Note that Paul says, “What I received I also passed on to you…” What Paul is referring to is the oral tradition that he received from the apostles regarding the gospel. Paul wants to make sure that the Corinthians understand that what he is preaching is consistent with the tradition of the apostles. This is not to say that Paul didn’t understand the gospel apart from the tradition of the apostles. But he wants to make sure the Corinthians understand that what he preached regarding the historical appearances and the gospel of Christ was in line with apostolic tradition. In fact although Paul independently preached the gospel it says in Galatians 2 that he went back to Jerusalem after 14 years to make sure that the gospel he was preaching to the Gentiles was consistent the gospel the other apostles and leaders of the church. He did not want to have put in a vain effort. So the gospel according to Peter is exactly the gospel that Paul preached, and it is this apostolic tradition that Paul is referring to here in 1 Corinthians 15.
The first thing we note in the 1 Corinthians 15 text is the emphasis the resurrection was a historical event. The Christian faith is not a philosophy of religion or living. It is based upon God acting in history to bring a radically new physical and spiritual reality. Note that Paul emphasizes the two things regarding the historical nature of the resurrection: the resurrection appearances of Jesus and the resurrection witnesses.
The resurrection appearances were first of all numerous and were over an extended period of time. Some may think that Jesus just appeared to the disciples on Sunday. But actually it states in Acts 1:1-3 that Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days. That he appeared to the disciples, his own brother James, to 500 at one time, then he appeared to the apostle Paul (at the time Saul the Pharisee) on the road to Damascus. So these appearances were constant, diverse in time and place, and to many people.
The next thing is that these appearances were physical and were not apparitions. First of all people do not have apparitions at the same time, and the same place, and all see the same thing. Some pose the appearances were simply psychological visions because of a deep emotional need to see Jesus. The problem with this idea is there is no evidence in science that this many people will have the same apparition at the same time and place. It is just not possible nor is it credible.
Also when we read the gospels we note the disciples touched and actually handled the body of Jesus. Jesus showed them his hands and side and encouraged them to touch and see that he was not a ghost (John 20:20-29). And the early church had the great conviction that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection that could be touched and handled. And note there were numerous times that Jesus ate with the disciples post resurrection. Visions don’t do that.
Of course in a court of law the witnesses matter. The jury or judge must judge the credibility of the witnesses. Some people will state something to be the case to advance their own selfish ends or benefit. These are not credible witnesses and may be deceptive. What marks the credibility of a witness? There are two things: 1. Does the witness testify even though his/her testimony may not be popular and may even cause them to hardship? 2. Is the testimony consistent with the other witnesses?
When we look at the witnesses to the resurrection many of them suffered immensely for their claims. Eleven of the twelve disciples were martyred. John was not martyred but exiled to an island called Patmos. Paul was brutalized many times (stone, whipped, etc) and finally died at the hands of the Romans. So these men did not gain worldly wealth or status by what they testified to. And all of them testified to the same thing. They saw Jesus raised from the dead. The old adage, “People may suffer for a lie, but they do not suffer for what they know to be a lie.” What motivated these early witnesses to the resurrection was the good news that the resurrection meant to the world. And they did everything in their power not only to state what they believed, but to encourage other to have the same faith so they might have life as well. You can read Paul’s own words what he went through to bring the gospel to people in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. And most of the New Testament are Paul’s letters written while he was in prison for the gospel. And of course what makes Paul such a powerful witness is that he once persecuted the church. He had quite a change of conviction. You can read his story in Acts.
Any one that discredits the resurrection must have to discredit the witnesses. Just think if in a court of law there were people this many people that testified to the same reality and all suffered hardship for their testimony. That’s a pretty powerful argument.
Next blog I’ll look at the phrase “according to the Scriptures.”