Why was the Resurrected Christ only seen by believers? Doesn’t that make it suspect, because they were biased? Why aren’t there reports from unbelievers? These are questions often posed by the skeptic. Do we have a good answer for them?
What they are really asking for is eyewitness reports from people without any particular vested interest in what they claim to have seen. They believe that this is the only kind of witness that would be unbiased and trustworthy. But this reasoning is flawed on several counts:
If we ignored all historical writings where the writer had an interest in what they were writing about, we would have to ignore most historical sources and give up doing history. Most writers of history definitely had a stake or interest in what they wrote about. The objective, un-involved “news reporter” is largely a modern phenomenon.
Just because someone writes with a strong interest or bias, it does not logically follow that they are less accurate than someone without that bias. For example, some of those who wrote about the Holocaust were passionate about it, and therefore wanted to get their facts correct to support their cause and expose the crimes committed. Historians acknowledge that the writings of Julius Caesar were loaded with propaganda, but nonetheless accurate on the facts.
The skeptic’s view here also commits the genetic fallacy, where the focus is on how a person came to believe something rather than the facts themselves. Example-just because someone has a Christian upbringing and is therefore biased, doesn’t mean they automatically get their facts wrong when writing about Biblical archaeology.
They also commit the ad hominem fallacy, in that they focuse on the person rather than the facts the person presents. Example: just because someone is an atheist, does not mean their argument is automatically invalid. (For a fuller discussion of the issue of biased sources, see Habermas and Licona(1))
Besides these logical fallacies, there are the following facts and observations:
We actually have two of the types of witnesses the skeptics are looking for, namely Paul and James:
Paul was not a believer, but an enemy and persecutor of Christians. He did not become a believer until and because he saw the risen Christ! If someone says that this was invented, let them remember than almost all scholars, both skeptical and conservative, believe that the conversion of Paul was a real event (2). And why would someone aspiring to be a church leader invent that he was formerly a murderer of Christians? Not a good background if you wanted someone to trust you, unless it was the absolute truth.
James was the brother of Jesus, who is portrayed as a doubter, a skeptic, in the gospel accounts. (see Mark 3:21, 31, 6:3-4, John 7:5) He did not believe in his own brother! Yet he not only became a believer, but eventually the pastor of the Jerusalem church. If someone objects that the accounts of his former skepticism are from the biased gospels, remember this: why would a pastor or church leader, especially after he became such, invent that he formerly did not believe in his own brother Jesus? For a rabbi’s own family to not believe him was the worst disgrace possible. And would you want to hire a pastor who took so long to get who Jesus was, rather than someone who believed right away? Critical scholar Reginald Fuller acknowledged that we would need to invent an appearance of the risen Christ to James if one had not been reported (1 Cor. 15:7), just to explain his conversion from skepticism and his elevation to be the pastor of the Jerusalem Church! (3)
Also, why would the gospel writers include that when Jesus appeared to groups of disciples, that still some doubted (Matt 28:17), or that they themselves were skeptical at first and slow to believe the women who reported the appearances of Jesus to them?
Lastly, consider this: If you reported that the Son of God appeared to you, and you still didn’t become a believer, how credible would that be? Why would such a testimony be more believable? You would have had to be so extremely hardened and stubbornly biased against Christians, that possibly Jesus would have not wasted His time appearing to you, because He wanted faithful witnesses who would be willing to propagate the message in spite of persecution. They would have been too hardened to act on the facts even if they saw Jesus.
Did such people really exist? Yes, the Pharisees were in fact this type of person. They saw a man’s hand healed right in front of their eyes, and a paralyzed man healed as well, and still refused to believe. Also see Luke 16, where it is said that if someone doesn’t believe God’s word in the Scriptures, even someone rising from the dead would not convince them!
So we can be thankful that those who passed this message down to us were not indifferent, dispassionate observers, but devout believers who were willing to die rather than deny what they had seen and heard.
(1) Habermas and Licona, The Case for The Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 2004, pp. 124-126.
(2) For an extended scholarly discussion on the conversion of Paul, see Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach, Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, 2010, pp. 373-440.
(3) Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York:Macmillan, 1971), p.37