The Witnesses of the Resurrection


by Wayne S. Walker

     Homer Hailey wrote concerning the resurrection of Christ from the dead, "This proposition is the keystone of the Christian’s faith. It is the support of his every hope. There is little use to argue about the rest of the miracles of the New Testament: if Christ be raised from the dead, the rest of the miracles are easy to accept; if He be not risen, the rest do not matter. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be can be proved as a fact in history, then He is the Christ of God and the Bible is a special divine revelation. We believe the testimony is such that it is more reasonable to believe than not to believe" (Internal Evidences of Christianity, p. 50).

     In a previous article we noted a list of the appearances of Jesus following His resurrection. In this article, we want to examine carefully the witnesses of the resurrection as would be done in a court of law to see if their testimony will hold up as valid. Our English word "witness" is defined by Webster as "a person who saw or can give firsthand account of something; one who observes a transaction so that he may testify concerning its occurrence." The word translated "witness" in the New Testament is defined by Thayer as "one who avers, or can aver, what he himself has seen or heard or knows by any other means…one who is a spectator of anything."

     While preaching to Cornelius, Peter said of Jesus, "Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the peopel but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10.40-42). Let us now examine these witnesses carefully from the only record that we have of their testimony, the New Testament scriptures.

     First, consider their number. J. W. McGarvey wrote, "Before considering the attack on the witnesses, it is necessary that we distinctly understand who the witnesses are and where their testimony is found. To us the witnesses are a group of women, not less than five in number; the twelve older apostles; and the apostle Paul. The testimony of the women and of the twelve is recorded in the four Gospels, in Acts, in the Epistles of Peter and John, and in Revelation. That of Paul is found in Acts and his Epistles" (Evidences of Christianity, p. 118). So we have a total of about eighteen basic witnesses.

     The law required two or three witnesses to an event (Deuteronomy 19,15, Matthew 18.16). Again, McGarvey wrote, "The requisite number varies with the degree of probability attached to the facts. The testimony of two honest and competent witnesses makes us feel more sure than that of one. That of three, than that of two; but a limit is soon reached beyond which those who are convinced feel the need of no more, and those who are not yet convinced realize that more would not convince them. When this number has testified in any case, the number is sufficient, and a greater number would be useless" (ibid., pp. 146-147). However, as if to emphasize the point, Paul added that above five-hundred saw Him and the greater part were still living when He wrote (1 Corinthians 15.6).

     Second, consider their honesty or integrity. McGarvey said, "The force of human testimony depends on three things: first, the honesty of the witnesses; second, their competency; and third, their number. We ascertain whether they are honest, by considering their general character and their motives in the particular case….Applying these tests to the witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, we find that their general character, judged by all that we know of them, is good" (ibid.). There are several specific items which bolster this conclusion.

     The tone of their account is simple and dispassionate, thorough yet brief, not given to idle curiosity. For example, the speech of the angel is not a full-length discourse or doctinal polemic, but a mere statement of fact (Matthew 28.6). Their candor in writing is amazing, even to telling of their own disbelief at the resurrection (Luke 24.11). Their subsequent sufferings for their witness, being shamed, persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed, indicate that they truly believed what they said (Acts 5.40-42). Their accuracy is demonstrated by incidental allusions to things known to exist in the first century, such as rock-hewn sepulchres (Matthew 27.60). There is also the unintentional evidenc eof interesting details, such as the command to "Go tell Peter" (Mark 16.7). Why tell Peter? Becuase he had denied the Lord. And in the interviews and manifestations of Jesus there were invitations to see and handle the evidence (Luke 24.39-43, John 20.26-28). All of this is written in the calm manner of people who are recording true events, not those who are engaging in flights of fancy or making wild claims such as "He appeared to everyone" or "He’ll continue to appear forever" to prove their assertions. (—taken from With All Boldness; April, 2002; Vol. 12, No. 4; p. 5).

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