In 1 Corinthians 9:1 (“I’ve seen”), is Paul saying he saw Jesus appear in the regular way with his physical eyes?
- 1 Corinthians 9:1 — Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen [ἑόρακα] Jesus our Lord?
When Paul says “have I not seen” the word translated “seen” is perfect indicative active (heoraka from horao). Does it naturally denote a waking visual perception with one’s physical eyes?
- Daniel Kendall & Gerald O'Collins: “As regards Paul's reference to the Easter appearances, like others R. J. Sider points out that 1 Cor 9:1 clearly denotes visual perception. [“The Uniqueness of the Easter Appearances,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54:2 (1992): 293.]
- See: R. J. Sider, “St. Paul's Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians XV 1–19’,” in NT 19 (1977).
That’s what heōraka means
The natural translation of “οὐχὶ Ἰησοῦν τὸν Κύριον ἡμῶν ἑόρακα” is “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?,” where ἑόρακα naturally denotes a standard visual seeing.1 This is relevant because the natural reading of any given text is most likely what the author meant.
- Paul is just wanting to liken his experience to that of the apostles.1
- Experts on all sides testify that this is the natural understanding, even those who believe didn’t actually see Jesus:
• Alan Segal: “Now, in 1 Cor 9, Paul uses the perfect tense of ὁράω (to see) to describe his visionary experience... This suggests that Paul is emphasizing that his vision was equivalent to normal seeing, just as you and I might see each other.” [“Paul's Thinking about Resurrection in its Jewish Context” New Testament Studies 44.03 (1998): 403-404.]
• Gerd Lüdemann: “Here Paul uses an active form of the verb ‘see’. Thus he is expressing as his own active sensual perception the same substantive content as in I Cor.15.8, without resorting to possible appearance or legitimation formulae. So Paul is claiming a visual side to the appearance mentioned in I Cor.15.8. In that case I Cor.9.1 is the active perception of Jesus, for which the appearance stated in I Cor.15.8 is the presupposition. In my view it is certain that here the apostle is thinking of a vision of Jesus in his transformed spiritual resurrection corporeality. Otherwise it would be hard to understand how Paul could refer to 'seeing' (I Cor.15.4ff.) for the certainty of the bodily resurrection.” [What Really Happened to Jesus (John Knox, 1995), 103.]
• N.T. Wright: “The word heoraka, ‘I have seen’, is a normal word for ordinary sight. It does not imply that this was a subjective ‘vision’ or a private revelation; part of the point of it, as Newman stresses, is that it was a real seeing, not a ‘vision’ such as anyone in the church might have. The same is emphatically true of the other text from 1 Corinthians.” [The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), 382.]
- See Segal’s quote above. However, this conclusion is in deep tension with Segal’s own worldview, and he is forced to add, “But Paul actually does not want to stress the ordinariness of the seeing here. He is [Segal is forced to believe] aware of and very conscious of the special [non-physical] nature of his revelation. Rather it is the continuity with others that Paul wants to stress, not the nature of the seeing.” [“Paul's Thinking about Resurrection in its Jewish Context” New Testament Studies 44.03 (1998): 403-404.] Interestingly, many who affirm Segal’s position go on to say that Paul wanted to say in 1 Corinthians 15:3f that the apostles had a visionary experience like Paul’s. One cannot have it both ways.