The Righter Report

Earliest Mention of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

September 17, 2013

The 1st Corinthians Creed

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

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.

As Scholar Gary Habermas notes:

“Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin.” Ulrich Wilckens declares that this creed “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” (8) Joachim Jeremias calls it “the earliest tradition of all.” (9) Even the non-Christian scholar Gerd Ludemann says that “I do insist that the discovery of pre-Pauline confessional foundations is one of the great achievements in the New Testament scholarship.”

The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion. At that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19).This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38.

Even the (liberal) Jesus Seminar co-founder 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.”

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. The Greek term “historeo” is translated as “to visit” or “to interview.” 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).


Habermas, among others, would contend that this creed could have been composed within mere months after the resurrection of Jesus. He notes that no credible scholar disputes Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, which was likely written between 55-57 AD. But Paul says in 15:3 that he passed the creed on to the Corinthian Church at some point in the past, predating his visit there in 51 AD. That places the composition of the creed no later than within 20 years of the original event.

But Habermas – and others – think the creed goes back even further: between 32-38 AD, when Paul received it, in all likelihood in Jerusalem. Three years after Paul’s conversion, he traveled to Jerusalem to interview the Apostles Peter and James. Habermas draws our attention to the fact that, when Paul described this trip in Galatians 1:18-19, he uses the Greek word historeo, which indicates a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was being made. So, in all likelihood, this creed was delivered to Paul by the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, Peter and James.

Of course, the creed goes on to enumerate other eyewitnesses, including an appearance of the Risen Christ to over 500 people at once – “most of whom are still living” at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul is virtually daring any skeptics to interview these people.

The 1 Corinthians creed authenticates the resurrection of Christ in many ways, not the least of which is this: its incredibly early, eyewitness testimony precludes any possibility of legendary accretion.


The preponderance of the evidence is daunting. When does it become too much for the skeptics?

Jesus is Risen Indeed!

– The Righter Report

January 17, 2013 - Posted by | Evangelical, God, History, Human Interest, Theology, Theology Articles

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