Den of Lambs

Christian Defense of the Faith


March 2016

What Did The Disciples See?

Skeptical German New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann concludes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” 1

‘And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ 1 Corinthians 15:14-19

Have you ever been asked how you came to your belief that Jesus was raised from the dead? Until a few years ago, I just took it on faith. As my circle of influence began to include younger generations and children that were growing into their teens, the patent answer was no longer acceptable. Although the inner working of the Holy Spirit is all I need; in order to discuss and evangelize, to a more ‘scientistic, verificationist, or intellectual’ audience, I again lean on the historicity of scripture to fortify my claims. We can even use the Bible, not as the inspired Word of God but as a collection of independent, ancient, historical documents.

Some arguments, as put forth by many notable Christian apologists are as follows:

1) On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. Paul listed eyewitnesses. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to his chief disciple Peter, then to the inner circle of disciples known as the Twelve; then he appeared to a group of 500 disciples at once, then to his younger brother James, who up to that time was apparently not a believer, then to all the apostles. Finally, Paul adds, “he appeared also to me,” at the time when Paul was still a persecutor of the early Jesus movement (I Cor. 15.5-8).

Given the early date of Paul’s information as well as his personal acquaintance with the people involved, these appearances cannot be dismissed as mere legends The appearance narratives in the Gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of the appearances. For example, the appearance to Peter is attested by Luke and Paul; the appearance to the Twelve is attested by Luke, John, and Paul; and the appearance to the women is attested by Matthew and John.

The appearance narratives span such a breadth of independent sources that it cannot be reasonably denied that the earliest disciples did have such experiences.

2) According to the Criterion of Embarassment, Jesus’ appearance to women would make it highly unlikely that these appearances were contrived. Of course, the patent retort to these facts is, “The disciples accounts were hallucinations.”

Firstly, Jesus was not just seen on one occasion but on many occasions. Not just by one individual but by many persons. Not just by single persons but by actual groups of people. Not at one locale and circumstance but in many different places and under many different circumstances. This wide variety of circumstances, people, locale, and so forth, I think, simply makes the hallucination hypothesis quite improbable.

Secondly, These appearances were clearly physical and bodily appearances.

Thirdly, had the disciples seen hallucinations of Jesus, they would have seen hallucinations of Jesus glorified in Abrahams bosom or in paradise. According to Jewish teaching, this is where the souls of the righteous dead went to be with God when they died.

Finally, the hallucination hypothesis says nothing to explain the fact of the empty tomb.

So, What did the disciples see? They saw and experienced the risen King, the Lord of Lords, our Savior, and Salvation. Jesus Christ, for He has risen!

[1] Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.

Are The Alleged Discrepancies In The New Testament A Problem?

However one looks at the alleged discrepancies within the four gospels, it is evident from these alleged discrepancies that perfect agreement was not a condition of acceptance when deciding which books should be included in the  New Testament.    The term referring to the fact that certain parallel passages within the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and sometimes in the fourth gospel (John) which report the same events sometimes describe them differently is often referred to as the “synoptic problem.”  Most of the differences are insignificant but some are not.  Certain differences have led some scholars to argue that there are serious discrepancies, maybe even outright contradictions, between the gospels.

Many New Testament scholars maintain that plausible harmonizations can be found for all alleged discrepancies among the gospels.[1]  However, the point is that alleged discrepancies do exist, and scholars have found it necessary to work at ways of finding harmonizations.  Obviously, if agreement had been the deciding condition, we would only have one gospel, cutting the problem of alleged discrepancies off at the knees. So, in spite of these differences, these gospel records were all included by the earliest Christians because they were early eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.  Agreement was not the primary criteria for canonicity; apostolic connection was.

The more one investigates the process of canonicity, the more evident this fact becomes.  One document that was considered for acceptance, called The Acts of Paul, showed up around A.D. 200 and found appeal because of its assumed authorship by Paul.  This Greek Manuscriptdocument advocated total abstinence from sexual relations even for married people, and included a story of Paul baptizing an eighteen-foot tall lion.  In the end, it was rejected and the early church leader, Tertullian of Carthage, tells why.  Its origins were examined and it was discovered that the author was neither the apostle Paul, nor anyone acquainted with the original disciples.  The actual author was a church elder forty years or more after St. Paul was martyred.  In the end this particular document was rejected because it became clear that it was not written by Paul, nor by any other apostle.[2]

What were the criteria used by early Christians in determining which documents were authoritative and should be included in the New Testament?  American New Testament scholar, Timothy Paul Jones asserts that the early Christians based their decisions on two basic criteria.  First, earlier is better, and second, eyewitness accounts had priority.  As eye-witnesses, the original disciples’ (later called apostles, or ones sent out) writings were highly valued by the earliest Christians.[3]

The teaching and writings of people who actually saw and spent time with Jesus, especially the original disciples, carried special weight.  When Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, needed to be replaced, the condition for approval was clearly spelled out. “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus–” Acts 1:21.

Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, who had been a disciple of John, writing a short time later, in approximately A.D. 110, reiterated his own close adherence to these two criteria in the way he questioned those who showed up claiming to have a word from God.  “I ask,” he said, “what Andrew or Peter said, or. . .Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s followers.”[4]

Of course, being an eye-witness is of utmost importance.  As Timothy Paul Jones puts it, “the people most likely to know the truth about Jesus were either eyewitnesses who had encountered Jesus personally or close associates of these eyewitnesses.”[5]  So while the Christian community wrestled for the first few centuries of its existence with the question of which writings were authoritative, their goal was simple, to establish which documents could be connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus and, thus, were early.

When reading the New Testament, we can praise God that we have not one, but four eye-witness accounts of the teachings, actions, responses, and even private conversations of Jesus of Nazareth contained in the earliest, best attested, piece of ancient literature that the world has ever known.

[1] For further discussions on the issue of synoptic harmonizations, see New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels 2nd ed (Downers Grove: Intervarsity press, ____),____.

[2] To learn more about Tertullian’s report, see A. Hilhorst, “Tertullian on The Acts of Paul,” in The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, ed. Jan N. Bremmer (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1996), 56-60, 157-161.  See also Jones, Timothy Paul.  Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrmann’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’.  (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 131-132.

[3] Jones, Timothy Paul.  Misquoting Truth, 81.

[4] This is quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 3.39.

[5] Jones, 126-127.

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