1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1 Now I would remind you,
brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in
which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you
believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I
also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the
scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in
accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to
the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one
time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then
he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one
untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles,
unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in
vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was 187
not I, but the grace of God which is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or
they, so we preach and so you believed.
888. – After instructing the
Corinthians about the sacrament and about the reality contained and
signified in the sacraments, namely, grace and its effects, the Apostle now
instructs them about a reality not contained but signified in the
sacraments, namely, the glory of the resurrection, which is not contained in
a sacrament, since the one who receives the sacrament does not obtain it at
once, but the glory of the resurrection is signified in them, inasmuch as
the grace is conferred in them by which beatitude is reached.
In regard to the first he does two things: first, he prefaces a tract on the
resurrection; secondly, with this he proves the general resurrection of all
men (v. 12). In regard to the first he does two things: first, he commends
the gospel’s doctrine; secondly, he declares what should be known about the
resurrection of Christ (v. 3).
889. – He commends the eminence of the gospel’s doctrine as to four things:
first, as to the authority of the preachers, because they are apostles. And
this is what he says: Brethren, connecting himself to what went before, I
would remind you in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which is the
same as good news, which begins with Christ. Hence, whatever pertains to
Christ or concerns Christ is called a gospel. In what terms I preached to
you; as if to say: What I have preached to you about Christ I make known to
you, i.e., I recall it to memory, as though the things I write are not new:
“To write the same things to you is not irksome to me” (Phil 3:1). And in
this appears the authority of this doctrine, because it is from Christ, from
Paul and from the other apostles: “It was declared at first by the Lord and
was attested to us” (Heb 2:3).
890. – Secondly, as to the common faith of all people; therefore, he says:
which you received, all of you. But Augustine says that this pertains to the
evidence of this faith, using this argument: For believing things of faith,
miracles are either performed or not. But if miracles are performed, I have
my point, that they are most worthy and most certain. If none is performed,
this is the greatest of all miracles, that by a certain few an infinite
multitude of men were converted to the faith, rich men by poor men preaching
poverty; by men of one language preaching things that surpass reason, wise
men and philosophers have been converted: “Their voice goes out through all
the earth” (Ps 19:4).
But if it is objected that even the law of Mohammed has been received by
many, the answer is that the cases are not alike, because he subjugated them
by oppressing them and by force of arms, but the apostles by dying brought
others to the faith, and by working signs and prodigies. For he proposed
things which pertain to pleasure and lasciviousness, but Christ and the
apostles contempt for earthly things: “When you received the word of God,
which you heard from us, you received it…as the word of God” (1 Th 2:13).
891. – Thirdly, as to its strength, because it confirms and elevates to
heavenly things. Therefore, he says: in which you stand, namely, elevated to
heavenly things. For he is said to stand who is erect and this the law of
Christ alone does: “Justified by faith, we have access to that grace in
which we stand” (Rom 5:1). For the Old Law made one stand, but it curved one
to earthly things: “The eye of Jacob in a land of grain and wine” (Dt
892. – Fourthly, as to usefulness, because the New Law alone leads to the
end of salvation, but not the Old Law: “The law brought no one to
perfection” (Heb 7:19). And therefore he says: by which you are saved. Here
already from the certitude of hope through the beginning, which is our
faith, you are saved and in the future in the truth of the reality: “Receive
with meekness the implanted word which can save your souls” (Jas 1:21); “But
these things are written that you may believe and that believing you may
have life” (Jn. 20:31).
Here he lays down two conditions, the first is when he says: If you hold it
fast. A Gloss explains it this way: If you hold to the reason why I preached
that gospel to you, i.e., the resurrection of the dead, by that reason by
which I confirmed it to you, i.e., by the resurrection of Christ. In other
words: you will be saved provided you hold, i.e., preserve the reason why I
preached the gospel of Christ to you.
He presents the second condition when he says: Unless you believed in vain.
As if to say: You will be saved through faith, if you have not believed in
vain, i.e., if good works are added to faith, because “faith without works
is dead” (Jas 2:26). For that is said to be in vain which exists for an end
which it does not attain. But the end of faith is the vision of God. Hence,
if you are not saved, you have believed in vain, not absolutely but inasmuch
as it does not attain the end. In other words: if you hold it fast. As if to
say: You should hold it fast, unless you would believe in vain.
893. – For I delivered to you. Here he clarifies his proposition. In regard
to this he does three things: first, he shows the origin of the doctrine
about the resurrection of Christ; secondly, he shows what things are
contained in such a doctrine (v. 3b); thirdly, the agreement of preachers on
this doctrine (v. 11).
894. – First, therefore, he says: You should hold fast to that, i.e., keep
in your memory what I delivered to you as of first importance, and still
deliver. Hence what I delivered to you as of first importance, namely, about
the Incarnation, I delivered it not from me or on my authority, but what I
received from Christ or from the Holy Spirit: “Paul, an apostle” (Gal 1:1);
“For I received from the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 11:23); “What I have heard from
the Lord of hosts (Is 21:20).
895. – The things he received and delivered are four, namely, the death,
burial resurrection and appearance of Christ. Therefore, he says: I have
delivered to you, first of all, the death of Christ; hence he says, that
Christ died. In these words he removes two suspicions, which can arise about
the death of Christ. The first is that he died for His own actual sins, or
original sin. This he excludes when he says: for our sins, not His: “He was
stricken for the transgressions of my people” (Is 53:8); “Christ died once
and for all for our sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Pt 3:18).
The other suspicion is that the death of Christ was by chance or by the
violence of the Jews. This he excludes when he says: according to the
Scriptures: “Like a lamb he was led away to the slaughter” (Is 53:7); “I was
like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” (Jer 11:19); “Behold, we are going
up to Jerusalem and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests”
896. – I delivered to you, secondly, the burial of Christ; therefore he
says: that he was buried. But is the burial a special article of faith,
because he makes special mention of it? The answer is that according to
those who number the articles according to the things to be believed, it is
not a special article of faith but is included in the article of the passion
and death of Christ. The reason for this is that faith is concerned with
things that are above reason. Hence, an article of faith begins where reason
falls short. But the first is that the Lord was conceived and, therefore,
the conception is an article of faith; the second is that God was born of a
virgin and, therefore, this is another. The third is that God, incapable of
suffering, suffers and dies, and this is another, and along with this is
also understood the burial. Hence, it is not a special article.
But the Apostle mentions the burial for three reasons: first, to show the
truth of Christ’s death. For the evident sign of one’s death is burial.
Secondly, to show the truth of the resurrection, because if He had not been
buried, guards would not have been placed at the grave on these days, nor
could they say that the disciples had stolen His body. Thirdly, because the
Apostle wants to induce them to believe in the resurrection, and this seems
more difficult, that a buried person should arise: “And his tomb shall be
glorious” (Is 11:10); “They made his grave with the wicked” (Is 53:9).
897. – I also delivered to you the resurrection, that he rose on the third
day: “After two days he will revive us” (Hos 6:2). He says, on the third
day, not because they were three full days, but two nights and one day, by
synechdoche. And the reason for this, as Augustine says, was that God by His
simple, which is signified by one day, i.e., by the evil of punishment,
destroyed our double, i.e., punishment and guilt, which is signified by the
898. – I delivered to you, fourthly, the appearance of Christ, because he
appeared to Cephas. And he presents first the appearance made to others;
secondly, those make to himself alone (v. 8).
899. – In should be noted, however, in regard to the first, that the
appearances of Christ were not made to all in common, but to certain special
persons: “God raised him up on the third day and make him manifest not to
all the people” (Ac 11:40). The reason for this was to preserve order in the
Church in that through certain special persons belief in the resurrection
should reach others.
It should also be noted that not all of Christ’s appearances are mentioned,
nor those that were made to the women. But some not mentioned in the gospel
are mentioned here. The reason for this was that the Apostle wants to refute
unbelievers by reason; and therefore he wanted to present only authentic
testimonies. Consequently, he kept silence about the appearances to the
women and mentioned some which are not found, to show that He also appeared
to many others. But he mentions Peter and James, because they were as
pillars, as it says in Gal (2:9).
900. – He says, therefore: I delivered to you that he appeared to Cephas,
i.e., Peter: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon” (Lk
24:34). And it is believed that among the men He appeared first to Peter,
because he was in extreme sadness. Hence, even the angel said: “Tell his
disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee (Mk 16:17). Then,
i.e., at another time he appeared to the twelve.
Once he appeared to ten only, when Thomas was absent; after eight days to
eleven, when Thomas was present. Augustine says that he should say twelve,
but it was changed by a copyist’s error, and he says that it makes no
difference that Judas had already died and Mathias not yet chosen, because
it is a custom, when the greater part of a group does something, to say that
the whole group did it. Hence, because the Lord has chosen twelve, it can be
said that He appeared to the twelve, i.e., to the entire group of apostles,
but it is not a fault whether it says twelve or eleven.
901. – Then again he appeared to more than five hundred. But nothing is
mentioned in the Scripture about this, except here. Yet it can be said that
this appearance was the one about which Denis speaks in The Divine Names
III, when all the disciples assembled to see the body, which they considered
the prince of life.
But against this seems to be the fact that this was before the ascension,
namely, when Christ appeared to James. But the assembly of disciples to see
the Blessed Virgin, about which Denis seems to speak, was much later.
Therefore, it seems better to say that He appeared to five hundred brethren
all at once before His ascension: and it is not important that there were
said to be 120 disciples, because although the ones in Jerusalem were 120,
nevertheless in Galilee there were many disciples and perhaps all were
assembled at one time, when He appeared.
To make his testimony more certain he says that most of them are still
alive, but some of them have fallen asleep, i.e., died, in the hope of the
resurrection. They call the death of the saints “sleep,” because they die
with corruptible flesh and rise with incorruptible. “We know that Christ
being raised from the head, will never die again” (Rom 6:9).
902. – Then, i.e., after this, he was seen by James, i.e., of Alphaeus. The
reason for this can be assigned because, as it is read, James vowed that he
would not take food, until he saw the Lord. But according to this the order
of appearances is not observed, because if after all those listed an
appearance was made to James, he would have been too long without food and
this is difficult.
Therefore, it must be said that Christ made a special appearance to James,
because James had a special devotion to Christ, and furthermore nothing is
found in the gospel about that appearance. Then, namely, after this, He was
seen by all the apostles in the ascension, as it says in Matt (218:16) and
in Ac (1:3 ff.).
903. – Last of all. Here the Apostle recalls the appearance made to him
alone. In regard to this he does two things: first, he shows the order of
the appearances; secondly, he assigns its reason (v. 9).
904. – He says, therefore: I have said that Christ was manifested to all,
but last of all, i.e., finally and after the resurrection he appeared to me
as to one untimely born, and therefore as the latest.
He says, as one untimely born for three reasons. One, untimely born refers
to a fetus, because it is born outside the proper time or because it is
brought forth with violence or because it is not born with due quantity; and
because the Apostle saw these three things in himself, he says: as one
untimely born. For, first of all, all he was reborn outside the time of the
other apostles. For the other apostles were reborn in Christ before the
coming of the Holy Spirit, but Paul after.
Secondly, because the other apostles were converted to Christ spontaneously,
but Paul by coercion: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice” (Ac 9:4).
And this is of great value against heretics, who say that no one should be
forced to the faith, because Paul was forced. And as Augustine says: Paul
made more progress in the faith, although he was forcibly converted, than
many who came spontaneously.
Thirdly, because he regards himself as less than the others and that he had
not arrived to the virtue of the other apostles.
905. – And therefore, as though assigning a reason he says: I am the least
of the apostles. In regard to this he does two things: first, he shows his
smallness; secondly, he explains the reason for this (v. 9b).
906. – He explains his smallness, first, in comparison to the apostles, when
he says: for I am the least of the apostles: “The least one shall become a
clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation” (Is 60:22); “The greater you
are, the more you must humble yourself” (Sir 3:18).
And although he is the least in relation to the apostles, yet it could be
said that he is great in comparison to others; and therefore, secondly, he
shows his smallness in comparison to others, when he says: unfit not only to
be but to be called an apostle, although I should be called: “Not that we
are sufficient of ourselves but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5).
907. – But it could be said: O Apostle, for the sake of humility no one say
anything false: therefore, since you are great, why do you call yourself the
least? Therefore, when he says: because I persecuted the church of God, he
shows how he is the least and how he is not the least. He calls himself the
least, when he considers his past deeds. And he says: I am not worthy Why?
Because I persecuted the church of God, which the other apostles did not do:
“I persecuted the church of God violently” (Gal 1:13); “Though I formerly
blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him” (1 Tim 1:13). And although of
myself I am the least, yet from the grace of God I am not the least; and
therefore he says: by the grace of God I am what I am. In regard to this he
does two things: first, he commends his condition as to its state; secondly,
as to the execution of his state (v. 10b).
908. – Therefore he says first: of myself I am nothing, but what I am, I am
by the grace of God, i.e., from God, not from me: “Of this gospel I was made
a minister” (Eph 3:7). And he says, what I am, because without grace a man
is nothing: “If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries” (1 Cor
13:2). But how he used and executed his state he shows, saying: and his
909. – Here he shows, first, how he used that grace, namely, for good;
therefore he says: toward me was not in vain, i.e., idle, because he used it
for that for which it was given to him: “Lest somehow I should be running in
vain” (Gal 2:2).
Secondly, he manifests how he exceeded others; therefore he adds: on the
contrary I worked harder than any of them, i.e., than any of the apostles
singly, by preaching, because no one preached in so many places and
announced Christ. Hence he says: “So that from Jerusalem to Illyricum I
fully preached” (Rom 15:19) and even as far as Spain – by working, because
although he, as the other apostles, could require expenses necessary for
them, yet he particularly wished to seek his expenses from the labor of his
hands, as he says in 2 Th (3:8): “Night and day we have worked with our
hands – by enduring tribulation”; for none of the apostles endured such
persecutions and tribulations as he mentions in 2 Cor (11:23): “With far
greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings.
Thirdly, he shows the efficacy of use, because this was not from himself
alone but from the instinct and help of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he says:
though it was not I alone acting but the grace of God, which is with me,
which moves the will to this: “Thou has wrought for us all our works” (Is
26:12): “God is at work in you both to will and to work” (Phil 2:13). For
God not only infuses but He also moves us to use the graces infused well,
and this is called cooperating grace.
910. – Whether then it was I or they, so we preach. Here he shows the
agreement of the preachers; and this can be read in two ways: first, as
confirming what has been said. As if one were to say: You preach thus, but
we do not believe you alone, because you are the least of the Apostles.
Therefore, the Apostle says in reply: Indeed you should believe me, because
I do not preach other things; whether it was I or the other apostles you
saw, they preached that Christ rose and was seen, and you also believed,
just as I and those who preached, namely, that Christ rose and was seen:
“Since we have the same spirit of faith” (2 Cor 4:13).
Secondly, it can be read so that the efficacy of preaching comes to the
apostles from one source, i.e., from the grace of God. As if to say: whether
I preach or they, i.e., the apostles, as we preach, we have done this by the
help and strength of God’s grace; and so even you have believed, namely,
inspired by the Holy Spirit and grace of God without which we can do
nothing: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).