Case-Making 101: Are there multiple eyewitnesses for the events recorded in the Bible?

eye with a cross inside

Eyewitness Accounts:

Many people think the Bible is just like other “holy books,” giving good advice and telling allegorical and maybe mythological stories. However, upon close examination we find that the Bible is mainly an historical narrative giving facts about people, places, events and times. It contains one mega-theme that connects its 66 books, written by 40 authors over a period of about 1500 years, and its content is unmatched in ancient literature. How do we know that? The authors give eyewitness testimony that is supported by historical and literary facts. Not only did the authors write historically accurate accounts, they recorded actual eyewitness testimony.

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

Let’s look at some other evidence from the New Testament:

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 the population was in the thousands, so 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 of what had happened and there was a sort of urgency in getting the message out.

You can imagine that when they began to experience persecution (Acts 7-8) there would have been a sense that they might not make it out alive. 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.

Peter writes:

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 well pleased.”  2 Peter 1:16-17

John writes:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:1-4

Characteristics of the New Testament authors and eyewitness sources:

  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. There are stories that make the disciples look bad or stupid, like Peter denying Christ or Thomas doubting.
    2. They report women as begin the first to find the empty tomb. Women were second class citizens in the first century and were not accepted as reliable witnesses, but this was the way it happened.
    3. They included culturally unacceptable stories that showed Jesus equally accepting Gentiles and women as followers along with the Jewish men, and Gentiles and women playing important roles in the early Church.
  4. The disciples were scared and went in hiding immediately following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion yet there was an unexplained and drastic change in their attitudes and confidence level immediately after the resurrection, and many go on to record the events.
  5. All of the New Testament writers and original disciples of Jesus, except John, were martyred for their faith and none of them ever recanted their stories.
  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.

Additional evidence against fabrication of the New Testament:

Testimony From Historians:

  • There were many ancient non-Christian historians who wrote about the New Testament times that help to confirm the Biblical accounts and the books it contains. For example:
  • Thallus, a Greek historian, writes of the crucifixion and mentions the day that suddenly turned dark.
  • Tacitus, a Roman historian, echoes the Gospel account of the death of Christ including the mention of the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.
  • Josephus, a Jewish historian, writes about the death of Jesus, the martyrdom of James, the martyrdom of John the Baptist and the resurrection three days after the crucifixion.
  • Suetonius, a Roman historian, mentions the expulsion of Christians from Rome. This corresponds with the account in the book of Acts.
  • Pliny the Younger, a Roman authority and administrator, writes of the early Christian community in Asia Minor.

Testimony From Hostile Eyewitnesses:

  • The enemies of Christianity (the Jewish and Roman authorities) did not try to contradict the claims of Christianity, especially the resurrection, but instead tried to offer other explanations: Matthew 28:12-15 speaks of the Jewish leaders plotting and paying off the guards to tell people that Jesus’ body was stolen. Similar stories are still used today by many orthodox Jews and Muslims.
  • There were early Roman, Greek, and Jewish historians like Josephus who wrote of these events but did not claim to be part of the Christian movement.
  • The conversion and confession by Jesus’ half brothers after His resurrection, especially James, who before the resurrection were hostile to His claims of being the Messiah.
  • The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee that persecuted the early Christians, who became the Apostle Paul and author of most of the New Testament Epistles.
  • Both James, the half brother of Jesus, and Paul had nothing to gain and everything to lose by becoming Christians.

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

Creedal Importance:

The early creeds give evidence to the fact that Christianity believed what it believes today very early on, nothing was added or taken away. By studying the creeds we can take the foundational belief all the way back to within a few years following Jesus’ death and resurrectionThese creeds are additional confirmation that what the authors of the New Testament wrote was based on eyewitness evidence in the first century.

The Nicene Creed (325 A.D.)

We believe [1] in one God [2], the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth [3], of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father [4]; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation [5] he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary [6, 7] and became truly human [8] . For our sake he was crucified [9] under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again [10] in accordance with the Scriptures [11]; he ascended into heaven [12] and is seated at the right hand of the Father [13]. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead [14] , and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified [15], who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church [16]. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins [17]. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

“The first Creed:” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (c. mid 40 A.D.)

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me…

Some scholars can take this creed back to within a year or two of Jesus’ resurrection. This creed is evidence that the belief Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day was already a standard. The Christian faith and its foundational tenants were never added centuries laters, they were there right from the beginning.

eye and crime scene tape

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:

Bible with Proverbs 30a %22Every Word of God proves true%22

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 this year 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

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.