Having introduced the 15th Chapter of First Corinthians with an overview of the gospel foundation upon which the Apostle Paul will base his argument for the bodily resurrection of believers, we turn our focus now towards the three methods of argumentation the apostle will use to support his conclusions:
- The Authority of Scripture
- The Eyewitness Experience
- The Logical Argument
Each of these proofs are utilized to establish the unquestioned validity of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave. The first of these we looked at in our last post from this series, so we will only briefly touch upon it again here.
In the opening verses of this magnificent chapter, we found two appeals to the Scriptures marked with the phrase, “according to the Scriptures,” first, for the death of Christ for our sins and second for His resurrection on the third day, each of which served to under-gird the gospel
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
This first proof, an appeal to the authority of Scripture, is critical because it is the sure footing of all subsequent proofs. Meaning, Scripture is the final authority. Scripture is the very Word of God. It is His divine revelation to mankind. It is theopneustos, God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:15). This concept is often abbreviated with the post-reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura, Latin for Scripture Alone, i.e. that Scripture alone, not experience, not tradition, not philosophy or logic, is the final authority in the life of a believer.
This notion is summaraized in the 17th Century Westminster Confession of Faith:
“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
We mentioned briefly in the previous post how this appeal to Scripture was, in general, an appeal to Scriptures testimony as a whole to the death and resurrection of Christ. However, we also mentioned a few specific passages that either prophesied or anticipated the coming suffering and glory of our Lord. This is Paul’s first proof of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection, namely because Scripture, i.e. the Word of Almighty God, said so. And that is sufficient.
The second proof of the resurrection of Christ is the experience of the eyewitnesses. The order here is important, first Scripture, then experience. The Apostle Peter makes a similar conclusion in
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[i] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21
In chapter 15 of First Corinthians we read of the details concerning these eyewitness testimonies to the resurrection of Christ:
- Cephas (Peter)
- The Twelve
- 500 Brothers at one time
- All the Apostles
Significant to this list is obviously Peter and the ministerial reputation that surrounded him, by God’s grace, particularly in the Jerusalem church and his sermon at Pentecost. Paul’s audience here was most likely familiar, if nothing more, with the name of Peter. Then we see the 12 and 500 at one time. Next is James, the half-brother of Jesus. He is a significant mention because during our Lord’s earthly ministry, James did not believe that Christ was the Son of God. Like most brothers, he probably felt disdain towards his own brother. However, here we see that an “atheist” in the sense of denying the deity of Christ, was witness to the resurrection of Christ. Not only that, but James came to believe in Christ unto salvation. Not only that, but James became a pillar in the first century church. Of final significance is the Apostle Paul, who spends several verses establishing his own apostlicity before moving onto the third and final proof which we’ll look at below.
We must pause and ask, “Why is the eyewitness testimony so critical?” Because it validates the historical aspect of the resurrection. It wasn’t a myth. It wasn’t fiction. Someone didn’t come and steal the body and now we don’t know where Jesus is. There were actual eyewitness accounts, each corroborating the other. In order for the resurrection of Christ to be fiction, every single one of the more than 500 eyewitness testimonies would have to be recanted, and then each of them would have to be able to tell and spread the same exact lie.
Additionally, we may recall that Old Testament judicial action could be taken on the basis of 2 or 3 eyewitnesses (see Deut. 19:15, Num. 35:30, et.al). In our own day, eyewitness testimony is no less important. As it pertains to Christ, we have not 1, or even 2-3, but over 500! Each testifying to the historical fact of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead.
This brings us to the third and final proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ as defined and employed in the 15th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, namely the logical argument. Again, there is an order to these proofs. If Paul had placed logic first, or if Paul had placed experience first, perhaps his argument for proof would have been an appeal to man, but he doesn’t. He begins with Scripture as the basis – an appeal to God- then to experience, and now engages the mind with a logical argument of why the resurrection must be true. Within his own argumentation, Paul has now provided 3 witnesses for the testimony of the resurrection.
Reading through 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 we can summarize the logical flow of the argument as follows:
- The passage utilizes at least 7, and possibly more, IF/THEN combinations or implied combinations to establish the logical conclusions of denying the resurrection of Christ.
- The passage provides no less than 9 Consequences for denying the resurrection
This third proof is given more attention, likely because the Corinthians did not deny nor have difficulty with the first two. The Apostle, always keenly aware of his audience realizes that the disconnect lies between the facts of Christ’s resurrection and the subsequent implications of it. It is upon this third proof of the Apostles that we will direct our thoughts towards in the next post.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely fundamental to the gospel. It is a non-negotiable for salvation. It isn’t enough to believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins, you must believe He rose from the dead because, among many blessings and benefits, it validates His exclusivity as the Son of God and the sufficiency of His sacrifice. As chapter 15 unfolds, it will become clear how the Christian hope for their own bodily resurrection from the dead finds its source in the “first-fruits” of Jesus Christ.