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Mark 16:14 (ESV):

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Does it follow from Jesus' rebuke that he considered eyewitness testimonies to be a reliable source of evidence in general, or only for the specific miracle of His resurrection?

In other words, was Jesus teaching his disciples an epistemological lesson on the value of eyewitness testimony when it comes to assessing the credibility of miracle claims?


Related: Is believing based on evidence good or bad?

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    It's pretty odd to read that passage and then think of it signifying whether Mark thought eye witness testimony was reliable. It would be like reading the trials of Jesus and asking whether Mark thought Roman justice was efficacious. Perhaps you could share a little more of what you are thinking of, because as it stands this is a very open-ended and out of place question. (I am not downvoting you)
    – Robert
    Aug 9 at 5:11

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This passage is not a blanket endorsement or rejection of the value of eyewitness testimony in general, but rather gives a criticism for not believing the specific testimony that had been given:

  • By Mary Magdalene (vss. 9-11)
  • By the two disciples (probably on the road to Emmaus)(vss. 12-13)

Elsewhere Jesus specifically teaches that not all testimony should be believed:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15)

This counsel is only practical if both of these statements are true:

  • There will be those who bear true testimony
  • There will be those who bear false testimony

To unilaterally accept or reject all (purported) eyewitness testimony is not the point here. True testimony had been given by known, faithful witnesses, in fulfilment of promises Jesus had made. The disciples were expected to take that testimony seriously because they had good reason to believe it was true.

A useful analogy: let's imagine an Israelite named Simeon who lives at the time of Moses. God gives Simeon reason to trust that Moses is a true prophet whose teachings come from God. Moses then gives prophetic guidance and Simeon is expected to hearken to it. God may not immediately give Simeon the reason for the instruction, but Simeon is still accountable to follow it. Not knowing why this specific instruction was given does not invalidate the testimony of Moses' prophetic leadership that was already given.

Back to Mark 16 - the disciples had already been given reason to believe that Jesus would rise, even if it took some time for them to grasp the magnitude of what this meant. They were scolded because when they received evidence of the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy, the initial reaction (by some) was doubt.

Luke provides additional detail regarding the inappropriate initial reaction by some who heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene and others:

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. (Luke 24:11)

Clearly the Lord saw treating Mary Magdalene's testimony as an idle tale as inappropriate. We can reasonably conclude, then, that over the course of His ministry, He had given them reason to believe both this message and this messenger when the time came.


For a deeper dive on the authorship of the last 12 verse of Mark, this video on my channel may be of interest: The Ending of the Gospel of Mark

Since all but a few words of the last 12 verses of Mark can be found in Matthew, Luke, Acts, and John, we could reconstruct the same argument used above from other New Testament texts regardless of what conclusion we reach on the authorship of the longer ending of Mark.

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First, we should recall that there is some considerable doubt about the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. However, for the sake of this discussion, let us assume that this text is authentic.

The verse of Mark 16:14 contains several messages:

  • not believing eyewitnesses is effectively calling such people liars, by saying that their testimony is false
  • the testimony of truthful eyewitnesses is first-hand evidence and if the disciples would not believe this, they will never believe when Jesus cannot be seen. Jesus summed this up in John 20:29 -

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The important point is this - all Christians since the at least the second century have not personally seen Jesus and so, unlike Thomas, must rely on eyewitnesses in the first century. That is, unlike the disciples, they believe without seeing Jesus personally.

[I would be extremely reticent to erect elaborate "epistemological"-Platonic reasoning on this one verse. Let us not make it say any more than it does.]

Jesus is simply teaching the discples to live by faith.

Heb 11:3, 6 - By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. ... And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

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Epistemology wasn't the issue. The Gospel writers were concerned about faith, what Hebrews 11 called the "assurance of things unseen," not whether eye-witness testimony is reliable. Whether Jesus actually rebuked them for not believing this particular testimony seems beside the point. In other cases Jesus and the apostles were the victims of false eyewitness testimony [Mt 26.60. Acts 6.13]. So even assuming the text is reliable, eyewitnesses themselves may or may not be.

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