St. Paul and 500 witnesses to the ressurection

Hi there,

So I had this thought/question as I was pondering the mysteries of Jesus’s death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. (This is not of utmost importance but I am just curious)

“Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.” – 1Corinthians 15:6

What I was a bit curious about is whether this appearance is necessarily before the Ascension? It would seem more reasonable to think that this was after Pentecost (which would mean that it was after the Ascension) since I cannot think of a gathering of close to 500 people (I am sure St. Paul was not being exact in the numbers) before that.

What is the traditional view of this passage in terms of where it fits in the chronology of the events? Is it before the Ascension or after it?

I’m not aware of a traditional interpretation of the 500 people mentioned by St. Paul, and it seems that there can be a number of differing and yet scripturally sound ways to define this passage. The Sacra Pagina Bible commentary gives the following overview:

The appearance of the risen Christ to five hundred believers is otherwise unattested in the New Testament. Some authors (e.g., Gerd Lüdemann and Alf Özen, in What Really Happened to Jesus: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection [London: SCM, 1995]) opine that the reference is to the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1-13). “At one time” (ephapax, cf. Rom 6:10) normally indicates a singular event. The reference to the five hundred appears, however, to be Paul’s attempt to sum up the appearances of the Risen One to all believers. He seeks to provide some verification of the resurrection. Christ appeared to many people. The experience of the Risen One was not a subjective hallucination; it was shared by a good number of people. Some of these are still alive and can attest to their experience.

  • Raymond F. Collins, Sacra Pagina: First Corinthians (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minnesota, 1999), 536.

That is a very interesting interpretation and makes a lot of sense. Thank you for your reply Father.

It is said that there are many accounts during the 40 days after resurrecting that Jesus performed many signs that were not recorded. It could have happened at any point. Perhaps not all those who were there stayed and awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that is why there were only 120 in the upper room.

Best that we don’t get caught up with the number. It isn’t important to our overall faith. As Father Read said, the point is that to say there were many witnesses who can attest that Christ did rise from the dead.

The Jamiesson-Fausset-Brown commentary says this: This appearance was probably on the mountain (Tabor, according to tradition), in Galilee, when His most solemn and public appearance, according to His special promise, was vouchsafed (Mt 26:32; 28:7, 10, 16). He “appointed” this place, as one remote from Jerusalem, so that believers might assemble there more freely and securely. It is a Protestant commentary, not a Catholic one, but that shouldn’t matter on this issue since we don’t disagree about the Resurrection. I thought it was insightful, especially if you read the passages it cited all together – it seems to make sense that that’s where Jesus appeared to the 500 people.

Thanks for your answers everyone. It has been very insightful!

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