One of the criticisms raised against the historic validity of Jesus, His crucifixion, and resurrection is that after Jesus' time that legend crept into the stories about Him and corrupted the true accounts of His life. If that is so, then the earlier we can find information concerning the fundamental events of Christ's crucifixion, the less likely error and legend would have crept into the story and the more believable it will be.
1 Cor. 15:3-5 is considered by many scholars to be an extremely early creed of the Christian church. A creed is a statement of belief. In 1 Cor. 15:3-5 we see that Paul says he received this information. It reads,
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." (1 Cor. 15:3-5, NASB).
If we were to take a chronological look at some important events and their dates related to this subject, we find that the time period between the event and the record is very small.
|Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998, p. 35.|
|A.D. 34-37.||The New Bible Dictionary, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1962.|
|Paul's first visit
|A.D. 37-38.||The New Bible Dictionary.|
|The Chronological Bible, Nashville, TN: Regal Publishers, 1977, p. 1429.|
|A.D. 54-55.||Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.|
|Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, 1983, 1985.|
If the Crucifixion was in 30 A.D., Paul's Conversion was as early as 34 A.D., and his first meeting in Jerusalem was around 37 A.D., then we could see that the time between the event of Christ's crucifixion and Paul receiving the information about His death, burial, and resurrection (in Jerusalem) would be as short as seven years (five if we use the earlier date). That is a very short period of time and hardly long enough for legend to creep in and corrupt the story. This is especially important since the apostles were alive and spoke with Paul. They were eyewitness' accounts to Christ's death, burial, and post-death appearances. Paul himself had seen the Lord Jesus prior to His death and after His resurrection (Acts 9). Paul's account agreed with the other Apostles' account and Paul wrote it down in 1 Cor. 15 around the year 54.1
So, since 1 Corinthians was written as early as A.D. 54, that would mean that from the event (Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection) to writing it down is 24 years. That is a very short period of time. Remember, there were plenty of Christians around who could have corrected the writings of Paul if he was in error. But we have no record at all of any corrections or challenges to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ from anyone: Roman, Jew, or other Christians. What's more, Paul mentions that he had previous delivered this creed to the Corinthians (i.e., taught it to them in person) some time prior to sending the letter. Paul Himself received the creed sometime before that (probably during his trip to Jerusalem), and the creed had to already be in use before Paul could receive it. Thus, what Paul wrote here represents an oral formula that seems to go back to the very beginning of the Christian movement.
We must note here that some critics of the Bible claim that there is no extrabiblical evidence of Christ (not true). And that because of it, He didn't exist (see Did Jesus ever exist?). The sword cuts both ways. If they can say that Jesus' events aren't real because there is no extrabiblical evidence mentioning them, then we can also say that since there are no extrabiblical accounts refuting the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, then it must be true. In other words, the lack of extra-biblical writings does not prove that Christ did not live and did not die.
Furthermore, Paul corroborated the gospel accounts (He wrote before the gospels were written) and verified several things:
- Jesus was born in as a Jew (Gal. 4:4),
- Jesus was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23)
- Jesus was crucified (Gal. 3:1; 1 Cor. 2:2; Phil. 2:8).
- Jesus was buried in rose again (1 Cor. 15:4; Rom. 6:4).
Obviously, Paul considered Jesus as a historical figure--not a legend or a myth. Furthermore, Paul was a man of great integrity who suffered much for his faith. He was not the kind of person to simply believe tall tales. After all, he was a devout Jew (a Pharisee) and a heavy persecutor of the Church. Something profound had to happen to him to get him to change his position, abandon the Jewish faith and tradition, suffer persecutions, whippings, jail, etc. The most likely event that fits the bill is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again from the dead, and appeared to Paul--just as Luke said in Acts 9.
- 1. Most scholars think that Paul "delivered" this creed around 51 A.D. during his previous trip to Corinth.