From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 15                    Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2012




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Chapter 7:

Old Testament Allusions









How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument





            15:2:  The importance of persistence in holding to what one has believed.  Paul pleads that they “hold fast that word (hold firmly to it, ATP) which I preached to you,” i.e., those teachings that they had learned when they were converted.  He stresses that this is essential if they are to be “saved.” 

            The Old Testament also stressed that once one has gained spiritual or other insight, that one is obligated to hold to it steadfastly and persistently.  “Take firm hold of instruction,” urges the Proverbist, “do not let her go; keep her, for she is your life” (4:13).   Parental teaching in particular is to be figuratively bound around the “neck” and “heart” so that it will be a constant admonition to the right lifestyle (6:20-23).  The effort to gain such knowledge is costly both in effort and time.  Hence the “monetarization” of the idea when the same book urges its reader to “buy the truth, and do not sell it” (23:23).

            Early in Proverbs, the concept is conveyed by the plea that the reader “not forget” what was being taught, but to continue to live by it (3:1).  The reward is both temporal (“length of days and long life”) and psychological (“peace” with others) (3:2).  Although Proverbs mentions relationships with God more than is sometimes recognized, the predominant emphasis is concededly on practical consequences in the current world.             Hence, it is very tempting to limit “peace” to having calm and tranquil relationships with the men and women among whom one lives.  On the other hand, the [Page 118]    principle would logically apply to peace with God as well.  Furthermore, the emphasis in the following immediate context is on the relationship with God (3:3-12).  “Peace” with God is the functional equivalent of “salvation” since in both cases one has a relationship with Yahweh that is regarded by the Deity as acceptable.


15:3:  The Messiah dying for the sins of His people.  Paul makes no bones that the idea of a crucified Messiah was repellent to most Jews (1:3, in this epistle for example).  Hence there was nothing in the prevailing exegesis of the day that made it the common expectation.  On the other hand, if there was nothing in the Torah or prophets that seemed reasonably anticipating such a sacrificial death, it would seem hard to see how the early Christians could have convinced themselves of the validity of the idea--much less anyone else.    

            What, then, are the texts that, at least retroactively, could be looked back upon as speaking of in such terms?  Perhaps the most obvious one is the Suffering Servant text found in Isaiah 53.  It refers to how the Servant was “wounded for our transgressions,” “bruised for our iniquities” and was punished in our place (53:5).  Was this originally written with the death of Jesus in mind?  Even if one contends it was not, if the events the Synoptics record are anywhere close to accurate, there is no way it would not have come to the apostles’ minds as they reflected upon the Old Testament in light of the crucifixion and resurrection they had witnessed.

            Others prefer to find here a reference to Psalms 22 or to the implicit teaching of the Old Testament as an entity rather than to any specific text.[1]  Psalms 22 certainly provides a vivid portrait of a person facing cruel and unjust death and uses language—repeatedly—that fits what Jesus under went in His judicial murder.  What it does not seem to imply is the redemptive value of that death for others. 


            15:4:  The Messiah being resurrected as predicted by “the Scriptures (the scriptural teaching, ATP).”  This reference not only introduced a positive proof in verification of their resurrection claim, but also, indirectly, targeted anyone who wished to automatically dismiss their claims without considering them fully.  Because there were such predictions, as T. Teignmouth Shore put it, “The resurrection was no subsequent invention to try and explain away or mitigate the terrible shock which Christ’s death had given to His followers.”[2] 

If there were texts so explicit that it “hit them over the head” it would have been impossible for Jesus’ contemporaries to expect anything else.  Hence the texts would have to be of such a nature that they were consistent with the idea of a resurrection, implied its possibility, or which in light of the accomplished fact of Jesus’ resurrection seemed to plead for such an interpretation in retrospect.  This is not to deny it was responsible and reasonable exegesis; only that it would not necessarily have occurred to them unless they were already a hundred percent certain that Jesus had arisen from the dead.

            Several such texts are appealed to in the New Testament.  Psalms 16:8-11 is quoted by Peter in Acts 2:25-31 as referring to this event:  the Messiah’s soul was not left in Hades nor did the flesh see decay, insists the passage.  How then could Jesus have possibly remained dead?

              Likewise Acts 2:34-36 quotes Psalms 110:1 in behalf of a resurrection.  In this [Page 119]   case the Psalmist is not quoted as a prediction of the resurrection itself but of the triumph over His enemies that was made possible by the resurrection. 

            In Acts 13, Paul appeals to three Psalms texts in behalf of the belief.  The most directly relevant to the casual reader is the third, “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (13:35 = Psalms 16:10, also used by Peter above).  The other two are quite different.  The first is in regard to vindicating the relationship between God and the person being resurrected, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You” (13:33 = Psalms 2:7).  The second concerns the benefits produced by the resurrection, “I will give you the sure mercies of David” (13:34 = Isaiah 55:3; cf. Psalms 89:28).

            An additional passage well worth consideration is Psalms 22.  Interestingly enough, in the New Testament it is only once quoted and that is in regard to the dividing of the victim’s clothes by his killers (John 19:23-24/Psalms 22:18).  Jesus uses the words of despair found there (Matthew 27:46 = Mark 15:34/Psalms 22:1), but the pain and suffering would produce such an outburst among virtually any pious Jew and they are not introduced as if a quotation.  Hebrews 2:11-12 cites Psalms 22:22 in regard to counting mortals as His brethren and of personally serving God, but not in regard to His death or resurrection.

            Yet those who have read the crucifixion accounts and then read this Psalm, find similar phrases and ideas virtually leaping out at them.  Hence, typically, they can see how much more than just the directly utilized parts are relevant to Jesus’ death.  But to His resurrection as well? 

            A typical rendition of Psalms 22:21-22 (with emphasis added) is that of the NKJV:  “Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen.  You have answered Me.  I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”  This is after His despair (22:15), the piercing of hands and feet (22:16), the dividing of his garments (22:18)—so sure are they His dying beyond recall.  After all of this, these hateful enemies who are as dangerous as “lions” and “wild oxen” are faced with the victim’s answered prayers:  “You have answered Me.”  He hasn’t escaped death for His state of body is so far beyond that that even His possessions have already been divided in anticipation of the imminent demise (22:18). 

Hence taking Psalms 22 as a messianic Psalm due to its use as such, it is extremely hard to take this boast of Divine rescue (22:21-22) as indicating anything other than an ultimate rescue from death; viewed from a post-event standpoint, via the resurrection.

            Aside:  Verse 21 is concluded with a reference to how He has been rescued from His torturers in the NKJV, NASB, God’s Word, the CEV, Darby and Rotherham.  A minority current restructure the verse and make it only a plea for rescue and with no hint whether it has been granted or not (Bible in Basic English and Today’s English Version in particular)

            What is especially interesting is how a messianic psalm is not explicitly applied to the resurrection though it obviously could be.  That could be because a context never came up in the New Testament that made it the most appropriate text to introduce.  Alternatively, that having accepted the messianic relevance of other parts of the chapter, that the application would be made here automatically.       


[Page 120]          15:4:  Precedent for the resurrection being attributed specifically to “the third day” after death.   Where do we go when we (or first century Christians) wish to make the transition from texts that can be applied to Jesus’ resurrection to texts that indicate it would be, specifically, on the third day?

            Hosea 6:1-2 was interpreted as the point of reference at least as early as Tertullian.[3]  It has similary been interpreted as a prediction of Jesus’ resurrection by some later interpreters as well,[4] “Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He had stricken, but He will bind us up.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up that we may live in His sight.”  The plural “us” and the context both point to the nation being revived in spirituality. Although one can grasp the idea of the Messiah’s life being the manifestation in one individual of Israel personified, the emphasis in the context is on sinfulness.  This makes it extremely unlikely to have been appealed to by the early believers who held to Jesus as the embodiment of the very opposite-- moral excellence and holiness.

            Actually, Paul does not quite say that the scriptures predicted that the resurrection would occur on that day.  Instead, he asserts, the resurrection on that day was “according to the Scriptures,” which might be nothing more than “consistent with,” “in accord with.”  A resurrection on any specific day would have been “according to the Scriptures” in this limited sense.

            Even so, a more concrete specificity seems implied by Jesus’ own teaching.  Jonah being left in the sea monster’s belly for three days (Jonah 1:17) is cited in the teaching attributed to Jesus as prefiguring his own destiny (Matthew 12:40).[5]  Since Jesus emerged alive on the third day, this implies a similar expectation concerning Himself.  The fact that Jesus personally cited this event as precedent would seemingly raise it to top or near the top of the likely passages in Paul’s mind. 

            Jonah was an attractive analogy because the case involved both the triumph of death over the victim and the victim’s own triumph of life over death.  Furthermore, since the Jonah text speaks of the prophet praying from within the sea beast (Jonah 2:1), one would have a further parallel of both Jonah and Jesus being “alive” at the same time they appeared to the world as quite dead.

            King Hezekiah was “sick and near death” (2 Kings 20:1).  Isaiah was instructed to tell him “on the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord” (20:5) and he would bounce back from his illness and rule fifteen more years (20:6).  Here we have the elements of a royal figure facing death and escaping it; in the case of Jesus we have a royal figure who does not escape death but is rescued from it on that same third day. 

            Although the right number of days is mentioned, Exodus 19 can be safely dismissed as irrelevant because the idea of dying or being restored to life is nowhere, even marginally, connected with what happens.  In that chapter, it is simply a promise by God to the Israelites that He would appear on Mount Sinai that many days in the future (Exodus 19:10-11).

            Sunday as resurrection day might be deduced from the firstfruits being offered “on the day after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:10-11), i.e., the first day of the week.  In 1 Corinthians 15 Jesus is presented as the firstfruits of the dead (verses 20, 23); hence Sunday being the most appropriate day of the week.  True, but more likely to have been thought of after concluding the resurrection would be on the third day; only then would the “appropriateness” of a given day enter the picture.      

            A “third day” resurrection could also be a deduction from a combination of the [Page 121]   belief that the Old Testament predicted a resurrection and recognition of the very reality that it could not, practically speaking, take any longer than that length of time:  it was a reflection of human experience.  In the case of Lazarus we find a reference in John 11:39 that “shows that by the fourth day a body would begin to ‘see corruption.’  Jesus must not remain dead that long for His body was not to undergo that change.”[6]  Approached this way, a third day (or earlier) resurrection would be viewed as a virtual necessary inference from the very idea that a resurrection is predicted. 

It has been argued that this is also the reason that the three days/nights scenario is specified in Jonah,[7] where the length serves no theological purpose but purely narrative.  If such a survival was to occur at all it had to be before this time.


            New Testament usage of the “third day” time frame.  The “third day” reference provides a second problem, but one related to the New Testament.  We would most naturally take it to mean more or less seventy-two hours.  However, in the scriptural narrative it is dying and being buried on Friday, in the tomb all of Saturday, and being raised early Sunday—more like 1-1/2 days as we reckon duration. 

            Jesus’ enemies remembered how He had promised that, “After three days I will rise” (Matthew 27:63).  His disciples summarized His teaching as, “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).  Hence we would think in terms of plus or minus 72 hours.

Everyday Jewish speech—as all languages—sometimes had a certain ambiguity in actual usage between the bare words and the message they are intended to communicate.[8]  Here we read of “after three days” but in John 2:19 we find Jesus responding to His critics, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 

Likewise the disciples on resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:1) looked back on how He had been delivered by the chief priests to be tried and crucified (24:21) and “today is the third day since these things happened” (24:22).  Not “tomorrow will be” but “today is.”  Since the final/third day of Jesus’ prediction was Sunday, this conclusively makes the first day either Thursday or Friday—depending upon how we define “day.”  It can’t, as some have contended, been a Wednesday.

            Similarly in the Old Testament we find Rehoboam giving the instruction, “Come back to me after three days.”  They took this differently than we would, “So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had directed, saying, ‘Come back to me the third day.’ ”  We don’t know what the day was when Rehoboam gave the instruction but let us assume that it was Monday.  Since they came back “on the third day” that would make it, seemingly, Wednesday while our usage would anticipate it being at least Thursday because of the alternate wording of “after three days.” 

These examples show that part days were counted as a full day for computational purposes; that was the only way returning “on” the third day could be considered as equivalent to returning “after” three days.  We go by a 24 hour clock but this was not the way Jews of the ancient times counted things.  To consult a non-Biblical source, the rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (c. 100 a.d.) spoke of how, “A day and a night make a whole day, and a portion of a whole day is reckoned as a whole day.”[9]

            Hence Jesus being in the tomb from Friday to Sunday was quite adequate to meet their criteria of what constituted three days, odd as it may sound to our ears.

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15:25:  The Messiah reigning till all enemies are subjected to Him.  In the Messianically interpreted Psalms 110:1-2 we read of how, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’  The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.  Rule in the midst of Your enemies!”  The rule begins with hostile forces dominating; it continues until all of them are defeated.  (Also see the detailed discussion of 15:27 in the explicit quotations section above.)

            The Messianic kingdom (rather than the King personally) is pictured in Daniel as enjoying this kind of triumph as well.  The kingdom is described as one “which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and is shall stand forever” (2:44).


            15:33:  The corrupting power of the wrong friends.   Paul’s adage runs true-to-life.  Though a person may have more evil companions than good and escape unscathed, or relatively so, their subtle pressure and on-going example can not help but encourage an individual in the wrong direction.  In Proverbs the principle is applied specifically to becoming close friends with a person who is chronically “angry” and “furious:”  such closeness will encourage us to “learn his ways and [thereby] set a snare for your soul” (Proverbs 22:24-27).

            Proverbs 13:20 discusses how our friends can shape us in either a positive or negative direction, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”


            15:52:  Old Testament texts consistent with or using language suggestive of a general resurrection from the dead.   A few resurrections are referred to in the narrative chronicles that come after the Torah.  For example, Elijah raised the son of the widow who was providing him a home (1 Kings 17:17-24); his close disciple Elisha is likewise attributed the raising of a dead son (2 Kings 4:18-37).  These differed from the example of Jesus and that promised Christians in general in one important particular:  their restoration is pictured as being resurrected never to die again.  Such is never the implication in any of the Old Testament narratives.

            But what of the prospect of a broader resurrection--not merely the temporary rescuing of an individual here or there, but of all the dead from death itself?

            Certain Old Testament texts may also intend the idea of a personal resurrection or, at a minimum, utilize rhetoric that easily encourages such an interpretation.  For example, Psalms 49:15 has the Psalmist proclaiming that “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me.”  Psalms 17:15 suggests not only a survival but also a remarkably altered body (cf. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54), “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.”

            Job is depicted in the book that bears his name as enduring horrible suffering due to nothing he himself had done.  Perhaps it was natural, then, that he raise the question explicitly, “If a man dies, shall he live again?”  (Job 14:14a). 

Then he provides an answer tantalizingly vague, yet seeming to carry with it the conviction that death will not have that ultimate victory, “All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes.  You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of your hands” (14:14b-15).  He presents the grave as if a temporary hiding [Page 123]   place before he even raises the question of surviving death, “Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past that You would appoint me a set time and remember me!” (14:13). 

            He returns to this hope five chapters later, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

            In Job, only one person’s destiny is under consideration.  In a broader application, a resurrection (in some sense) is mentioned as a promise to every one in Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise, awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs.  And the earth shall cast out the dead.”  The reference to “my dead body” is that of the Massoretic text and the Vulgate, among other sources; some Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint substitute “delight” (NKJV marginal note).

            In a similar manner Daniel is urged, “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days” (Daniel 12:13).  These texts may or may not all refer to the resurrection Paul speaks of, but they surely are verbally similar to such an expectation and would encourage the rise of that interpretation by later generations.









Historical Allusions to the

Old Testament





            Creation of Adam (15:45).  As stressed by Paul, Adam was turned into a “living being (person, ATP)” by Divine action (see the explicit quotations section above).  The emphasis is not on the creation of the body but the transformation of that body into a living organism.


“Death” entering the world through Adam (15:21).  Here Paul primarily has in mind physical death, since he has in mind a physical resurrection that will bring such death to an end.  On the other hand the two types of death are irretrievably interlinked--physical and spiritual death both being the twin results of the same rebellion against Yahweh’s basic law.

            The Genesis text does not directly assert the spiritual death aspect, but it certainly illustrates it:  Adam and Eve being ordered out of the Garden of Eden and a supernatural being posted to prohibit re-entry.  Thereby they were cut off from the divine; the spiritual

[Page 124]   level relationship between the prototype human beings and their divine Maker had been shattered and destroyed. 

            This image is also probably the meaning of the threat that they would physically die in the day they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).  By their expulsion and inability to re-enter the garden, they were also cut off from the “tree of life” (3:24) that permitted them to continue to live.  By being cut off from that which preserved physical life, the death blow was administered to them--the only question would be when and not whether the fleshly organism ceased to function.  They lived far longer as to years of life, but the blow they would die of was administered on that day. 

Hence the attribution of “death” to that event.  They were “cut off from life”—the tree of life that gave them continued life.  By definition, doesn’t that mean one is dead?







[1] Cf. Ronald Trail, An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 10-16 (Dallas, Texas:  SIL International, 2001), 278.


[2] Shore, 246.


[3] Adv. Marcionem 4.43, as cited by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Joseph A.  First Corinthians, in the Anchor Yale Bible series (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2008), 548.


[4] Boring and Craddock, 541, believe that “other Old Testament pictures of the triumph of God after apparent defeat for His people” may be under discussion as well, but does not cite any particular text or example.


[5] Cleveland, n.p., and Bob Utley, 1 & 2 Corinthians.  (1996).  At:  http://freebible EN/VOL06.pdf.  [November 2010.] Page 183.


[6] E. M. Zerr, 1 Corinthians-Revelation, in Zerr’s Bible Commentary series (Marion, Indiana:  Cogdill Foundation Publications, 1954), 37. 

[7] George M. Landes, “The ‘Three Days and Three Nights’ Motif in Jonah 2:1,”  Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 86, No. 4 (December, 1967), 446.  At:  http://www.jstor. org/pss/3262800.  [June 2011.]  Page 446.


[8] John V. Cordaro, “Three Days & Three Nights,” citing these New Testament texts and the example of Rehoboam.  At: 3nights. html.  [June 2011.] 


[9] As quoted by Guzik, [n.p.].