Appearance Traditions

The first appearances were to Peter and his associates. The first appearance recounted in the formula found in 1 Corinthians 15 is the one to Kephas. This is widely acknowledged to be the earliest and best evidence that is available. The Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the four, alludes to the appearance to "the disciples and Peter" in Mark 16:7.[74] This is the only appearance mentioned in Mark, and it is fairly safe to assume that it is understood to be the first one. After telling the road to Emmaus story, the author of Luke mentions an appearance to Simon in Luke 24:34. The author seems to mention the appearance to Simon so as to avoid contradicting the tradition that Peter was indeed the first to receive an appearance. The testimony of Paul, confirmed by Mark and/or Luke, shows that Peter was the first remembered for an appearance, and an appearance to Peter's circle follows closely thereafter. A weak indication is found in Ignatius, who mentions only the name of Peter when he describes an appearance of Christ.[75] The primacy of the appearance to Peter may also be reflected in the "Thou Art Peter" saying in Mt 16:17-19.[76] Finally, it will be argued that John 21 provides a strong confirmation.

The strongest competitor to Peter for the distinction of first appearance is Mary Magdalene. That is not saying much, however, for the evidence is of a much later and weaker variety. It has already been argued that the appearance to the women is probably not a historical tradition. The Gospel of Matthew's account of the appearance to the women in Mt 28:9-10 is the first one available, but it has every sign of being redactional.[77] The only Gospel to recount a unique appearance to Mary Magdalene is the Gospel of John, but this is probably not a historical account and appears to be a development of Matthew's story.[78] It might also be suggested that the author of John included a nod to the earlier tradition that Peter, not Mary Magdalene, was the first to come to faith in the resurrection, while at the same time playing up the role of the beloved disciple with the race to the tomb. Strikingly, we hear nothing from the authors of Mark or Luke about an appearance of Christ to the women, which is difficult to understand if it were a historical tradition. It is somewhat understandable that the women would be omitted from the list in Paul's letter because they got no respect as witnesses. But Mark and Luke are already telling us about the women and their role, so there is no need to be coy about the appearance of Christ to them. Indeed, a straightforward reading of their narratives excludes such a thing.[79] The story about the women seems to develop from an angelophany to a christophany. In the Gospel of Mark, there is only an angelophany. In the Gospel of Matthew, there is an angelophany followed up by a two verse appearance of Christ to ensure that the women proceed at a brisk pace. In the Gospel of John, now two verses only have been given to the angels, who recede into the background while the appearance of Christ takes center stage. In the Epistula Apostolorum, the angels have been dropped entirely, and now there is only the appearance of Christ.[80] The fact that the appearance of Christ eventually supplants the angelophany suggests that there was no original tradition of an appearance of Christ to the women. Indeed, the simple fact that Mark recounts an angelophany instead of a christophany suggests that Mark did not know of an appearance to the women and was remaining faithful to the early tradition that the first appearance was to 'the disciples and Peter'.

So, the first appearances were to Peter and company. What indications do we have to place these appearances geographically?

Paul does not offer any clear reference in this case for where he believed that the appearances were situated. There may be a hint, however. Hans von Campenhausen argues: "And a final argument is contained in our text of St. Paul. The appearance, there mentioned, to five hundred brethren (and sisters?) can hardly be situated in Jerusalem; it, therefore, points likewise to Galilee. Even if the round number 'five hundred' may be an exaggeration, the gathering would be too numerous for a private house, and a synagogue - even were it large enough - would hardly have been accorded to the adherents of Jesus in Jerusalem. We cannot consider an open-air service on the Mount of Olives. That only leaves the temple to be considered. But quite apart from the intrinsic improbability of an appearance there and the impossibility of keeping away the unbelievers then as always, such an extraordinary occurrence would never have passed without trace into oblivion, and Luke certainly, with his love for the temple, would have attached great importance to it and gladly recorded it. Thus there only remains for this appearance a gathering somewhere in Galilee, and, as regards external circumstances, this is least improbable."[81] It is often observed that such a remarkable occurrence as the appearance to 500, strangely, did not leave any trace in the gospels. Given that there is some connection between the Eucharist and the appearance of Christ in the early church, I wonder if this so-called appearance to 500 has anything to do with the feeding of the 5000 found in all four gospels (twice in Mark, once in John). The very fact that, whatever this event was, it must have been memorable, suggests that there may be a connection. Of course, I do not depend on this hypothesis. I have only offered it as a conjecture.

Interestingly, the author of Luke mentions the appearance to Peter in passing without giving any description of details or location. This is likely to be deliberate, for if the only tradition available to Luke was that the appearance to Peter took place in Galilee, then Luke would be required to skip the details because of his exclusive emphasis on Jerusalem. Hans von Campenhausen again: "On returning to the city with the great news, they were received with the jubilant cry, 'The Lord has risen in truth and appeared to Simon'. What is so striking is how the report of what is, after all, the main thing, is telescoped, announcing but not describing it; and this has long aroused the suspicion that Luke must have had definite grounds for avoiding any description of the appearance to Peter. Perhaps, in its special features, it could not be ascribed elsewhere than to Galilee, and so it contradicted the Jerusalem tendency of his narration. However, he could not simply omit it, since it was crucial and formed part of the most ancient tradition. It was, therefore, simply indicated, and all the detailed circumstances and the precise place of the meeting were, strangely enough, left vague."[82] Along with Paul, however, the author of Luke does not provide a clear reference, only a suggestive possibility.

However, the earliest evangelist, the author of Mark, clearly tells us that the appearance to 'the disciples and Peter' took place in Galilee (cf. Mk 16:7). This indication alone should carry great weight, for it appears that the author has taken some pains to conjoin the empty tomb story (in Jerusalem) to the tradition of appearances in Galilee. Appearances in Jerusalem would fit much more smoothly with the empty tomb story, but the author of Mark manages to link the empty tomb story with the tradition of appearances in Galilee only through the angel's message.[83] The author of Matthew also seems to know only traditions of Galilean appearances to the disciples, given that 28:9-10 is most likely redactional but in any case not about the disciples.

D.H. van Daalen writes of the Johannine appendix:


It has often been pointed out that the reference to the appearance by the lakeside as the third appearance is rather odd (21:14). It is not true that chapter 20 already has three, because the appearance to Mary Magdalene was not one to the disciples. But the verse seems pointless unless there were some who did not regard this as the third appearance. The note of verse 14 is clearly meant to link this story, traditionally not regarded as the third appearance, to the two already described in chapter 20. But it seems highly unlikely that the tradition would count the Lord's appearances as no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, and so on. The only one that would be remembered with a figure attached would be the first. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that the Evangelist received this story as the Lord's first appearance.


The contents of the story confirm that. If one reads John 21:2-13 by itself there is nothing to suggest that Jesus known to have been raised from the dead and had already appeared to his disciples.[84]

Indeed, the story in John 21 does give the impression of being a first encounter. The disciples had returned to their old occupation of fishing in Galilee. And as van Daalen also notes, "The conversation between Jesus and Peter (21:15-19) also is much easier to understand if we assume that the risen Lord had not appeared to Peter before."[85] In the story, Simon is mentioned first and plays the most prominent role; indeed, Peter is the only one who acts individually, apart from a brief statement from the beloved disciple in verse 7. This, then, confirms the tradition of a first appearance to Peter and his group in the land of Galilee.

The Gospel of Peter begins to tell a story similar to the one in the Gospel of John, and it may be based on a common tradition written before them both. In the Gospel of Peter, as in the Gospel of Mark, the women flee in fear without saying anything to the disciples. The ending of Peter reads (v. 58-60): "Now it was the last day of unleavened bread and many went away and repaired to their homes, since the feast was at an end. But we, the twelve disciples of the Lord, wept and mourned, and each one, very grieved for what had come to pass, went to his own home. But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew took our nets and went to the sea. And there was with us Levi, the son of Alphaeus, whom the Lord..." There it breaks off. It is interesting that the Gospel of Peter, which includes the visit of the women to the tomb, implies that the disciples returned home after the Passover feast of their own accord. The tradition that the disciples repaired to their own homes finds another echo in John 16:32, "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone." The author of John in 20:10 seems to have the impression that their home was in Jerusalem, which is anachronistic unless the disciples had already purchased property there.

However, just as the Gospel of Peter notes, a group of disciples most likely remained with Peter in Galilee, living together and fishing together. Charles Guignebert writes: "It would be difficult to comprehend how the hopes and confidence of these poor men could have been reborn if at least some of them had not remained together, strengthened by the fellowship of their daily life, comforting one another and compounding their optimistic reacions. I do not think it daring to draw from the few wretched indices we still possess the conclusion that the center and life of this little group was Simon Peter."[86]

Note that it is not necessary to postulate a sudden and immediate packing of the bags on Good Friday in order to hold that the first appearances were to the disciples and Peter in Galilee. As van Daalen writes, "And, of course, they had every reason to stay till the end of the festival. No matter whether they were in a festive mood, it would have been extremely imprudent to draw attention to themselves by leaving the city while nobody else did. There is no better hiding-place than a crowd."[87] Note also that this would entail travelling on the Sabbath. Besides which, if men then were anything like men today, they would be loathe to let the room which they had paid up for a week go to waste. Yet though they may have remained in Jerusalem for Passover, the first appearances could well have taken place in Galilee.

So the best evidence available indicates that the first appearances were to the disciples and Peter after they had returned to Galilee. D.H. van Daalen notes this without drawing any conclusions: "If this story, before it was added to the Fourth Gospel, circulated as an independent part of the tradition, and was told as a first appearance of the risen Lord, we have an answer to some awkward questions. The most obvious is, what were the disciples doing fishing in Galilee, if the Lord had already appeared to them in Jerusalem and sent them to proclaim the Gospel (John 20:21-23)? The answer now becomes obvious: in the story as it was originally told they had not seen the risen Lord in Jerusalem."[88]

This consideration weighs against the empty tomb story.

The tendency of the tradition is to displace appearances in Galilee for Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Mark, there are no appearances in Jerusalem, only an angelophany. The only appearances mentioned are in Galilee. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, we find that the women have been given an appearance in the area of Jerusalem. But it has been argued that this is redactional. What could provide the earliest tradition of an appearance in Jerusalem turns out to be, rather, a Matthean device that must be used because of the awkward conjuction of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women and the appearance to the disciples in Galilee. The evangelists Luke and John (up to chapter 20) smooth out their story by telling only of Jerusalem appearances. This indicates that the Jerusalem appearance stories follow on the heels of the empty tomb story, and thus that the empty tomb story is a relatively recent development in the Gospel of Mark, because the author of Mark retained the older tradition of appearances to the disciples and Peter in Galilee.

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand what the disciples were doing fishing in Galilee at all. It seems improbable that the disciples were set to wondering with the discovery of the empty tomb yet that the first appearances were in Galilee. For one thing, the empty tomb should have figured more in the kerygma. As Craig would argue, if the women discovered the empty tomb while the disciples were still in Jerusalem, it just makes good sense that the disciples would also visit the empty tomb. But then the empty tomb would have the witness of the male disciples, and thus the most commonly advanced excuse for the lack of attention to the empty tomb in the kerygma, that it was only found by the women, is not cogent. And the discovery of the empty tomb by the men would be likely to be mentioned by the authors of Mark and Matthew, if it were indeed a historical happening.

Finally, it makes little sense for the disciples to leave Jerusalem at all after the discovery of the empty tomb. In Craig's reconstruction, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem for a week, after which the Lord instructed them to meet up with Him again in Galilee before the final ascension on the fortieth day in Jerusalem once again.[89] I have a vague sense of implausiblity here, which the reader may accept or reject for what it is worth, against the idea that the eternal Creator of the universe would suggest a temporary rendezvous in Galilee. In any case, I think that the evidence favors the theory that the first appearance was in Galilee. The problem that this causes is exhibited by the reconstruction made by Hans von Campenhausen, in which the belief in the resurrection with the discovery of the empty tomb motivates the disciples to go to Galilee and then the belief in the resurrection with the appearances of Christ motivates the disciples to go back to Jerusalem.[90] If the belief in the resurrection motivated the disciples to go to Galilee, why would the confirmation of that belief motivate them once again to go back to Jerusalem? It makes more sense to posit that the belief in the resurrection was born in Galilee and that the disciples subsequently decided to return to Jerusalem.[91]


[74] Fuller (ibid., pp. 63-64) argues against the interpretation that the disciples are to expect not an appearance but rather the coming parousia for a few reasons, including that Peter was named in particular: "But the decisive argument which proves it to be, in Mark 16:7, a resurrection rather than a parousia reference is the naming of Peter as well as the disciples, a circumstance which indicates clearly that the Evangelist is alluding to the two appearances listed in 1 Corinthians 15:5. If Mark 16:7 were pointing forward to the parousia it is hard to see why Peter should be singled out for special mention. But if it points to resurrection appearances, the reason for the mention of Peter is obvious."

[75] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, ch. 3.

[76] Fuller, ibid., p. 166: "We have already agreed that this saying was circulated originally as a saying of the Risen One...The 'Thou art Peter' saying is thus a verbalization of the primary appearance to Peter."

[77] Hendrickx, ibid., pp. 34-38, much of which was already quoted. See also Bode, ibid., pp. 54-56. Bode adds these arguments against the historicity of an appearance to the women (p. 56): "It seems that other arguments, together with that of the repetition of the angel's command, rule against a historical appearance of Jesus at the tomb. First, such an appearance would seem to nullify any utility in the message of the angel - if Jesus was to repeat the message, why bother with the angel? Second, it would seem strange that the first appearance would be to the women rather than to the official witnesses. Third, of what value would the appearance to the women be, whose report would have been suspect? One cannot think that the purpose of the appearance was to assure the women themselves, as they are already reported to be going with joy to carry out quickly the task assigned to them. Thus we see and understand the appearance in 28:9-10 as a doublet for the previous command by the angel of the Lord. After all, from the angel of Yahweh speaking in the first person for the Lord it is not far to an appearance of the risen Lord of the Christians."

[78] Bode, ibid., pp. 82-84.

[79] It is unlikely that these writers knew of an appearance of Christ to the women given the explicit silence left unbroken in Mark and the uninterrupted return of the women in Lk 24:8-9.

[80] Epistula Apostolorum, v. 9b-10, Ethiopic: "And they approached the tomb and found the stone where it had been rolled away from the tomb, and they opened the door and did not find his body. And as they were morning and weeping, the Lord appeared and said to them, 'Do not weep; I am he whom you seek. But let one of you go to your brothers and say to them, 'Come, our Master has risen from the dead.' And Mary came to us and told us. And we said to her, 'What have we to do with you, O woman? He that is dead and buried, can he then live?' And we did not believe her, that our Saviour had risen from the dead. Then she went back to our Lord and said to him, 'None of them believed me concerning your resurrection.' And he said to her, 'Let another one of you go saying this again to them.' And Sarah came and gave us the same news, and we accused her of lying. And she returned to our Lord and spoke to him as Mary had."

[81] Van Campenhausen, ibid., pp. 48-49.

[82] Van Campenhausen, ibid., pp. 49-50.

[83] Fuller, ibid., p. 69: "But for the strength of it [the Galilean appearance tradition], Mark might very well have transferred the apperance to Jerusalem, since that is what the exigencies of the empty tomb story would naturally require. Instead, he contents himself with a slight adjustment of the earlier tradition, according to which the disciples fled at the arrest to Galilee (14:27,50, see above, ch. 1). The disciples now wait in Jerusalem to receive the angel's message from the women. In doing so, Mark re-motivates the journey of the disciples to Galilee. It is no longer a flight, but an orderly journey to see the Lord at his express pre-resurrection command (14:28) reiterated by the angel at the tomb (16:7). Mark's procedure in joining the empty tomb narrative to Galilean appearances shows how strong for him the Galilee tradition was. So we can with full confidence, despite recent arguments of W. Marxsen, follow Grass in supplementing 1 Corinthians 15 by Mark's information to the extent of locating the two primary appearances in Galilee."

[84] Van Daalen, ibid., pp. 32-33.

[85] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 33.

[86] Charles Guignebert, The Christ. Translated by Peter Ouzts and Phylis Cooperman. Edited and rev. by Sonia Volochova (New Hyde Park: University Books, 1968), p. 59.

[87] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 39.

[88] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 33.

[89] Craig, ibid., p. 307.

[90] Hans von Campenhausen, ibid., pp. 85-86.

[91] Charles Guignebert explains the movement to Jerusalem as follows (ibid., pp. 58-59): "This reassembly must have been very swift, and the decision to return to Jerusalem soon taken, because the feelings awakened in the disciples were not of the kind that are hesitant in giving birth to resolutions. . . So, the little flock headed for Zion. What was behind the return? Was it only to convince the Jews of the truth of Jesus' resurrection and of the authenticity of his divine mission? That has been suggested, but I do not agree. The return of the disciples to Jerusalem was presumably motivated by the same one that had attracted the Master before them: the conviction that the imminent manifestation of the Kingdom would take place in Jerusalem and that the Messiah would come forward there."