The earliest report on what happened when Jesus supposedly rose is,


“I passed on to you first of all what I also had received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with [what] the scriptures (foretold), that he was buried, that he arose on the third day as the scriptures foretold, and [also] that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then later he showed himself to more than five hundred brethren at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep [in death]. Afterward he was seen by James, then by all the apostles (the special messengers), and last of all he appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).


Paul says that what he has received is the most important. It is that Christ died in accordance with the Old Testament prophecies and was buried and was raised also in accordance with the prophecies.  He could be saying he got the data from the prophecies which merely confirm a death and rising but not a burial.  Notice he does not say the burial was predicted.


The references to appearances are additions. The whole list obviously cannot all be of first importance.

I would argue that when the text says that the scriptures foretold that Jesus would rise on day three it shows that the text is different from what was originally written and a forger has been at work. Paul would not have written that in a million years for he knew the three days was never prophesied so somebody who knew little of the Old Testament had been interfering and because of the error the entire early Church came to accept the three day prophecy. Since Paul was trying to combat heretics in Corinth who felt that Jesus had not risen for nobody rises he could not take the risk of seeming to have lied or to have been dense. He knew they would try every word he wrote to breaking point. Another reason day three is dubious is because it is probable that the resurrections of pagan gods Osiris, Attis and Adonis all transpired on the third day (page 40, The Resurrection of Jesus). Paul would not have left himself open to being accused of stealing the story from the heathens.

We do know for a fact that somebody was clumsily adding to and altering what was originally there in this part of Paul’s letter. The original formula ended with Jesus having appeared but no detail was given. On the basis that the vocabulary is not Pauline many believe the passage has been tampered with (page 98, The Resurrection of Jesus). The text contains phrases that were never used by Paul. The language tells against him being the author (Earliest Christianity, G A Wells, Internet Infidels).

Some maintain that Paul would not have written that this information was transmitted to him and include the vision he had for it could not have been a part of it. There might be a grammatical mistake but not necessarily an interference. But we are not sure so we still cannot trust this passage. Fr Raymond Brown’s book, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection, page 82 says this was a blunder and an indication of interference. It probably is when Paul later contends that the resurrection is true for we would all be lost if it never happened which proves he is stuck for evidence. If Paul wrote about the appearances he would have written more for he was using them as support for his gospel. Perhaps he could not use them as evidence except by simply alluding to them for they were unconvincing but still he could have said more and would have for there is no point in using bad arguments for the resurrection when the only way a resurrection could be known to have taken place is if appearances of the risen one have been made.

The gospels do not record the appearances to Peter, James or to the 500+. Let us assume Paul really did record them and it was not a forger at work. Then it is strange for books that were composed to convince people that Jesus had risen to leave the appearances out. Paul’s letters were not confidential. Paul would have said similar things wherever he went for he was obsessed with Jesus’ demise and his startling return from the dead. The first record, Paul’s, comes first so the Gospels were the ones doing the lying. It is also strange that though people could have been familiar with what the apostles were saying about the resurrection, that nothing more is said about the 500+ who they couldn’t have been familiar with. If they had been there would have been little bother getting the people of Corinth to believe in the resurrection which they denied. Paul made it perfectly clear he had no good arguments for the resurrection which says either than the 500+ were fruitcakes and not to be relied on very much or that they were not mentioned in the original letter. The latter is more likely.

If Paul mentioned a vision to Peter as evidence then there is a serious problem for Peter was an uneducated and overemotional man who lied about his relation to Jesus the night Jesus was on trial three times though all he had to do was lie once and then leave the company who accused him of being Jesus’ follower. In fact, he should not have been with those people in the first place when he was afraid they would realise he had been Jesus’ friend. It is strange that when Jesus was supposed to be so popular in Jerusalem that the company did not recognise Peter sooner and took him to be a disciple only because of his accent – reason says Peter was not a close follower of Jesus at all. Paul would not have dared present this man as evidence when the Corinthian Christians who had come to scoff the resurrection of Jesus would have had a field day with it.

The brevity with which Paul spells out the evidence for the resurrection shows that he could not do any more to refute the heretics. He made no attempt to prove that the witnesses had not hallucinated the visions or that they were not lying about what they saw even though the critics would have been accusing them of one of these. The brevity indicates that if Paul wrote the record then the evidence for the resurrection was appalling and that if he didn’t then the brevity proves that he was not the author for the real Paul would have written more. If it is not real then it indicates that what was there originally was known to be lies and had to be removed or if nothing was removed then the evidences listed were shorter than the evidences in the current version which makes it look completely feeble. Christians say that Corinth was too familiar with the evidence to need details spelled out. This is pure speculation. It contradicts the fact that Paul was desperate to convince them. Speculation is no good and then as now the vast majority of Christians would have made no effort to learn all they could about what God has said.

Paul told the Corinthians who did not believe in the resurrection that the testimony that Jesus rose must be true for the dead are lost if he did not. This weak argument says that the testimony was unconvincing so there was no evidence. He said also that he used no clever arguments for his gospel which suggests there were none. Despite what evangelical apologists say, Paul never says or indicates that he mentioned the five hundred for the sake of anybody who wished to check them out. People say X, Y and Z saw this and that all the time and wouldn’t like you going to see them and interrogate them.

Paul uses the word opthe for appeared in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 in reference to the appearances of Jesus. This is the same word used for the tongues of fire that appeared in Acts 2:3 showing that the visions might not have been of a material Jesus. Opthe even refers to the man appearing to Paul in a dream (Acts 16:9).  Against that it is pointed out that it appears in Luke 24:34 where Luke is clear (24:39) that it refers to seeing a Jesus of flesh and bone.

Paul declared that his rivals in religion, the false apostles, were like the devil in disguising themselves as ministers of God (1 Corinthians 11:14-15). He says their end will match their deeds. He means here that their true colours will not be seen except in the way they will die. They probably said the same about him. He wanted people to take his word for it that he was telling the truth which was hardly a fair approach. All the Corinthians could do was hear all the sides and make up their own minds which Paul was set against. His action was not about Jesus but about power.

If these rivals were the Jerusalem apostles as some surmise, then Paul probably did not mention the appearances to Peter and James at all as evidence for the existence of Jesus. It would mean a forger did.

The earliest attempt to convince people the resurrection happened, namely what is in 1 Corinthians 15, was a desperate one. Yet it never employed the allegedly empty tomb as evidence. It would have had the tomb had anything to do with proving the resurrection. This silence proves that there was no tomb found empty or at least it makes it extremely probable that Jesus’ tomb was not found deprived of his body.

The Book of Acts hints that faith in the resurrection of Jesus was entirely based on mystical experiences and not on historical events. Paul was on trial for his faith for the resurrection of Jesus and other “facts” concerning him before King Agrippa, Festus and Felix and never told these men that the records they had could prove that Jesus really did rise from the dead. By drawing attention to the records he could have saved himself. None of the apostles were there either to help him testify for himself. The reason was there was no point. But luckily for Paul he managed to get off but without convincing them that Jesus rose.

There is evidence then that Christians cannot use the account given by Paul as evidence that the resurrection details appeared early and were perhaps known from the start. And the reason is that the details may not be authentically Pauline.