The Earliness of the Resurrection Belief (1 Cor. 15)
by James Bishop
Arguably the most important line of evidence pertaining to the earliness of the proclamation of a risen Jesus comes from one of Paul’s epistles in a very early tradition cited in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8. This creed implies the fact of the empty tomb, which in turn implies that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul writes that Jesus “was buried and that he was raised.”
Paul fills us in with some more information by telling us that Jesus appeared to his chief disciple Peter, then to the inner circle of disciples known as the Twelve; then he appeared to a group of 500 disciples at once, then to his younger brother James, who up to that time was apparently not a believer, and then to all the apostles. Finally, Paul adds, “he appeared also to me,” at the time when Paul was still a persecutor of the early Jesus movement.
In fact, the prominent New Testament scholar James Dunn dates this very creed of Paul back to within 18 months of Jesus’ death, “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death” (1). Even on the more skeptical end, this creed is dated no later than five years after Jesus’ death on the cross. That is extraordinarily early. Gary Habermas explains that “Reports from such an early date would actually predate the written Gospels. A famous example is the list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances supplied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement is based is dated to the 30s AD”…
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