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The Testimony of the Apostles concerning the ministry, miraculous deeds, and alleged Resurrection, was fantastic, way out of the ordinary, revolutionary, and mind-boggling! The message they proclaimed was not ordinary 5 o'clock news material! It would pique everyone's interest that heard it.

And not only did they proclaim it, but they challenged everyone to dedicate their lives to it! They expected people to believe it and even "lay their lives down" for it. And today in modernity, preachers of this same message---based on the Apostles' witness---seek disciples who will be wholly dedicated to it.

These preachers (pastors, evangelists) are convinced that the original testimony of the Apostles was true...is true. But on what do they base this unswerving confidence? What convinces modern ministers and scholarly theologians that the Witness of the Apostles is Credible, Reliable, and Substantial for dedicating their lives to it?

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    Is there a reason you're asking about Protestants specifically? Do you expect the answer to be different for Catholics, Orthodox, etc? Mar 21 at 16:28
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    @The Dark Canuck - No, I do not expect the results of an honest and thorough investigation by anyone to be different than what is presented here. BUT the C.SE policy seems to be that Questions should be formulated in a specific "According to..." format. Certainly, Catholics and all the Orthodox scholars would agree with the reliability of the witnesses of the Apostles---as should honest seekers who examine the evidence. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.
    – ray grant
    Mar 21 at 19:35

3 Answers 3

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There are several reasons to believe that the Gospels faithfully record real events. Some well-known books have been written on the subject. The existence of Jesus is far better established than the existence of many contemporaries who are nevertheless widely believed to have existed. Even early sources hostile toward Christianity don't suggest that Jesus didn't exist.

On top of this base, we have the fact that the Apostles didn't merely urge people to change their lives, people did change their lives, and many believers who either had first-hand or very near knowledge of Jesus life were willing to undergo torture and execution for the sake of their beliefs. These aren't people that were convinced by a lie at a distance, but rather people who had access to eyewitnesses of the events in which they placed their trust. Moreover, Scripture records a number of blatant challenges to opponents to disprove its message.

The Gospel spread like wildfire despite tremendous opposition and in an environment where its claims could be verified, often by eyewitnesses. Its biggest claim, that Jesus rose from the dead, ought to have been easily refuted if false, but the evidence at the time was such that a great many believed.

On top of all this, one must also take into account the prior body of Hebrew Scripture with its many Messianic predictions. Jesus fulfilled these, including some very specific ones such as the manner of His execution.

In short:

  • Multiple primary sources attest to the Gospel message. This testimony is considered more reliable through the inclusion of unflattering details and because some of the sources are hostile to Christianity.
  • The testimony concerned contemporary events. If false, contemporary sources should have been easily able to refute it. The rapid spread of the Gospel strongly indicates that no such refutation could be made.
  • Adherents who should have either direct or nearly-direct knowledge as to the veracity of the testimony affirmed the same even under torture and execution.
  • The testimony had a rapid and profound effect on contemporary audiences and has had an enduring effect on the entire world that has not been equaled.
  • Prior Scripture predicted Jesus ministry with unsurpassed accuracy.

See also:

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Credible, Reliable, Substantial The testimony of the Apostles of Christianity, who lived in the first century are credible, reliable, and substantial because of an abundance of reasons. Consider:

1. Not Strangers After a night of prayer to the Father, Jesus Himself appointed the Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10; Luke 6:12-16)---not an angel, not a priest, but Jesus. So any testimony of the Apostles was "first hand." They were intimately acquainted with Jesus, and travelled with Him for several years. They then gave testimony of what they experienced with Him. (And He ordained Twelve that they should be with Him. Mark 3:14)

2. Open and Public The message of the Apostles was based on what Jesus did openly and publicly. There was nothing secret about the ministry of Jesus at all. The Apostles testified to things which many others in society also witnessed. They were not relating what was done in a cave (like Mohammed), nor what was done in a secluded forest at Cumorah (like Joseph Smith).

They were testifying to events in the life of Jesus that the whole country of Judea was buzzing about: Open demonstrations of miracles, public healings, witnessed resurrections from the dead, multiplication of food for the whole crowd!

So the Apostles' testimony and preaching was easily confirmed by multitudes of people. What the Apostles testified to could not be denied at all! The content of their message was known throughout the region.

Jesus answered him (high priest), "I spoke openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue and the Temple where the Jews always resort, and in secret I have said nothing. (John 18:20, Luke 21:37)

The king (Festus) knows these things before whom I also speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. (Acts 26:26)

3. Continuous Observations Note that the Apostles were not just observers of one accident-type event. One tragic event they were trying to recall. Rather, each Apostle had to have been a disciple of Jesus for a long 3 1/2 years! They had to have been witnesses over and over again of the miraculous ministry of Jesus leading up to the Resurrection.

Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22)

What the Apostles testified to was not secret meetings with an angel or dead saint on one or more occasions, but a full number of years of eye-witness testimony on and on. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

4. Testimony of Enemies What the Apostles testified to was known by Christ's enemies, as well. They could not deny it, as the Apostles pointed out. The Apostles' testimony was borne out by the rulers who hated Him. It was therefore solid testimony. Notice what Peter said to the Roman Centurion, when convincing him of the veracity this message:

The word you know, which was published throughout all Judea, and begun from Galilee, after the Baptism of John, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
And we are witnesses of all these things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree. Him God raised up and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead! (Acts 10:37-41)

And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad, for he was desirous to see Him for a long time, because he had heard many things about Him...(Luke 23:8)

And when Felix heard these things, having perfect knowledge of the Way, he deferred them...(Acts 24:22)

Paul said, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the King knows of these things before who I speak freely. For I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him, for this thing was not done in a corner. (Acts 26:25-26)

5. Resurrection Witnesses The Testimony of the Apostles concerning the Resurrection itself was confirmed by hundreds of other people. We don't just have the Apostles' say so, but we have objective confirmation that makes it reasonable to accept these men's testimony. (Note that "delivered and received" was a rabbinical saying for passing on information).

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received...He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the Twelve, after that He was seen by above five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this day...After that He was seen by James, then by all the Apostles...(1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

There were multitudes all over the land of Judea, Perea, Samaria, and Galilee who would readily confirm the testimony of the Apostles concerning the miraculous power of Jesus. Jesus had healed people in almost every village He had went to. Now the Resurrection dynamic was the topping on top of the sweet Presence of God in the flesh.

6. Empirical Evidence Note that Jesus wasn't just seen, but Jesus's resurrected Presence was verified by hands-on empirical proofs: observable, verifiable, repeated proof.

Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them...Behold my (scarred) hands any my (punctured) feet, that it is I myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see Me have....And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 24:36-43)

Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Reach hither your finger, and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side, and be not faithless, but believing. (John 20:27)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, the Word of Life---For the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness...---that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you...(1 John 1:1-3)

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; but were eye-witnesses of His majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

7. Cross-Examined Next, recall that these testimonies of the Apostles were cross-examined in judiciary and regal halls of government. (Acts 5:27. 12:1) The Apostles were given the third degree---and it wasn't like modern pristine courtrooms with civil rights attorneys protecting them!

Rather, the Apostles were scourged with whips, beaten, and stoned, to see if they would change their testimony. The Christian witnesses had stripes on their backs, yet continued to present the Good News of Jesus. Many were jailed. (Acts 4:3; 5:40; 7:58) Some were murdered! They still did not recant.

8. Prophetic Confirmation Another reason we can deduce that the Apostles' testimony is reliable is the confirmation shown by the Old Testament prophets (Tanakh). What the content of the testimony of the Apostles lined up with what was supernaturally predicted hundreds of years previously.

And Jesus said unto them, "These are the words which I spoke unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law, Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me." (Luke 24:44)

To Him (Jesus) all the prophets gave witness that through His Name whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43)

We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto you do well that you take heed...(2 Peter 1:19; for examples see Acts 2:25-27, 4:10-11; Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 35:4-6)

The Apostles did not make up the story of Christ. The miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus, were established "before the foundations of the world." And the events were not "manipulated by the Apostles" because they were supranatural, and dictated by government powers beyond their control.

9. Miraculous Confirmation Another solid reason that Christians put their confidence in the Testimony of the Apostles is the working of miracles to confirm their teaching and evangelism. Jesus said this would happen, and the ministry of the Apostles bear this out.

Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature...these signs shall follow them who believe...And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following. (Mark 16:15-20)

And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the street, and laid them on beds and couches that at least the shadow of Peter passing might overshadow them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about Jerusalem, bringing sick folk, and them who were vexed with unclean spirits, and they were healed every one! (Acts 5:14-16; see also Acts 8:4-8, 9:33-35, 10:44)

What of any other world religions or sects ever have had witnesses (priests, preachers, gurus, holy men) who gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, or raised the dead to life? These miracles are unique to the Christian religion, confirming the veracity, credibility and authenticity of the witnesses to the Gospel of Christ and the Apostles. (Hebrews 2:3-4)

10.The Place of Events Finally, note that most of the wonderful testimony of the witnessing Apostles was performed, taught, declared, right at the location where it all happened: Jerusalem.

If men were trying to commit fraud they would have taught the story in some far away land where no one could deny it occurred! Where there would be no witnesses to the contrary. Once upon a time, in a far, far away land, there was a... But NO! The Apostles stayed for a long time in Jerusalem (until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD).

And they even were boldly preaching in the Temple, right under the noses of the High Priest and rabbis, and Roman rulers. Those men cold not deny that Jesus was crucified, and that the Tomb was now empty...and that miracles were being done in His Name right there.

Excellent Consideration Also remember that Judea was the crossroad of the Orient. The route from Egypt to the northern nations passed through Judea; the way to Rome, Greece, Turkey, Babylon was through Judea. Jerusalem was, therefore, no mean city. It was literate in several languages: Italian, Egyptian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek. Schools dotted the landscape.

And the Apostles were not ignoramuses, men who had just walked out of a cave! They were not gullible, sheepish followers, giving no thought to what was taught by Jesus. Many were business men interacting with the cross-section of society. The disciples--and Jesus--were able to hold their own in debates with the intelligentia of Judea. The people and the rabbis were amazed at the words of Jesus, and the people saw that Jesus spoke with authority.

It can only be concluded, therefore, that Christians--and seekers of truth-- can accept the Testimony of the eye-witness Apostles as credible, reliable, and substantial, and worthy of dedicating one's life to!

And he who saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knows that he speaks truly, that you might believe. For these things were done, that the Scripture should be fulfilled...(John 19:35-36)

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  • Nice, thorough answer... but I feel like I've read it before 😉
    – Matthew
    Mar 21 at 14:50
  • @Matthew - Edited, enlarged, and modified! But it bears worth repeating, eh? Thank you for noticing.
    – ray grant
    Mar 21 at 19:13
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    Gish Gallop of circular reasoning. " Another reason we can deduce that the Apostles' testimony is reliable is the confirmation shown by the Old Testament prophets (Tanakh)." Name prophecy that is clear without hindsight bias, is clearly established as being made before the event, is clearly established as being fulfilled, was not a self-fulling prophecy, and was highly unlikely to be fulfilled by chance. Mar 21 at 23:07
  • @Accumulation - Isaiah 53!
    – ray grant
    Mar 22 at 19:44
  • I see I used imprecise wording. POST (not "give chapter number of ") one prophecy that is clear without hindsight bias, is clearly established as being made before the event, is clearly established as being fulfilled, was not a self-fulling prophecy, and was highly unlikely to be fulfilled by chance. Mar 23 at 0:41
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Can we also say that credibility lays in the testimonies of James and Jude, (half) brothers of Jesus who gave their lives, not denying that Jesus was the Christ. Who would die for such if they, growing up in the same household, knew it weren't true; whether pre or post resurrection?

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    That's (part of) what I mean in my answer, where I note that "adherents who should have either direct or nearly-direct knowledge as to the veracity of the testimony affirmed the same even under torture and execution". James and Jude knew Jesus the longest, but all the disciples knew Him for at least some years, and many claimed to be direct witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. Not one recanted those claims.
    – Matthew
    Mar 22 at 17:11
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    Mar 23 at 2:46

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