In the New Testament we have the record of other eyewitnesses—eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ.
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
In the opening lines of Luke’s gospel as he writes to Theophilus he mentions these eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and of his own care in investigating and recording their witness.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)
In Jerusalem Peter mentions these witnesses when he proclaims:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
Acts 2:32 (ESV)
Paul states that over 500 people saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection, including himself. Not only that, he says that most of those witnesses are still alive—verification of his own witness could be made.
Why such an emphasis on eyewitnesses? Because Christianity is Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a mere system of ethics or philosophy, but proclaims that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again, in—as Francis Schaeffer said—historic space-time. Without the actual, real events of His death, His resurrection, we would be lost; we would be without hope. Look at how Paul reviews the content of the gospel, and read what he writes as being of first importance in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (ESV)
This is why the record of the eyewitnesses is so important. Christianity is grounded in the history of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The eyewitnesses of the New Testament attest to what they have seen and known about Jesus Christ. They want those who read their witness to know and to be confident of the truth regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, because without Jesus Christ there is no Christian faith. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes on to say:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…
1 Corinthians 15:12-20a (ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the sine qua non of the Christian faith. The historic fact—the actual and real event—of His resurrection is the authenticating proof given by God regarding Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Romans 1:1-4:
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord…
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
While those reading these words in the first century could have met these eyewitnesses or could have known those who had, we cannot, for the span of time prevents us. How do we know that within the New Testament we have a reliable record regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Anyone, whether or not they are a Christian, can read the New Testament as accurate historical documents for there are excellent, valid reasons to view the New Testament as a trustworthy historical account. Belief in Jesus Christ is not an irrational leap that can only be made without reason to believe. In The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable? F. F. Bruce writes:
The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.
He goes on to set forth the scholarship that attests to the authenticity of the New Testament and concludes at the end of the book:
Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth’, but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.’
The earliest propagators of Christianity welcomed the fullest examination of the credentials of their message. The events which they proclaimed were, as Paul said to King Agrippa, not done in a corner, and were well able to bear all the light that could be thrown on them. The spirit of these early Christians ought to animate their modern descendants. For by an acquaintance with the relevant evidence they will not only be able to give to everyone who asks them a reason for the hope that is in them, but they themselves, like Theophilus, will thus know more accurately how secure is the basis of the faith which they have been taught.
This is a readable short book, and Dr. Bruce vigorously marshals the evidence. Another excellent book to read, and again, a small one, is John Warwick Montgomery’s History, Law and Christianity.
The New Testament gives the knowledge needed to decide the question of belief in Jesus Christ. The question is unavoidable: what do I think about Jesus Christ? There is no middle ground regarding belief in Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” C. S. Lewis famously concluded we are left with the options of deciding Jesus Christ is Liar, Lunatic or Lord.
We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects–Hatred–Terror–Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.
The eyewitnesses give evidence; the question remains: “But who do you say that I am?”
(ESV): English Standard Version.
Luke 11:2 in Codex Sinaiticus: Public Domain via Wikipedia.
C. S. Lewis, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” from God In The Dock.
See also C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable?