Believer asks: How can one realistically discount the testimony of over five hundred witnesses to a living Jesus following his crucifixion?
Skeptic answers: Well, there were no five hundred witnesses if the writer exaggerated or made it up. He might have misunderstood a report or rumor, but a supposed big crowd hadn't actually seen the risen Jesus.
Consider the ancient Greek tale of Perseus who turned Phineus into stone during a tussle with him. The story claims that a wedding reception witnessed the astounding incident, but it’s merely a claim. That is, just because the story says the wedding reception witnessed everything, that doesn't guarantee it's true.
There isn't a way to tell if Paul's report is fact or fantasy, either.
Source for ancient tale of Perseus:
Further, Paul says he wasn't there himself but only heard about the five hundred witnesses to whom the risen Jesus appeared.
1 Corinthians 15:3 I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died.
Paul repeats the story he received from other Christians, so he passes along hear-say, second-hand information. He doesn't say where sighting was supposed to have taken place. And he neglects to say the women were the first ones to see the risen Jesus.
Recap: Other New Testament books don't say anything about a crowd of five hundred witnesses. Only Paul's letter does and it was something he heard. Even the book of Acts, the book that takes up Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, doesn't mention the crowd of five hundred witnesses. It sounds as if unsubstantiated rumors were circulating and Paul heard one of them.
Related post on my other blog:
Didn't Luke know the women saw the risen Jesus