A little known fact I’ll say, because I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning it during my long years of indoctrination, nor do I recall this ever being mentioned in any sermon:
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time! (1Corinthians 15:6 (TNIV))
You would think this must have been a monumentally important event, but Paul does not elaborate – where, when, why were the people gathered? Or were the people not gathered together, but saw Jesus individually at the same time?? No details. Not a clue.
We visualize their visualization
Oddly enough, this count of 500 seems to contradict Acts 1:15 where there are only about 120 believers shortly after the Ascension. Did the number of believers drop from 500 pre-Ascension, to 120 after the Ascension? There’s no other indication of a decrease in the number of believers.
The 120 are in Jerusalem prior to Pentecost listening to Peter speak (Acts 1:4, 12, 15) so maybe the 500 were elsewhere, Galilee for instance, where Jesus supposedly went after his resurrection, “He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him” (Mark 16:7 (KJV)). So some were told to wait in Jerusalem and some were told to expect him in Galilee. Or is this another seeming contradiction?
Or maybe there were 500 believers in Jerusalem but only 120 showed up for Peter’s speech?
The King James has “the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15) which to me indicates that the believers numbered in total approximately 120 names regardless of how many were present, but I’m not certain.
Maybe one or both New Testament authors made a mistake in estimating the crowds.
On the day of Pentecost, “they were all with one accord in one place” Acts 2:1 (KJV). It would not seem fair to have some believers miss out on Pentecost, but how would 500 people or even 120 people fit into any room available in first-century Jerusalem? Well, maybe they were packed in like sardines. Or maybe Pentecost was only for the apostles (Acts 1:26-2:1 & 2:37 (KJV)).
Or maybe Paul’s count of 500 believers refers not to a resurrection appearance, but some other type of experiencing the presence of Jesus?? Paul thinks that Jesus appeared to him, but Paul’s “revelation,” is an awkward exception to the idea that the Ascension is the last resurrection appearance of Jesus before the Second Coming at the end of time.
Interesting that in ancient Greek, numerals were written with letters, and the letter symbol for 500 is φ (Phi) and the letter symbol for 100 is ρ (Rho).1 It seems to me that “500” could be a simple copying error as the two symbols are very, very similar. “500” looks like “100” but with more of a tail to the left. So maybe a copying scribe made a scribble and the next scribe copied wrong.
I don’t know what the explanation is for certain, but I’ll bet the “500,” now spelled out in the Greek (“five hundred”), was originally written as the numeral 100.
In the account of the appearance to more than 500, was Paul really describing the Jesus-sent-Spirit at Pentecost, a gathering of more than 100, in fact, a gathering of about 120, not 12? If so, perhaps Paul was not familiar with the concept of “Ascension.”
If in some sense “the Lord is the Spirit” (2Corinthians 3:17-18 (TNIV)), could all the resurrection appearances be experiences of Spirit? Verse 2 of Acts can possibly mean that Jesus gave instructions through the Holy Spirit until the day he was taken up to heaven (TNIV and NRSV). (The KJV differs.) That would include at least the time frame of Easter through Ascension. So the reader can get the idea that the Christ cannot be separated from the Spirit.
What did the 500 (or 100) experience?
1 Greek numerals from Wikipediaa and not confirmed.