3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, 6 and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. 9 I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. 10 I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. 11 So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.
1 Corinthians 15 was the first written witness to Jesus' resurrection. Paul shared as “most important” the witness he’d “received,” and then described how meeting the living Jesus transformed him. He said if it weren’t true that Jesus overcame death, Christian faith was worthless. Scholar C. H. Dodd wrote, “The Resurrection of Jesus is not a belief that grew up within the church; it is the belief around which the church itself grew up, and the ‘given’ upon which its faith was based.”*
Lord Jesus, you went where most of us most dread going—the realm of death—and you emerged victorious! Help me claim your victory, and live and die in the calm assurance of your eternal love and life. Amen.
* C. H. Dodd, The Founder of Christianity. London: The MacMillan Company, 1970, p. 103.
** Phillip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Publishing Company, 1995, pp. 219-220.
Back when I was in high school, one of our choir’s favorite songs was the African-American spiritual, “Witness,” which asks the compelling question, “Who’ll be a witness for my Lord?” (I can’t even begin to count the number of current social/educational edicts that our choir was violating. On the other hand, it’s also hard to imagine a composer balking at young people who (checks notes) enjoy singing their music.)
Aside: Since there weren’t many newspapers or magazines available to Moses during his 40 years of wandering the wilderness, it was really hard to get the Israelites to share. Thus, the phrase “Let my People go!” became a theme for several spirituals.
“Witness” cites several Old Testament witnesses like Methuselah, Daniel, & Samson. These are interesting selections, since spirituals typically focus on Moses, Abraham, or Elijah. Perhaps the composer was selecting heroes that were more applicable to the theme.
Aside: Delilah was known for refusing to give Samson’s pet rabbit any second helpings. As she famously declared, “Samson, I’m cutting your hare off.”
The hymn also cites a New Testament witness – Nicodemus. This pick makes a bit more sense. The African-American slaves were particularly drawn to Nicodemus because he, too, had to go to Christ under the cover of darkness & the idea of being “born again” with a new identity was very attractive to those wanting a new life as free people.
In today’s passage, Paul cites several witnesses to the resurrected Christ: Cephas (Peter’s name in Aramaic), The Twelve (the remaining Disciples), 500+ (a mass sighting on one occasion), James (Jesus’ brother), & Paul himself.
Author Lee Strobel cites this passage in his 1998 best seller, “The Case for Christ” as part of the proof of Jesus’ resurrection. While it does offer some helpful documentation, I find the most compelling Biblical evidence for the resurrection to be the Disciples’ actions post-resurrection. Consider the following:
Ultimately, though, I would submit that witnesses from 2,000 years ago might not be very persuasive to today’s readers. Perhaps our old African-American spiritual can help us out. The closing verse states: “My soul will be a witness for my Lord.” Huh. What if our own faith journey is the most influential witness for the resurrected Christ? What would that look like?
What if we think of our old spiritual as being a work in progress, with lots of stanzas just waiting to be added? What might our section say?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to research a bit more about Methuselah, who is primarily known for being the oldest recorded human, clocking in at 969 years of age. He’d be a real budget-buster at that Pampered Chef party: “Why yes, it does come with a lifetime warranty. Why do you ask, Methuselah?”
For those who haven’t heard our spiritual, here’s a rendition you might enjoy: Witness
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