It had been reported to Paul that some individuals in Corinth were teaching that there was no Resurrection of the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:12). As one of the many eyewitnesses of the risen Lord, the Apostle Paul clearly and powerfully taught the Corinthian branch about the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and of all mankind. Since the epistles to the Corinthians were likely written before any of the Gospel narratives, Paul’s references to the final events of the Savior’s life and to His Resurrection (as found in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; 15:3–8) are probably the earliest accounts of these events recorded in the New Testament.
Paul explained that the practice of baptism for the dead would have little meaning if there were no Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:29, 55–57). Paul also taught that there are three kingdoms of glory, which he compared to the sun, moon, and stars (see 1 Corinthians 15:40–41). As Paul concluded this epistle, he encouraged the members in Corinth to collect a generous donation to send to the poor Saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Corinthians 16:1). He also encouraged the spiritually faltering Corinthian Saints to “stand fast in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
Following the death of Jesus Christ and before the Gospel narratives were written, the followers of Christ gathered to share stories and discuss what Jesus had taught and done during His earthly ministry. Sharing these oral accounts helped disciples remember the words and deeds of Jesus, and these accounts would have been retold often before eventually being recorded and preserved. Paul may have been referring to such information when he wrote to the Corinthian Saints, “I delivered unto you … that which I also received,” which illustrates his effort to transmit and preserve the gospel knowledge he had acquired (1 Corinthians 15:3, 11; see also Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 11:23).
Paul’s brief summary of the things he had received and delivered includes the doctrines that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried and then rose again on the third day, and that He was seen by many eyewitnesses (see 1 Corinthians 15:3–8). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) similarly identified these teachings as being the core of the gospel: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 49).
We do not know which specific scriptures Paul had in mind when he stated that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3); however, he elsewhere quoted from Deuteronomy 21:23 as he taught about the Crucifixion (see the commentary for Galatians 3:13), and he used phrases found in Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 as he taught about the Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:54–55). Paul’s statement that Jesus’s Resurrection on the third day was also “according to the scriptures” may allude to Hosea 6:2 and Jonah 1:17 (see Matthew 12:39–40). Another prophecy of the redeeming mission of Jesus Christ recognized by the early Saints was Isaiah 53 (see Matthew 8:17; Mark 15:28; Acts 8:27–35; 1 Peter 2:21–25).
For a list of additional Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ, see “Jesus Christ, Prophecies about,” and “Jesus Christ, Types of, in Anticipation” in the Topical Guide. For a list of Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament, see “Quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament” in the Bible Dictionary.
Much of 1 Corinthians 15 is Paul’s response to those in Corinth who said that “there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:12). Those who refused to believe in the Resurrection may have been influenced by the prevalent Greek philosophy that accepted the immortality of the spirit but rejected the resurrection of the body. To counter this false teaching, Paul listed an impressive number of people who had witnessed the resurrected Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:5–8; see also the chart found in the commentary for John 20:29–31). The resurrected Savior’s appearance to His half-brother James is recorded only in 1 Corinthians 15:7. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) spoke about the power of both ancient and modern eyewitness testimonies of the risen Lord:
“Against the doubting in today’s world concerning Christ’s divinity, we seek a point of reference, an unimpeachable source, even a testimony of eyewitnesses. Stephen, from biblical times, doomed to the cruel death of a martyr, looked up to heaven and cried, ‘I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’ [Acts 7:56].
“Who can help but be convinced by the stirring testimony of Paul to the Corinthians? He declared ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and … was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: … And,’ said Paul, ‘last of all he was seen of me’ [1 Corinthians 15:3–5, 8].
“In our dispensation, this same testimony was spoken boldly by the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he and Sidney Rigdon testified, ‘And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!’ [D&C 76:22].
“This is the knowledge that sustains. This is the truth that comforts. This is the assurance that guides those who are bowed down with grief—out of the shadows and into the light” (“I Know That My Redeemer Lives!” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 23–24).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the crowning event of the Atonement, signaling the Savior’s victory over death and sin. Therefore, to those in Corinth who claimed there was no Resurrection of the dead, Paul responded by explaining that if Christ had not been raised from the dead, there could be no forgiveness of sin and no hope for eternal life. President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) spoke of the profound significance of the Resurrection: “Even with the logic of nature’s regeneration and even with the testimony of that empty garden tomb, there are still those who feel the grave is a final destination. But the doctrine of the Resurrection is the single most fundamental and crucial doctrine in the Christian religion” (“An Apostle’s Witness of the Resurrection,” Ensign, May 1986, 16).
Paul also taught that if there were no Resurrection, then “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). On the other hand, when we understand the reality of the Resurrection, we find greater joy, perspective, and purpose, as President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency taught:
“When we understand the vital position of the resurrection in the ‘plan of redemption’ that governs our eternal journey (Alma 12:25), we see why the Apostle Paul taught, ‘If there be no resurrection of the dead, then … is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain’ (1 Cor. 15:13–14). We also see why the Apostle Peter referred to the fact that God the Father, in His abundant mercy, ‘hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Pet. 1:3; see also 1 Thes. 4:13–18).
“The ‘lively hope’ we are given by the resurrection is our conviction that death is not the conclusion of our identity but merely a necessary step in the destined transition from mortality to immortality. This hope changes the whole perspective of mortal life. The assurance of resurrection and immortality affects how we look on the physical challenges of mortality, how we live our mortal lives, and how we relate to those around us.
“The assurance of resurrection gives us the strength and perspective to endure the mortal challenges faced by each of us and by those we love, such things as the physical, mental, or emotional deficiencies we bring with us at birth or acquire during mortal life. Because of the resurrection, we know that these mortal deficiencies are only temporary!
“The assurance of resurrection also gives us a powerful incentive to keep the commandments of God during our mortal lives” (“Resurrection,” Ensign, May 2000, 15). To read more about the prominent role of the Resurrection in the gospel of Jesus Christ, see the commentaries for Mark 16:1–7 and for Matthew 28:6.
The law of Moses dictated that when the yearly crop harvest began, each farmer was to dedicate his first sheaf of grain as an offering to the Lord in acknowledgment that He is the source of all blessings (see Leviticus 23:9–14; Deuteronomy 26:1–11). Paul drew upon the image of “the first of the firstfruits of thy land” (Exodus 23:19) as he described the resurrected Savior as “the firstfruits” of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23; see also 2 Nephi 2:8–9). Just as farmers’ firstfruits were the earliest of many crops to be harvested, Jesus Christ was the first of all beings to be resurrected, thereby opening the way for all of the inhabitants of the world to similarly be raised from the dead. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles confirmed Paul’s glorious teaching that everyone will be resurrected:
“When the Savior rose from the tomb, He did something no one had ever done. He did something no one else could do. He broke the bonds of death, not only for Himself but for all who have ever lived—the just and the unjust [see John 5:28–29].
“When Christ rose from the grave, becoming the firstfruits of the Resurrection, He made that gift available to all. And with that sublime act, He softened the devastating, consuming sorrow that gnaws at the souls of those who have lost precious loved ones” (“Sunday Will Come,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 29).
We are all subject to physical death because of the Fall of Adam. Nevertheless, through the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will all be made alive again (see 1 Corinthians 15:22; John 5:28–29; 2 Nephi 9:21–22; Alma 11:42–44; D&C 29:26–27). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that the Resurrection is a universal blessing granted to everyone on earth: “The Atonement was accomplished, bringing a universal resurrection to billions and billions, lifting all from the grave—regardless of how and when we got there! Therefore, on a clear night, though we see stars of incomprehensible longevity, they are not immortal. But, thankfully, we are!” (“Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 16).
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught that the universal nature of the Resurrection is a manifestation of God’s justice: “No person who has lived and died on this earth will be denied the resurrection. Reason teaches this, and it is a simple matter of justice. Adam alone was responsible for death, and therefore the Lord does not lay this to the charge of any other person. Justice demands that no person who was not responsible for death shall be held responsible for it, and therefore, as Paul declared, ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:274).
To read more about the universal Resurrection, see the commentary for Matthew 27:52–53.
Paul explained that the Resurrection follows an established order or sequence (see 1 Corinthians 15:23). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles summarized the sequence in which the Resurrection occurs: “Order in the resurrection is determined by obedience to gospel law. The most righteous man was first, the most wicked shall be the last; Christ was first, the sons of perdition shall be last” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:394).
Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected. Immediately following His Resurrection, there were righteous Saints who rose from the grave (see Matthew 27:52–53). At the Second Coming, the Resurrection will continue with the coming forth of other righteous Saints, who “are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Through latter-day revelation, we learn that these people will inherit the celestial kingdom (see D&C 76:50–70; 88:97–98). Then will come the resurrection of those who will receive terrestrial glory (see D&C 76:71–79; D&C 88:99). They will be followed at the end of the Millennium by those who will inherit telestial glory (see D&C 76:81–86; 88:100–101). Finally, the Resurrection will be concluded with the raising of those who are “filthy still”—the “sons of perdition” who will receive no degree of glory but will “return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received” (D&C 76:31–39, 43–44; 88:28–32, 35, 101–2).
No baptisms for the dead were performed before the Savior visited the spirit world and bridged the gulf between paradise and the spirit prison. Vicarious baptisms were performed only after Jesus was resurrected. The only Bible passage that mentions vicarious baptism for the dead is 1 Corinthians 15:29, although other ancient texts attest that baptism for the dead was practiced by early Christians. President Howard W. Hunter explained that without the Resurrection, baptisms for the dead would be meaningless:
“‘Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?’ (1 Cor. 15:29.)
“This is a challenging question. Why are you performing vicarious baptisms for those who are dead if there is no resurrection? History bears out the facts of the practice of baptizing for those who had died without the benefit of this ordinance. It would seem certain, from the question that was asked by Paul, that this vicarious practice was followed in the branch of the church in Corinth. His query is well taken. There would be no sense in such ordinances except there be a resurrection. Nothing matters if there is not a resurrection; everything would end in the darkness of death” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 137).
Jesus Christ taught that baptism is necessary to obtain eternal life (see John 3:5). Paul himself was baptized and taught that through this important ordinance we could “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4; see also Acts 9:18). Yet millions of Heavenly Father’s children have died without gaining a knowledge of Jesus Christ or receiving the essential ordinance of baptism. Paul’s reference to baptism for the dead suggests that early Church members knew of God’s plan to redeem the dead (see also John 5:25, 28; 1 Peter 3:18–19; 4:6).
Knowledge of God’s plan for the redemption of the dead and the ordinance of vicarious baptism has been restored in our day (see D&C 124:29–33; 128:12–18, 22). President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency pointed out the critical importance of vicarious work for the dead: “Because baptism by water and of the Spirit is essential for full salvation, in the eternal nature of things all of God’s children should have this opportunity, including those who have lived in centuries past. … Doing something so vital for those who cannot do it for themselves is truly Christlike. By laying down His life to atone for the sins of all mankind, Jesus did that for us which we cannot do for ourselves. The prophet Malachi referenced this concept when he spoke of the coming of the prophet Elijah, who would ‘turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest [the Lord] come and smite the earth with a curse’ [Malachi 4:6]. This is accomplished in large measure through vicarious work for the dead” (“Born Again,” Ensign, May 2001, 58).
Regarding vicarious baptisms for the dead, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered the following invitation and promise to the young people of the Church:
“I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead (see D&C 124:28–36). And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories.
“As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing, with its declaration of lineage, will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you. Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 26–27).
President Howard W. Hunter taught of the blessings that come from both researching family names and then performing the temple work for those individuals:
“Doing work for others is accomplished in two steps: first, by family history research to ascertain our progenitors; and second, by performing the temple ordinances to give them the same opportunities afforded to the living.
“Yet there are many members of the Church who have only limited access to the temples. They do the best they can. They pursue family history research and have the temple ordinance work done by others. Conversely, there are some members who engage in temple work but fail to do family history research on their own family lines. Although they perform a divine service in assisting others, they lose a blessing by not seeking their own kindred dead as divinely directed by latter-day prophets. …
“I have learned that those who engage in family history research and then perform the temple ordinance work for those whose names they have found will know the additional joy of receiving both halves of the blessing” (“A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 4–5; see also Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 93).
In the ancient Greco-Roman world, families frequently visited the graves of their deceased relatives, including on the anniversaries of their loved ones’ deaths. With such frequent reminders of human mortality, the Saints in Corinth may have understandably wondered how the deceased could be restored to life and what resurrected bodies would be like.
In response to the questions, “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35), Paul taught that the resurrected body differs in glory and quality from the mortal body. To illustrate this point, he spoke of planting “bare grain” and eventually harvesting a whole plant or “body” (1 Corinthians 15:37–38). The planted seed typifies the mortal body, which, after death and burial, will come forth in the Resurrection as a glorified, immortal body. The Savior taught a similar analogy in John 12:23–24. Paul highlighted this distinction in another way when he referred to the “natural body” that is buried at death and the “spiritual body” that is raised up in the Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:42–44).
Concerning the nature of resurrected bodies, Paul noted that there are differences between “celestial” bodies and “terrestrial” bodies, just as there are contrasts between the bodies of human beings and those of various kinds of animals. He also explained that in their glory and splendor, heavenly bodies differ from earthly bodies just as the sun, moon, and stars differ in glory.
In February 1832 the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received a vision in which they saw those who receive each of the three degrees of glory, beginning with those who receive a celestial reward:
“These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all. …
“And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun. …
“And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon” (D&C 76:50, 70–71, 81).
After he received this vision, the Prophet Joseph Smith was inspired to modify 1 Corinthians 15:40 in this way: “Also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial, and bodies telestial; but the glory of the celestial, one; and the terrestrial, another; and the telestial, another” (Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 15:40 [in 1 Corinthians 15:40, footnote a).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that there will be great differences in the glory found among resurrected bodies:
“In the resurrection there will be different kinds of bodies; they will not all be alike. The body a man receives will determine his place hereafter. There will be celestial bodies, terrestrial bodies, and telestial bodies, and these bodies will differ as distinctly as do bodies here. …
“… Some will gain celestial bodies with all the powers of exaltation and eternal increase. These bodies will shine like the sun as our Savior’s does, as described by John [see Revelation 1:12–18]. Those who enter the terrestrial kingdom will have terrestrial bodies, and they will not shine like the sun, but they will be more glorious than the bodies of those who receive the telestial glory” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:286–87).
Paul contrasted the “natural body” that is buried at death and the “spiritual body” that is raised up in the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:44). He used the words corruption, dishonor, and weakness to describe “natural” or mortal bodies and the words incorruption, glory, and power to describe “spiritual” or resurrected bodies.
President Howard W. Hunter clarified that when Paul referred to a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44), he was speaking of a resurrected body and not a spirit:
“There is a separation of the spirit and the body at the time of death. The resurrection will again unite the spirit with the body, and the body becomes a spiritual body, one of flesh and bones but quickened by the spirit instead of blood. Thus, our bodies after the resurrection, quickened by the spirit, shall become immortal and never die. This is the meaning of the statements of Paul that ‘there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body’ and ‘that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The natural body is flesh and blood, but quickened by the spirit instead of blood, it can and will enter the kingdom” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 137–38).
For more of Paul’s description of the resurrected body, see Philippians 3:20–21.
Adam, “the first man” (1 Corinthians 15:45; D&C 84:16), was the first to receive a physical body. Jesus Christ, “the last Adam” or “second man” (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47), was the first to be quickened (resurrected) and receive a glorified body (see John 5:21; D&C 88:17). The actions of Adam (with the Fall) and Jesus Christ (with the Atonement and Resurrection) were both necessary for our salvation (see the commentary for Romans 5:12–21).
President Russell M. Nelson taught: “An infinite atonement was required to redeem Adam, Eve, and all of their posterity. That atonement must enable our physical bodies to be resurrected and changed [see 1 Corinthians 15:51–53; 3 Nephi 28:8] to a bloodless form, no longer liable to disease, deterioration, or death” (“Constancy amid Change,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 34).
The phrase “flesh and blood” in 1 Corinthians 15:50 refers to the mortal body, which is subject to aging and corruption. Since the mortal body will not live forever, it “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The immortal body of flesh and bones received in the Resurrection will be glorified and will not deteriorate.
Paul taught that death loses its sting for all of us because Christ won the victory over physical death and sin (see 1 Corinthians 15:54–57). Through Christ’s victory, we can repent and avoid the pain and sorrow caused by sin. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency taught:
“One day we will take that unavoidable step and cross from this mortal sphere into the next estate. One day we will look back at our lives and wonder if we could have been better, made better decisions, or used our time more wisely. …
“It is my testimony that many of the deepest regrets of tomorrow can be prevented by following the Savior today. If we have sinned or made mistakes—if we have made choices that we now regret—there is the precious gift of Christ’s Atonement, through which we can be forgiven. We cannot go back in time and change the past, but we can repent. The Savior can wipe away our tears of regret [see Revelation 7:17] and remove the burden of our sins [see Matthew 11:28–30]. His Atonement allows us to leave the past behind and move forward with clean hands, a pure heart [see Psalms 24:4], and a determination to do better and especially to become better.
“Yes, this life is passing swiftly; our days seem to fade quickly; and death appears frightening at times. Nevertheless, our spirit will continue to live and will one day be united with our resurrected body to receive immortal glory. I bear solemn witness that because of the merciful Christ, we will all live again and forever. Because of our Savior and Redeemer, one day we will truly understand and rejoice in the meaning of the words ‘the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ’ [Mosiah 16:8; see also 1 Corinthians 15:54]” (“Of Regrets and Resolutions,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 24).
Jesus Christ can also remove the sting of death for those who lose loved ones, as President Russell M. Nelson explained: “When death comes, we can move toward the celestial glory that Heavenly Father has prepared for His faithful children. Meanwhile, for sorrowing loved ones left behind … the sting of death is soothed by a steadfast faith in Christ, a perfect brightness of hope, a love of God and of all men, and a deep desire to serve them [see 2 Nephi 31:20]. That faith, that hope, that love will qualify us to come into God’s holy presence and, with our eternal companions and families, dwell with Him forever” (“Now Is the Time to Prepare,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 18).
For additional insight on finding peace during a time of loss, see the commentary for Matthew 28:8.
Paul instructed the Saints in Corinth that when they met each Sunday they should collect donations to be sent to the Church in Jerusalem (see 1 Corinthians 16:1–3; see also Acts 20:7). We learn from Romans 15:25–28 that the Saints in Achaia—a region that included Corinth—gladly made donations out of gratitude for the spiritual strength they received from the Church in Jerusalem. By asking for their donations, Paul encouraged the Gentile Saints to assist and identify with their fellow Jewish Saints. This is another example of Paul’s continuing efforts to build unity between the Jewish and Gentile members of the Church.
Paul concluded his epistle to the Saints in Corinth with a customary farewell, which he himself wrote rather than his scribe (see 1 Corinthians 16:21; see also Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Philemon 1:19). Paul’s farewell here is unusual because before he gave his customary blessing and farewell, he pronounced a curse on those who do not love the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 16:22). Perhaps Paul’s warning and curse were directed at the Saints in Corinth who were creating problems and dissension in the Church (see 1 Corinthians 1:11). Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the phrase “Anathema Maran-atha” (1 Corinthians 16:22):
“Anathema is a Greek word meaning accursed. Hence, a person or thing cursed by God or his authority, as for instance one who has been excommunicated, is anathema. (Rom. 9:3.) ‘Wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.’ (D. & C. 50:8.)
“Paul’s statement, ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha’ (1 Cor. 16:22), probably means, ‘… let him be accursed until the Lord comes.’ Maranatha, an Aramaic word meaning, O our Lord, come, appears to have been used by the primitive saints as a watchword or salutation by which they reminded each other of the promised Second Coming” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 33–34).