HomeArticlesHistorical Evidence from the Eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1)

Historical Evidence from the Eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1)

As the annual celebration of Christ resurrection returns to our calendar once again, it is always important to be reminded of its truth and the evidence supporting it. The resurrection is the single most important fact of the Christian faith, for without it there would be no reason to remember a person who died on a cross 2,000 years ago (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).

When considering the historical viability of this glorious event, we must recollect on the fact that the evidence is derived from ancient sources it therefore must be interpreted by the standard of its day. When we speak of a “historical event,” such a phrase will conjure the idea of our modern methods of historians which ultimately derive their information from past written sources. The ancient world emphasized eyewitness evidence for their form of history. David Aune relates,

“From Herodotus (died ca. 420 B.C.) to Ammianus Marcellinus (ca. A.D. 330-395), ancient historians preferred oral over written sources. Access to sources was through the eyes and ears, for “eyes are surer witnesses than ears,” meaning that direct experience is preferable to hearsay (Heraclitus, quoted in Polybius 12.27.1). Ancient writers often claimed to be eyewitnesses of the events they described. Personal visual knowledge, i.e., eyewitness evidence (autopsia), was thought the most reliable historical source (Herodotus 2.99; Polybius 12.27.1; 20.12.8; Lucian, History 47). Polybius thought that historians should be “men of affairs” who actually participated in the events they narrated (3.4.13; 12.25g.1; 12.28.1-5)….

Hearing was also indispensable for historical research. First, the historian could hear about events through interviewing eyewitnesses (Polybius 4.2.2). Second, he could obtain oral information from reliable authorities, usually by traveling to the scene (Herodotus 2.52; Polybius 3.48.12; 4.38.11; 10.11.4). Third, he could listen to and evaluate popular traditions. Fourth, he could read and compare accounts written by those who were eyewitnesses (since ancients read aloud, written accounts were “heard”; cf. Polybius 28.4.8; 38.4.8).” 1)David E. Aune, The New Testament in Its Literary Environment, The Westminster Press (Philadelphia, PA: 1987), pp. 81-82

In fact, our English word “history” is derived from the Greek word historia (‘ιστορια) which use in ancient Greek literature was defined as: “Here [in Theophrastus 371-287 BC] ‘ιστορια is information resting on methodical and scientific research.” 2)Friedrich Büchsel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley) WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1964-1976) Vol. 3, p. 392 “Scientific research” is conducted through observation and hands-on experimentation, not assessing old documents as our modern historians do.

Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) who is known as the “father of history” can provides us with an example as a case study of how ancient historians functioned. He wrote, “In the wish to get the best information that I could on these matters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phoenicia… I visited the temple… In a conversation which I held with the priest, I inquired… These researches show plainly” (Herodotus, Histories 2.44).3)Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY:1997), p. 146 Note that Herodotus says he traveled to be on location to “visit” and held a “conversation” which allowed him to cross-examine the eyewitness being “inquired” of. This was his method of research. Next he states, “Thus far I have spoken of Egypt from my own observation, relating what I myself saw, the ideas that I formed, and the results of my own researches. What follows rests on the accounts given me by the Egyptians, which I shall now repeat, adding thereto some particulars which fell under my own notice” (Herodotus, Histories 2.99).4) Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY:1997), p. 171 Here he identifies what he has recorded in his Histories is based on his own observation and he mentions he will be shifting from personal observations to what he learned from discussions with the Egyptians. While relating details about an Egyptian building, the Labyrinth, Herodotus again draws a distinction between his own observation and hearsay. He records, “and what I say concerning them is from my own observation; of the underground chambers I can only speak from report… Thus it is from hearsay only that I can speak of the lower chambers. The upper chambers, however, I saw with my own eyes” (Herodotus, Histories 2.148).5) Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY:1997), p. 203 Herodotus obviously expects his readers to believe his eyewitness accounts over the hearsay he reports. This idea is also embedded in the reports of those who wrote their records as eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord and savior Jesus Christ. “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24)

The apostle Paul also provides an example of this ancient historia since he is the only New Testament author who uses the word in Galatians 1:18. The verse states, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” In this verse the verb “to see” is translated from the Greek word ‘ιστοησαι (Aorist, Active, Infinitive of ‘ιςτορεω) meaning, “visit for the purpose of coming to know someone or something[.]”6)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 383 Another example of a first century Jewish author using this Greek word is from Josephus who wrote about Lot’s wife being “too intently inquisitive” to see what would become of Sodom (Josephus, Antiquities 1.203;7)Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 65 cf. Genesis 19:26). In Galatians 1:18, Paul has informed us that he visited Jerusalem for the length of 15 days with the purpose to cross-examine Peter and James (Galatians 1:19) to compare their observations as eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord, likely to reflect on how their experiences matched up with his. Furthermore, Paul is providing specific names of individuals that can be searched out by others seeking to investigate the claims of the resurrection. The mentioning of specific names plays an important line of evidence as we will discuss below.

Paul also wrote about these eyewitness experiences in conjunction with his own in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. “For I delivered [παρέδωκα] unto you first of all that which I also received [παρέλαβον], 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: and that he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of Cephas, then [seen is an implied verb] of the twelve: after that, he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of James; then [seen is an implied verb] of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of me also, as of one born out of due time.” Notice how Paul is emphasizing a chain of events which produced multiple eyewitnesses beginning with Cephas (Peter), the twelve, more than 500 at once, then James, the apostles and finally Paul himself. It was Peter and James who Paul had personally interrogated according to Galatians 1:18-19. Like Herodotus, Paul traveled to a specific location to investigate and cross-examine eyewitnesses; and similar to Herodotus, we would expect that Paul is identifying his own eyewitness experience as authoritative proof over those witnesses he conversed with (Acts 9:3-9; 22:6-10; 26:12-18). So, when Paul “delivered” the report of the resurrected Lord to the saints in Corinth, he is not simply passing on hearsay of oral traditions he “received,” but is rather confirming the reports of the multitudes of eyewitnesses with his own scientific observation. This is historia in the ancient sense.

This passage in 1 Corinthians 15 has been commented on by numerous scholars as upholding some of the strongest proof available for any ancient event of history. Hans von Campenhausen states concerning this passage, “This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text.”8)Hans von Campenhausen, “The Events of Easter and the Empty tomb,” Tradition and Life in the Church, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, PA: 1968), p. 44 Josh and Sean McDowell expressed, “If each of these 500 people were to testify in a courtroom for only six minutes each, including cross-examination, you would have an amazing 50 hours of firsthand eyewitness testimony. Add to this the testimony of the many other eyewitnesses and you could well have the largest and most lopsided trial in history.”9)Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, Regal (Ventura, CA: 2009), p. 196 Norman Anderson relates, “In these words he put his whole credibility at stake; for what he wrote, was in effect, an implicit invitation to any who doubted his statement to put it to the test, since the majority of five hundred witnesses were still available to be questioned. And in the ancient world it would not have been a terribly difficult task to contact some of them.”10)Norman Anderson, Jesus Christ: The Witness of History, Inter-Varsity Press (Downers Grove, IL: 1985), p. 121 Richard Bauckham notes, “Paul thus takes for granted the continuing accessibility and role of the eyewitnesses, even extending to a very large number of minor eyewitnesses as well as to such prominent persons as the Twelve and James.”11)Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 308

Luke, who was the traveling companion with the apostle Paul, also fits the traveling investigator of ancient historians. The “we” sections of Acts begin incidentally in Troas and leaves off in Philippi (Acts 16:10-16); resumes again in Philippi departing with Paul to Jerusalem (20:6-21:18) spending two years in the Syria-Palestinian region while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, before departing from Caesarea for Rome (27:1-28:16). This allows Luke to hold interviews with individuals of the region where Christ’s ministry took place; including James, Mary, Philip, and other key eyewitnesses. One of the other key terms in ancient historia is the Greek word αυτοπης (autopes) of which our modern English word “autopsy” is derived from. The Lexicon definition of this Greek word is, “which combines αυτος with the stem οπ—, means ‘seeing, or having seen something for oneself,’ ‘eyewitness’[.]”12)Wilhelm Michaelis, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley) WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1964-1976), Vol. 3, p. 373 Luke used a form of the word autopes in his introduction of his histories (this is a plural form because Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts). “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered [παρεδοσαν] them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses [αὐτόπται], and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:1-4). In this brief introduction, “he makes it plain in what sense eye-witness, and hence the historicity of the events, is to be understood.”13)Wilhelm Michaelis, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley) WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1964-1976) Vol. 5, p. 348

Luke records, “And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Cæsarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him” (Acts 21:8). Why does Luke mention Philip by name? One reason is because Luke has formerly introduced his readers to Philip (Acts 6:5-6; 8:4-40). He is referred to as Philip, “one of the seven,” to distinguish between the apostle Philip and the deacon Philip (Acts 6:3-5). In literary form this passage functions as irony. Paul staying at Philip’s home is ironic since Paul was involved with the murder of Philip’s companion Stephen (Acts 7:58). The persecution of Christians inaugurated by Paul originally caused Philip’s evangelistic tour (Acts 8:1, 5-40) which is why we find him currently located in Caesarea instead of Jerusalem. This contact also unites Paul’s Gentile entourage with the Jewish church leaders. The Gentile entourage consisted of “Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus” (Acts 20:4). These Gentiles are meeting Philip (Acts 21:8), Agabus of Judea (Acts 21:10), and James (21:18), thereby confirming their opportunity to cross-examine eyewitnesses and verify a cohesive message from all streams of Christianity worldwide is truly based on accurate reports. Paul and his Gentile entourage meeting in Philip’s house also presents chronological details in defense of Paul’s opponents in court. They were in Caesarea with many eyewitnesses for “many days” (Acts 21:10) arriving in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17), they met James the following day (21:18), the next day entered the Temple (21:26) with seven days “almost ended” (21:27), not providing enough time to incite a rebellion as charged (Acts 24:2-6). When on trial in Caesarea Paul says he entered Jerusalem twelve days earlier (Acts 24:11) and would have witnesses in Caesarea to offer testimony of his recent presence before departing for Jerusalem. Mentioning the name of Philip and others was Luke’s proof for Paul’s innocence by naming eyewitnesses producing evidence substantial enough to argue in a legal court case.

Another instance of a specific name being provided as an eyewitness to be searched out by those seeking to know the truth of the resurrection is found in Acts 21:16. “There went with us also certain of the disciples of Cæsarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.” The name “Mnason” is a Greek name Μνησων, which Jews preferred to adopt similar names such as “Jason” (Acts 17:5) or Roman equivalent “Nason.” Mnason corresponds to similar sounding Semitic names “Menahem” (2 Kings 15:14; Mishnah, Hagigah 2.2 [200 B.C.-A.D. 10];14) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 213 Eduyoth 7.8 [A.D. 10-80];15) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 435 Yoma 4.4 [A.D. 140-165])16)The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 167 or “Manasseh” (Genesis 41:51). A later inscription identifies a Rabbi in Rome named Μν(ι)ασεας.17)Corpus inscriptionum Judaicarum (ed. Jean-Baptiste Frey), Ponticio Istituto di Archeologa Cristiana (Rome: 1936), Vol. 1, p. 372 §508 Mnason is likely Hellenistic Jew from Cyrus, like Barnabas (Acts 4:36), who was scattered during Paul’s persecution of the disciples like Philip (Acts 8:1; 11:19-20). “Mnason’s name probably appears here not simply because of his hospitality but because he is said to be an ‘old’ disciple—that is, like Philip, a potential informant for Luke’s history of the early Christian mission…. Luke wants his audience to understand that many witnesses from the early days remained.”18)Craig S. Keener, Acts An Exegetical Commentary:15:1-23:35, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2013), Vol. 3, p. 3111 Also commenting on the phrase “an old disciple,” Cleon Rogers assumed, “It may mean that he was a disciple from Pentecost, the beginning of the church.”19)Cleon L. Rogers Jr., Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, MI: 1998), p. 288 However, when considering that there were 120 individuals in the upper room with only a few named specifically (Acts 1:13-14) and over 500 eyewitnesses mentioned by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6), there is no reason to limit the phrase “an old disciple” to not be identifying one who personally know and followed Christ during His ministry.

Luke’s presence with Paul during the journey to Jerusalem and the two years of residing in the area allowed the lengthy time for Luke to interview key eyewitnesses in the region. Craig Keener discussed this factor of Luke’s reliability as a historian.

The detail of this section attests to its literary importance for Luke but also is possible because Luke’s source (in my view, his own travel journal) is more detailed here. Given the appearance of “we” directly before (Acts 21:15-18) and after (27:1) the trial scene, Luke probably remained in Judea near Paul during this period….

(Luke’s silence about his activities in the interim is not significant; he always remains in the background of the action, mentioning his presence only with respect to the travels.) In addition to caring for Paul, Luke could have been researching his first volume (Luke 1:3), although—if geographical details tell us anything—he probably spent much more time in urban Judea than in rural Galilee or other scenes of Jesus’s public ministry.20)Craig S. Keener, Acts An Exegetical Commentary:15:1-23:35, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2013), Vol. 3, p. 3160

More than a century earlier, James Smith reviewed the evidence supporting this perspective.

St. Luke, as usual, is entirely silent respecting his own proceedings. There are, however, the strongest reasons for believing that, during the two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, he composed his Gospel.

There are several indications in that work which tend to prove that it was written in Judea. In the first place, he tells us in his preface that his object was to give an account ‘of the things which had been accomplished among us’ (περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων), showing that he was then writing in the scene of the events. In the next place, his descriptions are those of a person familiar with the localities, and who was upon the spot at the time of writing; thus, in relating the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, he informs us of the exact place where the attendant multitudes burst into Hosannas,—it was on ‘the descent of the Mount of Olives’ (Luke xix. 37), a circumstance only noticed by him. The last proof of the Judean origin of the Gospel is the manner in which he makes use of the national denomination, ‘the Jews,’ as compared with the use he makes of it in Acts. A person writing in the country does not think of giving the national denomination to its inhabitants, except in cases where it is unavoidable; but writing out of it he very naturally does. Now in the Gospel St. Luke only uses the word ‘Jew’ five times, and that in cases where he could not help it,—namely, ‘the King of the Jews,’ ‘the elders of the Jews,’ ‘a city of the Jews;’ but he never uses it when speaking of the people in general. In the Acts, on the other hand, it is used no less than eighty-two times.

I infer from these indications that St. Luke’s Gospel was written in Judea; but if so, it must have been written before he quitted it with St. Paul on his voyage to Rome, for there is no later period to which its composition can be referred. It was therefore written between A.D. 58 and A.D. 60, under circumstances of all others the most favorable for historical investigation, of the spot where the transactions took place, and with constant opportunities of intercourse with those chiefly engaged in them. …every means of information at that time in the possession of living witnesses must have been accessible.21)James Smith, The Voyage ad Shipwreck of St. Paul (Fourth Edition) Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI: 1880, 1978), p. 13-14

Another factor that could be mentioned is the nativity account reported by Luke’s Gospel is obviously from Mary’s perspective, indicating that Luke either got the information from Mary herself, or if she had passed away by the date Luke was present in Judea, James “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19) being the son of Mary (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 24:10; Josephus, Antiquities 20.200)22) Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 656 and other children of Mary and relatives of Christ could have been the source for the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Also the early chapters of Acts that precede the “we” passages indicating Luke’s personal involvement are found in the sources of these named Judean persons that would have been interviewed while Luke spent two years in the region. These early chapters of Acts include the testimony of eyewitness evidence (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 13:30-31).

Luke provides a number of eyewitnesses that are specified by name allowing inquisitive individuals to seek out to interview. In Acts we find Peter (Acts chapters 1-15), James the apostle (Acts 1:13; 12:2), John (Acts 1:13; 3:1-4:31; 8:14-25), the Twelve (Acts 1:13), Matthias (Acts 1:23-26), Barsabas surnamed Justus (Acts 1:23), James the Lord’s brother (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18-25), the other brothers of the Lord (Acts 1:14) which are not named in Acts but are in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, Mary the mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14), the other women (Acts 1:14) likely representing “Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them” (Luke 24:10), Mnason (Acts 21:16), and Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22-26, 30; 12:25-15:39) who was probably a witness of the resurrection since he is called an apostle (Acts 14:14; 1 Corinthians 9:6). Others named in Acts as present in the Jerusalem church are likely to have been eyewitnesses either of the resurrection or at least of the events of the early chapters of Acts, though this is not clearly stated, include: Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10), John Mark (Acts12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37-39), Mary, John Marks’ mother (Acts 12:12), Judas surnamed Barsabas (Acts 15:22-34), Silas (Acts 15:22-18:5), Stephen (Acts 6:5-8:1), Philip the evangelist (Acts 6:5-6; 8:4-40; 21:8-9), Prochorus (Acts 6:5), Nicanor (Acts 6:5), Timon (Acts 6:5), Parmenas (Acts 6:5), Nicolas (Acts 6:5). Surely Luke gave his diligence to interview as many witnesses as possible to produce a reliable historical account as he indicated in the introduction of his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4).

We find that the mention of specific names is for the purpose of providing seekers with the crumb trail to follow as trace down those witnesses that remained available as Paul spoke of (1 Corinthians 15:6), but why is there a number of characters in the Gospels mentioned but left anonymous? According to Richard Bauckham’s analysis of names in the Gospels,23) Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 56-66 Matthew mentions 36 anonymous individuals (a centurion, a leper, etc.), 33 named individuals, and 6+ related to named persons (Peter’s mother in-law, sisters of Jesus etc.); Mark mentions 34 anonymous individuals, 33 named individuals, 5+ related to named persons; Luke mentions 54 anonymous individuals, 44 named individuals, 5+ related to named persons; and John mentions 15 anonymous individuals, 20 named individuals, 6+ related to named persons. Though many of the anonymous entities may simply be irrelevant to be named and therefore left unnamed, but there is likely reasons for others who remained unnamed.

Lazarus is not mentioned in any Gospels until John, the latest written Gospel account.  It is recorded in John 12:9-11, “Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” Mary, Martha and Lazarus are not named in Matthew or Mark. Luke names Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Only John includes Lazarus. It is probable that Lazarus is kept anonymous by the earlier Gospel accounts for protective purposes since the Jews sought to kill him. It is also possible that John’s gospel being originally published in Ephesus (according to Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1;24) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 414 3.3.4;25) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 416 Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved? 42;26) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 2, p. 603 Eusebius, History of the Church 3.1.1;27) Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 107 Polycrates fragment cited in Eusebius, History of the Church 3.31.3;28) Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 141 5.24.2-3)29)Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 231 names Mary, Martha, and Lazarus because they may have fled persecution in Jerusalem and settled in Ephesus which had a large Jewish population (Josephus, Against Apion 2.39;30) Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 962 Antiquities 14.224ff.;31) Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 471 16.167-168, 172-173)32)Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 537 and strong Christian community (Acts 19) in which they would have testified as eyewitnesses. Perhaps their presence preceded Paul’s and their testimony is the reason why he had such a fruitful mission when entering Ephesus.

Richard Bauckham has recently stated, “I suggest that we need to recover the sense in which the Gospels are testimony. This does not mean that they are testimony rather than history. It means that the kind of historiography they are is testimony…. We need to recognize that, historically speaking, testimony is a unique and uniquely valuable means of access to historical reality.”33)Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 5 Bauckham’s attempt to clarify what he means when mentioning “testimony” and “history” is because many modern readers are simply unaware of the fact that the two are not diverse concepts when we understand how ancient historians wrote their histories. To the ancient historian, history is testimony as observed from eyewitnesses, either the historian own testimony as the most authoritative, or by interrogation of other firsthand eyewitnesses.

Mark also wrote his Gospel, according to the earliest tradition, from the testimony of the apostle Peter (Papias, fragments 6;34) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 155 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1;35) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 414 3.10.5;36) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 425 Clement of Alexandria, Fragments from Cassiodorus 1;37) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 2, p. 573 Fragments from the Hypotyposes 438)The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 2, p. 579 Eusebius, History of the Church 2.15.1).39) Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 88 His record from the women as the first witnesses of Christ risen from the tomb is significant in its emphasis on the eyewitness testimony. Note the text as Mark writes it:

Mark 15:40-41, 47

40 There were also women looking on [θεωροῦσαι—present, active, participle: θεωρεω] afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; 41 (who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem…. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld [ἐθεώρουν—imperfect, active, indicative:  θεωρεω] where he was laid.

Mark 16:1, 4-7

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him….And when they looked [ἀναβλέψασαι—aorist, active, participle: αναβλεπω], they saw [θεωροῦσιν—present, active, indicative: θεωρεω] that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw [εἶδον—aorist, active, indicative: ειδον] a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold [ἴδε—aorist, active, imperative: ειδον] the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see [ὄψεσθε—future, middle, indicative: ‘οραω] him, as he said unto you.

We can brake down the Greek which identifies the emphasis on what these eyewitness “saw.” The Greek word θεωρεω is defined as, “be a spectator, look at, observe, perceive, see (w. physical eyes)”40)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 360 The Greek word αναβλεπω means, “look up” or “gain sight…of blind persons, who were formerly able to see, regain sight[.]”41)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 50 This implies they were not looking inventively until they looked up to see what they observed. The Greek word ειδον indicates, “of perception by sight see, perceive.”42)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 220 The word ‘οραω expresses, “see, catch sight of, notice of sense perception[.]”43)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 577 In this passage Mark uses 7 verbs for the women “seeing” with 4 different Greek words to stress that they did “see” something as eyewitnesses. 6 of these verbs are in the “active voice” because they are thoroughly engaged in the activity of looking. Of the 4 Greek words, θεωρεω is used 3 times delivering a stronger sense to “observe,” with 15:47 in the “imperfect tense” expressing a sustained observation of the location of the tomb “where he was laid,” so they could not have ignorantly approached the wrong sepulcher 3 days later. The mention of “many other women” in 15:41 identifies more than just those named witnessed where the tomb was. In 16:5 “entering into the sepulchre, they saw,” indicates their direct attention to a particular object, i.e. the angel telling them Christ is risen. This angel also tells them in 16:6 “behold,” with an “imperative mood,” commanding them to actively look at the spot where His body was laid, but is no longer. They are also commanded to “go” and “tell” (16:7 imperative mood) the disciples what they have seen and heard. The purpose of naming Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome is because they were still alive and well known for relating their testimony as eyewitnesses. These women witnessed everything concerning this event from start to finish.

The major focus is to identify that the named individuals in the Gospels and Acts are likely to have been known by the Christian community and are named as prominent eyewitnesses. Mark’s Gospel is no exception to this point. This is notable specifically in Mark 15:21, “And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (cf. Mt 27:32; Lk 23:26). An ossuary discovered in the Kiddron Valley by E. L. Sukenik in 1941 bares the inscription on the front in Greek: “Alexander (son of) Simon” and on the lid in Hebrew: “Alexander QRNYT [Cyrenian]” Craig Evans speaks about this ossuary, “From an apologetic perspective, it may also lend important support to the probability that the passion narrative (as well as Easter?) rests upon eyewitness testimony.”44)Craig A. Evans, “Excavating Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon of Cyrene: Assessing the Literary and Archaeological Evidence,” in Jesus and Archaeology (ed. James H. Charlesworth), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), p. 340 Since Mark is said to be the interpreter of Peter and wrote his Gospel in Rome, as mentioned above, only Mark adds the information of Simon’s sons names likely because the church in Rome knew them personally. Paul writes in Romans 16:13, “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord,” which implies Rufus the son of Simon was known in Rome and provided his eyewitness testimony to the saints in that city.

All this is internal evidence that which cannot be ignored for the historical fact that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the grave and is vouched for by many eyewitnesses. “But Jesus’ early followers did not simply adopt the resurrection doctrine wholesale from Judaism without adaptation: traditional Jewish expectation was a collective, future resurrection. The notion of an individual’s bodily resurrection fulfilled in history would therefore not arise without additional factors (such as the experience of the disciples) to explain it.”45)Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2009, 2012), p. 339 George Eldon Ladd wrote, “Those scholars who are unable to believe in an actual resurrection of Jesus admit that the disciples believed it.”46)George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI: 1974), p. 320 Of course they believed it, they were eyewitnesses of this historical event (2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1; Acts 1:3; 2:32; John 19:35). John Ankerburg and John Weldon said, “The fact that the apostles constantly appealed to such eyewitness testimony is all the more believable in light of their own unique Jewish heritage. No religion has ever stressed the importance of truth or truthful testimony more than the Jewish religion.”47)John Ankerburg and John Weldon, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Harvest House (Eugene, OR: 1996), p. 20 Indeed, the Jewish religion had very strong on being honest and giving truthful testimony, especially in court case setting demanding eyewitnesses. See Exodus 20:16; 23:1; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 5:20; 17:6; 19:15; Proverbs 6:19; 14:5; 19:5, 9; 24:28; Luke 3:14; Josephus, Antiquities 3.92;48)Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 120 Philo, The Special Laws 4.42, 44;49)The Works of Philo: New Updated Edition, (Trans. C. D. Yonge) Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 620 Sibylline Oracles 1.177;50) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 339 2.58, 64, 68-69;51) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 346 Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 11.12;52) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 319 44.6;53) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 358 Ahiqar 132-134;54) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 503 Odes of Solomon 20.6;55) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 753 The Sentence of the Syriac Menander 144, 178-179;56) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 596-597 The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides 1.7;57) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 574 Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QS col. 7.3-4;58)The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook), HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY: 1996, 2005), p. 126 4Q158 Frag 7-8.2;59) The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook), HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY: 1996, 2005), p. 228 Mishnah, Makkoth 1.360)The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 401 These Jewish sources could easily be expanded to identify that a person raised as a devote Jew and held the morals of the Law as taught from the Scriptures would be faithfully expressing the truth of what they had witnessed. As David spoke of in Psalm 15:4, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” The eyewitnesses of the resurrection held to their testimony of what they witnessed to the point of martyrdom, having nothing to gain but everything to lose, including their lives. They swore to their own hurt to testify of the truth of the resurrection which they witnessed with their own eyes.

print

References[+]

Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

Related Articles

Other Featured Articles

Pokémon Go: Where Will It Take You?

The Associated Press reported, "Pokémon Go players have been sharing all sorts of bizarre places the app has been taking them and where Pokémon...