Generally, I prefer presuppositional apologetics to evidential apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics start from the premise that, since the Bible is the ultimate authority for faith and practice, Christians can make the case for Christ solely from its pages. But in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 (which we’ll study today), Paul augments his Scriptural substantiation for Christ’s resurrection by listing eyewitnesses who could testify to having seen the resurrected Lord.
Looking at these verses in context within the larger passage, we trace Paul’s progression from Scripture to eyewitnesses to his personal testimony.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers 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 to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. ~~1 Corinthians 15:5-7 (ESV)
Before we go over the eyewitnesses that Paul identifies, let’s briefly mention the witnesses he omits: the women. Liberal scholars often point to this omission as evidence of Paul’s supposed misogyny. Please don’t fall for such nonsense! Instead, remember Paul’s former position as a Pharisee. He understood that Jewish Law at that time disqualified the testimony of women. Therefore he builds his case by citing witnesses that everyone in First Century Corinth would consider credible.
The first witness Paul brings to his readers’ attention is Cephas (verse 5), better known as Peter. None of the commentaries I read explained why Paul singles Peter out here, so (although I admit to having a theory about this matter) it’s probably prudent not to speculate. Let’s be satisfied that Paul begins with Peter, whom Christians knew and respected.
The verse continues by stating that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. Since Judas had already committed suicide, this designation troubles some people. It needn’t. Even after Judas died, people commonly referred to Christ’s immediate disciples as the Twelve.
Verse 6 can be perplexing because the gospel writers never directly record a post-resurrection appearance to 500 people at one time. Yet commentaries agree that this event happened when He met the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:10, Matthew 28:16-17). Jesus had already appeared to the Twelve in Jerusalem, but His main ministry had taken place in Galilee. Consequently He would have to go to Galilee to show Himself to His followers there.
Paul points out that many of those 500 witnesses were still alive and able to verify having seen the risen Christ. The Corinthians could easily interview those who were still living. Paul includes them as evidence that the resurrection wasn’t simply an idea that the apostles concocted.
Finally, in verse 7, Paul says that the Lord appeared to His half-brother James, and again to the apostles. Really, there isn’t much to say about this verse, other than to point out that James held a high position in the Jerusalem church. That being the case, he understandably would have been influential in testifying to Christ’s resurrection.
Paul’s appeal to these eyewitnesses certainly strengthens my faith that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. I marvel at His faithfulness to provide so much objective evidence proving His resurrection. Studying this passage encourages me to worship Him for making the resurrection irrefutable.
Has this study strengthened your faith? Or has it raised questions? The Comments Section here, as well as on The Outspoken TULIP Facebook Page, offers you the opportunity to intact with each other, as well as with me, about each week’s study. I would honestly love reading your responses, and learning how the Lord uses His Word to deepen your worship of Him.