Pascal's Wager and 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Question

Does 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 teach Pascal's wager?

Answer

Thanks for your question.

In the 17th century, the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal formulated and wrote his argument for belief in God in Pensées (Thoughts). Simply stated, the argument goes like this:

If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing, whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything. But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing, whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything.

Pascal's wager is an argument for belief in God based not upon faith in God, but based rather upon an appeal to self-interest. Pascal's wager is hedging a bet — basically avoiding commitment and leaving a means of retreat open. However, such a lack of commitment demonstrates a lack of faith. It is not biblical. As the writer of Hebrews says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Heb. 11:1).

What does 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 say?

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul saying, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” is a direct contradiction to Pascal’s wager which says if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we’ve lost nothing. So, Paul is not teaching Pascal's wager.

We also observe that 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 is the continuation of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 that Christ rose from the dead. This fact is re-emphasized in 1 Corinthians 15:20 where we read, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Faith is a gift given by God (Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:3). Anyone who has genuine faith doesn’t have to wager one way or the other whether Christ be risen. He already knows this within his heart of hearts. For the Christian, faith isn’t a gamble. It is a present reality, and the genuineness of eternal life has already begun (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47; 1 John 5:11-13).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).