Chapter 10 – Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
Eyewitness Claims in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Peter, John, and Paul state that they saw the resurrected Jesus. Paul identified 12 apostles and 4 women as witnesses by name plus an additional 500 people, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote about them.
Luke has written the significant book that covers much of this evidence, Acts. Here are the facts that support the accuracy of what Luke wrote.
Classical scholar and historian Colin Hemmer chronicles Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts verse by verse. With painstaking detail, Hemer identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research.62 As you read the following list, keep in mind that Luke did not have access to modern-day maps or nautical charts. Luke accurately records:63
- The natural crossing between correctly named ports
- The proper port along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cypress
- The proper location of Lycaonia
- The unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra
- The correct language spoke in Lystra
- Two gods known to be associated – Zeus and Hermes
- The proper port, Attalia , which returning travelers would use
- The correct order of approach to Derbe and then Lystra from the Cilician Gates
- The proper form of the name Troas
- The place of a conspicuous sailor’s landmark, Samothrace
- The proper description of Philippi as a Roman colony
- The right location for the river near Philippi
- The proper association of Thyatira as a center of dyeing
- Correct designations for the magistrates of the colony
- The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey
- The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica
- The proper term used of the magistrates there
- The correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient was of reaching Athens, with the favoring east winds of summer sailing
- The abundant presence of images in Athens
- The reference to a synagogue in Athens
- The depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora
- The use of the correct Athenian slang word for Paul as well as for the court
- The proper characterization of the Athenian character
- An altar to an “unknown god”
- The proper reaction of Greek philosophers, who denied the bodily resurrection
- Areopagites as the correct title for a member of the court
- A Corinthian synagogue
- The correct designation of Gallo as proconsul resident in Corinth
- The bena, which overlooks Corinth’s forum
- The name Tyrannus as attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions
- Well-known shrines and images of Artemis
- The well-attested “great goddess Artemis”
- That the Ephesian theater was the meeting place of the city
- The correct title grammateus for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus
- The proper title of honor neokoros authorized by the Romans
- The correct name to designate the goddess
- The proper term for those holding court
- Use of plural anthupatoi, perhaps a remarkable reference to the fact that two men were conjointly exercising the functions of proconsul at the time
- The “regular” assembly, as the precise phrase is attested elsewhere
- Use of precise ethnic designation, beroiaios
- Employment of the ethnic term Asianos
- The implied recognition of the strategic importance assigned to this city of Troas
- The danger of the coastal trip in this location
- The correct sequence of places
- The correct name of the city as a neuter plural
- The appropriate route passing across the open sea south of Cypress favored by persistent southwest winds
- The suitable distance between these cities
- A characteristically Jewish act of piety
- The Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area
- The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort at Antonia to suppress any disturbance at festival times
- The flight of steps used by the guards
- The common way to obtain Roman citizen ship at this time
- The tribune being impressed with Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship
- Ananias being high priest at this time
- Felix being governor at this time
- The natural stopping point on the way to Caesarea
- Whose jurisdiction Cilicia was in at the time
- The provincial penal procedure of the time
- The name Porcius Festus, which agrees precisely with that given by Josephus
- The right of appeal for Roman citizens
- The correct legal formula
- The characteristic form of reference to the emperor at the time
- The best shipping lanes at the time
- The common bonding of Cilicia and Pamphylia
- The principal port to find a ship sailing to Italy
- The slow passage to Cnidus, in the face of the typical northwest wind
- The right route to sail, in view of the winds
- The locations of Fair Havens and the neighboring site of Lasca
- Fair Havens as a poorly sheltered roadstead
- A noted tendency of a south wind in these climes to back suddenly to a violent northeaster, the well-known gregale
- The nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale
- The precise place and name of this island
- The appropriate maneuvers for the safety of the ship in its particular plight
- The fourteenth night – a remarkable calculation, based inevitably on a compounding of estimates and probabilities, confirmed in the judgment of experienced Mediterranean navigators.
- The proper term of the time for the Adriatic
- The precise term for taking soundings, and the correct depth of the water near Malta
- A position that suits the probable line of approach of a ship released to run before an easterly wind
- The severs liability on guards who permitted a prisoner to escape
- The local people and superstitions of the day
- The proper title protos tes neson
- Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry them through the straight
- Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as correctly placed stopping places on the Appian Way
- Appropriate means of custody with Roman soldiers
- The conditions of imprisonment, living “at his own expense”
Luke identifies 35 miracles that took place in Acts.
Luke, John and Acts
By looking at just a few new testament documents, John, Luke and half of Acts, we have found more than 140 details that appear to be authentic, most of which have been historically confirmed and some of which are historically probable.64
From this chapter the authors conclude that the New Testament contains at least four to six lines of early, independent eyewitness written testimony.65
- The major New Testament writers record the same basic events with diverging details and some unique material.
- They cite at least thirty real historical figures who have been confirmed by ancient non-Christian writers and various archeological discoveries.
- The second half of Acts with at least 84 historically confirmed eyewitness details and includes several others in his Gospel.
- Luke’s proven trustworthiness affirms that of Matthew, and Mark because they record the same basic story.
- John includes at least 59 historically confirmed or historically probable eyewitness details in his Gospel.
- Paul and Peter provide the fifth and sixth written testimonies to the Resurrection
Since this early, independent eyewitness testimony is within one generation of the events, the New Testament events cannot be considered legendary.
What were your thoughts about the historical accuracy of the New Testament Gospel before? If you read the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts now will you see it any differently based on how it has been historically verified? What doubts would you have about what was written in the books of the New Testament? Does the fact that Acts contains so many documented miracles concern you? The next chapter promises to address potential doubts.
62Colon J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History
63Geisler & Turek pages 256-259 I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.
64Geisler & Turek page 269 I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.
65Geisler & Turek pages 273-274 I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.