Gary Habermas on the Pre-Pauline Creed of 1 Cor. 15

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1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is widely recognized by New Testament scholars as a statement of belief (creed) that was systematized long before Paul quoted it.  If so, it represents the earliest historical account of Jesus’ resurrection, and goes back to the eyewitnesses themselves.  Gary Habermas comments on the very early date of this creed, which even skeptical scholars acknowledge.

Do critical scholars agree on the date of this pre-Pauline creed?  Even radical scholars like Gerd Lüdemann think that “the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion . . . no later than three years after the death of Jesus.”  Similarly, Michael Goulder contends that Paul’s testimony about the resurrection appearances “goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.”

An increasing number of exceptionally influential scholars have very recently concluded that at least the teaching of the resurrection, and perhaps even the specific formulation of the pre-Pauline creedal tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, dates to AD 30!  In other words, there never was a time when the message of Jesus’ resurrection was not an integral part of the earliest apostolic proclamation.  No less a scholar than James D. G. Dunn even states regarding this crucial text: “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.

— Gary Habermas, “Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts,” God is Great, God is Good (InterVarsity Press, 2009), 212.

For the sources quoted by Habermas, see here at Google Books.  For more on the pre-Pauline creed, see here.

This early dating seriously damages claims of long periods of time when legends about Jesus supposedly developed and became part of Christian proclamation.  It also puts to rest unfounded speculations about the purported role pagan mythology played as source material for Jesus’ resurrection.  William Lane Craig soundly critiques that position here.

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14 thoughts on “Gary Habermas on the Pre-Pauline Creed of 1 Cor. 15

  1. Pingback: The Message in the Earliest Creeds in the New Testament | Navigating by Faith

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  3. Pingback: Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! An Easter Message On 1 Corinthians 15 | Start Thinking Right

  4. Gary,

    I think a run-down of the early resurrection appearances may clear up any misunderstandings.

    * Mark 16:14 describes an appearance to “the Eleven” — which no doubt means all the disciples except Judas. However, this is part of the Mark 16:9-20 passage that doesn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts, so it’s not relevant for trying to reconstruct the post-crucifixion appearances.

    * Luke 24:36-43 and John 20:19-25 appear to be parallel accounts of Jesus’ appearance “on the first day of the week.” Luke notes that this appearance was to “the Eleven.” John adds the detail that Thomas “was not with the disciples when Jesus came” (John 20:24), but does not specify how many disciples were present.

    * One week later, Jesus appeared again while Thomas was present (John 20:24-29). Here, the title “the Twelve” is used (John 20:24).

    The only potential problem that arises in relation to the number of disciples is between the parallel accounts mentioned above of Luke 24:36-43 and John 20:19-25. If Thomas weren’t present, one wonders why Luke would use the term “the Eleven.” I think the best explanation is that, like “the Twelve,” the term “the
    Eleven” is a title that doesn’t necessarily specify an exact number. Just as John used the title “the Twelve” (John 20:24) when both Judas and Thomas were absent, I believe Luke uses “the Eleven” although Thomas is absent at this appearance (Luke 24:36-43). “The Eleven” is also used as a title in Acts 1:26 and 2:14. One thing that’s helpful to keep in mind is that modern conventions of writing are very different from ancient conventions. Ancient writers often used round numbers rather than exact figures (as Stephen does in Acts 7:6, using 400 years for the Egyptian slavery period, while Exodus reports 430 years), so Luke using “the Eleven,” although ten were present, wouldn’t have been considered unusual. I think this is the most plausible way to approach this (from a modern viewpoint) dilemma.

    Take care,

  5. Yes, I know it doesn’t say “the 11” in Jn 20. But we’ve noted above that Jesus’ first appearance to “The 12” was to 11 of them, Jn 20 seems to clearly state that Thomas was not present at that meeting, so it remains a mystery to me who comprised “the 11” at Jesus’ first appearance to them.

  6. Gary,
    Actually, the phrase “the eleven” doesn’t appear in John 20. It only says that Thomas was “one of the Twelve” (v. 24). There are four verses in the gospels where the number of apostles is described as “eleven,” all occuring after the resurrection (Matt. 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9, 33), indicating the absence of Judas. So, I don’t believe there’s a problem with the number of apostles/disciples. Sometimes they’re called by the formal title of “the Twelve” and in other cases the exact number is used, “the eleven.”

  7. Chris,

    Your thoughts about “The 12” are very helpful to me, but I still don’t know what to do with Jn 24-25 in regards to the make up of “the 11.” It seems clear here that Thomas was not present at Jesus the first post resurrection appearance to “the 11.” And since “11” is an exact number, not a title, I’m curious who the 11th disciple was.

    God bless,


  8. Hi Gary,

    I’m glad we agree that “the twelve” was a recognized title for the original 12 apostles–even after Judas’s death and even when some apostles were absent at a given time. You mentioned that the Gospel writers would probably have used the title “the twelve” in that case, and it appears that they did (Mark 4:10; Luke 8:1; John 6:70). As you noted, there are also a couple of instances after the resurrection where “the eleven” is used (Matt. 28:16; Luke 24:9). It seems reasonable to conclude that “the twelve” was a formal title that was used in some contexts, while in others the gospel writer chose to use the actual number (after the loss of Judas) of “eleven.”
    Take care,

    • With regard to contradictions in the Bible Bart Ehrman has presented on various occasions the case of Judas Iscariot. He considers the two different accounts, in Matthew 27 and in Acts 1 as incompatible. He is right I suppose, but he overlooks something important. I have responded in different ways, but there is some confusion. To clarify, I want to evaluate my thoughts and rewrite my comment in a more subtle way.

      The two accounts indeed seem very weird, it is plausible to reject them as incompatible. So there must be something else going on rather than a hanging or another accident in which Judas burst open and his guts came out. To argue that Judas did not strangle himself, but is still alive when Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples, I would like to mention eight points.
      This is also an attempt to rehabilitate Juda(s), the Jew.

      John 20:24 says: now Thomas one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
      Jesus appeared to eleven disciples, so including Judas, since he is only replaced after the Ascension. There is a problem with the grammar when you take ‘the twelve’ as a technical term. Please read carefully, the pronomen personel ‘them’ refers directly to ‘the twelve.’ The pronoun cannot refer to a situation in the past.

      1 Corinthians 15:5 says: …and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
      When Paul writes about the appearance of Jesus, he writes about the situation before the Ascension, so before the replacement of Judas by Matthias which happened after the Ascension. And then there were twelve disciples, Judas including. So it’s not the question that Judas is replaced, but that he didn’t hang himself.

      The translation ’hanged himself’ is reasonable but disputable.
      The Greek απάγχω, composition of από and άγχω means literally squeeze (esp. the throat), strangle, throttle and is also used in derivative or metaphorical meanings as choked with anger, of pressing creditors, of a guilty conscience etc.
      In Matthew 27:5 απήγξατο appears as 3rd sg. Aoristus Medium and can therefore be translated as strangled or hanged himself. But as I said, a derivative meaning is obvious and more plausible. Therefore I propose the following translation: And hurling the pieces of silver in the sanctuary he left; and after he went off, he got very scared.
      Interestingly, the Dutch Statenvertaling, which is considered one of the most accurate translations in existence, translates with ‘verworgde zichzelf.’ It places the reflexive pronoun ‘zichzelf’ in italics, meaning that this word is not in the text, but has been added as a clarification. This is a textbook example of precise translation. In fact, it then says that his throat was constricted. So it doesn’t say that he squeezes his throat himself. A derivative or metaphorical meaning is more likely in that case. The only English translation I know that lists the reflexive pronoun in italics is the Disciples’ Literal New Testament (DLNT): And having thrown the silver-coins into the temple, he departed. And having gone away, he hanged himself.
      So again, this translation is not that literal as to get rid of the hanging.

      After the Ascension the disciples assembled again to replace Judas. I consider the translation of Acts 1:18 to be very disputable.
      Only if we assume that Judas has hanged himself and felt, the translation is conceivable.
      First I would like to mention the passage in the King James Bible: Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the middle, and all his bowels gushed out.
      Let ‘s focus on the second part of verse 18: καί πρηνής γενόμενος έλάκησεν μέσος καί έξεχύθη πάντα τά σπλάχνα αύτού
      The word translated as headlong, πρηνής can mean: with the head foremost, but the first meaning of πρηνής (nom. sg.) is: with the face downwards, bended or lying on ones stomach. By the way, the word ‘prone’ is still used in English in the meaning of ‘prone position.’ It means: to lie on the stomach. Derived meanings are: susceptible, amenable, receptive, open minded, open for suggestions and even vulnerable.
      Nota bene: the word falling is not in the Greek text, γενόμενος (nom. sg. part. Aoristus of the verb γίγνομαι) means: come into being, take place.
      People have in their mind, Judas has hanged, so he has to fall. That is what we call prejudice. If we look at the text with an open mind, we will translate differently. I propose: (being) with his face turned to the ground; or shortly: stooped or knelt.
      To support my argument I mention the way in which the Vulgate reconciled the two reports. The Vulgate translates Acts 1:18 as following: …et hic quidem possedit agrum de mercede iniquitatis et suspensus crepuit medius et diffusa sunt omnia viscera eius (…. he hanged, burst in the midst and his viscera gushed out). The Wycliffe Bible remains the same. But these translations are plainly wrong. Does the Roman church want Judas to hang?
      Subsequent (protestant) translations, as the King James Version, changed the text in the falling headlong.
      The word translated as burst, έλακησεν (3rd. sg. Aoristus of the verb λάσκω, λακάω or ληκέω) means: ring, rattle, crack or burst (especially of things) and scream, shout or cry aloud (especially of animals or human beings). (1)
      That his bowels gushed out is a way of saying, to express a deep sort of compassion or affection. In Hebrew it is referred to as rechamim. In particular it is used to mention God’s mercy. The Dutch language has a great word for it, namely: barmhartigheid.
      Σπλάχνα is been used at several places in the New Testament: 1 John 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:12, 7:15; Col. 3:12; Philemon: 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:1, Luke 1:78. To mention only Luke: Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us. If it is metaphorically translated in those places, it is likely to do this here as well.
      To conclude, I suggest the following translation: Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity, when he knelt down, he screamed with great compassion.

      Acts 1:25 reads: to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.
      The current opinion is that the death of Judas is mentioned here, but that can be disputed, again based on the Greek text. Let alone that his own place can be understood as one’s death.
      The text says: είς τόν τόπον τόν ίδιον. It does not say: τόπον του άυτου, his (own) place, but τόπον τόν ίδιον, his own private place, in the sense of one’s own particular property.
      How can it be if Judas is dead, he turned aside and went to his own property?
      (see point 8)

      In many translations of the Bible Judas is mentioned as a traitor. This is generally disputed by scholars. The Greek term which is used throughout the gospels, παραδιδωμι can better be described as: to hand over or deliver. More than thirty times this term is mentioned, without exception. For betrayed or traitor, the Greek has one specifically different word.
      Here we touch a deeper level of meaning in the gospels. What happens is that Judas hands Jesus over to the Romans, actually to overcome the Romans, that is to save them, not to destroy them. Jacob holds Esau, not to destroy him but to release him. In fact, the messiah is supposed to save his people from their enemies. (Luke 1:71) Obviously the enemy (the evil) in the gospels is Rome. So Israel delivers the best she has (her messiah) to enemy Rome. Nietzsche calls this act the hatred of the Jews, which is a spiritual revenge, but at the same time deepest love (Genealogie der Moral 7 and 8).
      The way Judas is considered as a betrayer and thief who desperately commits suicide is telling about the willingness of the Christian church to consider and understand the person of Judas, as the model and personification as the Jew in general. In comparison with Petrus, who denied and therefore, I would say, ‘betrayed’ Jesus; Judas is seen as the bad bloke referred to hell, Peter however became the first bishop of the Roman church.
      An obvious example of such a questionable mindset is Papias (2e century). He wrote: ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬‘’Judas was a terrible, walking example of ungodliness in this world, his flesh so bloated that he was not able to pass through a place where a wagon passes easily, not even his bloated head by itself. For his eyelids, they say, were so swollen that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen, even by a doctor using an optical instrument, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. His genitals appeared more loathsome and larger than anyone else’s, and when he relieved himself there passed through it pus and worms from every part of his body, much to his shame. After much agony and punishment, they say, he finally died in his own place, and because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now; in fact, to this day one cannot pass that place without holding one’s nose, so great was the discharge from his body, and so far did it spread over the ground.”
      Another pregnant example is a sermon of John McArthur (21e century) who knows oddly enough everything about de eternal destiny of the disciples in particular Judas. The sermon is called: A Tale of Two Sorrows. This caricature of Judas can be heard throughout the ages in sermons in all kind of churches. Between Papias and McArthur during Medieval and modern times Judas is depicted in all kind of stories and paintings as the Jew carrying the money bag. A revealing study in this respect is Judas of the British historian Peter Standford.

      Concerning the thief and the money box, I would like to make the following observation.
      In John 12:6 the ISV reads: He said this, not because he cared about the destitute, but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and would steal what was put into it.
      All modern translations read the same way, including the KJV21. These translations are highly suggestive and I would say plainly wrong.
      The KJV and the YLT are the most accurate: And he said this, not because he was caring for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and what things were put in he was carrying. The Dutch Statenvertaling reads in a similar way.
      All translations agree that Judas was a thief. However the initial meaning of κλέπτης is someone who acted in a hidden way. Another weird thing is the use of the word γλωσσόκομον, derived from γλωσσα and κομέο, tongues and caring. The usual term for purse or money bag is βαλλαντιον (2). Gloossokomon means something as the case in which the tongues of flutes are stored.
      I suggest the following translation: He said this, not because he cared for the poor, but he acted in secret, and having the box, he carried what was thrown into (it).

      Finally, I would like to mention a remarkable statement of Jesus that supports my position, namely Matthew 19:28. Jesus told them: I tell all of you with certainty, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne in the renewed creation, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, governing the twelve tribes of Israel.
      He says this to his disciples, in which Judas will have been present. He speaks explicitly of twelve thrones and twelve tribes, also emphasizing that the twelve disciples embody the twelve tribes of Israel.
      According to Acts 1:25 that I mentioned earlier, Judas occupies a unique place during world history: the redemption of the world (cosmos) depends on Juda(s) being separate. This is actually what we can observe throughout the Bible and through the entire history of the world.

  9. That’s not a bad explaination of why 1 Cor. 15 would say “the 12” and I don’t have trouble believing that “The 12” was a title for the disciples (even if some where missing). But if that was the case, I think it would be likely that the writers of the Gospels would also use this title for them since it was creedal and came along before they wrote their accounts. If it was a title and creedal, It seems to me that the Gospel writers would say something like ‘Jesus appeared to the 12 minus Judas or Thomas,’ or something like that. However, they just state that Jesus appeared to “the 11?” This seems to me to be a strange and ‘unorthodox’ thing to say. (We don’t change the creedal statements that have been passed down to us.)Also, it does seems clear as per John 20-24-25 that Thomas was not among ‘the 11’ when Jesus first appeared to them. So If Judas was not there (and I can certainly understand your desire to not have him there), that would leave ‘the 10.’

    >>Jn 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” <<

  10. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for this interesting question. I think the most likely explanation is that the original 12 apostles (minus Judas, leaving 11) were still known as “the Twelve” even after Judas’s death. This seems to be a formal title that wasn’t abandoned even though Judas left the group.

    One example of this usage is in John 20:24, which you referenced also, which notes that Thomas was “one of the Twelve.” It appears that Judas hanged himself immediately after Jesus was turned over to the authorities (Matt. 27:5), so that John still applies the term “the Twelve” to those who saw Jesus alive (in John 20) — excluding Judas who was already dead. So even in Judas’s absence, the title “the Twelve” was still being used. Craig Blomberg adopts this view (

    as does Anthony Thiselton (p. 1204 and 1205 in this reference: ).

    So, I believe Paul was using this title (the Twelve) in 1 Cor. 15, which was a part of the creed that he was quoting that went back to the apostles themselves.

    All the best,

  11. Paul here quoting the earliest known Christian creed seems to contradict the Gospel accounts of how many apostles were present when Jesus appeared to them. The Gospels state that Jesus after the resurrection appeared to “the 11.” Some argue that the 11 included Judas Iscariot because John 20:24 reports that Thomas was not among them when Jesus came; others argue that Judas Iscariot was the missing of the 12 because he committed suicide after betraying Jesus, as in Matthew 27:3-5. Either way we have a report in the Gospels of Jesus appearing to 11 and not 12 in the Gospel records which appears to be in contradiction to the creedal statement offered in the Pauline letter. This needs an explanation.

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