On Sunday night, I decided to blog all 5 posts for this week. Then a friend of mine who attends Andy Stanley’s church sent me a link to Andy Stanley’s Easter sermon. I listened to the sermon, and the sermon was so good – so good! – that I had to bump all the other posts forward one day.
The sermon was about 1 Corinthias 15:3-7, which is an early eyewitness creed received by Paul, which he recorded in his letter to the Corinthians some time around 53 A.D. – 2 decades after the death of Jesus. Within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.
So, definitely listen to that sermon, and I’ll say a little about the creed below:
First, the creed – which is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
The creed is verses 3-7.
Almost all historians accept this creed as dating back to within 5 years of the death of Jesus. But why?
Here’s a great article from Eric Chabot, director of Ratio Christi Apologetics Alliance, The Ohio State University to explain why.
The late Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide was so impressed by the creed of 1 Cor. 15, that he concluded that this “formula of faith may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.” (5)
Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:
[…]As Richard Bauckham notes, “the important point for our purposes is that Josephus uses the language of “passing on” tradition for the transmission from one teacher to another and also for the transmission from the Pharisees to the people.”(7)
Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony that the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted.
[…]While the word “received” (a rabbinical term) can also be used in the New Testament of receiving a message or body of instruction or doctrine (1 Cor.11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal. 1:9, 12 [2x], Col 2:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6), it also means means “to receive from another.” This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.
[…]Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:
“Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (11).
This comment by Crossan makes sense because within the creed Paul calls Peter by his Aramic name, Cephas. Hence, if this tradition originated in the Aramaic language, the two locations that people spoke Aramaic were Galilee and Judea. (12) The Greek term “historeo” is translated as “to visit” or “to interview.” (13) Hence, Paul’s purpose of the trip was probably designed to affirm the resurrection story with Peter who had been an actual eyewitness to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:5).
Crossan, you may recall, is an atheist historian, and an expert in the historical Jesus. His own views of the historical Jesus are radical, so if he gives you the Corinthians creed, you know that the evidence for it has got to be golden.
Check out this post if you want to learn more about the creed.
A more academic lecture on the resurrection
The sermon above is nice, for Easter, but it’s also good to have a nice academic outline of the argument for the resurrection by a scholar who specializes in that area.
Here is Dr. William Lane Craig giving a long-form argument for the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus, and taking questions from the audience.
The speaker introduction goes for 6 minutes, then Dr. Craig speaks for 35 minutes, then it’s a period of questions and answers with the audience. The total length is 93 minutes, so quite a long period of Q&A. The questions in the Q&A period are quite good.
- Many people who are willing to accept God’s existence are not willing to accept the God of Christianity
- Christians need to be ready to show that Jesus rose from the dead as a historical event
- Private faith is fine for individuals, but when dealing with the public you have to have evidence
- When making the case, you cannot assume that your audience accepts the Bible as inerrant
- You must use the New Testament like any other ancient historical document
- Most historians, Christian and not, accept the basic minimal facts supporting the resurrection of Jesus
Fact #1: the burial of Jesus following his crucifixion
- Fact #1 is supported by the early creed found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15)
- Fact #1 is supported by the early Passion narrative which was a source for Mark’s gospel
- Fact #1 passes the criterion of enemy attestation, since it praises one of the Sanhedrin
- Fact #1 is not opposed by any competing burial narratives
Fact #2: on the Sunday following his crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by some women
- Fact #2 is supported by the early Passion narrative which was a source for Mark’s gospel
- Fact #2 is implied by the early creed found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15)
- Fact #2 is simple and lacks legendary embellishment, which argues for an early dating
- Fact #2 passes the criterion of embarrassment, because it has female, not male, witnesses
- Fact #2 passes the criterion of enemy attestation, since it is reported by the Jewish leaders
Fact #3: Jesus appeared to various people in various circumstances after his death
- Fact #3 is supported by the early creed found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15)
- Fact #3 is supported by multiple, independent reports of the events from all four gospels
- Fact #3 explains other historical facts, like the conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother James
Fact #4: the earliest Christians proclaimed their belief in the resurrection of Jesus
- Fact #4 explains why the earliest Christians continued to identify Jesus as the Messiah
- Fact #4 explains why the earliest Christians were suddenly so unconcerned about being killed
Dr. Craig then asks which hypothesis explains all four of these facts. He surveys a number of naturalistic hypotheses, such as the hallucination theory or various conspiracy theories. All of these theories deny one or more of the minimal facts that have been established and accepted by the broad spectrum of historians. In order to reject the resurrection hypothesis, a skeptic would have to deny one of the four facts or propose an explanation that explains those facts better than the resurrection hypothesis.