Who was first to see Jesus after his supposed resurrection?
Whom does the New Testament say was the first person to see Jesus after his supposed resurrection?
Answer: New Testament readers have a number of choices. Paul states: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 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 Corinthians 15:3-8). These verses contain the earliest list of the alleged postresurrection appearances by Jesus (written c. 55 C.E.).
According to Paul, the creedal statement (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) in which this list is found was not of his own invention, but "received." (The source of his information is not recorded.)
The risen Jesus, Paul claims, appears separately before several of the disciples, to all twelve of the disciples together (at a time when there were supposed to be only eleven) and to a large crowd of five hundred. Paul, writing many years before the Gospels or the Book of Acts were written, begins with Jesus' alleged appearances to Cephas (1 Corinthians 15:5), who some presume to be Peter. Cephas is the Aramaic word for "stone" (cf. John 1:42, Matthew 16:18). He also mentions James in his list as at least the second- named witness to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared and only "then to all the apostles" (1 Corinthians 15:7).
Paul's own list of appearances is irreconcilable with those of the four canonical Gospels. There is not one of Paul's list of resurrection appearances that is identical with those listed by the several Gospel versions. Nowhere does Paul mention Mary Magdalene as the first person to allegedly see Jesus after his alleged resurrection. Paul also leaves out the other women witnesses that are mentioned in Matthew and Mark. The evangelists, in turn, say nothing about an appearance before James reported by Paul or the appearance to the crowd of five hundred people.
Paul's references to Cephas (1 Corinthians 15:5) and James (1 Corinthians 15:7) seeing Jesus could not be verified to the Corinthians. Does Cephas refer to Simon Peter, who at times was referred to as Cephas? Paul's words indicate a chronological sequence of appearances after the resurrection, with first Cephas and then the surviving "twelve" meeting Jesus. However, at no time is the apostle Simon Peter, under any name, mentioned in the New Testament as seeing Jesus prior to the alleged appearance to the eleven apostles together. It may be that Paul was making use of a legend circulating in Christian circles, which Luke later incorporated into his Gospel, that someone named Simon saw Jesus (Luke 24:34). Paul, for unspecified reasons, may have claimed that this Simon referred to Simon Peter. However, it is evident from a study of Luke 24:34 that the Simon who allegedly met Jesus was not Simon Peter since the latter is one of "the eleven."
It is conceivable that Paul may have inserted the claim that Simon Peter saw Jesus as a device to enhance his own doctrinal teachings concerning the meaning of the resurrection. It must be remembered that Paul did not know that his letters would be preserved and eventually widely circulated.
Considering the time and conditions under which he wrote, Paul had nothing to fear if his exaggerated statements were challenged. Those who denied his claims he simply accused of being false teachers. As the years went by it became a case of his word against theirs.
As in the case of Cephas, the same vagueness and lack of interest in fact is found in the mention of James by Paul. There were at least three different men named James involved in the life of Jesus. Which one is supposed to have seen the resurrected Jesus? When and where did Cephas and James see Jesus?
Can one truly base one's belief on such feeble evidence?
Interestingly, in the four Gospels and in the Book of Acts these appearances to Peter and James are not mentioned. The Gospels claim Jesus appeared first either to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matthew 28:9) or to Mary Magdalene alone as in Mark and John (Mark 16:9, John 20:18) or to two men Cleopas (Luke 24:18) and Simon (Luke 24:34). The latter was not Peter, according to the Gospels, since he is alleged to be with "the eleven" gathered in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33). Paul, the earliest of the New Testament writers does not at all mention the women, most notably Mary Magdalene who the Gospels, written somewhat later, credit with being the first persons to see the risen Jesus. There is no reason for anyone to believe in the resurrection event when those who recorded the alleged postresurrection appearances cannot agree to whom and when Jesus supposedly appeared.
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