomb of Jesus as remembered later in the day by the men on the road to Emmaus—The women found the stone to the tomb rolled away (Luke 24:2) and no body inside (24:3). Perplexed, “two men stood by them in shining garments” (24:4), clearly intended to be regarded as angels by the reader. They reminded the women of His message of death and resurrection from death (24:5-7). Later in the day the wondering disciples, walking to Emmaus, described it this way, “When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive” (24:23).
As we read the actual account of what the women saw and said, it sounds like objective, tangible, genuinely happening phenomena--as we say today “occurring in real life.” Indeed, if we do not believe that Jesus’ body was left in the tomb, we are virtually compelled to the conclusion that what the women saw that day was literally and physically what they were describing. But the newness of what was happening led the men going to Emmaus to transfer it into language they would have far less trouble accepting.
3. Paul’s post conversion life—“It is doubtless
not profitable for me to boast. I will
come to visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1) and
provides one in particular: an
unidentified person (himself?) who “was caught up to the third heaven” (12:2)
Two of the four incidents (Zacharias and the women at the tomb), though described as “visions,” are also narrated as if objective historical, physical events. Paul’s [Page 135] 2 Corinthians reference was of such a nature that even Paul—as he makes crystal clear—wasn’t sure how to categorize it (whether in the flesh or not, etc.).
That makes the odds far more likely than not that in Acts 26:19, accommodative language was used to make the listener of the hour more willing to accept that something supernatural had happened. The listeners were simply unable to accept the unvarnished reality of it being something even more dramatic than the language being used. In other words, the use of optasia actually leans far more toward objectively “seeable” phenomena than “visions” in the sense we normally use the language.
E. Conclusion. I readily admit that one can’t conclusively prove that Paul saw the physical Jesus rather than just a subjective vision, but do not these various factors leave it far more open to acceptance than many would normally imagine?
But let us grant, for discussion purposes, that it was a
vision. It was still real; those with
him knew something strange had happened on the
An aside concerning Totally Fulfilled Prophecy: If Jesus’ “appearances” were truly of the same nature to both the original apostles and to Paul—and Paul’s was only a vision. . . .
If Paul had “seen Jesus our Lord” in the same sense as the original apostles and Paul’s was visionary. . . .
Does not that add up to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances being visions or other non-literal, non-physical appearances with few if any exceptions?
In short, embracing the
visionary scenario can easily be used by Covenant Eschatology and other TFP
variants to prove that Jesus’ early post resurrection “body” was no more
physically tangible than what Paul saw on the road to
The tension between the two types of “resurrection” is removed. We shift from Paul arguing from physical and literal (Christ) to nonphysical (believers) to a consistent argument--reasoning from one example of non-physical, non-literal “resurrection” (Christ) to that of others (all believers, in 70 A.D.).
Hence this approach could easily become a major component in their future set piece arguments. In such a case “the empty tomb” may well stay empty. But by Divine removal of the body and not by bodily resurrection.
, 25, 28: The return of the Kingdom to God and Christ being “subject” to the Father again. That Jesus continues His reign so long as there is a universe seems incompatible with the “return” () and “submission” language () utilized by the apostle. Biblical texts that discuss the matter of the length of His reign can be read in several ways:
[Page 136] Approach 1: Yahweh regaining His direct Kingship per the impression provided by 1 Corinthians 15. That would not, however, necessarily result in Christ losing all leadership role, just that of the pre-eminent one. For what it is worth, this is the only text I have found that speaks in such terms. On the other hand, embracing the concept that the Father has, in effect, permanently renounced His own ultimate Kingship is itself a mind boggling concept.
At the minimum, the fact that the Father is pictured as giving Christ Kingship authority implies (short of the renunciation option), that He retains the inherent right to receive it back. What Paul does is tell us that He will exercise that option.
Approach 2: Jesus never actually surrenders kingship, basing that claim on texts speaking of His kingdom being eternal: “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter ); “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke ). “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’ ” (Hebrews 1:8).
As to the “forever language,” Everett Ferguson points to Exodus 40:15, Joshua 14:9, and 1 Kings 9:3 as examples of where “forever” terminology is used with the connotation of long-lasting or extremely long-term rather than literal permanence. Approached this way, the tension would certainly be reduced or removed between the various approaches.
The time duration significance
lasted far longer than the
The promised land is described to the Jews as “your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God” (Joshua 14:9). In exile, the bulk of the population was clearly stripped from “their” land. Basing the promise on “wholly follow[ing] the Lord,” they clearly forfeited the land on repeated occasions due to their failure to meet the Divine conditions.
Hence the “forever” language was conditional and the Lord tolerated their spiritual insurrection for centuries before bringing such “comprehensive” consequences to bear. For generations at a time they lived there, faithful to Him or not. Living through it, it seemed permanent, abiding, never-ending. Hence, again, it is best to take the “forever” language as meaning long-term, indefinitely long-lasting but without the
[Page 137] “written in stone” connotation of “no matter what” and “no chance of cessation” overtones that we would gloss onto the language today.
Our own experience should teach us better: How many can identify “the day that will live in infamy?” Or a century from now, how many will recall the meaning of “9/11?” So even for us, “forever” terminology often takes on the same connotation; yielding to abstract theory, we read far more into it.
Therefore Jesus having a kingdom that is “forever” does not necessarily require Him to be ruling over it for eternity.
prophecy Peter quotes in Acts 2 could be interpreted in a manner amenable to Jesus’
literal eternal rule approach: “For
David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my lord, Sit at My right
hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Therefore let all the house of
In all fairness, the instruction, “Sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool” could describe the resurrection to 70 A.D. period when things are not totally subject to Christ; afterwards comes the period when everything has been subjected to Him. (I haven’t come across this argument but it is so obvious I would be surprised if it hasn’t been used by Covenant Eschatologists.)
Indeed, from the standpoint of an earthly king we could imagine a father telling His Son: “I’m going to carve you out a country of your own; be patient till I complete the conquest and it will be yours.” (Whether a wise earthly king would consider any son that trustworthy is a very different matter. To rule his own land would be a great honor—but also provide a great temptation: ultimately using it as a base to overthrow his own father.)
Alternatively—and more realistically--we could imagine an aging earthly king saying such words with the connotation: “I will set things fully in order within my current kingdom so things will be ready for you to take over when I die.”
This only establishes that there might be two ways the “till” could be interpreted. It could refer to a preliminary period ending but—at least equally reasonably—it could be interpreted as the time when the “subordinate’s” reign would terminate. Both are interpretations of the text. Which is right?
The Full Preterist approach is certainly not how Paul interprets the reality in 1 Corinthians 15:24, “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.” The time of the total conquest over all of Christ’s enemies is pictured not as the lead into of an indefinite, further reign, but as the success that permits His reign to come to an end.
Note carefully His actual language: To Paul “the end” applies to both the returning of the kingdom and the suppression of all forms of opposition to Divine power. To him they are wrapped up all together as part of “the end.” Both happen as part of it.
If words were permitted to mean what they normally do, this would represent a major conceptual problem for Covenant Eschatology since they insist that 1 Corinthians was fulfilled in 70 A.D. If that were so, then Jesus’ reward for His hideous death on the cross was a mere forty year reign! In contrast a two millennium plus reign—well, that certainly represents a length of ruling that makes the sacrifice--from His purely personal standpoint--far more worthwhile. And far better fitting the “forever” description of the period of His rule.
[Page 138] Covenant Eschatology avoids this rebuke by insisting that Jesus’ personal and full kingship doesn’t begin until A.D. 70. The “end” Paul refers to is actually the beginning; to the extent that it is an “end” at all, it is the end of the preliminary phase.
As to the possibility that “the end” really means something different than its conventional connotation, that we will return to later. As to more conventional interpreters, I would argue that Paul provides a definitive understanding of the duration covered by “until” in the O.T. prophecy quoted in Acts 2. Such interpreters do not have the “opt out” alternative available to CE advocates. (Though it is not impossible that some will find it sufficiently appealing to embrace it to better justify their own eternal Son kingship view.)
Approach 3: Jesus and His Father co-rule both now and through eternity. There are texts speaking of the kingdom being that of both Father and Son: “an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). This could be a sequential reference (God’s kingdom coming after Christ’s end) or a simultaneous one. If sequential, it ties in perfectly with 1 Corinthians 15:28.
In this sense we could refer to both reigning together in eternity and in the current world as well. The words of Jesus in John (“the Father is greater than I”) is certainly compatible with this idea that, even while on earth, Christ viewed Himself both as Divinely appointed Leader and yet with someone greater in authority present as well.
Nor was this only prior to being made king. In a similar vein in 1 Corinthians 11:3, we read that “the head of Christ is God.” It is also advisable to remember the prophetic text, Psalms 110:1, that Paul utilizes in this very chapter: The messiah is told, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Since the last enemy to be destroyed is death, then Yahweh would be present throughout the reign working on His designated Messiah’s behalf.
Is this not, at heart, a virtual co-reign with the only difference being which, at the moment, is given the “most” prominence? If this precedent describing the “here and now” is correct, there would seem no reason that something similar does not exist after the kingdom is formally returned to the One who made it possible in the first place.
2 Timothy 2:11-12 makes the intriguing promise that “if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” Note the future tense “will.” If Christians in some sense rule with Jesus, it would surely not be out of place to assume that, at the minimum, Jesus would retain sub-regency or co-regent status at God’s right hand in eternity. In such a case, one could use any of the preceding three sets of descriptions to describe the duration of Jesus’ reign.
Approach 4: Only Yahweh Himself ever rules. Pushing this in its most literalistic form, this would be an explanation preferred by skeptics of inspiration—God never surrendered the throne (even temporarily) to anyone, period. Even traditionalist Jewish interpreters would be unlikely to embrace this, for it leaves no room, ever, for a Messianic king. In short, it fits some of the Biblical data, but far from all of it.
On the other hand, one could well contend that even during any co-reign with Jesus--or Jesus’ “independent” reigning centuries--it is still Yahweh’s own standards that [Page 139] are utilized and the Son rules on behalf of His Father, not as if in competition. Or replacement with His own separate agenda.
Psalms 146:10 insists, “The Lord shall reign forever—Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” Psalms 145:13 similarly speaks of how, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” Exodus says it even more compactly, “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
both 1 Corinthians 6:10 and Galatians 5:21 we read of evils that will keep one
from “inherit[ing] the kingdom of God”—an intended distinction from the
current kingdom of Christ or as reaping the benefits of being in the current
kingdom of God? Likewise the “
If the texts referring to the “eternal” reign of Christ (Approach 2) are read to exclude the idea of His ever returning the kingdom to His Father, then texts such as above would seemingly exclude Yahweh ever giving it to Him in the first place. The assertions of both sets of texts work quite well if one accepts that Jesus was given the kingdom to rule but on the understanding that it would be ultimately returned to the Father at some indefinite point in the future (Approach 1). It also explains why both Father and Son may be referred to as having the kingdom (Approach 3)—they do but at different times. It also fits comfortably with Approach 4, since throughout the entire time, the same kingdom exists but who is exercising current “hands on leadership” (so to speak) differs with the specific time period under consideration. And those time perimeters are set by the Father Himself.
It is not uncommon, however, to shift the subject from Jesus’ regal status being changed to, implicitly, something significantly different—as if the former must imply the latter. Harold H. Buls provides an excellent example of this phenomena, “God will be all supreme, even to Christ, the Christ incarnate even though in the state of glory. He is not saying that Christ will cease to be King of kings. He is not saying that Christ will cease to be true God. He is not saying that Christ, according to His divine nature, is inferior to the Father.”
In my judgment, Buls provides the root reason for the hesitancy of so many to concede—or, at least, to admit as probable—that Jesus will yield His supreme Kingship at the end: He is afraid that Jesus will cease to be “God” and that it will mean His divinity “is inferior to the Father.”
Neither of which has anything to do with rulership. He is afraid of what else the text might be used to “prove”—which are not even mentioned in the passage—rather than in sticking with what is discussed, direct, supreme rulership. What Jesus’ Divine Nature was then, it is today; what it is today, there is every reason to believe it will be forever. That exists independent of Kingship. The latter conveys post or position rather than inherent essence or nature.
The subject shift approach has been carried out in a number of ways through the centuries. For example:
[Page 140] (1) The attitude exhibited on the occasion is the intended point. Some gloss the text with an explanation of the mind frame underlying the subordination, effectively replacing the fact of the change to that of the tact of the change. Cyril of Jerusalem thought the emphasis should not be on the resubordination itself but on the fact that the authority was voluntarily surrendered, rather than it being involuntarily--a reading fully compatible with Paul’s wording, but not changing the fact that the power relationship has been altered as well.
(2) His Mediatorship is abolished. In 1 Corinthians 15:28 it is Jesus becoming subject to His Father; nothing is asserted as to His role of Mediator between God and man being abolished, although one can certainly imagine that occurring--perhaps. (Will there be such a role in eternity? Can a vast multitude, even in those exalted circumstances, exist without some type of intermediary system? Ponder the dynamics of human interaction before answering.)
Some take a different tack in regard to this, by contending that “the current office of 'Mediator' indicates submission to the Father . . . even now, so when that office ends, a future subjection” has no need to take place. It already exists.
However I suspect that we all recognize and concede that Jesus performs distinctly different and independent functions in His role as Mediator separate from those He has as King. Since they are autonomous functions and not synonymous ones, He can perform both simultaneously without one set of duties compromising His role in the other.
Likewise, one of two so different posts ending, doesn’t affect the continuance or non-continuance of the other. Even if both end, it would be because it was time for that to occur, not because the Kingship had ceased.
(3) Others than Jesus Himself will go through the subjection. In antiquity, Athanasius suggested two possible explanations of 1 Corinthians 15:28. He argues in De Incarnatione that it is not Christ personally who is subjected to the Father, but Christ’s “members,” His body, the church –the imagery of the church as His body being well known from its usage in Ephesians. If that is the intent, a minor modification of the Pauline text would have made it obvious. That easy modification is notably not made. In contrast, the intent seems clearly to be on the change in Christ’s own status rather than that of His body/people.
(4) Jesus’ fleshly nature is what is removed and He becomes, “fully,” what He had been prior to His incarnation in a fleshly body. One would think that the textual language would then speak of “glorification” (or some parallel idea) rather than use words suggesting the laying aside/removal of something, in particular kingship.
Even so, John Calvin thought this line of reasoning quite attractive. He took the passage to mean that afterwards we would see Jesus as He really is and not just in His human form. Then “Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered by a veil.” As he explained, “When the veil has been removed, we will see God plainly, reigning in His majesty, and the humanity of Christ will no longer be in between us to hold us back from a nearer vision of God.”
It is not really a matter of Jesus surrendering his kingship but He Himself being now manifested purely and solely in His divine (rather than human) form. Yet His personal “transformation” is never discussed in the verse; only His return of the kingdom.
From Calvin’s remarks it is easy to see how the interpretation of this text has often been needlessly wrapped into the controversy over Jesus’ nature and the
[Page 141] relationship of Jesus and Yahweh in the Godhead. Just as both male and female are human even though Paul can describe the married female as subject to her male husband--and yet this in no way compromises their shared humanity--any “subordination” of Jesus to the Father in no way alters their shared divinity and deityship. They are always divine and deity, just as much as every one of us is always human.
(5) His core nature is unchanged, shifting the subject from a change in power to the denial of a change in essence. In antiquity, Athanasius’ second explanation of the text is found in a dialogue critiquing the Macedonians and he argued that it affected Jesus’ human nature not His Divinity. “This subjection no more involves inferiority of essence, than His subjection (Luke ) to Joseph and Mary inferiority of essence to them.”
The problem, of course, is that Paul is discussing whether there is any change in Jesus’ regal status in eternity. This actually has nothing to do with His “essence” in the first place. The example of being “subject” to His earthly parents was likewise a matter of authority relationships and not inner nature.
Removing the issue by redefining the meaning of the language that is used.
A. Changing the meaning of the “until” language. At least as early as Cyril of Jerusalem it was stressed that “until” language (“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet,” 15:25), did not necessarily requires a cessation of the reign, “This passage no more implies a cessation of the reign of Christ than the words ‘from Adam until Moses’ (Romans 5:14) imply a ‘cessation of sin after Moses.’ ”
Clever argument but the proof text doesn’t provide the necessary language—Romans 5:14: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” The text does not say that sin or death ceased but rather that its “reign” was removed—through obeying the sacrificial ordinances of the Mosaical system one was promised salvation when the Messiah sacrificed His blood (Hebrews 9:13-15). In other words, there was now a way to escape their sin. It did not rule triumphant, unescapable, any longer; its consequence of moral and spiritual guilt was now removable.
There is an even more fundamental problem than even this: Paul’s point includes that one did not have to sin the same sin as Adam (“according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam”) in order to be a sinner. He wishes to explain how sin could exist between Adam and the Law—sin still exists, whether it violates the unique command to Adam (“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” Genesis 2:17) or some other violation of the Divine will.
Hence the ending of the existence of sin is the furthest thing from his mind in Romans 5:14; but the ending of Christ’s reign is the center of attention in 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25, 28.
B. Changing the meaning of the “deliver up” language. In our own time, some have attempted the same result of maintaining Jesus’ never ending Kingship via their advocacy of Full Preterism. Jim McGuiggan writes,
Note that the text says he shall ‘deliver up’ the ruler (kingdom) . Mr. [Max] King claims this means he gives it “its rightful place.” King says [Page 142] (Spirit of Prophecy, 144): “To ‘deliver up the kingdom to God’ does not mean to ‘give it up,’ and cease to reign or be king, but rather to raise it up or restore it to its rightful place.” Emphasis is mine. . . King claims [this even though it] . . . is contrary to New Testament usage and all of the lexicons because he has no other alternative. . . . King says the passage speaks of 70 A.D. at which time Christ begins His reign as established King. This passage ends His mediatorial reign which involves delegated authority. . . .
“Then cometh the end when he shall deliver up the rule unto God” (). Check the word paradidomi for yourself. And check the lexicons which all agree that “deliver up” (paradidomi) means to surrender, to give over into the hands of another, or some such equivalent.”
A check of a spectrum of modern translations confirms McGuiggan’s claims:
“when He delivers” (NKJV, RSV);
“when He hands over” (
“He will give” (CEV), “He will give up” (BBE), “He gives up” (Darby);
“when He is to surrender
the Kingship” (
The two translations often
preferred for “accuracy” when the others are against the Covenant Eschatology
Young offers a rather odd reading here that argues that either word meaning has significantly changed since He did his translation work or that Paul wasn’t sure whether such a passing of reign would occur: “Then—the end, when He may deliver up the reign to God, even the father, when He may have made useless all rule, and all authority and power.”
Of course “may” also implies that he isn’t even sure whether Jesus’ triumph over all foes will be total or not. I prefer to believe this is some peculiarity of English usage of Young’s day.
: Baptism for the dead. There have been a multitude of speculations on the subject, some produced by creative, inventive and (to their critics) speculative “stretching” of the terminology the apostle uses. The very fact that one has to work so hard to get some of them out of the passage, argues that one is dealing with interpretive “reach” rather than a firmly based and sound textual analysis. Late in the nineteenth century William Milligan provided a concise summary of some of the more “creative” versions that were currently branded about,
Few words of the New Testament have occasioned greater perplexity than these, and few have received more numerous or more discordant interpretations. To discuss all the latter is impossible, nor would any good end be served by the attempt.
They are in general too artificial and far-fetched, as when it is suggested that the words refer to baptism over the graves of the dead (Luther), or to the washing of the dead body (Beza), or to the removal of ceremonial defilement contracted by touching the dead (Ewald).
Or they suppose an amount of ellipsis and abbreviation which it is impossible to accept, as when the clause “for the dead” is understood to mean a confession of faith in the resurrection of the dead supposed to have been made at baptism, and by which therefore those who had not renounced their baptism, though they were denying the resurrection, were self convicted (Hammond).
Or they put a meaning into the word “dead” out of keeping with the whole tone of St. Paul's argument in this chapter, understanding by it not the actually dead, but the dead in sin (Hofmann). Upon interpretations such as these it is unnecessary to dwell.”
Indeed, near the beginning of the twentieth century there were about forty explanations circulating; now there are some two hundred. Here we will limit ourselves a selection of the most appealing and most popular speculations.
Reference to an apostolically accepted custom. The New Testament contains a number of references regulating the practice of baptism. If there was an apostolically accepted practice of baptism for the physically dead, it is more than a little strange that all reference to when, under what circumstances, and by whom it was to be done are totally omitted.
William Milligan rightly points out that there is what we today would call “distancing rhetoric,” in Paul’s language—appealing to a custom, but one that he carefully avoids associating himself with,
Throughout the whole of the rest of the passage he uses the
pronouns “we” and “I” and “you.” “Why do
we also stand in jeopardy every hour?”
“If I fought with beasts at
But here there is a change, “What shall they do which are baptized for the dead?” “Why then are they baptized for them?” And the change would almost seem to indicate that with these persons the Apostle refuses to connect himself. He says not what shall we do? what shall you do? but what shall they do? They have a certain practice. We have nothing to do with it.”
Reference to a deviant custom utilized to reinforce the argument. To develop a little further the point we just made, even in 15:29 itself Paul may be intending an important distinction between general practice and that found among a minority, “Otherwise, what will they (not you) do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all. Why then are they (again, not you) baptized for the dead?” Since this falls [Page 144] in the midst of a discussion of the certainty of the physical resurrection, the “they” must be certain individuals advocating the no-resurrection view. To argue from their practice on baptism would no more endorse their practice of baptism for the dead than arguing from their practice constitutes a denial of the resurrection.
Furthermore to provide an explicit rejection of the practice would sidetrack the entire discussion away from the issue--the resurrection--that Paul wants to keep front and center. Hence the baptism for the dead would refer to a local Corinthian custom rather than one recognized by Paul and not even one embraced by the entire membership.
A widely accepted custom of baptism for nonchristians who had not
had the opportunity to be baptized through they had learned about the new
faith. The most compelling form
of this argument is to assume that they had undergone a period of
indoctrination with the intent of leading up to baptism but had died before
having been baptized. For example, Steve Ziesler speculates that
possibly a major epidemic or other catastrophe had killed a number of
non-baptized converts in
The practice as it existed among the Marcionites is described by Chrysostom in these words, “When anyone who is instructed departs this life, they hide a living person under the bier of the dead man and approach the corpse and ask him if he wishes to receive baptism. Then when that one does not answer, the one who is hidden underneath says on his behalf that he wishes to be baptized. Thus they baptize him instead of the one who has departed.”
problem with this scenario is that in the New Testament baptism is spoken of as
occurring as soon as a person became fully convinced of the truth being heard
(Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). The “indoctrination”
came afterwards (Matthew 28:18-20) rather than prior to the
baptism. There is no evidence that
Baptism for dead Christians. Conspicuously, Paul does not describe these dead individuals as unbelievers. At least as far back as Chrysostom it was interpreted as being performed on behalf of believers; doing so was an acted-out testimonial to the belief that they would be raised from the dead. The Corinthians the baptism for the dead argument is used against, however, were clearly inclined not to believe in such a personal resurrection. Why then would they go through such a ceremony affirming its existence? And why would Paul not rebuke the idea that a ceremony would somehow assure what God had already pledged to all believers?
Baptism of the non-Christian because of the death of a Christian. In this reconstruction one does, indeed, have a literally dead individual--a believer. Because of affection, concern, familal ties, and (presumably) being inclined in the direction of the new faith due to their encouragement and example, their death pushes them over the edge into action. They finally acknowledge Jesus as Lord and are baptized not just because they recognize it as the Lord’s commandment but also “because of the dead,” their influence, example, and urging.
[Page 145] In a similar vein, some suspect it refers “to those who were converted and baptized out of a desire to be reunited with their Christian loved ones and friends at the Resurrection.” They are baptized not for a salvational purpose but for kinship or affectional reasons. In one sense this is incompatible with the New Testament concept of a universal resurrection: it is going to happen whether one is a believer or not, so why would they feel a need to be baptized? On the other hand, one could imagine individuals undergoing the act (though with what degree of true “faith”?) in order to assure that that “inevitable” resurrection would be one worth looking forward to.
An additional explanation for why converts were baptized: because he or she recognized that obedience was essential and death inevitable. To obtain this conclusion it can be argued that “baptized for the dead” may, with greater justice, be rendered as, “baptized for the sake of the dead.” This fits in well with the following verses: Paul stood in constant “jeopardy” (of death) “every hour” (), in a sense he “die[d] daily” (), and if one does not believe in the resurrection, we might as well live as if there is no tomorrow to live for (). Hence individuals, painfully aware of their own mortality, might be baptized as a preparation for it. Hence we are baptized not for other dead people, but because we ourselves will die and face divine judgment. It is simply an unexpected manner of describing traditional baptism.
Baptism on behalf of the dead Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:29 tends to become the center of attention as soon as the interpreter hits this verse and the emphasis shifts to explaining it as an isolated text rather than seeking an explanation that fits it firmly into the broader context. Hence what is needed is a scenario that would firmly “glue” into that broader framework.
There are only two resurrections discussed in the chapter, that of Christ and that of believers. That of believers is the one at issue; the one all embraced—at least in the past—was the resurrection of the dead Christ.
Indeed, one can make a powerful argument that being baptized for the dead Christ is the subject under consideration—not being baptized for one’s fellow human being. It would be a logical linkage, growing out of their belief in His precedent setting return from the dead to die no more. Furthermore, this provides a firm bond to what has been said earlier in the chapter. Michael E. Hull presents the case this way,
the act of faith whereby they profess conviction in what Paul preached in
is, if you will, an aide memoire. One can almost hear Paul bellowing:
“Look at those eager baptismal candidates. Look at their faith. It was once yours. They believe all that I preached about Jesus. They do not doubt that many persons including myself have seen him alive after death. They do not [Page 146] doubt that those among us who have fallen asleep will rise on the last day. As a matter of fact, it is their firm belief in the resurrection of Christ and of His dead that moves them to baptism. That is what they believe. That is what you once believed. Come back to your senses!”
: In what sense and manner did Paul fight
“with beasts at
So long as it happened quickly and the group dispersed before the altercation drew the attention of the authorities, there was little that a person could do to keep such a tragedy from occurring. Barring a very unusual circumstance they were going to get away with it. (And, as in the Acts case [-40], agitation could become so heavy that the rioters simply didn’t care what happened and could be restrained only with the greatest difficulty.)
Describing men and women who have the potential and, quite possibly, inclination to do us physical harm as “beasts” was an idiom found among others as well. The Christian Ignatius referred to his imprisonment as one of “fighting with wild beasts, being bound to ten leopards,” i.e., his guards. In Titus a pagan prophet is described as describing his fellow Cretans as “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” and then adds the telling endorsement, “this testimony is true (verse 13).
Indeed, because they were blessed with functional human minds, such foes were, in some ways, more dangerous than literal beasts. A literal wild animal does not lay down a plan or conspiracy that may take weeks or months to unfold. If you escape immediately from their presence, you are “home free;” the human equivalent will be lurking in the “wilderness” of the urban population and you will never know when he or she may finally feel it safe to strike out.
Bruce W. Winter argues that the beasts were internal rather than external. He points to Greco-Roman sources who described self-destructive temptations and actions as “savage beasts” that had to be both fought and conquered. In the context of a discussion of the resurrection, the idea would be that it would have been futile and worthless to have successfully destroyed his own self-destructive tendencies if there were no resurrection awaiting him. (On the other hand if these are truly self-destructive temptations then the conquest of them would seemingly have a reward—or at least the possibility of one—i.e., a much longer mortal life.)
Paul had been faced with literal beasts, it is odd that there is no mention of
it either in 2 Corinthians 11, where he lists his various sufferings, nor in
the text of Acts. On the other hand, 2 Corinthians 11 mentions
multiple shipwrecks and other events not mentioned in Acts. This confrontation in
True, yet there is a great difficulty in making the leap from possibility to probability. For one thing, a Roman citizen could not legally be a gladiator--either
[Page 147] bearing the title or fulfilling the function of one in combat with others or wild animals. If Paul had ever fought with wild animals in the arena, it would have been grounds for invalidating his appeal to Caesar, which was based on his having citizenship.
can approach this from a different standpoint, but with the same result: Only if an individual were stripped of his
citizenship could he legally be forced to the arena
and that would be as part of a formal condemnation to die by the means of wild
beasts. So such a combat would, again, indicate a
lack of citizenship and have made impossible his appeal to
Furthermore when “amateurs” were thrown in the arena against wild animals only one result was intended and only one result could occur—they landed up dead. They had neither the skill (nor, likely, been given the weapons) to defend themselves. And Paul, of course, was quite clearly not dead.
Of course one could speculate that what happened was done without any legal pretext at all or was one quickly recanted by the local authorities. In light of the illegality of a citizen even attempting such a fight, it would have been in the interest of the Ephesian authorities to have halted the combat as soon as they recognized who was involved--or for more responsible officials to have done so if there had been an initial legal pretense. But this creates yet additional difficulties of fitting the purported event into what is known of Paul’s life from other sources.
: The corrupting power of having the wrong friends. Paul is a realist. He recognizes that we both affect others and are affected by them. Hence he urges the Corinthians, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’ ” (“ ‘Evil associations ruin good moral character,’ ” ATP) ().
Unlike the bulk of his quotations this is not a Biblical one. It is a summary of a famous statement attributed to the fourth century BC poet Menander, “A person’s character is ruined by bad companions.” (Arthur P. Stanley quotes a longer form with a poetic underpinning, “Character may be undermined by talk / Honesty may be undermined by roguery.”) Doubtless, many of the companions Meander thought were good ones, Paul would have put in the opposite category. Even so, the principle would stay the same. The Corinthians thought so highly of Greek wisdom, they were so willing to compromise their ethical independence--so Paul tells them, then listen to your own heritage!
Whether Paul had ever read the comedy which the quote probably comes--the Thais--is unknown and unknowable. Furthermore, it has only been preserved in fragments, so we have only a partial picture of how he developed the theme. It may well be that it had become one of those popular proverbs adages that had taken on a life in the common culture independent of its original source. In our own age both Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible represent depositories of both imagery and wordage that still exist independent of their original source and even context.
The broader Biblical context of -34 deserves at least passing consideration,
If, in the
manner of men, I have fought with beasts at
Why were they guilty of falling into evil behavior due to their companions—or, at least, being tempted to do so? Remember, he introduces this in linkage with the denial of bodily resurrection. Two options are definitely possible.
One is that recognizing that there is no resurrection, they were severely tempted to abandon the restraints on behavior that that belief inherently imposes. Hence one finds no trouble keeping regular company with those who appeal to our baser instincts, with a resulting growing moral degradation as the result.
The other possibility is that the “evil company”—at least in part—are those Corinthians who deny the physical resurrection. Having pulled out from beneath you one of the major factors keeping you on “the straight and the narrow,” they are either themselves guilty of serious moral errors and enticing you to join them . . . or they have removed the inhibitions that keep you from traveling in such company or acting in such a manner. Even if they themselves do little or none of it.
Clearly Paul is convinced that the belief in an individual bodily resurrection works to discourage evil and to encourage good behavior. Almost certainly the unspoken rationale is that bodily resurrection implies survival of death and answerability for behavior. Remove those and what is to discourage one (except personal inhibitions) from doing whatever one likes? (Yes, not every one will—but Paul regards it as a/the normal reaction to the denial of such inhibiting factors.)
 Cf. F. W. Grosheide, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, in theNew International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953; 1976 printing), 351, and J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, in the Standard Bible Commentary series (Reprint edition, Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 19--), 147.
 W. Harold Mare, “1 Corinthians,” in Romans-Galatians, in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 282.
 F. F. Bruce, I and II Corinthians, in the New Century Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 141.
 For the details of this approach see Lenski, First Corinthians, 636, and David Lipscomb and J. W. Shepherd, First Corinthians, in the New Testament Commentaries series (Nashville, Tennessee: Gospel Advocate Company, 1935; 1974 printing), 223.
 Suggested as a possibility by Utley, 185, though without presenting a detailed case such as we have.
 W. F. Howard, “First Corinthians,” in The Abingdon Bible Commentary, edited by Frederick C. Eiselen, Edwin Lewis, and David G. Downey (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1929), only gives the connection a “perhaps” evaluation. The rest of the analysis is my own.
 Mike [Anonymous], “ ‘But Some Doubted’ (Matthew
28:17).” Part of Mike’s Thinking Aloud
 Quoted by Ibid.
 Orr and Walther, 318.
 Utley, 185.
 Kugelman, 273.
 Bengel, 253.
 Orr and Walther, 318, note that this is a rather “late use” and seems thoroughly inappropriate in this context.
 Norman Geisler, “Evidence For the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead;” from Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker, 1999), 6-7. At:
http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/historical-Jesus/resurrection/PDF-Articles/Evidence%20for%20the%20Resurrection%20of%20Christ%20from%20the%20Dead%20%28Geisler%29.pdf. [January 2011.]
[Page 150]  Cf.
James P. Holding, “Paul’s Three
Conversion Accounts—in Contradiction?”
Part of the T
 For this and other approaches see Ibid.
 Alden Bass, “Paul’s Conversion Account: They Heard Him / They Heard Him Not?” Part of The Skeptics Annotated Bible Discussion Board. At: http://sabdiscussion
board.yuku.com/topic/980. [July 2011.] The elaboration provided is my own.
 James R. Johnson, All Power to the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, Volum 1 ([N.p.]: Xulon Press, 2010), 83.
 One source for the text of each occasion is George V. Wigram, The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament—Coded with Strong’s Concordance Number, Ninth Edition (1903; reprinted with Strong’s numbers by Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 535-536.
 Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Lincona, The Case
for the Resurrection of Jesus (
 Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 19960, 34, does not outright endorse this approach, but clearly considers it an attractive option.
 Harold H. Buls, “1 Corinthians -28,” Exegetical Notes, Series A: Epistle Texts, Sundays after Pentecost (Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1984; “adapted . . . with permission”). At: http://pericope.org/buls-notes/1_corinthians/1_corinthians_15_20_28.htm [September 2011.]
 Lias, 150.
[Page 151] 
[Anonymous; web name of
 Lias, 150.
 As quoted by G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 432.
 As quoted by Lias, 150.
 Ibid., 149.
 Jim McGuiggan, 1 Corinthians, in the Looking into the Bible series (Lubbock, Texas: International Biblical Resource, 1984), 193-194.
 Milligan, 80-81.
 Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), 357. Rudolf Schnackenburg, Baptism in the Thought of St. Paul: A Study in Pauline Theology, translated by G. R. Beasley-Murray (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964), 95, at roughly mid-century, continued to give the same number.
H. Stein, Difficult Passages in the New Testament: Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the Gospels
and Epistles (
 Wilfred L. Knox, n. 37, 328, takes the view that it began as an “orthodox” practice but later became exclusively connected with heretical movements.
 Milligan, Page 86. Constable, 175, stresses the distancing rhetoric and its possible significance, but is more inclined to suspect at least a limited Corinthian practice of the ritual.
 Daniel B. Stevick, By Water and the Word: The Scriptures of Baptism (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 1997), 221, for example, stresses the shift from a generality to a specific sub-group in the text.
 This is the second of two possibilities offered by Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament. Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books/Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 268-269.
 Lambrecht, Studies, 1629-1630.
175, and Margaret E. Thrall, The First and Second Letters of Paul to the
Corinthians, in the
 Zeisler, Steve. “Physical Fitness Forever,” 2.
 As quoted by Orr and Walther, 335.
 Mare, 287.
 Bernhard Weiss, A Commentary on the New Testament; volume 3: Romans-
Colossians (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906), 261.
 Hoke, “Fuzzy Thinking” (internet).
Robertson and Plummer, 359-360, are inclined toward this as the best
explanation. Similarly inclined is
Russell D. Snyder, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” in New Testament
Commentary, edited by Herbert C. Alleman, Revised Edition (Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania: Muhlenberg Press, 1936,
1944), 482. Anthony C. Thiselton, The
First Epistle to the Corinthians: A
Commentary on the Greek Text (
 Gundry, 268. Cf. Bratcher, Translator’s Guide, 150, and Schnackenburg, 102.
 Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 401-402, introduces most of this line of reasoning in defense of the position that they were baptized as the result of knowing Christians who had died, but, if his logic is valid, this seems the more compelling context in which to apply it.
 Michael F. Hull, Baptism on Account of the Dead (1
Corinthians ): An Act of Faith in the
 Lambrecht, Studies, 1630. In a similar vein, also see Kugelman, 273, Orr and Walther, 338, and J. W. MacGorman, Romans, 1 Corinthians, in the Layman’s Bible Book Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1980), 146.
[Page 153] 
Although the danger of severe injury and possible death is often assumed, the
exact nature of either is typically passed over by commentators. For example, William Baird, The
 Weiss, Commentary, 262.
 For the mob danger, see Kevin Quast, Reading the Corinthian Correspondence: An Introduction (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1994), 93.
 As quoted by Stuart Allen, The Early and Pastoral Epistles of Paul (London: Berean Publishing Trust, 1977), 186.
W. Winter, After Paul Left
Change (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 102-103. For further ancient sources invoking one’s potentially destructive instincts and desires as “beasts” see Sandnes, 183-184.
 Parry, 176.
 Observes James B. Coffman, Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Abilene, Texas: Abilene Christian University Press, 1974), 259-260, who is inclined to think that there was a literal such encounter.
 Parry, 176, and Raymond Bryan Brown, “1 Corinthians,” in Acts-1 Corinthians, in the Broadman Bible Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1970), 390.
 Parry, 176. Cf. Bruce, Corinthians, 150.
 James Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938), 254.
 J. S. Ruef, Paul’s First Letter to Corinth, in the Pelican New Testament Commentaries series (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1971), 169. Jean Hering, The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, translated from the Second French Edition by A. W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock (London: Epworth, 1962; 1966 reprint), 172, stops just short of making this argument explicit.
 Quoted by Bratcher, Translator’s Guide, 151-152.
 As quoted by Arthur P. Stanley, 309.
 Sandnes, 184.
 Cf. Constable, 176, and Boring and Craddock, 544.
 Bruce, Corinthians, 150, McFadyen, Corinthians, 218, and Sandnes, 185.
 Bratcher, Translator’s Guide, 152.