Who Saw Him?

Paul names names.

1 Corinthians 15:3–7 (NKJV)

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

Bart D. Ehrman, in multiple books, including the best seller The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, contends that only seven of Paul’s epistles are genuine. Those seven are: Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians, and Philemon. On page 300, he calls those epistles, “The seven undisputed letters.”

There’s no need to argue against Ehrman’s thesis. Today’s passage is undisputed. It was written by Paul.

That’s important because he names names, which is essential to disproving one possibility that seems quite reasonable—that no one actually saw Him. In other words, the rumor was that He rose, but no one could name the people He appeared to. I call this “The Emperor’s New Clothes Theory,” as it mirrors what everyone was thinking at the end of that story.

This passage nails down two specific people, both known to Paul, who saw Jesus. They relayed their first-hand experience to Paul, and he mentioned it in his first letter to the Corinthians. Thus, we have a counterexample that refutes the Emperor’s New Clothes Theory.

This establishes that some of the people who lived and died in poverty and torture without recanting actually saw, firsthand, the resurrected Christ.

That proves that He was healthy enough to give them, as D. F. Strauss said, the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave.

We need to be clear here about what this does and does not prove. It only proves that they were sincere.

Throughout history, believers in many things have been willing to die for their causes. Their willingness to die doesn’t prove they were right, only that they were sincere. It’s not evidence at all that their cause was right or just. Many people have given their lives in the belief that they were doing something good. Sometimes their cause was good. Sometimes they were tragically misguided.

So it is with the early Christians. Their willingness to die for what they believe only proves that they were sincere. But what were they sincere about?

That Jesus was the Lord, and that belief rested on the resurrection. They sincerely believed that He rose from the dead. Still, this by itself doesn’t prove that they were right.

That’s what the crucifixion forensics analysis was for.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.