Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15

by Christoph Starke
translated by Benjamin Foxen

Christoph Starke (1684-1744) wrote his Synopsis bibliothecae exegeticae in Vetus et Novum Testamentum (Synopsis of Biblical Exegesis in the Old and New Testaments) while he was the chief pastor and military chaplain at Driesen in Germany. I have chosen a small section of his commentary from 1 Corinthians 15. The first verses of this chapter deal with the importance of holding true to the teaching of Christ’s resurrection, as it is a necessary component for our faith (1 Co. 15:17), and Starke elaborates on this to provide instruction and comfort to believers.

I have tried to be as faithful as possible to Starke’s original sentence and paragraph construction, but not so much as to let the comprehension in English be lost. There is some Greek to be found within this excerpt, and so I have provided a translation in the endnotes where Starke himself does not explain it. Sometimes the reader will see words in brackets []. These are words which I added to fill in what Starke implied.

I pray that all who read this find as much to learn, take comfort in, and enjoy as I did while translating it!

Chapter 15

I. The refutation of a false doctrine concerning the resurrection of the dead. The preliminary reminder of his [Paul’s] teaching. v. 1-11.

V. 1-10. Epistle lesson on the Eleventh Sunday of the Trinity Season

V. 1. However, I remind you1 (or I make known to you, namely once again in Gal. 1:11-12) anew as a reminder and strengthening for dear brothers, of the [1] gospel, the joyous message of Christ and his entire merit, and chiefly of his death and resurrection, which I as an apostle of Christ have preached to you on divine command. When I was with you for a year and a half (Acts 18:11), [I preached to you a gospel] which you also [2] have received willingly with joy (1 Th. 2:13) by being convinced in your hearts of the divine truth of my preaching, and you have become believers in Christ. [This is a gospel] in which you also [3] stand, you who have remained faithful (Ro. 5:2) to the grace and power you have received, the grace and power which have been sufficiently imparted to all for their steadfastness.

Remarks. The apostle makes a special introduction, where he wants to discuss the important doctrine of the resurrection, as he also does elsewhere with other important doctrines (Ro. 9:1). [1] He wants to say, “Because you have received the gospel preached by me, then you must not only believe some, but all the articles of that same gospel. Now I have not only taught you that Christ has died for us, but also that he was raised for us. I have taught you that not only with the result that you believe in him (which itself results in the fact that he graciously receives you here), but also with the result that he wants to raise you to eternal glory. For this reason you must believe one as well as the other. [2] The act of receiving grasps in itself the true faith, which is effected in the enlightenment and rebirth, for another act of receiving is not found here in its place (Jn. 17:8; Ac. 2:41; 1 Th. 1:6; 2:13). [3] The characteristic of true Christianity brings with itself perseverance until the blessed end. If one can immediately fall when he is not on his guard, then he can and should still remain standing continuously in grace without falling backwards, since it does not belong to such perseverance that one would have no more sin and would sin no longer out of weakness, but that one would not let sin rule, or would not sin mischievously.

Practical Application. 1) A good reminder can not injure-active Christianity demands more frequent reminders. The household of God must often speak a thing that results in hearts becoming firm (2 Co. 13:2; Php. 3:1). 2) Although dispute occurs in matters of faith, God’s Word does not cease to be the arbitrator; it must decide the matter (Isa. 8:20). 3) If God’s Word should become dear to you, then first the entire world must become disagreeable to you. 4) Do not forget, my beloved ones, what you have heard so often, and do not make the taste of the Word false. Oh the misery that many thousands hear and do not understand, understand and do not maintain, maintain and do not receive the Word of Life! What a great judgment and blindness of these times (Lk. 8:10, 18)!

V. 2. Through this gospel you are also blessed, and are placed in a blessed condition not only here, but also should obtain eternal salvation (cf. 1:182; Ro. 1:16; Jas. 1:18, 21). In the manner which (that is with what speech or in what kind of clear and comprehensible way) I have preached it to you, in that way you have kept it. Be mindful of that. In that way the kind of doctrinal discussion I have made use of cannot possibly escape from your thoughts, unless you have received and believed it (the teaching of the gospel) for nothing (without fruit, intention, or changing)-a thing which one would have to say if you do not remain faithful and steadfast, but fall further from the faith through false doctrine and godless living (1 Pe. 1:9; 2 Co. 6:1; Gal. 3:4).

Remarks. Through this introduction, Paul prepares the way for himself to refute the erroneous opinions of a few of the members of the Corinthian congregation. Since there are so many faithful and holy people still among them, I would assert something absurd if I would say that the teaching of the gospel had been completely forgotten with you. He speaks of the perseverance of the Corinthians with uncertainty. By doing this he wants those, who have begun all sorts of confusion, to recognize the danger, with the result that everything might be tested. The ἔχειν3 explains κατέχειν4 (2 Ti. 1:13; Mt. 13:12; 25:29).

Practical Application. 1) Foolish notion, that everyone would be able to be saved in his faith!5 What use then would Christ be with his suffering and death? There is no other way to salvation than the gospel of Christ (Ac. 4:12). 2) If you receive the Word, then you are already saved, not only because you have a certain hope for salvation, but also because you are the first-fruits of the coming world, and in that you have the foretaste of blessedness in the heart (Heb. 6:5). 3) Get into the habit of reading or hearing God’s Word, and then at last it will not become difficult to keep it, for custom makes all things easy and sweet. 4) The most noble treasure is God’s Word. May everyone take care to guard and to keep it well. One does not like to lose gold, silver, or jewels. What can be more glorious than the pearls of the divine Word? It is worthy that one enclose and guard it in the best chest. I see no better chest than the heart (Lk. 8:15; 11:28). 5) It is not enough to have begun something well if the end does not also conform to the beginning. Whoever falls back from faith has believed in vain and is more deserving of condemnation than if he would have never believed (2 Pe. 2:21).

V. 3. For I have first and foremost (ἐν πρώτοις) given to you among the first and most important main points of Christian doctrine, as an inestimable supplement, which I have just now verbally carried before you, the thing which I have also received through the revelation of God and of Jesus Christ (11:1; Gal. 1:12), who has called me as an apostle and has commanded me to preach these divine doctrines to men, namely that Christ has died for our sins to make satisfaction to the righteousness of God, to reconcile us with God, to blot out our sins, and to obtain again the lost blessedness (5:7; 1 Pe. 3:18; 2:24) according to the Scriptures, namely the Scriptures of the Old Testament (Lk. 24:26, 27) in so many prophecies (Isa. 53; Ps. 22; Da. 9:24, 26; Zec. 12:10; 13:7) and pictures (Ge. 22; Ex. 12; Nu. 21:8; cf. Jn. 3:14; Heb. 9:12).

Marginal Gloss. For everything is to be heard foolishly before reason outside of Scripture.

Remarks. Because Paul wants to prove the resurrection of Jesus, he must first think of his death, so that those teaching error may not object that it was only a seeming death or in the same way only a seeming resurrection. It was necessary that the apostle called himself to his authority with the repetition of the gospel. It is a sign that it [the gospel] was not brought forth from his own head or from other men, but that he had it from divine revelation, and it conformed to the writings of the prophets. It is especially prophesied concerning Christ’s suffering and dying that he would have his entrance to suffering on a donkey (Zec. 9:9; cf. Mt. 12:5), that he would be betrayed and sold (Zec. 11:12; cf. Mt. 26:15), that he would be scoffed at and spit on (Ps. 22:7; cf. Mt. 26:67), that he would be counted among the evildoers (Isa. 53:14; cf. Lk. 23:33), that they would divide his clothes for themselves (Ps. 22:19; cf. Mk. 15:24), that he would drink gall and vinegar (Ps. 69:22, 23; cf. Mt. 27:34), that he would lament being abandoned by God (Ps. 22:2; cf. Mt. 27:46), that he would actually die, but would not decay (Ps. 16:10; 18:5; cf. Lk. 23:46), that no bone of his should be broken (Ex. 12:46; cf. Jn. 19:33), and that his side should be opened (Zec. 12:10; cf. Jn. 19:16-34). Look over still the following cited passages: Ge. 3:15; Ps. 8:6; 40:3, 13, 18; 69:2-6, 22; 88:5, 6, 19; 118:22; Isa. 50:6; cf. v. 1; Da. 2:35; Hos. 6:2; 11:1; Mic. 4:14; Mal. 1:12, 13; 2:11.

Practical Application. 1) The most important thing of all which can be taught is Christ. He is the focus of the entire Holy Scriptures and the entire foundation of our faith (especially his death for our sins and his resurrection for our righteousness). If someone knows everything and does not know this, then all wisdom is foolishness, and all knowledge is ignorance (2 Co. 4:5). The Holy Spirit is his own interpreter. He explains through the apostles what he has spoken about Christ through the prophets. 2) The teaching of Paul is not made up out of thin air6 and is not fabricated from natural light, but has been inspired without means in him by Christ (Gal. 1:12). 3) Behold the main point of the entire gospel: that Christ has died, been buried, and risen again for our sins; and thus with that he has reconciled God and man (Ro. 4:25).

V. 4. And that he was buried, as a testimony of his truthful death, and also to sanctify our graves and to assure us of the redemption from the graves (Isa. 57:2; Da. 9:24) and that he has risen from the dead by his own power (Ro. 1:4; Jn. 2:19; 10:8) and through the raising of the Father (Ro. 6:4; Ps. 16:10,11) to assure us that his death has been valid for our redemption. He has also risen to make us sharers in the obtained blessings for spiritual and eternal life through the resurrection. He rose on the third day (Mt. 12:40) according to the Scriptures, which have previously announced his burial (Isa. 53:8, 9; Ps. 16:9; cf. Ac. 2:31; Is. 11:10) and resurrection (Ps. 16:10; 22:23; 69:31; 110:7; Isa. 53:10; Jer. 31:26; Zep. 3:8; Hos. 6:2; 13:14; Jnh. 2:1, 2; Mic. 2:13; 1 Pe. 1:11).

Remarks. Amid the fact that the resurrection happened on the third day was a special wisdom of God. For if it would have happened still earlier, then the death would have been able to be passed off as a mere swoon by the enemies. But if it would have been postponed further, then they would have attributed such a thing (to do it earlier) to an impossibility, or indeed the weak faith of the disciples would have suffered still more offence.

Practical Application. 1) Christ has gained the victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). 2) If Christ would not have risen, then our faith would be in vain, and we would be dead in sin. But now that has happened. Behold! Thus we live and will live eternally (v. 17; Eph. 2:5, 6). 3) Pastors should not speak without basis and the Holy Scriptures are the only basis in matters of faith (1 Pe. 4:11).

V. 5. And that he has been seen living after his resurrection by Cephas, namely that he has appeared first among men to Cephas (1:12; Jn. 1:42, 43), the apostle Peter (Lk. 24:34), on the first day of his resurrection. On the same day he also appeared first among women to Mary Magdalene (Jn. 21:14) and then to other women (Mt. 28:9), as also to the two disciples who went to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13f.). After that, on the evening of the day of resurrection, and also eight days afterwards (Jn. 20:19, 26), he (has been seen) by the twelve, by the entire apostolic assembly, who had been with each other so many times, the twelve whom the Lord had first chosen.

Remarks. The apostle does not cite all, but only some of the most important appearances. The rest we find in the Gospels. Notice the order of all ten appearances (Lk. 24:48; Mk. 16:19). Because after the loss of Judas the count was no longer full, some understand through this another appearance, which happened since Matthias had already been added to the apostles. They suppose this without basis though, for Matthias had been chosen first as an apostle after Christ’s ascension (Ac. 1:28).

Practical Application. 1) The tears of repentance draw Jesus to themselves.7 If you have sinned, repent, then Jesus will appear to you with his grace (Mt. 26:75). 2) Joy follows sorrow: You lament when your friend Jesus hides himself, but you will rejoice again when he will reveal himself (Jn. 16:22).

V. 6. After this, that is, after he appeared twice to his apostles at Jerusalem (Jn. 20:19, 26) and several of them on the Sea of Galilee, he was seen on a mountain in Galilee by more than five hundred brothers, namely he has appeared to five hundred brothers, believing disciples (Ac. 1:12) at once, whom the Lord had directed to that place [the mountain in Galilee] partly himself, partly through the angel (Mt. 28:7, 10; Mk. 16:7) shortly before his suffering (Mt. 26:32) and also after his resurrection. Many of whom [the brothers], that is, the majority still up to this point live, when I write this letter to you, and the living ones are able to be witnesses, if you want to inquire about this; some however have fallen asleep, or have already died (v. 18, 20, 51; c. 7:39; 11:30) and have sealed their testimony already with their death.

Remarks. This important appearance must be the one, which happened for the disciples of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Matthew describes the same event (c. 28:16-18) at the place where Christ publicly confirmed his apostles in their office before this entire gathering, and through that provided them the necessary authority and credibility. According to old tradition it should have happened on Mount Tabor. Without a doubt the place and time had been clearly announced to them (indeed probably only shortly before), because otherwise a still far greater crowd would have arrived. However, one recognizes with this number divine wisdom and ruling: there were not too many present, neither were there too few. There were not too many, with the result that it would make too much fuss in the land, and would provoke a persecution, and also not too many to show that they did not necessarily come just [for the chance] to see [Jesus] (Jn. 20:29). There were not too few, for these were able to be sufficient witnesses of the truth of the resurrection of Christ.

Practical Application. 1) Who would want to doubt in Christ’s resurrection, since it has indeed been confirmed not with two or three, but several hundred testimonies (Dt. 19:15; Ac. 2:32)? Before death may a believer be terrified as little as a child, whom one lays in the cradle and brings to rest (Isa. 57:2; Ac. 7:59).

V. 7. After this (after this public appearance in Galilee) he has still especially been seen by James, that is, he appeared to James, one of his apostles; after that [he was seen] by all the apostles when he led them from Jerusalem to Bethany to the Mount of Olives on the fortieth day, and visibly went up to heaven in the presence of them and of many other disciples (Lk. 23:50f.; Ac. 1:4f.).

Remarks. The apostle has quoted four proofs of the resurrection of Christ. The first is from a direct revelation, the second is from the testimonies of the Scriptures (v. 4), and the third is taken from the testimonies of many people still living (v. 5, 6, 7). The fourth is the testimony of the apostle himself (v. 8). There were two apostles of this name. One was James the greater, the son of Zebedee, John’s brother (Mt. 4:21), who was killed by Herod Agrippa about ten years after Christ’s resurrection (Ac. 12:2); and James, called the younger, son of Alphaeus (Mk. 15:40), brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19) because he was a nephew of the virgin Mary. Which of the two is to be understood here is uncertain. Indeed one supposes the latter because he was the only one still living, and he could be named in this way with all the more reason. This latter one is also described as the first bishop at Jerusalem, because he was the head of the church there for the most part (Ac. 12:17; 15:13; 21:18f.; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). From the same one we also have the epistle of James.

Practical Application. If you have not seen Jesus, the risen one, with your eyes, take comfort! If you look to him only in faith, then you will certainly see him at some time in glory (Jn. 20:29; 1 Pe. 1:8).

V. 8. Finally, however after all those (after he appeared to all the other aforementioned people) he has (after he already had ascended to heaven), also by me, the last apostle, as one of untimely birth (as a reprehensible and good for nothing person, since I was entirely unexpectedly, quickly, and in an entirely extraordinary way brought to rebirth and spiritual life), been seen just as by the other apostles. That is, he has appeared to me also, one of untimely birth, on the way to Damascus, where he powerfully called me conjointly with his disciples and apostles (c. 9:1; Ac. 9:5; 23:11; 2 Co. 12:2).

Remarks. An untimely birth means a fruit of the womb, which comes into the world too early, unexpectedly, and for the most part dead. It is unworthily preserved and for the most part is accustomed to causing the mother pain and inconvenience (Job 3:16; Ecc. 6:3, LXX8). This is a useful way of speaking with the Hebrews, to express with it a matter, which is worthy to be hidden or entirely thrown away (Nu. 12:12). Paul refers to himself in this way to show his lowliness and unworthiness, in contrast to the other apostles, who had been long prepared in the school of Christ. On the other hand, he came to it [the apostolic office] entirely unexpectedly, as an unformed, dead, and entirely worthless fruit, when he was in the middle of the act of persecuting the Christian church. In his still dead and not born again state he became worthy out of the divine mercy of the appearance of Christ, and he was brought very quickly in an entirely extraordinary way to conversion and the apostolic office. Thus the comparison can happen in view of 1) his as yet unconverted condition, to see Christ in incompetence, 2) his swift and extraordinary conversion, 3) his unworthiness. The word, however, seems to have been proverbial in those times, if one wanted to designate a simple and insignificant thing or person. Because Paul quotes this appearance for this reason (as he quoted the previous ones), namely for this testimony: that Christ’s body has truly risen; thus it follows that Christ also appeared to him in bodily form, as he did previously to the other apostles. Indeed it appears from Acts 9:3 that it happened with greater glory.

Practical Application. The grace of God is found where the greatest sinners are. When Paul envied and hated, God loved him. When he persecuted, Jesus sought him. Can you find a greater comfort than this, O sinner? Jesus has come to save that, which was lost (1 Ti. 1:13; Mt. 18:11).

V. 9. For I am the most insignificant among the apostles: not in view of the office, of the received gifts and of the fruit of my office (2 Co. 11:5; Gal. 2:6), but in view of my persecution and that I have obtained the apostolic office so late and unprepared; as I am one not worthy, that I be called an apostle (Eph. 3:8), for this reason: that I before my call have persecuted the church of God out of blind zeal, which not one of the other apostles has done. For that reason I have compared myself with an untimely birth (Ac. 8:3; 9:1f.).

Remarks. Paul many times pondered his grievous sin of persecution with dread sorrow of the heart (Ac. 22:4f.; 26:9f.; Gal. 1:13; 1 Ti. 1:13), to urge us to imitate him and ponder our own unconverted condition often in the same way.

Practical Application. 1) No one should exalt his office, glory, gifts, and works. For when each one thinks back on the past, he easily finds with the peacocks the shabby feet, over which the beautiful brandished feathers may be laid (Da. 9:8). 2) It is nothing new, that a holy person is judged as godless, and a godless person is judged as holy. Work on the trespassers, you teachers, as much as is possible for you. Who knows how fruitful your work in the Lord can be (2 Ti. 2:24, 25)? 3) Only where there is heartfelt remorse and confession is there forgiveness of sins. What the sinner does not hesitate to uncover, God deigns to cover (1 Jn. 1:9). 4) The sins which occurred before conversion are indeed forgiven, yet they leave behind still a troubled memory for special humility, particularly when they have been of such a nature, that others have been very angered by them (Ps. 51:5). 5) Let a person be on guard for such provoking offences also in the state of sin. When one knows he is guilty of the same, let him postpone conversion so much the less, and let him carry the given offences with an all the more edifying example to make the situation good again (Job 19:28, 29).

V. 10. But by God’s grace (out of undeserved mercy) I am what I am, that is, an apostle and not more insignificant than the others. I have not become a sheep (c. 3:10; Ro. 1:5; 15:18, 19; Eph. 3:7, 8) from a ravenous wolf, but even a shepherd of the sheep, indeed an apostle even as much as the others; and his grace to me (εἰς ἐμὲ,toward me), the grace of the call, enlightenment, and next the bestowed gift of the office; has not been in vain, or without fruit. I have not despised, rejected (Gal. 1:16), and in the performance of my office unfaithfully misused it, or found it to be without blessing, but I have as an apostle of the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7, 8) worked much more to convert the idolatrous peoples to Christ than all them, than any one of the other apostles has done. Not, however, actually, I, as if I had done it out of my own wisdom and capability, for I am only a tool for it, but God’s grace, to which I ascribe everything; which is in me, which God has bestowed to me, which works through my service and blesses my work.

Remarks. From this it follows that it is possible, that God’s grace would be in vain with some, and that very grace would not accomplish what it had wanted to accomplish. κοπίαω means not only to work much, but also to establish through one’s work many results. To convert the Gentiles cost to a certain extent more work than converting the Jews, who had God’s Word to bring them to faith in Christ. In addition to that came the difficult journeys, and although other apostles have also gone to the Gentiles, still Paul has preached to more places than others (Ro. 15:19, 20) and also has undergone more suffering and persecution (2 Co. 11:23f.; 12:11). For although a cooperative power is ascribed to those who are reborn (c. 3:9; 2 Co. 6:1), thus indeed they do not have such a thing from their nature, but from the rebirth. Because of this, the phrase σὺν ἐμοί9 is not spoken to the natural powers. Grace here is rather expressly set against the natural powers: Not I, but God’s grace. Thus σὺν ἐμοί also belongs to the word “grace,” as one sees from the article, and not to the word “worked.”10

Practical Application. 1) When great lords call themselves lords by God’s grace, then they indeed do rightly in that, as long as they recognize with humble hearts that they have their power on loan from God, and thus exercise it in the fear of God, with the result that they are able to account for it before God at some future time. However, it is still much better when they are also able to speak in this way in view of their birth from God and prove the life they have from God with a holy behavior before God (1 Pe. 1:3). 2) The greatest sinners are often the most edifying preachers, when they, through God’s grace, lay aside the yoke of sin (Ps. 51:15). 3) We have the grace of God to thank for everything. We are the holy people, the spiritual seed, the holy priesthood. God has had his mercy continue for us, and has called us to the light of the holy gospel and to the inheritance in heaven (Eph. 1:5f.). 4) God offers his grace to all men, and many also receive it, but few correctly apply it. For this reason they also lose it again (2 Co. 6:1). This sufficiently shows that God’s grace does not bring with itself any necessity that would still compel the man, but it shows that it wants to have a service to God in true spiritual freedom. 5) It is a human fantasy, if one pretends to have such a gracious office, which would aid an unspiritual teacher outside of the indwelling of the Spirit in this way, that he would therefore have true spiritual fitness for the performance of the office of the Spirit. Paul knew of no other grace with him than the one, which was in him already (1 Pe. 1:11). 6) Humble boast! Holy pride! Say to Satan, “God has worked powerfully in us.” But what should this Word be in the mouth of the godless? Are they of God’s grace? Does he work in them to his glory?

V. 11. Now, be it I, the last but likewise a true apostle, or they, the other apostles, my coworkers in the Word, [who preach] in this way, that Christ has died but also has risen from death (v. 3, 4), we preach, all of us unanimously, who are taught and driven by one Spirit; and thus you have believed, you have been divinely convinced of this truth and have been baptized on that!

Practical Application. 1) Nothing lies on the person of the preacher; if God’s Word is only taught purely, then it is taught correctly (c. 4:2; 1 Ti. 1:3; 2 Ti. 1:13). 2) Our doctrine has the testimony of the prophets and apostles, and the agreement of the ancient universal church of God (Eph. 2:20).

  • 1. In his commentary, Starke puts the words of the passages into bold print. I will do the same. Also, the translations of the passages are my own and will not follow the NIV word for word.
  • 2. Whenever a Bible reference appears without a book designation, it refers to 1 Corinthians, unless it follows in a series of references, in which case it refers to whichever book was mentioned last.
  • 3. Means “to have” or “to hold,” in the case of these verses in reference to teachings or faith.
  • 4. Literally “to hold down,” or “to keep,” again, in reference to teachings or faith.
  • 5. Here Starke probably means being saved by making faith a cause of salvation instead of a result.
  • 6. An interesting German expression (aus den Fingern gesogen) which literally means “sucked from the fingers.”
  • 7. 7
  • 8. Common abbreviation for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
  • 9. Meaning “with me.”
  • 10. Verse 10 in the Greek runs thus: χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι, καὶ ἡ χάρις αὐτοῦ ἡ εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ κενὴ ἐγενήθη, ἀλλὰ περισσότερον αὐτῶν πάντων ἐκοπίασα, οὐκ ἐγὼ δὲ ἀλλὰ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ σὺν ἐμοί.