Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 15:4-8
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Here Paul states the eye witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. This evidence was particularly compelling during the 1st century – when the Church grew rapidly – due to the fact that these witnesses were people who could be found and asked about it.
Verse 4 makes a reference to the resurrection being in accordance with the Scriptures. In addition to the eye witnesses, the fact that this act was done in fulfillment of prophecy was also a powerful point in convincing converts. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(4) And that he rose again.—Better, and that He has been raised again. The burial of our Lord is dwelt upon and emphasised as the proof of the reality of His death. Similarly in the case of Lazarus, his entombment is brought out strongly as showing that it was from no trance, but from death that he arose. (See John 11:0)
According to the scriptures.—The reiteration with each statement that it was “according to the scriptures,” i.e., according to the Old Testament scriptures, the Gospel narratives not yet being in existence—shows how strongly the Apostle dwelt on the unity of the facts of Christ’s life and the predictive utterances of the prophets. The death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord were all parts of that providential plan which the deep spiritual insight of God’s servants of old illumined by the Holy Spirit had enabled them to foresee. The resurrection was no subsequent invention to try and explain away or mitigate the terrible shock which Christ’s death had given to his followers. (See Psalms 2:7; Psalms 16:10; Isaiah 53:9-10; Isaiah 55:3; Hosea 6:2.)
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Some other Old Testament passages which either point toward, or predict, the Resurrection include: 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18–20, 32–37; Job 19:25–27; Psalm 49:13–15; Psalm 71:20; Isaiah 26:19–20; Ezekiel 37:7–10; Daniel 12:2–3.
Starting in verse 5, Paul begins to list examples of living people who witnessed the Resurrection. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Was seen of Cephas (Luke 24:34). The appearances to the women (John 20:14, etc.) are omitted, as being evidential rather to the apostles than to the world. The twelve (John 20:19, John 20:26). Some officious scribes have in some manuscripts altered the word into” the eleven.” But “the twelve” is here the designation of an office, and great ancient writers are always indifferent to mere pragmatic accuracy in trifles which involve nothing. To witness to the Resurrection was a main function of “the twelve” (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:15; Acts 10:40, etc.).
This makes sense, particularly in light of the fact that it seems to have been Christ’s intention that “The Twelve” either mirror or replace the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Gospel of Matthew indicates that they are to judge the twelve tribes:
Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
If the twelve apostles represent an office, this explains the decision to replace Judas Iscariot.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
“‘Let another take his office.’
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
It might be easy to dismiss Christ’s twelve closest disciples as witnesses, so next Paul cites the five hundred witnesses of Christ. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Above five hundred brethren at once. We cannot be certain whether this memorable appearance took place in Jerusalem or in Galilee. It is, however, most probable that this was the appearance on the mountain (Matthew 28:16, Matthew 28:17; comp. Matthew 26:32). Of whom the greater part remain unto this present. This sentence—a confident contemporary appeal to a very large number of living witnesses, by one who would rather have died than lied—is of the highest evidential value. It shows that the Resurrection was not “a thing done in a corner “(Acts 26:26). Fallen asleep. The beautiful and common word for death in the New Testament (Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60, etc.). Hence the word “cemetery”—”a sleeping place.”
This passage is difficult for many critics of Christianity, in that Paul’s statement here is not corroborated by other passages in the New Testament. It is worth noting though that Paul wrote this letter (mid 50s of the 1st century) well within the lifetimes of these events. An easily disprovable lie would have greatly damaged his own efforts because it could be checked. It is not as though Christianity was not a difficult choice to embrace anyway (persecutions, splits with family, etc.) What we saw in the first generation of the Church is rapid growth.
Paul also learned of other appearances of Christ, when he met with the original disciples in Jerusalem (and he likely heard word of mouth stories even before.) He shares those also. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Seen of James. The “James” intended is undoubtedly the only James then living, who was known to the whole Christian Church, namely, “the Lord’s brother,” the author of the Epistle, and the Bishop of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18). James the son of Zebedee had by this time been martyred, and James the son of Alphaeus was never much more than a name to the Church in general. There is no mention of this appearance in the Gospel; but in the Gospel of the Hebrews was a curious legend (preserved in St. Jerome, ‘De Virr. Illust.,’ 2.) that James had made a vow that he would neither eat nor drink till he had seen Jesus risen from the dead, and that Jesus, appearing to him, said, “My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from the dead.” The truth of the appearance is strongly supported by the fact that James, like the rest of the Lord’s “brothers,” “did not believe” in Christ before the Crucifixion, whereas after the Resurrection we find him and the rest of “the Lord’s brothers” ardently convinced (John 12:3-5; Acts 1:14; Acts 9:5, etc.). Of all the apostles (Acts 1:3; Luke 24:50). James the Lord’s brother was only an apostle in the wider sense of the word.
Paul finishes by citing his own experience as a witness. From Ellicott:
(8) Was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.—Better, Last of all, as to an untimely born one he appeared also to me. The Apostle here distinctly states that he saw the Lord at the time of his conversion as really as St. Peter and others had seen him, though with touching pathos and strongly marked emphasis he adds that it was not at the same time as the “firstborn” had seen Him, but only as an “untimely born” one.
Luke writers about Saul’s conversion experience (he was renamed Paul after) in the Book of Acts:
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
In the first generation of the Church, eye witness accounts of the resurrection, along with many miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, were an important part of convincing new converts to face what became extreme persecution.
This effort to provide evidence for the Resurrection continues on to this day. Among the more famous ways this has occurred is with the Shroud of Turin. From wiki:
The Shroud of Turin (Italian: Sindone di Torino), also known as the Holy Shroud (Italian: Sacra Sindone), is a length of linen cloth that bears a faint image of the front and back of a man. It has been venerated for centuries, especially by members of the Catholic Church, as the actual burial shroud used to wrap the body of Jesus of Nazareth after his crucifixion, and upon which Jesus’s bodily image is miraculously imprinted. The human image on the shroud can be discerned more clearly in a black and white photographic negative than in its natural sepia color, an effect discovered in 1898 by Secondo Pia, who produced the first photographs of the shroud. This negative image is associated with a popular Catholic devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. The shroud’s authenticity as a holy relic has been disputed even within the Catholic Church, and radiocarbon dating has shown it to be a medieval artifact.
The documented history of the shroud dates back to 1354, when it was exhibited in the new collegiate church of Lirey, a village in north-central France. The shroud was denounced as a forgery by the bishop of Troyes in 1389. It was acquired by the House of Savoy in 1453 and later deposited in a chapel in Chambéry, where it was damaged by fire in 1532.: 166 In 1578, the Savoys moved the shroud to their new capital in Turin, where it has remained ever since. Since 1683, it has been kept in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, which was designed for that purpose by architect Guarino Guarini and which is connected to both the royal palace and the Turin Cathedral. Ownership of the shroud passed from the House of Savoy to the Catholic Church after the death of former king Umberto II in 1983.
The microscopist Walter McCrone found, based on his examination of samples taken in 1978 from the surface of the shroud using adhesive tape, that the image on the shroud had been painted with a dilute solution of red ochre pigment in a gelatin medium. McCrone found that the apparent bloodstains were painted with vermilion pigment, also in a gelatin medium. McCrone’s findings were disputed by other researchers and the nature of the image on the shroud continues to be debated.
In 1988, radiocarbon dating by three different laboratories established that the shroud’s linen material was produced between the years 1260 and 1390 (to a 95% confidence level). Defenders of the authenticity of the shroud have questioned those results, usually on the basis that the samples tested might have been contaminated or taken from a repair to the original fabric. Such fringe theories have been refuted by carbon-dating experts and others based on evidence from the shroud itself, including the medieval repair theory, the bio-contamination theories and the carbon monoxide theory. Though accepted as valid by experts, the carbon-dating of the shroud continues to generate significant public debate. The nature and history of the shroud have been the subjects of extensive and long-lasting controversies in both the scholarly literature and the popular press. Currently, the Catholic Church neither endorses nor rejects the authenticity of the shroud as a relic of Jesus. In 2013 Pope Francis referred to it as an “icon of a man scourged and crucified”.
I find the Shroud to be endlessly interesting. Whether it is authentic or fake (even the Catholic Church will not take a side), no one knows how it was made, nor has anyone been able to recreate it with the same properties. Most of the relatively small number of people who research it seem to be biased either for its authenticity or against it, which makes the task of finding the truth to be a bit more difficult. Both sides of this discussion seem to overstate the definitiveness of their own cases and downplay the questions raised by the other side.
One strong argument for the Shroud as a Medieval forgery is that it is hard to imagine there being no record of a holy relic, such as this one, prior to the Middle Ages. Keep in mind that Christianity was the dominant religion of the Mediterranean and Europe for centuries prior the the Middle Ages. How would something like this have been both lost and well preserved for over a thousand years? To that point, the Shroud is believed by some to be one and the same as the Image of Edessa, which dates back to at least the 6th century. The Image of Edessa seems to have disappeared from the record shortly before the Shroud appears… which is interesting.
According to Christian tradition, the Image of Edessa was a holy relic consisting of a square or rectangle of cloth upon which a miraculous image of the face of Jesus had been imprinted—the first icon (“image”). The image is also known as the Mandylion (from Greek μανδύλιον “cloth, towel”), in Eastern Orthodoxy, it is also known as Acheiropoeiton (Εἰκόν’ ἀχειροποίητη), or “icon not made by hand”.
In the tradition recorded in the early 4th century by Eusebius of Caesarea, King Abgar of Edessa wrote to Jesus, asking him to come cure him of an illness. Abgar received a reply letter from Jesus, declining the invitation, but promising a future visit by one of his disciples. One of the seventy disciples, Thaddeus of Edessa, is said to have come to Edessa, bearing the words of Jesus, by the virtues of which the king was miraculously healed. Eusebius said that he had transcribed and translated the actual letter in the Syriac chancery documents of the king of Edessa, but who makes no mention of an image. The report of an image, which accrued to the legendarium of Abgar, first appears in the Syriac work, the Doctrine of Addai: according to it, the messenger, here called Ananias, was also a painter, and he painted the portrait, which was brought back to Edessa and conserved in the royal palace.
The first record of the existence of a physical image in the ancient city of Edessa (now Urfa) was by Evagrius Scholasticus, writing about 593, who reports a portrait of Christ of divine origin (θεότευκτος), which effected the miraculous aid in the defence of Edessa against the Persians in 544. The image was moved to Constantinople in the 10th century. The cloth disappeared when Constantinople was sacked in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and is believed by some to have reappeared as a relic in King Louis IX of France‘s Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. This relic disappeared in the French Revolution.
Author Ian Wilson has argued that the object venerated as the Mandylion from the 6th to the 13th centuries was in fact the Shroud of Turin, folded in four, and enclosed in an oblong frame so that only the face was visible. Wilson cites documents in the Vatican Library and the University of Leiden, Netherlands, which seem to suggest the presence of another image at Edessa. A 10th-century codex, Codex Vossianus Latinus Q 69 found by Gino Zaninotto in the Vatican Library contains an 8th-century account saying that an imprint of Christ’s whole body was left on a canvas kept in a church in Edessa: it quotes a man called Smera in Constantinople: “King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face but the whole body” (in Latin: [non tantum] faciei figuram sed totius corporis figuram cernere poteris).
If the two are one and the same, then that would take the cloth back much closer in time to Christ’s resurrection. It does not get one all the way to the 1st century, but it is much easier to believe that the early Church in Asia Minor kept and protected this cloth, than that it showed up with no prior history, thirteen centuries after the Resurrection.
Many have noted a resemblance between the face on the Shroud and Orthodox Christian iconography of Jesus – iconography which precedes the Medieval period by many centuries. If we assume that perhaps early Church depictions of Jesus were based on the Image of Edessa, then this might further lend credence to the argument for the Shroud and the Image of Edessa being one and the same.
Alternatively, though, the image on the Shroud, if it is indeed a forgery, might have been based on the early Church’s iconography. If that is the case, then the resemblance is neither a coincidence, nor does it prove the cloth’s authenticity in any way.
If you follow the link directly above, you’ll see *much* more on this point.
Since the far more popular public statements have been arguments against the authenticity of the Shroud, I will include below an argument for it. This is one of the most popular topics on YouTube, apparently, so you can do your own research on this one, too.
Returning our attention back to the text: After making a 1st century case for the Resurrection, appealing to then still living eye witnesses (including himself), Paul continues on in the rest of the chapter, sharing the Gospel, and building the foundation of the Christian faith on the truth of the Resurrection.