Responding to Richard Carrier’s Dating the Corinthian Creed

One of the key passages for Christian apologists is the creed that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15 as part of his discussion on the resurrection.

For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
He also appeared to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, HCSB)

It is not surprising that atheist apologist Richard Carrier would want to respond to this.

In his article, Dating the Corinthian Creed, Carrier admits that the creed is very early. He describes it as coming from the dawn of the Christian sect. I fully agree with Carrier on this.

Does this mean that it goes back 2-3 years after the crucifixion, as many evangelical scholars, as well as liberal scholar Gerd Ludemann, claim? Carrier says no.

In my own use of this passage, I don’t rely on such an early dating. First Corinthians is already very early, being from the early to mid-50s. Paul is quoting something earlier, but it is difficult to know when this creed was first formulated. But we know that it is early, as Carrier also agrees.

But there are a couple of other things that I want to address. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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