“We Will Be Changed!”

Just a thought on the difference between Paul's figures of speech in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4. Most think 1 Thessalonians was among the earliest of Paul's epistles and so it would have been written before 1 Corinthians. In both 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the figure of speech "sleep" [1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51]. This word means "to die," death being compared to a sleep.

In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul first writes of two groups of Christians:

  1. one group is sleeping; and,
  2. the other group is "living."

His context is the moment of the Return of Christ in his royal parousia [visit, arrival, coming]. The first group who is sleeping in death when Christ Returns are "raised" a figure of speech likely referring to an arousal from the sleep of death. [1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 16] The second or last group is neither described as sleeping or being raised, but rather they are "living" at the moment of the Return of Christ. Also, rather than being "raised" they are described as being "caught away" or "snatched". The Greek word here is used elsewhere of a thief who "grabs" something quickly. It literally means to "snatch (even violently)."

The Latin equivalent used by Jerome in his 4th Century version is related to the English word "rapture" that is something carried away. "Rape" comes from the same word, meaning to grab or snatch something violently. Thus, this second group of living Christians at the Return of Christ are not raised [awakened] from sleep in death, but snatched off the earth to a place of safety. The idea and language in 1 Thessalonians 4 is very likely borrowed from Daniel 12:1, 2 which describes a Great Oppression against the Saints. It mentions two groups: those who are "awakened" and those who are "rescued" when Michael "appears." [JPS Tanakh; NCMM] [For details see the book Nazarene Apocalypse 2000©]

With the background of Paul's earlier epistle in mind we can view 1 Corinthians 15 as something of a commentary or expansion on 1 Thessalonians 4. For in 1 Corinthians 15 we have the same figure of speech - "sleep" and "rise" [awakened]. Though in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses "raised up" much more often. [1 Corinthians 15:4, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,18, 20, 29, 32, 25, 42, 43, 44] The figure of speech "raised up" [awakened or aroused] is synonymous with "resurrection" and "made alive." [1 Corinthians 15:13, 22, 36] As in 1 Thessalonians 4, to "sleep" is to die.

Now in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 Paul repeats almost the same thing he did in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 though he does not use the Greek word for "snatched." He again describes two groups: a] sleeping Christians who are "raise up," "made alive," or "resurrected" at the Return of Christ. [1 Corinthians 15:23] And, b] Christians who do not die or fall asleep in death, but rather are "changed." The Greek means to "exchange one thing for another, transform." [Strong's #236] Though the argument could be made that the resurrection is a "change" it seems in keeping more with 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 Paul's unique use of the word "change" here is synonymous with "snatch" in the earlier epistle.

Thus, Paul's meaning in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 is: "All of us Christians will not die [fall asleep], but some of us will be changed [raptured]. This will occur in the thinnest slice of time, in the blink of an eye, at the Last Trumpet. For the Trumpet will sound, and those dead Christians [asleep] will be raised up [resurrected, made alive], and we Christians [living at that time] will be changed [raptured]." For some it would seem the "we" is limited to that group who will not die or fall asleep, just as it is in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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