Best Easter sermon ever: Andy Stanley on 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

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.

Excerpt:

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.

Andy Stanley vs the Pious Fideist Pastors

Pastor Andy Stanley, you’ll remember, is the one  who gave that series of sermons incorporating evidential apologetics that drove the fideist pastors crazy. The central problem with Andy Stanley, according to the fideist pastors, is that he keeps saying that facts make Christianity true, and not merely the words of the Bible. Christianity, he says, is correct because the facts of reality make it correct. When we ask a person to become a Christian, it’s not that we expect them to have a “burning of the bosom” (feelings) when they read the Bible. That’s the Mormon view of faith (and the view of faith of pious fideist pastors). On the contrary, when we ask a person to become a Christian, we are asking them to accept facts. We are asking them to accept the reality that has God in it, not to take a leap of faith in a book.

Some of these facts about God and Jesus are reported from science, and some of which are reported from history, and some of which are reported in the Bible (understood as a reliable  historical record). It’s not the words of the Bible that makes Christianity true, it’s the reality that God made (some of which is described in the Bible) which makes Christianity true. Facts make Christianity true: facts like the fact of the universe being created, and the fact of the universe being finely tuned for life, and the fact of the resurrection, and the fact that the reports of the resurrection story emerged within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. The Bible does record many of the relevant facts, and even predicts some of the scientific ones. When a person sees that the central teachings of Christianity are true from science, history and the resurrection, they then turn to the Bible, the inerrant Word of God, in order to find about God’s character, so that they can acknowledge God as he really is in the way that they live. The Bible tells us more about the character of God than anything else outside the Bible. It is God speaking directly to us about things that often cannot be revealed through the other sources of facts.

Jesus asked people to believe in the fact of his resurrection, not the feelings they had when reading the Bible. It’s an evidential faith.

8 thoughts on “Best Easter sermon ever: Andy Stanley on 1 Corinthians 15:3-7”

  1. I just now came across this post. I must watch/listen to the Easter Sermon. I watch Andy Stanley on his late Saturday night “Moving on” ( I believe its called) program as often as I can. I always learn something, he does make you think! Great post!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Andy really seems to button it up pretty tight. He refers often to scholars who agree with everything he shared, but remain unbelievers. What is their angle of argument against what he shared?

    1. Watched the Easter Sermon in full. His message made sense. I don’t think Andy ripped the Bible; but used Paul’s time frame of being with the witnesses Peter and James to confirm it.

      1. I agree. It makes sense to talk about the authorship dates and authors and which parts are more accepted by secular historians. But the fideists don’t want to allow the Christian story to be presented to skeptics in an intelligent way, even though this exactly what Paul did in Acts when he faced secular audiences. He started with common ground.

        The fideist pastors don’t want anyone to consider the Bible as history at all. They just want people to accept it all by blind faith, because the Bible produces feelings. Just like the Mormon approach to evangelism. This approach is not only unBiblical but it also keeps people away from salvation. No fideist pastor accept the Bible’s teaching on evangelism – they prefer their Mormon approach of feelings over facts.

        1. Who are these fideists who criticize Pastor Stanley, WK? Because that article by Dr. Turek was primarily targeting presuppositionalists (well, fideistic caricatures of presuppositionalism, but the intention was to interact with that perspective).

          1. I did not say the p-word. I am talking about people who do not use evidence to make a case for the best attested claims of the Bible.

            If a non-Christian does not accept inerrancy (and none do) then we should be able to make a case for God’s existence from mainstream science, and for the resurrection from the widely-accepted historical facts. That way the non Christian has to fit God and the resurrection into their worldview, even if they don’t accept inerrancy.

            The response I see from some pastors is that they don’t want to allow evidence to adjudicate claims of the Bible. So, they have nothing to say to appeal to non-Christians rationally or evidentially.

            This is exactly the approach of the fideist pastors. It is just the Mormon approach to evangelism, but it’s not Jesus’ approach. Jesus used the resurrection to support his theological claims. That’s evidence.

          2. “The response I see from some pastors is that they don’t want to allow evidence to adjudicate claims of the Bible. So, they have nothing to say to appeal to non-Christians rationally or evidentially.”

            I think a lot of the concern (for myself included) is that such a heavy emphasis on historical verifiability using the tools of secular scholarship and appealing to the current majority opinion (in x or y field) is particularly vulnerable to giving the impression that areas which cannot be verified to the same standard (or verified at all, or worse still scholarship is hostile to it) are potentially historically/factually suspect. I realize that there is an attempt to create a chain from the Resurrection to inerrancy, but I’m not sure that really succeeds and often doesn’t get the emphasis it needs. The result is potentially an unfulfillable desire for more and more verification, which indefinitely keeps a man from embracing the faith in its fullest sense.

            Many of Stanley’s detractors don’t have a problem with utilizing such evidences (fine-tuning or textual transmission for example), but are concerned about how the data is utilized and what the epistemic foundations ought to be. In addition, a lot of it has to do with how one approaches the evidences – for example, seemingly throwing the Hebrew exodus under the bus and focusing on the minimal facts, would be an unwise approach which naturally worries people. Pastor Stanley gave the impression that he was doing things like this, even if he was in fact not, and what we had was the resulting storm. What people are typically worried about is the pragmatic mentality which says ‘even if the Bible isn’t inerrant, we still have our minimal facts etc.’ and attempts to persuade potential converts (as a last-ditch attempt, oftentimes) on that basis. A lot of evidentialist apologetics can come across like that, even if the apologist is not intending it, and it worries people.

  3. “Pastor Andy Stanley, you’ll remember, is the one who gave that series of sermons incorporating evidential apologetics that drove the fideist pastors crazy. The central problem with Andy Stanley, according to the fideist pastors, is that he keeps saying that facts make Christianity true, and not merely the words of the Bible.”

    Pastor Stanley, I think, represents the danger of knowing some apologetics, but badly utilizing the information (probably unintentionally). If what he meant to say by “Before you abandon your faith, it’s worth exploring this question: What if the Bible isn’t the foundation of the Christian faith?” etc. was actually “You can trust the historicity of the gospels and therefore know that the Tanach and New Testament are inerrant.” he kinda dropped the ball on that one and gave the impression that, historically-speaking, some parts of the Bible could be ahistorical and thus dismissible (but you still have the Resurrection). A worrying premise, if possible.

    Contrary to the description of this being a battle between fideists and evidentialists, the issue has not been a concern merely of fideists; who base their beliefs on feelings and piously shun evidence in favor of blind faith. I hope that you’re not casually lumping presuppositionalists into that category, since the two are very much different animals – the latter arguing both theologically and philosophically for the grounding epistemology in the only authoritative and viable source; inspired Scripture (and from that framework utilizing evidences where necessary). From this avenue, a substantial amount of intelligent criticism has been directed at Pastor Stanley’s overarching theology and its resulting anthropology. This is a concern which cannot be easily dismissed as the concerns of pious pastors and mormon-esque fideists; I urge you to read some of the more informed critiques before coming to a conclusion on this complicated issue. This is not an issue of feelings versus facts; but the nature of facts per se and their usage. To say otherwise would be to grossly simplify and distort the matter, alas.

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