Paul's Resurrection Creed

In the book of First Corinthians, there’s a passage that’s frequently cited by Christian apologists:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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 of Cephas, then of the twelve:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

—1 Corinthians 15:3-8

It’s often been observed that Paul’s epistles have virtually nothing to say about a historical Jesus, but this passage is one of the few points of apparent contact between his letters and the gospels. As such, it’s frequently cited by Christian apologists seeking to build a historical narrative of the events of the New Testament.

But there are some anomalies about this passage that don’t fit with the traditional view of New Testament historicity. This post will examine some of them.

First of all, the way Paul describes the disciples is strange. He refers to Cephas (Peter) as if he was not among them. But more interestingly, he refers to “the twelve” – a description that would have been plainly inaccurate at this point, because Judas committed suicide before the resurrection (Matthew 27:3), and his replacement, Matthias, was not chosen until after the ascension (Acts 1:26).

Next is that Paul writes that Jesus was seen by “the twelve”, and then two lines later, by “all the apostles”. Unless he meant something different than what Christians commonly mean by “the apostles”, this would have been redundant. It seems as if Paul considered those two to be different groups of people.

There is yet a third point of discontinuity between this passage and the gospels, and that is that this passage contains an omission. This verse has been treated in the Christian community as a primitive creed, reciting the list of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. But then, why doesn’t it mention the women – especially Mary Magdalene – whom Mark, Matthew and John all agree met the resurrected Jesus before any of his male disciples saw him?

Historian Earl Doherty makes this point in his book Challenging the Verdict:

If it is claimed that an empty tomb story, presumably accompanied by Gospel appearance traditions, goes back to a time that was earlier than Paul, how could such stories be circulating at the same time as this 1 Corinthians creed, when the two would have been mutually incompatible, contradicting each other as to who had seen the risen Christ? Wouldn’t that have occasioned an outcry from those who would condemn the creed as inaccurate, since it left out the women entirely and declared Peter to be the first to see Jesus? And even if no earlier version of Mark’s story existed at the same time, this purported creed would have been circulating at a time when there would have been a lot of people who could point out its inaccuracy. Where are the women in this creed? That’s the cry that would have been raised.

In all three of these points, Paul’s resurrection creed is out of kilter. It will not come into focus; it resists harmonization with the gospel accounts in subtle but important ways, hinting that the orthodox picture of Christianity’s origins is inaccurate.

Despite these inconsistencies, this passage is often cited by apologists for one major reason – Paul’s claim of the five hundred witnesses. They treat this as if it were a major piece of evidence in favor of the resurrection, but it is nothing of the kind.

We do not have five hundred separate, notarized accounts. What we have is one person, Paul, who says that five hundred anonymous people saw Jesus, giving no further details about their identities or the circumstances of the seeing. By itself, this is not strong evidence, just as it would not be strong evidence if I gave you a piece of paper that said, “One thousand people saw me do a miracle.” This is not independent corroboration; it does not have enough detail for outsiders either contemporary or ancient to verify for themselves. And, of course, these alleged 500 witnesses are never mentioned again in Paul or anywhere else in early Christian literature.

One final point about this passage that Christians often overlook is that Paul lists his own “seeing” (Greek ophthe) of Jesus alongside all the others, drawing no distinction among them. But Paul never met Jesus in the flesh, either before the resurrection or after it. His only experience of Jesus, according to both Acts and his own letters, was a purely spiritual, visionary one. But since he describes it in the same terms as all the others, this implies that those others – the five hundred witnesses included – were also purely visionary, not an encounter in flesh. Earl Doherty again:

In a study of the meaning of “ophthe” here, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. V, p. 358) points out that in this type of context the word is a technical term for being “in the presence of revelation as such, without reference to the nature of its perception.” In other words, the “seeing” may not refer to actual sensory or mental perception. Rather, it may simply be “an encounter with the risen Lord who reveals himself… they experienced his presence.”

When all things are considered, Paul’s resurrection creed fits better into the mythicist model of Christian origins: the theory that Jesus was not a historical human being, but an spiritual savior whose death and resurrection were purely a matter of faith. These “seeings” of him by Paul and other early Christians were mystical, visionary experiences which they interpreted as confirmations of that belief. The gospel details – Judas’ suicide, the women at the tomb, the identification of “the apostles” with “the twelve” (possibly these were originally two separate groups of early church elders) – came later, as details were added to this mythical tale to give it a veneer of history.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • mikespeir

    But more interestingly, he refers to “the twelve” – a description that would have been plainly inaccurate at this point, because Judas committed suicide before the resurrection (Matthew 27:3), and his replacement, Matthias, was not chosen until after the ascension (Acts 1:26).

    Not to take a contrarian view, but I’ve never understood why some atheists make this objection. Paul was writing some years after the fact. (Not in the purported meantime between when Judas died and Matthias was appointed to the number.) He was referring to a group of men which had commonly become known to Christians of his day as “the twelve,” even though during the short the time in question “the twelve” had temporarily comprised only eleven men. Thus, it should hardly be thought odd that he referred to them as “the twelve:” a designation that would have been recognizable to his readers.

  • bassmanpete

    I’m sure Saul/Paul did have a revelation, and maybe it was on the road to Damascus. But rather than him seeing a blinding light and having Jesus speak to him it was more along the lines of “A lot of people believe this rubbish – there’s a buck to be made/some power to be had here!”

  • penn

    I am going to agree with mikespeir that “the twelve” could have been meant as a colloquialism and not an actual count. It is interesting though that he seems to consider the twelve to be a different set than the apostles. It is pretty unclear who he is talking about. I also think the women may have been ignored because in a patriarchal society their testimony may not have been worth much, so why bother putting them in such a list?

    I do think the most interesting thing is that Paul lists his own vision right with the others. The juxtaposition certainly seems to imply that each of the encounters was of a similar nature. He just lists people that Jesus appeared to, and throws himself right in there. I guess that isn’t too hard to get around if you are a literalist, though. Basically, each of the individual stories are true and the encounters are of a different nature, and Paul just has a odd writing style that seems to omit pertinent facts. That may lead skeptics like ourselves to question his reliability, but to a Christian it’s just light mental stretching.

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    I guess that isn’t too hard to get around if you are a literalist, though. Basically, each of the individual stories are true and the encounters are of a different nature, and Paul just has a odd writing style that seems to omit pertinent facts. That may lead skeptics like ourselves to question his reliability, but to a Christian it’s just light mental stretching.”

    I think that is an important point. The more highly literalistic and inflexible a case for truth in christianity is, the easier it is to dismiss. But apologetics in general, and christians as individuals are flexible to the degree they need to be to make their case, depending upon the audience. There really isn’t a silver bullet of facts out there to dismiss a case for biblical literalism or reliability made by a literalist, only pieces of the puzzle, like this article, which help form a comprehensive view.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    We do not have five hundred separate, notarized accounts. What we have is one person, Paul, who says that five hundred anonymous people saw Jesus…

    Amen. I am amazed that adult persons I have known, some of whom must utilise critical thinking in their jobs as scientists, don’t seem to understand this distinction.

  • velkyn

    I find this confusion on what supposedly happened during the whole cruxifiction and shortly thereafter, to support that the whole cruxifiction as a myth and added long after any supposed existence of Jesus. Jesus is claimed to have said that one only needs to take him as savior to be “saved”. Why this farce with a blood sacrifice then?

  • John Nernoff

    God himselfmost — yes, GOD! comes down to earth in a stupendous incarnation, performs amazing miracles, and spectacularly dies for everyone’s sins, yet they don’t get around to writing about any of this for some 20-25 years, in most cases even longer.

    This is all you need to know that Christianity is probably one of the most dimwitted belief systems to ever have infected the mind of man.

  • Joffan

    One side note worth adding on the five hundred: Paul was writing as an authority to a distant group of believers. There is very little likelihood that any of those to whom he was writing would be able to (or indeed feel any need to) check up on the accounts of these five hundred, even if they had some stories about who they were.

    I was considering whether to write that the situation is different today, but I’m not sure that it is. There are fairly feeble and easily refuted stories about current or recent events that nevertheless continue to circulate and gain credence – for example, the Obama birth certificate nonsense.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I also think the women may have been ignored because in a patriarchal society their testimony may not have been worth much, so why bother putting them in such a list?

    That would certainly explain such an omission in any ordinary document, but that explanation becomes a lot harder to defend if you’re a Christian who believes that this verse was divinely inspired to serve as a primitive creed for the church. If sexism could influence the writing of the Bible to the extent of altering an actual creed of the faith, what else might have been changed? And why wouldn’t that sexism have caused the women to be omitted from the gospels as well?

  • Boudica

    Not only do historians of the day not mention Jesus, but if this is God Incarnate, why can he not pen some papers documenting his story and what he is on earth to accomplish? Isn’t it relevant to the dubiousness of the whole story that Jesus is illiterate?

  • Polly

    Thanks for this, Ebon.

    It doesn’t strike me as odd that he mentions 12 apostles. Matthias could have already been selected at the time of Paul’s writing. In one of the Gospels Jesus sends out 72 preachers (can’t look it up, now) which tells me that he had a lot of followers who might be apostles, but then selected an inner-inner circle of 12, the Apostles/disciples.

    Paul struck me a a raging misogynist so it’s not surprising that he’d leave out the women. I doubt anyone would raise an argument – especially if there was no one around to debate it. I don’t think the Gospels are based on a literally true Jesus even they may have been based loosely on some Rabbi or teachings of Rabbis.

    While it’s hearsay that 500 saw JC, simply saying that Paul was lying doesn’t really help. This is the guy who suffered beatings, lashes, prison and finally death in Rome. So his rep is pretty strong. He obviously thought it was real.

    Putting his own “seeing” of the risen christ on par with the rest is pretty strange. But, I doubt that this fine point would dissuade anyone. Maybe it’s just that I can’t see someone getting literal and symbolic mixed up so completely. I find it hard to imagine Paul or anyone would run all over the Roman world preaching a phantom christ that never set foot on Earth. What does it mean to get crucified anywhere but in Rome, Earth? How does a spirit resurrect?

  • Polly

    correction: “but in Rome, Earth” Actually, I meant under Roman rule on Earth. That’ll learn me to take short cuts.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    What does it mean to get crucified anywhere but in Rome, Earth? How does a spirit resurrect?

    That at least is easily answered. In many strains of ancient philosophical thought, the world was divided into an imperfect, earthly realm and a superior, heavenly realm. Processes on Earth were reflections of their primary counterparts in Heaven, following the Platonic formula of “as above, so below”. It sounds strange to us, but it would not have been at all strange to many people in ancient times. There are other apocryphal books and other mystery religions of the day that express this kind of theology.

  • nfpendleton

    One final point about this passage that Christians often overlook is that Paul lists his own “seeing” (Greek ophthe) of Jesus alongside all the others, drawing no distinction among them.

    This may also have been a play by Saul to gain “street cred” among the fledgling church establishment of his time. Even the bible admits he butted heads with the Jerusalem establishment on the basic issue of whether they were even supposed to be Jews anymore or not. Also may have been one reason Paul’s was a traveling roadshow tent revival rather than a crystal cathedral. His interactions with Peter and the gang were strained. The early church seems to have been urban and members-only, while Saul was going for something more inclusive and populist.

    That is, if any of it’s actually true. From my understanding the history on all this is a bit shaky.

  • mikespeir

    Isn’t it relevant to the dubiousness of the whole story that Jesus is illiterate?

    In Luke 4, Jesus is said to have read publicly from the Book of Isaiah. If that story is true, he wasn’t illiterate.

  • Stephen

    Polly:

    While it’s hearsay that 500 saw JC, simply saying that Paul was lying doesn’t really help. This is the guy who suffered beatings, lashes, prison and finally death in Rome. So his rep is pretty strong. He obviously thought it was real.

    That argument doesn’t really work though, does it? Firstly, it isn’t necessary to assume that Paul was lying – he may just have heard a story that suited his purposes and uncritically adopted it. As indeed religious people frequently do today.

    Secondly, I don’t think the story of what happened to him in Rome is based on anything other than the single anonymous account in Acts is it? So we don’t really know for sure what happened to him. But even if true: how could his being executed in Rome somehow retroactively make the letters that he had previously written reliable? Has no unreliable person ever been executed?

  • sterculius

    Could someone please explain to me the point and purpose of debating ad nauseum, the fine points of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin when the basis of all religions, the god hypothesis, is patently absurd.

  • Leum

    Some of us are complete nerds and love discussing the nuances of the histories or religion. Others hope arguments like this can make holes in the armor of religion.

    I’m in the nerd camp. I considered majoring in comparative religion because of it.

  • Kaltro

    Mikespeir, you beat me to it on whether or not Jesus was literate. In John 8:1-11 Jesus is also described as writing something in the dirt. It always bugged me because what exactly was written isn’t clear.

  • Paul S

    This is the guy who suffered beatings, lashes, prison and finally death in Rome. So his rep is pretty strong. He obviously thought it was real.

    Just because someone is punished (or killed) for his/her beliefs doesn’t make those beliefs true. I don’t think anyone has said that Paul was lying or didn’t believe the things he said and wrote.

    I find it hard to imagine Paul or anyone would run all over the Roman world preaching a phantom christ that never set foot on Earth.

    The point is that Paul truly believed Christ was real (either in actual human form or a heavenly spirit). At the time of Paul’s witnessing, Christ’s manifestation was secondary to His message. Paul never mentions Jesus having been resurrected in the flesh. He never mentions empty tombs, physical appearances, or the ascension of Jesus into heaven afterward. My understanding is that the belief of a physical resurrection wasn’t even described until Mark’s gospel was amended to include the appearence of Jesus. Each subsequent Gospel’s account of the resurrection includes more and more detail until the physical resurrection belief was a firmly established tenet of belief.

  • Polly

    Ebon,
    Reading the whole chapter with a new perspective (I’ve stopped reading the Bible except for reference since I stopped believing):

    If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[e]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we[f] bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

    I’ve got to admit, reading this passage now, it does seem like Paul is talking about a non-earthly Jesus! This “from Heaven” talk coupled with the complete and total lack of reference to anything in the Gospels does actually make this Platonic view more believable. According to Paul, believers will only be like JC IN THE FUTURE. That’s telling. This does not reconcile at all with a natural man born of a woman, virgin or otherwise.

  • Polly

    To other responders, Thanks. I’m not ignoring you, I just don’t have anything else to say.

    As to why we waste our time counting angels…Some of us have apologetics thrust at us by believers and feel a need to respond to every, damn claim. This creed is one of the stronger ones to my mind, of a possibly historical Jesus Somebody because of its early date – though certainly not a divine one.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Polly – If you’re interested in studying this still further, another highly revealing verse is Hebrews 8:4. Hebrews in general strongly emphasizes the theme of this earthly/heavenly distinction, portraying the Old Testament priestly animal sacrifices as an inferior foreshadowing of Jesus’ once-and-for-all heavenly sacrifice of himself. But it’s 8:4 that really drives the point home:

    Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.

    Actually, the RSV muddies the translation somewhat. Strictly speaking, the Greek is in the past (imperfect) tense, which means this verse could be read as, “Now, if he had been on earth…”

    Earl Doherty has more about Hebrews in general and this verse in particular.

  • Tom in Iowa

    It is also interesting to me that Paul, the inventor of Christianity, never bothered to set down his theology in a book of itself, a basic guide if you will (or at least it doesn’t survive, and neither he nor others mention it). All we have are his letters after the fact trying to clear up the misunderstandings of those he taught. Its kind of like trying to reconstruct a professor’s teachings having no copies or notes from a lecture, but only the responses to questions posed months later. It always seemed to me that perhaps Paul wasn’t very good at laying out his teachings the first time if he was always having to make clarifications later. And wouldn’t a “divinely inspired” teacher have gotten it right the first time so he didn’t have to correct and correct and correct?

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    Timely Dude! I had just received an inquiry from a relative about whether or not I thought Jesus was historical. I replied last night with a a few minor thoughts of my own and referred her to your “camel” essay. I almost considered emailing you to see what what you thought about the early Corinthian creed, and well, the Force must be strong with you. :)

    My thoughts are that a convincing case can not be made either way on this one story alone (though I am inclined to agree with your analysis) but the cumulative weight of evidence from this and other material (as you kindly detailed earlier) does indeed strongly suggest that the earliest version of a Christ was spiritual or Platonic and not a historical person. This should be put out as a discussion topic to the religious community more often. I do find it curious that Paul says his was the last appearance, with almost a hint of finality that no more appearances would be coming in that manner to any others. I suppose if you don’t want somebody challenging your doctrine, that would be the smart thing to claim.

  • velkyn

    I find that any argument for a “historic Jesus Christ” fails immediately. It’s not a itinerate rabbi that is in question here. It is the existence of Jesus the son of God, complete with superpowers that is in question. In there is *no* evidence of this being, any claim of this historicity of this being is wanting. And no Jesus, son of God, sacrifice for original sin, etc, means that the rest of the story, from Genesis onward, is just as mythical.

  • Incest – The Musical

    Absolutely, Velkyn. I find it fascinating that we allow ourselves, as an enlightened society, to respect such…drivel. It has no evidence that stands up to scrutiny. The situation is such that not only is the story of the Resurrection suspect, but the very existence of Jesus is probably inaccurate. Certainly, it could be argued quite convincingly!

    And how could Paul be taken as evidence? No matter what he wrote, when, he wrote at a remove from Jesus…His knowledge came from other believers. He cannot be classed as reliable because he did not personally witness the events, and nor did he meet an earthly Jesus. It is as simple as that.

  • Btimusttimus

    I’m sure Saul/Paul did have a revelation, and maybe it was on the road to Damascus. But rather than him seeing a blinding light and having Jesus speak to him it was more along the lines of “A lot of people believe this rubbish – there’s a buck to be made/some power to be had here!”

    This is highly inaccurate: Paul lived a life of exhile and persecution because of these beliefs. He lived in a society that threew him in jail, tortured him, and killed him because of these beliefs. In fact, I’m positive that he made minimal money, if any, from his beleif in Christ. And it would be small change in comparison to his previous salary.

    And how could Paul be taken as evidence? No matter what he wrote, when, he wrote at a remove from Jesus…His knowledge came from other believers. He cannot be classed as reliable because he did not personally witness the events, and nor did he meet an earthly Jesus. It is as simple as that.

    The Bible says that he saw Jesus, whether in the flesh or not. However, he said that Jesus had been seen in the flesh by at least 500 people, a majority who were *still alive* at the time of his writing (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). Now say you’re writing a letter to the Corinthian church, and you list even 10 false people, and someone comes to check it out and no one knows what you’re talking about. Then what? You’ve been completely outed as a reliable source. John was writing a letter to try and prove Christianity, and he claimed about 500 witnesses. Even one would make him a false witness, and no one would ever listen to him again, destroying his credibility. I doubt he lied.

    It is also interesting to me that Paul, the inventor of Christianity, never bothered to set down his theology in a book of itself, a basic guide if you will (or at least it doesn’t survive, and neither he nor others mention it). All we have are his letters after the fact trying to clear up the misunderstandings of those he taught. Its kind of like trying to reconstruct a professor’s teachings having no copies or notes from a lecture, but only the responses to questions posed months later. It always seemed to me that perhaps Paul wasn’t very good at laying out his teachings the first time if he was always having to make clarifications later. And wouldn’t a “divinely inspired” teacher have gotten it right the first time so he didn’t have to correct and correct and correct?

    It’s been generally agreed on that Paul wrote the Epistles at Ealiest 53 AD, and at latest 58 AD. So if he invented Christianity, then how is it that no one spoke up and said ,Hey, I was around 20 years go, and I didn’t see or hear about any of this!’ You have to remember that A) The Christian church didn’t have the power to hush this, so it would have come right out. Someone would have said, ‘Hey you can look, his skeleton is still in that tomb! You can take eyewitness acount, there wasn’t a Jesus, or he didn’t do anything you said he did.’ I doubt that Christianity had enough will power to stop this kind of scrutiny. Plus, there was already evidence of A Christian church before Paul. I mean, he was an executor of Christians, so how could he have started it?

    Not only do historians of the day not mention Jesus, but if this is God Incarnate, why can he not pen some papers documenting his story and what he is on earth to accomplish? Isn’t it relevant to the dubiousness of the whole story that Jesus is illiterate?

    Umm… do you not realize that the New Testament gospels are the same documents you talk about?
    Also, Jesus was not illiterate. Luke 4 says he read from a copy of the New Testament, in Isaiah…
    Finally, Josephus, a Jewish (not Christian) historian wrote this about Jesus (with some changes to exclude passages that may have been added by Christians later) in about 90 AD. And if you were a historian, how likely is it you would just throw in something totally fake that had happened only 60 years prior?:

    ‘About this time, there lived Jesus, a wise man. He was one who wrought surprising feats, and was a teacher of such people as and was a teacher of people as is gladly accepted as truth. He won over many Jew and Greeks. When pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had comdemned him to be crucified, those who had come in the first place to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.’

    That would certainly explain such an omission in any ordinary document, but that explanation becomes a lot harder to defend if you’re a Christian who believes that this verse was divinely inspired to serve as a primitive creed for the church. If sexism could influence the writing of the Bible to the extent of altering an actual creed of the faith, what else might have been changed? And why wouldn’t that sexism have caused the women to be omitted from the gospels as well

    Actually, the Greek word Paul used had no gender specification :)
    if anyone has some more good thoughts, feel free to contact me at btimusttimus@yahoo.com

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    John was writing a letter to try and prove Christianity, and he claimed about 500 witnesses. Even one would make him a false witness, and no one would ever listen to him again, destroying his credibility. I doubt he lied.

    You mean Paul, right?

    Why did the Christians of Corinth believe this story? Maybe they were were gullible. Maybe Christianity is a religion that values faith over evidence, and people who demanded evidence before they believed absurdities like dead people coming back to life didn’t become Christians.

    We can choose to believe that something happened that is, frankly, impossible, or instead, that somebody did in fact lie. Or, if Paul was an honest man, and truly believed in the Resurrection but had no proof, perhaps he made up the story to try to sound more convincing to his flock — an honest lie, if you like. A shred of independent evidence for the impossible thing might begin to persuade us. Alas, there is not even a shred.

    500 witnesses would be impressive, but there are not 500 witnesses. There is not even one witness. There’s only a story about witnesses. We can’t go and ask any of them — and since Paul didn’t name any of them or say exactly where or when this is supposed to have taken place, the faithful of Corinth couldn’t have asked them either.

    And as for your quotation from Josephus — it proves nothing. First of all, it’s almost certainly phony — the textual evidence is overwhelming that it was inserted into Josephus’ book centuries later, either due to a scribal error, or, more likely, as a deliberate fraud. Even if it were legit, it only describes what Christians believed, and we knew that already.

    Thanks for playing.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    This is highly inaccurate: Paul lived a life of exhile and persecution because of these beliefs.

    So did David Koresh. I suppose you think that this means that Koresh was on to something and witnessed something real?

    However, he said that Jesus had been seen in the flesh by at least 500 people, a majority who were *still alive* at the time of his writing (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). Now say you’re writing a letter to the Corinthian church, and you list even 10 false people…

    500 people saw me float into the air yesterday. Don’t believe me? Find someone who was there and can attest to the falsity of my account.

    So if he invented Christianity, then how is it that no one spoke up and said ,Hey, I was around 20 years go, and I didn’t see or hear about any of this!’

    Although Paul may not have been the progenitor, he certainly shaped it and his writings are the first of all Xian writings. The larger point there that you neglected to address was that he didn’t write down his theology, but only the letters he sent to correct others on what he taught them.

    Umm… do you not realize that the New Testament gospels are the same documents you talk about?

    Written well after the fact by third to fourth hand sources? Why would a god come up with such a faulty way of conveying information?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Hello Btimusttimus,

    The Bible says that he saw Jesus, whether in the flesh or not. However, he said that Jesus had been seen in the flesh by at least 500 people, a majority who were *still alive* at the time of his writing (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). Now say you’re writing a letter to the Corinthian church, and you list even 10 false people, and someone comes to check it out and no one knows what you’re talking about. Then what? You’ve been completely outed as a reliable source.

    Paul doesn’t name any of these people and doesn’t say where, when or under what circumstances this vision had occurred. Even if someone had wanted to make the trek to confirm whether it was true, where would he even begin looking? If I wrote you a letter saying, “One thousand people saw me levitate off the ground,” with no additional details, would you conclude I must be telling the truth because it would be so easy to disprove that if it were false?

    I also note that you’ve taken it upon yourself to add a clause: that 500 people had seen Jesus “in the flesh”. That crucial phrase doesn’t appear in the text of the Bible; it’s your interpolation. How do you know he didn’t just mean to say that 500 people had a mystical, visionary experience of Jesus similar to the one he had?

    So if he invented Christianity, then how is it that no one spoke up and said ,Hey, I was around 20 years go, and I didn’t see or hear about any of this!

    Again, your statement makes assumptions about what it was that Paul was actually saying. As I argue at length elsewhere, it’s been widely assumed without good evidence that the doctrine Paul was preaching was exactly the same as the one taught in the gospels, which were in turn intended to be taken as literal history. If you don’t read the epistles through those gospel-colored glasses, a very different picture emerges: a mystical savior-figure who performed his act of sacrifice and resurrection in a higher, heavenly plane, and who had never been to earth.

    Finally, Josephus, a Jewish (not Christian) historian wrote this about Jesus (with some changes to exclude passages that may have been added by Christians later) in about 90 AD.

    While you correctly note that much of the Testimonium Flavianum is an obvious Christian interpolation, you assume without evidence that some part of it is original. Even when stripped of specifically Christian theological language, it still paints a highly positive portrait of Jesus. That would have been inconceivable for a Jew working under Roman oversight, which Josephus was.

    Actually, the Greek word Paul used had no gender specification :)

    You either didn’t closely read or didn’t understand my post. This alleged creed lists Peter as the first to see the risen Jesus. According to the gospels, that’s inaccurate; Mary Magdalene (and possibly some other women) saw him first (John 20:1-2, Matthew 28:1, Luke 23:55,24:1). Why didn’t Paul mention Mary Magdalene if he had that story in mind?