Does the “1 Corinthians 15 creed” date to about AD 30?
Clarifying the question
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Paul quotes a pre-existing creedal statement.
“[that] Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
Did this creedal statement originate at a very early time, something like within AD 30-33 or AD 30-35? The answer to this plays a key role in New Testament studies, and ultimately the big question of whether God raised Jesus from the dead.
- See the full passage and relevant context here:
Many think the passage is a conjunction of multiple creeds, with v3-5 being the most undisputed early core. Needless to say, Paul's addition in verses 6b and 8 were not part of the creed.
1 “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which 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 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 ‘After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;’
8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
- See the full passage and relevant context here:
Most all historians say “Yes”
The strong majority of historians acknowledge that the creed dates back to AD 30-35.1 A very small minority go to AD 41.2
- The Oxford Companion to the Bible: “The earliest record of these appearances is to be found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, a tradition that Paul ‘received’ after his apostolic call, certainly not later than his visit to Jerusalem in 35 CE, when he saw Cephas (Peter) and James (Gal. 1:18-19), who, like him, were recipients of appearances.” [Eds. Metzer & Coogan (Oxford, 1993), 647.]
- Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist NT professor at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]
- Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]
- James Dunn (Professor at Durham): “Despite uncertainties about the extent of tradition which Paul received (126), there is no reason to doubt that this information was communicated to Paul as part of his introductory catechesis (16.3) (127). He would have needed to be informed of precedents in order to make sense of what had happened to him. When he says, ‘I handed on (paredoka) to you as of first importance (en protois) what I also received (parelabon)’ (15.3), he assuredly does not imply that the tradition became important to him only at some subsequent date. More likely he indicates the importance of the tradition to himself from the start; that was why he made sure to pass it on to the Corinthians when they first believed (15.1-2) (128). This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus' death. [Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003) 854-55.]
- Michael Goulder (Atheist NT professor at Birmingham): “[It] goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion. [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oneworld, 1996), 48.]
- A. J. M. Wedderburn (Non-Christian NT professor at Munich): “One is right to speak of ‘earliest times’ here, … most probably in the first half of the 30s.” [Beyond Resurrection (Hendrickson, 1999), 113-114.]
- N.T. Wright (NT scholar [Oxford, 5+ honorary Ph.ds]): “This is the kind of foundation-story with which a community is not at liberty to tamper. It was probably formulated within the first two or three years after Easter itself, since it was already in formulaic form when Paul ‘received’ it. (So Hays 1997, 255.)” [The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), 319.]
Many also speak of how early, in general, the creed must have been.3
- Some feel the creed was “in use by AD 30” ( Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, trans. V. Geen (Paulist, 1976), 125.). Virtually no scholar puts it beyond the 40s (Gerald O’Collins, What Are They Saying About the Resurrection (Paulist Press, 1978), 112.].).
• Peter May: “Christ’s death is generally thought to have occurred in AD 30 (or 33).4 Paul wrote his letter to the church at Corinth around AD 55, some 25 years later. He had delivered this creed to them when he visited Corinth in AD 51. Few dates could be more certain, because while he was there he was hauled up before the Roman proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17). Gallio, who subsequently conspired against Nero, was the brother of the philosopher Seneca. Proconsulship was a one year post and a Roman stone inscription found early in the 20th century at nearby Delphi records his period of office as being AD 51-52. This date is so firmly established that it has become one of the lynchpins for working out the dates of the rest of New Testament chronology.” [“The Resurrection of Jesus and the Witness of Paul,” (2008) online at bethinking.org]
- Technically, there will also always be odd three to five mythicist scholars as well who are forced to dismiss the passage as something a later scribe added to Paul's letter. Robert Price is the main mythicist who has argued for this.
- For example,...
• Ulrich Wilckens: “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” [Resurrection: Biblical Testimony to the Resurrection: An Historical Examination and Explanation (St. Andrew Press, 1977), 2.]
The creed dates to within 3 years of Paul's conversion
The 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 material dates to within three years of Paul's conversion.1
We know this because Paul truly “received” the creed, and the most parsimonious view is that he received it during his trip to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, when he visited Peter and the Jerusalem church as a whole. While Paul was staying at Peter's house, Paul successfully got 15 days worth of information from him. This creed, which Paul says he “received,” seems to have been formed there by the Jerusalem church, so all the pieces fit together quite remarkably.
The material dating to ealier than 3 years after Paul's conversion helps us date the creed to about AD 30 because Paul converted to Christianity in AD 32-33.2
Notice how in the creed Paul pays special mind to name these witnesses:
• Galatians 1:18-19 — Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
• 1 Corinthians 15:5,7 — and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. … then He appeared to James,Specialist Gary Habermas says the idea that Paul received it within three years of his conversion is the “most popular view” [“Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection” in Dialog: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 45; No. 3 (Fall, 2006), 288-297.]. So following atheist's view is quite representative of scholarship in general:
• Michael Goulder: “[it] goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” Resurrection Reconsidered, ed. D'Costa (Oxford: Oneworld, 1996), 48.]
• Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist NT scholar; professor of Early Christian Hist. & Lit.): “A fairly certain date can similarly be worked out for the conversion of Paul as well. The Acts of the Apostles credibly reports a stay of Paul in Corinth when Gallio was there as governor of Achaia (Acts 18). Now this Gallio was in office in 51/52. (We know this from fragments of a letter of the emperor Claudius (4154), chiselled on stone, which were found in Delphi, the so-called ‘Gallio inscription’.) If we calculate back from this date the intervals which Paul mentions in Gal.1.18 ('three years') and 2.1 ('fourteen years'), and add two years for travelling, the date of his conversion comes out at around 33. So we may state that the appearances mentioned in I Cor.15.38 took place in the time between 30 and 33 CE (the fact of the appearances) because the appearance to Paul is the last in this list and is not to be dated later than 33 CE. The final form of its tradition (what the appearances were like) had not yet been fixed.” [What really happened to Jesus?, Trans. by Bowden (Westminster, 1995), 14-15.]
The creed was invented by Paul himself
Paul was the author and creator the 1 corinthians 15 creed [Full page].
But no …
- Paul testifies that he “received” it
- The creed displays parallelism and stylized content
- The creed was formed by the Jerusalem church
- The creed dates to c. AD 30 (see the Green portion of this article)