1 Corinthians 15:6 as proof of the Resurrection?

To people who haven’t read my posts before, know that I am in fact Catholic, I just like to play devil’s advocate. 1 Corinthians 15:6 says, “After that, (Jesus) appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” I have heard apologists use this verse as proof that the resurrected Jesus was seen by eyewitnesses. They will say that Paul wouldn’t say something like this if he was lying about Jesus, because someone reading this letter could just go to Jerusalem and ask people if they had, in fact, seen Jesus.

I have a few objections to this argument. First of all, how would Paul know for sure that all these people were still alive? It would be nothing more than hearsay. Plus, does he know for sure that all these people are still in Jerusalem? My biggest objection is this: If someone went to Jerusalem and found a lot of people who witnessed Jesus, than great. However, It seems that if someone interviewed everybody in Jerusalem and everybody contradicted Paul’s claims, then Paul could just say that the people were scared to admit that they had seen the risen Christ. Finally, why didn’t St. Paul include names of some of these witnesses, if he knew them well enough to report that some of them were alive still? Couldn’t one claim that Paul was sending the reader on a wild goose chase?

I do not often use this verse as “proof”. It’s more like a cherry on top of all the other names, which we fairly can verify.

Now, of course, we usually think of the Bible as one monolithic book. But (as you all probably know, unless you are ignorant), the New Testament is a collection of writings - testimonies (gospels/Acts), letters, and a book of prophecy - written between 50 and 100 AD. 1 Corinthians was written about 57 AD, and is one of the earlier writings. Nevertheless, the three synoptic Gospels, which possess similarities, and were written about 10-30 years after St. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, testify to the Apostles seeing the Resurrection - particularly St. Luke’s Gospel, which provides particular instances. As does Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

And, if Matthew and Luke were written in a certain order, rather than at the same time, their particular and unique instances of the Apostles seeing Our Lord risen ought to be counted as two separate accounts. (As for Mark, there is dispute as to whether the last 10 or so verses are part of the original manuscript. I will opt out of using them as particular proof. I will opt out of using the Gospel of John, since it is 50 years older than 1 Corinthians and also under dispute.) So we have three different sources for the Apostles having seen the Risen Lord: 1 Corinthians, Luke/Acts, and Matthew. Not bad for the first 80 years of the Resurrection-based religion.

Now, atheists will say that bias will cancel out all of those testimonies. As if somehow Caesar were fictional simply because the Roman people loved him, and gave him names like Pontifex Maximus. Or as if Mohammed’s vision was not a real vision simply because his followers believed him. Now there may be other reasons to doubt the existence of Caesar or the vision of Mohammed, or the Resurrection of Christ. But accusation of bias may as well be accusing me of being correct. To put it another way, it’s like saying evolutionists are biased because they believe the evidence for evolution.

It would have done no good for Saint Paul to name names, as in all likelihood no-one would go from Corinth to Jerusalem to make inquiries. Despite the relative nearness by global standards, such a journey would be more problematic than going there now from NA.

Remember, this was written roughly 30 years after the events of our LORD’s life. SP was simply stating, “This is not just a tall tale I heard years ago in Israel, but enough people saw HIM that even more than a generation later, some are still alive.”

ICXC NIKA

Because Paul’s goal wasn’t to give them a proof text, or state all known knowledge of the resurrection to those who knew nothing about it. Rather, his goal in these verses is stated in 1 Cor 15:1:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

And why is he reminding the Corinthians? Because some of them had fallen into heresy, and the rest of his argument against that heresy was dependent on it. Starting at verse 12, we read

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised

And it goes on from there. Paul was summarizing Christ’s resurrection to those who already accepted it as true, to use it as a basis for showing that resurrection from the dead was part of the gospel message, and that denying the possibility of resurrection was denying Christ’s resurrection. Going into more detail wouldn’t affect that argument.

There are a couple of points to be made about this.

First of all, many of the 500 “brethren” from Jerusalem had probably left that city in the years prior to the letter being written because of the persecutions started by Herod Agrippa I going on there. The martyrdom of James the brother of John and arrest of Peter show that Jerusalem was not a safe place through the 40s and 50s. Antioch in Syria had become the active centre of the Church by that time and missionary journeys to other lands were orchestrated from there. Peter had likely left and was probably in Rome and James “the Just” (NOT either one of two Apostles who shared the name) was the de facto leader. The point being that Jerusalem would not be where many of those witnesses would be found any longer, in any case.

Second, Paul’s point about 500 brethren having witnessed the Resurrection – along with the dispersal of Christians out of Jerusalem – was to demonstrate that in many of the outlying congregations it would have been very likely that someone who was an actual witness could have been found, even in the Corinthian church. And if not an actual witness, someone – who knew of, or had heard the first hand accounts from those actual witnesses – could attest to the account. It would, in other words, have been relatively easy to locate those who had been actual witnesses through those who had heard their testimones because there were so many witnesses – 500 of them – if you were of a mind to question the account or wished to speak to actual witnesses

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