The Eyewitnesses

by Brett Kunkle

In I Corinthians 15, Paul lists six specific individuals or groups who are reported to have been eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. But are these reports credible? A brief assessment of each account seems to provide good reasons to think that these reports are reliable.

Paul’s first eyewitness is the apostle Peter. Interestingly, the Gospels do not give a detailed account of Jesus’ appearance to Peter. In light of this fact, are there other reasons to trust its historicity? From the earlier examination of I Corinthians 15:3ff and Paul’s visit with Peter in Galatians 1:18, one can be assured that Paul received a first-hand account of Peter’s testimony, which he vouches for in I Corinthians 15. In addition, Luke confirms the appearance to Peter in Luke 24:33-34: “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, ‘The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.’” Thus, as William Lane Craig observes, “even the most skeptical [New Testament] critics agree that Peter saw something that he called an appearance of Jesus alive from the dead.”[1]

Secondly, Paul records that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. Considered the most reliable appearance account by scholars, it is confirmed in the Gospels by Luke 24:36-42 and John 20:19-20. The agreement in these independent records attests to their historical reliability. As a result, this event is well-attested to by early Christian tradition, Paul’s confirmation of the report after having spent time with the Twelve, and both Luke and John’s records in the Gospel material.

Thirdly, and quite remarkably, Paul records the fact that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once. Nowhere else in the New Testament is this occurrence mentioned, but this fact casts no doubt upon its reliability. Indeed, it seems incomprehensible that Paul could have invented this material with the majority of eyewitnesses alive to confirm or deny the accuracy of his account. Immediately following his mention of the 500 eyewitnesses, Paul says that “most of [them] remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” As C. H. Dodd comments, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the 500 are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘the witnesses are there to be questioned.’”[2]

The next eyewitness account on Paul’s list comes from James, the younger brother of Jesus. This appearance is notable for the fact that…

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The Eyewitnesses – Stand to Reason Blog