How? History proves the resurrection in two ways:
- The first way is the nearly-unanimous historical facts from scholars
- And the second way is early Christian creeds embedded in the New Testament
These New Testament creeds are very early evidence. They date back to soon after the resurrection.
- These creeds give us insight into early Christianity’s beliefs
- In other words, they point us to what must have really happened in history.
- Specifically, they show us that the resurrection really happened.
By asking seven questions, we can see how early Christian creeds give proof of the resurrection.
1. What Are Creeds?
Many first-century people were illiterate. Meaning memorization was a critical way to pass on information.
Creeds are statements of shared belief. These early Christian creeds were short memorizable statements about Jesus. Their content covered early beliefs in the Christian community. These “creeds” were an excellent way to spread the truth.
How did these creeds work?
- The early Christian creeds were, at first, shared among Christians verbally.
- Only later were they written down in the books of the New Testament.
Meaning the creeds about Jesus and his resurrection were in use before the Apostles wrote the 27 books of the New Testament.
And so these creeds are some of the earliest reports about Jesus because they span from AD mid-30s to AD 50 (Jesus’ resurrection was AD 30-33).
2. What is the Earliest Christian Creed in the Bible?
The Apostle Paul shares the earliest creed in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Many scholars believe that this creed originated in the mid-30s. That places it only three to eight years after Jesus’s resurrection (AD 30-33)!
3. How Did Paul Learn This Early Christian Creed?
But how did the Apostle Paul know about the creed? Because three years after his conversion (AD 36-38), Paul met with Peter and James in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19; cf. 1 Cor. 15:5-7).
It was at that meeting he learned this creed. Meaning the creed had been in use five to seven years after Jesus’s resurrection!
4. Why is this Early Date of the Christian Creed So Important?
This early date proves that the historical information surrounding Jesus’s resurrection is accurate.
After all, this early creed covers the essentials of the Christian faith:
- Confirming Jesus’s death and burial
- Verifying the resurrection
- Validating Christ’s post-resurrection appearances.
- And in one of those appearances, more than 500 people saw him (1 Cor. 15:6)!
The creed proves these facts were common knowledge. And they originated within a few short years of the time they happened.
Why is that important?
- First, because of the brief time span, legends could not have developed!
- Second, eyewitnesses were still alive to refute the claims if they were lying about Jesus’s resurrection!
5. What Are Some Other Early Christian Creeds?
The Apostle Peter gave speeches centering on the death and resurrection of Jesus. These have some very early creeds in them (see Acts 2:31; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30-31; 10:39-42).
Here are some other early Christian creeds spoken in the New Testament:
- Luke 24:34
- Acts 2:22-24; 2:30-32; 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:29-32; 10:39-41; 13:31; 13:37-39
- Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 10:9
- 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 15:3-8
- Phil. 2:6-11
- 1 Tim. 2:6; 3:16; 6:13
- 2 Tim. 2:8
- 1 Peter 3:18
- 1 John 4:2
6. Why Did The Apostles Quote Early Christian Creeds In Their Sermons?
What was the apostles’ message? Christ’s resurrection in Jerusalem!
These early proclamations of Christ’s resurrection are important. These sermons reveal a dramatic transformation of the frightened disciples into bold preachers.
Only one thing can explain that transformation. The disciples had encountered the risen Christ!
- They had seen, heard, ate, and in some instances, touched the resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:40-42; John 20:24-29)
- They changed because they did not doubt that “He is risen” (Matt. 28:6-7; Mark 16:6)
7. Do These Early Christian Creeds Matter?
Early Christian creeds came from eyewitnesses only a few years after the resurrection. New Testament books contain these creeds proving Jesus was the center of the apostles’ message (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Other creeds confirm that the disciples saw the risen Jesus on several occasions (Acts 2:32; 5:32; 10:41). And they report the resurrection from a very early date (Acts 10:40–41; 13:31; 1 Cor. 15:4-8)
The various early Christian creeds are compelling evidence for Christ’s resurrection. The creeds predate the New Testament books. They originated soon after Jesus’s resurrection.
No one can argue against the apostles experiencing the resurrected Jesus. And if it is irrefutable that Jesus did rise from the dead, he must be God.
Early Christian Creeds Leave One Last Question
That leaves an essential question for modern-day Christians: Does this evidence of the resurrection inspire you as it did first-century Christians? When you hear that Jesus rose from the dead, do you want to share the good news about Jesus with others?
We need to continue to share our common belief in the risen Jesus to one another so that we can remember him, praise him, and be stirred to share him with others.
Habermas, G. R. (1996). The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (pp. 142-170). Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company.