Q. I have recently been talking to an Atheist about the evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. He of course does not believe Jesus ever existed. One of my arguments for Jesus’ existence is the founding of the Christian faith. I also argued that the gospels had been in circulation prior to Paul writing 1 Corinthians and is what Paul is referring to as what was given to him in verse 3.
My friend points out that there is a minor problem with what Paul says in those verses. 1 Cor. 15:5 says, ” And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve” My friend had this to say, ” There were only 11 disciples at the time. Judas was dead and his replacement, Matthias, had not been chosen until after the ascension (Acts 1:9-26). That there were only 11 disciples is clearly mentioned in the synoptics. If Paul truly had the gospels available to him before writing 1 Corinthians, then why would he make such an obvious mistake?”
A. There is reasonable doubt as to whether any of the Gospels were in circulation before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Matthew might have been written as early as 1 Corinthians (55AD) but Mark (55-60), Luke (59-63) and John (85) came out later. Therefore the scriptures Paul was referring to in 1 Cor. 15:3 have to be Old Testament prophecies of the Lord’s death and Resurrection. And remember, Paul didn’t have to depend on the written Gospels to get his story straight. He was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The person who denies the existence of Jesus has chosen to do so in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary from both historical and religious sources. He does this because he doesn’t want to be accountable for his behavior and thinks he can escape by denying the existence of his judge. He can not be influenced by logical debate because his position is an emotional one.
Think about it. Any one who would bet his eternal destiny on such a flimsy piece of “evidence” as Paul’s reference to “the 12” is really grasping. Most scholars conclude that the phrase “the 12” is simply a euphemism for the original disciples, because by the end of the Lord’s ministry there were many more than 12 disciples. Didn’t He send out 72 in Luke 10? And yet the first ones were often called “the 12” to distinguish them from the others. Do a word search on “the 12” and you’ll find a dozen or so references to the original disciples. Among them is John 20:24. It also contains a reference to “the 12” that took place after Judas died and before Matthias was chosen.
For more on this, read Proving the Existence of Jesus.