June 15, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #9: The Problem of the Resurrection of Christ and of Believers, 1 Corinthians 15.1-15.58
Lesson 9.4: Baptism for the Dead
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34
1 Cor 15.29-34 (KJV)
29 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?
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
29 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?
Here the apostle resumes the argument he was making for the resurrection which was interrupted at 1 Corinthians 15:19.
There is, perhaps, no passage in the New Testament which has been interpreted in such a variety of ways than verses 29-34; and time has not done much to improve the situation, since the views of expositors now by no means harmonize in regard to its meaning. It is possible that Paul may be referring to some practice or custom related to baptism which existed in his time but is now misunderstood and shrouded in mystery. Some of the opinions held in regard to this passage are listed in the following to show the confusion and variety of explanations that have existed, and may still be present.
1. It has been supposed by some, that "the dead" refers to the Messiah who was put to death by crucifixion.
2. There are those who believe that the word “baptized” is used in the sense of washing, cleansing, purifying, as in Mark 7:4, and Hebrews 9:10 and that the meaning is, that the dead were carefully washed and purified when buried, with the idea that they were being prepared for the resurrection.
Mark 7:4 (KJV) “And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.”
Heb 9:10 (KJV) “Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”
3. Others believed, that to be baptized for the dead means to be baptized as dead, being baptized into Christ, and buried with him in baptism, and that by their immersion they were regarded as dead.
4. Then there was the opinion held by Grotius, Michaelis, Tertullian, and Ambrose and others, that the apostle speaks of a custom of vicarious baptism, or being baptized for those who were dead, referring to the practice of having some person baptized in the place of one who had died without baptism. Among modern cults, it is practiced by the Mormons. Some suppose that this custom had already been introduced into Corinth. It is extremely doubtful that the apostle would have made reference to this heretical practice without, in the same breath, condemning it. This custom probably resulted from the importance of baptism to Christians, especially those who believed baptism to be a necessary part of one’s salvation. It is alleged, that when someone died without having ever been baptized, some other person was baptized over his dead body in his place. Grotius has presented ample proof that this custom was prevalent in the church after the time of Paul, and he is supported by most Bible scholars. But there are several objections to this interpretation.
There is no evidence that such a custom prevailed in the time of Paul.
It is hard to believe that Paul would approve of a custom so pointless and so contrary to the Word of God, or that he would make it the basis of a serious argument.
It is not in agreement with the emphasis and purpose of his argument. If this custom was really what he was referring to, he would have been led to say, "What will become of them for whom others have been baptized? Are we to believe that they have perished?"
It is far more probable that the custom referred to in this passage arose from an erroneous interpretation of this passage of Scripture, than that it existed in the time of Paul.
5. The expression may refer to young converts who took the place of the older brethren in the church who had died, so it would be properly rendered “baptized in the place of”; a idea that may have sprung from 2 Corinthians 5.15—“and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Since the context centers on the reality of the resurrection, it seems that Paul would be questioning why they are continuing to baptize new converts “over” or “in place of” the dead ones, if there is no resurrection, since baptism symbolizes our death and resurrection. To continue to baptize new converts, then, in place of the dead ones, would be meaningless if there were to be no real resurrection of the dead.
6. There is also the opinion that the word “baptized” is used here as it is in Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:39 Luke 12:50, in the sense of being overwhelmed with tragedies, trials, and suffering; and the meaning is that the apostles and others were subjected to great trials on account of the dead, that is, on account of their belief in the resurrection, or the expectation that the dead would rise. This is the opinion of Lightfoot, Rosenmuller, Pearce, Hornberg, Krause, Prof. Robinson, and others, and it has much that seems plausible.
Matt 20:22-23 (KJV) “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.”
Mark 10:39 (KJV) “And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.”
Luke 12:50 (KJV) “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”
There can be no doubt, that with this view in mind, the word “baptized” is used to indicate being overcome by calamities. And it is equally clear that the apostles and early Christians subjected themselves to, or were subjected to, great and overwhelming catastrophes on account of the hope of the resurrection. This interpretation also agrees with the general tone of the argument; and is an argument for the resurrection. And it implies that all those who endured these trials believed that there would be a resurrection of the dead. The argument would be that they had not endured all this suffering for nothing, and that God had not sustained them during times of trial only to abandon them to death; God had not blessed them so much only to disappoint them in the end; they were confident in the resurrection. But there are objections to this interpretation too.
It is not the usual meaning of the word baptize.
A word should not be used figuratively unless necessary.
The literal meaning of the word would serve the intention of the apostle here as well as the figurative.
The phrase "for the dead” causes difficulties for this interpretation, as it did for the others; and, it is altogether more natural to suppose that the apostle would derive his argument from the baptism of all who were Christians, than from the figurative baptism of a few who suffered martyrdom.
7. The last opinion, and the one I support, is that the apostle is referring to the “baptism” administered to all believers. This is the correct opinion; it is the simplest and meets the intent of the argument. According to this viewpoint, they had been baptized with the hope and expectation of a resurrection of the dead at the end of time to reign with Christ. They had received this as one of the principal doctrines of the gospel when they were baptized. It was their firm belief that the dead would rise. The argument according to this interpretation is that this was an essential provision of the Christian faith; that it was embraced by all; that it constituted a part of their actual profession of faith; and if anyone denied it, they were denying one of the foundations of the Christian faith. If they embraced a different doctrine, if they denied the doctrine of the resurrection, they struck a blow at the very nature of Christianity, and dashed all the hopes which they had cherished and expressed at their baptism. What would become of them? What destiny awaited all who were baptized, but did not believe in the resurrection? Was their baptism useless, and would they all perish? Since such a belief could not be accepted, the apostle infers that, if they were committed to Christianity at all, they must accept this doctrine as a part of their actual profession of faith. According to this view, the phrase "for the dead" means, with reference to the dead and it alludes to the belief that the dead will rise.
This is only a partial summary of the opinions held with regard to the meaning of this passage, but I think you will agree that it shows the confusion surrounding it, and that though this is a very difficult passage, the best interpretation is the last one given, since it agrees with the fundamental principles of the Christian faith as presented by the apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers. Immediately following is an article from “AMG's Encyclopedia of Bible Facts” that provides a historical view of Christian Baptism.
Christian baptism, with the original meaning of "to dip, plunge, or to dye, " is an ordinance instituted by Christ (Matthew 28:19, 20), and, like that of the Lord’s Supper meant to be observed in the church, "till he come." The words "baptize" and "baptism" are simply Greek words transferred into English.
THE BAPTISM OF JOHN AND THE BAPTISM OF JESUS
There is one important similarity, and one important difference between the baptisms John undertook and the baptism Jesus preached about.
Both baptisms stressed the need for the person being baptized to repent. John’s baptism is described as "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" Mark 1:4 NIV.
But the baptism Jesus spoke of added one crucial modification to the baptisms John performed in the River Jordan. As John himself said, referring to the baptism Jesus ushered in: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" Matthew 3:11 NIV.
Jesus would baptize with "fire" and the "Spirit" and not just with water, as John did. So the baptism of Jesus could never be thought of as a mere mechanical act. Water-baptism and Spirit-baptism were intended to go hand in hand.
JESUS’ COMMISSION TO HIS DISCIPLES TO BAPTIZE
Jesus’ final command in Matthew’s Gospel is that his followers are to teach and to baptize. Those who are baptized are called "disciples." From this it seems reasonable to conclude that such people should be both repentant and have faith in Jesus.
Such baptism was to be in the name of Jesus or in the name of the Trinity.
This Christian baptism was totally different from pagan baptism, or Jewish baptism, and also qualitatively different from John’s baptism.
PAUL AND BAPTISM
Paul carried out Jesus’ teaching about baptism in his own ministry. It is clear that his converts were baptized. "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius" 1 Corinthians 1:13, 14, NIV.
Paul could never be accused of using or thinking of baptism as some magical rite. Paul thought of Christian baptism as the means for entering into the Christian community and fellowship and doing so in a spiritual way. "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" 1 Corinthians 12:13, NIV.
Paul emphasizes the spiritual meaning of this baptism and teaches that it is only by the Spirit that any true baptism takes place.
Christian baptism should therefore never be restricted to one type of person: "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" Galatians 3:27, 28, NIV. For the Christian Church was never meant to have distinctions between race (Jews and Greeks), or between the sexes (male and female), or between social status (slave or free). For those who had been "baptized into Christ" had "put on Christ." See Romans 13:14; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10.
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
“Every hour” means constantly; the situation described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:26—“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.” The apostle was in danger so often that the perils he faced must seem to occur “every hour.” This was certainly true in the situation he encountered in Ephesus—“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
"in jeopardy" means in danger—“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Cor 11:26; KJV). Paul is saying that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then they are foolish to put their lives in danger. “Is there any reason why we should voluntarily submit to so much pain and torment, and every hour be in danger of losing our lives, if the dead will not rise?” This refers particularly to Paul himself and the other apostles, who were constantly exposed to danger due to the difficult work of making the gospel known. The argument here is obvious. It is that such efforts would be vain, useless, and foolish, unless there was to be a glorious resurrection. They had no other reason for encountering these dangers than to publicize the truths connected with that glorious future condition; and if there were no such future state, it would be wise for them to avoid these dangers. "We would not constantly place ourselves in dangerous situations, unless we were sustained and encouraged by the hope of the resurrection, and unless we had evidence that there would be such a resurrection." They had considered the cost, and in spite of the suffering and the prospect of death, they were steadfast in preaching the gospel, which included the doctrine of the resurrection, because they knew they would be resurrected unto eternal life.
Everyone knows that it was dangerous being a Christian, and that it was especially dangerous for a preacher and an apostle, at that time. Note, only a fool would profess to be a Christian if there was no hope for a future life, at least during those perilous times when Christianity was in its infancy; because it would require men to risk all the blessings and comforts of this life, and to face and endure all the evils of life, without any future prospects. Is this the type of religion that would appeal to anyone in their right mind? Without doubt, if there is no resurrection, there is no sense in suffering persecution for Christ. On the contrary, it is only logical that one would do whatever is necessary to prolong and enjoy their life on earth, since there would be nothing beyond this life.
However, since Christ is raised from the dead, believers are identified with Him. As Paul said to the believers at Rome, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3–4). We are joined to a resurrected, living Christ. “Now if Christ was not resurrected, then,” Paul says, “I am foolish to make the sacrifices I have made down here—my life stands in jeopardy every hour. I am constantly in danger of death.”
31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
“I die daily,” as it is used here, does not mean that Paul restrained and subdued the flesh every day, though he did say earlier in this letter that he kept his body under subjection, meaning all fleshly desires. The context tells us that he, to all intents and purposes, faced danger, of one type or another, every day. Paul’s life was in constant jeopardy, and he never knew when he might be called upon to give his life for the gospel. “I am day by day in sight of death, exposed to it, and expecting it.” Paul spoke often of the hazardous life he lived, by choice, and he probably did it in order to impress on their minds the steadfastness of his belief in the certainty of the resurrection, on account of which he suffered so much, and to show them that all their hopes rested also on this doctrine.
• For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:11; NKJV).
• For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:8-9; NKJV).
• “Are they ministers of Christ?--I speak as a fool--I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often” (2 Cor 11:23; NKJV).
• “As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Romans 8:36; NKJV). The verse Paul quotes is Psalms 44:22, which did not originally reference Christians, but gives a fitting description of their condition. The condition of saints in the time of the psalmist was similar to that of Christians in the time of Paul. The same language would apply to both.
o For thy sake. We do it for you, and for the cause of Christ, and in obedience to Him.
o We are killed. We are subject to, or exposed to death. We endure suffering equivalent to dying. "God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death." (1 Co 4.9)
o All the day long. Continually; constantly. There is no intermission to our danger, and to our exposure to death.
o We are accounted. We are reckoned; we are regarded, or dealt with. That is, our enemies think we ought to die, and consider us the appropriate subjects for slaughter, with as little concern or remorse as they would show for the lives of sheep.
"Now,’’ says he, "what benefits do I receive from the perils I encounter, if the dead do not rise? Why should I die daily, expose myself daily to the danger of dying by violent hands, if the dead do not rise?
“I protest,” is a mild bit of swearing, and denotes a strong assertion. The subject was important; it was one which deeply interested Paul; and he makes a strong protest to the Corinthian believers. Compare John 3:5. "I solemnly affirm, or declare."
“by your rejoicing,” that is, by the glorying which I have concerning you, as the fruit of my labors in the Lord. "Your rejoicing," may refer to the enjoyable state of the Corinthians, as contrasted with his dying daily to give his converts rejoicing or glorying (see 1Co 4:8 2Co 4:12, 15 Eph 3:13 Php 1:26).
“By your rejoicing” probably means "I protest, or solemnly declare by the glorying or exultation which I have on your account; by all my ground of glorying in you; by all the confident boasting and expectation which I have of your salvation." He hoped for their salvation. He had worked hard for that end. He had boasted of it, and confidently believed that they would be saved. He considered their salvation just as certain as him dying daily on account of the hope and belief of the resurrection. "By our hopes and joys as Christians; by our dearest expectations, I swear, or solemnly declare, that I die daily."
“I protest by your rejoicing” refers to “the boasting of the Corinthians against the apostle; which was so severe that he considered himself continually trampled on by them; rejected and exposed to scandal and contempt; but that he took this as a part of the reproach of Christ; and so he was happy in spite of their reproach because of the prospect of death and a glorious resurrection, when all those troubles and wrongs would end forever."
The apostle needed be very well assured of the resurrection of the dead; otherwise, he was in danger of losing everything that was dear to him in this world, and his life in the bargain. If he had not been well assured that death would have been to his advantage, would he, in this stupid manner, have thrown away his life?
32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,” is another one of those statements by the apostle that has caused controversy, because of the great difference of opinion in regard to the meaning of the words he used. The following are some of the interpretations which have been proposed:
1. If I have fought like men who fought with wild beasts in the amphitheatre, who are concerned only with this life, and conduct themselves accordingly.
2. Or if, humanly speaking, or speaking as a man, I have fought against men who fight like wild beasts.
3. Or, I speak of myself in this manner, so that I may record the events of my life, and speak of what has occurred, without restraint.
4. Or, I have fought with wild beasts with all my strength, and barely escaped with my life. It is the most natural interpretation to suppose that Paul, on some occasion, had such a contest with a wild beast at Ephesus. It is the rendering that would occur to the great mass of the readers of the New Testament as the obvious meaning of the passage.
5. Or, I fought with all the power and determination that a man has within him, all the time thinking that the infuriated multitude demanded that I should be punished. The state of things in Ephesus when Paul was there, (Acts 19), was such as to make it in no way improbable that he would be subjected to such a trial.
6. Or, that Paul actually fought in the arena with wild beasts at Ephesus. That Luke has not recorded this occurrence in the Acts of the Apostles is no reason to object to this idea. No conclusion unfavorable to this theory can be drawn from the mere silence of the historian. Mere silence is not a contradiction. There is no reason to suppose that Luke wanted to record all the hazards which Paul endured. In actual fact, we know from 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, that there must have been many dangers which Paul encountered which are not referred to by Luke. It must have happened that many important events took place during Paul's residence at Ephesus which is not recorded by Luke in Acts 19. And just because Paul does not mention this particular contest with a wild beast at Ephesus, in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, is no reason to doubt that it actually happened. His statement there is general. He does not go into particulars. Yet, in 2 Corinthians 11:23, he says that he was "in deaths oft"—a statement which is in accordance with the supposition that in Ephesus he may have been exposed to death in some cruel manner.
7. Others regard this as a mere supposition; that Paul had fought with wild beasts at Ephesus. There is such a variety of interpretations that it is not easy to determine the true meaning of this difficult passage. The following thoughts, however, may help to make it clearer:
(1) Paul refers to some actual occurrence at Ephesus. This is evident from the context of the passage. It is not conjecture.
(2) It was one of those situations when his life was put in danger, and when it was considered remarkable when he escaped with his life intact. “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us” (2 Cor 1:8-10; KJV). The term Asia is often used to denote that part of Asia Minor of which Ephesus was the capital. Most commentators have supposed that he refers to a series of dangerous situations He encountered. There was the riot excited by Demetrius (see Acts 19), in which his life had been endangered, and from which he had just escaped; and there had been the conflict with the wild beasts at Ephesus (see1 Corinthians 15:32), which perhaps had occurred just prior to the riot; and there were the plots of the Jews against him (see Acts 20:3), from which, also, he had just barely escaped with his life. By these trials his life had been endangered, perhaps, more than once, and he had looked death calmly in the face, and was forced to consider the probability that he might soon die.
(3) It was common among the Romans and the ancient people in general, to force criminals to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheatre for the amusement of the populace. In such cases it was just another way of dooming them to certain death, since there was no human possibility of escape. This custom prevailed at that time in the East; and it is not unreasonable to suppose that Paul was exposed to this. The phrase “after the manner of men” may mean that so far as man was concerned, if it had not been for some Divine intervention, he would have been a prey to the wild beasts. Had not God stepped in and kept him from harm, as in the case of the viper at Melita (see Acts 28:5), he would have been put to death. He was sentenced to death; was thrown to the wild beast; had every human prospect of dying; it was done on account of his religion; and, but for the intervention of God, he would have died. This I believe is the reasonable and obvious meaning of this passage, which I gather from the language which is used, and by the gist of the argument in which it is found.
“What advantageth it me,” or rather, what benefit will I have? Why should I risk my life in this manner?—“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19; KJV). All his sufferings accomplished nothing if the dead rise not. If one’s existence is terminated in the arena for the sake of a gospel which can only provide empty hopes we may as well “eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”
What the apostle says here is a recurring and legitimate conclusion that is reached from the belief that there is no resurrection: For the reason that, if there be no resurrection, then there can be no judgment—no future state of rewards and punishments; why, therefore, should we bear crosses, and keep ourselves under continual restraint? Let us eat and drink, take all the pleasure we can, for tomorrow we die; and that will be the end of us forever. The words, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,” are taken from Isaiah 22:13; and they are a well-known saying, which one might hear today, in our easy-going and irreligious society. This would be a wiser way to live, if there were no resurrection, no after-life or spirit state, than to abandon all the pleasures of life, and expose ourselves to all the miseries of life, and live in continual danger of dying due to savage or animal rage and cruelty. This passage clearly implies that those who denied the resurrection among the Corinthians were like the Sadducees, since they had a common belief—“For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit…” (Acts 23.8; KJV). They said "Man is all body, there is nothing in him to survive the body, nor will anything in him, when once he is dead, ever revive again.’’ The Sadducees were the men with whom the apostle often argued; but, if there was nothing to look forward to after death, Paul like everyone else would prefer an easy comfortable life over the wretched one the apostle led; and they would try to enjoy the comforts of life as much as possible, because it is so short and uncertain. Note: Nothing but the hope for better things in the hereafter can enable a man to give up all the comforts and pleasures here, and embrace poverty, contempt, misery, and death. This is what the apostles and primitive Christians did; but how miserable was their circumstances, and how foolish their behavior, if they deceived themselves with useless and false hope. If Christ is not risen and if the dead will not be resurrected, then we might as well adopt the hedonistic philosophy of the Epicureans who say, “Let us eat and drink; for to–morrow we die.”
“Tomorrow” means very soon. We have no security in life; and death is so near that it may be said we must die tomorrow.
“We die” means we must die. The idea here is we must die without the prospect of living again, unless the doctrine of the resurrection is true.
33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
Perhaps Paul borrowed this line from the Greek poet Menander. This warning is for the Corinthians; “evil communications corrupt good manners.” Evil is contagious. Paul is saying that those who are denying the resurrection are in fact false teachers.
The apostle cautions the Corinthians against listening to the dangerous conversation of bad men, men who live loose lives and have bad values: “Be not deceived,” he says; “evil communications corrupt good manners.” The word translated "communications" means being together; companionship; close association; talking. It does not refer only to conversation, but to interaction, or companionship. Possibly, some of those who said that there was no resurrection of the dead were immoral men, and they attempted to cover up their malicious practices by endorsing such a corrupt a principle; and they frequently used the adage “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” There was, no doubt, much that was believable in the objections to the doctrine of the resurrection; and there was some subtlety and skill in their teachers, who denied this doctrine. Perhaps there was something in the character of their own minds, that led them to prefer subtle and ambiguous assertions rather than to examine the simple facts of the matter, and that exposed them to this danger. Now, the apostle concedes that their talk was valid if there was no future state. But, having proven that their principle is false, he now warns the Corinthians how dangerous such men’s conversation must be to them and their faith. He tells them that they would probably be corrupted by them, and fall-in with them and follow their course of life, if they gave into their evil principles. Note, Bad company and bad conversation are likely to make bad men. Those who would maintain their innocence must keep good company. Wrong-doing and sin are infectious: and, if we want to avoid the contagion, we must keep clear of those who have been infected with the disease. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Prov. 13:20). There is no difficulty in this saying; he who frequents the company of bad or corrupt men will soon be as they are. He may be sound in the faith, and have the life and power of godliness, and at first frequent their company only for the sake of their pleasing conversation, or their literary accomplishments: and he may think his faith can withstand their faithlessness; but he will soon find his faith weakened by their deceitful speeches; and once he begins to doubt, unbelief will soon prevail; his bad company will corrupt his morals. It is done:
i) By their direct effort to corrupt the beliefs of others, and to lead others into sin.
ii) By the secret, silent influence of their words, and conversation, and example. We have less revulsion at vice when we become familiar with it; we look with less alarm on curse words when we hear them expressed often; we become less watchful and cautious when we are constantly with the gay, the worldly, the unprincipled, and the cruel. That is why Christ desired that there would be a pure society, and that his people would primarily seek the friendship, and conversation of each other, and withdraw from the world. Paul says here that Christians who embrace false doctrines lose their spirituality, love of prayer, feeling of piety, and devotion to God. It is in this way that the simple are beguiled, the young corrupted, and that vice, and crime, and infidelity spread over the world.
34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
Awake to righteousness,
The word rendered "awake" conveys the idea of waking up from a deep sleep or stupor; and is usually applied to those who awake, or become sober after drunkenness. The phrase "awake to righteousness" may have one of the following meanings:
1. Awaken to the ways of righteousness, to a holy life, to sound doctrine, etc. pen your eyes to the delusion of your spiritual superiority.
2. Shake off your slumber; wake up thoroughly as you ought to do: Be sincere; do not trifle with God, your souls, and eternity.
3. Awake—literally, "out of the sleep" of carnal intoxication into which you are thrown by the influence of these skeptics—“Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth” (Joel 1:5; KJV). Awake -- out of your ordinary state of drunken stupor, to realize the cutting off from you of your favorite drink. Even the drunkards (from a Hebrew root, "any strong drink") shall be forced to "howl," though usually laughing in the midst of the greatest national calamities, so deliberately and universally shall the calamity affect all.
4. Wake up from stupidity on this subject; awake from your false security and become alarmed, because by all that is right you should be, seeing that you are surrounded by danger, and by those who would lead you to do wrong and to commit sin. Come around and relinquish such wild and misleading opinions as these people have, and exercise a constant vigilance likes those should who have been purchased by the blood of Christ and who expect to participate in a blessed resurrection. or it may mean "as it is right and just that you should be." This, I believe in the correct meaning.
The call is to prompt exertion to shake off the delusion that they were safe. “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom 13.11; KJV). Christian citizens live in the light of the Lord’s return. Paul admonishes, “Wake up—dress up—clean up—look up!” Are you heeding it?
and sin not;
This is a warning for the Corinthian believers to end their sins, and awaken themselves, and lead a more holy and righteous life: Awake to righteousness, or awake righteously, and sin not, or sin no more. "Wake yourselves up, cease your sinning, repent, renounce, and forsake every evil way, correct whatever is wrong, and do not be led away, by laziness and stupidity, to have such conversations and principles that will sap your Christian hopes, and corrupt your testimony for Christ’’ The disbelief in a future state destroys all virtue and godliness. But the best improvement a man can make is to cease from sin, and devote himself to serving the interests of God. If there will be a resurrection and a future life, we should live and act like we believe it, and we should not give into senseless and depraved notions that will corrupt our morals, and cause us to lead loose and sensual lives.
It is implied here, that, if they allowed themselves to embrace a doctrine which included a denial of the resurrection, the result would be that they would fall into sin; or that a denial of that doctrine lead to a life of self-indulgence and wrongdoing. This is a truth that can be seen everywhere; and Paul wanted to guard them against falling into the snare of unbelief. He did not regard the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection as a harmless speculation, but as leading to the most dangerous consequences in regard to their manner of life and their conduct.
Paul’s warning is “Sin not”—do not give yourselves up to sinful pleasures, because this will lead to the destruction both of body and soul. Life is short; improve it as much as you can. But after this life there will be another life in Heaven, where there will be blessings without end.
for some have not the knowledge of God:
The original is very emphatic, saying in effect, “some have an ignorance of God; they do not acknowledge God.” They have what is their curse; and they have not what would be their happiness and glory. To have an ignorance of God—a sort of substantial darkness, that prevents the light of God from noticeably penetrating the soul, is a worse state than to be simply in the dark, or without the Divine knowledge. The apostle is probably speaking about those who were once enlightened and had good morals, but were corrupted by bad company. It was to their shame or disgrace that they had left the good way, and were now approaching the chambers of death.
Again, it is implied here that the particular knowledge they lack is that they do not know His power in the resurrection—“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Mt 22:29; KJV). Jesus’ words are stronger than "are ignorant of God." He accuses them of a habitual ignorance: willful ignorance, in that they prefer to keep their sins, rather than part with them, in order to know God. Take notice of these verses:
• “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7.17; KJV). To understand His teaching, one must have the desire to do the will of God. With this commitment a person could evaluate the authenticity of Christ’s teaching. This person would also realize that Christ was not seeking His own glory but rather the glory of the One who sent Him.
• “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2.15; KJV). A Christian must endeavor, in all of his relationships, to behave himself so he can silence the unreasonable criticism of the most ignorant and foolish men. Those who speak against religion and religious people are ignorant and foolish.
The denial of the resurrection suggests that those who hold to such a view are literally “ignorant of God”—“not in lustful passion as do the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thessalonians 4:5; NABWRNT). Such a blunder can only spring from ignorance of God and his power to raise men.
I speak this to your shame.
These sharp words are for the Church at Corinth—“I speak this to your shame:” “To your shame” as a church; because you have had plenty of opportunities to know the truth, and it is a matter of deep disgrace that there are those in your assembly who deny the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and who are strangers to the grace of God.
Paul had already taken them to task for boasting that their knowledge of God was superior, so it seemed both incredible and shameful that a church so gifted by God could have allowed persons in their assembly to question such a cardinal truth as the resurrection of the dead. This then is the reason for such a sharp reprimand aimed to at least some of them: “Some of you have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame.” Note; it is a shame for Christians not to have the knowledge of God. The Christian religion gives the best information that can be obtained about God, His nature, and grace, and rule. Those who profess to be Christians point an accusing finger at themselves, when they remain without the knowledge of God; because it can only be due to their own laziness, and snub of God, that they are ignorant of Him. And it is an appalling shame for a Christian to snub God, and be so wretchedly ignorant in matters that should be of great concern to him? Note, also, it must be ignorance of God that leads men into unbelief and causes them to deny the resurrection and a future life. Those who know God know that he will not abandon and forsake His faithful servants, and He will not leave them exposed to such hardships and suffering without any reward. They know He is not unfaithful or unkind, and that He will not forget their hard work and persistence, their faithful service and cheerful suffering, and He will not let their labor be in vain. But there is another opinion, and it gives the expression a much stronger meaning. It says that there were people among them who were atheists, who did not profess to believe in any god, let alone One who showed concern for people and paid attention to human affairs. These kinds of people were certainly a scandal and shame to any Christian church. Note; Real atheism lies at the bottom of men’s disbelief of a future state. Those who love God, and see how unequally possessions and property are distributed in the present life, and how frequently the best men fare worse, cannot doubt that there is a future, better life, where everything will be made right.