3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.8 Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.
A lot over the past few years has been said about this particular passage in lectures by people like Drs Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and a presentation of it can be seen here.
At the heart of this “proof” though are three bullet point statements that criticize the Apostle’s words:
- There is absolutely no evidence that the story is true,
- There are many alternative explanations for what Paul is saying. Paul could be fabricating the story, Paul could have hallucinated or dreamed the meeting, Paul could have seen an imposter, etc.
- In addition, no one is seeing Jesus today, even though it would be trivial and obvious for Jesus to appear to people today just like he did with Paul.
The author encourages the reader to examine Paul’s statement like a judge. Alright, sounds fair, but let’s just also take these statements one point at a time.
“There is absolutely no evidence that the statement is true” Which statement? That Christ died? That He died for sins? That He was buried? Etc, etc, etc. On the contrary, the historical evidence to support not only the death but also the resurrection is earlier, better, and more consistently attested than any other historical event. But i think what the writer is getting at is the question of evidence and what evidence will be accepted. Of course, if one is given to naturalistic presuppositions there are element of the statements contained in that very early Christian creed that obviously trigger a sort of mental “clutching”, where thinking processes essentially cease or stall, because anything outside of those presuppositions precludes those possibilities. The problem is that to hold onto them actually puts one into a logical conflict when it comes to the nature of explanation, something I’ve expounded on here.
“There are many alternative explanations for what Paul is saying. Paul could be fabricating the story, Paul could have hallucinated or dreamed the meeting, Paul could have seen an imposter, etc.” Anything is possible, the question is it reasonable? Are any of those conclusions reasonable when it comes to the question of the authorship of 1 Corinthians? No, simply there isn’t. This article contains a list many of the resources that discuss the matter.
“In addition, no one is seeing Jesus today, even though it would be trivial and obvious for Jesus to appear to people today just like he did with Paul.” Why would he need to? Jesus’ appearance to Paul was necessary to confirm him and bestow upon him the apostolic authority that he would require as Christ’s messenger to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). The apostolic mission ended with John, the last apostle to die. Now, there is some argument that Jesus has been appearing to Muslims even today, at least in visions.
Just one other thing as I close out. There’s a note at the bottom of the page, under the heading “Understanding the Rationalization”, which begins with this statement
“Many believers will try to rationalize Jesus’ absence by pointing to his famous statement in the Bible, “Happy are those who have not seen yet still believe.”
The particular quote, or misquotation, is John 20:29b,
“Blessed are the people that have not seen and yet believed. (NET)”
Now, in a somewhat misguided manner, this statement is often attributed to Jesus, but I don’t think that it was said by him. The reason why is that when we read the Gospel of John, when we look at the flow of the writer’s thoughts, if we cast away the prejudicial “red letters” that effectively put words in Jesus’ mouth that he may, or may not have said, I have noticed that the writer effortlessly weaves anecdotes with argumentation so it becomes difficult to distinguish what the writer is attributing to Jesus and what are his own thoughts. If we look at the entire account of Jesus’ appearances to the apostles contained in John 20, allowing the writer to speak, I believe that statement is a conclusion of an argument that is illustrated in the contrasting of the two appearances by Thomas’ refusal to believe apart from directly interacting with the risen Savior. The anecdotal statements are the premises of the argument with verse 29b being the conclusion of the argument. I think if we go to the entirety of the text, the argument can be formulated thusly:
- Jesus has appeared to his disciples.
- The message of the good news of Jesus Christ is preached by the disciples (is contained in the 4 gospels, written by disciples, later apostles, themselves or their disciples, as well as throughout the rest of the New Testament).
- This message of the good news of forgiveness of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is spread through the “foolishness of preaching”(1 Corinthians 1:21).
- Since faith (that which is believed) comes by hearing the message of the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
- Therefore, those who believe, without actually having seen the risen Christ, receive the greater blessing.
Now, what the writer is trying to say, by both misquoting and placing the words in the mouth of Jesus, something I believe that I have demonstrated is not the point of John’s statement, rather the conclusion of an argument on his part, is that the testimony of the witnesses should be enough. It is not that every believer has to have some visible, super-fantastic manifestation of their Savior, but that what we do have is more than adequate to support what we believe: the revealed Word and the Holy Spirit which convicts us of our sin and regenerates us into the new life available only in Christ Jesus.
There are some other statements that are simply straw men arguments that show no understanding of the doctrines of God, the doctrines of sin, or the doctrines of redemption.
This “proof”simply falls apart because it was obviously not thought through at anything more than a surface level.