1 “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” 1Corinthians 15:1-5
This extraordinary piece of Scripture is interesting for a number of reasons. Paul is stating that the gospel he first preached to them is a saving gospel. (v. 2) He says if you don’t believe that gospel then you “have believed in vain.” So, what was it that he preached? The answer is found in verses 3 and 4. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” and “that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
The basic gospel of Paul was Christ crucified and resurrected. The resurrection was confirmed by the numerous appearances, of Jesus, mentioned in verses 5-9. Paul himself, through his Damascus road experience, also includes himself as an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ (Messiah).
Most New Testament scholars believe the confession that Jesus died for our sins and was buried and then raised on the third day can be traced back to six months or a year after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This creedal statement, along with the attached list of people who can confess to the reality of the resurrection, was foundational teaching within the earliest of believers.
How do we get to such an early date such as AD 31 for this creedal statement?
If we use AD 30 as the death of Jesus as most theologians agree upon and we accept that 1 Corinthians was written in AD 55 we have a 25-year gap from the resurrection to Paul’s statement of resurrection in verse 4.
However, Paul says he taught this gospel to the Corinthians on his previous visit to them. When was that visit? Acts 18:12-18 tells us that Paul was teaching in Corinth during the time of Gallio the proconsul and it was at this time persecution broke out against him and he had to leave. That date is set historically at AD 51. So Paul was preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus to the Corinthians in AD 51.
Now let’s go back the other way and begin from the beginning. Paul was converted no later than two years after the death of Jesus. In Galatians 1 he is talking about his call to be an Apostle. His argument is that he didn’t receive the gospel that he preaches from any disciple or Apostle. His commission came directly from God on the Damascus road. He then says he didn’t go up to Jerusalem to confirm his call with the Apostles but went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus (Galatians 1:17). Only then, after the three years in Arabia, did he go down to Jerusalem where he met with Peter and James the brother of Jesus for 15 days. (Galatians 1:18-19)
We don’t know exactly what they talked about but there were no divisions between them, at least recorded, but Paul left and went forth preaching to the gentiles throughout Syria and Cilicia. OK – Jesus died AD 30 then Paul was converted 2 years later, that brings us to AD 32 and then 3 years in the wilderness and that brings us to the meeting with Peter and James in AD 35.
Now, Galatians 2:1 reports that 14 years later Paul went back up to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles once again. Why? Verse 2 says he laid the gospel that he was preaching before them to have them verify it, “unless somehow I should be running or had run in vain.” Verses 9-10 reveal the Apostles had no quarrel with Paul’s teachings and extended the right hand of fellowship to him, disregarding his critics. In fact, Paul says in Galatians 2:6, “they added nothing to me.” We add 14 years onto AD 35 and we end up around AD 49.
Let’s see what we have? In AD 55 Paul was teaching death and resurrection of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 11:23, while talking of the Lord’s supper, says he only presents to the Corinthians what God has given or revealed to him. This would also be true of the resurrection. We also know this was the message being preached in Corinth in his previous visit in AD 51 (1 Corinthians 15:1). We also know that he met with the Apostles in Jerusalem in AD 49 and they approved all he was preaching regardless of the attacks upon his teaching by the legalists.
We also know that he met with the Apostles 14 years previous to AD 49 and they did not challenge his teaching at that time either. That date would be AD 35. Now Paul came to that meeting in Galatians 2:1 after spending 3 years in Arabia and yet there is no mention of their attacking his message. He simply left the meeting and went on preaching and teaching the risen Messiah who died for our sins.
His conversion experience was AD 31 or AD 32 and by at least AD 35 he was preaching the resurrection. If we go back to 1 Corinthians 15:11 we notice Paul states, “whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” This, from context, is speaking of the other Apostles and this is the same message that they were all preaching back as early as AD 35 when Paul met with Peter and James.
Peter and James, of course, go right back to Jesus and were eyewitnesses of the resurrection. When they met Paul in AD 35 they had a shared experience with Paul—they all were eyewitnesses to the resurrection. They all believed Jesus was the Messiah who had come to offer “forgiveness of sins,” to all who believed in His death and resurrection. They all believed that Jesus, the Messiah, was the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Abraham and the Kingdom of God had broken into history to bring salvation and restoration to humanity.
The resurrection was proof of God’s faithfulness, redemptive love, and fulfilled promises. It is little wonder that Paul can write to the Romans, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
The two great doctrines of Christianity that sprung directly out of the life and death of Jesus in AD 30 were His divinity and death, for the forgiveness of sins, and resurrection. This is the gospel and it is not a late invention of the church. It instead was the core of the Apostles teaching stretching back to the crucifixion itself.