ORIENTATION AND CONTEXT
Significance of Text
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, we have an incredibly early creedal formulation of the death, resurrection, and post-mortem appearances of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is a consensus among scholars that this passage “contains a carefully preserved tradition pre-dating Paul’s apostolic activity and received by him within two to five years of the founding events” (Ware 475). This creed is incredibly significant for several reasons.
First, this pre-Pauline creed is significant because it provides the earliest known formulation of Christian beliefs regarding Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and post-mortem appearances. Kirk MacGregor clearly states the early date for the formulation of this creed when he writes, “the terminus ante quem for the original creed is AD 35, assuming the truth of the majority view that Jesus’ crucifixion occurred in AD 30 and Paul’s conversion in AD 32” (MacGregor 227). This places the formulation of the belief in Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and post-mortem appearances within 5 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, which is amazing for ancient sources.
Second, this pre-Pauline creed holds significance in understanding the earliest apostles’ teaching regarding Jesus Christ. It is vital that we understand the teaching of the apostles, since they form part of the foundation of the church, along with the prophets, and with Christ as the chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). This early teaching, therefore, becomes incredibly important for understanding the teaching of the apostles and the foundational teaching of the Body of Christ since the earliest days of its existence. Because of this creed, we can be confident that what is related by the later Gospel writers does, in fact, go back to the earliest teaching of the apostles concerning Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances.
Third, this pre-Pauline creed is significant because it gives us an insight into the nature of Christ’s resurrection. There are some who claim that the apostles did not intend to portray a resurrection of Jesus’s crucified body, but rather meant to portray the resurrection in a spiritual sense. This is not what the apostles would have had in mind. As William Lane Craig points out, “The idea that a man could be buried and then be raised from the dead while his body still remained in the grave is a peculiarly modern notion. For the first-century Jews there would have been no question but that the tomb of Jesus would have been empty” (Craig 365). James Ware concurs, pointing out that most scholars agree that this creed was “from its inception transmitted as the good news of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the tomb on the third day” (Ware 476). This understanding of the resurrection is seen in this pre-Pauline formula, as will be seen later in this paper.
Finally, this pre-Pauline creed is significant for its apologetic value. This is especially important because, as Gary Habermas has pointed out, “In recent years, some of the old, naturalistic theories that rejected the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection have reappeared after a lengthy hiatus” (Habermas 179). This pre-Pauline creed is regularly referenced in apologetics-related works on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The reason for this is obvious. Since the three points above are true, it effectively refutes the idea that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a later legendary development. Two to five years is too short of a time frame for legend to develop in the very area in which Jesus was condemned, crucified, and buried. The probable Semitic origin of this creed also means that this belief in Christ’s bodily resurrection likely took off in the location where it was most likely to die out if it could be demonstrated that the bodily resurrection of Christ was false. While this creed does not prove that Christianity is true in and of itself, it does oppose some common lay objections to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Several questions arise as we read this pre-Pauline creed. One vital question is what this creed tells us about the nature of the resurrection. Another vital question pertains to the list of eyewitnesses to which Christ appeared, who were mentioned in the creed. Why these individuals? Why not someone else? Finally, the question arises whether or not Paul understood his experience of the risen Jesus to be of the same nature as the experiences of the other apostles. Each of these questions will be answered in the body of this paper.
Historical and Social Setting
There is little doubt that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. In fact, some have pointed out that “the Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians has never been disputed and the letter is already attested in the 90s by Clement of Rome” (Hawthorne 175). The few who would dispute Pauline authorship are in an extremely small minority of scholars. The historical and literary evidence provides a compelling case that Paul did, in fact, author this epistle, as well as at least 3 others to the church in Corinth. Unfortunately, only two of these four letters survived.
While there is little question that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, there are some who would argue that 1 Corinthians 13 is an interpolation, or at least is non-Pauline. William Walker, for example, argues that “1 Corinthians 13 is in fact a non-Pauline interpolation, that is, that it was composed by someone other than Paul and that it was inserted at its present location in the Corinthian letter by someone other than Paul” (Walker 485). His case, however, is not convincing. Jeremy Corley points out that, “Close examination of all factors not only suggests the probability of Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 but also sheds light on Paul’s theology” (Corley 257). Other potential interpolations have been offered, as well, but the case for their being non-Pauline fares about as well as Walker’s hypothesis. It is sometimes argued that the previous letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:9) is embedded in 1 Corinthians. The bases for this hypothesis is supposed contradictions between Paul’s discussion of various topics. Thus, the epistles to the Corinthians are often separated into four different letters. Polhill explains the problem with this by stating, “The resolution of a few seeming inconsistencies by such partitioning raises more problems than it solves” (Polhill 232).
It is significant to note that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the subject of this paper, is not in question as a later interpolation. While the creed itself is non-Pauline in origin, we have no reason to think that it was added to 1 Corinthians at a later date or by anyone other than Paul.
It is generally accepted that 1 Corinthians was written in the mid-50’s AD. Polhill believes that Paul received bad news which prompted the writing of the letter in the Spring of AD 56 (Polhill 230). Varughese appears to date this letter slightly earlier, pointing out that it was written during Paul’s third missionary journey, which lasted from 52-55 AD (Varughese 235). During this time, Paul stayed in regular contact with the church at Corinth because of the problems that the church was experiencing. Paul’s letters were written during his third missionary journey to address these problems and to answer questions that the Corinthians had. It seems reasonable to give 1 Corinthians a date of around AD 55.
It is argued that Paul wrote this epistle from Ephesus. It is believed that he wrote this epistle during his third missionary journey, which was primarily focused on Ephesus. Even though Paul was focused on ministering to the Ephesians, he still would have had concerns about the church at Corinth. Paul received information about the state of the Corinthian church from the servants of Chloe, from a letter that the Corinthians wrote to Paul, and from the delegation sent to deliver the letter to Paul. The Corinthian church was fracturing into various groups, such as the “Cephas” party and the “Paul” party. Furthermore, the Corinthians were abusing the Lord’s Supper and appear to have had an issue with the proper use of spiritual gifts. Beyond this, it seems that there were even some within the church who denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. When the disunity and problems of the Corinthian church came to Paul’s ears, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians as a means of addressing the issues that were arising within the church.
In summary, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus around AD 55. This fact is rarely questioned by scholars. Paul wrote this epistle to address major problems that were brought to his attention and to address questions that the Corinthians had in response to an earlier letter that Paul sent to the church.
1 Corinthians is an epistle written to correct issues within the Corinthian church. Some portions of this epistle, though still part of the epistle, could be classified under a different genre. I believe that this is the case with 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. This could be classified as an ancient creed. It is formulated as a creed that made memorization easier. Since not everyone could read and write in the ancient world, rabbis and teachers would rely on formulations such as this to help make their teaching easier to memorize. This appears to be the purpose of the creedal formulation of this passage.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is found in the context of a discussion about the resurrection from the dead and what Jesus’ resurrection means for believers. Immediately prior to this discussion, Paul was giving the Corinthians direction concerning the charisma (χάρισμα) gifts of the Spirit. After 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul goes on to expound the implications for believers of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
The pre-Pauline creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 has been recognized as a 4-line creed centering around the verbs “died,” “was buried,” “was raised,” and “appeared.” These four verbs provide a summary of the final days of Christ’s life and a springboard for Paul’s discussion about the implications of Christ’s resurrection for believers.
It should be noted that this passage contains what might be called Pauline commentary alongside the creed. Thus, there has been some debate over which portions of this text belong to the creed and which portions of the text are Pauline commentary. On the basis of the Semitic characteristics and the distinctly non-Pauline language of the creed, it can be strongly argued that the creed should include everything after and including the statement “Christ died,” with the exception of verse 6b and 8, which are Pauline commentary on the creed.
PRESENTATION OF TEXT
1 Cor. 15:3 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (NIV).
Text Critical Notes
The Greek of this passage does not appear to contain many variants. One does exist, and it warrants a brief consideration. In the Greek texts used to translate the King James Version, the word “appeared” in the fourth line of the formula is the Greek word “optanomai” (ὀπτάνομαι). The Greek texts used to translate other versions uses the word “horao” (ὁράω). There is little difference between the meaning of the two words, and this difference should not cause us to question the meaning of the passage. Both properly mean that someone has been seen or has allowed themselves to be seen.
Despite the confidence in the text itself, scholars have debated over the meaning of the resurrection language within the passage. One of the most significant words in question is the Greek word for “raised” (ἐγείρω). Some have contended that this word does not imply a bodily resurrection, while others contend that it necessitates the idea of a bodily resurrection. The latter is the more convincing argument.
Outline of Passage
I. Christ's Burial and Resurrection (v. 3-4)
A.) Death (v. 3)
B.) Burial (v. 4)
C.) Resurrection (v. 4)
II. Christ's Post-Resurrection Appearances (v. 5-8)
A.) Cephas (v. 5)
B.) The Twelve (v. 5)
C.) 500 Brethren (v. 6)
D.) James (v. 7)
E.) All of the Apostles (v. 7)
F.) Paul (v. 8)
CHRIST’S BURIAL AND RESURRECTION
Paul begins this section by using very technical language that is often used by rabbis who were passing on sacred truth. Paul states that he delivered (παραδίδωμι) what he had also received (παραλαμβάνω). This language implies that Paul was passing on a prior tradition that was given to him, likely when he visited Jerusalem to meet with Peter. Paul passed this tradition on to the church at Corinth as though it were of the utmost importance. In the words of Matthew Henry, “It was that doctrine which he had received, and delivered to them, among the first, the principal. It was a doctrine of the first rank, a most necessary truth. Christ’s death and resurrection are the very sum and substance of evangelical truth” (Henry 1822). Paul considered the truth contained in this creed to be foundational and of vital importance. It is clear that he was not answering a question raised by the Corinthian church, which is a prominent theme throughout this epistle. However, it appears that Paul heard of some within the Corinthian church who denied the physical resurrection. Ironside notes that, “It is evident that there was a small party in the Corinthian assembly who had imbibed Sadducean notions and were seeking to foist them upon believers as the truth of God” (Ironside 459). In addition, Paul may have heard that the Corinthians had some misunderstandings about the implications of the resurrection for the believing community. Paul answers both of these issues in this creed and with the exposition that follows.
This pre-Pauline creed links Christ’s death to the forgiveness of our sins. Eiselen states, “That Christ’s death was in some way related to human sin, and conformed to a spiritual principle taught in the O.T., was undoubtedly a conviction of the primitive church” (Eiselen 1190). There can be little doubt that the Christians who first formulated this creed saw Christ’s death as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins.
This creed also links the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s sacrifice to Scripture. This creed was formulated far too early for the authors to have in mind anything we presently have in our New Testament. Rather, they must have drawn a connection between Old Testament Scripture and the forgiveness of sins offered by Christ’s sacrifice. In Paul’s mind, and in the mind of the formulators of this creed, passages of Scripture such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22:16-18 must have had a profound influence. Regardless of what specific passages were in the heads of these early Christians, they undoubtedly saw Christ’s sacrifice as an atonement for our sins in accordance with Old Testament prophecy.
Some have claimed that this passage implies Christ’s sinlessness. If He died for our sins, wouldn’t that imply that He was sinless? In a sense, it seems that this conclusion can be deduced from the creed. Paul definitely understood Christ to be sinless, as can be seen throughout the entire Pauline corpus. Martin Pickup’s connection of the phrase “on the third day” with Jewish beliefs about decomposition would appear to imply to the Jewish mind that Christ was sinless (Pickup 520).
The second line of this formula speaks of Christ’s burial. Some skeptical scholars have argued that, since Joseph of Arimathea is not mentioned in this portion of the creed, that he was merely a later invention created by the Christian community, and that the burial of Jesus in his tomb is not a reliable historical fact. The claim often made by these skeptics is that Jesus was simply buried in a common grave for criminals. This objection, however, fails to take into account three major factors. First, a creed of this nature was not intended to give every detail of an incident. Rather, the purpose of a creed was to summarize religious and doctrinal truth. It was meant to be a memorable way of passing on religious truth. By its very nature, a creed will not contain incidental details. Second, these objections fail to acknowledge that the resurrection of Jesus, not His burial, was Paul’s focus in the context in which this appears. If the burial were Paul’s focus, we should expect him to say more about the burial. However, the Corinthians that he was addressing had no problem with the burial. It was the resurrection they misunderstood. Third, some of the aspects of the burial found in the later Gospel accounts, such as the empty tomb, are implied in the creed’s account of the resurrection. Despite this, the creed cannot tell us who buried Jesus or where He was buried. This must be left for other accounts.
The third line of this formula deals with Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Scholars have debated what this passage implies concerning the nature of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Some contend that this line of the formula necessitates a bodily resurrection from the dead. Others contend that it does not necessitate a bodily resurrection. This second group of scholars sometimes argue that those who formulated this pre-Pauline creed had in mind a kind of spiritual resurrection, exaltation to glory, or assumption of the body of Jesus into heaven.
Those who argue that the formula necessitates a bodily resurrection sometimes use a contextual argument in support of this thesis. Throughout the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul assumes a bodily resurrection of Christ and the future bodily resurrection of believers. This was in keeping with first-century Jewish beliefs concerning the resurrection. John Granger Cook writes, “Paul could not have conceived of a resurrection of Jesus unless he believed his tomb was empty” (Cook 56). When he spoke of resurrection, Paul had in mind a bodily resurrection and not simply a ‘spiritual resurrection’ or assumption of Jesus into heaven. However, as Ware points out, “this evidence in my view falls short of conclusive proof, for Paul’s own understanding can hardly constitute decisive evidence for the conception of Jesus’ resurrection within a pre-Pauline formula which predates Paul’s writing of 1 Corinthians by approximately two decades” (Ware 489). While this does indicate that Paul understood the resurrection to be bodily, it is not decisive proof that the original formulators understood the resurrection in this way.
The fact that the empty tomb is not expressly mentioned in the creed is sometimes asserted as evidence that the disciples did not understand the resurrection of Jesus to be bodily, but spiritual. This objection, as with the objection raised against Jesus’ burial, fails to take into account the nature of the creed. Furthermore, an empty tomb is implied by the nature of the resurrection of Jesus as stated in this creed. The formulators of the creed clearly had in mind a bodily resurrection, which implies an empty tomb.
Some scholars have argued that Paul did, in fact, understand the resurrection here to be something other than the resurrection of Christ’s crucified body. The argument is typically made that Paul’s contrast of the natural man with the spiritual man in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 implies that the spiritual man is raised, not the natural, physical, man. The strength of this argument is that it comes from the context of Paul’s discussion of the resurrection along with the creed being discussed. However, there are at least two problems with this theory. First, William Lane Craig notes that “The word translated ‘natural’ (psychikos) literally means ‘soul-ish’…..by this word he means ‘dominated by or pertaining to human nature.’ Similarly, when he says the resurrection body will be ‘spiritual’ (pneumatikos), he does not mean ‘made out of spirit.’” (Craig 382). Second, this objection fails to take into account other moments in Paul’s exposition of the significance of Christ’s resurrection for the believer in which Paul clearly implies the bodily nature of the resurrection (v. 20-22).
This creed implies that the resurrection of Christ was a bodily resurrection. That is, the resurrection event involved the bringing back to life of the crucified corpse of Jesus. This is most strongly attested by the Greek word usage contained within the creed. The formula uses the Greek word “egeiro,” (ἐγείρω), which implies a body standing up from a position of lying down. As Ware notes, “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the formula’s proclamation that Jesus has been ‘raised’ denotes an event involving the revival of Jesus’ entombed body” (Ware 491). Furthermore, Martin Pickup has argued that the inclusion of the phrase “on the third day” in the creed implies a bodily resurrection and therefore an empty tomb. Pickup connects the notion of the third day with the Jewish rabbinic belief that the decomposition of the body starting on the fourth day after death was “divine recompense for the person’s sin” (Pickup 521). He also notes that the numbering of the days would have followed the Jewish methodology, which counts any part of one day as a whole day. He notes that the three-day formula is the only time designation mentioned in the creed (Pickup 512). He writes, “the early kerygmatic formula of 1 Cor 15:3-5 implied that Christ experienced no bodily decay when it said he rose ‘on the third day.’ The creators of the formula, therefore, intended this language literally” (Pickup 520). Ironside sums up the meaning of the resurrection in this formula well when he writes, “the body that hung on the cross is the body that was raised from the grave” (Ironside 466).
As with Christ’s crucifixion for our sins, the formula also connects the resurrection of Jesus with Old Testament Scripture. Eiselen suggests that the formulators had in mind Psalm 16:8-11 and Isaiah 33:10 (Eiselen 1190). Regardless of which passage in particular was in the mind of the formulators, there can be no doubt that they saw Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the third day as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
CHRIST’S POST-RESURRECTION APPEARANCES
The fourth line of this kerygma asserts that Christ appeared to several prominent individuals and groups within the Christian community. Each of these individuals and groups served as eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Matthew Henry notes, “How uncontrollably evident was Christ’s resurrection from the dead, when so many eyes saw him at so many different times” (Henry 1823). In addition to serving as eyewitnesses, each of these individuals and groups to whom Christ appeared after His resurrection were instruments that He used in spreading the Gospel. Thus, “All of the witnesses were instruments. Their evidence was not to outweigh the motive: That others might believe. The testimony of the Resurrection is a united one, and the event central to the gospel and to Christian belief” (Reed 159). Christ appeared to each person and group because He had a purpose for them to fulfill.
Scholars often debate the nature of the resurrection appearances. Some scholars, such as Gerd Lüdemann, argue that the resurrection appearances were merely hallucinations. These scholars often argue that some kind of grief caused the disciples and Paul to see the resurrected Jesus, even though He did not undergo a bodily resurrection. These scholars find support for this position by asserting that Paul equated the nature of his experience of the risen Christ with the nature of the experience of the other witnesses mentioned (v.8). These hypotheses fail to have enough explanatory power and are not supported by the text of this passage. Furthermore, it fails to understand the larger context of Paul’s writing. The Greek word for “appeared” is “horao” (ὁράω), which properly means “to stare at” (Strong 1). While it can mean something along the lines of seeing something in the mind, it is unlikely that Paul would have included this in the context of a discussion about the bodily resurrection of Christ and its meaning for believers if Paul thought that these experiences were merely hallucinations.
Regarding the claim that Paul equates the nature of his experiences with the nature of the experiences of the other eyewitnesses, there are at least two issues. First, this objection fails to acknowledge the fact that Paul himself concedes that his experience was not like the experiences of the other apostles. That is, his experience of the risen Christ was as to one “abnormally born” (v.8). Second, these claims fail to acknowledge that Paul’s experience was not entirely subjective. Paul’s travelling companions heard the voice that Paul heard, even though they did not see Christ (Acts 9:7). This indicates that what Paul experienced was an objective event, not a merely subjective one. It can therefore be confidently asserted that the resurrection experience of Paul, as well as the experiences of the other eyewitnesses listed in this creed, were not subjective hallucinations.
It may be charged that this creed is inconsistent with later accounts of the resurrection of Jesus because it does not list every eyewitness in its list. Other eyewitnesses, such as Mary Magdalene, had seen the risen Lord and are not mentioned. Again, this charge misunderstands the nature of this creed. The purpose of a creed is not to give all of the details. It is to summarize religious truth and to make it memorable.
Each of the eyewitnesses mentioned in this creed served a purpose in the spreading of the Gospel. The creed asserts that Christ appeared to Cephas. That is, Jesus appeared to Peter. Many scholars connect the mention of Christ’s appearance to Peter with the mention of Peter’s seeing the Lord in Luke 24:34. As Reed notes, “Apart from Mary Magdela, it was Peter to whom the risen Christ first appeared” (Reed 158). Peter was likely seen as the leader of the earliest disciples, both because he was often the spokesman for the group, because he was one of Christ’s inner circle of disciples, and because he was likely the oldest. Christ appeared to Peter, and a short time later Peter preached the first sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40). Simon Peter was one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9) and had a commission to preach to the “circumcised” (Galatians 2:7-8). Peter was incredibly instrumental in spreading the Gospel message.
The creed asserts that Christ appeared to “The Twelve”. This should be understood as the original twelve disciples minus Judas Iscariot. “The Twelve” is probably a formal name that was not affected by the suicide of Judas Iscariot. Reed connects this appearance with the scene in Matthew 28:16 (Reed 158). Whether or not this is the incident described cannot be definitively determined from this creed. The important point is not when the meeting took place, but why. It took place so that Christ could commission the Twelve and prepare them for the mission that He had for them.
The appearance to the five hundred does not appear to have any parallels in the Gospels. It is often argued that this appearance occurred in Galilee, but the location of the appearance is not the point. Reed attempts to link this appearance with the giving of the Great Commission (Reed 158). This, however, seems like a stretch. Eiselen speculates that the five hundred were “possibly disciples not at the feast, or, with such, some who had gone up to Jerusalem” (Eiselen 1191). There does not appear to be any viable parallel within the Gospel account, nor need there be. Christ had a reason and a purpose for appearing to the five hundred, and the inclusion of this group within this creed is not a coincidence. Whoever was part of this group of five hundred, we can be confident that Christ utilized them in fulfilling the mission of the church.
Paul takes the time to comment on the appearance to the five hundred. The statement "most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” has been identified as part of Paul’s commentary on the creed, and not part of the creed itself. It appears, on this basis at least, that Paul knew some of the five hundred brethren. It would not be possible for Paul to claim that some of the five hundred brethren had “fallen asleep,” or died, unless Paul personally knew about at least some of these five hundred. Furthermore, this Pauline commentary has an interesting implication. It is almost as if Paul mentions this fact to challenge any doubters to ask the witnesses. Willian Lane Craig comments on this challenge, stating, “Paul…could not have challenged people to ask the witnesses if the event had never taken place and there were no witnesses. But evidently there were witnesses to this event, and Paul knew that some of them had died in the meantime. Therefore, the event must have taken place” (Craig 379). This challenge also fits well with the context. If there were individuals at Corinth who denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus, it would make sense for Paul to insert a challenge such as this into his commentary on this creed.
The pre-Pauline creed asserts next that Christ appeared to James. The James that is meant here is most likely the younger brother of Jesus. James appears to have been a skeptic of Christ’s claims before Christ was crucified. Afterwards, he became one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9), and eventually its leader. This only strengthens the case for the bodily resurrection, since the crucifixion of Jesus would have reaffirmed James’ belief that his brother was not the Messiah. As Craig points out, “Jews had no conception of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal” (Craig 388). That Christ would appear to James to address his skepticism and to commission him for his task is conceivable.
This creed also asserts that Christ appeared to “all the apostles.” This was almost certainly a group slightly larger than the Twelve. Gill attempts to link this to the ascension of Christ, asserting that, “this was the last appearance of him on earth after his resurrection” (Gill 17-18). This, however, cannot be confidently asserted. What can be asserted is that Christ appeared to a group slightly larger than the Twelve in order that they may be eyewitnesses to His resurrection and to prepare them for the mission that He called them to. This is where the creed ends.
Paul’s last statement in this passage is his commentary. Paul is trying to demonstrate his status as an apostle, asserting that he is an apostle by God’s grace on par with the other apostles (v.9-11). He admits that his experience of the risen Christ was in some way different from the others (v.8). Nevertheless, he had an experience of the risen Christ and was commissioned as an apostle. Thus, Paul himself becomes an eyewitness to the resurrection, on par with the other eyewitnesses.
In summary, this pre-Pauline creed is an incredibly early formula that dates within two to five years of the crucifixion of Christ and which was received by the apostle Paul and passed on to the Corinthian church. Paul passed this on as if it were the most important thing for him to share with the church at Corinth. Paul did this because this creed contains the heart of the Gospel message. This creed centers around the four verbs “died,” “was buried,” “was raised,” and “appeared.” This creed clearly communicates the good news of Christ’s death and atonement for our sins, burial, bodily resurrection from the tomb, and objective appearances to numerous individuals and groups of disciples. These individuals served as eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection and as the early communicators of the Gospel message.
Paul used this creed as a way to oppose the misunderstanding of some within the church at Corinth that the resurrection of Christ was not a bodily resurrection and that we will not experience a similar resurrection. Finally, by concluding with his own experience of the risen Christ, Paul was asserting that he was an apostle on par with others, although his experience of the risen Christ was different than that experienced by the other apostles.
In my opinion, we should examine this creed from time to time and ensure that our doctrine of the resurrection of Christ aligns with this early affirmation of the Christian church. We should do this as a way of heeding Paul’s warning to Timothy, to “Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). It is just as important for us to watch our doctrine as it is for us to watch our lifestyle, because our doctrine will eventually spill over into the way we live our lives. Therefore, a regular examination of our doctrine in this area is warranted.
We should always remember that our Lord is risen from the dead, conquering death and leaving an empty tomb behind Him. We should always remember and look to the hope that this brings to the body of believers. Those believers who have died before Christ’s return will be raised with an imperishable body (1 Corinthians 15:50-56). This should give us unending hope and joy, and we should live with this hope on display in our lives.
We should also follow the example of the eyewitnesses who were mentioned in this creed and proclaim this good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The death and resurrection of Jesus are at the heart of the Gospel, and they must be proclaimed. We should do this knowing that the Holy Spirit will enable us to carry out this task.
We should also keep the truths presented in this creed in our minds as we defend the Gospel against those who would deny these core truths of the Christian faith. We should do this in accordance with the biblical mandate to “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
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