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1 Corinthians 15:5 NASB

5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

In all the narratives of four evangelists there seem to be no record of Christ meeting Cephas then the twelve after his resurrection,but that he met them together

Matthew 28:16 NASB

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Mark 16:14 NASB

14 Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.

Luke 24:38 NASB

36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.

John 20:19 NASB

19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “[b]Peace be with you.”

Could Paul be referring to another event which was not recorded by the Evangelists?

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The Gospels do indicate that Jesus appeared to Simon Peter prior to appearing to the rest of the apostles:

Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. (Luke 24:34)

Note that this is just prior to Jesus’ appearance to the apostles in a group.

The twelve

But what about appearing to the twelve? Judas Iscariot was dead, and apparently Thomas wasn’t present at the first appearance to the apostles. Wouldn’t that mean just 10? One clever approach has been to say 10 apostles + 2 from the road to Emmaus = 12.

Although numerically that works, I think there’s an even simpler answer. “The twelve” is a reference to the apostles.

The creed of 1 Cor 15

One of the reasons the opening verses of 1 Cor 15 are so prevalent in apologetic circles is that it is widely held to be a creed that originated before Paul’s conversion, perhaps only a few months after Easter (see here). It’s very early evidence for the resurrection.

It is an easily memorized statement indicating not only who Jesus appeared to (note the Jewish custom of focusing on male witnesses), but also serves as a proof: if you don’t believe it, go ask one of these people.

This is certainly the most straightforward interpretation of the way Paul uses the creed:

After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15:6)

Paul is mentioning that many of them are still alive in order to challenge them to fact-check him if they don’t believe.

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Paul wasn’t depending on the Gospels for his historic account of the resurrection. He depended on eye witnesses. In 1 Cor. 15 Paul dealt with those in Corinth denying a bodily resurrection. That is why he referred to eye witnesses testimonies of the resurrection.

Paul’s purpose in appealing to witnesses still alive is to invite his readers to check his facts if they doubt his words.

Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (1 Co 15:6). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

He also noted how critical the resurrection is to the gospel.

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. (1 Cor. 15:3–8, ESV)

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Cor. 15:12–14, ESV)

As far as Paul’s account correlating with the Gospels, even the accounts of Christ’s resurrection in the Gospels seem to be contradictory because of the huge amount of detail left out, as John wrote:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; (John 20:30, ESV).

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25, ESV)

However, a careful examination of the resurrection accounts reveals they can be consistent if one considers the left out details. This passage in Luke might be a reference to Christ appearing to Peter:

saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34, ESV)

The appearance to Cephas, that is, Peter, is not recorded in the Gospels other than a passing reference in Luke 24.

Witherington, B., III. (1995). Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (p. 300). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Note that writing material (papyrus and parchment) was expensive at that time and the codex (current book form) wasn’t yet known. Scrolls had a practical size limitation. Thus, the Gospels had less detail than we would like. John’s Gospel is purposely different because he avoided repeating the details in the other Gospels to have room for important details left out of the other Gospels.

Paul gave information about Peter not in the Gospels. He did have direct contact with Peter (Acts 15:7; Galatians 2:11-14).

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Yes, that meeting is not recorded specifically in the Gospels. Luke did mention that Jesus appeared to Peter first in Luke 24:34. Jesus must have met Peter in Galilee, as mentioned in Mark 16:8 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

[Luke 24:33-34 ESV] And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”

Benson comments,

The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon — Before he was seen of the other apostles, (1Co 15:5,) he had, in his wonderful condescension and grace, taken an opportunity on the former part of the day, (though where or in what manner is not recorded,) to show himself to Peter, that he might early relieve his distresses and fears, on account of his having so shamefully denied his Master. The generality of the apostles had given little credit to the reports of the women, supposing that they were occasioned more by imagination than reality. But when a person of Simon’s capacity and gravity declared that he had seen the Lord, they began to think he was risen indeed. And their belief was not a little confirmed by the arrival of these two disciples, who declared that the Lord had appeared to them also, and gave a circumstantial relation of all that had happened.

So, it is important to list Peter the leader who had first seen or confirmed the resurrection, and Paul lists the names like according to rank, in 1Cor15. Even though the women (two Marys) may have been the first to witness the risen Lord, their identity is insignificant as witnesses. Regardless whether Peter was really the first of the twelve or Paul just outlines Peter's name for being the leader of the disciples, we should remember that ancient literature like these does not consider historical accuracy in details the way we do in 21st century.

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