What are the earliest accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection?
If the books of the New Testament were printed in the order in which they were originally composed, Paul’s letters would appear first. His earliest letters-1-2 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, and Romans-were written sometime between A.D. 49 and 57 (perhaps even earlier for Galatians), before Matthew, Luke, and John were written and nearly contemporary with the Gospel of Mark. Therefore, the earliest written accounts of Jesus Christ’s last hours on earth– the Last Supper on Thursday, the fateful crucifixion on Friday, and the glorious resurrection on the first Easter Sunday– are found in Paul’s letters.
The earliest explicit references to these events are found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written about A.D. 57. Paul noted, “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). That was not all. Later in the same letter, Paul wrote to his readers, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
This threefold aspect of the mission of Jesus Christ– that he died, was buried, and rose again– is echoed in many of Paul’s other letters. These other references often represent only allusions and implicit references to the events fully detailed in the Gospel narrative. However, Paul’s accounts provide written evidence demonstrating that an oral account of Jesus’ life enjoyed a fairly wide circulation across the entire Mediterranean basin before the Gospels were recorded.