Friday, March 7, 2008

How Many Eyewitnesses?

Which of the following constitutes an eyewitness claim?

(1) "I saw it happen."

(2) "Bill saw it happen."

(3) "Bill says he saw it happen."

Only the first is an eyewitness claim. The second is a claim that someone else was an eyewitness. The third is a claim that someone else claims to be an eyewitness. Only the first is a claim by someone that he himself saw something. In a court of law, only the first would be admissible to prove that "it" happened.

So how many eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection does the New Testament contain?

I count one.

That's it. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul says that "he appeared to me." Other than that, not a single New Testament author writes that he personally encountered Jesus after he rose from the dead. The gospels are all written in the third person. None of those authors put themselves in a position to see the events they describe.

What brought this reflection to mind was the following statement, which I ran across on an evangelical Christian's blog: "on one occasion alone over 500 claimed to have seen him." In fact, we have no account of these claims. In fact, we have Paul's claim that 500 people saw him. That is a very different thing. It is one claim rather than 500.


  1. Also, Paul himself only writes of receiving a revelation from Christ Jesus. (Gal. 1:12) It is uncertain he saw a physical resurrected Jesus as much as he saw a dream or vision of Jesus. If one holds to the historicity of Acts (I do not), it gets even worse. There Paul confirms he only saw Jesus in a vision! (Acts 26:19)

    For your one eyewitness account, the best you have is a guy who says he saw Jesus as a bright point in a sun. Using the same basis, all those visions of Mary appearing should equally be counted as “eyewitness” accounts that Mary has come back from the dead.

  2. PhillyChief,

    Frankly, I think this is so glaringly obvious that I almost feel silly pointing it out, but apologists keep repeating this nonsense so often that it's easy to overlook how empty it is.


    You could also throw in the fact that Paul's encounter took place after the Ascension, which I would suppose means a fortiori that it could not have been the kind of physical encounter that the other apostles were purported to have had.

  3. Saul probably had a seizure at which time he had his "vision", right? Perhaps he was diabetic. Imagine the world today had he ate regularly and kept his blood sugar level good. Oh well.