Does Acts 1:15 say that Christ had only about 120 disciples at that time? Does this not contradict 1 Corinthians 15:6 which states that Christ had appeared after His resurrection to 500 brethren?


In Acts 1:15, it says there were about 120 disciples.

In 1 Corinthians 15:6, we read that Christ appeared to 500 “brethren” or disciples.

Many commentaries suggest that the 120 disciples, mentioned in Acts 1:15, only refer to those in Jerusalem, and that the 500 brethren were living in Galilee at that time.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown states: “… the number … about an hundred and twenty—Many, therefore, of the ‘five hundred brethren’ who saw their risen Lord ‘at once’ (1Co 15:6), must have remained in Galilee.”

The People’s New Testament agrees, stating: “[They were] about an hundred and twenty. This was the number of disciples at Jerusalem, but not all who were then disciples. See 1Co 15:6.”

Wesley’s Notes add: “Who were together in the upper room were a hundred and twenty – But he had undoubtedly many more in other places; of whom more than five hundred saw him at once after his resurrection, 1Cor 15:6.”

On the other hand, Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles, thinks there were only 120 disciples at that time: “There were only 120 pledged to Christ and it is very unlikely that any of them had even been outside the narrow confines of Palestine in his life. Since there were about 4,000,000 Jews in Palestine, this means that fewer than 1 in 30,000 were Christians… If ever anything began from small beginnings the Christian Church did.”

Does 1 Corinthians 15:6 support the idea that Christ had more than 120 disciples at the time of Acts 1:15? Does the reference of 500 disciples in 1 Corinthians 15:6 refer to the time prior to Acts 1:15, or does it describe a subsequent event?

In the New King James Bible, Paul says in 1.Corinthians 15:3-8:

“For I delivered to you first of all which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then [Greek ”eita”] by the twelve. After that [Greek: “epeita”] He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that [Greek: “epeita”]  he was seen by James, then [Greek: “eita”] by all the apostles. Then last of all [here, the word for “then” does not appear in the Greek; it says, and last of all] He was seen by me also…”

This passage does not have to set forth a time sequence of events or appearances, but it could refer to a list of important events, without setting forth a time sequence.

The Greek word “eita” means “afterwards” or “furthermore.” Compare Hebrews 12:9, where it does clearly NOT describe a time sequence. There, it just sets forth an additional thought or argument.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible  #1534, defines “eita” as a “succession in time or logical enumeration,” and gives alternative renderings such as “then, moreover, furthermore.”

The word “epeita,” Strong’s #1899, is defined as “after that,” and it is stated that it is derived from “eita” and “epi.” The Greek word “epi” (Strong’s #1909) is defined as “superimposition of time or order.”

In Hebrews 7:2, the word “epeita” (rendered as “then” in the New King James Bible) clearly does not describe a time sequence of events. Another example is James 3:17, where an enumeration of important characteristics is being given.

Another example is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (“Then we who are alive…”). One of our Q&A’s addresses this passage. It shows that the word “then” in that context does not refer to a time sequence of events, as these events, as described, will occur simultaneously.

What Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is important proof that Christ was resurrected and that He manifested Himself to the disciples, in bodily form, after His resurrection. He lists different occurrences, not necessarily in time sequence, but perhaps in an order of logical enumeration.

But even if a time sequence is described here, we need to consider the following:

The manifestations of Jesus Christ after His resurrection, as listed by Paul, are by no means exhaustive. He does not list the appearance of Jesus to Mary and the other woman; or to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, when He appeared to them in “another form” (Mark 16:12). In fact, the Bible does not report anywhere else most of the occurrences which Paul lists.

We do not read anywhere else that Jesus appeared to Peter or Cephas [Aramaic name for Peter] alone or at first, and only then or “afterwards” to the twelve. In fact, the Bible states elsewhere that Christ appeared to the women and then to Peter and the other nine apostles, but “doubting Thomas” was not present. Then He appeared to the eleven—not the twelve, as Judas was dead and was not replaced yet by Matthias. THAT appearance [when the apostles had again reached the number twelve] could have only taken place AFTER the event described in Acts 1:15. Even though Matthias had been with Christ and the apostles from the beginning, so had Barsabas (Acts 1:21-23). But Matthias was not an apostle then; it was determined by lot that he should become an apostle and he was then “numbered with the eleven apostles” (verses 25-26). So when Christ appeared to the twelve apostles after His resurrection, it must have occurred after Matthias had become an apostle—that is, after the events described in Acts 1. See also Matthew 28:16 and Mark 16:14-18, where Christ appeared to the “eleven apostles” after His resurrection, to give them “the great commission.”

Likewise, Christ’s additional appearance to Peter alone must have happened on a different occasion—not, when He appeared to the eleven or the twelve or all of the apostles–and the Bible does not tell us, when exactly it occurred. As an additional consideration, note what the apostle John said about his own recounting of the life of Christ:

“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).

We also do not read elsewhere that and when Christ appeared to the 500 brethren; or when He appeared to James, the half-brother of Christ (even though we might conclude that THAT appearance to James did occur in fact prior to the events in Acts 1:15; compare our free booklet, “Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery.”). We are also not told when He appeared to ALL the apostles [obviously referring to more than just twelve, but at the time of Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:6), we only read of eleven apostles, so, as mentioned, the appearance to TWELVE apostles and to “ALL the apostles” (apparently including James at that time) must have taken place AFTER the events in Acts 1:15].

We therefore conclude that some of Christ’s appearances, which are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, must have occurred AFTER His ascension and AFTER the event described in Acts 1:15, when about 120 disciples are listed and when Matthias is chosen as one of the apostles, replacing Judas.

Paul is also saying that finally, Christ appeared to him. We know, of course, that He appeared to Paul (then Saul) on his way to Damascus many days after His ascension and the event in Acts 1:15. However, when Christ spoke to Paul on his way to Damascus, the Bible does not tell us that Christ manifested Himself to Paul. We read in Acts 9:3-4 that Paul saw a light which blinded him, and that he heard the voice of Christ. Also, Acts 22:1-21 recounts Paul’s experience in a little more detail; compare in particular verses 6-11. Paul recounts his experience again in Acts 26:12-19, specifically stating that it was a “heavenly vision.”

In addition, Paul was in a “trance” when Christ communicated to him on another occasion (Acts 22:17). This seems to be indicating that Paul saw Him on that occasion in a vision as well (as Stephen did prior to his death, when He saw Christ together with the Father, Acts 7:55-56). We also read that Christ appeared to Paul at one time in another vision (Acts 18:9). [He even saw the third heaven in a vision, compare 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; and John saw the glorified Christ and God the Father in a vision, while on the isle of Patmos, Revelation 1:9-20; 4:2-3].

But we also read in Acts 23:11 that “the following night the Lord stood by” Paul and encouraged him. On that occasion, the way this is worded, it does not say that Paul saw Christ in a vision [compare again by contrast Acts 18:9]; rather, the implication is that Christ seemed to have manifested Himself to Paul at that time (as angels also manifest themselves to man at times, without being recognized by man as angels, Hebrews 13:2). We also recall that Christ, prior to His birth as a human being, manifested Himself on several occasions to man, appearing as a man. He appeared as the high priest Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-8); He appeared with two angels to Abraham; and He spoke to Moses who even saw His glory, but only from behind.

In addition, Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians 15:6 might not have been to any of his VISIONS, during which he saw Christ, as the other occurrences that he mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 were clearly not “visions” either, but “bodily” manifestations of Christ. Rather, Paul, in mentioning Christ’s appearance to him, might have referred to his lengthy stay in Arabia when he was apparently personally instructed by Christ. In our free booklet, “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,” we state regarding Galatians 1:11-14:

“‘(Verse 11) But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.’ That is, the gospel of the Kingdom of God is not invented by man. It is a message from God the Father that has to be revealed. In Paul’s case, Christ taught him directly, as is stated in verse 12—apparently, while he lived in Arabia (see below, in verse 17).

“Paul states in Galatians 1:12… ‘For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ…’

“Paul goes on to say… ‘Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus…’

“It appears that Paul was instructed personally by Jesus Christ, when dwelling in Arabia (verse 17)…”

In light of all the foregoing, it appears that the list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 does not necessarily set forth a time sequence of events, but even if it does, it is not compelling to conclude that Christ manifested Himself to 500 brethren prior to the event in Acts 1:15. It is plausible that some of Christ’s appearances, including His manifestation to all of the twelve apostles and even to ALL the apostles (more than twelve), and His manifestation(s) to Paul, as well as His manifestation to 500 brethren, occurred after the event described in Acts 1:15, so that the implication is that at the time of Acts 1:15, there were only about 120 disciples who were loyal to Christ.

But we know that subsequently, the Church grew tremendously (compare Acts 2:41, stating that on the Day of Pentecost alone, about 3,000 “souls” were added), but we are also told that later, many fell away from the faith, and the warning remains for us today that prior to Christ’s return, a falling away from the truth in God’s Church is still to occur.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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