Part 7 Fact two: Disciples believed Jesus appeared to them

Fact #2: Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them

To establish this fact I will use 3 lines of evidence; 1) Paul’s testimony about the disciples, 2) oral traditions passed through the early church, and 3) written works of the early church.

I will begin with looking at the writings of the Apostle Paul.  Writing around 55 AD Paul says Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and then rose again on the 3rd day.  He also gives an accounting of many witnesses (over 500) of the resurrection, including the disciples. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (NASB) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul was teaching the Corinthian Church what had been passed onto him years earlier.  Some scholars believe he received this information from Peter and James while visiting with them after his conversion.  This would place these verses within five years of the crucifixion.  Not only is this incredibly close to the actual event, it was probably given to Paul by eyewitnesses or others he deemed responsible.  This adds to the credibility of the account[1].  Even if it was a few years more than five, we still have an early testimony to the resurrection.  In verses 8-12 we see Paul stating that he and the other disciples preached the resurrection of Jesus and this was the message the individuals in the church believed.

Secondly, we have additional oral traditions that attest to the resurrection.  These oral traditions were later recorded by various authors.  One of these authors was Luke.  As a doctor, he thoroughly investigated the evidence prior to writing (Luke 1:1-4 & Acts 1:1 & 2).  From the pen of Luke we read in the book of Acts a sermon preached by Peter about David, one time King of Israel, and Jesus. Acts 2:29-33 (NASB) “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 “And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” What an incredible statement!  Author Luke records a sermon by Peter where he stated David died, was buried and we know where he is today.  However, he says Jesus died but his body never saw decay; that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.  Noted historian William Ramsay, in his book St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, supported the accuracy of Luke and gave reasons “for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank.”  Not only do we get the testimony of Peter, an eyewitness of the resurrection, but he points to members of the listening audience, stating some of them were eyewitnesses.  These traditions were orally passed down throughout the early church years before being recorded in written form.

In addition we have the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John concerning the resurrection of Jesus.  All scholars date the Gospels within the 1st century.  Based on the case I made earlier, we have good reasons to believe they were written before AD 70.  When we compare these documents to other ancient literature, even dating the accounts after AD 70, these accounts are far closer than the vast majority of ancient historical manuscripts.

Third we have the apostolic fathers, some of which knew the disciples or were close to others who did.  There is a strong probability their writings reflected what the disciples taught.  One example was Clement.  Early church father Irenaeus reports that Clement had conversed with the apostles.  Tertullian, another early church father, said Clement was ordained by Peter himself.  Clement in his letter to the Corinthian church, written in the first century, writes this about the disciples: “Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and establishedin the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand[2].”

Early church father Polycarp was instructed by the apostles and had conversations with the apostle John.  He writes to the Philippian Church in 110 AD and mentions the resurrection at least 5 times.  He referred to the apostles when he wrote this: “For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead[3].”

These accounts all confirm the fact the disciples had seen the risen Christ; they were eyewitnesses.  If you read through the book of Acts you can see how the disciples were willing to sacrifice their lives spreading the message that Jesus had risen from the dead.  All this is confirmed by the writings of the early church fathers.

Based on the extremely early writings of Paul, the testimony of Acts, the individual Gospels, and the writings of the early church fathers, we can have no doubt the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead and that he appeared to them.  It was this truth they were willing to die for. Some today are willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believe is the truth.  The disciples would have known for certain their stories were fictional because they said they were eyewitnesses of the events.   It is said, “Liars make poor martyrs.”  No one dies for a lie, they know for a fact is a lie.  The disciples died for the truth.

Go to part 8 here

[1] Strobel, Lee, “The Case for the Real Jesus,” Zondervan, 2007 p. 115

[2] 1Corinthians 42:3 Christian Classics Ethereal Library

[3] Philippians 9:2 Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Vinny February 5, 2010, 7:21 pm

    Why do some scholars believe that he received the creed in Corinthians from Peter and James? Doesn’t Paul say that he received the gospel by direct revelation from Christ three years before meeting with any of the other apostles? Doesn’t he say that no man added to his message or taught him? Why shouldn’t we take Paul at his word?

    Isn’t true that Paul never refers to Peter, James, or anyone else to whom Jesus appeared as Jesus’ disciples and that nothing in Paul’s letters indicates that any of them had been Jesus’ followers during his earthly ministry or that they had been taught by Jesus? Isn’t it also true that Paul’s letters do not indicate when or where Jesus lived or when or where Jesus was crucified?

  • Steve March 8, 2010, 10:25 pm

    Dear Vinny,
    Receiving the Gospel and receiving the resurrection creed (form of the Gospel used in services) are two different events. Let me try to solve the mystery of the account of Acts and Galatians. Both authors have different purposes so they focused on two different outcomes. It is very possible that Luke was unaware of the Letter to the Galatians. Luke’s focus was to highlight the conversion of Paul and then show his passion for teaching the Jews about the Gospel. Paul’s main message was that Jesus is both the Son of God and the Christ (Messiah). He brilliantly confounded the Jewish religious leaders. In Galatians, Paul seems to writing more about important events in his life. So by examining both writers’ accounts, we can come up with a possible timeline.

    1. Saul’s conversion and commission (Acts 9:1-19a).
    2. For a short amount of time, Saul’s preaching in the synagogues of Damascus immediately following his conversion (Acts 19b-22).
    3. His prolonged residence in Arabia (Gal. 1:17).
    4. His return to Damascus (Acts 9:23-25). I feel “after many days had gone by” was an expression that refers to somewhere around 3 years. Part of my reasoning is the fact that all of a sudden Paul has disciples (v25) that help him escape. We are not told how much time he invested in raising up disciples. Plus the lowering in the basket to escape was recorded by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. It appears in chapter 11 he had already endured multiple hardships including this plot against his life.
    5. His first visit to Jerusalem as Christian at least 3 years after his conversion. (Acts 9:26-30; Gal. 1:18-24). He meets with James and Peter.

    When Paul is with James and Peter there is a chance they shared the very creed he records in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4. The idea no man taught him or added to his knowledge of the Gospel means he received this information at his conversion and while he was in Arabia. The Gospel was given to him by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. I can personally relate to this experience, as I had a similar one. No one led me to Christ; I became a follower through reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sins. I cannot tell you the day or even the month but I somehow knew this: Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and I needed to bend my knee to Him. No one taught me this, at the time of my conversion; Jesus just communicated Gospel to my heart and mind. Months after I trusted Jesus Christ, I began studying the Bible and other books learning for great scholars from around the world. Just like no one but Jesus taught Paul the Gospel, no one but Jesus taught me the Gospel. However, later both Paul and I learned from others. James and Peter may have revealed the creed that Paul wrote in I Corinthians.


  • Vinny March 9, 2010, 11:33 am

    My question is this: Why would anyone think that Paul is talking about receiving the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 rather than receiving the gospel?

    A creed is simply a specific verbal formulation that has no significance apart from the underlying religious message. I can’t think of any reason to conclude anything about where or when that particular formulation originated. Peter and James might have shared it with Paul, but it could have come to Paul in the initial revelation from God or it could have been a formulation that was developed in one of the churches that Paul founded.

    Why would anyone think that Paul is talking about passing on the particular verbal formula rather than talking about passing on the gospel upon which the formula is based?

  • Steve March 11, 2010, 9:49 am

    Dear Vinny,
    Here is the wording of the paragraph in question: “Paul was teaching the Corinthian Church what had been passed onto him years earlier. Some scholars believe he received this information from Peter and James while visiting with them after his conversion. This would place these verses within five years of the crucifixion. Not only is this incredibly close to the actual event, it was probably given to Paul by eyewitnesses or others he deemed responsible. This adds to the credibility of the account.”

    1. First the main point for citing this quote from Mike Licona was to demonstrate the time frame when this formula was passed around, and not to defend it was a creed.
    2. However, that being said the question is what is a creed? Creeds were popular ways to pass important information in a memorable format to increase retention. Scholars cite multiple Biblical passages that qualify as creeds. Here is a quote from Dr. JP Moreland in his book Scaling the Secular City: “In fact Paul’s letters contain a number of creeds and hymns (Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 11:23ff; 15:3-8; Phil. 2:6-11, etc.). Here are three things that can be said about them: First, they are pre-Pauline and very early. They use language which is not characteristically Pauline, they often translate easily back into Aramaic, and they show features of Hebrew poetry and thought-forms. This means they came into existence while the church was heavily Jewish and that they became standard, recognized creeds and hymns well before their incorporation into Paul’s letters. Most scholars date them from 33 to 48 [AD]. Some, like [Martin] Hengel, date many of them in the first decade after the Jesus’ death. Second, the content of these creeds and hymns centers on the death, resurrection, and deity of Christ. They consistently present a portrait of a miraculous and divine Jesus who rose from the dead. Third, they served as hymns of worship in the liturgy of the early assemblies and as didactic expressions for teaching the Christology of the church.”
    3. Who passed this formula onto Paul is not cited in the text in question; which is why I said “Some scholars believe he received this information from Peter and James while visiting with them after his conversion.” I agree he could have gotten the information from someone else. The main point is this creed or tradition was passed down to Paul early after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


  • Vinny March 11, 2010, 11:11 am

    But Paul was not teaching what had been “passed on” to him. Paul was teaching what he had “received” and he says in Galatians that he received it by direct revelation from God. Paul never credits any eyewitnesses for any of the things he knows or any of the things he teaches.

  • Steve March 12, 2010, 8:58 pm

    Dear Vinny,
    My main purpose was to establish an early timeline and not who Paul received the information from. This creed seems to have come to Paul a few years after the crucifixion.

    Here are the two passages in question:

    Galatians 1:11-12 (NASB) “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
    1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB) “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,”

    Paul would have first learned the Gospel from martyrs who he chased down and had executed. They would have witnessed to him and told him the gospel right before death. However, he does attribute the receiving of the gospel from a direct revelation of Jesus Christ. In Judaism much of the religious content was passed down by rabbis. Paul was saying he didn’t learn the gospel in the usual way; he was given it by Jesus Christ. Previously, I mentioned how I experienced a similar fate. No one taught me the gospel when I received Christ. Yet even though no one taught me the gospel I later learned more about Christianity over the years. The gospel is the good news that Jesus lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty we deserve and rose from the grave on the third day. No question Paul received that information directly from Jesus Christ. However, he doesn’t say he never learned more about what he believed from anyone else. Point #2 of my previous posted comments shows good reasons why the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 was passed down from the early church or an apostle.

    I am not sure where you are going with this. Whether he got it from an apostle, from the early church, from Peter and James or directly from Jesus Christ doesn’t change the fact it was in existence before he wrote 1 Corinthians (written around 55/56 AD). It is the early dating of the creed that adds to the historical nature of the resurrection.


  • Steve March 13, 2010, 6:57 pm

    As I jogged this morning I had some additional thoughts on this discussion. Again Paul’s words in Galatians 1:11-12 (NASB) “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” What hit me was Paul was making a case that the gospel was not invented by men, as he says “…is not according to man.” The gospel is a truth that is discovered and not created by humans. Then in support of this statement, to strengthen what he stated, he says that he didn’t receive the gospel from men but directly from Jesus Christ. The message of the gospel was not an invention of men, it comes directly from God and this is how Paul received it.

    What this doesn’t mean for Paul, is all learning from other men somehow stopped at this point. That would be a silly conclusion. All he was saying is the gospel was not invented by men and to strengthen that statement he said he received it directly from Jesus Christ and not from men. When Paul met with Peter and James he couldn’t help but learn from them as they shared their experiences with sharing the gospel to other parts of the world. Just like you learn from me, even though you may not agree with what I am writing, learning is taking place. I cannot help but learn from you. Paul had to learn from every person he had a discussion with; he couldn’t help but learn new information from each and every new person he met. This is why a number of scholars believe the creed of 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 was passed on either by the early church or Peter and James when Paul met them. My quoting Dr. JP Moreland previously gave solid reasons for believing this conclusion.


  • Vinny March 13, 2010, 11:04 pm

    I think that where Paul got his information makes a huge difference when assessing the historicity of the events he recounts. If I read a newspaper account that is based on the reporter’s interviews with eyewitnesses to an event, I am going to grant it much more credence than if the reporter claims he learned of the events through supernatural revelation.

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