MORE ABOUT THE WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTION
by Wayne S. Walker
Another aspect that relates to the credibility of witnesses is their motives. If it can be proven that a person had an ulterior motive in giving a specific testimony, his testimony becomes suspect. J. W. McGarvey said, "As to their motives in testifying to the fact of the resurrection, they are above suspicion. The motives which prompt men to false testimony are fear, avarice, and ambition: fear of some evil to themselves or others, which is to be averted by the testimony; desire of sordid gain; and ambition for some kind of distinction among men. Can any of these motives have prompted the Apostles to falsely testify that God had raised Jesus from the dead?" (Evidences of Christianity, Part III, p. 147).
The apostles certainly had no fear of evil to themselves or their families if they did not say that Christ was raised; in fact, they boldly proclaimed their testimony in the face of opposition and willingly suffered persecution for declaring it (Acts 4:13-21, 5:33-42). They had no expectation of gain, wealth, or riches in preaching the resurrection, because they gave up practically everything that they had in order to follow the Christ whom they testified had been raised from the dead (Matthew 19:27, Acts 3:6). And they must not have had any ambition for popularity or fame from their witness because the testimony which they gave had just the opposite effect on the vast majority of people, especially the leaders (Acts 4:1-4, 5:27-29). And what is most interesting is that they gave their testimony at precisely the time and place where it could have best been refuted if not true (Acts 2:22-24). Yet, it has never been successfully challenged.
Having looked at their number and integrity, we shall now examine the competency of the witnesses of the resurrection. Of all people, the apostles had the best opportunity to have first-hand knowledge of Christ. They had been with Him from His baptism for nearly three years (Acts 1:21). They were present at His death and burial (Luke 23:49). And they companied about with Him after His resurrection for forty days (Acts 1:1-4). Sometimes people ask, why did Jesus appear after His resurrection primarily to His friends rather than to others, such as His enemies? Precisely because His friends had the most ability to recognize and testify that the One whom they had known was the One who had been raised from the dead!
But what about their mental capacity? Were they men capable of giving adequate testimony? Peter, Andrew, James, and John, though considered ignorant and unlearned by the authorities, were apparently successful in their fishing business (Matthew 4:18-22). Matthew was a tax collector, who most certainly had a profound knowledge of both Hebrew and Roman law (Matthew 9:9). Simon the Canaanite had come from that rabidly patriotic Jewish sect known as the Zealots and undoubtedly had learned to be shrewd and cautious (Luke 6:15). And Nathaniel (also known as Bartholemew) was certainly not a gullible person (John 1:45-50). Furthermore, when the news of the resurrection first was told them, they did not believe it (Mark 16:9-14). Their initial incredulity shows that they were not just a group of deceived or mentally unstable people wanting and waiting to see a resurrection.
Finally, we notice their consistency. There are no contradictions in the testimony that is given concerning the resurrection of Christ. Rather, there is complete harmony in all substantial facts. When Peter said of Jesus, "…Whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses" (Acts 3:15), none of the apostles gave a different account. They all agree in their testimony. There are some supposed contradictions that have been alleged in the Biblical record of the resurrection, but McGarvey explains them very simply.
"Two statements are contradictory not when they differ, but when they can not both be true. If, on any rational hypothesis, we may suppose them both to be true, we cannot rightfully pronounce them contradictory. We are not bound to show the truth of the given hypothesis; but only that it may be true….This being true, it follows that an omission by one writer of a fact which in a full account would have been mentioned, and is mentioned by another, is not a contradiction. It shows that the writer who makes the omission does not give a full account; but throws no suspicion on the author by whom the fact is mentioned. It follows, also, that when there is an appearance of contradiction between two writers, common justice requires that before we pronounce one or both of them false we should exhaust our ingenuity in searching for some probable supposition on the ground of which they may both be true" (ibid., pp. 31-32).
In fact, the minor variations which do exist in the accounts are the result of looking at the resurrection from four different points of view. When different people see an accident, one may remember certain details which another would not, whereas the second person may recall other particulars which the first one did not see, yet there be no contradiction in their testimony. In fact, if several witnesses give the same testimony in precisely the same form, we begin to wonder if something underhanded may be going on. So the slight differences in their testimony show that there was no collusion between the witnesses in getting together and deciding to give the exact same testimony, word for word. It is as Peter said in Acts 5:30-32, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be a Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things…."
Gordon Wilson wrote in The Posture of Faith (p. 93), "On the basis, then, of their integrity, their ability, and their consistency with one another, we believe the witnesses who have testified that Jesus arose from the dead." These men pass every reasonable test applied to witnesses in a court of law, and thus without doubt are credible witnesses. In fact, it is far easier to believe the Bible’s explanation of the resurrection of Christ than to believe the theories given by men in an effort to account for Him and His influence from a purely natural standpoint. (—written for With All Boldness; May, 2002; Vol. 12, No. 5)