In criminal cases, government attorneys are often required to provide to the opposing side a list of witnesses whom they intend to call to testify at trial. As a district attorney, I would often use these witness lists in preparation for jury trials, and would usually outline what I expected each witness to say. The concept of a witness list reminds me of the apostle Paul’s amazing summary found in the first part of 1 Corinthians 15. Here, he provides an inspired list of witnesses to the risen Christ. Let’s review this list as though we were heading into a trial involving the central fact of the Gospel, namely the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1. Cephas (15:5a). “Cephas” is the Aramaic form of “Peter,” the name given by Jesus to Andrew’s brother, Simon, (John 1:42). He was an early disciple, part of the “inner three,” and knew all about the earthly ministry of Jesus. His name heads the list of the 12 who were called to be apostles of Christ. He was present outside the door of the high priest’s court, and was admitted into the court by the maid who kept the door. There, he denied Jesus three times, but later repented in bitter tears, (Lk. 22:62). Upon receiving a report from the women who went to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning, Peter ran to the burial site with another witness, John. Although John outran Peter in reaching the tomb, Peter proceeded to actually enter the tomb, and inspected its contents, to include linen burial cloths and napkin, and their significant placement within. He called John inside with him, and the two of them witnessed the empty tomb together. Cephas would later observe Jesus on multiple occasions and in various circumstances, including a personal conversation with Jesus on the beach of the sea of Tiberias in the presence of several other disciples. On that occasion, Peter engaged in a memorable and deeply personal conversation with Jesus himself—substantiated by witnesses.
2. The Twelve (15:5b). A group of the apostles saw Jesus on the very day of his resurrection, “when it was evening…the first day of the week,” (John 20:19). This appearance occurred in a closed room, with multiple witnesses, and featured specific, consoling conversation and tactile observation, (Jn. 20:19-23). Additional appearances to disciples of various combinations occurred within this time period, including a detailed interview with two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus, (see Lk. 24:13-35).
3. Over 500 brethren at once (15:6). This is an extremely significant occurrence, made more so by the fact that most of these brethren were still living at the time Paul penned these words. It is unthinkable that Paul would have made such a statement if it were not true, since it could have been so easily denied. Witnesses in such vast numbers could easily be identified, located, and interviewed. There is no record that any of them ever denied the veracity of the resurrection, as there undoubtedly would be if it had occurred. Such denials, or even one of them, would have thoroughly debunked early Christianity, and the conspicuous absence of such denials is clear proof that they never happened.
4. James (15:7a). James, the half brother of Jesus himself, who refused to believe in him during Jesus’ lifetime (Jn. 7:5), but as a result of the resurrection underwent a total reversal and became a “pillar” in the early church, (Gal. 2:9). So strong were his observations and convictions that he would later pen one of the most practical and effective epistles in the New Testament. At the time Paul lists him as a witness, he was so well known that no introduction was necessary.
5. All the apostles (15:7:b). The appearance of Jesus in Galilee to all of the 11 apostles, is specifically documented in three separate Gospel accounts, and includes records of specific topics he discussed at the time, including the “great commission,” (cf. Mt. 28:16-20; Mk. 16:14-20; Lk. 24:44-53).
6. Paul (15:8). Paul’s name on the list of witnesses is unusually compelling because he had previously been such an effective persecutor and enemy of Christ and the church. (1 Ti. 1:13). Such successful men do not change without good reason. The confrontation of Paul by Jesus on the road to Damascus was a life-changing event by any standard, (Acts 9:1-9). Adding his own name, Paul supremely completes this inspired witness list.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.