I remember the first time that I heard this topic. It blew me away then and still amazes me now. I’ve been reading the bible every day since I got saved in 1994, and have been looking into when the gospels and letters of the New Testament were written along the way. Nowhere had I heard the following information until I caught a lecture by American historian, New Testament scholar, and philosopher of religion Dr. Gary Habermas in 2012. Since then, I’ve watched not only that lecture multiple times but other lectures of his, and he has become one of my favorite apologists.
In the lecture, Dr. Habermas spends an hour proving the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus using only the books of the bible that even the most critical and atheist New Testament scholars accept as authentic. These critical scholars love Paul, and accept 7 of his books are truly historic and to have been written by Paul. For the sake of this argument, we only need a couple of verses from Galatians and 1 Corinthians.
And these writings are early. We know when Paul was martyred, sometime around AD 63. And Jesus was crucified either in AD 30 or 33. So at the latest, Paul was martyred 33 years after the crucifixion. 1 Corinthians is typically estimated to have been written AD 53 – 57. So either 23 to 27 years after the crucifixion. Let’s go with 25 years for a round number.
in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 3-8, Paul repeats a creed given to him:
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. [1 Cor 15:3-8 NKJV]
Here’s the breakdown of these verses:
Paul starts it off with “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received.” This means that it did not originate with Paul. So when did he receive it? The answer seems to be in Galatians 1 & 2. Historically speaking, Paul had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus around 2-3 years after the crucifixion. Some scholars date the writing of Galatians between the late 40’s and early 50’s, others in the late 50’s.
In Galatians 1, Paul says that after his call to apostleship,
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,[a] and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. [Galatians 1:19-20 NKJV]
3 years after he became a Christian or 5-6 years after the crucifixion, Paul went to Jerusalem and spent 15 private days with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman says that even he would like to spend 15 days with Peter and James. It was during this time that it is believed by scholars that Paul received the creed that he repeats in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. But for him to have received it then, the creed has to have been originated before then. Even atheist New Testament scholar Gurd Ludermann says that this originated 2-3 years after the crucifixion. Others place it within 6 months!
In Galatians chapter 2:1-10, Paul continues and says that 14 years later, he went back to Jerusalem. This time, he took Barnabas and Titus with him, and he spent time with Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and John. Peter and John were the two surviving apostles of Jesus’ inner core, his best friends. His visit, this time, was to see if he had been preaching in vain, if he had gotten off track. Peter, James, and John gave him the right hand of fellowship. Essentially, they said, “You’re good.”
So now we’ve established when Paul received the creed, and how early it originated. Let’s put that in perspective. The earliest biographies we have of Alexander the Great were written around 400 years after his death. And we can go within 6 months of the crucifixion, without even touching the gospels! Historian and New Testament scholar Mike Licona has spent the last several years studying 1st century Greek and Roman biographies, and has a strong argument to make the case that the gospels were written in that style. J. Warner Wallace has a detailed argument on why Matthew, Mark, and Luke had to have been written before AD 70, or within 40 years of the resurrection.
Why is this important to know? There are contradictory theories and “evidences” about Jesus. For instance, I know of a friend who turned away from Jesus because of a documentary that he saw on either the Discovery channel or the History channel about supposed evidence that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but moved to Russia and took a wife (or something like that). I had the honor of bringing this up to New Testament scholar and historian Michael Licona, and his answer was how early is the evidence? The New Testament was written in the first century. This creed is dated to within 6 months! So any contradictory “fact” about Jesus has to beat this dating, for historians typically consider the sources that are closer to the actual event as the most trustworthy.
Another example is the Quran, which says that Jesus didn’t die on the cross. But the Quran was written almost 600 years after the crucifixion. The earlier the dating of an evidence to when it occurred, the better.
In my next post, I’ll continue my breakdown of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, or for those that want to watch the whole lecture by Dr. Habermas, I have attached the link below: