Does 1 Corinthians 15:6 relay witness testimony (that Jesus appeared to “the five-hundred”)?

  • Question

    To get context, consider exploring the introduction to this question: “Does the 1st Corinthians 15 creed in general relay witness testimony?” On the current page now, we focus in and ask just about verse 6 of the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.

    In 1 Corinthians 15:6, we read:

    “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time.”
    Our question is this: rather than being some Christian fabrication, is this report that Jesus appeared to the 500 brethren ultimately a relaying of testimony from purported witnesses? Is this content an echo of persons who claimed to have seen Jesus in a group? Even if it wasn't exactly 500, was the general report built faithfully from eyewitness testimony?

  • Historians

    See here for quotes from Lapide, McGregor, Hunter, von Campenhausen, and Bauckham saying the creed in general should be taken as a statement of eyewitnesse.1 (And see forthcoming discussion on whether v6 is creedal).

    1. Though dissenters exist. As a representative example:
      James McGrath: “[W]e do not know whether Paul heard this story [about the 500] directly from someone who was one of those five hundred individuals allegedly present on that occasion. Nor can we ascertain whether all of those present on that occasion, if there was indeed such an occasion, were all in agreement regarding the nature of the experience they had, much less about what, if anything, it might prove. And so we find ourselves in a situation in which we can only wonder what happened, who told the story, whether the number grew with the retelling, and so on” [The Burial of Jesus: History and Faith (2008), 38.]

      This sudden hyperskepticism from McGrath, when it comes to the 1 Cor 15:6 at least, is going to be judged by many as suspiciously ad hoc and motivated by a desire to protect his worldview that no such group event could have occurred.

“Yes, after all…
  • In general, the v3-7 creed relays witness testimony

    The 1 Corinthians 15 creed (verses 3-5, or 3-7) is something Paul is reciting, and was ultimately built faithfully from eyewitness testmony .

    A full page will debate these 4 arguments

    • 1st church formed/circulated 1 Cor 15 creed.
    • In AD 30 Jerusalem, true Jesus-bio dominated.
    • In general, Christians rarely invented Jesus-bio.
    • In general, Christian Jesus-bio relayed witness testimony.

    This is relevant because 3-7 includes v6, so if the whole creed was a relaying of eyewitness testimony, then this part would've been a relaying of witness testimony as well.

    But no. Plausibly...

    • Paul invented the whole of 1 Cor 15.

    But so what? Plausibly...

    • v6 is not part of the creed, nor creedal at all.
  • In reciting 1 Cor 15:6, Paul strove to relay testimony

    In saying Jesus group-appeared to “the 500” witnesses, Paul was at least trying to relay witness testimony.

    A full page will debates these 4 arguments

    • In general, 1 Cor 15:6 creed’s “to 500” was a testimony-relaying.
    • Paul was not inventing it.
    • Paul knew Jesus-bio.

    This is relevant given it implies Paul believed it was witness testimony, and given that it is implausible that Paul’s belief was unjustified.

    But so what? Plausibly…

    • Paul is just reciting hearsay.1
    1. Was Paul just reciting hearsay?
      • First, this seems unlikely. Paul’s words in 6b (“many of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep”) seem to indicate that he is personally aware of some that died and some that remain alive. One would have to instead say Paul was lying, but that is just to directly disagree with the main claim “Paul strove to relay testimony” rather than its relevance.
      • Second, so what if it was hearsay? Most Jesus-biography circulating in Paul's time and place would've been witness based, so random hearsay which Paul accepted blindly (as implausible as that is) was still likely witness-based.
  • The 1st church: “Jesus visited the 500!”

    The 1st church: “Jesus visited the 500!”.

    A full page will debate these 3 arguments

    • In general, 1 Cor 15 creed was circulated by 1st church.
    • 1 Cor 15:6 “to 500” is primitive-creedal.
    • The 500 were saying, “Jesus visited us!”.

    This is relevant provided the 1st church didn't tend to misrepresent witnesses.

  • No one invented “the 500” (not fabricated)

    The reported appearance to the “the 500” brethren (in 1 Cor 15:6) was not a mere Christian fabrication.

    A full page will debate these 4 arguments

    • In general, Christians didn’t invent the 1 Cor 15 appearance.
    • Christians usually don’t invent Jesus-bio.
    • A liar would dislike spinning a “500” lie.
    • By “most remain” Paul means you can ask them.
“No, after all…
  • It’s just an embellished memory of Pentecost

    This report about “the five-hundred” in fact started off as the report about the mass-conversion at Pentecost (i.e. 40 days after Jesus's crucifixion, where Peter purportedly preached Jesus to Jews and many of them simply converted without actually ever seeing Jesus appear).

    A full page will debate these 4 arguments

    This is relevant because the embellishment is severe enough that we can safely call the mutated report a lie, even if the original Pentecost report was not.

    But no...

    • There are much better candidates (e.g. Mt & Lk report large group Jesus-visits that pre-date Pentecost).1
    1. The appearance to the 500 is more is plausibly the Mt Galilee appearance (and so is attested to also in Mt 28:7,10 and Jn 20:17). It is also plausibly what the Acts 1 competitors-for-next-apostle saw.
    2. William Lane Craig: Some scholars wish to identify this appearance with the experience of the 120 brethren at Pentecost. But this has been rightly rejected by the majority of critics as bearing little parallel. [Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Resurrection, 52.]
      Gerd Lüdemann: The thesis formulated at the beginning, that the appearance to more than 500 brethren is identical with the event denoted in Acts 2, may thus be regarded as fairly certain. This was an enthusiastic experience of a large crowd of people which was understood as an encounter with Christ. [What really happened to Jesus, Trans. by Bowden (Westminster, 1995), 98.]
  • Paul invented the 500 witnesses here

    Paul, the author of 1 Corithians, actually just invented whole-cloth this alleged appearance to the 500 witnesses.

    A full page on this (at /paul/invent/1-corinthians-15/500) will debate these 4 arguments

    • v6 was not part of the creed.
    • Paul had motive to invent it.

    This is relevant because his inventing the appearance means the report was decidedly not a relaying of witness testimony.

    But no,…

    • In general, Paul didn't invent 1 Cor 15:3-7.
    • In v6, Paul was striving to relay testimony.
    • “most remain” = “you can ask them”.