If No Resurrection, Then What? (1 Corinthians 15:29-34)


In 1 Corinthians 15:29-34, Paul points out three consequences of denying Christ’s resurrection.

First, Christian theology goes wobbly. Verse 29 refers to the Corinthian practice of baptism for the dead. Nobody’s quite sure what baptism for the dead looked like or why the Corinthians practiced it. Perhaps it involved baptizing a live Christian on behalf of a dead pagan in hope that the dead would receive the benefits of Christian baptism. Whatever it was, it was a Corinthian eccentricity. The New Testament nowhere condones it, it contradicts what the Bible elsewhere teaches about baptism, and no Christian church has ever followed the Corinthian example. Paul briefly cites baptism for the dead as an ad hominem argument against the Corinthians. “If you don’t believe in the resurrection,” he seems to ask, “why do you baptize the dead? It’s not going to do them any good.” Bad theology always leads us into such contradictions.

Second, courage goes soft. Verses 30-32 refer to the intense persecution Paul experienced throughout his ministry, but especially at Ephesus, from which he wrote this letter to the Corinthians. Paul’s question – “why do we endanger ourselves ever hour?” – is quite pointed, for if there is no resurrection, why bother enduring opposition? Throughout the history of the Christian church, courageous men and women have undertaken great missionary labors, at considerable personal expense and danger, in order to advance the gospel. They endured hardship in this life in order to experience unquenchable joy in the next. But if there is no next life, why bother? If Christianity is false, then absolute hedonism is true: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Third, morality goes awry. Verses 33-34 draw the connection between our beliefs and our behavior. If we believe there is no future judgment at which we will be saved or judged, if we believe in other words that there is no resurrection, then we can do whatever we want. We will eat and drink. We will all become hedonists. Here’s the problem, though: Hedonism contributes nothing good to this life or to the life to come. Think about it. A person solely committed to the satisfaction of his own desire for pleasure is unlikely to do anything heroic or significant in this life. Because the heroic and the significant involve hard work, especially the hard work of enduring opposition. Had Martin Luther King Jr. been a hedonist, would we have had a Civil Rights movement? Had William Wilberforce and the “Clapham sect” been hedonists, would the British slave trade have been abolished? Had Jesus been a hedonist, would any of us have been saved? So, Paul tells the Corinthians to “come back to [their] senses,” literally, to “sober up,” for there is work to do in this life and joy to experience in the next.

If there is no resurrection, then what? Wobbly theology, cowardice, and immorality. These are hardly the building blocks of a life useful to God and others.

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