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In 1 Corinthians 15, we see the famous early Christian creed:

“and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:5-8

Often this verse is used as a proof-text by many to assert that Paul’s encounter with Jesus was a mere vision or hallucination. And then because Paul also uses the word ‘appeared’ regarding the apostles aswell, people make the claim that the “appearance” of Jesus was merely an appearance and thus not a bodily resurrection.

To be clear, I’m not asking about Paul’s view on a bodily vs spiritual resurrection on the last day, I merely want to know what he means by the use of the word “appear”, especially when using the same word to describe the disciples encounter with Jesus.

Even if we assert that Paul did encounter the risen Jesus in a vision, why would he use the same word for his experience of Jesus (re encountering a bright light in Acts 9) and the apostles when the apostles clearly had a different experience of the risen Jesus since they discovered the empty tomb and encountered him fully in Galilee?

Does this use of the word “appear” still affirm a full encounter with the physical risen Jesus? Why the use of the word “appear” in regards to a physical resurrection that the disciples saw?

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  • Paul witnesses to seeing light and to hearing words. I do not remember Paul making any remarks about seeing a bodily appearance. Stephen, also, saw a vision of what was in heaven, not a bodily appearance on earth. There is a difference between, firstly, the bodily presence of Jesus on earth prior to his ascension, and, secondly, experiences given after His enthronement above.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 19, 2022 at 8:22
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    It could have been either and we are and not told. Therefore, we do not know. But it does not matter anyway. The word ὁράω can mean, physically see, see in a vision of the mid, or see by pure logic and understanding. Our English word "see" has the same breadth of meaning.
    – Dottard
    Aug 19, 2022 at 10:00

3 Answers 3

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The word ophthe in Greek means exactly what the word "seen" means in the English sentence: "after Jesus died he was seen alive by 500 brethren." Smuggling in an unnecessary, un-Pauline, un-Jewish, un-Pharisaic view of the resurrection of the dead as meaning ghosts and not resurrected bodies is the definition of eisegesis (more like an exodos out of the land of Biblical reality).

The English translation "appear" could be misleading, since in more archaic English, this was correctly interpreted as passive ("was seen"). That is, one must be careful to avoid the mistake of reading "appear" as an active verb (suggesting the sense "apparition" with its ghostly connotations, unlike the simple word "was seen"). Again, one must avoid the subjective implications of "appear" in modern English, as it is used in such phrases as "it appeared to me," or "or so it appeared," used invariably to denote subjectivity and personal, felt opinion, whereas the Greek word, and the correct English translation "seen" are as robust as the word "seen" can be. It just means they saw Him. Whether that's a ghost or body is determined purely by the context, and by the Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. That is, it doesn't prove either way—but advocates of the spiritual Jesus appearing to Paul argue based on this silence.

That Paul believed Jesus rose from the dead but left His body in the grave is absolutely untenable, and is smuggling something into the text that isn't there. On that basis alone this reading of the word "seen" is eisegetical, and egregiously so. It's also an argument from silence, which is made worse by the fact that, not only is it arguing from silence, but it is arguing in spite of non-silence where applicable, namely, the rest of Paul's writings, and the wider early Christian context.

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Had Paul encountered Jesus? It depends on how we interpret the following, if the man Paul described was himself.

2 Corinthians 12:2-7 NIV

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.

3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—

4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.

6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,

7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Where was Paul 14 years ago before he wrote the 2 Corinthians? Scholar study indicated that it was likely in 55-57AD. Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and brought him to Antioch (Acts 11:25). In Acts ch12, James, brother of John was killed by King Herod Agrippa, who ruled Judea from AD41-44. He died in 44AD. So Paul likely began his serving in the church of Antioch in AD41-43. It appeared that the encounter of "this man" happened before Barnabas found him in Tarsus.


Let's compare the above with the following verses

1 Corinthians 15:8-10 NIV

8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Paul described himself "as to one abnormally born". Paul was well trained as a Pharisee (Acts 22:3), but there was no record how Paul was trained to be an apostle. He was last seen in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30), until Barnabas found him in Tarsus (Acts 11:25), there was a blank of him for nearly 10 years. So "abnormally born" might mean himself "not formally trained".

He spoke frequently that it was by grace he became an apostle. And I don't think he only meant the single event of his encounter with the Lord on his way to Damascus, and later healed by Ananias (Acts ch9). There should have more not being told.

From his wording, Paul felt himself had received a grace so great that he had to work harder. Wasn't it resembling a self-propelling responsibility, liked a thorn whether on his body or in his mind, that Paul had to endure to complete his mission given?

Conclusion

I would believe that "man" was Paul himself. Whether he saw Jesus in physical form or in a dream, he didn't know, but the vision was so real that he knew he had seen Jesus.

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re: "Had Paul encountered Jesus? It depends on how we interpret the following, if the man Paul described was himself.

2 Corinthians 12:2-7 NIV"

I don't see a thing at all in this verse that suggests to me that Paul was (coyingly) talking about himself. In the broader context of that chapter, I very much think Paul was indeed talking about someone else altogether. Paul says he'll "boast" about some guy like that - but - that of himself, he'll only boast of his weakness.

He goes on to say "if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth". That is, if he's boasting in his weakness, then he will indeed be speaking the truth.

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