A. Resurrection to bible: How big’s the gap?
- Revelation, 95 AD
- 1,2,3 John 85-90 AD
- Hebrews 68-70 AD
- 2 Timothy 66/67 AD
- 2 Peter 64/65 AD
- Acts 66/68 AD
- Jude 65 AD
- 1 Peter 64/65 AD
- Titus 64 AD
- 1 Timothy 64 AD
- Luke 61-64 AD
- Matthew 61-64 AD
- Philippians 61 AD
- Philemon 60 AD
- Colossians 60 AD
- Ephesians 60 AD
- Mark 58/60 AD
- Romans 57 AD
- 1.2 Corinthians 55 AD
- 1,2 Thessalonians 51/52 AD
- James 49 AD
- Galatians 49 AD
These are the dates of the New Testament books deduced through levels of acceptance over the years, see the accompanying article for each one. The most significant benchmark here will be Galatians or James in 49 AD for which in the articles gives a breakdowns of the dates. Galatians is written in the context of pre-Jerusalem council which was 50AD due to the nature of the content. Stephen was killed by Saul/Paul not long after Pentecost and sooner after led to his conversion. Then Galatians gives us the timeline to the Jerusalem council
- In Gal 1:17, Paul describes his stay in Arabia and Damascus after his conversion. He says that after three years he went to Jerusalem (Gal 1:19), an event corresponding to Acts 9:26-29, which we have dated to 36 A.D.
- +3 years (36AD)
- He then returned to Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9:30, Gal 1:21). His next return to Jerusalem was 14 years later, with Barnabas (Acts 11:30, Gal 2:1), in 49 A.D.
- +14 years (49-50AD)
Scholars generally agree with this conclusion, even sceptics are sure of Paul writing Galatians early.
So if Paul takes us back to 16 years of the cross (19 years for some holding to 30AD resurrection, regardless this doesn’t matter), which is incredible in itself compared to anything else from antiquity, how to we close this gap which is the length of now to the turn of the millennium? (I’m writing in 2019, by the way).
Well the first way will be investigating Paul. Yes we know the date of his earliest letter, but in his timeline of going back, he tells us when he first receives information given him.
This leads us toward oral reciteable creeds, which Paul takes full advantage of quoting in his letters, where are they? Can we find them? Where do the people who look at the creeds date them historically?
And Importantly, behind the creeds is the issue of Oral Tradition, is it reliable? Could the words coming out from Pentecost prior and before still be known today? Was there such an oral culture in place or would it distort like the modern form of the telephone game, or as it’s awkwardly named in the UK, “Chinese Whispers”?
These three loops in the chain help to establish the reliability of these sixteen years.
Prior to digging into these three factors, we will address some background information that will elaborate the nuances that paint the Rembrandt these early years portray.
1. What did they preach coming out from the cross?
1a Passage examples
Here are a few samples of speeches/talks given by Peter, Stephen, Paul and James. This gives you the feel for what they were saying coming out from the cross.
Acts 2:14–41 (NIV): Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 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. 24 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. 25 David said about him:
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 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. 31 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. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Acts 7:1–53 (NIV): Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin
7 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”
2 To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’
4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. 5 He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6 God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. 7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’ 8 Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
9 “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.
11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.
17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’ 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.
20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.
23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’
27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.
33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’
35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.
37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.
39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
“ ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.
44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 “ ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Acts 13:13–41 (NIV): Paul In Pisidian Antioch
13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”
16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:
“ ‘You are my son;
today I have become your father.’
34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,
“ ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’
35 So it is also stated elsewhere:
“ ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’
36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’”
Acts 15:13–21 (NIV): James & the Jerusalem Council
When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “ ‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’ —
18 things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
For more on these sermons given, see the chart below for more instances, many from Peter and Paul.
Summary of key teachings
I have made a summarised attempt of some of the key ideas expressed in these sermons. This won’t include all of Christian belief obviously, this is why people like Paul wrote letters to go into depth. But what we want to see are what are those essentials that the disciples preached coming out of the gate. Even if the sermons were longer (The Sermon on the mount was likely not 7 minutes long for example), What were the highlights, the key topics? Which no doubt have been drilled down in the Epistles to follow.
Essential Christian Doctrine preached we can pull
- Jesus existed
- Jesus’ Deity
- Jesus’ Death
- Jesus’ Resurrection
- Jesus is the Jewish Messiah
- Old Testament as the way to understand Jesus
- Fulfillment of Old Testament scripture
- Confession of sins with repentance
- Salvation in Jesus alone
- Resurrected body of Jesus seen by eyewitnesses
- Creator of everything
1b message structure
So what was the general structure of the messages coming out of the gate then? If we were to simplify it, it would be something like this.
The message is simple. We are sinners, God is just, who here is perfectly good? Even one? If we’re all honest with ourselves, none of us is perfect. If heaven is a place where sinless people go, we havn’t got much of a chance.
Christ Jesus was God in the flesh, sinless and took on our sins. He bore humanities temptations and passed the ultimate test and died so that we could have that bridge to God and it be made plain to us. God has been preparing throughout the Old Testament a saviour that would save the people of the past and the people of the future in the only way possible with all other factors in play still (such as free will/choice).
Through Jesus, we can have eternal life with God freely, without the weight of sin on our shoulders. We will live in a restored world with no more pain, suffering and trivialities.
God calls us to respond to our needs through Christ Jesus, our hope who is the rescue mission to our fallen natures. He calls us not to follow a thousand rituals, but to come to him, to turn away and repent from your past life and work with God not for God until that hope transcends to full reality.
2. What did they use?
So we understand the basic message, We can see the doctrine they laid on the line in their words. What did these New Testament preachers use? Here we will look at the use of the Old Testament, their direct eyewitness testimony to the Gospel they proclaim and what imparted knowledge God provided to assist the work of the Apostles.
2a Old Testament notes
Jesus believed the Old Testament was inspired
All the evidence points to Jesus sharing the traditional Jewish view of the Old Testament as inspired by God. He believe that God himself stood behind the human officer scriptures. This comes through strongly in all the gospel material.
In Mark 12:36 In a discussion, Jesus makes his point depend on the inspiration of the scripture. ” For David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared” and he goes on to quote psalm 110:1.
In Mark 7:13 Jesus declared that the pharisees were making the word, not primarily of Moses but of God, ineffective by prioritising their tradition.
John 5:36 – 47, particularly significant because the Eternal destiny of the heroes is under discussion, Jesus refers to the scriptures as The God-given Witness to himself, of Greater importance than either John the baptists testimony about him all the Miracles that he himself performed. Jesus says to the pharisees, who were strong Believers in the inspiration of scripture, “you search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is there that they’re witness to me; get you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The pharisees made Moses and his writings the hope; but Moses wrote prophetically of Jesus.
Perhaps the most crucial example of Jesus’s attitude to the Old Testament comes in Matthew 19: 4, 5. It is all the more impressive because it is so natural. Jesus is quoting the words of Genesis 2: 24, which constitute a comment passed by the author of Genesis, and yet Jesus describes the word to God himself. “Have you not read that he who made them said for this reason a man shall leave his father and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” Clearly Jesus regarded this statement of Genesis as deriving from God himself, even though the Genesis account does not directly attribute it to God. In a word, as Jesus put it, “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10: 35). A word of scripture was a word of god.
And one final clear observation, whenever Jesus is in dialogue with the teachers of the law and scribes, not once do the teachers state that he is not using scripture, and Jesus quotes from most of the Old Testament books. The people of the day were in general agreement that Jesus quoted from reliable Old Testament scripture
- Jesus believed the Old Testament was inspired scripture
- Jesus made a distinction between tradition and scripture
- Jesus refers to the Old Testament as the God-given witness of himself
- Jesus used the scriptures the Jewish leaders knew were inspired
The Disciples used the Old Testament
It’s worth remembering that the New Testament Apostles didn’t have 27 books at the ready for them to use immediately, but they had an Old Testament that pointed to a Messiah who fulfilled Jewish prophecy (Reading through Matthew will tell you everything you need to know). And so The disciples would talk about how God moved through Abraham, Moses etc. But also look to passages like Isaiah about the suffering servant, passages by David on the promised king and put them together for their audiences to which Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of that story. The New Testament writers literally exist because the Old Testament demanded the second half be written and the time was now, in their generation. The Christian Apologist and Thinker Frank Turek gives a nice summary here.
“When you think about where the New Testament came from, it came out of Judaism, why would these Jewish believers who thought they were God’s chosen people invent a resurrected Jesus? What motivation would they have for that? Why would they invent this? They have no motivation at all, it makes no sense. If one of them were to say “we’re going to start a new religion, it’s going to get us kicked out of the synagogue, then we’ll get beaten, tortured and killed, do you think they’re going to be high on membership? No, there’s no motivation for Jews to invent a resurrected Jesus”.Frank Turek, Apologist, CrossExamined – Film: The God Who Speaks
To be referring to the Old Testament and putting the pieces may be one thing that’s rather incredible in of itself, but to claim to be eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of this incredible chapter, to say you saw this man claim to be the God of heaven and earth made flesh, a miracle worker over all nature and mankind, to claim to forgive sin, to rise from the dead. To say you saw all that requires an investigation into the power of their claims to be strong eyewitnesses, and we will do that here through a barrage of questions.
- Firstly, where are the claims to be eyewitnesses and are they consistent?
- Did they have a procedure for verifying authentic eyewitnesses?
- Arn’t there parts where these apostles couldn’t have been eyewitnesses?
- Could Christianity be motivation for something else?
Firstly, where are the claims to be eyewitnesses and are they consistent?
If you accept the plain reading of the text, the New Testament certainly contains eyewitness testimony. Notice how many times various apostles claim to be eyewitnesses:
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact (Acts 2: 32).
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this (Acts 3: 15).
Then [the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law] called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4: 18-20).
The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him (Acts 5: 30-32).
We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen (Acts 10: 39-40)
. . . . 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 Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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 (1 Cor. 15: 3-8).
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed (1 Pet. 5: 1).
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Pet. 1: 16).
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true (John 19: 33-35).
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book (John 20: 24-30).
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us (1 John 1: 1-2).
This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Heb. 2: 3-4).
“Peter in particular draws this contrast between myths, fables, legends versus eyewitness accounts. Peter says “We say this, we didn’t make up a story to make you feel better, we’re not just giving you the spirit of Christmas, or the inspiration of Easter, I was on the mountain, I saw Jesus Christ transfigured in glory, these are things we saw with our eyes, we heard with our ears, they happened, you can count on them” and that sets the Bible apart from almost everything else in the ancient world and its religious pantheon of Gods and Godesses because this good news is rooted in history, something that happened and based on a future then that will happen”.
Source: Kevin DeYoung, Pastor, Christ Covenant Church – Film: The God Who Speaks
In short, Peter, Paul, and John all claim to be eyewitnesses, and Luke and the writer of Hebrews claim to be informed by eyewitnesses. In addition, the New Testament writers name others who saw the Resurrection. Paul specifically lists 14 people whose names are known as eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (the 12 apostles, James, and himself) and claims that there were more than 500 others. Matthew and Luke confirm the appearances to the apostles. All four Gospels mention the women as witnesses, with Mark identifying them as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke adds Joanna. That’s four more. Acts 1 also reveals that Joseph called Barsabbas was an eyewitness (Acts 1: 23).
Did they have a procedure for verifying authentic eyewitnesses?
The Apostles clearly understood the gravity and importance of their testimony. The apostles recognized that their role in God’s plan was simply to tell others about their experiences with Jesus and their observations of His resurrection. It’s reasonable that people who saw themselves as critical eyewitnesses would be careful to protect the accuracy of their testimony. In the earliest years, their contribution came in the form of verbal testimony. If the Gospels were written early (the period in which the eyewitnesses actually lived), it is reasonable to expect that the witnesses would fact-check the content of their testimony as it was being told to others.
After the death of Judas, the criteria for being within the inner circle of Apostles was one involving eyewitness testimony. Early in Acts, Peter sets out the requirements of Judas’ replacement — Someone who followed Jesus from the time of John the Baptist, to the cross and a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. They were careful on the individual to be chosen as someone who was informed as the Apostles were from day one. Acts 1 tells us they had of 120 people to choose from.
In Luke’s Gospel, there is an extended introduction as to what qualifies as a source he can use for his Gospel. He also identifies in Luke 1 that many had testimony written/ready to speak about what Jesus said and did. Luke weaves through these eyewitness testimonies to present an accurate account of all that has happened with likely, Peter (Mark’s Gospel) as a major source for testimony which would make sense, since Peter’s the lead disciple and could share personal stories and teachings Jesus taught them. Acts 1, as previously mentioned, informs us that have a good 120 eyewitnesses on the side, perhaps more, would be very helpful when it would come to gathering nuanced information (Information about Herod meeting the wise men for example, gathered by the manager of Herod’s household who since became a believer).
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”Luke 1: 1-2
- The disciples had a criteria involving eyewitness testimony and an extended timeline of walking with Jesus
- Luke in his Gospel and Acts had an eyewitness criteria that he could check against to make sure his Gospel was consistent with what was known and could weed out any stories not consistently held by the eyewitnesses or contrary to what was known by the disciples
Aren’t there parts where these Apostles couldn’t have been eyewitnesses?
The book of Acts tells us that there were as many as 120 eyewitnesses in the upper room following Jesus’s ascension (Acts 1: 15). This immediately is a potential key into the eyes and ears when they weren’t with Jesus. Though it can be said in some circumstances, like when Jesus was in the wilderness, this was probably shared at some point with the disciples, but definitely by the time Jesus was with them for 40 days following the ascension teaching and telling them about the Kingdom of God.
The other type of information could come from eyewitnesses who’ve become followers of Jesus and picked up information on the way.
The crucifixion (except for John), burial and the first witnesses of the empty tomb are done by the disciples, they are absent. So who were these eyewitnesses to these crucial events after all the remaining disciples fled in the Garden and Peter denied Jesus three times?
This is where Simon of Cyrene comes in, Simons story would likely have reached Mark. Other examples would be the women disciples. All three are named at the cross, Two are named at the burial, there could easily be three with one unnamed. All three are named at the empty tomb. The women constantly have verbs attached to them
- They “watched” him crucified
- They “saw” where he was laid
- They “saw” where the stone was rolled away
- They “saw” the young man sitting on the right side and are invited to see where Jesus was laid
It could hardly be clearer that their place in the narrative is as eyewitnesses. The more you look, the more often you notice instances like this. Another example would be the manager of Herod’s household becomes a follower of Jesus and there you have information about Herod’s conversations. All like pieces of a larger puzzle.
Could Christianity be motivation for something else?
The now Christian Cold Case Detective, J.Warner Wallace as investigator knows there are three motivations for every homicide. Ruling out plain lying will become prevalent in the three answers, but generally If they knew everything was a lie, why would they commit to a life of torture?
Some murders result from a botched robbery, other murders take place simply because they give the suspect a financial advantage. As an example, Wallace once worked a homicide committed by a husband who didn’t want his wife to receive a portion of his retirement.
Sexual of relational desire
Wallace also investigated a number of murders that were sexually (or relationally) motivated. Some sexual attackers murder their victims so they can’t testify later. Some murders occur for reasons as simple as a jealous boyfriend couldn’t bear to see his girlfriend dating another man.
Pursuit of power
And then some people commit murders to achieve or maintain a position of power or authority. It might be a rivalry between two people who are trying to get the same promotion. Others have killed simply because the victim dishonored or “disrespected” them in front of a group of peers.
Sex, money, and power are the motives for all the crimes detectives investigate. In fact, these three motives are also behind lesser sins as well. Think about the last time you did something you shouldn’t have. If you examine the motivation carefully, you’ll probably see that it fits broadly into one of these three categories. The presence of motive doesn’t always mean that a suspect actually committed the crime. Someone might have the motive to do something criminal, yet be able to resist the temptation to act. On the flip side, however, defense attorneys often cite the lack of motive when they are making a case for their client’s innocence. “Why would my client have done such a thing when it would not benefit him in any way?” That’s a fair question and one that we need to ask as we examine the claims of the apostles.
“Did the alleged eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry have an ulterior motive when writing the Gospels? Do we have any good reason to believe that the apostles were driven to lie by one of the three motives we have described? No. There is nothing in history (neither Christian history nor secular history) to suggest that the disciples had anything to gain from their testimony related to Jesus”Daniel Wallace, New Testament Textual Critic
The apostles were not driven by financial gain
- Many wrote about activities of ancient communities and none of these are seen as figures with material wealth
- The disciples repeatedly appear as men who were chased from location to location, continually abandoning whatever property they owned and vacating whatever homes they were borrowing. They were used to this lifestyle. Often they could not see their families
- They rejected material wealth in favour of eternal life. There were warnings that wealth could distract them from matters of truth and eternal life
- Poorly clothed
- Treated roughly
- Often hungry
- Peter couldn’t offer money to one he healed, clearly not that well off
- Paul wrote his letters far beyond his fame when he was known but to friends, sometimes he wrote to communities that didn’t know him
If they were lying for financial gain, then their plan was awful and failing
The Apostles were not driven by sex or relationships
- Some already had pre-existing relationships
- Church Fathers suggest that all but John was married
- Church Fathers claim Paul was married but did not take his wife on him on testifying journeys. They would preach without distraction
The apostles had a right to bring their wives with them on their journeys, and some may have done so. In any case, it is clear from both the biblical record and the non-biblical history that the apostles were careful to live their sexual lives in a manner that was beyond reproach. The most reasonable inference, given what we know about the lives of the apostles, is that sexual or relational desire was not the motive that drove these men to make the claims they made in the Gospels.
The Apostles were not driven by the pursuit of power
- The Apostles never had the power to protect themselves, like the 4th century Catholic Church
- They faced torture and brutality from those who held the power (Jewish leaders, Romans)
- Unquenchable rumours spread and about the first Christians and Roman emperor’s like Nero made examples of them
- It wasn’t until the 4th century Christianity was legal, as in, you could preach it without facing some form of government punishment
- Many of the Apostles, if not all, were martyred for what they believed by authorities (Except John, who was exiled by Roman authorities)
Some sceptics have argued that the apostles were motivated by a desire to be powerful within their individual religious communities. They will often point to the power that Christian leaders eventually had in Rome when Christianity became the state-sponsored religion in the fourth century. There is no doubt that the popes of the Roman Catholic Church eventually became incredibly powerful both religiously and politically. But when we examine the lives of the first-century apostles, they bear little resemblance to the lives of the Roman Catholic popes.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (pp. 239-246). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.
2c Jesus imparting knowledge
Jesus instructed them to remember during his lifetime as a Rabbi & the disciples were students
As a Jewish “rabbi”, Jesus “taught” his “students” in the context of a rabbi-student relationship. His students lived with him and learned from him for some three years.
During this time, Jesus expected his students to “remember” what he said and instructed them to begin “teaching” others while he was still alive (see Mark 4:1-20; 6:1-13, 30; 8:18; 9:5; 11:21; and parallels). Statements in Matthew 28:19 express a prior understanding before preaching: “ Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
Dr Brant Pitre points out that to be a “disciple” is literally to be a student. Being a student in the ancient world was radically different from what it is like today, when it simply means you may (or may not) listen to a fifty-minute lecture three times a week for a semester. Being one of Jesus’s students meant following him everywhere, and listening to him all the time, for anywhere between one and three years. As the Gospels make clear, it also meant remembering what he said (Matthew 16:9; Mark 8:18; John 15:20; 16:4).
The ancient historian John Meier states it as it is:
“Jesus called individuals to follow him literary, physically, as he undertook various preaching tours of Galilee, Judea and surrounding areas. . . . Following Jesus as his disciple meant leaving behind one’s home, parents, and livelihood. One could not follow Jesus simply by staying at home and studying his teachings or by going to his school-house and attending his lectures”.John Meier
So in summary.
- Jesus was a rabbi (teacher) with students
- The students were with Jesus all the time and would see patterns over and over again.
- The disciples were taught to remember
Jesus divinely aided them to remember and be sure of what they believed
After Jesus’s death, the students of Jesus “remembered” what he had said and done, and they “taught” others about what they had seen and heard.
Their preaching was based on the skilled memories of trained students and the rehearsed memories of disciples who repeatedly preached about what Jesus said and did, which is what we clarified in our first point (see John 2:22; 12:16; 15:20; 16:4; Acts 4:2-20; 20:35).
“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”.John 2:22
But apart from their trained memories, one could argue that they were given assistance in two other ways. One, as outlined in the beginning of Acts, where it says Jesus was with them in his risen form teaching them about the kingdom of God and possibly about all the stories I between like Jesus when he was in the wilderness away from eyewitnesses. The other way comes in the form of divine intervention. Obviously that’s the most secular outcome, but Jesus, if he is who he claimed to be, can surely make a mind like a plastered cistern.
“Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.Luke 24:44-45
This could be meant in two ways, one: he just told them everything, or the second which is perfectly possible, he gave the. The ability to remember the complete testimony necessary. The observation comes with Jesus in the quote above teaching them his words and how they connect, the sentence uses the word “then” to imply a different activity. This could be that “plugging the cistern” moment. Jesus goes onto make statements lie, we see in the great commission, they go out with the guidance of the Spirit on Pentecost with all knowledgeable confidence. Although each speech is not word for word the same, what they remember is.
And we can see they were confident in what they taught with defensive statements protecting doctrine like the below
“if anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting. ”2 John 1:10
Adherents to the teaching of the Apostles is made the condition of Christian Fellowship to know right doctrine, correct beliefs about what they had been taught. We see the same condition in the Book of Revelation in chapter 22: 18, 19.
The Apostle Paul who Jesus reveals himself to at a later time, makes the same claim of unique authority for the message of the Apostles, whether written or oral. This claim is Made in Galatians 1: 6 – 12 he invokes a solemn curse on anyone who departs from the gospel that he has been preaching and which he received from the Lord; but he knew himself to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, personally commissioned by the ascended Lord to be his chosen representative among the gentiles.
- Jesus spent time with the disciples and filled in the blanks, especially during the 40 days after his resurrection
- God worked with the memories of the disciples to help them remember everything required without forgetting
3. How did they preserve the gap?
We’ll break down this question
3a Jesus imparting knowledge
As said in the previous section (make link), Jesus could impart knowledge through imputing their memory with the missing information as he “opened their minds” to the scriptures. As well as this, the teaching of 40 days after Jesus rose was probably thorough too about the kingdom of God. This combination suggests two means of learning to make a disciple with a strong memory of what was required to know. So grammatically they can differ, emphasise different details, but never sway from the story.
3b Oral tradition
“What good is a belief in inerrancy if this only applies to the original autographs? We don’t have the original autographs so how can we believe in inerrancy? But I think this objection makes a fundamental mistake. It assumes that when we talk about the original text it thinks of it only as a physical object. As if we have to have the original author pass to have access to the original texts, and since those physical objects are lost we don’t have access to the original texts. But the text itself, the words of God themselves are not not a necessary object you can put in a museum. The words of God can be preserved in other ways beyond just the autographs, and we think that’s what happened”.
Michael J Kruger, Professor of Early Christianity, Reformed Theological Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks
There was a time before the penned manuscripts, there was a time where Jesus + Testimony + oral tradition was what they had. But how do we know the oral tradition model was reliable? Was there such a system possible for first century Jews? Will it always distort like the telephone game? What were some of the reasons? (We’ll go into depth on this in a follow up article on Oral Tradition).
- The New Testament writers were writing in a predominantly illiterate culture with some estimating that to be as high as 90% illiteracy, so the initial need for an extensive manuscript might exclude the poorest, lowly societies if they solely exalted this method and not oral transmission (The Catholic Church in a way, do this in some aspect in the Middle Ages due to the Bible not being in the common tongue, but that’s another story!)
- In an oral culture like that of first-century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.
- In an oral culture, the facts about Jesus were put into a memorable form and there’s good evidence for this. Gary Habermas has identified 41 short sections of the New Testament that appear to be oral creeds which are compact sayings that could easily be remembered and that were likely passed along orally before they were put into writing, often with stanzas and memory features (The most famous of these is 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Documents like the first century document called the Didache show the practice of taking the New Testament and writing a summary of teachings into a small, memorable form which, with practice, could be memorised in a short period of time.
- Luke claims to be using written sources, eyewitness testimonies of the events going on. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us . . .” (Luke 1: 1). Luke may have referenced Mark’s Gospel and other written testimonies including public court records from Jesus’ trial. These were orally recited to a scribe who would take down their testimonies.
- We see early on in the 2nd – 3rd centuries in locations distant from Jerusalem consistent scriptural teachings through oral tradition and through the production of the earliest New Testament manuscripts. Written documents became the most efficient means to be cautious and careful over multiple languages to preserve tradition, this would involve bringing in professional scribes.