1 Corinthians 15:12‑34

1 Corinthians 15:12‑34

SERIES: Christ Is the Answer When the Church Is in Crisis

The Logic of the Resurrection

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15:12‑34

Introduction: How many of you here today have changed careers at some point?  Believe it or not, I also had a former life before I became a pastor.  After finishing graduate school at Southern Methodist University in 1969, I taught philosophy and logic for five years on the college level.  I often used the Scripture passage before us this morning, 1 Corinthians 15:12-34, as a textbook example of logical reasoning.  You see, the Apostle Paul was a brilliant man, well‑schooled in languages, rhetoric, and philosophy.  Besides being a great missionary and pastor, he was the first systematic apologist and defender of the Christian faith.  

Unfortunately, the genius of Paul’s reasoning is not always apparent to those not trained in logic, but with a little tutoring, I think we can come to appreciate it.  So I am going to offer a 3‑minute course in Aristotelian logic this morning.  When we are done, I hope all of us will have a greater grasp of the content of this great portion of Scripture, and, more importantly, a greater confidence in the truth of the resurrection. (Note: I am attaching a one-page summary at the end to help you follow the reasoning).[i]  

First we need to define a few terms.  A syllogism is one of the most common and most powerful forms of reasoning known to man.  It consists of an argument with a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion.  Depending upon how one arranges the terms in a syllogism, there are 256 distinct forms it can take, but only 15 of them are valid; all the rest are invalid.  Of course, even invalid arguments can be very persuasive; therefore, we must be on guard against them.

A special kind of syllogism is the hypothetical syllogism.  It employs as its major premise a hypothetical statement of the “if x, then y” variety.  The “if” part is called the antecedent, while the “then” part is called the consequent.  Paul’s argument for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 constitutes a somewhat complicated form of the hypothetical syllogism.  I believe we will understand his argument better if we consider some sample syllogisms of a similar form.  Take the following argument.  

Major premise:  If it rains (the antecedent), the grass is wet (the consequent).

Minor premise:  It is not raining (this premise denies the antecedent).

Conclusion:  Therefore, the grass is not wet. 

How many of you think this is a valid argument?  How many think it is invalid?  How many are afraid to raise your hand because you think it’s a trick question?  Well, as good as that argument might sound upon first hearing it, it is invalid, which means the conclusion does not necessarilyfollow from the premises.  Why not?  Well, the grass could still be wet even if it is not raining, because someone might be watering the lawn, or there could have been a heavy dew the night before.  The form of this syllogism is called “denying the antecedent” (because it denies the “if clause”), and it is always invalid, no matter what the subject matter.

Now let’s consider another example:

Major premise:  If it rains (the antecedent), the grass is wet (the consequent).

Minor premise:  The grass is not wet (this premise denies the consequent).  

Conclusion:  Therefore, it is not raining.  

This argument form, which denies the consequent is perfectly valid, no matter what the subject matter, because the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises.  

Paul’s primary argument here in 1 Corinthians 15 is a valid hypothetical syllogism very similar in form to our second example. 

Major premise:  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.  (13,16)

Minor premise:  But Christ has been raised (denies the consequent).  (20)

Conclusion:  Therefore, there is a resurrection of the dead (unstated but assumed).

Are you still with me?  If not, that’s OK–we’re going to come back to earth real soon.  But before we leave our Logic 101 class, I want you to note that there are a number of sub‑arguments in our passage.  The three principal arguments, three hypothetical syllogisms, are found in verses 13 and 16 and 29 and are introduced each time by an if-clause:

Verse 13: “If there is no resurrection of the dead….”

Verse 16: “For if the dead are not raised….”

Verse 29: “Now if there is no resurrection….”

However, under each of those arguments is a chain of Reductio Ad Absurdum arguments flowing from the main arguments.  Reductio Ad Absurdum comes from the Latin, meaning, “to reduce to an absurdity.”  How it works is that the debater draws the most far-out, ridiculous, and unacceptable (but valid) conclusions he can from a certain premise.  Then when his listener recoils from those conclusions, the hope is that he will recoil also from the premise upon which the conclusions are logically based.  I have tried to show in the outline how these arguments all fit together:  

Main argument, verse 13

Three sub‑arguments, verses 14-15

Main argument, verse 16

Three more sub‑arguments, verses 17‑19

Main argument, verse 29

Three more sub-arguments, verses 29-32

Confident now that everyone is with me and could pass a graduate record exam in Aristotelian logic, let’s read our Scripture passage, and as we do, let’s look for these arguments:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.  But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…. (Now skip to verse 29).

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?  And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?  I die every day–I mean that, brothers–just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, 

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”  Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God–I say this to your shame.”

We noted last week that the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians was not written principally as a treatise on Christ’s resurrection, but rather as a defense of the believer’s resurrection.  The Corinthian Christians were comfortable with the immortality of the soul, but they had strong doubts about the future of the body.  They had some of the same sorts of questions we have today.  “Why will we need a body in heaven?  And what if a person is blown up or lost at sea or fried to a crisp in a plane crash?  What about the person who has been in a grave for a hundred years and the elements have turned him into fertilizer?” 

Adding confusion was the gnostic philosophy of the day, which taught that material things (things that can be seen and touched) were basically evil, or at least unimportant.  The Gnostics were grossed out by the idea of a resurrected body, for the very goal of an afterlife to them was to escape the physical.  One can see some of this philosophical influence in Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill in Athens, delivered to the intellectual elite of Greece.  Acts 17:32 says, “Now when they (i.e., the Athenian philosophers) heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer.”  They listened politely and were willing to dialogue on what Paul had to say until he began to speak of the resurrection.  

Now Paul believed in literal bodily resurrection.  In fact, his concern is to get the Corinthians to realize that bodily resurrection is so important that if one denies it, one must, to be consistent, also deny that Jesus rose.  After all, if dead men in general don’t rise, then dead men in particular don’t rise either.  Well, the Corinthian believers had no intention of going that far; after all, none of them questioned His resurrection.  But Paul’s point is this: “If Christians don’t rise, then Christ didn’t rise, and if Christ didn’t rise, then the following nine unacceptable consequences are true.”

1.  Christian preaching is useless. (14)

Verse 14 reads, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless….”  The Greek word for “preaching” used here denotes not the act of preaching but the content of it, the message.  The content of early church preaching was the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, as we saw last week in verses 3 and 4.  Paul is saying here that if you leave Christ in the grave, then the Gospel is emptied of its content.  It is no longer Good News–it is an empty, hopeless message of meaningless nonsense. 

2.  Faith in that preaching is also useless. (14)

Paul continues, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  It’s only logically consistent that if the Gospel itself is emptied of its content, then the faith of those who believe the Gospel is a sham.  Have you ever gone through periods when doubts about your faith crept in like dark clouds?  Perhaps it was a time of trial or depression or sin.  Even a strong believer may suffer such momentary doubts, but when we look away from ourselves and our circumstances toward God, they usually do not linger.  But Paul says that if Christ has not actually risen, those doubts are perfectly legitimate, for if He did not rise, our faith is indeed useless, a mirage.

If there is no resurrection, the “hall of the faithful” in Hebrews 11 is instead the “hall of the foolish.”  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and all the others listed would have been faithful for nothing.  They were mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, afflicted, ill‑treated, and put to death completely in vain.  In fact, all believers of all ages have believed for nothing, lived for nothing, and died for nothing.  Eugene Peterson gets to the heart of the matter when he translates verse 14 this way: “If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.” (The Message

3.  Preachers, teachers and witnesses are guilty of perjury.  (15)  

“More than that,” he says in verse 15, “we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.  But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”  Again, Paul’s train of thought is not difficult to follow.  If the Gospel is emptied of its content and the faith of Christians is therefore a sham, then those who taught the Gospel must be liars and deceivers.  

This statement has to be considered against the background of what the NT says about false teachers.  They are treated as a Satanic lot, to be denounced publicly and excommunicated from the Church.  And yet here Paul says of himself (and all other people who share the Gospel) that they are essentially false teachers and liars, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.  The Greek actually reads, “we are then found to be false witnesses against God,” implying that we have accused Him of doing something He did not do, if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead. 

4.  The faith of Christians is futile because their sins remain unforgiven. (17)

Verse 17 reads, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  While this fourth consequence sounds very much like the second one (verse 14), a different word is used in the original Greek.  Whereas in verse 14 we are told that our faith is useless, here we are told that it is fruitless, namely it doesn’t produce forgiveness.  The greatest of all human needs is forgiveness, to know that God is not holding us liable for our sins and that the guilt of our sins is no longer on our account.  However, all that is predicated upon the fact that the Savior who paid for our sins on the Cross was also raised from the dead.  In the Cross we see redemption effected; in the Resurrection we see it accepted (by God).  

Think for a moment of the horror you would feel if you were to discover that your sins were still on your account; that you were still responsible for the guilt of all the evil things you have said, done or thought.  That would be true, you know, if Christ has not risen.  A dead Christ is a condemned Christ, not a victorious Christ.  As long as the prisoner is not let out of prison, it must be concluded that the debt has not been paid.  No wonder our faith would be fruitless.

5.  Dead Christians have perished eternally.  (18)

Verse 18: “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”  Here Paul uses an argument based upon the fate of departed Christians.  Few things are more characteristic of early Christianity than the changed view it gave people of death.  For pagans, death was the end of all things.  It was that adversary that in the end would defeat all men.  But for Christians it was no more than “sleep,”a common NT euphemism for the death of a believer, signifying both the rest available to the one at death who has put his faith in Christ and the temporary nature of death.  But that is all a hoax if Christ has not been raised, for in actuality all our saved loved ones whom we thought had just fallen asleep have actually perished–gone for good.  If Christ did not rise, neither will they.  

In March 31, 1997 issue of Newsweek magazine Carl Sagan’s wife spoke approvingly of his fierce resistance toward religion to the very end of his life: “There was no deathbed conversion, no appeals to God, no hope for an afterlife, no pretending that he and I, who had been inseparable for twenty years, were not saying goodbye forever.”[ii]  We Christians, too, must conclude with Sagan that we are saying goodbye forever to our loved ones, if Christ did not rise.

6.  Christians are, of all people, most to be pitied.  (19)

Verse 19: “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.” (The Message) I’ve heard people say, “Even if Christianity were false, the Christian life is the best life there is, for it stresses close family life, honesty in business, kindness to neighbors, and peace with one’s enemies.”  Some even think Christianity is a fairly sure ticket to health, wealth, and success.  Sure, a Christian may (all other things being equal) live longer, healthier and happier, but if they arrived at their lifestyle through the delusion of a phony hope based upon a bogus resurrection, should they be envied or pitied?  Paul would pity them.

But actually Paul would probably disagree with the entire perspective that the Christian life is “the good life.”  For him it is a life of sacrifice and service and, more often than not, persecution and suffering.  And I think his point is really this: “If our faith generates sacrifice and suffering in this life, and this life turns out to be the only life there is, then we were foolish beyond comprehension.” 

Let’s skip over to verse 29 for the third major argument and the last three reductio ad absurdumarguments.

7.  Baptism for the dead is inconsistent.  “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” This verse is without doubt one of the most difficult verses in the Bible.  One commentator I read this week claimed that there are over 200 different explanations of this one verse.  Yet we cannot ignore it, if for no other reason, because one major religion in the world today has built an empire on this one verse.  I’m thinking, of course, of Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and their practice of vicarious baptism for the dead.  In the past fifty years millions upon millions of dead people have been baptized by proxy in Mormon temples so that they might be saved, including Christians, pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even avowed atheists.

A former president of the Mormon church stated, 

“I look upon this portion of our ministry as a mission of as much importance as preaching to the living; the dead will hear the voice of the servants of God in the spirit world, and they cannot come forth in the morning of the resurrection, unless certain ordinances (including baptism) are performed, for, and in their behalf, in temples built to the name of God.  It takes just as much to save a dead man as a living man.” [iii]  

As a result of this belief, the Mormon Church has amassed the greatest collection of genealogical data anywhere in the world, with billions of names in millions of family trees traced back to long before the time of Christ.  Hundreds of full‑time employees do the research, which is recorded on over a billion pages of documents, the originals of which are all stored in a multi‑million dollar underground vault system in a canyon near Salt Lake City.  Now much of the information is available on the internet.  

After researchers come up with new names, hundreds of volunteers go through baptismal rites, hour after hour, day after day, in some fifty Mormon temples, including one less than three miles from where we are sitting this morning.  They don’t hold services in those temples, you know; they are only for secret temple rites, including proxy baptisms.  Many of your ancestors have been baptized in absentia in a Mormon Temple, without either their consent or yours.  

All of this activity is based upon this one verse of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15:29.  But when one examines the verse, it becomes apparent that it serves as a very shaky foundation for such a practice.  And furthermore, it flies directly in the face of Scriptures like Hebrews 9:27 (“man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”) that teach clearly that after death comes judgment, not a second chance, providing someone happens to be baptized for you.  Therefore, I believe this verse deserves careful re-examination.  

First of all, please note that Paul doesn’t command baptism for the dead, but rather merely recognizes and acknowledges that it is taking place.  If proxy baptism really could save millions of dead people, wouldn’t you think the Apostle would have commanded the church to do it, and wouldn’t he have given the topic much more emphasis?  Second, Paul excludes himself from the practice by referring to “those” in verse 29 instead of “we,” as in verse 30.  So if some were practicing proxy baptism, Paul wasn’t among them.  And thirdly, there is not even so much as a hint about proxy baptism anywhere else in the scores of salvation passages in the Bible.  

Well, if we reject the way the Mormons have used this verse, we still need to do something with it.  If it doesn’t describe a way to save your ancestors after death, what does it mean?  I’m going to share two possible interpretations that I believe have particular merit.  First, it may refer to proxy baptism alright, but only for a recent convert who died before he had a chance to be baptized.  I can picture a situation in which a new Christian was killed before he could get baptized.  This was not uncommon in the first century; in fact, a pagan father might kill his own son because he converted to Christianity.  Since he did not have the opportunity to publicly declare his identification with Christ through baptism, perhaps the one who led him to Christ would be baptized for his friend, to honor his fallen comrade. 

Paul, while not necessarily approving of the practice, nevertheless questions the logic of it, if there is no resurrection and the dead never rise.  If this is the meaning of the verse, it represents a somewhat superstitious view of baptism, and happily the custom apparently passed out of practice in the first century.

A second interpretation is based upon a different rendering of the Greek term translated “for”, as in “baptized for the dead.”  It can be translated “in behalf of,” but it can also be translated “in the place of.”  The verse may be suggesting that certain individuals were being baptized to take the place of those who had died for their faith.  A modern example might be the case of the five missionaries killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1955.  Hundreds of young people dedicated their lives to missionary service to take the place of the five who died.  They were, in a sense, “baptized for (to take the place of) the dead.”  Here again the ultimate point Paul makes is the same: why take the place of martyrs, and subject yourself to possible martyrdom, if there is no resurrection?  Save your effort and your own skin.  

8.  Enduring unnecessary persecution is irrational.  (30‑32)

Here the Apostle moves from the use of the third person to the first person, from describing what others were doing to something he is personally involved in.  “If the dead are not raised,” he asks in verse 30, “why do we endanger ourselves every hour?”  In other words, why keep risking one’s neck in this dangerous work?  Not only is there danger every hour, but the possibility of death every day.  “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons,” he asks, “what have I gained?”  Nothing, of course.  Who would endure the terror of the lion pit or the tiger cage for his faith unless he knew for sure there was life after death?  

9.  Everyone should “go for the gusto” while there is time. (32)  If there is no resurrection, the hedonistic philosophy is the only one that makes sense: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  The most inconsistent and foolish person in the world is the nominal Christian who doesn’t really believe the Gospel, but who lives, more or less, by principles that have a biblical basis, “like honesty is the best policy,” “love your neighbor as yourself,” or “serve others ahead of yourself.”  What’s up with that?  If there is no pie in the sky by and by, then one must get his piece of the pie now.  It’s that simple.  

Think for just a moment with me.  If right this moment you were able to see into the future and discover that the moment you die is the end of everything, how would you spend your last days and years?  What would you do differently?  I’ll tell you for myself, if I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I would quit this job yesterday, and I would do whatever it takes to obtain as much money as possible and spend it like it was going out of style on every conceivable kind of pleasure, legitimate or not.  Why do anything else if this life is all that there is? 

William Barclay has well stated,

Take away the thought of a life to come and this life loses its values.  Take away the idea that this life is a preparation for a greater life to follow and the bonds of honour and morality are loosened.  It is useless to argue that this should not be so and that men should not be good and honourable simply for the sake of some reward.  The fact remains that the man who believes that this is the only world tends to live as if the things of this world are all that matter.[iv]  

Up to this point we have seen the consequence of denying the believer’s resurrection, namely Jesus Christ cannot have risen.  We have seen, in turn, nine consequences of denying Jesus’ resurrection, all abhorrent conclusions from which we recoil in strong protest.  But while all these consequences would be true if there were no resurrection, praise God none of them is actually true, because Christ has been raised!  

But Christ has indeed been raised…. (20)

Would you say that with me?  “But Christ has indeed been raised.”  He is risen–He is risen indeed!  And because Jesus was raised…

There is a coming resurrection for believers.  That’s the point of verse 20: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Later in verse 23 he adds, “Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”  That means Jesus was the down payment; so you can count on God to come through with the rest.  Second…

None of these nine unacceptable conclusions is true.  Because there is a resurrection,preaching of the Gospel is not useless; the faith of Christians in that Gospel is not a sham; preachers, teachers and witnesses are not guilty of perjury; the faith of Christians is not futile as their sins have been forgiven; dead Christians have not perished eternally; we are not of all people most to be pitied; baptism for dead believers (or in their place) is at least not inconsistent; enduring persecution is notirrational; and we should not go for the gusto, at least not the way the world understands gusto.  

On the contrary, friends, rather than being of all people most to be pitied, we are most to be envied, for we have a living Savior with whom we will spend all of eternity.  But there’s a third point Paul makes that we must not ignore:

Christians need to come to their senses and stop sinning.  (33-34) Let’s put that in the first person: “We need to come to our senses and stop sinning.”   I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases these verses:  

Don’t let yourselves be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk.  “Bad company ruins good [character].”  

Think straight.  Awaken to the holiness of life.  No more playing fast and loose with resurrection facts.  Ignorance of God is a luxury you can’t afford in times like these.  Aren’t you embarrassed that you’ve let this kind of thing go on as long as you have?  (The Message) 

Paul’s point here is essentially this:  wrong friends produce wrong thinking, and wrong thinking leads to wrong behavior.  This is why I am personally deeply troubled by the degree to which many evangelicals are flirting with unhealthy ecumenical efforts, making the wrong kinds of spiritual friends.  The tolerance that assumes everyone’s faith is valid and we shouldn’t be judgmental about anyone else’s beliefs is widespread but insidiously dangerous.  Just this week I read an article in a major Christian magazine by a professor in one of our best-known Christian colleges, encouraging us to sit down and pray with Muslims, not to convert them but to seek God together. 

Friends, that just doesn’t fit with Paul’s warning here.  Muslims don’t believe in the resurrection, nor do Hindus or Buddhists or a lot of mainline Protestants, for that matter.  We can and should respect all of these people as persons created in the image of God.  We should protect their religious freedom at all costs.  And we should reach out to them in personal friendship to show them the love of Christ.  But sit down and pray with them?  I don’t think so.  

It’s time for us to wake up.  The resurrection is a watershed truth, not to be compromised, not to be downplayed, and not to be ignored.  The Lord is coming, and when He comes there’s going to be a great resurrection.  In fact, there are going to be two resurrections, according to Revelation 20, and it makes a great deal of difference which one we’re involved in.  The first is a resurrection to life, the other a resurrection to judgment. 

Conclusion:  We saw last Sunday that the resurrection of Jesus stands up to the test of historical evidence and the test of personal experience.  Today we have seen that the resurrection also stands up to the test of reason.  Are you convinced?  Does your lifestyle and your character demonstrate that resurrection power and resurrection perspective are realities in your life?

DATE: February 3, 2002



Resurrection of Christ

Resurrection of believers


Baptism for the dead



[i]The Logic of the Resurrection

If there is no resurrection of the dead … (13)

Then not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised …

1.  Christian preaching is useless. (14)

2.  Faith in that preaching is also useless.  (14)

3.  Preachers, teachers and witnesses are guilty of perjury.  (15)

If there is no resurrection of the dead …  (16)

Then not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised …

4.  The faith of Christians is futile because their sins remain unforgiven.  (17)

5.  Dead Christians have perished eternally.  (18)

6.  Christians are, of all people, most to be pitied. (19)

If there is no resurrection of the dead … (29)

7.  Baptism for the dead is inconsistent.  (29)

8.  Enduring unnecessary persecution is irrational.  (30-32)

9.  Everyone should “go for the gusto” while there is time. (32)

But Christ has indeed been raised,… therefore … (20)

There is a coming resurrection for believers. 

None of these nine unacceptable conclusions is true.

Christians must come to their senses and stop sinning.  (33-34)  

[ii].  Kenneth L. Woodward, “Is God Listening?”, Newsweek, March 31, 1997. 

[iii].  Bibliographical information misplaced.  

[iv].  William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, 155.