Christian Theology and Apologetics

Making Sense of the Sequence of Events in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28

1 Corinthians 15:23-28. In 15:23 Paul indicates the sequence of resurrection; “But each in his own order (Ἕκαστος δὲ ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ τάγματι): Christ the first fruits (ἀπαρχὴ Χριστός), after that those who are Christ’s at His coming (ἔπειτα οἱ τοῦ χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ).”[1] It is clear that Paul is indicating a sequence by his use of the term “order, τάγμα,” which denotes rank in the “economy of resurrection.”[2]

Anthony Thiselton comments:

The word τάγμα, that which has been arranged, thing placed in its proper order, hence in a military context a corps, troop division, or rank of troops, underlines both the purposive activity of God and the apocalyptic context of thought.[3]

In addition to “τάγμα” the Apostle also employs the term “after that, ἔπειτα,” which denotes “a marker for a sequence of time or events.”[4] Moreover, in 1 Cor. 15:20, Paul delineates, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”[5] Thus, he understood that Christ had already been raised from the dead and that deceased Christians would be resurrected posterior to Christ at his παρουσια v. 23.

“Then comes the end, εἶτα τὸ τέλος” v.24a gives perhaps the largest difficulty in this block of Scripture due to its ambiguity. Prima facie, it appears as if immediately after the resurrection at Christ’s παρουσια that, “the end, τὸ τέλος” comes. This has led some commentators to posit virtually no temporal distinction between the παρουσια and the culmination of Christ’s “kingdom, βασιλεία,” where the last enemy—death—will be destroyed upon the resurrection of the righteous.[6] This view, however, is not without its difficulties. In the preceding verse v. 23, “ἔπειτα, after” clearly denotes a temporal sequence between the resurrection of Christ and His followers and at the beginning of v. 24, “then, εἶτα” occurs amid the παρουσια and the “end, τέλος,” when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the father. Furthermore, the author used εἶτα to denote a span of time between Jesus’ postmortem appearance to James and the Apostles. Εἶτα occurs three other times in the Pauline Epistles and is always used to denote a temporal sequence.[7]

Moreover, v. 24 contains two “when, ὅταν” clauses which depict the abolishment of all Christ’s enemies before the tendering of the kingdom over to God the father. The aorist subjunctive of the second ὅταν clause indicates it comes before the events of the first ὅταν clause, where “the end, τὸ τέλος” occurs at the tendering of the kingdom.[8] Therefore, the suggestion that there is no temporal distinction between the παρουσια and the “end, τέλος” is special pleading; an undesignated span of time occurs in which Christ subdues his enemies.[9] Only consistent interpretation of εἶτα in Paul’s usage is likely the correct understanding of what Paul was conveying to his audience; if εἶτα is interpreted in a way other than one denoting a span of elapsed time, the two ὅταν clauses in v. 24 and their moods become meaningless as they would all occur concurrently, which is not supported by the text. This is further evidenced by v. 28 which begins with an ὅταν clause, “ὅταν δὲ ὑποταγῇ αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, when all things are sugjected to him,” followed by “τότε αὐτὸς [καὶ] ὁ υἱὸς ὑποταγήσεται τῷ ὑποτάξαντι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him.[10]” Τότε connotes “a point of time subsequent to another point of time—‘then.’”[11] Therefore, if one posits no span of time between the παρουσια and the culmination of Christ’s kingdom, then v. 28 as in the case in v. 24 above becomes meaningless and worse, it becomes contradictory. This indicates the only consistent and logically correct interpretation is to posit a span of time between the παρουσια and the culmination of the kingdom, when Christ hands it over to God the father; no other interpretation seems possible given the text.

[1]. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:23; Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek (Logos Bible Software, 2009), 1 Co 15:23.

[2]. Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 275.

[3]. Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1229.

[4]. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[5]. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:20.

[6]. Craig Blaising, Ken Gentry Jr., and Robert Strimple, Three Views on The Millennium and Beyond, eds. Stanley Gundry and Darrell Brock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 110-111.

[7]. Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Timothy 2:13; 3:10.

[8]. Wilber B. Wallis, “Problem of an intermediate kingdom in I Corinthians 15:20-28.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 18, no. 4 (1975): 230-231, accessed January 24, 2015, http://content.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.sagu.edu/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=ATLA0000752999&S=R&D=rfh&EbscoContent=dGJyMNHX8kSeqLI4yNfsOLCmr02ep7JSs6u4SbaWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGts0iyrLVRuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA.

[9]. Cf. Daniel 2:44; 7:14.

[10]. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:28; Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek (Logos Bible Software, 2009), 1 Co 15:28.

[11]. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 634.


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