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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

1 Cor 15:1-8

Douglas Gilliland

 

Table of Contents

Thesis *

Passage *

Paulís Purpose for Writing *

Dating *

Summary of Comparison with the Gospel Details *

Detailed Exegesis *

1 Cor 15:1-2 *

1 Cor 15:3 *

1 Cor 15:4 *

The Third Day *

1 Cor 15:5 *

1 Cor 15:6 *

1 Cor 15:7 *

1 Cor 15:8 *

Application *

Answer to Skeptics *

Answer to Hyper-Preterists *

Conclusions *

Thesis

1 Corinthians contains a credible and independent witness of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:3-7 records details of the resurrection appearances that are coherent and complimentary to the accounts found in the Gospels. The passage is in the form of an early hymn or creed that predates Paulís quotation.

Passage

1 Cor 15:1-8 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paulís Purpose for Writing

At first glance, this passage appears to have been written as a summary of the Gospel. While that is descriptive of what the passage contains itís not reflective of Paulís purpose for writing. Neither did Paul write this passage to prove that Christ rose from the dead.

Paulís purpose was to restate what the Corinthians had already believed as a result of Paulís preaching. Paul uses the fact of the resurrection of Christ as the basis for the argument that follows where he answers those who deny the resurrection of the believer. This is summed up in 1 Cor 15:12 where Paul says that if they believe that Jesus rose, then they already believe in the resurrection.

Paul goes from a point of agreement with the Corinthians (they accepted that Christ rose from the dead) and proceeds to argue that if Christ rose from the dead, that the resurrection of the dead must be possible. After all, if the people who are dead are not raised, then Christ wasnít raised. The reason this argument is effective is that this was the core of the gospel that the Corinthians had already accepted.

The Corinthians may have been influenced by Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle taught the immortality of the soul, but denied the permanence of the body. The monotheistic claims of Paul didnít bother the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, but the resurrection of the body bothered them. The Greeks were familiar with dying God from their own mythology, but the idea that the God came back in the same physical body would be scandalous. Thus, in their over-realized eschatology the Corinthians may have done away with the need for a resurrection of the body. Paul brings them back to the Gospel message itself when he reminds them of the resurrection of Jesus.

Dating

This section of 1 Corinthians is significant because it contains the earliest complete written expression of the historical events of the life of Christ. A date of 53-55 ACE predates Gospels and is less than 25 years after the events described and as such has great apologetic value.

The issue of dating of 1 Corinthians gets tied into the issue of the dating of the Gospels by necessity for those who claim that Paul wrote the proto-gospel in 1 Corinthians which was inflated by the Gospel writers. Under this theory, the Gospels had to have been written Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. However, the literary dependence has not been demonstrated in the text and, in fact, is refuted by the details of the text.

Summary of Comparison with the Gospel Details

Appendix A has a detailed comparison of the sequence of events of the Gospels and the account as recorded by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-8. The 1 Cor. passage has some unique features that are not repeated in the Gospel accounts. For instance, the detail that Jesus appeared to 500 persons is not included, although Luke does mention that 120 were in the upper room. Also, the appearance to James is not explicitly mentioned in the Gospels, although the prominent position of James in the early church as recorded in Acts would presuppose such an appearance.

The Gospels show the first appearances to be to women. Paul doesnít explicitly mention the appearances to the women. The inclusion of the detail of the appearances to women does not increase the credibility of the accounts found in the Gospels to the people of that time. Whether the appearances were not included by Paul for that reason, or whether Paul simply was unaware of the actual details of the events, is unknown. Paulís purpose of including the apostles may also be related to his own claims to be an apostle as the sequence ends with the appearance to Paul. This vindicated Paulís calling.

 

Detailed Exegesis

1 Cor 15:1-2

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

Verses1 and 2 form a complex double chiasm. Reordering verse 2 shows this chaistic parallel. This is illustrated as:

Paul preached gospel

Corinthians received gospel

Corinthians stand on gospel

Corinthians will be saved

What Paul preached

Believed in vain

Corinthians keep in memory

[If not Corinthians will be lost]

The words "received" and "believed" are synonymous in this parallel. Further, "stand" and "keep in memory" are also synonyms.

The negative conclusion, if the Corinthians fail to keep the gospel in mind they will be lost, is unstated. Some commentators argue that this is only a hypothetical possibility in the text, that is not actually possible, based on their position on the doctrine of eternal security, or some other notions external to this text. Others take this as a serious potentiality but lessen the application. It should be noted that if the passage is saying that a person can lose their salvation, then the cause of the loss of salvation is not sin that they have committed, but a failure to continue to believe the Gospel.

Paul is reminding the Corinthians of what they once believed and what they should continue to believe. The message of the resurrection of Christ is central to the Gospel.

 

1 Cor 15:3

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

How Paul himself received the gospel is not stated in this passage. One possible alternative is that Paul had a direct revelation of the Spirit of God. Paul hints at this in other passages where he describes his calling. Paul is careful to note the independence of his calling. The appearance of Christ to Paul was a cornerstone of his sense of calling.

Another possibility is Paul received knowledge of the historical details of the life of Christ via the teachings of the disciples of Jesus. Acts 9 shows that immediately after Paulís conversion, he was with the disciples at Damascus for some number of days. Itís also likely that Ananias preached the gospel to Paul when he visited him after Paul met by Jesus on the road to Damascus. The use of the Greek verbs paradodomi and paralambano implies the message was received from others.

Also Paul would have taken the time to interview Christians who he had arrested and become familiar with the details of the Gospel message from their testimonies. Acts 7, as an example, shows Paul present when Stephen preached the Gospel prior to being stoned.

Paul refers to the Old Testament prophecies of the life and death of Jesus. Paul does not specify which particular passages he is referring to. A likely candidate as such a passage would include Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In some other instances, Paul explicitly references messianic prophecies of death and resurrection.

Paulís point here is to show that his message was not diluted when he preached it to the Corinthians. Even though he was not one of the original twelve apostles, his message comported with the facts of the Gospel as it was preached by all of the apostles. In that sense, Paul is no second-class apostle. The Corinthians should consider his message as first rate since it is nothing less than the Gospel.

Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, Paul relates additional details about the death of Christ. In describing the Last Supper, Paul refers to "the same night in which He [Jesus] was betrayed". This additional detail agrees with the Gospels, but shows textual independence as well.

 

1 Cor 15:4

And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

This passage again demonstrates the level of detail of the life of Christ of which Paul had knowledge. It was the unanimous witness of the early primitive church that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. The details of the burial of Jesus are left to the Gospel writers, but there can be no denying that Paul believed and taught that Jesus had really died. The concreteness of the act of burial is matched by the concreteness of event of the resurrection.

The Third Day

The phrase "third day" has great significance of prior usage in prophetic history. A few of these include; Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed and on the third day saw the place of the sacrifice. In this, Isaac was dead to Abraham for those three days. God appeared to the people on the third day at mount Sinai. The third day had significance in the Old Testament sacrificial system as well. The purification ritual for someone who had contact with a dead body was to take place on the third day. Although itís not explicitly referred to in this context, a passage in Hosea could also be what was in mind with use of the third day. Finally, Jesus Himself had made the connection between His ministry and the ministry of Jonah when He told the Jews that the only sign they would receive would be the sign of Jonah, who was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

The tense of the Greek verb used for "raised" is the perfect tense, implying the enduring aspects of the resurrection continuing to the present.

 

1 Cor 15:5

And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

That Cephas is Peter is well attested. Paul refers to Cephas in other passages in 1 Cor. The term may be in deference to the role of Peter among the apostles or simply out of respect to the fact that it was the Lord who renamed Peter to Cephas.

Again, there is yet another historical detail that adds to the credibility of the account. The appearance to Peter was not explicitly related in any of the Gospels. Luke 24:34 refers to the appearance but does not describe it the narrative itself. If the Gospels were conflated tales based on 1 Corinthians, they surely missed a great opportunity to tell a fantastic story at this point. Once again, this speaks to the textual independence.


The phrase "the twelve" would not be the original twelve since Judas was dead by this point in time. The eleven apostles, in Acts 1, after the death of Judas, felt the need to select a twelfth apostle. Whether the use of "the twelve", in this passage, is simply the traditional name for the apostles and is used as sort of a "shorthand" for the apostles, or "the twelve" includes Matthias is unknown. One of the selection criteria for selecting Matthias was that he be a witness of the resurrected Christ. Another possible reason that they selected another apostle was to fill out the twelve is the tradition of travel two-by-two and the fact that eleven in an odd number precluding such a division. The twelve has been specially ordained by Christ himself and given the distinct title of apostle.


Although Thomas was not with the rest of the apostles when they initially saw Jesus, he did see him later along with the rest of the apostles. This passage probably refers to that event or it may simply be another shorthand.

The use of the Greek word horao translated as "seen" in the passage refers to more than a vision. Luke tells us that Jesus stressed in His appearances that He was not a Ghost.

 

1 Cor 15:6

After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

The appearance to the "above five hundred" is one of the harder passages in the text as it has the surface appearance of exaggeration on the part of Paul. No other accounting of appearances directly approaches the boldness of this number. However, Acts 13 describes the number of appearances as being over "many days" The elapsed time between the resurrection and ascension was about 40 days. Further, the number of disciples in the upper room is listed in Acts as one hundred and twenty.

The phrase "greater part remain unto this present" further dates the passage. If it was shortly after the event, it would make no sense to say that most of those who saw Jesus raised were still alive. If it were too long after the event, most would be dead. Placing the event at 20-25 years past fits this quite well. Thus the internal evidence supports the dating of the text already offered.

 

1 Cor 15:7

After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

This James is the brother of Jesus that Paul had visited in Jerusalem. The appearance to James was not recorded elsewhere in the canonical Scriptures. This further reduces the likelihood of any literary dependence of the Gospel writers on Paulís writings. The Gospels never mention the appearance to James, or any of the other relatives of the Lord, although Luke/Acts mentions that the brethren of the Lord were in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, implying that Jesus had appeared to them prior to that time. Acts also shows the leading role that James had in the early church. This would be an important detail for the later Gospel writers to include if they were copying Paul given the important role of James in the early church. The fact that none of the Gospel writers mention the appearances to the brothers of Jesus is a prima facie case against literary dependence of the Gospels on the account of 1 Corinthians.

The phrase "then of all the apostles" seems quite out of place for a chronological sequence. Particularly after verse 6 which lists 500 brethren as seeing Jesus. Add that to the fact that Paul already mentioned the twelve and this creates an issue that needs some resolution. This may be a reference to the seventy who were specifically commissioned as apostles by Jesus.

 

1 Cor 15:8

And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

In this passage Paul notes his own independence, from the other apostles, in seeing the risen Christ. In other passages, Paul describes the appearance of the risen Christ with different language. One difficult passage on this subject is Acts 26:19 where Paul describes the appearance of Jesus to Paul as a "heavenly vision". However, an appearance in a vision is not necessarily a statement that the one who appeared was incorporeal.

Paulís choice of vocabulary in this passage is particularly striking. The phrase translated as "born out of due time" uses the Greek word ektomati which is used for an abortion or miscarriage. Paulís calling was not at the same time as the rest of the apostles. Yet, in spite of the fact that he was not among the other apostles (in time), he saw the Lord.

Application

There are at least two areas of application of this passage in the field of apologetics.

Answer to Skeptics

There are many applications of the passage in the field of Christian apologetics. The fact that Paul does not offer the passage as an apologetic for the resurrection of Christ further strengthens its use with answering skeptical responses to the Gospel messages.

Answer to Hyper-Preterists

An area of application of the passage in apologetics that is nearly untouched by contemporary apologetics is a response to those people who hold to an over-realized eschatology. Currently, this is probably best found in the "hyper-preterist" movement that denies the future resurrection and Second Coming. This movement is self-referred to as "consistent preterism" by those within its ranks. Recently, this movement gained a prominent advocate when shortly before his death, David Chilton, who was a partial preterist, embraced the hyper-preterist position. There has been some concern in recent days about R. C. Sproul leaning towards the position as well.

The notion that all of prophecy has been fulfilled has led hyper-preterists to deny the historical doctrines of the resurrection and the Second Coming. The hyper-preterists have attempted to turn this into an issue of tradition vs. Biblical authority.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul provides a strong antidote for this teaching. The linkage that Paul makes between the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection is a strong one. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is not arguing for a spiritual resurrection of Christ, but a literal one. Just as Christ was raised, we too shall be raised. This message is the historical message of the church and is Biblical as well. Usage of this passage also strengthens the argument against hyper-preterism in that it uses the very same passage that they use as a proof-text.

 

Conclusions

1 Cor 15:1-8 was written in somewhere between 53-55 ACE. Yet, it contains what had already become the traditional account of the resurrection of Christ. This is seen in the words, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received". The core of the Gospel message was already fully accepted tradition within 25 years of the events. It forms the premise for Paul's argument itself. This adds further credibility to the account of the resurrection given by Paul.

One piece of information is the details that the Gospels add don't actually increase the credibility of Paul's accounts for the audience it was intended to influence. Paul stresses the appearance of Jesus to Simon Peter (Cephas). The Gospels downplay the appearances to Peter and stress the initial appearances to the women. As critics point out, this does not increase the credibility of their accounts to the contemporaries of that day.

Further, Paul notes that Jesus appeared to over 500 people and the Gospel writers don't make such a claim. Luke/Acts implies that Jesus may have appeared to well over a hundred people based on the number of people in the upper room in Acts 2.

The conclusion is that there's no dependence of Paul on the Gospels nor is there any dependence of the Gospels on Paul's writings in 1 Cor. The details all tell the same account of the death and resurrection of Christ, but the differences in the details render them independent accounts.

Further, the argument of the critics that the resurrection was based on a mass delusion is greatly weakened by the appearance of Christ to Paul. Paul was a decidedly hostile witness who had met the risen Savior on that fateful day as he rode to Damascus and his life was forever changed.

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. The New Century Bible Commentary, 1 & 2 Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996).

Geisler, Norman L. and Howe, Thomas. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. (Wheaton, Il.: Victor Press, 1992).

Nash, Ronald H. The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?. (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing/Probe Books, 1992).

Robertson, AT. Word Pictures in the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Book House, 1931).

Rogers, Cleon. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998)

Sahakian, William S. History of Philosophy: From the Earliest Times to the Present. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968).