When people see something that interests or impresses them – whether a football game, a scenic vista, or people arguing at the supermarket – they talk about it. After Karen and I were married, we lived in a large apartment complex on our city’s southwest side. One morning around 2 or 3 o’clock, we heard a woman screaming for help out on the street. I jumped up, threw on some clothes, and went running out, telling Karen to call the police. (This was before we had 911.)
As I exited the building, I saw a car stopped in the middle of the street, with a woman on the far side of it – the woman who had screamed, I assumed. She was being pushed into the car by a man. As I ran, the car peeled off, and I never saw them again.
I was hardly a star witness. I couldn’t identify the woman. Was she tall? Short? I didn’t know. What was the man’s race? I wasn’t sure. What did the car look like? It was too dark to distinguish the color. I didn’t see the license plate. If I had been summoned to court, some defense attorney would have tied me in knots. They would have asked if I hadn’t dreamed the entire episode.
If I did, Karen dreamed it with me. I certainly didn’t see everything – the woman’s features or the car’s license plate – but I did see some things: a car in the middle of the street, a woman being pushed into it, the car peeling away as I approached. Karen and I both heard the scream for help.
Could I have misinterpreted what I saw? It’s possible. The girl could have been drunk and the person pushing her into it could have been her dad, taking her home to sleep it off. Or she could have been injured – that might account for the scream – and the car I saw could have been rushing her off to the hospital.
We are thinking about the role of witnesses in the gospel, beginning to pivot from what had happened to what the disciples did – and we might do – about it. Consider the role of witnesses in Paul’s bullet-point summary of the gospel:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Could these witnesses have misinterpreted what they had seen? It’s possible but it seems unlikely. More than a dozen people in five different places at five different times saw Jesus on Day One. At one of those places, at least ten of them saw him simultaneously. Many (and possibly all) of those people saw him on subsequent occasions, some when they were alone and some when they were in groups. Some of the people who didn’t see him on Day One – Thomas, for example, did see him on Day 8 and then again later. Paul says that on one occasion more than 500 people saw him simultaneously and most of those people were still alive and could verify what he wrote.
Could these witnesses have been dreaming? Only if more than 500 of them had the same dream at the same time. Could they have hallucinated? I suppose anything is possible, but history reports no other hallucination on this scale – nothing even remotely like it.