The "Ifs" of the Resurrection: Particles and Hope in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

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My friend Graham Ware posted something on Facebook about 1 Corinthians 15 and the language of the "ifs." So this post is inspired by his comment and I wanted to give him that shout out.

Almost every verse in vv.12-19 begins with the particle εἰ (ei, "if"): only v.15 and v.18 are excluded from this. The significance of these particles is that they are rhetorically conditional. Paul is offering the idea of a possible counter fact: "what if" X happened or did not happen?

12 Εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς κηρύσσεται ὅτι ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται…

"But if Christ is proclaimed that he has been raised from the dead…"

13 εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised."

14 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, κενὸν⸀ἄρα τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν, κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν,

"But if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is empty and our faith is empty."

15 εὑρισκόμεθα δὲ καὶ ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ὅτι ἤγειρεν τὸν Χριστόν, ὃν οὐκ ἤγειρεν εἴπερ ἄρα νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται.

"And we are even found to be bearing false witness against God, for we testified concerning God that he raised the Messiah, whom he did not raise, if indeed the dead are not raised"

16 εἰ γὰρ νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"For if the dead are not raised, nor has Christ not been raised."

17 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν, ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν.

"And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins."

18 ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have utterly perished."

19 εἰ ἐν τῇ ζωῇ ταύτῃ ἐν Χριστῷ ἠλπικότες ἐσμὲν μόνον, ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν.

"If in Christ we have hope this life only, we are people to be utterly pitied."

The Christian faith is predicated upon the historical fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul's use of these six conditional particles should cause us to stop and tremble at these thoughts. "If Christ is not raised…" should force us to reflect upon the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus, and his subsequent vindication as Lord and Messiah.

Now, in the days before Easter, we live in these "ifs," hoping in the blessed hope of the resurrection. If indeed Christ was not raised on that one day, then those of us who are "in Christ" will perish utterly, dust back to dust, life into darkness.

May it never be.

But let it sit and linger with us, that Christ himself sat where we sit, and took upon himself the full enfleshment of the human race, for our future glory, for our life itself.

As Paul says in Colossians, our lives are hidden "in Christ" (Col 3:1-4), and he is our treasure chest, the one who locks us away with him for the hope of glory.

But now, as the early Christian men and women did, we wait. And we sit in the dust of the earth, awaiting the God of the Living to beckon us home.

There are no more "ifs," only "whens." So we wait. And we hope.

Nick