1 Cor. 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.

In this amazing text, Paul starts out by reminding his disciples in Corinth of the basic components of the Christian gospel. Since he’s reminding them of what they had already received, a good question to ask would be, “When did Paul first preach this message to them?” This letter was written while Paul was in Ephesus sometime between 53-55 AD. Here he is reminding them of the basic gospel message which he probably first delivered to them around 51 AD.

1 Cor. 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.

I’d like to draw your attention to the particular words “of first importance.” The Bible is the word of God, yet this book contains some things that are more important than others. Jesus himself makes this same point to the Pharisees when he tells them that they have neglected the “weightier matters of the law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Tithing wasn’t unimportant, but it was less important, he argued, than the incredibly significant issues of justice and mercy. Likewise, everything we find in the New Testament is important and inspired. But here Paul is reminding the Corinthians about the issue of first importance. He has already said in verse 1 that he’s reminding them of the gospel. So essentially Paul is saying that the gospel is the most important thing, the thing of first importance that we need to focus on and never lose sight of.

1 Cor. 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.

Now pay attention to that last word: received. This gospel message is something that he himself received? But from whom? Paul is arguing here that this is not merely something he came up with when he first delivered this message to them in 51 AD. In his letter to the Galatians (written in 48 AD), Paul provides a brief sketch of his own conversion. Paul’s conversion is generally fixed at around 32 AD, two years after the crucifixion. In Galatians 1:18 Paul says that “after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas,” which would mean he visited Peter around 35 AD.

This incredibly early timeline that I am presenting here is not disputed by even the most radical liberal scholars. According to John Dominic Crossan, one of the pioneers of the infamous Jesus Seminar: “Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that ‘I handed on to you as of first importance that which I in turn received.’ The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he ‘went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter” (from his book Excavating Jesus, 2002, p. 298).

It’s interesting to note the actual word Paul uses when he went to visit Peter in Gal 1:18. The word translated in this text as “visit” is actually the word historesai, which is the root of our English word “history.” So the sense is not merely that Paul is going to visit a friend, but rather to inquire of Peter and possibly even to write down his story.

We would do well here to recall that Luke is one of Paul’s companions, as we discover in his letters to Philemon, Timothy, and the Colossians. We’re not sure when Luke began to be associated with Paul, but he certainly outlines this same approach in the beginning of his gospel, saying that he compiled his narrative by interviewing the eyewitnesses.

In the next installment of this blog series, we’ll continue our survey of 1 Corinthians 15 as we start to walk through the substance of Paul’s gospel message.