Dating the Corinthian Creed

I’m so frequently asked this that I need to publish a general answer everyone can refer to. It usually amounts to something like this:

I keep hearing Christian apologists insisting the Corinthian Creed (1 Cor. 15:3-8) can be reliably dated to the 30s A.D., just years or even months after Jesus died. Can you direct me to a solid refutation of that claim?

The answer is no. Because there is no refutation of this claim—other than “maybe possibly it originated later,” which is the logical fallacy of possibiliter ergo probabiliter (“it’s possible, therefore it’s probable,” see Proving History, index). In fact the evidence for this creed dating to the very origin of the religion is amply strong; and there is no reasonable basis for claiming otherwise.

Yes, maybe Paul’s letters are a forgery. But that’s very unlikely. Yes, Paul added at least one line (verse 8, appending his own conversion years later to the original). But the first three lines certainly are original components of the sect’s founding creed (written in non-Pauline style). Yes, the text may have become corrupted (I suspect verse 6 originally said something like, “then he appeared to all the brethren together at the Pentecost” and not “then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at once”; and verse 7 looks like a post-Pauline scribal addition, as it breaks the logic of the sequence and is too redundant, just repeating the same information already conveyed in verses 5 and 6, since everyone who saw Jesus was already an apostle and James the pillar was already one of the twelve: see Empty Tomb, pp. 192-93). But the essential elements of the creed (especially verses 3 to 5), even if we have to account for some transmission error (in verses 6 and 7), still dates to the sect’s origin. It’s what distinguishes Christianity from any other sect of Judaism. So it’s the only thing Peter (Cephas) and the other pillars (James and John) could have been preaching before Paul joined the religion. And Paul joined it within years of its founding (internal evidence in Paul’s letters places his conversion before 37 A.D., and he attests in Galatians 1 that he was preaching the Corinthian creed immediately thereupon: OHJ, pp. 139, 516, 536, 558).

The way Paul writes about the sect makes clear he believed this was the creed Christians were preaching before his conversion; and he claims that the original apostles confirmed this to him years later, and he could hardly have been making that up, as then he’d have been exposed the moment anyone checked this with them. So the Corinthian Creed, at least verses 3-5, definitely existed and was the central “gospel” Christians were preaching in the early 30s A.D. That’s definitely no later than a few years after the purported death of Jesus. And since the sect’s formation only makes sense in light of this being its seminal and distinguishing message, it must have been formulated in the very first weeks of the movement. We can’t be certain how soon that actually was after the death of Jesus (though the creed says Jesus was raised on the third day, it conspicuously does not say how much later it was when he appeared). But it can’t have been more than a few years, and could well have been mere months (though one can’t then assert that it was mere months; that would be another possibiliter fallacy).

Comparing Cases

For the evidence, arguments, and quotations of even liberal scholars concurring, see BeliefMap. More arguments come from Evangelicals who get some things wrong, but not everything. In that link, they count four arguments as five (though the one argument they repeat twice, about the creed being un-Pauline, is correct), and repeat dubious apologetic tropes, e.g. in introducing the creed, Paul is not using the language of Rabbinical transmission, but his own language for revelation (cf. OHJ, p. 139), and Paul is actually adamantly denying in Galatians 1 that he learned the creed from the apostles before him, though he does attest there that his “revealed” creed was the one they had been preaching before him—as one could expect he’d know, since he persecuted Christians and obviously knew what their creed was, despite his need to insist he didn’t learn it that way (OHJ, pp. 536-37).

By contrast, arguments that the whole creed was interpolated (e.g. Price makes the best attempt in The Empty Tomb, pp. 69-104) are just built on possibiliter fallacies, and aren’t being evaluated in comparison with alternative hypotheses, e.g. that verse 7 doesn’t fit actually argues for the creed not being an interpolation, and for verse 7 being an interpolation, since if the whole thing were, it would be coherent. Or they rest on false claims. For example, Bob Seidensticker bases his case for interpolation on the false claim that we ‘know’ the scripture this creed references is the book of Jonah. Actually, experts most typically conclude it’s Hosea 6:2. But even that incorrectly assumes the scriptures we have now are exactly the ones the Christians were using, when in fact we know they aren’t: OHJ, pp. 88-92. Likewise Seidensticker says Paul doesn’t talk about the atoning death of Jesus elsewhere, which is wildly false; or that Paul can’t have written that Jesus appeared to “the twelve” because there were only eleven, Judas having died. In fact, the atoning death concept is ubiquitously present throughout Paul’s theology (OHJ, pp. 92-93, 143-45); and the Judas story is a late invention, unknown to the earliest Christians (Proving History, pp. 151-55; OHJ, pp. 312, 314, 453n132, 560-61), whereas it’s an interpolator who would be more likely to have said “the eleven.”

An Early Creed? Not Really All That Useful

Now, all that said, that doesn’t save the day for resurrection apologetics. Though verses 3-5 are likely original to the very dawn of the sect, verses 6 and 7 remain questionable, and yet apologists desperately need verse 6 to have been in the original. Because it’s the only mass appearance listed in the creed. In fact the other appearances, e.g. to “the twelve” in verse 5, conspicuously don’t say they occurred “all at once”; the only one Paul says occurred like that is this one. The others are all brief, isolated appearances, which matches incidental visions, and not a bodily Jesus hanging around for days on end.

Note, though, that Paul doesn’t say what the appearance consisted of, not even this one collective experience (just a light in the sky, like in Acts 9? an ecstatic trance, like in Acts 2?). And if he did write that line, and it hasn’t been corrupted as I suspect it has (already two if’s, and in ET I present evidence for this—it’s not just a conjectured possibility), it doesn’t match the structure of the rest of the creed. So it looks like an addition to it (the more so as it includes Paul’s own historical note, about some having died, which certainly was not in the original). Here, the Evangelical argument from structure and language turns against them, since those same arguments make this verse more likely not part of the original, by the same reasoning used to establish verses 3-5 as original.

Likewise verse 7, as I already noted above. Evidence suggests it wasn’t in the original; or not even written by Paul. We can’t know for sure. But it’s sufficiently suspect that you can’t hang a life decision on it. And even if authentic, it doesn’t say anything useful. It just says more people had visions. But do please also notice, dear Christian apologists, at no point is the James in 1 Cor. 15:7 identified as a brother of the Lord, or as anyone other than the Apostle James, who was the brother of John, not Jesus, and one of the three pillars who founded the sect; the other James Paul mentions in Galatians, Paul actually grammatically declares was not an Apostle (OHJ, pp. 588-91), and therefore cannot be the James he would be talking about in 1 Cor. 15:7 as among “all” the Apostles, and as having had a vision of Jesus, because that made one an Apostle (1 Cor. 9:1).

So, yes, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is almost certainly a pre-Pauline text composed within a few years of when Jesus was believed to have died. But no, it is not therefore good evidence Jesus actually rose from the dead. It is, rather, evidence he didn’t. For someone who really rose from the dead would not be appearing on brief incidental isolated occasions, and only ever be seen by choice fanatics. This looks like an ecstatic experience, and not a reanimated corpse walking around—just like countless other spates of visions in countless other religions (OHJ, pp. 124-37, 159-63). As I wrote in The Christian Delusion (pp. 308-09):

Only an ordinary explanation can easily explain why Jesus only appeared to die-hard believers, and then, much later, to only one of millions of outsiders across the entire planet. If God himself were really appearing to people, and really was on a compassionate mission to reform and save the world, there is hardly any credible reason he would appear to only one persecutor rather than to all of them. But if Paul’s experience was entirely natural and not at all divine, then we should expect such an event to be rare, possibly even unique—and, lo and behold, that appears to be the case.

Paul’s conversion thus supports the conclusion that Christianity originated from natural phenomena, and not from any encounter with a walking corpse. A walking corpse—indeed a flying corpse (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9–11) or a teleporting corpse (Luke 24:31–37 and John 20:19–26)—could have visited Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the masses of Jerusalem, the Roman legions, even the emperor and senate of Rome. He could even have flown to America (as the Mormons actually believe he did), and even China, preaching in all the temples and courts of Asia. In fact, being God, he could have appeared to everyone on earth. He could visit me right now. Or you! And yet, instead, besides his already fanatical followers, just one odd fellow ever saw him.

If Jesus was a god and really wanted to save the world, he would have appeared and delivered his Gospel personally to the whole world. He would not appear only to one small group of believers and one lone outsider, in one tiny place, just one time, two thousand years ago, and then give up.


  1. I really appreciate your work and would love nothing more than for you to debate Blake Giunta concerning the resurrection. He is the epitome of Christian apologetic tap-dancing and question begging. Ironically, he claims to be a Bayesian; but insists that belief affects prior-probability. Am I completely off-base in questioning his assertion?

    Thanks again for your important work in this field of study.

    1. I don’t know what he’s said on that, so I can’t know for sure, but it sounds like he is confusing belief with knowledge. Prior probability is conditional on background evidence, not background beliefs.

      1. There is NO historical evidence that any of Paul’s “creedal” material goes back to within a few months or years of the death of the supposed Jesus. Only by taking many of Paul’s assertions at face value, can it be argued so. You have fallen prey to christian apologetics nonsense, just like other “scholars”.

        1. That’s not sound reasoning. Paul cannot have “reminded” the Corinthians of a creed claiming origination with Peter (and hence long predating Paul) without the Corinthians (who had met Peter) knowing he made it up. Ergo, the Corinthian creed must predate Paul. And Paul was converted within a few years of the sect’s origin (this is implied even by his own wording in several passages, but it’s also what we find stated everywhere else).

    2. Thanks. I asked in this post because he specifically cites the Corinthian Creed as strong evidence for the reliability of Peter’s sermon in Luke/Acts. And concerning Bayesian reasoning, he asserts that a supernatural cause (which he denies as an argument from incredulity) is the most likely explanation for the resurrection, given the natural options. Hence the question about prior probability.

      He also cites as evidence for his justification in the resurrection (argument from authority?) the claim that “all” major (he makes it a point to exclude you and a few others) New Testament scholars agree that the apostles “genuinely” believed what they were proclaiming. I’m not exactly sure how anyone could honestly know exactly what these people were actually thinking.

  2. Paul likens the Corinthians to children in Christ… Could this creed be an “entry level creed” since early Christianity was a mystery religion?

    1. Yes. That’s almost explicitly stated in Hebrews, though Paul did not write that (OHJ, p. 208n139 cf. pp. 108-14 & 565). It’s certainly the case, though, because when Paul refers to mysteries he has to be coy about, they are things not in the Corinthian Creed; and he refers to things even in Corinthians that he can’t write about because they aren’t of sufficient rank to hear them, which means obviously the Corinthian Creed wasn’t one of those higher level things. The Corinthian Creed itself may have been an entry-level mystery, and thus not even spoken in public at the time, just to penitents who joined a congregation. We don’t know for sure.

  3. I’ve been wondering how Paul could have known Christian teachings deeply enough to have become a missionary.

    If he got his information from those Christians that he persecuted, he must have had lengthy ” conversations ” with them…

    Could Paul have been military officer?

    1. There is no evidence of that. So it would just be speculation.

      It’s not impossible (it was one way to gain citizenship, as Acts claims he had, and thus also a Latin name, as Paul claims to have in his own Epistles), but the way Paul talks about his interaction with the congregations before conversion is clearly religious, not political. So even had he ever served in the army, he would not have been persecuting the church then. (IMO more likely his citizenship status, if genuinely the case, came from inheritance, not service.)

      Paul was not persecuting Christians for the Romans (there is no evidence the Romans ever cared about Christians at that early date), but for the Jewish authorities and for specifically Jewish reasons (e.g. Gal. 1:13-15; Phlp 3:6), so he would have been enforcing Jewish law, as Jews were permitted to do, under their treaty with Rome (only fellow Jews were subject to it, though, and only if they didn’t flee to the protection of a secular legal system they held citizenship in, although doing so might result in their banishment from or shunning in their local Jewish community, so pursuing them would still be persecution even if they avoided any other punishment).

      Paul never says he executed anyone, it’s worth pointing out. He never says what manner of persecution he inflicted on Christians. It may simply have been securing their expulsion from their communities, for example (as heretics under Jewish law, although it’s not clear what legally relevant heresy they were engaging in; Paul doesn’t tell us that, either).

      What Paul would have learned this way is also not clear. Certainly, heresy hunters obviously found out teachings that were heretical, so he knew something about what Christians were preaching, although it may have been false (looking at what Christians continued to be accused of for over a century, it was usually bogus things they weren’t guilty of). And we don’t know what their public kerygma was (as opposed to what initiates were taught; much less members of higher rank) or whether Paul had learned any of the mystery teachings or whether this “creed” was among them (or instead a part of the public proclamation).

      No matter what, though, it’s entirely possible he really learned this creed from human informants, and only pretended not to have. Or half-pretended, since he could “plausibly” claim to have learned it by revelation even if it was known he had also learned it by human sources; because only the revelatory source is validating and thus the only one relevant for him to emphasize, as long as he also learned it that way, he could say he “didn’t” learn it the other way, not in the sense of “not at all” but in the sense of “only”.

      I discuss some of the possibilities in OHJ, p. 536 and in Element 13 (pp. 108-14).

  4. Thank you so much for the fantastic responses!!! I was thinking not so much of the Romans, but maybe a regional militia… I’m not sure how big a Jewish population there was in Tarsus ( If that’s really where Paul came from ), but the whole Jewish law thing makes a lot of sense! In any case, he was certainly one of the elites in his time… with such skill at composing letters.

    I can’t believe that nobody else is asking questions about probably our earliest window into Christianity!

    Keep up the great work Dr. Carrier!!!

  5. I’m still thinking about the Corinthian Creed… I find it more than curious that Cephas is mentioned separately from ” the twelve “, and later in the verse, James and all the apostles are mentioned separately from the twelve. Who are the twelve? Could it be that the original cult had Peter as the leader, and not Jesus? That Peter was preaching a demi-God named Jesus, and later the Gospels replaced Peter with Jesus?

    1. Yes. Highly likely, in fact, IMO.

      We know the Qumran community had “a twelve” who were the leadership council of the sect, probably under a central figure (like the Teacher of Righteousness oft spoken of there). And Christianity has a lot more in common with that sect that any other, except the Essenes, who in fact also are so similar to the Qumran sect it’s widely assumed the Qumran texts come from an Essence sect. So, yes. It looks like Paul is saying Peter (Cephas) had the first vision, persuaded his council of twelve of his sect to “have a vision” too, then they persuaded “all the brethren” to do so, probably at a single ecstatic rebaptism ceremony inaugurating a new phase of the cult, where all in it were now convinced the end times had finally been signaled. And then Paul tacks himself on at the end as the last to be called.

      I suspect the line about James and “all the apostles” is an interpolation (it makes no sense in context and does not fit the pattern of the credal structure). But even if authentic we don’t really know what Paul would be talking about there (e.g. he doesn’t say this James is the brother of Jesus, and “all the apostles” would be anyone who “saw the Lord” so they were already covered in the line about the brethren just before, and “the twelve” is a narrower body than “all the apostles”).

  6. You are not making any valid statement. You are ready to accept people from antiquity who are now considered myths but not Bible. I can understand you are an atheist who is just trying to be too adamant, if this is the case then all the antiquities should be falsified and non should be taken seriously.

    1. You are the one not making valid statements. I have made clear the criteria I require to trust a person in antiquity was historical. I’ve directed you to those detailed and clear explanations. It is irrational of you to ignore my criteria, and instead insist that all ancient claims are the same, and therefore if we disbelieve even one of them, we must disbelieve them all. That’s illogical. And in this case dishonest, given that there is no honest way you can have not noticed after all this time that I argue for criteria to decide when to believe, and thus obviously do not endorse the irrational logic of “if we disbelieve one claim, we must disbelieve them all,” much less the irrational converse, “if we believe any claim in antiquity, we must believe all claims in antiquity.”

      1. The video i very clear and Tom Holland being a historian has a different view of Biblical scholarship. So, can you throw some light on the discussion between Tom Holland and N.T Wrights. Thanks

  7. There is a bit more to unpack here on this passage however.

    1) 1 Cor 15 says that Jesus died & was raised according to the scriptures.
    2) “the twelve” is certainly a later interpolation.
    3) The appearance to Cephas and everyone else are also likely later interpolations.
    4) The Gospel of Mark says that Jesus appeared to NO ONE

    If one adheres to the view that the Gospel of Mark is based heavily on the letters of Paul, how possibly could Mark have had an ending in which Jesus appears to no one, in which Peter and all of the other disciples have abandoned Jesus and aren’t even at his Crucifixion?

    Mark is working from Paul’s letters. Mark knows them inside and out. There is no way that Mark would have been unaware of this passage. Even if one argues that Mark leaves it open for this appearance to have happened it couldn’t have been to the twelve as Judas at the very least was now gone according to Mark’s narrative.

    So my view is that 3-4 are original and the rest is later interpolation. Those passages are totally incompatible with Mark and, IMO, Mark is our earliest witness to the authentic letters of Paul.

    1. The odds of an interpolation in the absence of specific evidence for it is over 200 to 1 against. So I do not recognize your second point. It’s not scholarship to declare an unevidenced interpolation “certain,” nor even likely.

      That you stack interpolation on top of interpolation only makes this worse. Two interpolations in the same place are 200 x 200 to 1 against, which is 40,000 to 1 against. And that’s with the most generous estimate of the base rate of interpolation established by well-evidenced cases. The error margin is 200 to 1000, so it may even be 1000 to one against a single interpolation, and thus a million to one against two in the same place.

      Finally, Mark does not say Jesus appeared to no one. He says he will appear “to the disciples and to Peter.” Explicitly. Exactly in accord with 1 Cor. 15:5 (indeed, Mark even most likely got the whole idea that there were twelve, and led by Peter, from 1 Cor. 15:5). And he does not qualify that with anything about that not happening. Which means he is assuming the reader understands that it did. Mark simply chose not to narrate it. Possibly because such revelations were mysteries, to be kept secret except in special circumstances, as Paul himself says (1 Cor. 12).

      At most you might argue from Mark—but more strongly from Matthew, Luke, and John, who do narrate the appearances—that 1 Cor. 15:7 is interpolated, since none of the Gospels include an appearance to “James,” yet there is evidence they all (or at least the synoptics) used Paul’s letters and thus knew of 1 Cor. 15. But even that is a relatively weak argument, not capable of overcoming a whole 200 to 1 odds against. I think it is a warranted suspicion, but unprovable as a conclusion, and thus unusable as a premise.

      Similarly, the literary connections between Acts 2 and 1 Cor. 15:6 is evidence the latter is authentic (or at least pre-Lukan), but might have become corrupted in the spelling (unless Luke was formulating a pun on its extant wording), as I’ve shown in The Empty Tomb. The only argument against 15:6 is that it doesn’t explain why those in it are described as brethren and not apostles, but as there are many plausible reasons why, that’s not strong enough an observation to reverse 200 to 1 odds against. Much less 1000 to 1 odds against. Far less even a million to one odds against.

      1. Valid points to be sure. I’m sure you’ve read RMP’s case for interpolation.

        I also note that James is not mentioned in either 1 or 2 Corinthians other than this one place, which is odd. “The twelve” are never mentioned in any epistles outside of this, indeed only appearing in the Gospels and Acts. Also seems odd. Who are “the twelve”? We can only assume it was explained in some other context.

        At any rate, I do agree that this issue isn’t really of any significant importance regarding historicity because even if its all 100% original it doesn’t support historicity.

        But also, this says nothing about suffering or Crucifixion.

        1. I don’t see any reason James should be mentioned anywhere else in 1 or 2 Corinthians (likewise “the twelve”). So there is nothing odd about his not being so. Meanwhile, he is mentioned in Galatians.

          Though I also agree verse 7 is the most likely to be an interpolation if any verse here is. But the evidence for this is not 200 to 1 strong. Thus not strong enough to establish this as a premise.

          And no. I have never found Price’s arguments on 1 Cor. 15 convincing. To be honest, I find few of his arguments about anything convincing (most of them are just conjectural possibilities, not valid arguments to a probability). Though I give credit to when they are. This just isn’t one of them.

      2. One more thing to point out here. 1 Clement makes no mention of these appearances. 1 Clement uses the story of the Phoenix to support the idea of the resurrection.

        Why would 1 Clement talk about the Phoenix and use the Phoenix as evidence for the resurrection if there was an existing tradition about Jesus having been seen by all of these other people?

        It appears that 1 Clement doesn’t know the Gospel narratives. There are really only two pieces of 1 Clement that appear to have any relation to a Gospel, and both are sayings that also appear in Matthew, but these could easily be sayings that Matthew got from some common source. Nothing else in 1 Clement gives us reason to think that the writer knows of any Gospel. There is no narrative of Jesus present in 1 Clement.

        1 Clement says nothing about Jesus suffering or being persecuted, enduring insults, being an object of jealousy, or that his resurrection was witnessed. This despite the fact that he talks about Paul and Peter, and all of these other topics.

        Again, I don’t think its a big deal if the lists of witnesses are original, but I do think there are reasons to doubt their originality.

        1. With the Phoenix etc. Clement is arguing the same as Paul in 1 Cor 15: not to reject the resurrection of Jesus; but in Clement’s case, because of all the examples that prove resurrection plausible. Jesus could not be used here; that would be a circular argument (“Believe Jesus could be resurrected, because Jesus was resurrected”). Note not even Paul used his experience with Jesus as an argument in the same context!

          Note also that before he uses the Phoenix as a proof of concept, he already used scripture to prove the resurrection of Jesus (Chs. 16 and 24). Clement thus knows no Gospel narratives, and whatever narratives he does know are ranking secrets he cannot reveal in an open text like this (which also removes the possibility of there being any Gospel, as that would already be open text…note Paul never narrated his primary revelations either, and suggests he was sworn not to, e.g. 2 Clem. 12). Clement also knows Paul. So he clearly knows about what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 and Gal. 1. Etc. So no claim that he didn’t can be made here.

          And Clement does refer to the appearances of Jesus, and thus does certainly know about them. Chapter 42:

          The Apostles received for us the gospel from our Lord Jesus Christ; our Lord Jesus Christ received it from God. Christ, therefore, was sent out from God, and the Apostles from Christ. and both these things were done in good order, according to the will of God. They, therefore, having received the promises, having been fully persuaded by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and having been confirmed by the word of God, with the full persuasion of the Holy Spirit, went forth preaching the good tidings that the kingdom of God was at hand.

          Clement is here summarizing the well-known sequence: Jesus confirmed to the apostles himself his resurrection, and bestowed on them miraculous powers as confirmation (as Paul also frequently refers to).

          So, yes, Clement is clearly writing before any Gospel narrative existed (which IMO refutes even the oral lore theory of Gospel composition: those stories didn’t exist at all). This is what I myself demonstrate in OHJ. But there is nothing in Clement that doesn’t agree with Paul. He’s teaching the same gospel, and even is well familiar with Paul and concurrent with him.

          Clement says nothing about Jesus suffering or being persecuted, enduring insults, being an object of jealousy, or that his resurrection was witnessed

          All false. Clement mentions all of those things. Repeatedly. I think you need to re-read the letter.

      1. Objection 1:
        Carrier suggests that the creed did not originally mention the five hundred, but rather was “then he appeared to all the brethren together at the Pentecost.” That is a simple assertion and there is no evidence for this alternative reading.

        Objection 2:
        He also discounts verse 7 because it is redundant, since James and the Apostles were already covered in the earlier mention of the Twelve. This is simply incorrect. The James mentioned in verse 7 was not one of the Twelve (that was James, son of Zebedee), but was the half-brother of Jesus. Acts clearly knows two James, as the brother of John is an early martyr and brother of Jesus becomes an important leader in the church. I understand it is important for Carrier to conflate the two James because of his belief that Jesus never existed, but it doesn’t fit the evidence.

        Objection 3:
        Also, the Twelve and the Apostles are not exactly the same. The Apostles were a larger group (a number of people outside the Twelve are described as Apostles in Acts) that had a core group of the Twelve. So all of the Twelve were Apostles but not all of the Apostles were the Twelve.

        Objection 4:
        Even if Carrier is right about the five hundred (which I highly doubt), that does nothing to diminish the apologetic value of the creed. It would still make it unlikely that the appearances were a mass hallucination. You don’t need five hundred to make this unlikely.

        1. Objection 1: Indeed. That’s why I say “may have become corrupted” and not “did.” For more on the options and their significance see Then He Appeared to Over Five Hundred Brethren at Once!.

          Objection 2: We have no information stating that about James. It’s ironic to have a critic claim we can’t make things up and treat them as facts, then immediately make something up and treat it as a fact. Pick a lane.

          Objection 3: Only the Gospels say that. Paul says the opposite: Apostles are by definition those “who saw Jesus” and thus had authority to speak for Jesus. Paul says all the leaders (Peter, James, etc.) were Apostles. He never mentions Disciples nor distinguishes the twelve from Apostles. In fact, there are only Apostles in his one statement about ranks in the church. Given that, the later Gospel invention of a distinction not known even to Paul is therefore not reliable history.

          Objection 4: See Then He Appeared to Over Five Hundred Brethren at Once!. And for more scholarship, cited science and data proving the points made there, see Element 15 in Ch. 4 of On the Historicity of Jesus.

  8. Hello Richard,

    Thank you for your fascinating article. I’m intrigued by this whole subject matter, and something in particular caught my attention at the end of your article.

    ‘He would not appear only to one small group of believers and one lone outsider, in one tiny place, just one time, two thousand years ago, and then give up’.

    Is it possible he may have done just that, appeared to many, but just wasn’t recognized, and as such not taken seriously?

    Many thanks.


    1. There is no use discussing evidence that might have existed but doesn’t. Conclusions can only follow from evidence we actually have. And there is no evidence of that. So that’s the end of that. Speculation in, speculation out.

      1. Hi Richard,

        Thanks for your response.

        I imagine anyone at the time who witnessed with their own eyes the brutality of a scourging, followed by crucifixion, would have been slow to admit to any such encounter anyway, lest they find themselves suffering the same fate. No less his persecutors. A brave, sure, and secure man it would take.

        Speculative indeed, but the mind does wonder.

        All the best,


        1. As the book of Acts depicts, there was no penalty for claiming to have seen someone in a dream or vision. This is why Paul never gets convicted of claiming to see Jesus, or even for following the teachings he imagined this spirit of Jesus to have related. Acts is correct as to the law of the time.

          And one needn’t even have done that—one could admit to seeing a thing, and dismiss it as merely a dream or a trick of the Devil (exactly as Paul says of heretical Christians he denounces in Galatians: they saw a fake spirit, he insists, not the real Jesus). There was no penalty for that either.

          So there is no known incentive for anyone to have concealed a visit from Jesus; whether it convinced them of anything, or did not, relating the encounter had no legal consequence to fear. Therefore, the silence of the record is not probable if any such encounters occurred, much less lots of them (least of all if they were indeed convincing visions—if God is really appearing to people, it already starts quite unlikely they’d not be convinced by it).

          As I wrote in The Christian Delusion:

          If God himself were really appearing to people, and really was on a compassionate mission to reform and save the world, there is hardly any credible reason he would appear to only one persecutor rather than to all of them. But if Paul’s experience was entirely natural and not at all divine, then we should expect such an event to be rare, possibly even unique—and, lo and behold, that appears to be the case. Paul’s conversion thus supports the conclusion that Christianity originated from natural phenomena, and not from any encounter with a walking corpse. A walking corpse—indeed a flying corpse (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9–11) or a teleporting corpse (Luke 24:31–37 and John 20:19–26)—could have visited Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the masses of Jerusalem, the Roman legions, even the emperor and senate of Rome. He could even have flown to America (as the Mormons actually believe he did), and even China, preaching in all the temples and courts of Asia. In fact, being God, he could have appeared to everyone on earth. He could visit me right now. Or you! And yet, instead, besides his already fanatical followers, just one odd fellow ever saw him. If Jesus was a god and really wanted to save the world, he would have appeared and delivered his Gospel personally to the whole world. He would not appear only to one small group of believers and one lone outsider, in one tiny place, just one time, two thousand years ago, and then give up.

          Whereas that’s 100% what we expect if no real visitations were occurring at all, just standard, natural, psychologically and culturally driven dreams and visions.

  9. Hmm, fair points. You’re on my reading list.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful responses. Appreciated.

    Best wishes,



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