What Makes Women Such Good Witnesses to the Resurrection?

As is often pointed out, the women who are the first to discover Jesus’ tomb empty and then are the first to see Him alive again provide some of the best proof for the Resurrection.  It’s so good that it’s practically irrefutable.  But why?  What makes it so good?  What makes it so irrefutable?

The 1970’s TV show All in the Family contains many cringe-worthy moments.  The way Archie treats his wife Edith is shocking.  He has her waiting on him hand and foot.  He orders her around like a servant.  And, he doesn’t let her speak her mind without his permission—that’s what makes it so funny when, from time to time, she does blurt her opinion out. 

We find Archie’s behavior completely unacceptable, as far from PC as you can get.  Viewers in the 70’s, however, weren’t nearly as shocked and horrified by his behavior.  He was just a product of their times.

But, as hard as it is to imagine, ancient Judaism’s attitude toward women makes Archie look good!

For example, women were simply deemed incompetent to be witnesses in Jewish courts out of hand.  They couldn’t testify, even if they were the only witness to a crime.  Josephus, a Jewish historian writing a generation or so after Jesus, explains why: “From women let no evidence be accepted because of the levity and temerity of their sex.”  In other words, women can’t be trusted as witnesses because they’re reckless with the truth.  Being so emotional, they’re too fickle and head strong to keep the facts straight.  This attitude wasn’t just restricted to legal proceedings.  It was the prevailing attitude generally. 

The surrounding Greco-Roman culture wasn’t much better.  Women could, at times, testify in legal proceedings.  There was no universal prohibition against this.  However, when it came to religious matters, they were thought to be completely “gullible” and “prone to superstitious fantasy”. 

Celsus was a fierce 2nd century opponent of the early Church.  One of his attacks on Christianity was based on the fact that it was based on the testimony of “a half-frantic woman”.  He, of course, is referring to Mary Magdalene who, in that culture, he can naturally dismiss as overcome with emotion.  He can simply presume that, over wrought with grief, she wouldn’t be able to hold herself together.  And that, as everyone would agree, makes her totally unreliable. 

The male disciples shared this attitude.  When the women first report what they’ve seen, the men dismiss it as “nonsense” (Luke 24:11), the delusions of “half-frantic” women.  That’s why Peter runs to the tomb to check it out for himself.  He would never trust the testimony of women.

And, in what is the greatest insult of all, the earliest creed summarizing the appearances of Jesus to his disciples (I Corinthians 15:3-7) completely omits the women.  The women’s presence in the story poses such a terrible liability, they leave them out!

In that culture, women made an already incredible story seem that much more incredible.  They threatened to torpedo the whole thing before it ever got off the ground.

But if women were such a terrible liability, why are they included in the story at all?  If the Gospel writers felt free to insert reliable male witnesses into the story as the first to find the tomb empty and see Jesus, they most certainly would have.  But they don’t.  Because they can’t.  They knew—everyone knew—that this is exactly how things went down.  Given what a major problem it presented, given that it threatened to undermine everything, no one would have had women as the first witnesses to such critical events unless that’s actually what happened.  Despite the incredible embarrassment it caused, these women were the first to discover that the tomb of Jesus was empty; they were the first to see Him alive. 

And that’s why scholars find it nearly impossible to refute the credibility of this part of the Gospel story.  Ironically, what completely undermined the credibility of the story back then is the exact thing that makes it completely credible today. 

Remarkably, though, this isn’t the most embarrassing part of it.  There’s a twist to all this that provides an even greater reason to trust what the story is telling us.  That will be the subject of next week’s blog.

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About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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