What is the significance of Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 15? If Paul has given us material about 35 AD on a trip to Jerusalem—Galatians 1:18 where he visits with Peter and James the brother of Jesus—we’ve got hands-on material from a very early period that emphasizes two very important facts.
Number one, this material is early. And you don’t know how early until you’ve worked with other Greco-Roman passages. I mean, Livy reports things that are hundreds of years before his time; and Paul is talking about something that he participated in five years after the event. And other people had it before he did. So, I mean, we’re cutting down the gap here tremendously.
Secondly, we have an eyewitness account here. This is one way to go after eyewitnesses. We talk about the Gospels, and that’s one possibility; but going after Paul is really taking what is given to us, what the critics will give us. And Paul himself was an eyewitness. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Paul said, “I met the risen Jesus.”
But you’ve also got Peter. You’ve got James the brother of Jesus. Both of them, by the way, have appearances in Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 15—one more little connection between Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15. So we’re dealing with people here who were there. And I think Paul was interested in talking to Peter and seeing what he had to say.
Now, back to this question, does Paul make this up himself? And I said no, because “this is of first importance,” and yet he got it from somebody else.
Another way to go after this whole picture and do the same thing is to look at the early creedal passages in Acts. If you would ask an evangelical, “What does early preaching look like before we have a New Testament?” they would say, “Simple. Read the book of Acts.” If you ask some critics, they say, “Hey, read Acts 1-5.”
Now, the answer sounds the same, but it’s for different reasons. Evangelicals say that because they trust the whole text. Critics find a number of these early confessional or traditional or creedal passages in Acts. And one reason they find them—another evidence that something is a creed—is they believe that the shorter, more compact, unevolved the theology it is, the more authentic it is. And so in a certain scene there in Acts where Peter says—you can almost picture him pointing at the Jewish leaders—“You killed him! God raised Him from the dead!”
Now, see, there’s a little tiny piece that, you get the gospel, right? Talking about the Lord Jesus. He is not just a man. “You killed Him. God raised Him”—you’ve got the gospel and Peter is in and out. And that’s something that’s easy to remember.
How about, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” Now, that’s not the gospel, but that’s another one of those little pithy little sayings. And we have those in Acts 1 through 5; Acts 10, Peter is preaching to Cornelius. And all of those are Petrine: Acts 1 through 5; Acts 10. And in Acts 13, Paul’s sermon, scholars also believe that there’s some creedal passages there. Go back and find any of these and let me tell you what you’re going to find. In every little encapsulation of the gospel you find the deity of Christ, His death, His resurrection.
But guess what. Nobody would say Paul is the author. So here you have an encapsulation of early preaching. Paul’s not even on the scene in Acts until chapter 9. You’ve got five chapters there with early material that is saying some of the same things. Paul’s not around. And we could still go to Acts and say, “This is of first importance,” how that Jesus died, He was raised, and more than being Jesus, He is Lord and He is Christ. Those are the two most popular titles.
So, going at it from the angle of Acts, you still see creeds, you still see this unevolved, short, concise, succinct theological statement that we call the gospel and Paul is not even there. So here’s another whole look at what we call the central doctrine, the center of the Christian core, and that is, the gospel; salvation.