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Investigating the Witnesses

Updated: Mar 22

If the Gospels were written by eye-witness testimonies (John and Matthew) and those passed on to travelling companions of eye-witnesses (Mark and Luke); it seems reasonable to assess what these accounts claim they heard and saw regarding Jesus.


While it may be possible that the disciples had selfish ulterior motives for writing down exaggerated supernatural stories of Jesus - I would argue that this is a fanciful interpretation of the evidence. Consider the fact that ten of the original twelve disciples all suffered torture and executions under antagonistic Jewish and Roman authorities for what they were teaching about Jesus. If they had fabricated the stories of Jesus, why would they be willing to die in horrific ways rather than renounce their faith in Him?

Maybe the most likely explanation is that the disciples had truly seen remarkable miracles performed by a Jewish carpenter from Galilee and listened to His many claims to be the “Son of Man” (a clear reference to the long-awaited Jewish Messiah[1]). After seeing amazing signs and wonders, it seems reasonable to assume that they must have believed Jesus was who He claimed to be – who else other than the creator God in human form could control the weather[2]; transform water into wine[3] and raise people back from the dead[4]? The disciples preferred to give up their lives as martyrs rather than give up on Him and the eternal destiny that He offers to His followers[5].

Now, that doesn’t necessarily make their beliefs true. Just because the eye-witnesses believed in something enough to stake their lives upon it; it doesn’t rule out that they could have been mistaken or were ignorant, uneducated, and too willing to accept the miraculous at face-value. However, this wasn’t some small band of followers - we are told by Paul that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over 500 people at one time[6]. Some of Jesus’ followers were highly educated men of their day: for example, Paul (who was a previous sceptic about Jesus, and even persecuted Christians until his dramatic encounter with Jesus[7]) was educated under Gamaliel, who was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early first century AD[8]. Luke, the author of a Gospel and the book of Acts, was a doctor[9] who wrote: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning”[10]. Luke did not just passively receive these accounts of Jesus but methodically put the claims to the test and then was convinced enough to dedicate his life to the spread of the Gospel.

This missionary lifestyle was not for the faint-hearted! As a travelling companion of Paul, he must have been present during some of Paul’s harsher trials: “three times I [Paul] was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,”[11] all for spreading the message of Jesus. Here were educated men, who used to disbelieve in Jesus, and yet when looking into the stories of the disciples for themselves (along with personal religious experiences) were convinced of the validity of the claims.

Definite proof about Jesus seems impossible to find. However, maybe we could rest with the 'best fit' explanation of events, as recorded in both biblical and secular sources. Occam’s Razor is the principle by which you don’t multiply explanations unnecessarily – in basic terms, maybe the simplest explanation is the most likely one. What is the simplest explanation here? Maybe the disciples and early Christians really did see amazing, inexplicable events in the presence of a man called Jesus. When they thought he had died after His crucifixion, they were terrified and hid themselves away, worrying that they too might be executed. Then something happened in Jerusalem while 120 of them[12] were locked away, terrified in an upper room. Shortly afterwards, they all came piling out onto the streets of Jerusalem, no longer fearful but confident and preaching that Jesus was Lord. 3000 were converted that day on the streets of Jerusalem and were the seeds of a global movement that 2000 years later would number 2.5 billion adherents. Why did they go from hiding in fear to preaching loudly, a message that would ultimately lead to their executions?

Maybe the simplest explanation is that Jesus’ prophecy came true – the Holy Spirit fell upon them and transformed them[13]. Jesus was who he claimed to be, one part of the Trinity, one God in three distinct persons[14], worth following and giving their lives for. The disciples didn’t convince themselves to set up a fabricated religion based upon lies and exaggerations. They weren’t deluded – many had undertaken, through study and investigation, to draw up an account of these events as Luke attests in his Gospel[15].


This might not appear to be a simple explanation – claiming that God is real and came to Earth, in the flesh, to walk amongst us[16]. But that will take more posts from me to try to convince you otherwise…


References

[1] Daniel 7:13-14

[2] Matthew 8:23-27

[3] John 2:1-11

[4] John 11:1-44

[5] John 3:16

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

[7] Acts 9

[8] Acts 22:3

[9] Colossians 4:14

[10] Luke 1:1-3

[11] 2 Corinthians 11:25

[12] Acts 1:15

[13] Acts 2, John 15:26-27

[14] Matt 28:19

[15] Luke 1:1

[16] John 1:14

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