Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58

Victory Over Death

Popular Translation

54 In the end, our bodies that age take on young bodies. And our bodies that will die take on bodies that will never die. Then, what the Bible says will come true:

“God’s victory swallowed up death” and

55 “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your snake bite?”

Death’s snake bite is sin and the power of sin is the Law. 57 But, let’s all thank God. He gave us victory over death through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 So, loved ones, be solid and unmovable, like large rocks. Always do more than what people expect you to do, when you do the Lord’s will. Remember, when you do so, your efforts will not be in vain.

Literal Translation

54 When this corruptible (body) will put on the incorruptible, and (that) subject to death will put on immortality, then the word having been written (in the Scriptures) will come (true):

“Death was swallowed up in (God’s) victory” (and)

55 “Where of you, death, (is) the victory;

where of you, death, the sting?”

56 The sting of death (is) sin, the power of sin (is) the Law. 57 Thanks be to God, the one giving victory to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 So, my beloved brothers, become steadfast, immovable (ones), always (performing) over and above in the work of the Lord, knowing that your work in the Lord is not empty.

15:54 “(that) subject to death will put on immortality” The phrase “(that) subject to death” is an adjective that meant “death-like.” “Immortality” was an adjective in Greek that meant “un-dead.”

“Death was swallowed up in (God’s) victory” This verse was a Greek translation of Isaiah 25:8; this translation was unique, since it was not found in the Septuagint.

15:55 Where of you, death, (is) the victory; where of you, death, the sting?” This was a very free rendering of Hosea 13:14b: “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction?” (RSV) Hosea used this phrase in the spirit of despair; he felt his condition was worse than death itself. Paul used the phrase in the light of the Resurrection; for Paul, death had been stripped of its power.

15:56 “The sting of death (is) sin.” Paul equated the term “sting” with snake bite, a clear reference to the role of the devil in the Garden of Eden narrative. The sin of Adam was like the bite of a poisonous snake that stung of venom. The venom would eventually kill. Paul implied that the victory of the resurrection removed the venom, hence the sting, of the devil’s bite.

These verses ended the body of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here he finished his argument for the resurrection with a reflection on the Second Coming. In a “wink of an eye” (15:52), the dead would be raised and the living would have their bodies changed from the physical to the spiritual. Then the perishable will become imperishable, the mortal will become immortal. Then, Paul (loosely) quoted two verses from the prophets to celebrate the end of death. And, in a domino-falling fashion, Paul worked backwards from the victory over death, to the victory over sin, and, implicitly, to the victory over Satan himself. (The note on the “sting” as a snake bite propped up this connection.) The victor was Christ. So, as a corollary, Paul argued for faithfulness. Any work done for Christ would not be in vain.

While we might not have the fervor of Paul and the sense of anticipation that his audience had for the Second Coming, we are still called to believe in the Resurrection and its effects that will culminate in the Second Coming. Just as Paul proclaimed, what happened to Jesus will happen to us.

Do you take faith in the resurrection for granted at times? When was the last time you pondered the Second Coming? Have you ever connected these two events in salvation history? What insights have you had from the connection?