Saturday, September 3, 2011

In Defense of the Gospel, Part 5

Question: Isn't Christ's resurrection appearance to Cephas (1 Cor. 15:5) somewhat puzzling and mysterious? The Gospel accounts don't even tell of it, except to say that it happened (Lk. 24:34).

Answer: The Bible makes it clear that Paul was "always setting forth the truth plainly" (2 Cor. 4:2, NIV; cf. 1 Cor. 1:17). So which is it: is the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:5 "puzzling" or is it "plain"? The obvious answer is that the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:5 is plain, not puzzling or mysterious. Let us dwell on this statement for a few moments and consider the following five points in regards to:


1.) The appearance to Cephas is placed first in Paul's list of appearances. In enumerating the appearances of the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:5ff), the apostle Paul would hardly place a "puzzling" appearance first in his list of witnesses! Chrysostom is correct to say that the appearance to Cephas is placed first because he is "the most credible of all" the apostolic witnesses.1

2.) The appearance to Cephas is a simple statement of historical fact. That the risen One appeared to Cephas is a plain and simple truth. The early Christian theologian John Cassian affirms: "But 'doctrine' unfolds the simple course of historical exposition, under which is contained no more secret sense, but what is declared by the very words: as in the passage: 'For I delivered unto you first of all what I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day, and that he was seen of Cephas'".2 Reverend Gwilym O. Griffith, (who was a student of B. B. Warfield, Charles R. Erdman, J. Grescham Machen and others at Princeton Theological Seminary and a former pastor of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY) affirms the same truth. Quoting 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 he writes: "For 'brothers, I would have you know the gospel I once preached to you, the gospel you received, the gospel in which you have your footing, the gospel by which you are saved - provided you adhere to my statement of it - unless indeed your faith was all haphazard. First and foremost I passed on to you what I had myself received, namely that Christ died for our sins as the Scriptures had said, that He was buried, that He rose on the third day as the Scriptures had said; and that He was seen...' (I Cor. xv. 1-5 : Moffatt). This is Paul's gospel. In itself nothing could be clearer, more objective, less mystical, more insistent in its emphasis upon external and attested fact."3

3.) The appearance to Cephas is not the only one lacking details. The question under discussion implies a double standard because the questioner is singling out the appearance to Peter as "somewhat...mysterious" because "the Gospel accounts don't even tell of it" when the same could be said about most of the other resurrection appearances mentioned by Paul in the passage! For example, are we to conclude that Christ's resurrection appearance to the 500 brethren is mysterious as well? It is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament except by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6. MacLeod affirms: "Paul's mention of 'the five hundred brethren' is especially noteworthy. This appearance is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament, but Paul seems to have personal knowledge of them and affirms that most were still alive at the time of writing. As Dodd observes, 'There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the five hundred are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, 'the witnesses are there to be questioned.'"4 This is hardly "mysterious"!

4.) The appearance to Cephas focuses on Christ, not Cephas. The apostle Paul declares that "[Christ] was seen...." (1 Cor. 15:5, KJV). Even with the mention of "Cephas" (1 Cor. 15:5) and the clear emphasis on eyewitness testimony, the focus remains on Christ.5 He is the grand subject of the glorious gospel: "Christ died...He was buried...He rose again...He was seen...." (1 Cor. 15:3-5, KJV). Let me be more specific: Christ alone is the subject of all four verbs in the sentence. Raymond F. Collins affirms that the "credal formula which [Paul] uses on 1 Cor 15:3-5 has Christ as its subject."6 Harry A. Ironside makes an insightful comment on this issue. In reference to "Paul's Statement of the Real Gospel"7, Ironside concludes: "And now the One who is alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18) is presented as an object for the hearts of His own. 'He was seen' [1 Cor. 15:5, KJV]; and the same apostle exclaims, in another place, 'We see Jesus!' (Heb. 2:9, KJV)."8 The eye of faith beholds Christ alone - the Jesus of the historical gospel, not the Jesus of the imagination (1 Cor. 15:1-5; cf. Acts  2:22-32, 10:36-43, 13:26-39).9

5.) The appearance to Cephas reveals Christ. Paul says that the risen Christ "was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve" (1 Cor. 15:5, NKJV; cf. Lk. 24:34-36, YLT; Jn. 16:16-22, 20:19-21:14). Christ was revealed (Acts 10:40-41, KJV; 2 Tim. 1:10). Now compare this truth with what is said concerning the death of Christ. In His substitutionary death on the cross, Christ was not seen! Christ was concealed. Notice what the Gospel accounts say:

"Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:45-46; cf. Psa. 22:2)

"And when the sixth hour had come, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which is translated, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'" (Mark 15:33-34)

"And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured...." (Luke 23:44-45)

The gospel truth is plain enough: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3) - but  the event is shrouded in darkness and "mystery". Billy Graham affirms: "[Christ] came to die. And in His death there is something very mysterious that very few of us know very much about. When He died on that cross, God in some infinite, mysterious, and glorious way, took all of your sins, [and] laid them on Christ. He became sin for us Who knew no sin. And in that moment when He prayed: 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' A shadow passed between God and Christ. God took your sins and put on Him."10 Similarly, J. Vernon McGee says: "Now if you will examine carefully the Gospel accounts, you will make the discovery that only a few, unrelated events that are connected with the crucifixion are given, and that the actual crucifixion is passed over with a reverent restraint. The Holy Spirit has drawn the veil of silence over that cross, and none of the lurid details are set forth for the curious mob to gaze and leer upon. It is said of the brutal crowd who murdered him that they sat down and watched it. You and I are not permitted to join that crowd. Even they did not see all, for God placed over His Son's agony the mantle of the darkness. And some sensational speakers, they gathered to themselves a bit of notoriety by painting with picturesque speech the minutest details of what they think took place at the crucifixion of Christ. Art[work] has given us the account of his death in ghastly reality. You and I will probably never know, even in eternity, the extent of His suffering. 'None of the ransomed ever knew, how deep were the waters crossed, nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through, ere He found His sheep that was lost.'"11 Thus, if anything is "mysterious," it's the substitutionary death of Christ, not His resurrection appearance to Cephas!

Not surprisingly, the question under discussion is common among those who deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. All the way back in 1879 the same idea of a spooky savior was advanced by J. P. Mendum and the infidel D. M. Bennett in their book Revelations of Antichrist, Concerning Christ and Christianity.12 Notice what they say in their chapter on THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST: "The story of the Resurrection of Christ is a pitiful muddle. Each of the four Evangelists is at loggerheads with the rest, and all of them with Paul, the earliest writer....But who was this Cephas who first saw Christ? Why, Peter, of course, some will say, because Cephas was the name which John says Jesus gave to Simon, alias Peter....Well, supposing Paul's Cephas means Simon Peter (which no one knows) it is singular that none of the Evangelists confirm this appearance to Peter except Luke".13 The authors go on to conclude that the resurrection appearances of Christ are nothing more than "spook stories"14 and "ancient idle tales about a materialized Jesus".15 In light of these anti-christian statements of unbelief it becomes evident that the question under discussion is nothing more than the whispering of Satan!

Actually, the only thing puzzling or mysterious in regards to Christ's resurrection appearance to Cephas (1 Cor. 15:5) is that someone would question such a plain and simple truth. No wonder the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4: "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the SIMPLICITY that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted - you may well put up with it!"16


1 The statement by Chrysostom is as follows: "Ver. 5. 'And that He appeared to Cephas:' he [Paul] names immediately the most credible of all." (Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily 38.) Cf. 1 Cor. 1:12, 3:22, 9:1-5; Gal. 2:9.

2 Cassian, The Conferences of John Cassian, Part 2, Conference 14, Chapter 8, "Of spiritual knowledge". Note that following Cassian's statement quoted above, there is a footnote citing 1 Cor. 15:3-5 (see the previous link "Of spiritual knowledge," footnote 800).

3 Griffith, St. Paul's Life of Christ, pp. 165-166. Even Rudolf Bultmann (who did not believe that the resurrection of Jesus was an objective historical fact) was forced to admit that verses 1-11 of 1 Corinthians 15 "do represent 'an attempt to make the resurrection of Christ credible as an objective historical fact'". (See Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 1202.)

4 David J. MacLeod, "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Myth, Hoax, or History?," The Emmaus Journal, Vol. 7, Num. 2 (Winter 1998): p. 183. NOTE: MacLeod introduces his remarks above by saying: "He [Paul] prefaces his list of eyewitnesses [in 1 Cor. 15:6-8] with what many scholars consider to be a very early Christian creed: 1) that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; 2) and that He was buried 3) and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures; 4) and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve [1 Cor. 15:3b-5]. Following the creed, a summary of the basic tenets ('of first importance') of the Christian faith, Paul lists in chronological order ('after that...then...then...last of all') Jesus appearance to others: "After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also [1 Cor. 15:6-8]." (Ibid. pp. 182-183, bold and ellipsis his.)

5 James Denney has correctly stated that "no man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time." (Denney, Studies in Theology, p. 161.)

6 Collins, Studies on the First Letter to the Thessalonians, p. 340. There seems to be no real debate among scholars on this point. For example, Roy E. Ciampa writes: "Christ is the subject of all the verbs from v. 3b to v. 8 except for the two in the relative clause of v. 6b (regarding the five hundred witnesses)." (Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, p. 744.)

7 Ironside, The Mormon's Mistake, or What is the Gospel?, p. 3. NOTE: Under the heading "Paul's Statement of the Real Gospel," Ironside includes the reference to "Cephas" in the gospel. (Ibid.)

8 Ibid., p. 5. It must be remembered, however, that "Apostolic witness is...uniquely different from that of the witnessing church in later generations. This is the very point of Paul's citing the pre-Pauline apostolic tradition which he himself is able to endorse." (Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 1201; cf. Acts 13:31-32; Eph. 2:20, NET; Heb. 2:3-4.)

9 As one blogger has stated so eloquently: "Belief and trust in a Jesus of the imagination does not save." Free Grace theologian Warren Wiersbe affirms the basic historical facts involved in the gospel when he says: "First of all means 'of first importance.' The gospel is the most important message that the church ever proclaims. While it is good to be involved in social action and the betterment of mankind, there is no reason why these ministries should preempt the gospel. 'Christ died...he was buried...he rose again...he was seen' are the basic historical facts on which the gospel stands (1 Cor. 15:3-5). 'Christ died for our sins' is the theological explanation of the historical facts. Many people were crucified by the Romans, but only one 'victim' ever died for the sins of the world.' (Wiersbe, Be Wise [Colorado Spring: David C. Cook Publishing, 2010], p. 164, ellipsis and italics his.) Elsewhere Wiersbe similarly affirms: "The burial of Jesus Christ is as much a part of the gospel as is His death (1 Cor. 15:1-5), for the burial is proof that He actually died." (Wiersbe, Be Comforted [Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publishing, 2009], p. 162.)

10 Graham, St. Paul, Minnesota 1961 Crusade (27:42 minutes - 28:32 minutes). J. C. Ryle makes a similar statement when he writes: "In a word, St. Paul told the Corinthians that, when Christ died, He died as the representative of guilty man, to make expiation for us by the sacrifice of Himself, and to endure the penalty which we deserved. 'He bore our sins in His own body on the tree;' 'He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.' 'He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.' (1 Pet. ii : 24; iii : 18; 2 Cor. v : 21.) A great and stupendous mystery, no doubt! But it was a mystery to which every sacrifice, from the time of Abel, had been continually pointing for four thousand years. Christ died 'according to the Scriptures.'" (Ryle, "FIRST OF ALL.," The Homiletic Review, Vol. 5, Num. 7 [April 1881]: p. 374.)

11 McGee, Isaiah 53, Introduction, Part 1 (1:05 minutes - 2:38 minutes).

12 NOTE: I'm not saying that the questioner's thinking is wrong because it happens to be associated with D. M. Bennett and the antichrist - that would be the logical fallacy of guilt by association. Instead, I'm saying that the questioner's thinking is wrong because it's not biblical. It contradicts biblical truth as I noted above (see 2 Cor. 4:2, NIV; cf. 1 Cor. 1:17). And it should be no surprise when unbiblical thinking finds company with those who are opposed to Christ and Christianity!

13 Mendum and Bennett, Revelations of Antichrist, Concerning Christ and Christianity, pp. 20, 25, ellipsis and bold added, italics his; cf. Ibid., pp. 17-18.

14 Ibid., p. 25, bold added.

15 Ibid., p. 26.

16 Cf. 2 Cor. 11:13-14

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