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The 500 who saw Jesus after the Resurrection

Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2020 5:31 pm
by steve
New correspondence today:

I heard you discussing Paul's list of eye-witnesses including the famous 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6). I don't understand why this anonymous claim has any weight whatsoever. In point of fact it would not have been possible for Paul's readers,, scattered around the Roman Empire, to personally interrogate any of these alleged eyewitnesses. Paul doesn't even name them. This would be like the police asking someone for an alibi to a crime and this person responding "Oh five hundred people saw me in the shopping plaza at that hour." Such a testimony would be absolutely meaningless, and I don't understand why Paul's claim is deemed any more authoritative.

I have CCd this email to a number of other New Testament scholars.

Thank you, Michael

Hello Michael,

You must remember that Paul was intimate with the Corinthian Church, having planted the church, lived among them for 18 months, and carried on extensive correspondence with them (writing them four letters, including his two longest letters). They knew that they could (and did) write to him with their questions (1 Cor.7:1).

In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul strongly suggested that he knew some of these witnesses, since he seemed to be aware of which of them were still living and which had subsequently died. While he might not have been able to name every one of them (this would not be necessary in order to affirm their number, which he certainly would have learned from the other apostles—v.3), he certainly could have provided the names of some of them to any Corinthian inquirer who wish to talk to them. In fact, the way he mentions that some were still living seems to be an implicit invitation to the reader to check with them if they doubted Paul.

Most sensible people would simply take the word of a man like Paul on the matter as sufficiently authoritative, though a die-hard skeptic would be in the position to ask Paul for some names. Since those who saw Jesus after His resurrection would probably have included many pilgrims from around the Empire, who had come to Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost, it is most likely that some of them would have later returned to their domicile nations throughout the Mediterranean World. That some lived in Greece is not improbable. Paul seems to be saying that one who wished to research the question (as Luke, for example, did) could easily be directed to eye-witnesses—some of whom might be quite nearby.

To doubt that these witnesses existed would leave unexplained why Paul would fabricate them—mentioning the detail of their approximate number, and that some had died. To make something like that up would simply make Paul vulnerable to being disproven by investigators—and would be totally superfluous, since he had already identified by name twelve others (besides himself) who had seen the risen Christ (had he wished, he could also have included Mary Magdalene and the other women, as well as Cleopas and his friend). That is by far enough witnesses to establish the case without creating ephemeral imaginary witnesses as well.

Your example of the police investigation is flawed, first, because Paul is not presenting a case to indifferent law enforcement, but assuring believers that what they already believed was true (vv.1-3). Second, if we do take the police report analogy, it would be more parallel for the person being investigated to say, “I was playing a concert in the park at that time. I can name thirteen people who will testify to this fact, and, additionally, there were about five-hundred by-standers listening in the park, any of whom could also testify (if thirteen witnesses is not enough!).”


Re: The 500 who saw Jesus after the Resurrection

Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2020 6:06 pm
by Seballius
Great response! Thank you for posting this and God bless.

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