In my last blog on this topic, I talked about how we can date 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which is one of the earliest creeds of the resurrection, to within 6 months of the resurrection. Now I’d like to continue and breakdown 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. This is based off of an excellent lecture by American historian, New Testament scholar, and philosopher of religion Dr. Gary Habermas that I caught in 2012 and have watched several times since.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 says:
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]
My previous blog post was a breakdown of “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received,” giving us a timeline of this creed originating within 6 months to 3 years of the resurrection.
Paul continues on his creed:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
Here we have the passion in a nutshell. Dr. William Lane Craig points out in his debates and defense of the resurrection that “that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day” implies an empty tomb.
The rest of the creed:
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.
Breaks down into 2 groups: the individual sightings: Cephas, James, and Paul, and the group sightings: the twelve, over five hundred brethren at once, then by all the apostles.
Cephas, James, and Paul are strong. They were all doubters. Cephas, or Peter, denied knowing Jesus 3 times on the night of his trial. Yet Peter went on to become one of the pillars of the church. Another thing to note on this is that the use of the Aramaic name Cephas indicates an extremely early age.
James, the brother of Jesus, thought Jesus was crazy before the crucifixion. Imagine if your brother told you that he was the son of God. Would you believe him? Yet James became the head of the church in Jerusalem.
Paul was killing Christians for their belief in Jesus yet ended up becoming one of the apostles, leading four major ministry trips of the 1st Century world, writing 2/3’s of the New Testament and was persecuted numerous times (several almost to the point of death). (There’s even one point where he was dragged out of the city, stoned, left for dead, and he got back up and went back into the city to finish his evangelism there.)
The point is all 3 of these had radical changes from doubters to leaders in the church, each one being a stronger example than the previous one. Both James and Paul are so significant that they are each an individual point in the minimal facts argument (I’ll write about this in a future post.) All 3 of them ended up giving their lives for their belief in Jesus.
The 2nd group from the creed are the twelve, over five hundred brethren at once, and then by all the apostles. Each group getting larger than before. One thing to note about the 500 brethren is that, just like in the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 3,000, this is not counting women and children. So the total number would be much larger.
These group appearances are great rebuttals to the charge that the Apostles hallucinated the appearances of Jesus, as group hallucinations just don’t happen. When people hallucinate, they each see their own thing, even if they are in a group.
The evidence of this creed is so strong that it was one of New Testament scholar and historian Michael Licona’s main points in his debate with Muslim apologist Shabir Ally on the topic of Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? (This is the same debate that former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi went to rooting for Shabir Ally and left thinking that the Christian arguments for the resurrection are worth considering. (He eventually became a Christian apologist.))
One final thing about all of this. I’ve previously made a case about how well we remember things from our own past. Unlike my blog series on What Every Christian Needs to Know About Conspiracy Theories (parts 1, 2, and 3 ) where I essentially transcribed a video lecture by J Warner Wallace combined with notes from his book Cold-Case Christianity, I’ve done both parts of this series from memory after only 5 or so viewings. In fact, I was able to recall most of the information from this lecture from the first time that I saw the lecture. Yet skeptics will sometimes question the memory of the disciples of being able to repeat sermons and lessons from Jesus when they all came from a very strong oral culture?