An Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15 Part 1: “If the Dead Are Not Rising…”
Paul’s Modus Tollens or Reduction ad Absurdum Argument Considered
By: Michael J. Sullivan
Copyright Michael J. Sullivan 2012
It is commonly asserted that the resurrection of the dead deniers at Corinth did not affirm that Christ rose from the dead or that those whom had died in Christ were going to rise from the dead. However, this view is false and makes no sense for two reasons. First, since the Corinthian’s are addressed as beloved “saint’s” and co-believers with the Apostle Paul – how could they be considered as such if they denied the resurrection of Christ and Christians? And secondly, this view makes no contextual sense if you follow Paul’s argumentation. And on this second point we now turn our attention.
Paul uses a familiar modus tollens logical argument. That is, “If P, then Q. Therefore, not P.”
1) “If P”
“If there is no resurrection of the dead…”
2) “Then Q”
If the dead are not rising…then not even Christ has been raised.”
If the dead are not rising…our preaching is useless…”
If the dead are not rising…and so is your faith.”
If the dead are not rising…we are found to be false witnesses about God…”
If the dead are not rising…then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”
If the dead are not rising…then you’re and my baptism (of suffering & martyrdom) on the part of the dead is meaningless.
If the dead are not rising…then the Father is subject to Christ.
If the dead are not rising…then some of you are ignorant of God.
3) “Therefore, not P”
Since you believe that Christ has been raised, our preaching and your faith are not in vain, those who have fallen asleep “in Christ” have not perished etc…, in other words since the statements under Q you understand to be false, therefore, P – that is your premise that the dead will not or are not rising must also be false. This is the modus tollens form of argumentation.
Paul’s argument is also known as reduction ad absurdum. This form of argument demonstrates that a statement is false (the dead are not rising) by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance. Paul is using things he has in common with what the resurrection of the dead deniers believed in order to overturn and show how absurd their false premise that the dead were not rising actually is. In other words they already believed with Paul that Christ had rose, and that those who had fallen asleep in Christ were rising, etc… So then what was their error or to whom then were they denying a resurrection for?
The Resurrection Error Identified and Who Are “The Dead”?
Since the Corinthians believed in Christ’s resurrection and a resurrection for those whom had died “in Christ,” then to whom is left to deny a resurrection for? In short, the error at Corinth was an extreme view or a hyper-dispensational view of sorts that could not reconcile how the dead prior to Christ’s arrival could be raised into or with the Body of Christ. In short, they were denying a key ingredient to “the better resurrection” that the writer to the Hebrews outlines:
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they [the OT or Old Covenant dead] might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they [OT “the dead”] without us [NT “in Christ” asleep or alive] should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (“the dead”)…” (Heb. 11:35-40–12:1).
The resurrection of the dead deniers at Corinth saw the “better things” for those who were “in Christ” (dead or alive), but could not reconcile how the OT or Old Covenant dead needed to participate in order for both groups to be “made perfect” together. They had the “better things,” and thus the OT or OC dead were left without participation in the better resurrection to come – was their reasoning and error.
Extreme views and excluding the righteous dead was not uncommon – even among the Jews. Some Jews believed that anyone who died outside of the Promised Land would not participate in the resurrection:
“The Talmud records speculations on the various matters connected with the process of Resurrection. There was a firm belief that the momentous event would take place in the Holy Land. Some Rabbi took the extreme view that only they who were interred there would share in the future life. ‘Those who die outside the land of Israel will not live again; as it is said, “I will set delight in the land of the living.” (Ezek. 26:20)—those who die in the land of My delight will live again, but they who do not die there will not’…” “Even a Cananite maidservant in the land of Israel is assured of inheriting the World to Come’…”
So in this extreme view those righteous dead who died outside of the land would not participate in the resurrection. There was a corporate resurrection to take place only “in the land.” Similarly, those at Corinth saw the importance of Paul’s teaching that all prophecy or “all the promises of God were yes and amen” (or fulfilled and realized) “in Christ” and so for them, if you hadn’t been around to place your faith “in Christ,” since the Church began, then there would be no resurrection for those outside that time period. The resurrection could only take place “in Christ,” and since the dead were not present to place their faith in Christ, then they couldn’t be a part of the spiritual Body that was in the process of being raised in their day and therefore the dead must perish. They lost sight of the great cloud of witnesses whom saw Christ’s day and were glad and would thus share in the “better resurrection” with them. According to these two extreme views men such as Moses himself perished because he was not found to be “in the land” or “in Christ.”
Perhaps not as “extreme,” but we see a similar inability to reconcile the OT promises made to Israel and how they would be fulfilled in the NT Body of Christ coming from modern day Dispensationalists whom think there are opposing theologies between the OT and NT. There are two complete separate bodies of believers or peoples of God needing two separate comings of Christ or programs of salvation etc…
These two examples (one within the Talmud and one modern) should be sufficient to demonstrate how it could be possible for some to miss how the OT dead could or even would participate in the NT Body of Christ.
In parts two and three of this series, we will examine the exegetical evidence that a biological resurrection at the end of time is not in view in Paul’s discourse and also examine how Paul seeks to correct the view that the OT dead are not rising or will not be raised with those “in Christ.”
 Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, Everyman’s TALMUD, (New York: E.P. DUTTON & CO., INC., 1949), 361-362.