In previous posts in this series, we have discussed some of the evidence for the historical veracity of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples and others, including an examination of some examples of the martyrdom of Jesus’ followers and the counter-Judaic nature of the Christian claims concerning the resurrection. In this blog entry, I am going to discuss some of the evidence from the multiple and independent sources attesting to these post-resurrection appearances.
The appearance of traditions in the Gospels provide several, independent attestations as to the historicity of these post-resurrection appearances. For instance, the appearance to Peter is independently confirmed in Luke’s Gospel and the appearance to the Twelve is independently affirmed by both Luke and John.
Moreover, we have independent witnesses to the Galilean appearances in Matthew, Mark and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John. This adds weight to the case for the historicity of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.
We also have some disputed but arguable independent attestation of the appearance to Peter. In addition to the mentioning of the appearance to Peter in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians 15, we also have Peter’s own claim to have experienced the resurrected Lord. He writes in 2 Peter 1:13-15, “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” What makes this especially interesting is that this refers to the words spoken by Jesus to Peter in John 21, an incident following the resurrection, as recorded by John’s Gospel.
If Peter’s second epistle (the genuineness of which is disputed), is indeed authentic, then this would be written prior to the writing of John’s Gospel, thus constituting independent lines of evidence. It is necessary at this point to make a few points in favour of the authenticity of Peter’s second epistle:
• Origen mentions that there is some doubt as to this epistle’s authenticity but did not deal with the problem which seems to imply that he did not take the doubts seriously.
• The reason there were doubts about 2 Peter is because the Gnostics were circulating letters with peter’s name on them to try and gain acceptance for some of their teachers. Consequently, the orthodox church was suspicious of letters attributed to Peter. The fact that 2 Peter was accepted and included in the canon in spite of these suspicions suggests its authenticity.
• One of the leading objections to the authenticity of this epistle is the differences in Greek style between the two letters, but this has been satisfactorily answered. Peter wrote that he used a secretary, Silvanius, in 1 Peter. In 2 Peter, Peter either used a different secretary or wrote the letter by himself.
• Likewise, the difference in vocabulary has been adequately accounted for in light of their difference in themes – 1 Peter was written to help suffering Christians; 2 Peter, to expose false teachers.
• There are, in fact, remarkable similarities in the vocabulary of the two books. The salutation ‘grace to you, and peace be multiplied’ is basically the same in each book. The author uses such words as ‘precious,’ ‘virtue,’ ‘putting off’ and ‘eyewitnesses’ in both letters.
• The reference to Paul as ‘our beloved brother’ in 3:15 is not the typical reference a second century writer would have made of an Apostle. Their tendency was, rather, to venerate them.
• Certain rather unusual words found in 2 Peter are also found in Peter’s sermons in the Acts of the Apostles, such as ‘obtained’ (1:2 and Acts 1:17); ‘godliness’ (1:3,6,7;3:11 and Acts 3:12); and ‘wages of iniquity’ (2:13,15; Acts 1:18). Both letters refer to the same Old Testament event (2 Peter 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:18-20).
• Some scholars have pointed out that there are as many similarities in vocabulary between 1 and 2 Peter as there are between 1 Timothy and Titus, two letters almost universally believed to be the work of the same author.
• It seems unlikely that a false teacher would write a letter against false teachers. No original or unorthodox teachings or doctrines appear in 2 Peter. Thus, if 2 Peter were indeed a forgery, it would have been forged for no apparent reason at all.
In conclusion, to quote John Ankerberg and John Weldon, “Could the Christian church ever have come into existence as a result of what had become, after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, a group of disheartened, frightened, sceptical apostles? Not a chance.
Only the resurrection of Christ from the dead can account for motivating the disciples to give their lives to preach about Christ and nurture the Christian church the Lord had founded. It can hardly be overestimated how devastating the crucifixion was to the apostles. They had sacrificed everything for Jesus, including their jobs, their homes, and their families (Matthew 19:27). Everything of value was pinned squarely on Jesus: all their hopes, their entire lives, everything. But now he was dead, publicly branded a criminal.
The apostles were dejected and depressed in their conclusion that Christ was not their expected Messiah (Luke 24:21). In such a condition, they can hardly be considered the subjects of hopeful visions and hallucinations. These were not men ready to believe. The very fact that Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief indicates that Thomas was not the only one who was a hard headed sceptic. At one time or another Jesus rebuked all of the eleven apostles for their unbelief in His resurrection (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:25-27, 38, 41; John 20:24-27). This suggests that they were finally convinced against their will.
As the Gospels show, they rejected the first reports of Jesus’ resurrection. It was only after Jesus appeared to them again and again, talking with them, encouraging them to touch Him, to see that He had a physical body, showing them the wounds in His hands and His side, that they became convinced (John 29:20, 27). If they had expected a resurrection, they would have been waiting for it. But they weren’t, and they needed a lot of convincing when it did happen (Acts 1:3).”