1Corinthians 15:3 “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received…”
CS Lewis’s famous argument for the deity of Jesus Christ, known as “Liar, Lunatic or Lord,” proves you cannot dismiss Jesus as a “good moral teacher” when He claimed to be God. He is either lying, crazy or He is who He claims to be. But skeptics try to add a fourth category, “Legend,” claiming Jesus was just a preacher who was executed, whose popularity then led to embellished stories that resulted in today’s belief that He is God.
This article crushes that silly notion. It takes generations to develop a “legend.” We have written evidence that is within 2-3 YEARS of His resurrection. Along with evidences 1 & 2 (Crucifixion and the Empty Tomb), the case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is growing not into a legend but now into a true historical fact.
This amazing piece of circumstantial evidence is a manuscript of an early oral creed that was written down and passed among Jesus’s followers after He rose. This creed later made its way into the apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth in 1Corinthians 15:3-8. Here is what this manuscript says:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the 3rd day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” Mainstream Scholars date this to no later than 35AD, some dating it to within months of Jesus’s death. Who are some of these scholars?
Gerd Lüdemann (atheistic professor of NT at Göttingen): “The testimony of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is the earliest text in the New Testament to make concrete mention of the death, resurrection, and appearances of the risen Christ. The elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first 2 years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than 3 years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor. 15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33CE” (Gerd Lüdemann, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’, Fortress Press, 1994, 171-72).
Michael Goulder (atheistic NT scholar at the University of Birmingham): “1 Corinthians 15:3 goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion” (Michael Goulder, ‘The Baseless Fabric of a Vision’ Resurrection Reconsidered, Oxford,1996, 48).
Roy W. Hoover (founder, Jesus Seminar): “The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root before Paul’s conversion in 33AD. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30AD, the time for development was 2 or 3 years at most” (Roy W. Hoover, ‘The Acts of Jesus’, Polebridge Press, 1998, 466.
John Dominic Crossan (atheistic NT scholar): “Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s. But he says in 1Corinthians 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 receiving that tradition would be Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he ‘went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and stayed with him 15 days’” (John Dominic Crossan, Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts’, HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, 254).
While we can also quote Christian scholars, here we have 4 NT experts who are not Christian yet confirm that this oral creedal manuscript is so close to the date of the resurrection as to eliminate any notion of a “legend”.
But there is even more compelling evidence hidden within this oral creed. Paul’s use of the words “delivered” and “received” are terms the Pharisees used for transmitting sacred tradition. Paul, trained as a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), used the language of Pharisaic transmission (Galatians 1:14). Paul is claiming to deliver the message of 1Corinthians 15:3-8 that had been first received by him. Who gave Paul this message?
He tells us in Galatians 1:18-19: “After 3 years I went to Jerusalem to see Peter and stayed with him 15 days. I saw no other apostle except James, the Lord’s brother.” Paul went to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion. Since Paul was converted in 33AD, and Jesus was crucified in 32AD, Paul was in Jerusalem less than 5 years after Jesus rose from the dead. What was Paul doing in Jerusalem with Peter and James for 15 days?
He was learning from 2 eyewitnesses who spent the last 3 years with Jesus. In Galatians 1:18, Paul uses the Greek ‘historesai’ to describe his time with them. It means” to learn through inquiry.” This is what 1Corinthians 15:3 refers to. Paul “received” details about Jesus, whom he knew only through revelation. With His crucifixion and the Empty Tomb already established, we have another piece of evidence to validate the Resurrection.
The Evidence of Faith’s Substance _Article #501