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I'm trying to get clarity about which one - sin or death - is being stung by the other. Or, is it like a whip that "stings" when it hits? In other words, does Paul envision either death or sin as having/possessing a stinger, and actively stinging the other? If so what is the metaphor behind this "stinger"? A bee? A wasp? Or is the sting merely a sensation or effect of something that does not actually have a stinger of sorts, for example like a whip, or a hand that strikes someone creating a stinging effect? Or is death like a bee with a stinger called sin?

1 Cor 15:55, 56 - “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

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Neither is death stinging sin, nor is sin stinging death.

The genitive construction "sting of death" could be rendered "death's sting". The word translated sting here is κέντρον, literally meaning a sharp point (source).

What Paul is saying is that sin is the thing that makes death painful or dangerous. If (hypothetically) there were no sin, death would be nothing to worry about.

The part of a wasp I worry about is the stinger. The part of death worth worrying about is ending one's time in mortality with unforgiven sin.

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  • "If (hypothetically) there were no sin, death would be nothing to worry about." So, because there is sin, death is something to worry about. That clearly implies that sin causes death. Obviously, the death being talked about here by Paul is not spiritual death, but physical death, hence, physical death is the consequence of sin. Doesn't this disprove the belief that sinners will live forever in immortal bodies? Also, good answer. +1
    – Rajesh
    May 18 at 20:13
  • @Rajesh that sin resulted in physical death is indeed a straightforward understanding of the Fall. That sin causes spiritual death is straightforward too. But it also seems a little oversimplified that sin causes death. Jesus never sinned.... May 18 at 22:06
  • I'd probably UV this but for the last line. It sounds like that person is awaiting hellfire and thus unbiblical. A Christian needn't worry about unforgiven sin. A non-Christian doesn't either.
    – steveowen
    May 19 at 5:06
  • "But it also seems a little oversimplified that sin causes death. Jesus never sinned" I'm not saying that sin is the only thing that causes death; merely that it causes death. Something can have multiple causes, and death is one of those things. The point is, sin and separation from God directly result in physical death; that is a principle established in the very first pages of the Bible. It is highly inconsistent to say that the wicked are still sinners when raised and will be separated from God, and won't ever die, but will do the opposite and live forever. It makes no sense.
    – Rajesh
    May 19 at 14:48
  • @steveowen "It sounds like that person is awaiting hellfire and thus unbiblical." Not necessarily. The Second Death is much worse than the first death. In the first death, you die, but only temporarily, because your spirit remains intact, and you will be resurrected. But in the Second Death, you die permanently and irrevocably as both your body and spirit are killed forever, and you have no chance of resurrection. The Second Death is clearly worse than the first death.
    – Rajesh
    May 19 at 14:56
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The famous passage in 1 Cor 15:55, 56 is a quotation from Hosea 13:14, a prophecy about redemption and resurrection:

I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from Death. Where, O Death, are your plagues? Where, O Sheol, is your sting?

"Them" here is Ephraim - a poetic name for the northern kingdom of Samaria and its legendary sinfulness. God here is offering to forgive Ephraim/Samaria if the people will accept. Unfortunately, most did not and Samaria was later captured and the people deported and vanished from history as the next two verse correctly prophesy.

In 1 Cor 15:55, 56, Paul uses this OT passage to teach about the great eschatological resurrection of the righteous with several truths:

  • Sin is to eradicated
  • The new bodies that we get at the resurrection (1 Cor 15:35-49) are not subject to decay and thus we will be granted immortality

However, this can only occur when sin is finally eradicated forever:

V50-54 - Now I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

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, sin is being seen as the cause of death as was made abundantly clear in Gen 3:3. Sin separates us from God and combined with death becomes a sting or barb that we have never become used to.

Note the clear statement in 1 Cor 15:56, "the sting of death is sin", or, "death's sting is sin". Sin causes regret and all the ills we endure in this world. Ellicott express it this way:

(56) The sting of death is sin.—Death is pictured as a monster, and it is armed with a sting. Its sting is sin. If there were no sin, death would not be capable of inflicting pain, and the strength of sin springs from the fact that it is the violation of God’s law. (See this thought fully brought out, Romans 5:12; Romans 7:7.)

Barnes is similar:

The sting of death - The sting which death bears; that with which he effects his purpose; that which is made use of to inflict death; or that which is the cause of death. There would be no death without sin. The apostle here personifies death, as if it were a living being, and as making use of sin to inflict death, or as being the sting, or envenomed instrument, with which he inflicts the mortal agony. The idea is, that sin is the cause of death. It introduced it; it makes it certain; it is the cause of the pain, distress, agony, and horror which attends it. If there had been no sin, people would not have died. If there were no sin, death would not be attended with horror or alarm.

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