Posts Tagged Historical

A Response to Adam Lee at Patheos on Paul’s Resurrection Creed

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: 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 (… 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.

You state,

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:

Habermas on the creed:

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #7

Metaxas quotes a friend and classmate of Bonhoeffer’s, Helmuth Goes, who “recalled feeling a ‘secret enthusiasm’ for Bonhoeffer’s ‘free, critical, and independent’ theological thinking”:

What really impressed me was not just the face that he surpassed almost all of us in theological knowledge and capacity; but what passionately attracted me to Bonhoeffer was the perception that here was a man who did not only learn and gather in the verba and scripta of some master, but one who thought independently and already knew what he wanted and wanted what he knew. I had the experience (for me it was something alarming and magnificently new!) of hearing a young fair-haired student contradict the revered historian, his Excellency von Harnack answered, but the student contradicted again and again [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 59].

Later Metaxas writes,

Besides Harnack, three other Berlin professors had decided influence on Bonhoeffer. They were Karl Holl, who was perhaps the greatest Luther scholar of that generation; Reinhold Seeberg, who specialized in systematic theology, and under whom Bonhoeffer wrote his doctoral thesis; and Adolf Deissman, who was Bonhoeffer’s introduction to the ecumenical movement, which would play such an important role in his life and provide the means by which he became involved in the conspiracy against Hitler. But there was another theologian who had a greater influence on Bonhoeffer than any of these, and whom he would revere and respect as much as anyone in his lifetime, who would even become a mentor and a friend. This was Karl Barth of Göttingen [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 60].

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Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” Part 3

In this post, I will finish my thoughts on the five areas “An Elephant in the Room” would like historical critics and postmodernists to discuss: 3) Ideology and Translation, 4) the Author and Her or His Intentions, and 5) the Semiotics (Signs) of Canon. Next week, I will finish my four part series with an interaction with a recent article in JETS by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, which I believe has some helpful insights for this discussion.

Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” by George Aichele, Peter Miscall, and Richard Walsh in JBL, vol. 128, no. 2

Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” by George Aichele, Peter Miscall, and Richard Walsh in JBL, vol. 128, no. 2

In regard to Ideology and Translation, the authors discuss method of translation (i.e., dynamic equivalence vs. word-for-word, etc.), vehicles of translation, and ideological roles/effects upon translation. The authors view dynamic equivalence in a negative light by suggesting that postmodernists have done much to “awaken modernists from the dogmatic slumbers of ‘dynamic equivalence.'” Perhaps this stems from the postmodern challenge to the romantic idea that we can truly know the author’s original thought or intention. Instead, an implied postmodern approach seems to be interested in the methods that have guided the Church in the history of the translation of the Bible. Next, what has been the impact upon the word of God as the vehicles of translation change from oral to written to printed to digitization? I must admit that I am not well read here; however, the authors mention that much dialogue has taken place regarding these shifts. Do any of you have any knowledge in this area and thoughts concerning how both historical and postmodern critics would benefit from such dialogue? Lastly, the authors close this section with this statement:

Finally, we have only begun to explore the role of the texts (and their translations) in constructing gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and social class.

I’m not entirely sure what is being suggested here. Do they mean we should consider ideologies behind texts and translations and such things may help us construct our understandings of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and social class? For example, do we need to discuss the ideologies behind the KJV and the TNIV, the NET and the LGBT Study NT and their use of texts in their translations? Or are they suggesting that we need to examine more closely the role texts and translations have had in developing certain mindsets and ideologies regarding gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and social class? I think the latter is what is intended. How have translations of the Bible influenced your ideologies on such issues?

Regarding the Author and Her or His Intentions, a stalemate currently exists between historical critics and postmodernists on this issue:

For postmodernists, the historical author is inaccessible and we can at best know only the ‘implied author,’ which is a function of the reader’s interaction with the text. The author is an ‘intention’ of the reader.

For the postmodernist, the intention of the author cannot be known. We cannot step back into time and ask Paul what he intended to mean by 1 Corinthians 3:23; however, the historical critic would counter that we can get pretty dang close. The historical critic places the focus on getting back to the historical intention of the author while the postmodernist believes any proposed authorial intent is rather something that is the result of the reader’s interaction with the text. Is there any reconciliation possible here? One helpful question may be – how has the Church handled authorial intent from the earliest centuries onward (assuming we can know what they intended for us to know about what they thought about authorial intent ;))?

This transitions nicely into our last area of consideration: the Semiotics (Signs) of Canon. I have had some interesting discussion recently with Rob Kashow over at Tolle Lege! about this topic. The authors are clear that the work of biblical theologians and canonical critics is interwoven with this discussion. I am becoming more and more interested in the influence of canonical thinking upon the text, the field of textual criticism and upon our understanding of inerrancy. I have reserved discussion about how canonical criticism may influence matters already mentioned until now. For example, in a previous post, I discussed physical vehicles of the text, and the use of the scroll versus the codex. Movement to the use of the codex allowed the Church to confine its texts into one vehicle. It is also apparent that a particular order was established. Canonical critics would also be able to agree (for the most part) with the postmodern emphasis on both the readers’ relation to intertextual references and to the intention of the author (inaccessibility of the historic author). Some further questions I have deal with TC and inerrancy. What does a canonical approach to TC look like? What is the goal? Can the canon continue to be an evolving canon as textual disruptions enter into the manuscripts if they are received by community(ies)? Or do canonical critics follow a romantic ideology which leads to “the canon” and is more dependent upon historical considerations when it comes to the text? How might a canonical approach assist the text critic in making decisions regarding variants? Related to this, what does a canonical doctrine of inerrancy look like? How can canonical thinking contribute to the needed discussion between historical and postmodern critics?

The authors close this final area of discussion with a warning concerning the toll secularization and pluralism is having on the idea of canon. The influence of canon to this discussion is thus becoming “more important and more problematic.”

As you can see, this “Elephant in the Arena” of historical and postmodern discussion is a place Where Many Paths Are Crossing. This post is entirely too long – but I wanted to finish this part of the series prior to heading off on a mission trip with some of my beloved friends from the Scofield Student Ministry. Feel free to check out our blog at if you’re interested in what we’ll be doing. I look forward to hearing from you on some of these issues!

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Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” Part 2

If you have not read Part 1 of this series, please refer to my post on July 11, 2009 entitled,

Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” by George Aichele, Peter Miscall, and Richard Walsh in JBL, vol. 128, no. 2.

I will pick up here where I left off – discussing the five areas in which the authors call for a discussion between historical critics and postmodern critics: 1) Physical Aspects of the Text, 2) Intertextuality, 3) Ideology and Translation, 4) the Author and Her or His Intentions, and 5) the Semiotics (Signs) of Canon.

In regard to physical aspects of the text, the authors call for discussion surrounding (what I call) both the physical content and the physical vehicle of the text. The physical content of the text is the written text itself. The physical vehicle is the instrument through which the text has been recorded (e.g., scroll vs. codex, printing and the movement toward digitization, etc). Regarding the written text, the authors note that similarities, differences and nomina sacra are all of interest to both historical critics and postmodern critics; however, while the historical critic  interprets these features in such a way that helps him or her repair or recover the original text, the postmodern critic focuses on the “textual disruption of meaning,” questioning the unity of the text, and causes one to hesitate with regard to the romantic idea of an original text. In regard to the physical vehicle(s) of the text, I am not entirely sure what the authors hope to accomplish by discussion of these things (probably due to my own lack of knowledge). Thoughts? What significance does the use of the scroll versus the use of the codex, the printing of the handwritten text and the present digitization of the text bring to the discussion between historical and postmodern critics? Also, is the historical critic’s quest for an original text legit? Is the postmodernist’s lack of concern (not necessarily denial) for an original text qualified? Does the postmodern focus on the disruption and disunity of the text need to be reconciled with/to the historical approach or does it serve the historical critic by causing careful and honest criticism?

Regarding intertextuality, both historical critics and postmodernists agree that earlier inner-biblical and extra-biblical texts have historical influence on later biblical texts [e.g., the influence of Genesis 15 and 17 on Romans 4, the influence of hymnic material in Philippians 2, and the influence of 1 Enoch (whether oral or written) on Jude 14-16]. However, the authors state that the postmodernist is more interested in the relationships “that readers (not writers) establish between texts (of whatever chronological order).” So, while historical influence is accepted, the postmodernist concerns himself or herself with how the readers interpreted the relationship of the two texts. One clarifying question might be what are the basic differences between how a writer views relations between texts compared to how a reader views relations between texts. The writers also mention,

The reader always understands the text as embedded in a world of texts through its use of language and literary form.

Therefore, does this mean that in addition to the emphasis historical critics place on historical influences of earlier texts on later texts, the postmodernist understands the language and literary form of a referenced text to influence the language and literary form of the text? If so, is this observable in the New Testament? What is a quality example?

Let’s stop here, and wrestle with these issues. In the next few days, I’ll continue examining the remaining three areas of discussion proposed by the authors of “An Elephant in the Room.”

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