Couldn’t Paul Count?
Question: There seems to be a major flaw in the testimony of Paul concerning the resurrection of Christ. He says that after Christ appeared to Peter, he then appeared to “the twelve” (1 Corinthians:15:5). Yet the gospels clearly state that Judas, one of the original twelve, had committed suicide before the resurrection and that there were only eleven disciples alive for Christ to appear to. Is there a way to escape this contradiction? Otherwise it puts all of the rest of the resurrection story in doubt.
Response: Of course, Christ “appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief (Mark:16:14); “The eleven gathered together... [and] Jesus himself stood in the midst of them” (Luke:24:33, 36). But He also “was seen of above five hundred brethren at once” (1 Corinthians:15:6). Among them was undoubtedly Matthias, who was chosen to take the place of Judas, rounding out the number of the disciples to twelve once again. No doubt, from what Peter said (quoted below) when Matthias was chosen, this man had also seen Christ on other occasions as well.
In Acts:1:15–26, we find “about an hundred and twenty” (verse 15) disciples gathered together. Peter reminds them that the prophets had foretold Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his death and had also foretold that “another [would] take” his place (verse 20). To be an apostle, as Paul reminds us, one must have “seen Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians:9:1). Therefore, as the eleven disciples were about to choose Judas’ successor, Peter declared that the replacement could only be from among “these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that he was taken up from us” (Acts:1:21–22). It is quite clear, then, that although the focus of the four gospels is upon the special inner circle of twelve disciples, there were others who were also with Christ at all times, and among them was Matthias.
Meeting these qualifications, Matthias was chosen to take Judas’ place and became one of the twelve apostles, having been a witness of all that the other eleven had witnessed, including the resurrection. In fact, he was probably present when Christ first appeared to the eleven. We aren’t told how many other disciples were present at that time. Whether he was present that night or not, Christ had appeared to Matthias and he became one of the twelve.
Paul became a Christian some years after the replacement of Judas by Matthias. It would only be reasonable, then, that when Paul declared that Christ “was seen . . . of the twelve” (1 Corinthians:15:5), he would mean the twelve (including Matthias) in existence in his day, not the twelve when Judas was one of them.
—An excerpt from In Defense of the Faith (pp. 110-11) by Dave Hunt