Monday, May 7, 2012

Did Jesus' friends claim they met with him after he died? (Note #2)

 (As I said in the last post, this is the series of Facebook notes I started during Easter Weekend. The homework started to pile on, so I didn't get to finish the series during Easter. Here, I post the Facebook notes as I posted them back then in order. The only difference is, I will actually continue the series now lol.)


In accordance with the Easter weekend, I continue the investigation into the resurrection of Jesus. In the previous note, we saw that Jesus died by crucifixion. After all, if Jesus wasn't dead, then he can't raise from the dead. However, in this post, we will see that after Jesus died, his followers actively proclaimed the message of his resurrection.

This is actually the most accepted fact regarding the events surrounding the death of Jesus. Indeed, after counting 2,000 publications on the historical Jesus in French, German, and English, Dr. Gary Habermas discovered that over 99% of New Testament historians claim that "the disciples had experiences which they believed to be appearances of the risen Jesus." This includes the majority of skeptical scholars. (1) In this post, I want to simply establish that they claimed Jesus was alive and that they met with him. (I will address whether or not they actually told the truth in another post.)

Sources for the Proclamation of the Resurrection and Appearances

Using comparison to the sources supporting Caesar's assassination, which we saw in the previous post, the claim to the appearances by the disciples is a very strongly evidenced historical fact. Below, I will list all of the sources for the appearances, and put the most liberal dates next to them. (2)

1) Matthew (traditionally considered to be eyewitness)
2) Luke (claims to have consulted "eyewitnesses") -
3) Acts (written by Luke; documents public speeches where disciples proclaim Jesus alive) - (speeches earlier than Acts, which is 30-50) (Mike Licona's dating for Kerygma in a debate, usually concedes late dating for stuff in debates)
4) John (claims to be an eyewitness) - < 100 A.D.
5) Paul (claims to have spoken with Jesus disciples and Jesus brother) - 50's A.D.
6) Ancient Creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 - (35 A.D.)
7) Polycarp (knew one of the disciples) - 100's AD
8) Clement (knew one of the disciples) - 100's AD

The fact that the disciples at least claimed they had seen Jesus alive after he was dead is strongly supported as far as ancient history is concerned. In fact, compared to Caesar's assassination on the Senate floor in Rome, the disciples' claim to the appearances is very well evidenced. Furthermore, keep in mind that it doesn't matter if they contain contradictory details. Many eyewitness accounts do this. In addition, the records of Caesar's assassination themselves contain contradictions on the last words of Caesar, but are still regarded as a valuable source of historical information.

The Earliest Source in Ancient History 

Since the creed in 1 Corinthians is the earliest source in all of ancient history and so close to the event, it behooves us to take a look at what it said:

"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, 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 also, as to one abnormally born." (Paul; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

The author of 1 Corinthians, Paul, implies he "received" this material from someone else. In another letter, Galatians, he talks about how he repeatedly met with the Jerusalem disciples who approved of his gospel message. He likely received the creed when talking to the disciples themselves. (2) In this creed we see:

1) 1 appearance to Peter
2) 2 appearances to the group of the disciples
3) 1 appearance to James
4) 1 appearance to 500 people
5) 1 unusual appearance to Paul (post glorification of Jesus)

Speeches about the Resurrection in Acts

Other early accounts of the resurrection appearances can be seen below:

 "He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." (Peter to a Roman Centurion and his family - Acts 10:41)

 "This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (Peter to a crowd - sourced in Acts 2:23-24

 "Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it." (Peter to a crowd - same speech as previous paragraph; sourced in Acts 2:29-32)

The Gospel Appearance Traditions

However, the most lengthy sources are in the gospels. You can read them here.


Renowned New Testament scholar NT Wright notes several things about the gospel accounts (3):

1) They are largely free of Old Testament references, whereas the rest of the gospel narratives are usually full of them. This implies a lack of literary embellishment on the appearance traditions.
2) Unlike other Christian sources in the New Testament, they fail to mention the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the believers resurrection at the end of time. This also implies a lack of literary or theological embellishment.
3) These narratives never show Jesus as "glowing" or "heavenly" looking. This shows that the narratives are in contrast to Jewish literature about afterlife, but really want to portray him as raised from the dead, without theological embellishment.
4) In the same account, the resurrection body of Jesus eats fish, but can move through closed doors. Such modifications to Jewish belief about resurrection require a very unique explanation.


It is without question that Jesus' own friends claimed that he had been raised from the dead. It is also evident that their main line of support for this is that they met with him after his death. All of these are very good reasons to accept that the disciples proclaimed the resurrection very early on. As mentioned before, this is the most widely accepted belief among critical historians.

But what is a "resurrection?" What does "raised from the dead" imply?  Does it really mean a guy got up out of his tomb and walked around? Or is it merely some kind of disembodied vision? Or just a warm religious experience of Jesus? To this historical question we shall turn next.....

2) Most of these found in "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus" by Dr. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona

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