Apologetics Tuesday: Can We Trust The NT- What did Paul think?
Last week I looked at the minimal facts approach that can be taken to looking at the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Again the resurrection is key because without it, our faith would be dead. Now before I go too much further there are two ways of knowing Jesus rose from the dead, first is the experiential way. Having the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is generally the only evidence that most people ever need, but there are some people out there who need the historical case for Jesus in order to believe.
For more on the experiential evidence of the resurrection, check out my post from a few weeks back on “Shouldn’t a Magician be an Atheist?”
People who doubt the resurrection try to first deny the historical value of the Gospels (Richard Carrier-Bart Ehrman-The Jesus Seminar). Secondly, they attack the Apostle Paul, saying he didn’t actually believe the same thing as the Gospels about Jesus. They try and claim that Paul never believed in a bodily resurrection at all, thus undermining the entire principal of a historical event, but rather some spiritual experience. The problem with that thought though, is a subjective visionary experience does nothing for us today. A risen resurrected Jesus changed everything. It vindicates Jesus’ personal claims of deity.
One of the earliest source materials we have in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians. Paul quotes a very old Christian tradition that dates back to within 5 years of the resurrection. Some scholars date this creed as early as 18 months after the events of Jesus resurrection. The significance of that is enormous. Showing that the earliest Christians, and the Gospel writers stories lined up, and that the Gospel writers didn’t just make up all that happened in their accounts.
Here is the creed from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
3 For I delivered to you [b]as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to [c]James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as [d]to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Paul basically lays out the entire narrative of the 4 facts talked about last week.
The burial, the empty tomb is clearly implied, the appearances, and then the origin of the Christian faith in such an un-Jewish idea of a resurrected Messiah.
Paul adds himself to the list of the appearances to give credence to his own experience to say it equals that of the original disciples.
This ancient creed shows how much the Gospels and all of the NT agree with each other about the narrative of Jesus. So the best conclusion is that we do in fact have great early sources. Historians consider it to be pay dirt when they have 2 independent early sources of the same event. With the narrative of Jesus, we have 5 independent sources, two of which are very, very early. In antiquity this is about as good as it gets for historical sources.