Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection Even Skeptics Accept

Excerpted from our series “The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection Even the Skeptics Believe” with Dr. Gary Habermas

Dr. John Ankerberg: In 2000 you and I had a debate with the world’s foremost philosophical theist, Dr. Antony Flew. For 40 years he was the world’s foremost atheist. And I had you present 12 historical facts. 

Habermas: Wow.

Ankerberg: And then we asked him, the world’s foremost philosophical atheist in the world for 40 years, “Do you accept these facts?” And he said he did. But I want you right now, we’re talking about Paul, let’s talk from the time of the cross, when did Paul come in contact with Jesus? Then go down this timeline. Then we’re going to come to 1 Corinthians 15 and see what it says.

Habermas: Alright, let’s do it from this way over. Jesus dies. Critics put Paul’s conversion sometimes—it doesn’t make any difference if you’re liberal or conservative—sometimes the most liberal ones put Paul’s conversion at 18 months. So Paul’s on the road to Damascus at anywhere from 18 months to three years after Jesus dies. So let’s say two years as an average.

Ankerberg: Right.

Habermas: Two years later Paul’s going to Damascus and has an experience which he believes is an appearance of the risen Jesus. He kind of digested that and meditated, and three years later he goes back up to Jerusalem. We are just five years after the event here, two plus three. And when I think, you know, when I’m doing this, and I’ll think someone’s saying, hey, can you do the math there, I’ll say, “Remember, Paul’s authoritative. Let him do the math for you: Two years to Damascus, three years to Jerusalem, and that’s five.” And someone says, “Well, I think it was three years.” Okay. Okay, great: Three plus three (equals) six. We just moved over a year. There’s nothing like this in the ancient world.

Ankerberg: Right, six years from the cross.

Habermas: Six years from the cross. And he goes there, and he meets probably the two living authorities of that time: Peter, the head apostle; James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus.

Ankerberg: And we’re going to talk about what they talked about a little bit later, but then from there he goes to where?

Habermas: Well, he goes and starts preaching. He starts his missionary journeys later. But just about, like we were saying, 25 total years he’s sitting there writing the book of 1 Corinthians. Now, we know when he came to Corinth. This is one of the most clearly ascertainable dates in the New Testament.

Ankerberg: Yes. How do you know that?

Habermas: Well, he comes to Corinth 51-52 AD, because the city leader, today leader’s a funny word, we’d say mayor, but that’s not what the Greeks called them. They had one-year appointments only, and there’s been found an inscription with his name in the rock. We know when he was in control, and we’re told that that’s who was in control of the city when Paul came. So, he comes a mere 21 years after the cross. Now, some people date the cross to 33 AD. If that, if that’s true, we’re only 18 years after the cross.

Ankerberg: Right.

Habermas: And about four years later, Paul’s writing the book.

Ankerberg: Alright. Now let’s talk about what he preached to them when he came to them that he wrote later on.

Habermas: Yes. First Corinthians 15 is an amazing passage. It starts like this. First two verses. Paul says, “When I came to you Corinthians.” Okay, now I’ll stop there, and I’ll go, “Wait a minute. Let’s get the year straight. He’s writing—55; “When I came to you Corinthians”—51; “When I came to you Corinthians, I preached the gospel.” Okay, full stop again—footnote: If I’m writing, footnote, what’s the gospel? Well, there’s two sides to the gospel: The facts of the gospel; and what are we going to do about it. 

Ankerberg: Whether we’re going to accept it.

Habermas: Whether we’re going to say, “I do.”

Ankerberg: Yes.

Habermas: Okay, facts of the gospel. Whenever the gospel’s defined, other things are there sometimes, but these three are always present: Deity, death, resurrection of Jesus. Deity, death, resurrection. Deity, death, resurrection. So Paul says, “When I came to you Corinthians I preached the gospel.” So I’m thinking deity, death, resurrection. And he says, “You are in the faith if you responded correctly, and not if you didn’t.” So it’s very simple: Here’s the gospel, what do you do with it? It’s almost like saying—and critics will frequently say it this way—Jesus held the doors to the kingdom. You were, vis-à-vis Jesus, what you did with his message. So then Paul says, “Alright, that’s the message. That’s your path.”

Ankerberg: Let me just read it for the folks authoritatively, okay? The passage says, “Now I (make) known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you,” it was in 51 AD, “which you also received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” And then he says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” Now, that’s an important phrase, why?

Habermas: That’s so important. Alright, so now we’re down here. This is the writing of the book, although Paul preached it, but Paul’s writing it, and he says, “I delivered to you that which I also received.” 

Now, sometimes when I’m preaching just to make a point I’ll say, “Did y’all hear that? ‘I gave you what I was given.’” And the average person goes, “Yes, I’m pretty quick. I got that the first time.” No, no, no, no. Listen: “I gave you what I was given.” What was Paul? A Pharisee. How did the Pharisees teach? According to Josephus—any good teacher, but according to Josephus they passed on tradition; they repeated themselves. And he gave them the material. He said, “I gave you that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” was buried, rose again the third day and appeared, and then comes this long list of appearances.

Dr. John Ankerberg: And I want to go through the list of eyewitness in 1 Corinthians 15, because Paul names three individuals, and he names three groups here, okay.

Dr. Gary Habermas: That is correct.

Ankerberg: Tell us who the three individuals are.

Habermas: Three individuals. He starts with Peter.

Ankerberg: That did what?

Habermas: Peter saw the risen Jesus.

Ankerberg: So he’s giving us the eyewitnesses that everybody knows saw the risen Jesus. This is the creedal information.

Habermas: By the way, the Greek word there for “appeared,” the action is not on the person who saw, the action is on the one who appeared. So, Peter didn’t bring it about; Jesus made Himself visible. Jesus came into the room where Peter was. So, that’s pretty neat. So, Peter, James, and then Paul appends his name to the list. Nobody thinks Paul was there in the original list. He wasn’t there before he was a Christian. So, two individuals in the original list, Peter and James. Three groups: the twelve; the 500; and all the apostles, which the general feeling is that’s a larger group than the twelve disciples. So, three groups, two individuals, and then Paul sticks his name on the end.

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