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by Jason Engwer
I posted an article last week that argues for a large amount of agreement among the resurrection accounts in the New Testament. What I want to do here is focus on 1 Corinthians 15, which receives a lot of attention for various reasons in discussions of the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. I want to discuss how well the passage aligns with what we find in the gospels and Acts and some of the reasons why that alignment is significant.
Paul lists six appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15. At the outset, I want to note that I'm not aware of any inconsistency between Paul's list and the material in the gospels and Acts, which is significant, given how easily these sources could have come into conflict.
Having said that, let's look at each of the six appearances:
- Jesus appeared to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5). Luke mentions an appearance to Peter, and, like Paul, places it early (Luke 24:34).
- Then Jesus appeared to the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5). (See my post last week on what we should make of group names, like "the Twelve".) Luke and John narrate such an appearance, and both, like Paul, place it early (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-23). Like Paul, Luke places it after an appearance to Peter (Luke 24:34-6).
- Jesus then appeared to more than five hundred people (1 Corinthians 15:6). That appearance occurred after the one to the Twelve, which happened on Easter Sunday, and before the next one that can be dated, which is the appearance to Paul. That leaves a large timeframe in which the appearance to the more than five hundred can be placed, and there's no significant problem with fitting it in. Luke and John refer to how the pre-ascension resurrection appearances occurred over weeks of time, not some shorter period (John 20:26, Acts 1:3), and Matthew and Mark don't say anything to the contrary, so there's a large space available for the timing of the 1 Corinthians 15:6 appearance. It may not be narrated by any of the gospels or Acts, and none of those five documents mention the number of witnesses cited by Paul. The best candidate for the appearance in the gospels and Acts is Matthew 28:16-20. I'm aware of a few arguments that can be made in favor of identifying that Matthew 28 appearance as the one Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15:6. First, the mountainous setting provides enough space for that many people. Second, the planned nature of the appearance ("the mountain which Jesus had designated" in verse 16) would help explain why so many people were gathered together. Third, notice the implications of combining the first two points…
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