Let us then behold the earliest evidence for Christianity:
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures . . .
he was buried . . .
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .
he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time. . . .
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Listed above is what scholars argue is the actual creedal tradition(s) Paul received, without Paul’s additional words and comments. This is a new discovery. Even New Testament scholar (and atheist) Gerd Lüdemann called this discovery “one of the great achievements of recent New Testament scholarship.” The early Church Fathers, medieval theologians, and reformers all knew, quoted, and commented on 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, yet it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that anyone realized it wasn’t originally composed by Paul, but was instead a creedal tradition Paul had received more than a decade before AD 49 or 50, when he planted the Corinthian church.
Even New Testament scholar (and atheist) Gerd Lüdemann calls this discovery ‘one of the great achievements of recent New Testament scholarship.’
The two main reasons for this are found within the biblical text itself.
First is the way Paul introduces it with the words “delivered” and “received” (1 Cor. 15:3). When Paul planted the church in Corinth, he delivered certain traditions to the Corinthians that further illumined the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2) he himself had received. These included some teachings and stories about Jesus (1 Cor. 7:10; 9:14; 11:1; 2 Cor. 10:1), the account of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–26), hymns (1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 8:9), and this creedal tradition on Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (1 Cor. 15:3–7).
The second major reason is linguistic. Paul uses words and phrases here that he uses nowhere else. Phrases such as “died for our sins,” “in accordance with the Scriptures,” “he was buried,” “he was raised,” “on the third day,” “he appeared,” and “the twelve” are either only used here, or, if used elsewhere, are likewise influenced by tradition.
These considerations have persuaded virtually all scholars that 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 is a pre-Pauline creedal tradition. It dates before Paul’s earliest letters. But how early?