How can we be sure Paul didn't make up the creed in 1 Corinthians 15?

I’ve been trying to do research into the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and, so far, have learned about the use of non-Pauline language, calling Peter “Cephas”, use of the other Aramaic terms used to pass down an oral tradition, etc. However, I couldn’t get off my conscience that, as Paul, wouldn’t he have been able to fabricate the creed easily? What evidence is there that the 500 eyewitnesses actually happened?
Thank you

Of course he made it up. So?

Can you elaborate? I edited my question if that helps in understanding at all.

He was just passing on what he’d been told. What’s the problem?

Can you say more about what you’re getting at here? Are you musing that this couldn’t have been Paul writing this? Or that even if it was, you still see reasons in the scholarship to hold the claims therein suspect?

  • To what end? For what purpose? To give himself credibility in order to live and profit off of the donations and support of Christians for the rest of his life?
  • So, you’re concerned that Paul, in a letter written to Greeks calls Simon Peter “Cephas”, using a Greek name instead of the Aramaic name given to Peter by Jesus himself. Would you be more confident if Paul had called Peter “Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ”?
  • Fact: Paul wasn’t there. As he says in verse 3: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received …”
  • Can I safely believe that exactly five hundred eyewitnesses saw Jesus at the same time in the same place, after the resurrection? Pardon my surprise. This wasn’t a story that Paul was told about Jesus going to Jerusalem one day while Jesus was still alive. It’s a story about a man crucified, raised from the dead, and appearing to a large number of men and women somewhere just before Jesus’ ascension.
  • If I can believe that
    • Jesus existed,
    • Jesus was crucified and died,
    • Jesus was resurrected,
    • Jesus was seen by one or more eyewitnesses at separate times in several different places,
    • About 500 men and women were interested enough in Jesus to gather in the same place at the same time after Jesus’ death, and
    • Jesus knocked Paul off his horse on the road to Damascus several years after Jesus’ resurrection.
  • I certainly don’t have a problem believing that Jesus appeared to a large number of eyewitnesses–as many as 500–in the same place at the same time, some of whom were still alive around 55 A.D., when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians.
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The explanation I learned was that, since 1 Corinthians was written to the church in Corinth about AD 53-54, this is about 20 years after the claimed resurrection and 500 eyewitness sightings. And so many of the apostles and purported eyewitnesses would have still been alive at the time 1 Corinthians was circulated. So if people at the time read the letter from Paul and doubted the “facts” reported by him, they still had the opportunity to fact-check him by talking to the eyewitnesses themselves. And since new converts suffered persecution, they had incentive to confirm/test what Paul was telling them before believing his report.

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Thank you, this kind of explanation is what I’ve been looking for. I’ll give an update if I have any follow up questions related to this.

How would Paul’s Greek readers have talked to the eyewitnesses? And why would Greek Christians have suffered persecution in Paul’s day?

I’ve heard that multilingualism wasn’t uncommon in Paul’s day–that the Koine Greek that the NT was written in was the “lingua franca” so that even if it wasn’t one’s mother tongue, it wouldn’t be hard to understand the basics (or find a buddy who knew it and could translate).

I’m no ancient historian so someone else may be more qualified to fill in the details but, for example, Paul was heading out to Damascus to persecute the new gentile converts in Samaria, so it is possible that new Christians in the surrounding lands (whether Jews or gentiles) were facing persecution from the Jewish religious caste. Jews had a special exemption as a conquered people in the Roman empire in that they didn’t have to pray to the Roman Gods, or to Caesar. But Christianity was not recognized by the Romans in this way. So, Christians were subject to being called traitors and persecuted as such if they did not participate in the Roman religion and temple practices. Also, when Paul preached in Greece, it says he was mocked and the Greek philosophers of the day thought it was foolishness—so buying into a new worldview that the majority in the community thought was insane probably wasn’t going to move you up the social ladder real quick.

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Paul came in to contact with mainly, as in >99%, Jewish Christians in Damascus, which is nowhere near Samaria. And why would he be going to persecute gentiles? Why would any Jew? Christianity would have been virtually indistinguishable from outside Jewish culture in those early decades. Persecution of Greek Christians by Rome is decades later yet, like that of Roman Christians. Centuries.

Perhaps an early church historian can elaborate better than I can, but the first “organized” persecutions of Christians occurred under Emperor Nero in 64 AD, which is just 10 years (1 decade not “decades” like you wrote) after the creed in 1 Corinthians would have been written around AD54. And Nero didn’t just pull random scapegoats out of the blue–there was clearly earlier suspicion and derision of this new “religious cult” in the broader society that he took advantage of. So, it seems logical that new Christians were likely facing derision and harassment (if not actual martyrdom) from very early on…?

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3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raisedon the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

The 500 isn’t the problem here, its the “twelve.” Does Paul not know Judas betrayed Jesus and there were only 11 disciples? Something doesn’t add up.

Ehrman writes of the oddities

  • He indicates that Cephas was the first to have a vision of Jesus. What about the women at the empty tomb? Does Paul not know about them? Does he choose not to mention them? Why? (Note: at the end, when he says “last of all, he appeared also to me,” that “last of all” is usually taken to mean that he has given the full list, that there were no other appearances).
  • He lists the twelve and the apostles as separate groups. Why? There are two puzzles here.
  • Does he really mean the “twelve”? If so, that would include Judas Iscariot. But according to Matthew and Acts, Judas was dead by then. Paul never mentions the betrayal of Judas (not even 1 Cor. 11:22-24, for reasons I can explain if anyone’s interested) or the death of Judas or, even, the name Judas! Does Paul know the tradition that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, or does he think that all twelve lived on and remained “the twelve” after Jesus’ death? Another option is that the term “the twelve” is simply a technical term for “Jesus’ closest disciples” and does not require that there were actually 12 of them. I guess that would be like the Big Ten conference which has more than ten teams in it….
  • If the twelve does refer to the disciples of Jesus, as surely it must, then why does Paul have a separate appearance to “the apostles”? Who were the apostles if not the twelve, after Jesus’ death? Paul included himself as an apostle, of course, but he is not included in this appearance to “all the apostles.” That would be because he converted later. But who else would be in this group?
  • Note that Paul does not differentiate the appearance to himself in any way to make it unlike the appearances to any of the others. In other words, he gives no indication that Jesus first appeared to the other five individuals/groups and then ascended and then only later appeared to him. Paul never mentions the ascension. And the appearance to him was like the appearances to all the others. The reason should be clear: for Paul, when Jesus was “raised,” he wasn’t simply brought back to earth. He was raised up to heaven where he currently lives and reigns, and occasionally comes down to appear to his followers.

Of the 500 he goes on to write:

So where did Paul get his information from? Maybe Peter. Maybe James. Maybe other Christians. Maybe a combination of them all. I doubt if he “made up” the idea of “500 brothers” at one time out of whole cloth. My sense is that rumors of these sorts of things circulate all the time – as with the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary in modern times, as she is attested as appearing to 1000 people at once in some times and places. Do I think this is evidence that she really did appear to these people? No, not really. Same with Paul. There were stories about such appearances and he believed them.

If you aren’t stricken with confirmation bias, its not exactly the nail in the coffin some Christians think it is. None the less it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ earliest followers believe they saw him after his death.

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Gee, that’s funny. In my bible, I read:

  • Acts 1:15-26
    • 15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,
    • 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
    • 17 For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.”
    • 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.
    • 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
    • 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate,
      And let no one dwell in it’; and, ‘Let another man take his office.’
    • 21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out us—
    • 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
    • 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
    • 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen
    • 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
    • 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
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I was wondering if there was any reason why Matthias could not have been the 12th that Paul was referring to. It says he would have to best witness to his resurrection.

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I’m sure many here may disagree. But the reason why I have always felt that there was no issue with the 12 vs the apostles , despite it being about the same group of men was because he appeared to them through the power of the Holy Spirit after the tongues fell on them and they received the ability to lay on hands and pass spiritual gifts. That’s what they became apostles.

The word became flesh.
The word is the sword of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus also could have simply visited them again and it was not recorded.

You act as if that passage was overlooked. Paul is providing contemporary primary data based on eyewitness testimony. Acts is offering a highly stylized and polished account of Church history 60-80 years later where a coin was flipped to choose a new disciple.

Not to mention, if my memory serves me well, the ascension and appearances to the 11/12 seems to have occurred before Matthias. All those amazing appearances of Jesus to his original apostles over 40 days per Luke Acts and all those amazing proofs and post-resurrection teachings and they have to flip a coin to pick the 12th member. Jesus chose his disciples. Yeah, I’m not buying it.

So you’re saying that even if Matthias saw Jesus before Jesus ascended into heaven and before Matthias was chosen by lot to be Judas’ replacement, Paul was misinformed when he was told that Jesus appeared “to the twelve”? Did you get that from Ehrman or come up with that yourself?

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There was no “twelve” at the time. I don’t naively assume all the accounts are perfectly harmonizable or immediately look to harmonize every detail in them. Nor am I convinced the Matthias incident in Acts is history remembered. It’s evident to me that Jesus would have chosen his own replacement if he was actually hanging around with the 11 for 40 days (read that again…. Forty days). The account in Acts looks contrived and the ascension appears to occur before Mathias is chosen to fill the vacancy left by Judas. Luke is an artist.

So there is quite a bit of friction between what Paul narrates and what the gospels have, not to mention the resurrection appearances are all over the places when you compared each Gospel account with one another. Galilee or Jerusalem?

Acts portrays the believers as residing in Jerusalem and describes a crowd of about 120 (interesting number) after the ascension of Jesus. Did Jesus “unascend” when he appeared to the 500? Or did he specifically choose to appear to 500 different people before the ascension but 380 people chose not to believe in him? Or did he appear to 380 people outside Jerusalem? Or did the 500 happen later and they received visions like Paul?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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