Summary: When Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens about the resurrection of the dead, they mocked him. The idea of the body being raised was folly to the Greeks.
Captain James Saunders of the U. S. Navy taught a graduate class on the principles of agreement.
As a demonstration, he would give each member of the class a piece of white paper, and ask them to
chew it. The paper had been treated with a chemical called phenylthiocarbimide.
Some reported that it tasted bitter; some said it was sweet; others said it had no
taste. A vigorous argument would break out as to who was right. Each was arguing from personal
experience, and so they were positive they were right, and the others wrong. Then Captain Saunders
would explain that this chemical taste different to different people. So they were all right, even
though they had opposite answers. Life and reality are paradoxical enough so that both sides of an
argument can be equally right.
This should be kept in mind in any debate which is based on subjective experience.
On the other hand, when we come to matters of historical fact, it is either so, or not. An event like
the resurrection is a fact, or it is fiction. Both views can be held, but only one can be correct. This is
true of all of the facts of the Gospel, and, therefore, there can only be one right position when it comes
to any revealed fact. If this was not so, all of Paul's arguments in defense of the faith would be futile.
We do not often realize it, but much of Paul's writing is argument. He is constantly answering
critics, and challenging them, and by skilled logic, refuting their errors.
We can be thankful for the debates of the early church, for without them we would not have much
of what we do have in the New Testament. Controversy handled improperly has caused much harm
in the church. But when it is conducted in the proper spirit it can be a great blessing. Eliminate
debate and open discussion, and you stifle the spirit. Freedom to question and argue keeps the church
fresh and alive. If the Corinthians had not been allowed to question the resurrection of the dead, we
would never have had this enlightening chapter on the subject, and we would have lost one of the
most informative chapters in all the Bible.
Lyman Beecher said, "No great advance has ever been made in science, politics or religion,
without controversy." Jesus was in a constant storm of debate, and so were the apostles, and so has
every Christian who has been used of God to plow new furrows into the harden ground of man's
rebellion. Robert Hall wrote, "However some may affect to dislike controversy, it can never be of
ultimate disadvantage to the interests of truth or the happiness of mankind." Of course, this does not
mean we do anyone a service by being contentious and starting arguments over every issue. William
Penn said, "It were endless to dispute over everything that is disputable."
Paul warns us not to get into foolish disputes which only promote strife and do not edify. Paul saves
his energy to debate issues vital to the Gospel, and that is what we see him doing in this
chapter. We seldom think about it, but the resurrection of the body is a major issue. We don't think
about it because no one around us challenges it. The lack of controversy on the issue has made it a
non-issue for most modern Christians. It was a real issue in the Corinthian church, however, for as
Paul says in verse 12, some were saying there was no resurrection of the dead. Some Christians were
still hung up on their pagan beliefs about the immortality of the soul.
The Greeks very clearly believed in the immortality of the soul, but the body to them was evil and
the source of all sin and weakness. Therefore, they believed when the soul escaped the body at death
it was good riddance forever. When Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens about the resurrection of
the dead, they mocked him. The idea of the body being raised was folly to the Greeks. Even after
some of them became Christians they could not accept the teaching that the body would be raised.
They thought they were being far more spiritual in rejecting such a materialistic concept of the
Paul is here defending the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. He shows that it is based on the
Gospel itself, and to deny it is to tamper with the very foundation of the Gospel. The Christian belief
is that the body is not the source of all evil. The body can be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in
the incarnation, took on a body of flesh, and thereby made the body of eternal and infinite worth and