Resurrection Witnesses Lived More Than Half A Century
by Jason Engwer
Resurrections, both in the sense of resuscitation and in the higher sense of transformation into an immortal state, are often considered the greatest of the miracles attributed to Jesus and the apostles. But the documents that attribute those miracles to them are often dated to the closing decades of the first century or later. I’ve argued elsewhere that three of the gospels and Acts were written in the mid sixties or earlier. But even if we dated them to later decades, would their testimony about resurrections be too late to be credible? One way of approaching that issue is to ask how many resurrection witnesses would still have been alive in those later decades.
The claims of resurrection come from a large number and variety of sources, and the claims are placed in highly public settings. There’s no effort to explain a lack of evidence by claiming that the resurrections were more private. Jesus’ reputation as somebody who raised the dead in Matthew 11:5 comes in the midst of a context unlikely to be made up (the doubts of John the Baptist) and is often considered early Q material. (See the discussion in Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], 333-34, where he mentions that most scholars accept the historicity of Jesus’ comments in Matthew 11:5-6.) The raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) is highly public. Its public nature is mentioned frequently and emphatically (7:11-12, 7:17-18, 7:24). Paul refers to hundreds of witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). And so on.
Most of the witnesses of these resurrections would have been dead well before the closing of the first century. But it’s likely, upfront, that some would have lived into the last decades of the first century and the early decades of the second.
There’s a lot of evidence that…