|Barnes' Notes on the Bible|
"O death." This triumphant exclamation is the commencement of the fourth division of the chapter, the practical consequences of the doctrine. It is such an exclamation as every man with right feelings will be disposed to make, who contemplates the ravages of death; who looks upon a world where in all forms he has reigned, and who then contemplates the glorious truth, that a complete and final triumph has been obtained over this great enemy of the happiness of man, and that man would die no more. It is a triumphant view which bursts upon the soul as it contemplates the fact that the work of the second Adam has repaired the ruins of the first, and that man is redeemed; his body will be raised; not another human being should die, and the work of death should be ended. Nay, it is more. Death is not only at an end; it shall not only cease, but its evils shall be repaired; and a glory and honor shall encompass the body of man, such as would have been unknown had there been no death. No commentary can add to the beauty and force of the language in this verse; and the best way to see its beauty, and to enjoy it, is to sit down and think of death; of what death has been, and has done; of the millions and millions that have died; of the earth strewn with the dead, and "arched with graves;" of our own death; the certainty that we must die, and our parents, and brothers, and sisters, and children, and friends; that all, all must die; and then to suffer the truth, in its full-orbed splendor, to rise upon us, that the time will come when death shall be at an end. Who, in such contemplation, can refrain from the language of triumph, and from hymns of praise?
Where is thy sting? - The word which is here rendered sting (κέντρον kentron) denotes properly a prick, a point, hence, a goad or stimulus; that is, a rod or staff with an iron point, for goading oxen; (see the note on Acts 9:5); and then a sting properly, as of scorpions, bees, etc. It denotes here a venomous thing, or weapon, applied to death personified, as if death employed it to destroy life, as the sting of a bee or a scorpion is used. The idea is derived from the venomous sting of serpents, or other reptiles, as being destructive and painful. The language here is the language of exultation, as if that was taken away or destroyed.
O grave - ᾅδη hadē. Hades, the place of the dead. It is not improperly rendered, however, grave. The word properly denotes a place of darkness; then the world, or abodes of the dead. According to the Hebrews, Hades, or Sheol, was a vast subterranean receptacle, or abode, where the souls of the dead existed. It was dark, deep, still, awful. The descent to it was through the grave; and the spirits of all the dead were supposed to be assembled there; the righteous occupying the upper regions, and the wicked the lower; see the note on Isaiah 14:9; compare Lowth, Lectures on Hebrew Poetry, vii; Campbell, Prel. Diss. vi. part 2, 2. It refers here to the dead; and means that the grave, or Hades, should no longer have a victory.
Thy victory - Since the dead are to rise; since all the graves are to give up all that dwell in them; since no man will die after that, where is its victory? It is taken away. It is despoiled. The power of death and the grave is vanquished, and Christ is triumphant over all. It has been well remarked here, that the words in this verse rise above the plain and simple language of prose, and resemble a hymn, into which the apostle breaks out in view of the glorious truth which is here presented to the mind. The whole verse is indeed a somewhat loose quotation from Hosea 13:14, which we translate,
"O death, I will be thy plagues;
O grave, I will be thy destruction."
But which the Septuagint renders:
"O death, where is thy punishment?
O grave, where is thy sting?"
Probably Paul did not intend this as a direct quotation; but he spoke as a man naturally does who is familiar with the language of the Scriptures, and used it to express the sense which he intended, without meaning to make a direct and literal quotation. The form which Paul uses is so poetic in its structure that Pope has adopted it, with only a change in the location of the members, in the "Dying Christian:"
"O grave, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?"
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? - Που σου, Θανατε, το κεντρον· που σου, ᾁδη, το νικος· These words are generally supposed to be taken from Hosea 13:14, where the Hebrew text stands thus: אהי דבריך מות אהי קטבך שאול ehi debareyca maueth; ehikatabca sheol: which we translate, O death! I will be thy plagues; O grave! I will be thy destruction; and which the Septuagint translate very nearly as the apostle, που ἡ δικη σου, Θαντε; που το κεντρον σον, ᾁδη; O death, where is thy revenge, or judicial process? O grave, where is thy sting? And it may be remarked that almost all the MSS., versions, and many of the fathers, interchange the two members of this sentence as they appear in the Septuagint, attributing victory to death; and the sting, to hades or the grave; only the Septuagint, probably by mistake or corruption of copyists, have δικη, dike, revenge or a judicial process, for νικος, nikos, victory: a mistake which the similarity of the words, both in letters and sound, might readily produce. We may observe, also, that the אהי ehi (I will be) of the Hebrew text the Septuagint, and the apostle following them, have translated που, where, as if the word had been written איה where, the two last letters interchanged; but אהי ehi, is rendered where in other places; and our translators, in the 10th verse of this same chapter (Hosea 13:10) render אהי מלך ehi malca, "I will be thy king," but have this note in the margin, "Rather, where is thy king? King Hoshea being then in prison." The apostle, therefore, and the Septuagint, are sufficiently vindicated by the use of the word elsewhere: and the best Jewish commentators allow this use of the word. The Targum, Syriac, Arabic, Vulgate, and some MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi, confirm this reading.
Having vindicated the translation, it is necessary to inquire into the meaning of the apostle's expressions. Both Death and Hades are here personified: Death is represented as having a sting, dagger, or goad, by which, like the driver of oxen, he is continually irritating and urging on; (these irritations are the diseases by which men are urged on till they fall into Hades, the empire of Death); to Hades, victory is attributed, having overcome and conquered all human life, and subdued all to its own empire. By the transposition of these two members of the sentence, the victory is given to Death, who has extinguished all human life; and the sting is given to Hades, as in his empire the evil of death is fully displayed by the extinction of all animal life, and the destruction of all human bodies. We have often seen a personification of death in ancient paintings - a skeleton crowned, with a dart in his hand; probably taken from the apostle's description. The Jews represent the angel of death as having a sword, from which deadly drops of gall fall into the mouths of all men.
Hades, which we here translate grave, is generally understood to be the place of separate spirits. See the note on Matthew 11:23.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
O death, where is thy sting?.... These words, with the following clause, are taken out of Hosea 13:14 and that they belong to the times of the Messiah, the ancient Jews acknowledge; and the Chaldee paraphrase interprets them of the Logos, or Word of God, rendering them thus,
"my Word shall be among them to kill, and my Word to destroy;''
wherefore the apostle is not to be charged with a misapplication of them, nor with a perversion of them, as he is by the Jew (s): in the prophet they are thus read, "O death, I will be thy plagues, O grave, I will be thy destruction"; between which, and the apostle's citation of them, there is some difference; the word which we render in both clauses, "I will be", the apostle translates "where", and that very rightly, and so it should be rendered there; and so it is by the Septuagint interpreters, who render the whole as he, with a little variation, "where is thy revenge, O death? where is thy sting, O grave?" and so the Arabic version of Hosea still nearer the apostle, "where is now thy victory, O death?" or "where is thy sting, O grave?" and even the Chaldee paraphrase on Hosea 13:14 renders the same word "where"; for instead of, "I will be thy king", the Targum reads, , "where is thy king?" and Aben Ezra, a Jewish writer of great note, on Hosea 13:14 observes, that there are some that say the word is to be inverted as if it was "where", and he adds, and it is right; a like observation he makes on those words in 1 Corinthians 15:14 and that that is the true sense of the word in both verses, is attested by Ebn Jannahius Tanchuma (t); so that the apostle is thus far to be justified, in his citation of this passage: it is further to be observed, that instead of "thy plagues", he reads, "thy sting"; and I doubt not, but that among the many things which signifies, as it must be owned it does signify the plague, or pestilence, see Psalm 90:6 and which perhaps is so called, from the venomous nature of it, and the poisonous sting that is in it, so likewise a sting, though there is no instance of it; certain it is, that bees are called and as Cocceius (u) observes, from their sting; and so in the Chaldee and Arabic languages, a bee, or a wasp, is called and it is to such sort of creatures, that the allusion is here made; who having lost their stings, can do no hurt; and which will be the case of death in the resurrection morn, when risen saints will insult over it in this triumphant manner; having nothing more to fear from it, any more than a man has to be afraid of any animal whatever, that has lost its sting: and in the following clause,
O grave, where is thy victory? instead of "destruction", as it must be allowed the word signifies, see Psalm 90:6 the apostle reads victory; but then there is no difference in the sense; for the grave gets its victory over its thousands, and ten thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousands, and millions of millions, by the destruction of them, which now it glories in, and boasts of; but in the resurrection morn, when its destruction will be at an end, the triumphant saints may reasonably ask, where is its boasted victory, since it can destroy no longer.
(s) R. lsaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 87. p. 463. (t) Apud Pocock. Not. Miscellan. ad Port. Mosis, p. 69, 70. (u) Lex. Heb. in rad.
Vincent's Word Studies
O death, where, etc.
From Hosea 13:14, a free version of the Sept.: "Where is thy penalty, O Death? Where thy sting, O Hades? Heb.: Where are thy plagues, O Death? Where thy pestilence, O Sheol?
O grave (ἅδη)
Which is the reading of the Septuagint. The correct reading is θάνατε O death. So Rev. Hades does not occur in Paul's writings. In Romans 10:7 he uses abyss. Edwards thinks that this is intentional, and suggests that Paul, writing to Greeks, may have shunned the ill-omened name which people dreaded to utter. So Plato: "People in general use the word (Pluto) as a euphemism for Hades, which their fears lead them to derive erroneously from ἀειδής the invisible" ("Cratylus," 403).
In the Septuagint for the Hebrew pestilence. See on Revelation 9:9. The image is that of a beast with a sting; not death with a goad, driving men.
Geneva Study Bible
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
People's New Testament
15:55 O death, where is thy sting? This is quoted from Ho 13:14. It is here the triumphant shout of the apostle as he sees by faith the final victory over death.
15:55 O death, where is thy sting? - Which once was full of hellish poison. O hades, the receptacle of separate souls, where is thy victory - Thou art now robbed of all thy spoils; all thy captives are set at liberty. Hades literally means the invisible world, and relates to the soul; death, to the body. The Greek words are found in the Septuagint translation of Hosea 13:14. Isaiah 25:8
King James Translators' Notes
grave: or, hell
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
55. Quoted from Ho 13:14, substantially; but freely used by the warrant of the Spirit by which Paul wrote. The Hebrew may be translated, "O death, where are thy plagues? Where, O Hades, is thy destruction?" The Septuagint, "Where is thy victory (literally, in a lawsuit), O death? Where is thy sting, O Hades? . Sting" answers to the Hebrew "plagues," namely, a poisoned sting causing plagues. Appropriate, as to the old serpent (Ge 3:14, 15; Nu 21:6). "Victory" answers to the Hebrew "destruction." Compare Isa 25:7, "destroy . veil . over all nations," namely, victoriously destroy it; and to "in victory" (1Co 15:54), which he triumphantly repeats. The "where" implies their past victorious destroying power and sting, now gone for ever; obtained through Satan's triumph over man in Eden, which enlisted God's law on the side of Satan and death against man (Ro 5:12, 17, 21). The souls in Hades being freed by the resurrection, death's sting and victory are gone. For "O grave," the oldest manuscripts and versions read, "O death," the second time.
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary
15:51-58 All the saints should not die, but all would be changed. In the gospel, many truths, before hidden in mystery, are made known. Death never shall appear in the regions to which our Lord will bear his risen saints. Therefore let us seek the full assurance of faith and hope, that in the midst of pain, and in the prospect of death, we may think calmly on the horrors of the tomb; assured that our bodies will there sleep, and in the mean time our souls will be present with the Redeemer. Sin gives death all its hurtful power. The sting of death is sin; but Christ, by dying, has taken out this sting; he has made atonement for sin, he has obtained remission of it. The strength of sin is the law. None can answer its demands, endure its curse, or do away his own transgressions. Hence terror and anguish. And hence death is terrible to the unbelieving and the impenitent. Death may seize a believer, but it cannot hold him in its power. How many springs of joy to the saints, and of thanksgiving to God, are opened by the death and resurrection, the sufferings and conquests of the Redeemer! In verse 58, we have an exhortation, that believers should be stedfast, firm in the faith of that gospel which the apostle preached, and they received. Also, to be unmovable in their hope and expectation of this great privilege, of being raised incorruptible and immortal. And to abound in the work of the Lord, always doing the Lord's service, and obeying the Lord's commands. May Christ give us faith, and increase our faith, that we may not only be safe, but joyful and triumphant.
Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary
To confirm what he had said of this change,
I. He here tells them what had been concealed from or unknown to them till then-that all the saints would not die, but all would be changed. Those that are alive at our Lord's coming will be caught up into the clouds, without dying, 1 Th. 4:11. But it is plain from this passage that it will not be without changing from corruption to incorruption. The frame of their living bodies shall be thus altered, as well as those that are dead; and this in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, v. 52. What cannot almighty power effect? That power that calls the dead into life can surely thus soon and suddenly change the living; for changed they must be as well as the dead, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. This is the mystery which the apostle shows the Corinthians: Behold, I show you a mystery; or bring into open light a truth dark and unknown before. Note, There are many mysteries shown to us in the gospel; many truths that before were utterly unknown are there made known; many truths that were but dark and obscure before are there brought into open day, and plainly revealed; and many things are in part revealed that will never be fully known, nor perhaps clearly understood. The apostle here makes known a truth unknown before, which is that the saints living at our Lord's second coming will not die, but be changed, that this change will be made in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and at the sound of the last trump; for, as he tells us elsewhere, the Lord himself shall descend with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God (1 Th. 4:16), so here, the trumpet must sound. It is the loud summons of all the living and all the dead, to come and appear at the tribunal of Christ. At this summons the graves shall open, the dead saints shall rise incorruptible, and the living saints be changed to the same incorruptible state, v. 52.
II. He assigns the reason of this change (v. 53): For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. How otherwise could the man be a fit inhabitant of the incorruptible regions, or be fitted to possess the eternal inheritance? How can that which is corruptible and mortal enjoy what is incorruptible, permanent, and immortal? This corruptible body must be made incorruptible, this mortal body must be changed into immortal, that the man may be capable of enjoying the happiness designed for him. Note, It is this corruptible that must put on incorruption; the demolished fabric that must be reared again. What is sown must be quickened. Saints will come in their own bodies (v. 38), not in other bodies.
III. He lets us know what will follow upon this change of the living and dead in Christ: Then shall be brought to pass that saying, Death is swallowed up in victory; or, He will swallow up death in victory. Isa. 25:8. For mortality shall be then swallowed up of life (2 Co. 5:4), and death perfectly subdued and conquered, and saints for ever delivered from its power. Such a conquest shall be obtained over it that it shall for ever disappear in those regions to which our Lord will bear his risen saints. And therefore will the saints hereupon sing their epinikion, their song of triumph. Then, when this mortal shall have put on immortality, will death be swallowed up, for ever swallowed up, eis nikos. Christ hinders it from swallowing his saints when they die; but, when they rise again, death shall, as to them, be swallowed for ever. And upon this destruction of death will they break out into a song of triumph.
1. They will glory over death as a vanquished enemy, and insult this great and terrible destroyer: "O death! where is thy sting? Where is now thy sting, thy power to hurt? What mischief hast thou done us? We are dead; but behold we live again, and shall die no more. Thou art vanquished and disarmed, and we are out of the reach of thy deadly dart. Where now is thy fatal artillery? Where are thy stores of death? We fear no further mischiefs from thee, nor heed thy weapons, but defy thy power, and despise thy wrath. And, O grave! where is thy victory? Where now is thy victory? What has become of it? Where are the spoils and trophies of it? Once we were thy prisoners, but the prison-doors are burst open, the locks and bolts have been forced to give way, our shackles are knocked off, and we are for ever released. Captivity is taken captive. The imaginary victor is conquered, and forced to resign his conquest and release his captives. Thy triumphs, grave, are at an end. The bonds of death are loosed, and we are at liberty, and are never more to be hurt by death, nor imprisoned in the grave." In a moment, the power of death, and the conquests and spoils of the grave, are gone; and, as to the saints, the very signs of them will not remain. Where are they? Thus will they raise themselves, when they become immortal, to the honour of their Saviour and the praise of divine grace: they shall glory over vanquished death.
2. The foundation for this triumph is here intimated, (1.) In the account given whence death had its power to hurt: The sting of death is sin. This gives venom to his dart: this alone puts it into the power of death to hurt and kill. Sin unpardoned, and nothing else, can keep any under his power. And the strength of sin is the law; it is the divine threatening against the transgressors of the law, the curse there denounced, that gives power to sin. Note, Sin is the parent of death, and gives it all its hurtful power. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, Rom. 5:12. It is its cursed progeny and offspring. (2.) In the account given of the victory saints obtain over it through Jesus Christ, v. 56. The sting of death is sin; but Christ, by dying, has taken out this sting. He has made atonement for sin; he has obtained remission of it. It may hiss therefore, but it cannot hurt. The strength of sin is the law; but the curse of the law is removed by our Redeemer's becoming a curse for us. So that sin is deprived of its strength and sting, through Christ, that is, by his incarnation, suffering, and death. Death may seize a believer, but cannot sting him, cannot hold him in his power. There is a day coming when the grave shall open, the bands of death be loosed, the dead saints revive, and become incorruptible and immortal, and put out of the reach of death for ever. And then will it plainly appear that, as to them, death will have lost its strength and sting; and all by the mediation of Christ, by his dying in their room. By dying, he conquered death, and spoiled the grave; and, through faith in him, believers become sharers in his conquests. They often rejoice beforehand, in the hope of this victory; and, when they arise glorious from the grave, they will boldly triumph over death. Note, It is altogether owing to the grace of God in Christ that sin is pardoned and death disarmed. The law puts arms into the hand of death, to destroy the sinner; but pardon of sin takes away this power from the law, and deprives death of its strength and sting. It is by the grace of God, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, that we are freely justified, Rom. 3:24. It is no wonder, therefore, (3.) If this triumph of the saints over death should issue in thanksgiving to God: Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through Christ Jesus, our Lord, v. 57. The way to sanctify all our joy is to make it tributary to the praise of God. Then only do we enjoy our blessings and honours in a holy manner when God has his revenue of glory out of it, and we are free to pay it to him. And this really improves and exalts our satisfaction. We are conscious at once of having done our duty and enjoyed our pleasure. And what can be more joyous in itself than the saints' triumph over death, when they shall rise again? And shall they not then rejoice in the Lord, and be glad in the God of their salvation? Shall not their souls magnify the Lord? When he shows such wonders to the dead, shall they not arise and praise him? Ps. 88:10. Those who remain under the power of death can have no heart to praise; but such conquests and triumphs will certainly tune the tongues of the saints to thankfulness and praise-praise for the victory (it is great and glorious in itself), and for the means whereby it is obtained (it is given of God through Christ Jesus), a victory obtained not by our power, but the power of God; not given because we are worthy, but because Christ is so, and has by dying obtained this conquest for us. Must not this circumstance endear the victory to us, and heighten our praise to God? Note, How many springs of joy to the saints and thanksgiving to God are opened by the death and resurrection, the sufferings and conquests, of our Redeemer! With what acclamations will saints rising from the dead applaud him! How will the heaven of heavens resound his praises for ever! Thanks be to God will be the burden of their song; and angels will join the chorus, and declare their consent with a loud Amen, Hallelujah.