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Q. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, why does Paul mention "the twelve" and "all the apostles" in different places in his list, using different descriptors?:

[1Co 15:5-8 NASB95] [5] and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [6] After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; [7] then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; [8] and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

And does this suggest that he claims this is a complete list of all the sightings, dismissing all of the gospel accounts (which provide a whole bunch of mismatched appearances)?

Related:

[Luk 24:33-35 NASB95] [33] And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, [34] saying, "The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon." [35] They [began] to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

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Here is Paul's itemized list to whom Jesus appeared 1 Cor 15:5-8:

  • Cephas (= Simon Peter)
  • The Twelve (ie, apostles)
  • 500 brothers
  • James
  • all the apostles
  • "me" (= Paul)

Now, it is often the case that the NT writers referred to "The Twelve" as the original 12 disciples of Jesus whom He also designated apostles (Mark 3:14, Luke 6:13), for example: Luke 9:1, 18:31, Acts 6:2, Mark 6:7, 9:35, 14:43, John 6:70, 20:24, Matt 10:2, etc.

Now, just as the original 12 disciples were to go and make more disciples (Matt 28:19), so also, the original 12 apostles are not the only apostles. That is, we have many others designated "apostles" in addition to the original "Twelve".

  • Paul himself, 1 Cor 15:9, 1 Tim 1:1, 2 Tim 1:1, etc
  • Barnabas, Acts 14:14, 15:2
  • Epaphroditus, Phil 2:25
  • Titus, 2 Cor 8:23
  • Andronicus, Rom 16:7
  • Junia, Rom 16:7
  • James the brother of Jesus, Gal 1:19
  • Jesus Christ Himself, Heb 3:1
  • Apollos (see 1 Cor 16:12, Acts 18:27, 19:1, Titus 3:13, 1 Cor 1;12, 3:4, 5, 6, 9, 22, 4:1, etc, he was definitely "sent")

This is almost certainly not an exhaustive list - they were likely many more. That is, "apostles" included more people than the original "Twelve".

Lastly, we cannot assume that this list of appearances (1 Cor 15:3-8) is exhaustive - there were other appearances by the resurrected Jesus to various people such as Mary at the tomb on resurrection Sunday and two men on the road to Emmaus, etc. There may have been more not recorded by NT writers.

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  • Thank you for bulletizing that list. Paul seems to be providing his list of witnesses as "proof" that Jesus was raised from the dead. He provides his modest list (by your bullets, six appearances), but with "the Twelve" and "all the Apostles" kind of being the same people. It doesn't resonate with me that he meant all of the people in your second list. If he did, then why does he add himself as "lastly"?
    – Ruminator
    Dec 12, 2023 at 20:52
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    @Ruminator - the "last of all" is theologically highly charged, or at last that is what has been done by modern theologians. This might well be the subject of another question. Does it involve the absolutely final appearance of Jesus to anyone, or is Paul simply being modest and demurring; or something else?
    – Dottard
    Dec 12, 2023 at 20:57
  • @HoldToTheRod - many thanks for fixing my typo.
    – Dottard
    Dec 14, 2023 at 3:46
  • @Dottard no problem. Took me a minute to figure out what was meant by James as "the bother". Although James may have bothered his family occasionally it seems like he wasn't so bad as to make that his defining characteristic =) =) Dec 14, 2023 at 3:57
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Paul clearly does distinguish between "the twelve" and "the apostles". In ch9 v1 he says "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord", which implies that having seen the risen Lord is what qualifies him as an apostle (i.e. someone who has been "sent").

On your second question, he is not necessarily offering this list as a "complete" list (he does not say so), and it could be just a traditional list of "highlight" appearances, with his own name added at the bottom.

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  • So are you saying that when he said "all the apostles" he was including himself? Why then does he then add himself as last to see him?
    – Ruminator
    Dec 12, 2023 at 14:00
  • @Ruminator It makes more sense to take "all the apostles" as meaning "everyone who had become an apostle before that meeting". Paul would not have been included amongst "all the apostles" at the time. In fact the expression is presumably part of the traditional list which he appears to be quoting. Dec 12, 2023 at 14:09
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    @Ruminator Several commntators have suggested that Paul is quoting an inherited formula. It is implied by "I passed on to you what I received" in v3, and it reads like one (until he adds his own name at the end) , And I can't see any text in my post which points to the inference you are making, so what exactly are you expecting me to edit? Dec 12, 2023 at 14:46
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    @Ruminator. He appears to be calling himself an apostle in ch9, so I refuse to edit out that statement. Conzelmann says in his commentary (p251) "The fact that vv3-8 contain a formula which Paul has taken over from the church is proved not only by his own explicit statement but also by an analysis..." Dec 12, 2023 at 14:56
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    Paul, an apostle, neither of man nor by man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. No question about it. And this man, the chief of the twelve calls 'brother' and calls his writings 'scripture'. No, no question about it.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 12, 2023 at 15:05
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The term 'apostle' may have a boarder meaning today, but it is essential to understand what it meant to Paul when he wrote 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 9:1-2 NIV

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

In 1 Cor 9:1-2, Paul was defending his role as an apostle, which his rivals disputed claiming he had never seen Jesus. To some early Christians, seeing Jesus was an essential qualification for the title of 'apostle'. However, Paul saw it differently. In 1 Cor 1:17, he wrote, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel". Paul affirmed his role as an apostle because he was sent by Christ, not because he had seen Him.

With this understanding, it should be easy to understand the difference between "the Twelve" in 1 Cor 15:5 and "all the apostles" in 1 Cor 15:7. "The Twelve" represent the twelve disciples of Jesus, including Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot. "All the apostles" represent those disciples whom Jesus commissioned to preach the Gospel, including the Twelve; Jesus' brothers James and Judas (1 Cor 9:4); Paul himself and Barnabas (1 Cor 9:6).

In 1 Cor 15:5-7, Paul is not dismissing other accounts of Jesus' appearances after resurrection. Rather, he is reiterating his role as an apostle chosen by the Lord, and emphasizing that his preaching has the same authority as that of the other apostles.

1 Corinthians 15:9-11 NIV

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. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

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Paul is probably referring to Apostles outside of the 12, maybe the 70.

At least, this is the opinion of Chrysostom:

"Then to all the apostles." For there were also other apostles, as the seventy.

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