Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Paul begins a new section about resurrection with these verses. It would appear that this was not a question they asked in their letter to Paul but reflects an issue that Paul has heard about that was troubling the congregation. It would seem that then, as now, certain elements within the church were challenging theresurrection.
These two verses give us the introduction for what will follow in this chapter. Once again, Paul is using a persuasive outline; this is his thesis statement in which he points out that our entire faith is based upon the proposition that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
His first point is that Jesus has been seen by hundreds of people post resurrection− there are many eye witnesses who can still tell you that they saw Him. In the old Law, truth was established on the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses− Paul has hundreds of witnesses… and oh yes, he was also a witness. You might also note that he twice said “according to the Scriptures” in this paragraph. It should not have surprised anyone that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the third day since this had all be foretold in the Scriptures.
This is actually a very compelling argument because it might be possible to get a few people to conspire together to perpetrate a fraud, but the more people who participate in a lie, the higher the likelihood that someone will recant their story under pressure, and many of these had been under pressure. In fact, many had been pressured by Paul himself…
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
Paul himself had persecuted the Church, had put serious physical pressure on people to renounce their faith, even to deny that they had seen the risen Christ, I would suspect. Yet they did not do so. Then he had been approached on that Damascus road by none other than the risen Christ Himself, and somehow, by God’s amazing grace, Paul had been not only saved from his egregious sins, but he became the Apostle to the Gentiles: He has given reliable testimony to the Corinthians about the resurrection of Christ, and it is because of the resurrection of Christ that they have a foundation of faith.
From here, Paul takes an unusual approach as he continues his case for the resurrection…