In 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, we have what is perhaps the earliest, written claim for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
(1 Corinthians 15:3–8 ESV)
Below, I have included my response to an article posted by Patheos blogger Adam Lee’s article “Paul’s Resurrection Creed” from March 11, 2009. You can read it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2009/03/pauls-resurrection-creed/. I have also included some video resources that may be helpful for you this Easter season. Christ is risen! Praise the Lord!
Thanks for the article. I have some objections to your points. Cards on the table, I am a Christian. I believe in the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You say,
First of all, the way Paul describes the disciples is strange.
I have to object to this. It is most likely that this creed is not originally Paul’s, but a creed that predates him and his writing of 1 Corinthians. If you notice in the Scripture quotation you’ve listed above, Paul states that he received this. The composition of 1 Corinthians dates back to 54 C.E., as Dr. Daniel B. Wallace (https://bible.org/gsearch?sear… and most NT scholars would acknowledge. Therefore, if the letter itself dates to 54 C.E. and if the creed of 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 precedes the Paul and his letter, then we are looking at an extremely early creed probably produced within the year of Jesus resurrection and ascension. This is not hard to imagine as it would have been sensical for the early Christians to formalize an oral creed concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ and pass it around as they met in the temple and from house to house. Some suggest Saul/Paul’s conversion took place as early as 33 C.E. I’ll concede that it could be that Paul received this as late as the mid-forties due to the record of his interaction with the apostles in Jerusalem.
Second, you seem to not understand the nature of a creed. A creed serves to summarize truth in a compact and memorable way so that they could be committed to memory and easily recited. They helped in a day when most people did not have a copy of the Scriptures and even if they did, they may not have been able to read it. A creed was accessible everyone.
Your assumption about Peter not being among them places emphasis wrongly. Peter is recognized as “a leader among the leaders” with regard to the apostles in the NT. It is isn’t at all odd that the creed mentions him separately. Besides, Luke 24:34 affirms an appearance to Simon Peter.
A word search in the Greek New Testament reveals that ο δωδεκα (“the twelve”) appears 36 times, almost always referring to “The Twelve” apostles. When referring to the apostles, this is a formal title. Even after Judas dies and is replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:26), “The Twelve” is still used in Acts 6:2 and Rev. 21:14. It is clear from context that Matthias meets the criteria employed to replace Judas,
Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, beginning from his baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.” So they proposed two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias (Acts 1:21–23 NET).
It is clear from this that Paul’s use of “The Twelve” in the creed that he had received is not inaccurate as you suggest. If anything, it suggests that perhaps the creed was created after Matthias was selected. It also is not inaccurate because “The Twelve” including Matthias were all eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ.
I’ll concede that the mention of the apostles seems to be redundant, but redundancy does not an error make. There are optional, reasonable explanations without assuming error. For example, the word “apostle” means “sent one” in its informal meaning. Some readers of Scripture may apply this to someone like Barnabas, who doesn’t appear to be a Jerusalem Elder, but who also isn’t one of the formal apostolic group. Perhaps, the creed is simply being redundant or making reference to the multiple appearances to this group. Again, redundancy does not an error make.
Your comment about the women may be your weakest point. Much ink has been spilled on this, and I am surprised that you even bring it up. The historical Gospel record of women being the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and to the resurrected Jesus is a criteria of authenticity because of the embarrassing nature of such witnesses in the first century world. Luke points this out in 24:11. Women eyewitnesses were not considered trustworthy. If this is a false or made-up account in Luke 24 or John 20, there is no way such a made up story would list women as the first eyewitnesses. No one would take the story seriously. Yet, these weren’t the only appearances. There were multiple appearances as the creed records. The Gospel accounts are confirmed by the criteria of embarrassment, and the creed’s authenticity is confirmed by its emphasis on who would have been considered the major eyewitnesses at that time.
We do not have five hundred separate, notarized accounts. What we have is one person, Paul, who says that five hundred anonymous people saw Jesus, giving no further details about their identities or the circumstances of the seeing. By itself, this is not strong evidence, just as it would not be strong evidence if I gave you a piece of paper that said, “One thousand people saw me do a miracle.”
We do have the account of Luke which states that the resurrected Jesus appeared for forty days following his suffering. This is plenty of time for the creed’s proposition to have been realistically accomplished. No, you do not have the written accounts of 500 people, but you have the written accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, and really all of the NT authors are writing from the belief of a resurrected Christ because there is no Christianity without a bodily, resurrected Christ. Further, would you believe it if there were more accounts than already recorded in the NT? Would it really persuade you? If you gave me a piece of paper that said 1000 people saw me perform a miracle, I would simply ask for the names of some of these people. This isn’t that hard, especially if the creed, as is likely, dates back to the mid-thirties to mid-forties. Further, you are forgetting that the historical record of Jesus performing miracles during his life is thorough. His miracles are one of the contributing factors leading to his trial and death by crucifixion.
Finally, your handling of the term οραω is simplistic. Again, the creed is created to be memorable, so the repetition of the verb is expected for purposes of memory and recitation. Further, the physical act of seeing with the eyes is not outside the lexical range of this Greek verb. It is an exegetical fallacy to say that a term must mean such and such with no attention to context. The context for the creed are the experiences recorded in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. Take the two the disciples on the road to Emmaus for instance. To argue that these men did not physically see Jesus makes the story absurd. They are literally traveling to a town; they’re walking and talking.
To suggest that the resurrected Jesus was to the early church merely a mythical figure, a figment of their own imaginations and hopes, couldn’t be more foreign to the records we have. It is a misrepresentation of the earliest records of the believers of Jesus Christ. They really believed him to have physically and historically resurrected. Had he not and if they still continued to desire to follow him after his death, it makes much more sense that they would have continued to proclaim him as returning at some point in the future as the redeemer of Israel from Roman oppression. But they are devastated by his death as the disciples on the road to Emmaus detail in Luke 24. They are returning home after the Passover pilgrimage. Everything is over for them until Christ appears to them—bodily resurrected.
You can continue to choose not to believe in the resurrection of Christ, but it is a bit disrespectful to suggest that what Paul, The Twelve, and the early Christians were really trying to say was that they wanted Jesus to be alive so badly that they imagined visions of such a reality. When the clearer explanation and intention of these early Christians is that he really did raise from the dead, making multiple appearances for 40 days.
Find out more about Easter and Jesus’ Resurrection here: http://www.exploregod.com/resurrection.
Habermas on the creed: http://youtu.be/7QDCnYwJv6M.