Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-28
I teach a course entitled “Christian Beliefs,” which develops the biblical basis for a Christian’s faith. On the first day of class, I begin the first unit, “The Foundation for Belief in the Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority of the Bible,” with a crucial question: “Why should I or anyone else believe the Bible?” I wait for the students’ answers.
One person says, “We should believe the Bible because it is God’s Word.” My response is, “Many religions claim their sacred writings come from God. Does their claim make it so or compel my belief in their claim?” Another person says, “We should believe the Bible because it is inspired by God.” Again, I respond, “Many religions claim their sacred writings are inspired by God. Again, just because the writings claim to be inspired by God, is such a claim to be believed?” I reject these answers as unconvincing.
Finally, someone suggests that we should believe the Bible because Jesus tells us to believe it. I usually respond to this suggestion by asking where in the Bible Jesus said that. After a period of silence, I suggest, “How about Luke 24:25-27?” The students are now a bit perplexed and intrigued by the discussion. When someone finds Luke 24:25-27, I ask them to read it aloud. It is a record of the words of Jesus to the two men on the road to Emmaus. “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” This passage reveals that Jesus said that anyone who does not believe Moses (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), and all the prophets (the rest of the Hebrew scriptures from Joshua through Malachi), is foolish and slow of heart. That is quite a strong statement! According to the historical record of Luke 24:25-27, Jesus said people should believe the authority and authenticity of the Bible (the Hebrew scriptures).
“But,” I ask, “Why should I believe what Jesus says? Yes, Jesus says that people should believe the Hebrew scriptures, but what makes His opinion of any more value than the opinion of some other highly respected religious figure?” It is this question that lets me address the crucial difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of other historical religious teachers. My response to the students contains the centerpiece of Christianity and the foundational truth of the gospel. “We should believe what Jesus says because of the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection!”
Why should I believe what Jesus says? Yes, Jesus says that people should believe the Hebrew scriptures, but what makes His opinion of any more value than the opinion of some other highly respected religious figure?
Let us now turn to 1 Corinthians 15, and listen to what Paul writes about the relationship of Jesus’ resurrection to the message of the gospel.
The Gospel Paul Preached and Its Saving Nature (1 Cor. 15:1-2)
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Corinth was a Greek city, and many of the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. When Paul had preached at Athens and declared the fact of Christ’s resurrection, some of his listeners actually laughed at him (Acts 17:32). And it appears that some in the church at Corinth, no doubt influenced by Greek philosophy, were denying the possibility of a physical resurrection. Paul asked, how is it that “some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12). The gospel Paul had preached to the Corinthians was the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. The Corinthians had received the message, believed it, and were saved. However, their continuing salvation hinged upon their continuing to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. If they chose to reject the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, their faith in Jesus as their savior would be worthless (“in vain”).
The Hebrew Scriptures Predicted Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
What Paul preached and they believed is the common ground of the Christian church. The phrase, “according to the Scriptures,” probably is not intended to point to a single passage or set of passages but to the larger reality of the Old Testament that taught that the penalty for sin is death, but sin could be atoned for by the sacrificial death of a substitutionary animal prescribed by God.
The ritual on the Day of Atonement pictures sacrificial animals “bearing the sins” of the people. And this language is picked up in Isaiah 53:2- 12 to describe the one who “as a lamb led to slaughter” took away the sins of the people (Isa. 53:7). His resurrection, as His death, was also according to the scriptures. In Leviticus 23 we see this pictured in the Feast of the Firstfruits after the Passover Sabbath.
In Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:10 we see that for Christ the path of life lay through death. But after death, He was to see His seed and prolong His days. And in Psalm 110 we see Him as the Risen One taking His seat at God’s right hand in heaven (cf. Acts 2:25-36).
The Historical Proof of Jesus’ Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-11)
And that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
There are two kinds of facts:
- scientific fact (that which is observable and repeatable) and
- historical fact (based upon eyewitness accounts).
Either kind of fact is acceptable in a court of law to establish the truthfulness of testimony. Both are not required. The disposition of a case may be decided upon historical facts (human, eyewitness testimony) alone. Most court time is, in fact, taken up with witness examination and cross-examination to establish the “facts” of the case.
Paul understood the importance of historical eye witness testimony to establish historical fact. He could have reiterated the eyewitness testimony of people recorded in the Gospels and Acts, including Mary Magdalene (in the garden on the morning of the resurrection, John 20:11-18), Mary, the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1), Joanna (Luke 24:10), or the testimony of the two men to whom Jesus appeared in his resurrected body on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35). Instead he mentions just a few of the numerous eyewitnesses to Jesus’ physical resurrection: the Apostle Peter (Luke 24:34), the twelve, James, then all of the apostles, and more than five hundred brethren at once (most of whom were still alive).
It is important to remember that in a Jewish court of law, the testimony of two or three witnesses was mandatory and sufficient to prove the veracity of an event. Thus, by appearing to five hundred believers at one time, Jesus provided overwhelming proof of His physical resurrection.
Lastly, Paul adds his own testimony as an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection. It was a personal appearance of the resurrected Jesus that changed Paul’s life. No other record exists of any religious leader dying and subsequently being raised from the dead. No other such claim has ever been made by any major religion in recorded history.
- Muhammad is still in his grave.
- Buddha is still in his grave.
- Confucius is still in his grave.
- Lao-Tse, the founder of Taoism, is still in his grave.
- Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism (Pakistan), is still in his grave.
Christianity stands alone in its claim that its founder, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus, at tested by a huge body of eyewitnesses, is conclusive historical proof that Jesus is who he claimed to be—the very Son of God—in fact, God of Very God! And for this reason, we ought to accept what Jesus says about the scriptures.
Jesus is the Prime Witness as to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of scripture. That He is certifiable an expert in this subject is evidenced by His claiming to be God and proving His claim by rising from the dead. As God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Logos (Word), He is the Living Word of God. As God, He knows with certainty the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the scriptures. And Jesus says that anyone who does not believe the Hebrew scriptures is a fool and has a slow (or stubborn) heart.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.