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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:55 Where is your sting?

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 3, 2023

55 “O Death, where is your victory? O Grave, where is your sting?”

Paul addresses death here as an enemy, an opponent, and not as an inevitable action. He rather loosely paraphrases Hosea 13:14, not as if he is a witness to some version of the text that we don’t know about, but as a preacher, proclaiming the law to the enemy of creation and the price of sin: death.

The grammar of the passage is a little unusual on account of the separation of the pronoun “your” from the noun and some other factors. Perhaps the closest we might come to the way this would sound to Paul’s hearers is: “Victory? Where is yours, Death? Sting? Where is yours, Grave?” Translations differ because some witnesses have “death” twice and others have “death… grave.”

The sting is the poisoned venom of a serpent or scorpion (Revelation 9:10, or the sting of a bee. The Greek translation of the prophets translates another Hosea passage this way: “I am trouble for Ephraim; I am poison to the house of Judah” (Hosea 5:12). But we are reminded of the serpent whose poisoned words tempted Eve to fall into sin; a poison that resulted in death for all her descendants.

The Scriptures distinguish three kinds of death: spiritual death, temporal death, and eternal death.

Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. This happened to man (Adam and Eve) at the moment of the first sin, and all mankind inherits this spiritual death as our condition on account of our original, inherited sin: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live as you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-2). It is from this spiritual death that we are raised to life through faith in our baptism and through the preaching of the gospel. For when Paul says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), he uses a past tense (perfect passive), not a future tense. He does not say, “You will be saved,” but “you have been saved.” May we thrive and exult and gain deeper and deeper understanding in his good words! “May the glory of the Lord be praised in his dwelling place!” (Ezekiel 3:12).

Temporal death is the separation of the body from the soul, when the body will fall away and the soul will be taken by the angels to the place where it will later reside with its body in eternity. The souls of believers will depart to heaven; the souls of unbelievers will depart to hell to await the final judgment with the evil angels (2 Peter 2:4). For Christians, temporal death is a release from the ravages of the fallen, sinful world. While loved ones miss those whose bodies die, we have the comfort of knowing with God’s most eager assurance that the resurrection awaits them and us. Here is God’s compassion directly touching our hearts. This is proof that the sting is removed from death’s cruel points and arrows, and even though we have a whole army shooting at us, we will rise to life through faith in Christ.

Eternal death is the eternal separation of man (both body and soul) from the presence of God and especially from God’s grace and love. When “the wicked does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin” (Ezekiel 3:19). Jesus will say: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). This death is not a complete destruction or annihilation, but eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).

Our faith in Jesus is our proof: “We know that we have passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14). We remember this when we repent of our sins and receive forgiveness. A sinner who is turned from the error of his way is saved from death (James 5:20). We live offering ourselves to God, “as those who have been brought from death to life” (Romans 6:13), knowing that a place is waiting for us in Paradise, a place prepared by Jesus Christ himself for our eternal rest. In heaven, we will never be separated from God or God’s love, but we will live under the shelter of his grace and in the shadow of his wings. The victory belongs to Jesus our Savior.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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