The Post-Resurrection Appearance to the Five Hundred

The Bible reports that following his resurrection, Jesus made appearances to many people. A non-exclusive list of post-resurrection appearances can be found in 1 Corinthians 15: 5-8, which reads:

. . . He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Apologists make great capital of this statement in 1 Corinthians because of of the lack of dispute over the authenticy and the dating of the Epistle. The authorities, with the exception of a few on the fringes of historical Biblical scholarship who doubt everything in the Bible as having any authenticity whatsoever, acknowledge that the author of this Epistle was Paul and that it was written around 55 A.D. As noted by J.P. Moreland in his book Scaling the Secular City:

In the last one hundred years or so, almost all critics have accepted Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. Today the situation is even more conservative. It is safe to say that a standard liberal view of Paul's letters accepts at least seven to nine as authentic, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus being excluded (some would add Colossians and 2 Thessalonians).

Keeping in mind that this is the "standard liberal view," it seems clear that most scholars would accept 1 Corinthians as authentically Pauline, and most date it around 55 A.D.

What is interesting about this language is that many scholars see 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 as a recitation of a creed that Paul learned, rather than as language originating with Paul. In other words, many scholars believe that this part of 1 Corinthians is simply Paul's incorporation of a creed of the early church that he learned when he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem (as testified in Galatians 1: 18-19 -- another Epistle largely acknowledged as being authentically Pauline). This means that Paul learned this early on, i.e., probably within 15 years after Jesus' death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. In Scaling the Secular City, Moreland states that the creed was probably learned by Paul three to eight years after the resurrection.

Now, consider this: Paul took this creed and placed it in a letter he wrote about 55 A.D. -- about 22 years after Jesus' death. He believed that the creed was valid at that time, and did not see any need to change the language to say anything to the extent of "too bad all of the five hundred are dead so you cannot check on the accuracy of what I am telling you." No, he believed that while some had fallen asleep, that the remainder of the five hundred were alive and available for confirmation of what he was saying. All of 1 Corinthians 15 is an appeal to the faithful of Corinth to believe in the bodily resurrection because they know that Jesus has been resurrected due to the testimony of those who saw the resurrected Christ. The chapter is practically an invitation to go ask those who saw him resurrected -- ending with Paul himself -- in an appeal to have them believe in the resurrection of each of us.

The non-exclusive listing found in 1 Corinthians is powerful evidence for the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.


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