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Is the 1 Corinthians 15 creed pre-Pauline?
Clarifying the question
According to most scholars, the 1 Corinthians 15 creed is a traditional formula that early Christians would often recite. Paul claims to be reciting it here in his letter to the Corinthian church. (Note: The creedal portions Paul is quoting are in bold while Paul's parenthetical comments are not in bold):
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 —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.
Here is our question: Is Paul lying? Is he really reciting something that pre-dates him, or is this something he formulated himself?
Paul testifies that he “received” it
Paul says he “delivered” [paredoka] what he “received” [parelabon]1 This is relevant because these are technical Rabbinic terms indicating something carefully preserved and passed down from mentor to students.2
- • 1 Cor 15:3 -- “For I delivered [paredoka] to you as of first importance what I also received [parelabon]” (cf. 11:23) For example, Paul strongly desired to know Jesus biography and formal (quoted) traditions. So, towards this end, [Paul] visited Peter and the Jerusalem church to “recieve” it](paul/aims-to/know-jesus/from-apostles/peter-visit).
• John Meier: “The vocabulary of handing on a receiving was used in the ancient world by philosophical schools, Gnostic literature, and rabbinic circles (e.g., m. 'Abot 1:1) to designate important traditions that (e.g., m. 'Abot 1:1) to designate important traditions that were carefully passed down from teacher to student.” [The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist during Jesus' Public Ministry?, Journalal of Biblical Literature (1997).]
• N.T. Wright (NT Scholar, Ph.D [Oxford, +5 honorary]): “paredoka and parelabon (v. 3, the latter echoing parelabete in v. 1) are technical terms for the receiving and handing on of tradition.” [The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003) 319.]
• Joseph Fitzmyer (NT professor): “[h]e again makes use of the technical Greek terms for tradition, paradidonai and paralambanein (see Notes on 11:2, 23).” [Anchor Yale Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Yale, 2008) 32.545.]
• Hans Conzelmann: “The fact that the following statements are introduced by παραλαμβάνειν/παραδιδόναι, “receive/pass on,” means that here established elements of the tradition are being quoted. (See on 11:23. ὁ καὶ παρέλαβον is omitted by Marcion; for the tendency see Adolf von Harnack, Marcion, TU, 45 (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 21924; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1960), 91. Ulrich Wilckens, “Der Ursprung der Überlieferung,” (n. 54 below), 62, thinks that ὁ καὶ παρέλαβον, “which I also received,” merely emphasizes that there is no other gospel, but does not stress the idea of tradition as such. Against this is 11:23.)” [1 Corinthians; Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975). 170.]
• Richard Bauckham (NT professor): “The evidence is found in Paul's use of the technical terms for handing on a tradition (ρaradidσmί, i Cor 11:2, 23, corresponding to Hebrew másar) and receiving a tradition (ρaralambanö, ι Cor 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9; Col 2:6; ι Thess 2:13; 41 2 Thess 3:6, corresponding to Hebrew gίbbel). (For this terminology, see M. S. Jaffee, Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism 200 acε-4οο CE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 73-75, 80.) These Greek words were used for formal transmission of tradition in the Hellenistic schools and so would have been familiar in this sense to Paul's Gentile readers. They also appeared in Jewish Greek usage (Josephus, Ant. 13.297; C. Αρ. 1.60; Mark 7:4, 13; Acts 6:14), corresponding to what we find in Hebrew in later rabbinic literature (e.g.,265m. Avot 1.1). Paul also speaks of faithfully retaining or observing a tradition (katecho, ι Cor 11:2; 15:2; krateo, 2 Thess 2:15, which is used of Jewish tradition in Mark 7:3, 4, 8, corresponding to the Hebrew 'ahaz) and uses, of course, the term "tradition" itself (paradosis, ι Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 215; 3:6, used of Jewish tradition in Matt 15:2; Mark 7:5; Gal 1:14; Josephus, Ant. 13.297).” [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006) .]
• James Dunn: “On a number of occasions he indicates that he had received and passed on tradition, using the technical terms for receiving (paralambano) and passing on (paradidomi) iradition, clearly implying that this was an important facet both of beginning a new life as a Christian (calechesis) and of founding a new church. (paralambano — 1 Cor. 1 1.23; 15.1. 3; Gal. 1.9; Phil. 4.9; Col. 2.5; 1 Thess. 2.13; 4.1; 2 Thess. 3.6; paradidomi — Rom. 6.1 7; 1 Cor. I 1.2. 23; 15.3; paradosis (tradition) — I Cor. 1 1.2; 2 Thess. 2.15; 3.6.)” [Beginning From Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2009), 100.]
[ Christopher Bryan (NT professor at Sewanee): “The words with which Paul speaks of passing on this revelation are carefully chosen: delivered and received echo the language in which both Greek philosophical tradition and the rabbinic schools spoke of the faithful handing on of a true teaching.” [The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford, 2011), 48.]
i. cf. Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark and Luke (Philadelphia, PN: Fortress Press, 1977), 79.
It displays parallelism and stylized content
This section of 1 Corinthians 15 displays intentionally stylized content.1 This is relevant because content stylized this way functions as a quotation.2
- a. “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
b. and that He was buried,
c. and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
d. and that He appeared to Cephas…”
• John Meier: “(1) The fact that Paul says that this summary of ‘the gospel’ is something ‘received’ and "passed along" to the Corinthians; (2) the stylized form of the four statements in 1 Cor 15:3-5 in two balanced sets; (3) the repeated oti (‘that’) before each clause, which implies a kind of quotation, and (4) the appearance of several non-Pauline words in such a short compass.” [“The Circle of the Twelve”, Journal of Biblical Literature (1997).]
• A. J. M. Wedderburn (NT professor at Munich): “The parallel structure of the two verses which is often regarded as characteristic of early Christian creedal or liturgical formulations: this is especially clear in vv. 3b and 4b.” [Beyond Resurrection (Hendrickson, 1999), 114.]
• Gregory Boyd (NT professor): “Scholars are also in agreement that this passage has a rhythmic credal structure to it which confirms that this was authoritative sacred information Paul was passing on. [article]
• Joseph Fitzmyer (Prof. of NT): The words kai hoti may be Pauline additions to emphasize the individual items, as Murphy-O’Connor has argued (“Tradition,” 583–84).”
- a. “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
The creed was formed by the Jerusalem church
It was the Jerusalem church (led by the apostles) which formed the 1 Corinthians 15 creed. [Full page.]