Soon after Jesus’s crucifixion, were traditional witnesses testifying that Jesus appeared to them alive from the dead?

  • Question

    a surprised crowd with a speech bubble containing jesus with arms open

    Jesus was crucified in c. AD 30, but within days (or months, or a few years max) masses of his followers were proclaiming in creedal-statement fashion that Jesus resurrected and appeared to the apostles, James, and so forth. Since the creed listing witnesses was evangelistic, it naturally omit the embarrassing first witnesses of Jesus (women), but a variety of further biographies do record their being the first. Whether or not all these alleged witnesses really saw anything, were these named persons at least truly proclaiming in c. AD 30 that a medically alive Jesus had just appeared to them after his death (and c. AD 32 for Paul)?

  • Historians

    • Gary Habermas & Michael Licona: “[t]here is a virtually unanimous consensus among scholars today who hold that Jesus’ original disciples said that he appeared to them risen from the dead.” [The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregal, 2004), 55.]
    • See quotes from historians and standard works agreeing that the traditional witnesess were at least ‘not lying’ about their belief that Jesus appeared to them. This of course entails that the same historians and standard works take for granted that the apostles were in fact claiming Jesus appeared to them.
“Yes, after all…
  • * E.g. “He visited us!” says Mary & women

    A woman kneels grabbing on to the robe of Jesus who is facing her. Another woman is in check behind them.

    A group of women followers of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene among them, were testifying that Jesus had group-appeared to them alive from the dead.

    This page analyzes 5 reasons to agree:

    • AD 30-35 Christians were saying, “Jesus visited Mary & the women!’, and at this early phase in the church, Mary Magdalene was prominent, influential, easy to consult, likely regularly consulted, and so almost certainly regulated rumors about herself; nothing circulated for long without her approval, and if she did approve of say/approve a rumor having to do with her involving with Jesus then it would circulate rapidly.
    • The Mary-visit reports spew witness-based content, e.g. in how the female witnesses of Jesus at the empty tomb were carefully listed by Mt and Jn, or how reports which at first appear in tension, but turn out to harmonize well (in an uncontrived way--like the proverbial mice describing differeing parts of the elephant, or instances of verisimilitude and peculiar vividness, or pecuiliar/memorable detail that didn't serve the story). And if it does spew witness-based content, as the gospels in general do, then we should be biased towards thinking thiis too is truly witness-based.
    • Both Matthew and John checked “Jesus visited Mary!” with Mary, which was something they seemed to do in general with their historical reports, as did Greco-roman biographers in general (at least if witnesses were available). Mary was particularly accessible to anyone who wanted to hear from her, and inventing rumors about her was particularly dangerous; misrepresenting Mary was a quick way to get one's gospel rejected by the community. In general, several indicators suggest the appearance report was not just a brute fabrication. But if Matthew and John checked with Mary (directly or indirectly), then the report of them witnessing Jesus appear to them reflected what they themselves were saying.
    • The visit reports formed honestly (not a lie/legend). The report is demonstrably much too early, it super-fits the time and place in a way that best fits historical reporting, and the report in general was quite undesirable to Christians--they simply wouldn't invent it if they had the choice, and certainly not with the contours we find in it (e.g. with no men accompanying them). Moreover, if it was a lie, it would've been caught and the liars behind it would've been shunned, meaning the story both wouldn't exist, but also it is unlikely that any Christian with the requisite standing would try to risk inventing it. In general, Christians in this early phase of Christianity were subject to rather stringent rumor-quelling measures.
    • The “Visited Mary!” report is a Jerusalem church teaching, which we know because of how early the report is (and the authoritative role of the 1st church in this early phase), the general evidence that early christian teachings fit within what the Jerusalem church was teaching, and how in AD 30-70 the Jerusalem church in particular was the fount of Mary traditions (e.g. because she was was a celebrated member there). Complaints about 1 Cor 15, Lk 24, & Mk 16 lacking the appearance-to-Mary report end up not being convincing at all. The Jerusalem church is highly unlikely to have misrepresented Mary who, again, was a member there, so the Jerusalem church teaching Jesus appeared to Mary is strong evidence that Mary herself was in agreement, and likely actively recounting it to groups on a regular basis. Early churches gathered on Sundays to faithfully remember Jesus and these foundational events, after all, where involved witness-members like Mary and their story-telling would be treasured.

    This helps show that the traditional witnesses were testifying to Jesus's appearing to them for the obvious reason: it's a straightforward example of a traditional witness—in fact a group of witnesses including Mary and the other women—all testifying to experiencing it first hand.

    But no…

    So what? Plausibly…

    • Mary’s group was lying.
    • Mary’s group just saw a hallucination of Jesus.

    Or in general…

  • * E.g. “He visited us!” says Cleopas & co

    Cleopas and his traveling companion (on the road to Emmaus) were testifying that Jesus appeared to them along the way.

    See this page to explore 5 arguments:

    • In general, Luke inherits his accounts from eyewitnesses, so we can feel similarly confident—by default—that this account ultimamtely came from the relevant eyewitness/eyewitnesses.
    • In AD 30, the Jerusalem church said so, and the early Church's teachings echoed the authentic testimony of the relevantly involved witnesses (in this case, Cleopas and co) who controlled and regulated the popular stories spread about themselves.
    • 1st church strove to reject Jesus-bio not vetted by witnesses,[Forthcoming], and if this story did not really come from Cleopas then the lie would have been exposed quickly and easily enough.
    • The account is not ultimately a lie/legend, and if it is not a lie nor legend, then the only viable alternative left for its existence is that it is authentic witness testimony from Cleopas and co.
    • Ps. Mk 16:12-13 approved “Cleopas thinks he did!”[Forthcoming], and this source is not entirely devoid of merit; it was obviously considered a credible story for him or his independent sources/community.

    That Cleopas and his companion were testifying to seeing Jesus appear to them helps establish our big claim that witnesses were saying Jesus appeared to them. Why? Because it's a straightforward example of it.

    So what? Perhaps…

    • Cleopas and co were lying.
    • Cleopas and co hallucinated.

    Or in general…

  • * E.g. “He visited me!” says Peter

    The apostle Peter was going around proclaming and publicly maintaining that Jesus individually appeared to him, alive from the dead, after Jesus was crucified and buried.

    This page considers these 4 arguments:

    Peter's proclaiming that Jesus appeared to him individually is relevant to this page because it is another straightforward example of a traditional witness testifying that Jesus visited them alive from the dead.

    But so what? Plausibly… (All forthcoming)

    • Peter was lying.
    • Peter hallucinated.
    • Peter suffered a delusion.

    Or in general…

  • * E.g. “He visited us!” say ‘the 12’ apostles

    Jesus’s apostles (“the 12”) claimed Jesus appeared to them as a group.

    One upcoming page will debate these 14 examples/evidences:

    • E.g. To 10+ after Emmaus.
    • E.g. To 11 (now with Thomas).
    • E.g. To 7 @ Lake Tiberius.
    • E.g. To many @ Mt Galilee.
    • E.g. To many for 40 days.
    • Jerusalem church: “They say He visited”.
    • Paul knew Peter etc.
    • Mk's author knew Peter etc.
    • Lk's author knew Peter etc.
    • Mt's author knew Peter etc.
    • Jn's author knew Peter etc.
    • Clement knew Peter
    • The Corinthians knew Peter
    • No trace of dispute

    This is relevant because it's a straightforward example of a traditional group of witnesses testifying that Jesus appeared to them alive from the dead.

    But no… (all forthcoming)

    • Mark narrates no appearance to them.

    So what? Plausibly…

    • The apostles lying.
    • The apostles just saw a hallucination of Jesus.

    Or in general…

  • * E.g. “He group-visited us!” say 100-500 “brethren”

    A known group of hundreds of brethren (e.g. 500) were publicly maintaining that Jesus visited them collectively as a group after his crucifixion.

    One upcoming page will debate these 3 arguments:

    • E.g. 1 Cor 15:6 creed's “to 500” relays witness testimony.
    • 1st church: “Jesus visited the 500!”.
    • “The 500” = the Galilee witnesses (Mt 28)

    But no...

    • It is not mentioned elsewhere. (forthcoming)

    But so what? Plausibly… (all forthcoming)

    • The 500 were lying.
    • The 500 hallucinated.
    • The 500 collectively suffered a delusion.

    Or in general…

  • * E.g. “He visited me!” says James

    James was testifying that Jesus appeared to him shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion.

    A full page will discuss these 5 arguments:

    • 1 Cor 15 is was formed by the AD 30 Jerusalem church.
    • The 1st church affirmed 1 Cor 15:7 “appeared to James.”
    • Paul says Jesus appeared to James.
    • James was willing to die for his faith in Christ.
    • James soon became the leader of the church.

    But so what? Plausibly… (all forthcoming)

    • James was lying.
    • James hallucinated.
    • James suffered a delusion.

    Or in general…

  • * E.g. “He visited us!” say Acts 1 apostle-competitors

    The competitors for being the 12th apostle, referred to in Acts 1, consists of a large pool of well-known witnesses to the risen Jesus, including the finalists: “Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias”.1 , 2

    But so what? Plausibly… (all forthcoming)

    1. Acts 1:21-26Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.... And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
    2. Importantly, this group consisted of men. But women and children would've also been witnesses who were simply left out of the competition due to their age and gender.
      Timothy and Lydia McGrew: “In passing we should note that the election of Matthias supports Paul’s contention (1 Corinthians 15:1–8) that Jesus after his resurrection appeared to a larger number of people than the eleven. The account in Acts shows that despite some fairly specific requirements, Peter has his pick among candidates for Judas’s replacement: … The disciples appoint Matthias and Joseph called Justus to be the finalists, and they draw lots for Judas’s vacant position. Not only does this account give us the name of another putative witness (Joseph), it also can plausibly be taken to imply that there were more to choose from originally who met the requirements (cf. Trites 2004, p. 137).” [“The Argument from Miracles” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell, 2009), 610-611.]
  • * E.g. “He visited me!” says Paul

    Jesus appears with arms raised, a halo over his head, with beams radiating out. Falling down in front of Jesus is a surprised man.

    Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was publicly proclaiming, “Jesus appeared to me alive from the dead!”

    This page analyzes these 5 arguments:

    • The Jerusalem church taught “Paul says this.”
    • In 1 Cor 9:1, Paul says “Have I not seen”?
    • In 1 Cor 15:8f, Paul says “He appeared to me”
    • Acts 9, 22, 26 etc. say so
    • In Gal 1:16, Paul says “revealed his son to me”

    But so what? Plausibly…

    • Paul was lying, deceptively claiming to have seen Jesus appear to while while being quite aware that he saw no such thing.
    • Paul hallucinated, seeing a subjective vision of Jesus produced by his own mind.
    • Paul suffered a delusion or false memory, thinking he saw Jesus despite having no experience at all (not even a misleading one!).

    Or in general…

  • 1st church’s Jesus-bio matched witness testimony

    The 1st church was saying Jesus visited the traditional witnesses.

    This page discusses these 6 examples:

    • E.g. 1st church said: “Jesus visited Mary.”
    • E.g. 1st church said: “Jesus visited cleopas & co.”
    • E.g. 1st church said: “Jesus appeared to Peter.”
    • E.g. 1st church said: “Jesus visited the 12.”
    • E.g. 1st church says, “Jesus appeared to James.”
    • E.g. 1st church says, “Jesus appeared to the 500.”

    This is relevant if the 1st church started and kept preaching that Jesus appeared to witnesses (e.g. Mary and the apostles).

    But so what? Plausibly...

    • The 1st church wasn’t saying Jesus appeared to named persons. (Forthcoming)
  • The gospels relayed witness testimony

    In writing about Jesus's life and deeds, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John adeptly relayed information only from eyewitness testimony (directly or indirectly).

    This page evaluates these 7 arguments:

    • Justin Maryr oft calls the gospels apostolic “memoirs.”
    • The gospels claimed to be witness based.
    • 60+ year old events didn't elude ancient historians.
    • In AD 70, witness-based Jesus facts perfected.
    • The gospel authors didn't lie-invent Jesus-bio.
    • AD 70 historiographers got witness-approval or close.
    • Gospel content is a subset of what witnesses say.

    This helps show the traditional witnesses were in fact testifying to having seen Jesus appear to them because the Gospels relayed that “Jesus visited named persons x,y,z” (filled in by the traditional witnesses: Mary, Peter, etc.).

    But no… (Forthcoming)

    • 1st hand info can’t be stylized.
    • Mt and Lk relayed info from Mk and Q, not witnesses.
    • Gospels are full of lies/invention.