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Question of the “Appearance” to “over 500”

In reference to the article located at: What Happened to the Resurrected Saints? The “Christian Think Tank” Response

Glen K writes:
Hi Ed, 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 reads:
  1. “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
  2. and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
  3. and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
  4. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once,
One can debate whether this report is accurate, or whether the appearance was physical or spiritual, or why it is not mentioned elsewhere, but there it is: a New Testament report that that Jesus appeared to more people than the apostles.
Thanks,
Glen K

Appearance to 500

“The appearance to over 500” (mentioned solely in 1 Cor.), according to Luke and Acts, the physically raised Jesusʼ ascension into heaven was seen by only the apostles. And the non-descript mention of an “appearance” to “over 500” appears as fabulous and unattested elsewhere in Scripture as the “raising of the many” and it deserves its own separate response. The major questions that easily come to mind concerning the story about the “appearance to over 500 brethren” are these:

When Paul states that Jesus “appeared” to “over 500 brethren at once” (1Cor. 15:6), that would have been to a greater number of “brethren” than were mentioned at the time of Jesusʼ ascension, i.e., Acts 1:9,14-15,22 mentions only “120 brethren” meeting together in Jerusalem at the time near Jesusʼ alleged ascension). So if the words of Acts are taken at face value, then whomever or whatever may have “appeared” to “over 500 brethren” could not have been a physically raised Jesus, since Acts claims that Jesusʼ body left the Earth at a time when only “120 brethren” are mentioned dwelling together in Jerusalem, implying at best a “non-bodily appearance” to the “over 500,” exactly as you suggested above.

But wait. Some inerrantists like J. P. Holding of “Tektonics” apologetics do not like that implication, and have continued to argue that perhaps 1) There were over 500 brethren who ate and drank with the physically raised Jesus at some unspecified time and place before his ascension. 2) Or, over 500 brethren actually saw Jesusʼ bodily ascension.

In reply to Holdingʼs two “inerrant possibilities,” Steve Locks of “Leaving Christianity” drove home the plain point of the explicit nature of what is said in Luke and Acts:

Locks: The number given in 1 Cor. of “over 500 brethren” seeing an appearance of Jesus also doesnʼt sit well with Acts 10:40-4: “But God raised him from the dead three days later and caused him to appear, not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death.” I have checked all the versions I can find on this at http://www.ntgateway.com/ and it does not look like this verse refers to a huge banquet of “500 brethren.” It reads like it is referring solely to the apostles as various commentators agree. [See Note #1]

And concerning those present at the ascension, Luke/Acts mention only the apostles. (Luke 24:49-53 & Acts 1:2-9 ) Even if more than just the apostles were present at the ascension (which is to “add” to Scripture), the speech to the “120 brethren” happens immediately after the ascension, followed by explaining in Acts 1:12-15 they all went to the same place afterwards. In other words, there is nothing there about “over 500” being present at that time. Nor is there anything about “over 380” going back to Galilee.

And if you are going to argue that Acts 1:15 (“in those days…”) implies a break in time then remember they had been told (commanded) by Jesus (Acts 1:4) to “not depart” but wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, so why would “over 380” of them go back to Galilee? (Always assuming the NT is reliable.) So if “over 500” saw Jesus ascend then since they were also commanded to “stay in Jerusalem” by Jesus, why didnʼt those “380+” not do so?

Conversely, given that news of Jesusʼ resurrection appearances should have been circulating at that time, why were only the apostles present (per Luke/Acts) at the ascension? Surely many others would have been dying to catch a glimpse of the raised Jesus and follow him through Jerusalem out to Bethany to see him rise up into the sky? You yourself made the suggestion that “over 500” might have been having table fellowship at that time and that is how the “over 500” saw Jesus (big table), and you suggest that was before the ascension. So why would they have simply returned to their farms and not continued to seek out havnig more fellowship with the raised Jesus? Or why would they have disobeyed Jesus and not “remained in Jerusalem” and hence been there at the ascension? So why does Luke/Acts state only the apostles were at the ascension? The story raises questions from both angles. So few having seen the ascension raises questions of credibility, while trying to fit “over 500” there raises questions concerning the truth and accuracy of the verses in Luke/Acts.

Hence your options are

  1. There were only 120 brethren in Jerusalem around the time of the ascension - hence no “appearance to over 500 brethren” was known by the author of Luke/Acts, or perhaps the story may be an interpolation [See Note #2]

    or

  2. 380 brethren disobeyed Jesus command to “remain in Jerusalem.”

    It appears that in fact, no one back then considered the obvious questions that would arise when you tried to reconcile Luke/Acts and 1 Cor. But then, those were the pre-canonical days when lots of stories were arising among Christians.

    Lastly, letʼs consider a third option:

  3. Was the story of the “bodily ascension” perhaps a myth or pious legend? It is found only in Luke/Acts, not in the earliest Gospel, Mark, nor is it found in Matthew. Is the story in Luke/Acts modeled on other ascension stories that were popular at that time? The story of the “Ascension of Moses” was repeated by Josephus, a Jewish historian, which means the popularity of the “Moses ascension myth” preceded the writing of the Gospels and Acts. J. R. Porterʼs general work, Jesus Christ: The Jesus Of History, The Christ Of Faith (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), in his very brief section on the Ascension (p. 133), adds: “The special object of the Ascension narrative in Acts is to make clear that the post-Resurrection appearances have come to an end. [See Note #3] Jesus leaves the earth, not to be seen again until his second coming at some unknown date. His presence will be replaced by that of the Holy Spirit which will empower and inspire the Church (Acts 1:8). Lukeʼs account appears to be modeled on the ascension of Elijah as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (2 Kings 1:9-12). For example, the forty-day period between the Resurrection and the Ascension on the Mount of Olives recalls Elijahʼs forty dayʼs journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); and the gift of the Holy Spirit is paralleled by the gift to Elisha of the spirit of Elijah.”


Notes:

  1. http://www.ntgateway.com/ agrees it was an exclusive eating group of just the apostles according to the commentaries on Acts 10:40-41 which refer me back to Acts 1:8 which refers to the “witnesses” who are identified at Acts 1:2 as “the apostles” (e.g. http://www.bible.org/cgi-bin/netbible.pl#note_26). Indeed at Bible.Crosswalk it explicitly states that this was just “the apostles.”, i.e. ,even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead; namely, to the apostles, with whom he familiarly conversed by times, for the space of forty days after his resurrection

    Wesley Notes Not now to all the people - As before his death; to us who did eat and drink with him - That is, conversed familiarly and continually with him, in the time of his ministry.

    Who was conversing familiarly and continually with Jesus in the time of his ministry - the apostles of course.

  2. #2 Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation

    For added discussion see Miracles by Robert M. Price.

  3. #3 The “appearance” to Paul was well after Jesusʼ bodily ascension into heaven. Yet Paul ranks the Jesus “appearance” he had as being equal to what was originally seen by the “twelve.” Hmmm.

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