Were the Witnesses Who Reported Seeing Jesus Alive Lying?

Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and, further, if God exists then it is rational to believe God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (more>>). In support of the proposition that God did, in fact, raise Jesus from the dead, one of the lines of evidence Christian apologists point to is the historically documented evidence that after Jesus died on the cross and was buried, he was seen alive by multiple witnesses in a physically resurrected body.

Some skeptics attempt to explain away the historically documented evidence of witnesses seeing the resurrected Jesus by proposing the witnesses were lying.  As set forth below, Christian apologists maintain the theory that the eyewitnesses were lying is wholly inadequate and certainly not rationally compelling.

According to the historical record, after Jesus’ death and burial, he appeared alive on twelve (12) separate occasions to more than 500 people, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered himself to be touched on at least three occasions and he was definitely touched twice. Jesus showed the scars from his crucifixion on two occasions and ate food with the disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshiping him.   [See, Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, pg. 141 (1984); Norman Giesler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 81 (1997); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 253 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 72 (1998)]

For a list of the witnesses along with a summary of what each witness observed, go here.

Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Theory that the Witnesses were Lying is Inadequate

Some skeptics allege that the witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after he was crucified and buried were simply lying. Christian apologists rebut this explanation as follows:

Rebuttal Point No. 1:  Jesus’ Followers Had No Motive to Lie About Seeing the Resurrected Jesus

Initially, Christian apologists point out that following Jesus’ public crucifixion, Jesus’ followers had no reason to believe Jesus would be resurrected from the dead:

  • Jesus had not triumphed over Israel’s enemies which the Jews (including Jesus’ disciples) thought the Messiah would do. Rather, Jesus had been shamefully executed as a criminal.
  • Highly respected Jewish leaders had condemned Jesus as a blasphemer.
  • The Jews did not believe anyone would rise from the dead until the general resurrection which was to occur at the end of the world;
  • None of the disciples seemed to understand the necessity for Jesus to be resurrected (see, Matt. 16:21-22; Mark 9:9-10, 32; Luke 18:31-34)

Even though Jesus’ followers had no reason to believe Jesus would be raised from the dead, all of Jesus’ original disciples (except Judas who committed suicide after betraying Jesus) and many others, including skeptics like Paul fka Saul and James the Just, came to so strongly believe Jesus had risen from the dead that they underwent great persecution for their faith and/or died as martyrs. [See, William Lane Craig, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” pg. 1729 (2007); see also, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pgs. 82-83 (1997)]

As noted by professors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, the disciples also had no motive to lie about seeing a resurrected Jesus.

“[L]ies are always told for some selfish advantage.” What advantage did any of the disciples gain from lying and saying that they had seen the risen Jesus? “They were hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions — hardly a catalog of perks.” [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 185-186 (1994)]

Rather than having a motive to lie about Jesus being resurrected from the dead, Jesus’ disciples had every motive not to lie about Jesus having been raised from the dead.

Although some people may martyr themselves for something they think is true (but is really false), people do not martyr themselves for a cause they know is false. If the disciples were lying about seeing Jesus alive, then all remaining 11 original disciples and many other followers of Jesus were willing to be persecuted and/or die for something they knew was false.

Rebuttal Point No. 2:  If the Witnesses Were Lying, their Lies Would Have Eventually Been Exposed

Three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead.  — Ben Franklin

If the witnesses of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances were lying, they would never have been believed and their lies would have been eventually exposed. As argued by William Lane Craig, “The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true, for they could never have proclaimed the resurrection (and been believed) under such circumstance had it not occurred.” [William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Chap. 6 (1988). See also, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 112-114 (1958); Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 232 (1993)]

Chuck Colson served as Special Counsel to President Nixon and was involved in the Watergate cover-up. In his book, Loving God, Colson compares the actions of Jesus’ disciples with the men he conspired with as part of the Watergate scandal. In spite of ongoing threats, beatings, torture and even martyrdom, not one of Jesus’ disciples ever renounced their testimony that they had seen Jesus alive after he was resurrected from the dead. Contrarily, those involved in the Watergate cover-up, who were at the pinnacle of power of the most powerful nation of the world, quickly gave up their loyalty to the President of the United States to stay out of prison or get a reduced sentence. As noted by Colson, saving oneself is the true nature of humanity. If the resurrection was a lie, at least one of the disciples would have confessed to lying about seeing the resurrected Jesus in order to save his own life or the lives of his friends and family. [See, Chuck Colson, Loving God, pgs. 68-69(1983)]

Rebuttal Point No. 3:  The Explanation that the Disciples Lied About Seeing the Resurrected Jesus Does Not Account for the Dramatic Transformation in All of Their Lives

If the disciples were lying about seeing the resurrected Jesus, they knew Jesus was not the Messiah, they knew Jesus was not the son of God and they knew Jesus was not going to fulfill the promises he had made to them. If the disciples knew Jesus’ resurrection was a fraud, they had every motive to disassociate from him. In fact, their reaction to Jesus being arrested without putting up a fight was to flee (Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50). Yet, after the remaining 11 original disciples reported seeing the resurrected Jesus, every one of their lives radically changed from being a fearful fleer to a faithful follower and an outspoken proponent of the gospel of the resurrection (more>>). The explanation that all of these men were lying simply does not explain the dramatic transformation in these men’s lives, which continued until they died, despite ongoing persecution and martyrdom. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 646 (1999)]

Conclusion 

The principle of Occam’s razor, which states simple explanations are always preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Occam’s razor can only be relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation can be offered (more>>).

In this case, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh decidedly against the naturalistic explanation that the witnesses were lying about seeing the resurrected Jesus. The other alternative explanations that skeptics have offered to explain the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death are similarly inadequate (more>>). Consequently, it is at least reasonable to look beyond the allegations that the witnesses were lying for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.

In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede if God does not exist, then Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:

  1. The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
  2. The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
  3. The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
  4. The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
  5. The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
  6. The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
  7. The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders

In fact, following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:

Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.

[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)] Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that he supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.

For information on how to know God personally, go here.

© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published: June 1, 2012 / Last Updated: Feb. 21, 2013

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

John F. Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997)

Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)

Chuck Colson, Loving God (Zondervan, 1997)

William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb(Servant, 1988)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Crossway; 3rd Edition, 2008)

Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)

Gary R. Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pgs. 1621-1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?(Zondervan,1958)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo: The photograph of a person with their fingers crossed behind their back was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the photo was released to the public domain by the author.

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Tags: a lie, Bible, Christian, Christianity, Chuck Colson, Gary Habermas, God, Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, lies, Norman Geisler, Peter Kreeft, raised from the dead, resurrected, Resurrection, Ronald Tacelli, were lying, William Lane Craig

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