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What does it mean that “the sting of death is sin” in 1 Corinthians 15:56?

the sting of death is sin

After a taunting of death in the previous verses, the apostle Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56, ESV). To understand the meaning of this verse, we must explore the relationship between the law, sin, and death.

In saying “the sting of death is sin,” Paul likens death to a living monstrosity on the attack. Its envenomed weapon—its sting—is what gives death its poisonous power over people. In fact, if it were not for sin, death would be no enemy at all—nothing but a fangless serpent or a tailless scorpion. It is our sin that puts us in mortal danger.

In 1 Corinthians 15:54–55, Paul quotes Hosea 13:14, saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (ESV). Here, Paul declares that death has been defeated (see 1 Corinthians 15:26). As a defeated opponent, it no longer has the same sting. The venom has been removed. But, for unbelievers, the sting remains. They are haunted by death and judgment because of their unrepentance and willful rejection of Christ. For believers, however, the sting of death has been removed by faith in the sacrificial death and victorious resurrection of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24).

The sting of death originated in the Garden of Eden. Because of Adam’s disobedience, “sin came into the world . . . and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV). Sin is the “sting” or root cause of death (Romans 6:23). If Adam had not sinned, then people would not die. Death must be understood in two ways: (1) physical and (2) spiritual. Physical death is the termination of our biological existence, whereas spiritual death is separation from God, who alone is the true source of life (John 1:3–4; 10:10; 14:6).

Death is the consequence of sin, a fact made painfully clear by the law (Ezekiel 18:20). The law, then, reveals that we deserve death and judgment: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32, ESV). The power of sin is magnified by the law in that the presence of sin reminds us that we cannot obey the law.

The beauty of Paul’s message is that it does not end with the law, sin, and death. No, it ends with Christ, who is the “end of the law” (Romans 10:4, ESV). His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection are the solution to our sin problem. When we sinned, He could have remained in heaven and said, “That’s not my problem.” But His love for us was too great. In love, “he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8, ESV). On the cross, He bore our sins, not His own. He died, but He did not remain dead. Three days later, He rose from the grave, defeating Satan, sin, and death. In Christ, believers are victorious. So, death, where is your sting?

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What does it mean that “the sting of death is sin” in 1 Corinthians 15:56?
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This page last updated: May 13, 2024