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In 1 Cor 15:5 Paul speaks about Jesus after His resurrection:

"And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve"

I don't understand how that could have been twelve and not eleven. Judas Iscariot, as seems to follow from the Gospels, committed suicide before Jesus was crucified, and, as follows from the book of Acts, Matthias was chosen to be the twelfth one (instead of Judas) already after Jesus' ascension. That means that throughout the whole time from Jesus's resurrection until His ascension, that is, for 40 days (Acts 1:3), there were always only eleven, not twelve. So why does Paul say "twelve" here?

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    I think even if Matthias were included in the twelve apostles, 1 Corinthians 15:5 should still read 'the eleven' (Lat. Vulg.) because Peter was included in it! 1 + 12 = 13!
    – R. Brown
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 14:35
  • @RadzMatthewCoBrown - Can you, please, elaborate. I didn't get your logic.
    – brilliant
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 23:39
  • @brilliant The Lord appeared to Peter separately from the other eleven, and then, when Peter was together with the eleven, again the Lord appeared to Peter who was together with the other eleven disciples, so the Lord appeared to the twelve. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 10:13
  • @LevanGigineishvili - This is, in fact, a very simple, a very possible, and a very brilliant explanation.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 14:40
  • @brilliant Thanks! although, I do not feel myself necessarily an Albert Einstein to have hazard this simple explanation) Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 21:53

4 Answers 4

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Background Points

First, Paul is not writing an exact accounting of every instance of Christ being seen in 1 Cor 15:5-8. He does run through an ordered list of instances, which are leading to his point of his own late encounter (v.8).

Second, Paul is writing Corinthians after the selection of Matthias. So at the time of his writing, Matthias, chosen to take Judas Iscariot's place (Act 1:20), had become part of "the twelve" (Act 1:26). Recall that one of the requirements for Matthias joining the eleven was that he was a witness to the resurrected Jesus (Act 1:21-22).

Third, "the twelve" became a title of the core group itself, because of its usage in the Gospels (here is one discussion on it).

A Couple of Possible Solutions

So Paul's reference to "the twelve" can be logically reconciled at least two ways using the above background points:

  1. The reference to "the twelve" was intended to include Matthias. If so, Paul is using "the twelve" in reference to the "current twelve," and his statement in 1 Cor 15:5 is saying that all the current twelve saw Jesus before the 500 brethren at once did (1 Cor 15:6). This may or may not have been at the same time as "the eleven," but the reference to Jesus showing himself to "the disciples" (John 20:19) excluded Thomas initially (John 20:24), but also is generic enough to include Matthias, who was a disciple (Act 1:15). The eleven in total actually saw him eight days later when Thomas was included (John 20:26-27; this shows that Paul is not giving an exact and total ordering of appearances in 1 Cor 15), which also was a time when "the disciples" were gathered (John 20:26), and so Matthias may have been there then.

  2. The reference to "the twelve" was intended to exclude Matthias, being used as a title for the eleven (probably used in synecdoche)." The title "the twelve" referred to the core group, which was only eleven at the time, but the group is known as "the twelve," and so Paul could be using the title as the reference to the core group. Related to this, the title could figuratively be referring at that point in time to the partial set of the group (the eleven) by the title, using synecdoche of "the whole for the part."

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There are no serious manuscript or textual issues with this verse (Jerome's Vulgate notwithstanding). The English translation of “the twelve” appears to represent the original text and the author’s intention.

Commentators have offered various explanations for this number which appears to fail to account for Judas’ death and Thomas’ absence. A popular suggestion is that ‘the Twelve’ is the name by which Jesus’ closest followers were known, not an exact count of their number.

That said, this is just one of several challenges that arise when the resurrection accounts in the gospels, Acts, and 1Cor.15 are compared. These stories are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile (that is, for those who think harmonization should be possible, as historians would not). While some apparent discrepancies can be resolved or rationalized, at some point conscientious readers make peace with the differences; e.g. evangelical apologist Josh McDowell. Less honest interpreters ignore the difficulties or even misrepresent the text; one Christian Post writer snubbed Paul's post-resurrection appearance entirely (1Cor.15:8) and actually changed “the twelve” to the “the eleven”, without explanation. Surely the biblical text merits a higher standard of scholarship.

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  • Bit confused by your link to the Christian Post. I don't see anything there changed to "the eleven" (other than just the chart listing the number of people present). And I can understand why he would leave out the appearance to Paul. It's clearly in a category of it's own for a number of reasons and wouldn't be necessary to include it in a discussion of Jesus' post resurrection appearances in the gospels (which is the focus of the article). Don't have anything to object to of your posts content, just confused by singling this article out. Maybe I'm missing a reference in the article?
    – Joshua
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 0:56
  • Thanks, @JoshuaBigbee. I mention the CP article merely as an example of misrepresentation, not a special one. Schumacher cites Acts 1 and 1Cor.15 as the only evidence for 3 appearances, so he seems to be offering a comprehensive list (not only gospel examples). As mentioned, he cites 1Cor.15:5 (“the twelve”) as evidence for an appearance to the 11. And he uses Paul as a witness for 4 appearances but inexplicably excludes the last appearance Paul names. Admittedly, that appearance is problematic, but that’s exactly why it’s dishonest to exclude it, in my view.
    – Schuh
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 2:05
  • Understood, thanks. Though I'd still have to defend the omission of Paul's meeting with Jesus in the article. While you are right he uses sources outside the gospels, the point is those sources are supporting appearances that occur within the gospel time frame. Paul is quoted 4 times, but each of the 4 times refers to an appearance before the ascension. I know it's a subtle distinction, but it would make sense to me were I writing such an article. Adding Jesus' appearance to Paul years after the ascension is unnecessary as there is nothing to harmonize it with. I don't see it as dishonest.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 3:18
  • Unless you are attempting to judge the validity of the witness. Then yes, you would have to include everything Paul said. But the author is trying to harmonize the appearances after the resurrection, not perform textual criticism. Paul's visitation is admittedly literally "after the resurrection" but at least a couple years removed from all other appearances. That's what I mean by nothing to harmonize it with. It's like people arguing trying to remember the order of the planets. We all know Pluto is out there at the end, hardly relevant to if Saturn or Jupiter come after Mars.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 3:27
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After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. Mark 16:9

As explained here, in Gill's Exposition, this actually has multiple possible meanings, and is 'the eleven' in the Vulgate, but it can mean that more people were present and included in the count (such as Mary or another follower), that the name 'the twelve' was being used as a name for the group.

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Is it possible that although Judas was dead at this point, that he was also somehow witness to the risen Christ? I think it could be a possibility if you look at the story of the rich man in Luke 16. Thoughts on this as a possibility??

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  • I think that is definitely possible, but the context of Paul's words is the living ones, not the ones in the underworld.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 14:41
  • Could you improve this answer by quoting the text from Luke that you refer to?
    – Jesse
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 19:26

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