What would Jesus have looked like when the disciples first saw Him? In His desperate need for medical attention, including cleansing His wounds, He probably would have been limping badly, looking pale, sickly, sweating heavily, as well as slumped over and clutching His wounded side. He probably would have reopened at least some of the wounds that would then have bled again through His garments. In this horrible shape, He could have convinced the disciples that He was just barely alive, but definitely not that He had conquered the grave and was alive forevermore in a newly resurrected body! In short, He would have been alive but absolutely not as the resurrected Prince of Life!3
Had this swoon scenario taken place, the disciples would have more likely procured Jesus a physician rather than proclaiming Him the resurrected Lord! To summarize this crucial distinction: if Jesus was barely alive, anyone could quickly tell that He had absolutely not been victoriously resurrected.
Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. In short, the swoon or apparent-death hypothesis would never have given rise to the resurrection teaching. Conversely, Jesus must truly have been dead, for Christianity wouldn’t have been birthed from the apparent-death hypothesis.
Second, there are numerous independent texts4 that attest to the disciples’ eyewitness experiences. In this article, we will limit ourselves to the most important one: 1 Corinthians15:3ff. Paul begins this famous chapter on the resurrection by reminding the Corinthians of what he “delivered” to them as of “first importance” during his visit in the early 50s AD. Most scholars believe that Paul recites here an early Christian creed or tradition that begins with verse 3. It provides a list of some of those who saw Jesus: Peter, the twelve, the five hundred, James the brother of Jesus, and all the apostles.
Third, scholars largely agree that Paul received this tradition during his trip to Jerusalem just three years after his conversion. In Galatians 1:18–19 Paul describes meeting Peter and Jesus’ brother James (both of whom are named in the creed). Scholars are also agreed that this tradition was almost certainly in existence prior to Paul’s conversion. As such, dating Paul’s appearance on the road to Damascus to about two years or so after Jesus was crucified, the tradition would be earlier still, with Paul’s reception of it generally being dated to within five years after Jesus’ death. This is an incredible source of information from very soon after the event itself, attesting to the eyewitness experiences, by both individuals and groups, of the risen Jesus.
Fourth, James the skeptical brother of Jesus was converted after he was sure that he had also seen the risen Jesus. There are a number of reasons for scholars’ acceptance of this event. James’s skepticism is attested by more than one independent gospel source, in Mark (3:21; 6:2–6) and again in John 7:5. Further, Mark’s gospel is usually viewed as the earliest. That Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him is obviously another embarrassing fact, yet it was included because it was historically accurate.
Given James’s prominence in the early church, it is unlikely that his skepticism would have been invented from scratch, due to its highly counterproductive nature. Nonetheless, James became a “pillar” of the early church in Jerusalem, and Paul records Jesus’ appearance to him in 1 Corinthians 15:7. Critical scholar Reginald H. Fuller found the arguments surrounding James’s conversion to be so strong that he wrote, “It might be said that if there were no record of an appearance to James the Lord’s brother in the New Testament we should have to invent one in order to account for his post-resurrection conversion and rapid advance.”5
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