Did the First Christians Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection?
by Scott J Shifferd
The first form of Christianity is seen the earliest traditions of the faith. The Gospel is the earliest Christian tradition of faith. In Corinthians 15:3b–5, Paul presented the Gospel message that dates to the apostle Paul’s conversion 2 or 3 years after Jesus’s death. The Gospel also dates earlier to the faith of Peter, John, and James in Galatians 1:11–2:10. Biblical scholars including critical scholars all attribute the source of this faith tradition to those who were witnesses of Jesus.
This confession is a historical marker for when and how the church began. The Gospel is the message that started the church. The first Christians proclaimed the Gospel as Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. Paul recorded this confession of the Gospel: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15:3b–5 ESV). Furthermore, Paul cited numerous witnesses in verses 6–8 that may also be a part of this ancient creedal confession.
The First Message of the First Church
Why do scholars find this message to be a very early tradition? Almost all scholarship places Jesus’s death by crucifixion about AD 30. Stephen C. Barton reported, “The likely date of the letter [1 Corinthians] can also be established with confidence as sometime in the years AD 54–55.” In 1 Corinthians 15:1–3a, Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians of the message that he proclaimed to them the same message “of first importance” for which he also received when he converted.
In Galatians 1, Paul reported of his violent persecution of the church. In this opposition, Paul received the Gospel message and converted in AD 32–33. Furthermore, Paul recounted how he took this Gospel message to Peter, John, the other apostles, and Jesus’s brother James who confirmed that this is the original message (Gal 1:18–22; 2:1–10). Paul’s account in Galatians 1:11–2:10 dates the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1–7 to the original disciples and their experiences of Jesus in ~AD 30. For this reason, critical scholars find that the Gospel message of 1 Corinthians 15:3b–5 is an early Christian confession of faith dating to the actual events surrounding Jesus’s death…