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Ever written for yourself a mission statement, or a shopping list or a timetable you promised yourself you could not forget?
Many Bible sceptics hold to the authenticity of this creed and claim it must date to within a few years of Christ’s death. This makes you wonder what all these Christians would be dying or being persecuted for. Would they make up a lie about a very recent event that could be easily disproved by those mentioned in the passage and yet be prepared to die for it?
That would surely be some crazy type of trick. Before we go into discussing the passage more, let’s have a read.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:3–8
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Here are some quotes from scholars in this passage:
NT critic Gerd Lüdemann: “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3–8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171–72.]
Robert Funk: “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]
James Dunn (Professor at Durham): “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death. [Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003) 854–55.]
Michael Goulder (Atheist NT professor at Birmingham)” “[It] goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion. [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered(Oneworld, 1996), 48.]
Thus, Christ’s death, burial and resurrection has a very early attestation. Next time someone tells you the resurrection was a myth invented 200 years later, you know where to begin. For even, atheistic scholars accept the early date of this creed.
Furthermore, it is important to note the eyewitnesses mentioned here. For many were alive at the time and could easily refute lies about them. Peter or Cephas is mentioned, the rest of the apostles, 500 brothers, James brother of Christ. Why list so many people if you are trying to make something up?
It doesn’t end here for Paul. He is prepared to die for the contents of this creed. It is also important to note as a Jew he only knew of a literal physical resurrection which explains the empty tomb.
We know of Paul’s martyrdom from early Christian sources. Ignatius calls Paul “the holy, the martyred, the deservedly most happy.”
Clement of Rome:
After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.”
So let’s summarise what we have here.
- Paul quotes an early creed stemming from within a few years of Jesus’ death
2. The passage includes a reference to many different witnesses who could easily call Paul out on his lies if he was making them up.
3. Paul was prepared to die for the content of this creed.
Where does that leave you? What do you make of this creed.