Case-Making 101: A Case for the Eyewitnesses of Jesus

I often hear skeptics and atheists say things like, “the Bible is the same as all the other ‘holy books’ that tell mythological stories.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Upon close examination one will find that the Bible is mainly written as an historical narrative by eyewitnesses, or are documentations of eyewitness accounts, of real people, places and events.

As we have seen in our previous posts, the Bible can be validated with supporting evidence from MAPS-S (manuscript transmission in abundance, archeological discoveries in abundance, prophecy fulfillment, scientific authenticity, and saved lives over the centuries). Furthermore, the Bible’s consistency and preservation is unmatched in ancient literature.

With its 66 different books written by at least 40 authors the Bible is solid in its reliability, historicity and inerrancy. These authors came and went over a period of about 1500 years yet they are so cohesive in their subject matter and theme to the point that the 66 books flow as one. Not only did the authors write historically accurate accounts, they recorded actual eyewitness testimony that can be corroborated.

Watch this three minutes video clip as Josh McDowell explains the importance of Eyewitness accounts:

A Case for Christ – His Eyewitnesses

You can imagine that when the early disciples began to experience persecution (Acts 7-8) there would have been a sense that they might not make it out alive. There would have been a sort of urgency in getting the message out and they would have wanted to make sure that what they had witnessed was recorded and passed on. These early Apostles and disciples were everyday people and would have gained nothing by fabricating stories about Jesus.

In Scripture the importance of multiple eyewitnesses is significant, just like it is in our court of law today:

A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  –Deuteronomy 19:15

But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  -Matthew 18:16

We can have confidence that the Word of God and the person of Jesus are found not in a singular report but in numerous accounts from both Biblical and non-Biblical sources.

Let’s look at some evidence for eyewitness testimony from the New Testament:

John the Baptist’s testimony:

Jesus speaking…

“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. John 5:31-35

Witness of Works:

But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. John 5:36

Witness of the Father:

And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. John 5:37-38

Witness of the Scriptures:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”  -John 5:39-47

Witness of the Holy Spirit:

Jesus says, in his prayer to the Father…

For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. John 17:8

Jesus told his disciples…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. –Acts 1:8

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” –John 14:16-17

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. -John 16:13-15

Luke’s Testimony:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.  Luke 1:1-4

Luke, the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, tells us at the beginning of his writings that he has set out to (also) write an account of what had been going on. This area of Palestine was not that big and everyone either directly knew what had happened concerning Jesus, or were talking about it. If we look at the other writers of the New Testament we find this same desire for people to understand the truth and make sense of what they had seen or heard.

Note: Luke continues this testimony by writing the books of Acts.

The Apostle Peter’s testimony:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am very well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. –2 Peter 1:16-18

Also see Acts chapters 2 and 3 for Peter’s earliest testimony.

The Apostle John’s testimony:

This is the disciple who testifies (John) to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his (Jesus) testimony is true. –John 21:24

I am writing these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. –1 John 5:13

The Apostle Paul’s Testimony:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  -1 Corinthians 15:3-8

  • Paul writes about all of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians.
  • Paul is writing about something that he had already delivered and that what he had previously reported was something that he, previous to that, had earlier received.
  • The dating of 1 Corinthians is between 52-55 AD, only 20 years after the crucifixion.
  • If Paul writes about something already known and passed on amongst followers of Jesus then it is safe to say that this testimony can be taken back to the actual events and that people fully believed in Jesus ministry, death and resurrection from the beginning.
  • It would be impossible with over 500 eyewitnesses to imagine or create a story in that short of a time period, therefore making it impossible to be a result of latter myth or legend.

Note: This 1 Corinthians passage is considered to be the earliest “Christian statement of belief.” Christianity has not evolved over time, as skeptics would say, and Christians today place their hope on the same understanding that the first disciples had: Jesus died and resurrected in defeat of death.

Finally Peter confirms that, not only were the disciples and followers eyewitnesses of Jesus but, all of the people they were speaking to were eyewitnesses themselves:

…Jesus of Nazareth, a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know… –Acts 2:22

Character witness of the New Testament authors and contributors:

  1. The authors and eyewitnesses to the life of Christ were people of good reputation, they were not considered to be liars, they had nothing to gain by fabricating their stories, they had testimony that matched the other witnesses, and they had clarity of the events.
  2. Many of the people who accompanied Jesus during His ministry, and bystanders, were still alive at the time of the New Testament writings and therefore could have disputed the authors’ claims, but did not.
  3. The authors of the New Testament were brutally honest, especially about their own shortcomings and mistakes. They also wrote things that were considered “off color” or socially unacceptable. These authors could have changed their accounts to make themselves looks better or to be more culturally acceptable, but they did not. For example:
    1. The stories that make the disciples look bad or stupid, like Peter denying Jesus or Thomas doubting Him.
    2. The report of women as the first to find the empty tomb. Women were considered second class citizens in the first century and were not accepted as reliable witnesses, but this was the way it happened and they stuck to the truth of the story.
    3. It was culturally unacceptable, but Jesus included Gentiles and women as HIs followers along with the Jewish men; and the Bible records Gentiles and women playing important roles in the early Church that at first was only Jewish.
  4. The disciples scattered and went into hiding immediately following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion fearing their own demise. They were scared and disenchanted, yet there was an immediate, unexplained and drastic change in their attitudes and confidence level and the only explanation for this would be the Resurrection.
  5. All of the New Testament writers and original disciples of Jesus, except John (who experience extreme persecution), were martyred for their faith and none of them ever recanted their stories. No one would go to their deaths knowing that what they believed was an uncertainty or a lie.
  6. Many of the eyewitness accounts of the events of the New Testament are in multiple not singular experiences which eliminates hallucinations, wishful thinking, and fabrication.
  7. Corroboration: There were more than 500 eyewitnesses who were recorded to have seen Jesus after His resurrection individually and in groups. This supports the testimony of the New Testament writers on the most critical and foundational claim of Christianity.
  8. Both James, the half brother of Jesus, and Paul were not original disciples. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by becoming Christians, yet something drastic changed their lives and both went to martyrs’ deaths confessing Jesus as LORD and proclaiming His Resurrection.

Watch Josh McDowell’s three minutes presentation on the importance of hostile witnesses:


Non-Biblical sources that support the historicity for the person of Jesus:

  1. Josephus, Jewish Historian (AD 37-101): The Antiquities
  2. Thallus (AD 52): Third book of Histories
  3. Tacitus, Roman historian (AD 56-120): Annals 15.44
  4. Mara Bar-Serapion (AD 70)
  5. Suetonius (AD 69-140)
  6. Pliny the Younger, Governor of Bithynia, historian (AD 61-113): Letters 10.96
  7. Phlegon (AD 80-140)
  8. Lucian of Samosata (AD 115-200)
  9. Celsus (AD 175)
  10. In a negative way, the Jewish Talmud mentions Jesus:

The Jewish traditional literature, although it mentions Jesus only quite sparingly…supports the gospel claim that he was a healer and miracle-worker, even though it ascribes these activities to sorcery. In addition, it preserves the recollection that he was a teacher, and that he had disciples…, and that at least in the earlier Rabbinic period not all of the sages had made up their minds that he was a heretic or a deceiver. – M. Wilcox in The Case for Christ

Other notable writings:

The Earthquake often forgotten:

Paul Maier in his 1968 book, Pontius Pilate, said according to Tertullian (Early Church Father) and Phlegon (a Greek author) a phenomenon took place and was visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities. This was a great darkness that occurred in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33):

“ There was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day (i.e. noon) so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’”

Julius Africanus, who wrote in about AD 221, made reference to the lost works of Thallus:

“Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explained away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun, unreasonably, as it seems to me.”

In recent times MSNBC’s news website reported on earthquake records uncovered in the Dead Sea area that show a very large earthquake recorded in the strata during the timeframe of crucifixion.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” –Matthew 27:50-54

If we did not have the New Testament we could still know the following about Jesus from sources outside of the Bible:

  1. He was a Jewish teacher
  2. He performed healings and exorcisms
  3. Some people believed He was the Messiah
  4. He was rejected by the Jewish leaders
  5. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate
  6. Despite what was considered to be a shameful death, his followers believed that he was still alive and this quickly spread beyond Palestine to multitudes of believers being in Rome by A.D. 64
  7. All kinds of people from the cities and countryside—men and women, slave and free—worshipped him as God.

In addition, there are volumes of writings by the “apostolic fathers” (early Church leaders) like Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius, Ignatius, and many others (numbering over a million in archives), and The New Testament could be reconstructed from the lectionaries and writings of these early church leaders alone!

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life…Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. John 3:16, 33

This is one of the best presentations of the evidence for the reliability and eyewitness testimony of the New Testament! Please take the time to watch this 47 minute video by this former Cold-Case Homicide Detective, J. Warner Wallace, you won’t be disappointed:

For more on this topic I highly recommend J. Warner Wallace’s book: Cold Case Christianity  or, go to his website coldcasechristianity.com.

Join us next week as we look at a “Case for the Resurrection!”

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You will not find this material in the public school curriculum even though it is based on solid evidence and grounded in research. It is ironic that following the evidence to where it leads stops at the door of our public schools as they will not let a “Divine footprint” in!  Join us as we examine evidence for Christianity and learn how to become a thoughtful defender and ambassador of your faith.

Click into the resource page of this website to view many of the top Christian thinkers and apologists along with some of their work; connecting to these types of resources is essential in your Christian growth.

Please let me know what you think: Give feedback, ask questions or send concerns in the comment section of the blog.

Teri Dugan

TeriDugan@truthfaithandreason.com

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