Paul shows just how much he values the historical facts concerning Jesus’ resurrection appearances when he points out that, if they are not true, then there are absolutely no grounds for any distinctly Christian faith (1 Cor. 15:12–19, 32). This early creed and the subsequent testimony disprove Wells’ thesis concerning the lack of early interest in the facts of Jesus’ life, for they demonstrate clearly that Paul is even willing to base the Christian faith on the truthfulness of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
2.Jesus lived in the first century
A second problem proceeds from this discussion. Wells admits that his position depends on the assertion that Christianity could have started without a historical Jesus who had lived recently. He suggests that, for Paul, Jesus may have lived long before “and attracted no followers until he began, in Paul’s own day, to make resurrection appearances.”^8 But this is one place where Wells’ thesis is the weakest. We have said that Paul bases his entire message on the facticityof this gospel data, presenting the reports of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ appearances, persons that he knew personally, in order to further corroborate these recent events. That this creed is also very early and close to the actual events further assists in substantiating the testimony. Other portions of Paul’s writings confirm this conclusion, in opposition to Wells.
Paul is also aware of the fact that Jesus lived recently. Paul refers to Jesus’ contemporaries: Cephas and the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5); the apostles, brothers of
7 For example, after providing arguments for the trustworthiness of this information, Jewish New Testament scholar Pinchas Lapide declares that this formula “may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.” See his volume, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1982), pp. 97–99.
8 Wells, “Was Jesus Crucified Under Pilate?” pp. 24–25.
Christ, and Cephas (1 Cor. 9:5); James, the brother of the Lord, and the apostle Peter (Gal. 1:18–19); the apostles Peter, James, and John (Gal. 2:8–9); Peter alone (Gal. 2:11). The best explanation for the phrase “the third day” (1 Cor. 15:3–4) is that Paul had temporal interests in mind, and that these witnesses began to see Jesus three days after he was raised from the dead.^9 Further, Paul points out that most of the 500 people who saw the resurrected Jesus at one time were still alive when he wrote the book of 1 Corinthians, about AD 55–57. In the evaluation in our next section, we will list other problems of this nature.
Wells’ explanation of these texts is insufficient, as well as being faulty.^10 For instance, he actually suggests, in describing James as the Lord’s brother, that Paul is referring not to an actual brother (in the sense of a blood relation) but to a group of individuals in the early church called the brethren of the Lord!
Perhaps almost needless to say, several decisive problems plague this supposition. This is far from the most normal way of understanding Paul, either in Galatians 1:19 or 1 Corinthians 9:5. Further, all four Gospel writers did not hesitate to speak of Jesus’ brothers in the clear context of his physical family.^11 Whether these four volumes were written later or not, they all agree against Wells’ position. Additionally, the ancient historian Josephus calls James “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”^12 This is certainly not a reference to any Jerusalem faction of believers (see discussion below)! Lastly, there is no ancient evidence at all that supports Wells’ position, not to mention the sense one gets of special pleading.