Paul goes back to the basics in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 to establish a foundation for what he will say next. Sometimes we need to do this. Sometimes we can find ourselves building castles in the air and not even realizing they have no foundations under them. It’s vital to remember what our faith is, and is not, built on.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of their allegiance to the gospel he originally preached to them. It is the foundation of their faith and the reason they first chose to believe. Departing from it makes no sense unless they depart from the faith all-together.
Unless this gospel is not true, the Corinthians are saved by their belief in it, but not automatically. It is not enough to have believed. They must hold on to their belief if they are to remain in a state of grace.
Just reading this at face value, by itself, one might suppose that Paul received this as a human teaching, however in a couple of other locations, Paul claims that his revelation came from Jesus Himself. 1 Corinthians 11:23, Galatians 1:12
We might also assume that the purely informational items were available to him, as he certainly heard the testimony of Stephen and most likely of many other believers he persecuted. However, as Paul has already explained earlier in this letter, one cannot truly understand God’s word until one has the Spirit of God.
The first tenet of faith listed here, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, is absolutely foundational to Christianity. The historical evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross is not reasonably disputable. I think Paul is listing it here primarily to make his statement complete. It is resurrection he is defending in this instance, not Christ’s death.
Jesus was well and truly dead and buried. And He was raised on the third day. Paul may have been referencing Hosea 6:2, which is particularly specific, though only one of multitudes of Old Testament prophetic scriptures foreshadowing Jesus death and resurrection.
Obviously, this is not a complete listing of people Jesus appeared to, however Paul mentions a large pool of available witnesses, none of whom seems to have come forth to deny the event, though at least some of them were undoubtedly questioned, considering the Jews’ animosity toward the new faith.
Notice that Jesus’ appearance to the 500 was just prior to His assension. The appearances listed after this would seem to have occurred after this event.
Apparently, Jesus appeared to James (His brother) and to “all the apostles,” which one would at first take to be the twelve, but is this truly what it means? Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 9:1 that he has seen Jesus, as a proof of his apostleship. Could he be saying here that Jesus has appeared to all the apostles? Some writers have distinguished the “apostles of the Lamb” as those who had seen Jesus, but Paul says here, “to all the apostles.” And Paul elsewhere mentions people other than the twelve and himself to whom he also refers as apostles. Perhaps it was expected that anyone called to apostleship would need to have had a significant vision of Jesus, or to have been among His earthly disciples.
Paul says here, “last of all,” yet we know that Jesus appeared at least to John after this statement, and likely others had visions of Christ in the interim as well. We hear of people in restricted nations having visions of Christ in modern times that uncannily direct them to conversion experiences or unexpected shipments of bibles or other things. I think, therefore, that Paul’s “last of all” refers to his own estimation of his worthiness rather than the chronological time of his vision. Verse 9 would seem to confirm this.
Paul’s conversion and subsequent ministry and sufferings for Christ remind us that it is necessary, however unpleasant we may find it, to pray for the persecutors as well as for the persecuted. God’s grace can abound in modern times just as in the first century.
All these–Cephas (Peter), the twelve, the 500, James, all the apostles, and Paul–preach the same thing: to wit, that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead. Paul reminds the Corinthians that this was the gospel they originally received and believed.
All this has been a set-up for Paul’s next argument, though it is a great review in itself and contains a number of interesting points of its own which uphold other portions of scripture.
I have some favorite verses coming up, though not until the latter part of this chapter. I can’t wait to get to them and share the revelation God gave me on them.
Grace and Peace to you,