To how many disciples did the risen Jesus appear?

Posted on May.09, 2009. Filed in Acts, 1 Corinthians. Average rating: 3.3 / 10 (Rate It).

1 Corinthians 15 contains early testimony to Jesus’ resurrection appearances, with Paul listing the individuals and groups whom Jesus appeared. However, Paul makes a mistake concerning how many disciples Jesus had at this point.

Paul includes in his list Jesus’ disciples, “the twelve”:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. [1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)]

The problem with this is that Jesus didn’t have twelve disciples at the time of his resurrection appearances; due to Judas Iscariot’s betrayal he only had eleven.

Acts 1:3-9 describes how the resurrected Jesus spent forty days with his disciples. At the end of this period, Jesus is taken up to heaven, and the disciples return to Jerusalem. At this point we are given a list of their names:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter [1] and John [2], and James [3], and Andrew [4], Philip [5] and Thomas [6], Bartholomew [7] and Matthew [8], James son of Alphaeus [9], and Simon the Zealot [10], and Judas son of James [11]. [Acts 1:12-13 (NRSV)]

There are eleven disciples listed here (note that Judas son of James is not the Judas Iscariot that betrayed Jesus), and Jesus has finished appearing to his disciples and ascended to heaven.

Only then is a replacement for Judas Iscariot appointed, taking the number of Jesus’ disciples back up to twelve:

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, … ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “Let another take his position of overseer.” So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. [Acts 1:15,20-26 (NRSV)]

So did Jesus appear to 12 disciples as is claimed by Paul, or to 11 as is claimed by Acts?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

: , , , , ,
4 Comments Ratings

Inerrantist Responses

To suggest a response to this claim of error, please use the comments section below.

Rate this Claim of Error

How serious a problem for inerrancy do you think this is?

Average rating: 3.3 / 10

You must be logged in to rate errors.


  1. 1

    They’re still The Twelve even when there’s only eleven of them…? :)

  2. 2

    One possible reply to this problem is what you suggest Amtiskaw. “The Twelve” is a title term that refers to the apostles, be there eleven, twelve or thirteen. Like the 300 Spartans or the 10,000 Greeks.

    A second response is that Jesus also appeared to Matthias, who eventually replaced Judas. Perhaps Matthias was one of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (the other being Cleopas), or perhaps he was also in the upper room (or both).

    A third response is that Judas committed suicide not at about the same time as the crucifixion, but sometime between the Resurrection and the Ascension. So Jesus appeared to Judas as well. Thus he appeared to the twelve.


    Mark 14:14 says that Jesus appeared to the eleven right? So Judas must have been missing, right? No. Thomas was missing (John 20:24). Since there were eleven, and Thomas was missing, Judas was there. Jesus does, famously, reveal himself to Thomas later, so Paul’s claim that Jesus appeared to the twelve is still quite true.

    But doesn’t Matthew describe Judas’ suicide (27:5) between his description of Peter’s denials at the temple (26:69-75) and his description of the trial before Pilate (27:11+)?

    Yes, he does.

    But he also places his description of the High Priest’s purchase of the field of blood between the other two descriptions. I will guarantee you that the priests did not buy the field on the way from the temple to Pilate’s court. They had other things on their mind at the time, and ‘the real estate office was closed’ it literally being the crack of dawn. That purchase happened long after the events in Pilate’s court. Probably days or weeks after. Perhaps Judas’ suicide also happened long after the events in Pilate’s court. The return of the thirty pieces of silver might even have happened well after the events in Pilate’s court. There’s even a hint of this in Matthew 27:3 where it says that Judas acted after Jesus was condemned. Matthew is simply finishing up his story of the plot to betray Jesus before he moves on to the next story about how Jesus was tried by Pilate and crucified.

    But wouldn’t the others reject Judas, him being the betrayer and all that?

    They would tend to do so. But the whole point of Christ’s teaching was God’s forgiveness of our sin. After Christ’s reappearance, at least, there would be no rejection, but only forgiveness.

    But even before the reappearance of Christ, the disciples might not have rejected Judas for a somewhat different reason: they might not have been aware of the fact of his betrayal. Since most of the disciples ran away at the approach of the soldiers, they may not have been in a position to recognize who the betrayer was. And even Peter and John may have been asleep or still bleary eyed when Judas first arrived. His betrayal might not yet have registered until much later. Perhaps it was only fully revealed and processed by the disciples after the resurrection.

  3. 3

    “they might not have been aware of the fact of his betrayal”

    Which verse are you referring to that says most of the disciples ran away at the approach of the soldiers?

    Whatever the case, Luke 22:47-50 is very clear – Judas was leading the pack, and Jesus says “are you btraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

    Someone must have heard Jesus say it – it’s in the Gospels ;)

  4. 4

    “Which verse are you referring to that says most of the disciples ran away at the approach of the soldiers?”

    I assume your are quarelling with the term “approach”.

    Good point. The disciples fled shortly after the arrival of the soldiers. Still, the disciples were just waking up when Judas arrived, and even though Jesus warned them that His betrayer was at hand, matters quickly dissolved into bedlam and confusion. It remains plausible to suppose that no one clearly perceived at the time that Judas was the betrayer.

    “Someone must have heard Jesus say it”

    Isn’t it possible that Judas provided this piece of information? Do you think it is possible that Jesus provided this information?

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site: