7 March 2015

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins …, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” (vv. 3-4)

Psalm: Psalm 119:97-112


Having written in some detail about spiritual gifts, Paul now changes the subject to remind his readers of the basis of their faith. In light of the issues about authority which have been thrown up in this earlier discussion, it is significant that the good news (or gospel) which they have received is that which Paul proclaimed to them; and it will continue to be the basis of their salvation if only they hold fast to it (verses 1-2) with an implicit warning against others who may seek to lead them astray.

Paul then outlines the basis of their belief in Christ in terms of that which he himself received. These are summarised in verses 3 and 4 (above) and it is significant that Christ's death and resurrection are both "in accordance with the scriptures", for when Paul was writing this would refer to the Hebrew scriptures (ie our Old Testament). It is also possible that these verses echo an early credal statement which would have been more widely known across the early Church (and which some New Testament scholars have termed the 'kerygma', the basis of apostolic preaching).

Paul goes on to list the resurrection appearances of Christ; that he appeared first to Cephas (or Peter) then to the twelve (disciples) then to more than "five hundred brothers and sisters … most of whom are still alive" (v. 6) (which is a reminder that this letter is one of the earliest documents to be found in the New Testament, likely dating to AD54-55, and so within a generation of the death and resurrection of Christ). Then Christ appeared to James and to the apostles and "last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (v. 8). This is Paul's own account of his conversion; it is noticeably more succinct than the account found in Acts 9 of the road to Damascus experience (although what he goes on to say about his previous persecution of the Church accords well with what is told in Acts.)

It is also significant that Paul includes his own experience in this list of witnesses to the resurrection, so although he may be regarded as "the least", he is nonetheless to be included as one of the "apostles" (v. 9). Nor has his conversion been in vain, for Paul has "worked harder than any of them" in proclaiming the gospel, albeit that "it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (v. 10). For as in his discussion of spiritual gifts, Paul is not only addressing matters of belief but also responding to challenges to his authority and leadership by re-affirming his role as one of the apostles.

To Ponder

  • Have you had a direct experience of the risen Christ, or does your faith rest on the testimony of others?
  • Does this matter? Why?
  • If your experience is the latter, what has led you to trust in others' testimony?
  • If your experience is the former, how do you share it with others in order to encourage them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.