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In 1 Thes. 4:16, it is written,

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. NKJV

ΙϚʹ ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ καταβήσεται ἀπ᾽ οὐρανοῦ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστήσονται πρῶτον TR, 1550

1 Thes. 4:16 includes the phrase "in Christ" (ἐν Χριστῷ) and this is generally translated into English as though it modified οἱ νεκροὶ ("the dead"), thus yielding the translation "the dead in Christ."

However, "in Christ" (ἐν Χριστῷ) is in the Dative case, so isn't it more logical that it modifies the verb that follows (i.e., ἀναστήσονται), thus yielding the translation "will rise first in Christ"?

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Perhaps such a construction could be made, but what would be the significance? That the dead will rise first in Christ, and then later in some other fashion?

Scripture elsewhere affirms that there will be a resurrection of both those who are ἐν Χριστῷ and those who are not: The hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29). Thus, it is clear that both shall be resurrected, but that the nature of their resurrections shall differ. Paul seems to be clarifying here that there will be an order in which the two resurrections will occur.

This understanding is found in the writings of the Church Fathers. Ambrose of Milan (340-397 AD) writes, for example:

So we shall either pay the penalty of our sins or attain to the reward of our good deeds. For the same being will rise again, now more honorably for having paid the tax of death. And then “the dead who are in Christ shall rise first."

On Belief in the Resurrection

Furthermore, I think what is implied in the phrase οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ is consistent with what we read in Revelation (14:13):

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord ...

Μακάριοι οἱ νεκροὶ οἱ ἐν κυρίῳ ἀποθνῄσκοντες

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  • Thank you for your response. The significance is whether Christ through Himself raises ALL the dead (good and bad) or only those who are 'in Christ'. I don't know Greek, but it sounds to me from the comments that this verse could be translated either way and the only reason it is translated as "only Christians are raised" is because that is tradition. I'm trying to get to the logic before Greek thinking influenced the church so much. I really appreciate help. Thank you.
    – Lan
    Jan 8 '17 at 18:08
  • I'm not sure which tradition you are referring to that holds that only Christians will be resurrected. That belief would contradict Scripture - see John 5:28-29, which I quoted in my answer
    – user15733
    Jan 9 '17 at 13:10
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Sorry, I wasn't clear. Most think this verse means that ONLY (the dead in Christ) will rise first and then ONLY the living Christians will rise to be with Jesus, and yes, all others will rise sometime but their rising is not part of what this verse is talking about.

I wonder if this verse could mean that ALL the dead (in Christ will rise first) and then ALL the living will rise to be with Jesus.

I want to know whether the verse could mean that. There was no punctuation, so it's just moving a comma from what I can tell. Sort of like Jesus' statement to the thief on the cross could be "I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise" or "I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." The whole meaning depends on where we put the comma.

I am REALLY, REALLY grateful for your help. I sincerely just want to know.

Thank you.

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