Brothers and sisters, I remind you of the Gospel that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you - unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and 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 and sisters 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, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them - though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
A very interesting Epistle reading we have for the coming Sunday. Saint Paul includes some details that are not mentioned in the Gospel accounts. Saint Paul reminds the Christian community in Corinth, which he established by proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, and they received it. It is their acceptance of this Gospel that enables them to stand in the midst of life's storms and by which they are being saved. They are being saved, of course, if they firmly hold to the message, and not believe in vain.
What exactly is the Gospel that Paul proclaimed and Corinthians received? It is the most important thing - resurrection. The idea of the resurrection of the flesh in not an afterthought, it is not optional speculation that we are free to reject or to accept. Resurrection is inherent in the very Gospel Corinthians, and us, have received. By receiving this Gospel, we, in principle, say yes to the concept of the resurrection of the flesh.
Christ's death, and burial, and resurrection on the third day are all according to the Scriptures. When Paul was writing this letter there was no, what we call today, New Testament; therefore, when authors of the New Testaments refer to Scriptures, they always mean today's Old Testament. What Christ did for our salvation was prophesied from of old. Nothing the Lord did was incidental to His saving work, so His being raised from the dead also was not just a matter of tying up loose ends of His story, but was its long-anticipated culmination.
Why does Paul mention who and how many people witnessed Christ being alive? For two reasons: first, almost everyone in Jerusalem saw or heard that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died; two, if people had doubts about whether He really was resurrected, they could go and ask these eyewitnesses themselves. After Christ rose, Saint Paul says, He appeared to Cephas, meaning Apostle Peter. Peter's Jewish name was Simon. Later on Christ gave him a new name - Peter, which means rock. Cephas is Aramaic for rock, while Peter is Greek. Then Christ appeared to the Twelve Apostles.
Christ was also seen by more than five hundred brothers and sisters of His early followers. There is no explicit mention of this in the Gospel accounts, but Paul would not drop the number here carelessly if there was no substance to his words. Let's remember that Christ spent 40 days between Resurrection and Ascension. Most of what He did and to whom He spoke is not recorded. The five hundred could be a reference to those in Galilee, as is mentioned in Matthew 28:16-17 and Mark 16:7. Most of these five hundred were still alive at the time Paul wrote this letter, so anyone with questions could go and talk with them.
Christ also appeared to James, who was His brother (technically, half-brother, being the son of Joseph, the caretaker of the Holy Family). This appearance is also not mentioned in the Gospels, but a report of it persisted in early Christian oral tradition. Saint Jerome, who lived in the fourth century, mentions that James had eaten nothing from the time of the Last Supper until the Lord appeared to him, saying, "Eat your bread now, brother, since the Son of Man has risen from the dead."
Then, after that appearance, the Lord was seen by all the apostles. Recall that Jesus had separated the apostles into different groups. He had an inner group of three: Peter, James, and John. He had the Twelve. And then there were the Seventy (Luke 10:1-12). And, last of all, The Lord appeared to Paul himself on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul calls himself one untimely born, meaning miscarried, because he felt that he had no right to be called an apostle. This is because he, unlike the rest of the apostles, persecuted the Church of God.
Even though, unworthy to be apostle, yet by the grace of God Paul is one, and God's investment of grace in him has not come back vain. Knowing his unworthiness, Paul worked harder than any other apostle, accomplishing great works. Even these great works were not accomplished through his own strength, but by the grace of God.
Paul does not mean to compare himself with the other apostles because that is not the point. The point is that all of them, every single apostle and disciple of Christ, proclaim the same Gospel of Christ's resurrection. And all who hear this Gospel, believe it and accept the resurrection (hopefully).
These notes are based on the book by Father Lawrence Farley, First and Second Corinthians, straight from the heart.
Yours in the Lord,
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