Doctrine in the Church 1 Corinthians 15
The word doctrine is an enigma to many Christians. There is something unbiblical, almost heretical, about it. You may hear someone say, “Just give me Jesus. He’s all I need,” or perhaps, “I need only the Bible. Doctrine is divisive.” Some go so far as to say that doctrine is the reason we have so many different kinds of churches today. Let’s examine the biblical use of the word doctrine and the way in which Paul dealt with the subject in the church at Corinth.
The Biblical Use of Doctrine
The word doctrine is not unfamiliar to the Scriptures. It is used six times in the Old Testament and 44 times in the New. We should, therefore, be able to determine its meaning from its usage and decide if it really is important.
Based on usage, doctrine is of utmost importance. The Old Testament accounts clearly indicate that Moses, the great Lawgiver, held doctrine in high esteem. He said, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dt. 32:2). Zophar, the friend of Job, said, “For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure” (Job 11:4). The writer of Proverbs instructed his sons, “I give you good doctrine; forsake ye not my law” (Prov. 4:2). Isaiah referred to those who understand doctrine as mature rather than babes (Isa. 28:9) and spoke of the coming Millennial Kingdom as a time when men will learn doctrine (Isa. 29:24).
The New Testament uses the word doctrine frequently. There are 14 references in the Gospels to Jesus and His doctrine. Five of these references state that the religious leaders and/or the common people were “astonished at his doctrine” (Mt. 7:28; 22:33; Mk 1:22; 11:18; Lk. 4:32). It was said that Jesus taught “new doctrine” (Mk. 1:27) and “his doctrine” (see above references). He claimed, however, that He taught not His own doctrine but that of the One who sent Him (Jn. 7:16).
The apostles taught doctrine. Paul spoke to Timothy of “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10) and “good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). He told his young associate, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). He told Titus, “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Ti. 2:1). John, on three occasions in the Book of Revelation, gave scathing denunciations of churches or individuals in them who held false doctrines (Rev. 2:14, 15, 24).
The Biblical Meaning of Doctrine
The New Testament word most often translated doctrine is didaskalia, which simply means teaching. The word appears to be used of Christian teachings that are binding on believers, having been given by God, and to which believers should be obedient. When Christians are troubled by people from false religions knocking on their doors, they often send them away without an adequate response. Some Christians even fall prey to their devious and false doctrines. We who love the Lord need to learn the doctrine of the Word of God as well as those involved in these cults learn their false doctrines. We have been influenced far too much by those who say, “All we need is Jesus.”
The Importance of the Doctrine of the Resurrection (vv. 1–4)
Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, no one taught doctrine more vigorously than Paul. He knew what he believed, and he taught it at every opportunity. One of the many problems Paul encountered with the church at Corinth was their doctrinal error. In particular, there was confusion in the church regarding the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of believers.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1–3, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had heard the gospel from him, had received it, stood upon it, and were saved by believing it. But, as in other instances related in this corrective book, some in the church had forgotten much of what Paul had carefully taught.
The doctrine at issue is that of resurrection and life after death, which was a concept that was difficult for the Greek mind to accept. They had an instinctive fear of death, yet they believed in the immortality of the soul coupled with the complete dissolution of the body. Immortality for them meant doing away with the body. To the Greeks, the doctrine of bodily resurrection was totally incomprehensible.
Paul, in contrast, was a Jew and a Pharisee. He believed in bodily resurrection. The Old Testament taught it in Job 19:25–27, Isaiah 53:10, and other passages. When he met the resurrected Lord on the Damascus Road, his belief in bodily resurrection was confirmed. Paul taught this doctrine when he first preached at Corinth; it was a foundational truth of the gospel. He not only emphasized the resurrection of Christ but also taught that the bodily resurrection of believers is their eternal, blessed hope. The commentator Barclay put it well: “Once a man knows God and is known by Him, a relationship has been created which not even death can break.”*
Witnesses of the Resurrection (vv. 5–11)
Witnesses are usually used in courtroom trials to substantiate the evidence given and to prove a point. To prove the resurrection of Christ, Paul used eyewitnesses to present the evidence. He did not give an exhaustive list but named two groups and several individuals. The groups mentioned are “the twelve” (vv. 5, 7) and “above five hundred brethren at once” (v. 6).
It is interesting to note which individuals Paul named of the many who encountered the resurrected Jesus. The first was Cephas (Peter). One of the Lord’s first post-resurrection appearances was to this disciple who had vehemently denied knowing Him only a few days earlier. It must have been the Lord’s desire to set the erratic Peter back on his feet spiritually. It certainly worked. Several days later, at Pentecost, this bumbling Galilean fisherman preached a powerful sermon that brought 3,000 souls to the Savior. The essence of his message was the resurrection of Christ. The post-resurrection appearance of Jesus revolutionized his life as well as the lives of those to whom he preached.
Also named as an eyewitness was James, a half-brother of the Lord. The Scriptures teach that Jesus’ own family did not believe in Him (Jn. 7:5). It is commonly held that it was the resurrection that made James a believer. The power of his witness lies in the fact that he was among those who knew the Savior most intimately—His own family. Finally, Paul himself saw the resurrected Christ (v. 8). His unexpected meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road completely changed his life from a relentless persecutor of Christians to a tireless missionary for Christ. He stood firmly on the doctrine of resurrection throughout the remainder of his days. Not only was it a basic part of the gospel, but Paul’s entire ministry depended upon it. Doctrine is important!
Doubters of the Resurrection (vv. 12–19)
Imagine how Paul felt when he learned that the Corinthians whom he had led to Christ, now doubted this vitally important doctrine. He asked, “how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12).
To their assertion that dead men do not rise again, Paul countered that if Jesus Christ were not raised from the dead, their Christian faith was destroyed, his preaching was vain, and their faith was vain. He further stated that without Christ’s resurrection, he was a false witness and those who believed in Him were still in their sins. With no hope for the dead and no future for the living, life offered nothing but misery. What a hopeless situation! How can it be said, then, that doctrine is not important? Obviously, the doctrine of resurrection is of prime significance.
The Fact of the Resurrection (v. 20)
But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.” What a statement! What assurance and hope it offers. But what are “the first fruits”? Although this term sounds strange to many Christians today, the Jewish people of Paul’s day understood that it referred to one of the major Jewish feasts, the Feast of First Fruits.
The chronological order of the Jewish feasts each year is given in Leviticus 23. Passover, which speaks of redemption, was the first, followed the next day by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which speaks of purity of life.
During the Feast of Unleavened Bread came the third feast, First Fruits. It occurred each spring when the very first of the crops came in. A portion of the first fruits was offered to the Lord in anticipation of the harvest to come. The offering was made on the first day after the first Sabbath following Passover. Christians understand that Christ became “the Lamb of God” and that He was offered at the time of the Jewish Passover for the sins of the world. The following Sunday, which was the day after the first Jewish Sabbath following Passover, was the day on which Jesus was resurrected from the grave. The resurrection fell on the same day as the Feast of First Fruits. When the sequence of these feasts is viewed in proper perspective, Jesus is clearly seen as the first fruits of the resurrection, thereby guaranteeing the future resurrection of all believers. The doctrine of resurrection is so important that the believer’s eternal future rests upon it.
The Manner of the Resurrection (vv. 21–50)
All men die. Death came by Adam’s sin. Resurrection of man comes by belief in the resurrection of Christ. But the enemy death will not be removed until the end of this age. Once they understood these points of doctrine from Paul, the Corinthians had a further problem with resurrection. If there is indeed a resurrection, what kind of body will a person have when that resurrection takes place (v. 35)?
To answer this question, Paul used the analogy of a seed. A seed is put into the ground and dies, but it emerges from the ground in a completely different form. The seed is gone, but it has produced a plant that will, in turn, produce other seeds. So, likewise, the body dies, but it will rise again in a different form, although it will be the same person who rises. We will still exist. As God gave us bodies suited for this life, He will also give us bodies suited for resurrection life. Our resurrected bodies will be like Christ’s resurrected body. We will bear His image. Our bodies will be incorruptible, glorified, without weakness.
The Culmination of the Resurrection (vv. 51–58)
Having spoken of the first fruits of the resurrection, Paul moved on to the harvest and said, “Behold, I show you a mystery” (v. 51). What is a biblical mystery? It is something that has always been in the mind of God but is only now revealed to man. The mystery of which Paul spoke is instantaneous change, or the Rapture of the Church.
The resurrection at the Rapture will be rapid. At the sound of the trumpet, the dead will be raised and those living will be given new, changed, immortal bodies “in the twinkling of an eye” (v. 52). What a thrill!
Death will give way to victory—victory in Christ—and with that, graves will be emptied of all believers. The sting of death will be broken. No wonder Paul exclaimed, “But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 57).
Conclusions Concerning the Resurrection
Resurrection is a doctrinal truth. Without resurrection we have no hope. In dealing with the doctrinal doubts in the Corinthian church, Paul based his assertions on the gospel truths he had earlier taught. He reminded the Corinthians that their eternal security rested on this point of doctrine—and so does ours. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (v. 58).
Doctrine does make a difference, whether it is the doctrine of resurrection, the Rapture, atonement, or some other cardinal truth. The false doctrines of the cults lead multitudes astray. Strong doctrinal teaching of biblical truth strengthens rather than divides. If the teaching of doctrine in our churches were strengthened, believers would better understand what they believe and why, and they would be better equipped to resist the winds of false doctrine and error.
Yes, we need Jesus. And we need the Bible. But we also need to understand clearly what we believe. True doctrine is as important to us as it was to the Corinthian church, and we must heed doctrine today as never before.