As the Gospel moved west from Jerusalem into Europe it encountered Greek philosophy entrenched deep into the cultural worldview of the Gentiles. In Greek philosophy the immortality of the soul was accepted, but any idea of a resurrected body was rejected. This philosophical position that rejected the physical resurrection was based on observation (the body decays) and the understanding that the body held the soul captive until, at the death of the body, the soul was set free. This Grecian philosophical view held by the Corinthians was not forgotten just because they accepted the gospel message. Instead, the Greeks in Corinth filtered the Christian message through this Greek philosophy, which resulted in the rejection of Christ’s physical resurrection and the absolute rejection of a physical, bodily resurrection of believers. (This blending of Christian doctrine with Greek philosophy was the beginning of Gnosticism.)
Throughout his argument proving the resurrection of Christ in First Corinthians 15 Paul used the phrase “has been raised,” which is the perfect tense of the Greek verb egegertai. Paul uses it seven times in First Corinthians 15 (and, again in Galatians 2:20) to place emphasis on the reality of the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection. When this Greek verb, egegertai, is combined with the opening words ei de (translated “If”) the condition of the sentence is that of an assumed fact, not a merely a hopeful possibility.
But, if the alternative is true and Christ has not been physically raised from the dead, Paul says the Christian faith is:
- kenos – “vain,” “meaningless,” "useless"; which means there is no substance, without content, no truth, and it is lacking reality.
- mataios – “fruitless,” “empty,” "useless," futile"; which means it is powerless to produce the changes Paul’s gospel promises which includes forgiveness, transformation, eternal life, physical resurrection, etc. This word focuses on the aimlessness of a faith that is not ground in a dependable object and cannot lead to any purposeful end.
In fact, if the Corinthians only advantage was that they had an emotional experience, social relationships, or material gain because of their Christian “faith” then Paul says they “are of all people most to be pitied.”
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
In fact, some of the problems portrayed earlier in this first letter to the Corinthians stem from the false understanding that there was no future resurrection. Thus, Paul quotes Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 15:32:
“If the dead are not raised,
‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’
To sum up his point Paul used a quote from a Greek comedy. This quote is from Menander, a Greek writer from 300 BC, who wrote more than a hundred comedy dramas and won Athens annual drama competition eight years in a row. This bit of practical wisdom from the Corinthian’s Greek world is a quote from Menander’s comedy, Thais:
The “bad company” Paul is referring to is the bad doctrine found in the errant doctrinal statement that says “there is no resurrection.” Paul says bad doctrine corrupts good character, or bad doctrine will manifest itself in a corrupt life style. The acceptance of this and other bad doctrines was the reason the Corinthians where living such immoral and ungodly lives. Bad doctrine is bad company for the soul of a believer.
“Bad company corrupts good character.