What are the 'Scriptures' mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15: 3 - 4?

. . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

. . . He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

If Paul called something 'scriptures' I would like to know what it was and take his opinion seriously.

Did the Corinthians have the same Bible we have?

Did they have access to 'Scriptures' other than the modern Bible?

Did Paul teach from the same 'Scriptures' they had?


8 Answers 8


As a "Pharisee amongst Pharisees," Paul would have seen the Scriptures as the Scriptures of the Jews - the Torah, the Ketu'vim, and the Nevi'im, or as we say in English, the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets. When Jesus was on the transfiguration mount, he prefigured this. These Scriptures are the Old Testament to modern Christians, or "the Hebrew Bible" as some scholars like to say.

  1. Dead for three days, in the OT Scriptures

    When Paul was speaking of Jesus, rising again after three days, for example, he was probably remembering what the eyewitnesses had said, and which Matthew later wrote as follows:

    38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40)

    Here, Jesus explicitly called out Jonah (an Old Testament prophet) as being prophetically foretelling that the Son of Man would also be dead for three days. Paul admits to having been taught by Peter, and Peter would have been privy to this teaching from Jesus himself.

  2. Dying for our sins in the OT Scriptures

    Likewise, Paul may very well have read into Isaiah 53 for inspiration about Jesus death paying for our sins, when the prophet writes:

    But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. ... 10 his soul makes an offering for guilt,

    While scholars may disagree on the nature of substitutionary atonement as the "Gospel" that Paul preached, this prophecy could at least be seen to be in harmony with Paul's understanding.

  3. Jesus calling himself the OT Scriptures

    While the specific passages may or may not "clearly" be the exact references in question, the overall point is explicit - that Jesus was the fufillment of what the Jews had long believed. Jesus says as much to the Pharisees in John 5:39:

    You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.

    Herein the obvious implication is that the Scriptures are those Scriptures that the Pharisees and the religious folk of the day had been searching for centuries. Presented with the Christ who literally was the Word (John 1), it all began to make sense.

The New Testament, by definition, came after the Hebrew Scriptures and to the Hebrews for whom those Scriptures were written. By definition, the "Scriptures" should mean to those authors what "Scripture" meant to the contemporaries of those authors. When Paul was writing his letters, there were no "Gospels", only eyewitness accounts, so he couldn't have been referring to anything more.

Corinth itself, as a port city in Greece, was home to a substantial Jewish population, so there is no reason to assume the word would have meant anything different than what you'd expect a Jew to think it - namely those books we now call the Old Testament.

  • '. . . namely those books we now call the Old Testament.' I bet you know better than that. If you really believe that statement to be true I'll give you all my points. All you have to do is say so. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 8:03
  • I do believe that to be true. It is the plainest sense. Looking forward to all your points. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 11:20
  • Can the powers that control these things transfer all my points to Affable Greek but not the 'bounty'. That must go to a better answer. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 15:05
  • I'll just take them as a spiritual gift (rim shot!) Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 18:25

The Scripture

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (NET) - 15:1 Now I want to make clear for you,1 brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Paul’s Education

One must understand that Paul was more than your average educated man. Though a Jew, he knew well the common Greek language used between speakers that had different native languages. He was also throughly familiar with the dominate philosophy of the day, Stoicism. Then in Acts 22:3-5 we see him being educated in the law of the ancestors by Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a leading Pharisee and cautioned the Sanhedrin (the highest legal, legislative, and judicial body among the Jews) about the apostles:

Acts 5:38–39 (NET) So in this case I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking originates with people, it will come to nothing, but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.”

Now given all of this, we can then get an idea what Paul is referring to as “the scriptures”. In another answer it has been said, Paul was a "Pharisee amongst Pharisees", which we take as being well versed in scripture. This may have included more than what has become familiar to us as the Old Testament. How much, however, does not need to be an issue for many reasons.

First, based on God and faith, the Christian believes the current Bible includes the books God desires it to have and that what we have is sufficient to permit the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth needed for life and righteousness. Second, and more pointed to your questions, the Bible is rich with Messianic Prophecies and their fulfillment. Much of this is found in the Old Testament and it is these that Paul is referring to as “the scriptures.”

Who Influenced Paul

Being taught under Gamaliel, Paul would have had to know the various scrolls and writings of that day to excel as his student. It would have been as if he were in something like our universities of today. He would have had to pass tests and probably give oral arguments. He had to demonstrate, to Gamaliel’s satisfaction, that he knew the subject matter. Today, we can take ‘open book’ tests. In Paul’s day, very few had any ‘book’ to take home and study. They had to rely much more on memorization and really knowing what the text said.

Later, after his conversion, the Holy Spirit could guide Paul with this knowledge to produce so much of the doctrine that Paul revealed. Such things as the secrets of Christ, that Jew and Gentile were both provided salvation through Jesus Christ (Eph 3:1-12). The Holy Spirit would also bring to Paul’s mind (John 14:26) scripture to show Paul how God had been at work since the beginning to provide this salvation for us.

The Answers

The answer to your questions is: “the scripture” Paul is speaking of in 1 Cor 15:3-4 deals with Messianic Prophecy and its fulfillment that Paul knew about and realized was the reason for the fullness of the gospel that he preached. You will have to visit the links below to learn about specific verses in the Bible that Paul is speaking about.

For another of your questions, you will need to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal if these verses are to be taken seriously. For this, you might find a quiet place and spend some time BEFORE reading the links to ask God in prayer to help. Then go and read the material in some of the Messianic links and see if you come to similar conclusions Paul has.

I have not answered the “Did the Corinthians have the same Bible we have?” question because this has been covered well by Mr. J. Hampton Keathley III in his “Introduction to the New Testament”. The chart that is in that article places the writing of 1 Corinthians in the early writings of Paul. At that time (around 55 AD), many books we have today were not yet written. Maybe if a Corinthian was still alive after Revelation was written (around 95 AD), they may have be able to read all we have. All the other questions have been answered in one manner or another in my text above.


Wikipedia article on Paul the Apostle: Early Life
Wikipedia article on Gamaliel: In Christian Tradition
Bible.org - Messianic Prophecies
Wikipedia article on Jesus and Messianic Prophecy

Also, there is a book: All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer you can get from Amazon.

  • @fredsbend - Yep, I see what you did. I like the headings better than the highlight I was using. Live and learn - thanks. Regarding the links, I was under the assumption I was yet limited to only two links per answer which is why I put what I had. Also, the Amazon link you provided seems bad.
    – Warren
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 2:37

The Scriptures that are referred to in Corinthians 15:3 and 4 are far too many to cite here on this site but here are just a few for reference.

As far as the part about dieing for our sins these are a few, there are many, many more.

Isaiah 11:1 through 10 KJV

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;

3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.

9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

Isaiah 53:1 through 12 KJV

1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

As far as rising on the third day that is a little more nebulous, but it has to do with the fact that decay of the human body begins after three days.

John 11:39 KJV

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days

Psalm 16:10 and 49:9 KJV

16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

49:9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

  • I did not know that the human body started to decay after three days. Thank you for that. Is that about seventy-two hours? Do you know what Bible and books the Corinthians used? Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 13:23
  • I presume they would have had them on scrolls, not books like we have. I wonder if Paul carried scrolls with him. All very interesting. Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 13:27
  • @ gideon marx They had no Bible all they had was the word of the prophets.The bible which is collection of different writings was not compiled untill the fourth century.
    – BYE
    Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 13:31
  • 1
    @ gideon marx Those scrolls (or copies of them) were distributed to synagogs by the sanhedrin. You would probably enjoy reading 'the Antiquities of the Jews' by Lavius Josephus.
    – BYE
    Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 13:37

It seems that, during the events of the New Testament, parts of what we now call the NT were gradually being accepted as "Scripture". For example:

For example, Peter considered Paul's writings as Scripture:

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

2 Peter 3:16

And Paul apparently considered the Gospel of Luke Scripture:

For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’

1 Timothy 5:18

The part in bold comes from Luke 10:7a:

Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.

So, which Scriptures was Paul referring to in 1 Corinthians? Possibly Luke or Matthew, or even The Old Testament, which Paul certainly had access to - for example Isaiah. But there are many more possible answers - we simply don't know for sure.

  • I would be happy with your answer if you can prove that Luke/Matthew/Mark/John, any of them, was written before Corinthians. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 7:29
  • @gideonmarx: I can't prove that. It's ambiguous at best. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 7:57

The letters to the Corinthians where finished in 55 C.E. So any of the scriptures that where finished or even partly written at that time could be what he is talking about.

Obviously the Old testament was finished, so really we need to look at the books of the new testament and when they where written in comparison with the finished date of Corinthians.

By 55 C.E. the books of 1&2 Thessalonians(50 & 51 C.E.) and the book of Matthew(41 C.E.) where completed. Mark(finished 60-65 C.E.) and Luke(finished 56-58 C.E.) could have started being written at the time, but I don't know that for sure. The testament of John and Revelation where not written until the end of Johns life. That was WAY after these letters where written by about 30 years. So I know Johns testament wasn't included when Paul was referencing the scriptures.

It is possible that Paul knew what would be contained in the Unfinished or not yet written scriptures as he was present in the Christian congregation at the time. Note also that some of those dates are approximate.

Table of the Books of the Bible. Make sure to enlarge that picture so you can see dates where the page got cut off.

The Corinthians would not have had the same bible we have because it was not yet finished. The account of Matthew was written and had enough time to get to them. The Corinthians would have had the scrolls of the bible or manuscripts up to that date.

Because the other scriptures hadn't been written its pretty safe to assume Paul was teaching them from the same scriptures. The account of Jesus's death and Resurrection where in Matthew, so that is probably what he is talking about with Jesus dying for our sins and rising up.

EDIT: Continuing research on this to find more evidence of dates. So far I've only found this:

External evidence to the effect that Matthew originally wrote this Gospel in Hebrew reaches as far back as Papias of Hierapolis, of the second century C.E. Eusebius quoted Papias as stating: “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language.” (The Ecclesiastical History, III, XXXIX, 16) Early in the third century, Origen made reference to Matthew’s account and, in discussing the four Gospels, is quoted by Eusebius as saying that the “first was written . . . according to Matthew, who was once a tax-collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, . . . in the Hebrew language.” (The Ecclesiastical History, VI, XXV, 3-6) The scholar Jerome (of the fourth and fifth centuries C.E.) wrote in his work De viris inlustribus (Concerning Illustrious Men), chapter III, that Matthew “composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. . . . Moreover, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea, which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected.”—Translation from the Latin text edited by E. C. Richardson and published in the series “Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur,” Leipzig, 1896, Vol. 14, pp. 8, 9. As regards the date of completion: Subscriptions, appearing at the end of Matthew’s Gospel in numerous manuscripts (all being later than the tenth century C.E.), say that the account was written about the eighth year after Christ’s ascension (c. 41 C.E.). This would not be at variance with internal evidence. The fact that no reference is made to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy respecting Jerusalem’s destruction would point to a time of composition prior to 70 C.E. (Mt 5:35; 24:16) And the expression “to this very day” (27:8; 28:15) indicates a lapse of some time between the events considered and the time of writing.

Matthew - Writing Completed: c. 41 C.E. Mark - Writing Completed: c. 60–65 C.E. Luke - Writing Completed: c. 56–58 C.E.*

  • Thank you for your answer and the link. I have never seen a date as early as 41 CE for Matthew. Maybe there is truth in the theories of a proto-gospel or oral gospel that was written in Aramaic. Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 11:57
  • I'll do some more research on the matter. A quick search gave me wide results, so i'm going to have to dig deeper
    – Jeremy
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 18:04

1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB) "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,"

I hate to make this sound too simple, but Paul was certainly speaking of Christ's fulfillment of the OT prophecies about him (Is 53; Mic 5; Zech 9; Hos 11:1; Ps 110; ...).

The fulfillment of the scriptures is one of the fundamental proofs that Jesus was who he said he was and that the Jews should have accepted him. Jesus speaks the same way as Paul (or vice versa, more likely) in Matthew 26:54, 26:56; Mark 14:49; Luke 24:27, etc.

None of the NT scriptures were written down when Jesus uttered these words, and it seems most likely that Paul was expressing the same idea that Jesus was when he used the same kind of language in the Gospels.

The Jews had a canon of scripture established at least a century before Jesus was born. The local synagogues had copies of these books, and the Pharisees (like Paul) and other educated people studied them wherever they lived throughout the dispersion.

By Ockham's razor, I posit that the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions is the most likely: Paul was referring to the OT.


Paul was surely referring to the Old Testament and only the Old Testament.

Christ's death is prefigured in Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and the whole of the OT sacrificial system. The first hint of death of the Saviour most commonly recognised amongst Christians is in Genesis 3:15, but see another earlier hint below.

The resurrection is found in Isaiah 53; "Nor shall he allow his Holy One to see bodily decay" Psalm 16:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-end. It is first hinted at in Genesis 2:21-24 where Adam needed to suffer the loss of a rib and go into a deep sleep to gain a bride. This is spoken of by Paul as referring to Christ and his bride, the Church (Eph 5:31,32).

It was by "death" and "resurrection" that Joseph delivered his brethren from the famine (Genesis 37-50). Joseph went down into the well, he went down into Egypt, he went down into slavery, he went down into prison, and then he went up, and then he used his elevation to be a saviour to the "people of God" and to the world. In Christ's day the Jewish religious leaders when they crucified Jesus meant it for evil, but "God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as you see this day, to save much people alive." (Genesis 50:20)

Our Lord Jesus says resurrection on the third day is hinted at in Jonah 1:17.

Taking his lead we find resurrection on the third day in 1 Samuel 30:12 (from a surprising circumstance David was delivered; by the hand of a "suffering servant" who was "despised and rejected", and restored back to life, his spirit coming back to him (1 Sam 30:12) (("spirit" (KJV) is better than "strength")); those who despised him were destroyed by this servant, just as the world will be ultimately defeated by our Lord).

Esther 4:16 where, though Esther did not die, yet she was willing to die, "if I perish, I perish", and subsequently went into the inner sanctuary of the king, akin to the Most Holy Place, to intercede for the lives of the people of God. The King was not interested in the worthiness of the Jews but only in the beauty of Esther. Just so, it is Christ's merit and beauty which saves us, we have none of our own. And thus Esther became a saviour.

Hosea 6:2 - "After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight".

Other verses in the OT to consider are Genesis 22:4 "On the third day.." etc. All other verses in the OT mentioning the "third day" would be worth examining.

Now I leave the reader to decide if it is just coincidence that life first appeared in the Universe on the THIRD day. (Genesis 1:11-13)


The third day is a theme developed in the OT which prepared the people and us to expect Jesus' return on the third day after his death.


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