This week I taught Sunday School from this text:

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. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.—1 Corinthians 15:3-9 (ESV)

One of the members of the class commented that she'd heard an argument along the lines of "If there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection, why don't we have any other record of them? Where are their letters or testamonies? Isn't it more likely that Paul just made them up?"

From a form criticism point of view, isn't it likely that this section is part of a creed and that the number 500 represents an arbitrarily large company of believers (or perhaps the size of the Jerusalem church when the creed was articulated), rather than an actual number of people who claim to have seen Jesus after his death?

  • 3
    As to 'arbitrarily large', he does say "more than five hundred", so he's just rounding.
    – Muke Tever
    Nov 23, 2011 at 13:26
  • You might wish to review Richard Bauchman's Eyewitness to the Gospel. He argues persuasively that many witnesses are record in the gospels and other documents. Sometimes named and some bit.
    – user2872
    Oct 30, 2013 at 17:16
  • The only other mention of the 500 appears in one of the Apostolic Fathers.
    – Lucian
    Aug 4, 2017 at 5:51

3 Answers 3


Did others than the 11 Apostles see the risen Jesus?

There is at least one other record that says a group consisting of more than the apostles saw Jesus after his resurrection.

Luke 24:33-37 (ESV quoted):

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!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.

The size of the group, though, is not described.

John's account of the same incident in John 20:19 suggests who 'those who were with them' were:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

The number of disciples is not described here either. I think the soonest estimate of the number of disciples comes in Acts, where, shortly after Jesus' ascension, there were 120 disciples at the time it came to replace Judas:

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty) (Acts 1:15, NKJV quoted - some versions have 'brethren' or 'brothers' instead of 'disciples' with the same meaning)

This is a point against there being 500 who saw Jesus - one wouldn't expect the number of followers to go down after such a miraculous appearance. There are two possible resolutions to this, if we want to take Luke 24 and John 20 as representing the incident that Paul is talking about:

  1. This may have been a different assembly--a "scene change" is implied by the introduction "in those days"--so it isn't necessary that all of the people would still have been there for the assembly.
  2. The figure of 120 might refer to men only, and the figure of 500+ might include women and children. (In the story of the feeding of the 5000, for example, we're explicitly told that women and children were not included in the count, so there is precedent for this sort of practice.)

Where is what they wrote?

As for where their writings are (which I suppose is the main part of your question) this probably can't be answered by Scripture alone.

Of course one should probably take into account that possibly not all knew how to write (or write well) and even if they did write, what was written may not have been preserved (for various reasons). And probably not many would have needed to write. It might have been easier for them to tell everyone they knew in person.

Further, not all would necessarily have gone on to a missionary career; as everywhere, there are more followers than leaders in the world. They might have seen and believed, but family concerns or poverty or a poor reputation--and we know many who followed Jesus were poor or of sinful repute--might have kept them from the business of spreading the gospel, so they might not have had reason to do so.

And even beyond this--and probably the largest issue--was the fact of the persecution of the early church. People who preached Christ were accused of blasphemy (e.g. Acts 6:8-14), warned by the Jewish leaders not to speak (e.g. Acts 5:27-28), beaten (e.g. Acts 5:40), imprisoned (e.g. Acts 8:1-3), and put to death (e.g. Acts 7:54-60). The actual persecution would have silenced many; the fear of it most likely would have silenced even more.


Additional points to consider: (1) Writing materials that could be preserved (e.g. sheepskin vellum) were expensive in ancient times. Furthermore, even if all 500 witnesses wrote their testimony (highly unlikely) the laborious effort required to hand make many copies would be made only for the most authoritative testimonies. Testimonies of which only a few copies were made would be lost over time.
(2) The early Christians thought that Jesus was coming back very soon. So the emphasis was on preaching to as many people as possible since oral testimony could spread much faster than hand-copied written testimony.

  • 4
    These are good points and you already get +1 from me, but I wonder if you'd be willing to expand a bit to make it stand alone as an answer to "What happened to the 500 witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15"? Mar 29, 2013 at 11:31

Today, the majority of those who come to Christ, even those with spectacular or dynamic testimonies, do not write and publish them, despite the ease of word-processing and the accessibility of the internet. Obviously, the vast majority of Christians in any age have lived and died without writing their experiences of conversion to Christ and walk with Him. We know, as pointed out above, that 120 (at least) were present on the day of Pentecost and many more converted that day, who did not write their stories down. Peter, in Acts 1, seems to identify this group of 120, or at least a part of them, as having "companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us." This question seems to assume that everyone or many of those who met the resurrected Christ would have written of it. If this calls into question the validity of the statement, we can ask the same thing of each of Jesus' miracles and encounters: If this whole 'well encounter' is true, why didn0t the Samaritan woman write about it? If Nicodemus met with Jesus, why don't we have his written testimony of it? You mean to say that not even one of the 5000 wrote about the miraculous feeding?

In point of fact, several witnesses to the resurrection (though far less than 500) did write: Matthew, John, James and Jude. Additionally, Luke interviewed many who were healed by Jesus, spoke to Him or were witnesses of His resurrection (Lk. 1:3 "With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,...), so that many that saw the resurrected Lord were interviewed and gave their testimony to Luke.

I think it is perfectly reasonable to believe that these 500 were witnesses whose stories were either never written down, included in the documentation of Luke or lost due to limited distribution and copies.

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