​The historical evidence supporting the resurrection is plentiful. If any other event in history enjoyed the degree of evidence as can be forwarded to support the resurrection, it would be accepted as true without reservation. However, the secular bias of many in the intellectual community dictates that any testimony to the resurrection be treated as null. This having been said, it is well worth the effort to be knowledgeable on the specifics of the resurrection evidence in order to properly gird the believer against the bias and skepticism of detractors. Mind you, this is not dogma. It is documented history.

​The strongest category of evidence for the resurrection is the eyewitness accounts of what took place. There are seven individuals who acknowledge the resurrection and were witnesses. The strongest accounts are the four gospels. Each of these texts offers detailed accounts of the life, trial, death and resurrection of Christ. For the purpose of this post, each will be examined individually.

Matthew: The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew (also known as Levi) one of the 12 disciples. According to tradition, Matthew was the first of the eyewitness accounts of the life of Christ to be written. Matthew was probably written fairly early, because it is clearly used as source material for both Luke and Mark. Matthew was a well-known eyewitness of the events of the life of Christ, his trial execution and resurrection. Tradition holds that Matthew was martyred by sword or spear (it’s not clear which) in Ethiopia. He died preaching the gospel and was executed for teaching people about what he saw and heard.

John: John, brother of James, wrote the Gospel of John fairly late in the first century. John was an eyewitness of the trial and execution of Jesus, as well as his execution. John died of natural causes, though external sources tell us that he was banished to a prison island (Patmos). Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that he was released from prison toward the end of his life. Here again, John was persecuted (and according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs may have been tortured). He endured these things still teaching that he saw what he saw.

Peter: Peter, the famous headstrong disciple of Christ, is featured 3 times in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark is based on Peter’s testimony of the events of Christ’s life. Further, two letters from Peter are preserved in the New Testament. Both of the letters acknowledge the resurrection and Peter’s status as an eyewitness. Peter’s acknowledgement of the factuality of the resurrection is well reinforced by the available texts. Peter suffered persecution, torture, fled for his life from his home and was ultimately crucified (upside down) for saying he saw what he saw. In addition, we see a dramatic change in Peter from the end of the Gospels to the beginning of Acts. Peter is transformed from a man who flees in the face of danger and struggles with the right words to speak, to an evangelist that converts 5000 in one day through a sermon on Pentecost.

Paul: Paul was, by his own words, an eyewitness to the resurrection. His words are recorded in the Epistles. He endured hardship, torture, prison and death claiming that he saw what he saw. What makes Paul’s considerably more impressive as a witness is the dramatic shift he goes through. He begins as a persecutor of the church, only to become the most vocal and aggressive advocate for Christianity. Before encountering the risen Jesus, Paul officiates the illegal execution of Steven. He does this despite the fact that Gamaliel, his teacher, argues that the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) ought not persecute the church. In ancient Jewish culture, to go against your teacher was unheard of. Paul is virulently opposed to the church, only to then become their most strident supporter. It’s a little like Hitler becoming a rabbi that leads the Jews back to Israel. This change supports the validity of Paul’s claims. Paul encountered something dramatic that changed him dramatically. He directly points to his encounter with the risen Christ as the changing factor.

James: James is the brother of Christ and wrote the book of James. He is not initially a follower of Christ during his earthly ministry. We know this because the Gospels record Mary and Jesus’ brothers coming to collect up Jesus, claiming that he was out of his mind. James, though he does not directly acknowledge the resurrection in his book, does acknowledge Christ’s Lordship. Further, the book of Acts details his shift to the position of leader of the church after Peter fled for his life from Jerusalem. James upholds the resurrection as a teaching of the church. 1 Corinthians acknowledges James as an eyewitness. According to Josephus, James was stoned to death during a power shift in Jerusalem. He died for claiming to have seen what he saw.

Jude: Jude is a shadier figure and is not the strongest of witnesses. However, there is a case to be made that he was a witness of the resurrection and his Epistles essentially acknowledges the traditional teachings of the church. He identifies himself as the brother of James. Thus, he was the brother of Christ. We see where Jude is listed in the Gospels as a skeptic of Christ’s claims during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. We also see where several of Christ’s brothers were amongst the disciples at Pentecost, having become believers. This is certainly a reference to James, but the use of brothers in the plural indicates that more than one brother was present. Jude being one of the few brothers mentioned, it is reasonable to assume that Jude was present at Pentecost and was likely among those who saw Christ raised. This is furthered by his repeated references to Jesus as Lord. He supports the orthodox teaching of the church at the time, thus it is fair to point to Jude as a witness of the resurrection.

Luke: Luke was not an eyewitness to the resurrection. However, he begins his first book by indicating that he undertakes the effort of researching and compiling the testimonies of eyewitnesses. This accounts for some of the Mary-heavy accounts of the early life of Jesus. He clearly interviewed her and possibly her sister regarding the events surrounding the birth of Christ. He offers a clear account of the resurrection of Christ, again based on the testimony of witnesses. Luke offers us several accounts that are unique to his Gospel, including the road to Emmaus story. This is a product of interviewing and recording the events in his book. Luke also wrote the book of Acts, which details his travels with Paul andgand the growth of the early church and when he would likely have interviewed witnesses. Luke was executed under Nero, again not retracting his statements regarding what he learned from witnesses.

It is important to note that in addition to these eyewitness accounts included in the Bible, significant external evidence exists that points to the fact that the 11 disciples all faced torture and execution swearing that they saw the risen Christ. This is significant because they did so all over the world, while living in poverty. These are not the actions of people who made up what they saw. These accounts can be found in early Christian and non-Christian texts.

Addressing the accounts: The various accounts of the resurrection alone stand as strong supports for the historic factuality of the resurrection event. Some effort has be made to impugn the accounts. Most of the accusations center around two primary areas: the integrity of the texts (are the books trustworthy as accurate representations of their original content) and the collection of apparent contradictions between the various accounts of the resurrection. A later essay will look at the issue of the integrity of the books.
​When addressing apparent discontinuity of the resurrection accounts, there are two major veins that are worth following:

1. Harmony of the Gospels: I will not be doing an exhaustive account of the resurrection narratives in this essay. However, I will argue that alleged contradictions are typically easily explained. One example of this is the seeming discontinuity between the account of the women at the tomb in Matthew 28 and the account in Luke 24. One of the accounts features Mary and Mary, while the other includes a woman named Joanne and several other women. The argument is that because one includes more characters, they contradict. This is easily explained by pointing to the fact that the one simply doesn’t mention the extra women. This is an omission, not a contradiction. Exhaustive efforts have been put in to explain these issues. I would argue that while knowledge of this is edifying and may occasionally be useful, it is typically not the sort of accusation you encounter from a skeptic. Usually, this sort of accusation does not deal with specifics primarily because most accusers make blanket statments regarding the Gospel accounts. Therefore, I will not be looking any deeper into the topic. Information on the harmony of the texts is easily found online.

2. Similarities as signs of a lack of collusion: Despite alleged variations in the texts, the central facts are consistent in the Gospel accounts. The resurrection occurred on the Sunday following the crucifixion. The large stone was rolled away. Women, particularly Mary and Mary were the first to discover the empty tomb and speak to the risen Lord. Jesus ate and spoke with the disciples. Several include accounts of the showing of the holes from the piercing at the crucifixion. The consistency amongst the major details of the witnesses points to their validity. Further, variation amongst eyewitnesses is totally normal. If 15 people in a bank witness a robbery, there will be 15 variations of the event. However, the major details will generally remain the same. Several guys, guns, “everyone on the floor”, etc. are all example of major details. Minor details typically vary: Shotguns or rifles, no reference to the shoes being worn vs. a detailed account of the robber’s footwear, which register was emptied first. Perfect mirrors in details point to collusion. The Gospel accounts do not reflect this sort of planning.

In considering the validity of the accounts, it is also worth noting that none of the disciples comes out looking particularly good in the Gospels. For the most part, they present as clueless. If the disciples were making up the whole story, why would they make up stories that make them look so bad? Again, this is counterintuitive. The unflattering portrayal of the disciples adds a ring of truth to the accounts.

The various eyewitness accounts of the resurrection are not all of the evidence that is available. However, they are a strong opening argument. The next essay will look at the rest of the evidence that will be presented in this series.

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