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[1Co 15:26 NASB] (26) The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

[1Co 15:26 MGNT] (26) ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος

The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is a little difficult to sort out, but in 2 Timothy, Paul explicitly says that the abolishment/nullification of death has already occurred in his own lifetime:

[2Ti 1:10 NASB] (10) but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

[2Ti 1:10 MGNT] (10) φανερωθεῖσαν δὲ νῦν διὰ τῆς ἐπιφανείας τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ καταργήσαντος μὲν τὸν θάνατον φωτίσαντος δὲ ζωὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

Is Paul's use of the present aspect intentional and significant or an arcane usage for a future verb?

Related:

[Rev 1:18 NASB] (18) and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

[Rev 6:8 NASB] (8) I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

[Rev 20:13-14 NASB] (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

[Eph 4:7-13 NKJV] (7) But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. (8) Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." (9) (Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? (10) He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (11) And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, (12) for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, (13) till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

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The NT has a doctrine called "The now but not yet". It is especially relevant when we consider the promise of eternal life.

Our present highly imperfect world is full of death and suffering, YET, the fact that Jesus has already been raised from the dead and has thus overcome death means that this enemy has been conquered. For believers this is the best news ever and Jesus constantly told us this:

  • 1 Cor 15:26 - the last enemy is abolished - death (My translation) that is by Jesus' victory
  • John 3:36 - Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever rejects the Son will not see life. Instead, the wrath of God remains on him.”
  • John 6:47 - Truly, truly, I tell you, he who believes has eternal life.
  • John 6:54 - Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
  • Heb 2:14 - Now since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil [This teaches that the devil, despite his current "roaring", is defeated]
  • 1 John 5:12 [NET] - The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.

All this anticipates what will happen in still future events:

  • Rev 20:14 - Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
  • Rev 21:4 - ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Death and Hades are yet to be destroyed but by faith we believe that Jesus will destroy them because of His victory over death. Hebrews summarizes this situation in Heb 11:14-16, 39, 40

Now those who say such things show that they are seeking a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. ...

These were all commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect.

I wish that the translators would leave the text alone and just translate what they see in front of them. The verb in 1 Cor 15:26 "is being abolished" is Present Indicative. This is entirely consistent with NT teaching. Lest there be any doubt, Paul makes this abundantly clear later in this same chapter on the teaching of the doctrine of general resurrection (V51-54)

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Thus, Jesus' victory is the key to understanding that while Satan and death are already defeated, we must wait by faith for this to be accomplished.

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1 Corinthians 15:26 New American Standard Bible

The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

to be destroyed [is]
καταργεῖται (katargeitai)
Verb - Present Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's Greek 2673: From kata and argeo; to be entirely idle, literally or figuratively.

Young's Literal Translation

the last enemy is done away -- death;

The present tense is applied to this prophecy to make it more real to the present readers, even though it will only take place physically in the future. It is an example of prophetic or futuristic use of present tense.

This theme continues later in 1 Corinthians 15:54

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

This time the aorist past tense is used to indicate a prophetic future happening.

has been swallowed up
Κατεπόθη (Katepothē)
Verb - Aorist Indicative Passive - 3rd Person Singular

Young's Literal Translation

and when this corruptible may have put on incorruption, and this mortal may have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that hath been written, 'The Death was swallowed up -- to victory;

Isaiah 25:8

he will swallow up death forever.

He will swallow up
בִּלַּ֤ע (bil·la‘)
Verb - Piel - Perfect - third person masculine singular

Present tense, aorist, and perfect are often used in Greek and Hebrew to assure a prophecy's future certainty.

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  • Can you provide either a grammar speaking of "the prophetic or futuristic use of present tense" or a few examples? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 16 at 20:26

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