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An Easter Disciple

By Stephen Skelton
The Entertainment Ministry

CBN.comAccording to author Stephen Skelton, a new book entitled An Easter Disciple: Special Church Edition, features the ancient true story of a Roman solider who encountered Christ—both before the crucifixion and after the resurrection.

“As amazing as that sounds,” Skelton began in a recent interview, “this report, which is taken from a second-century Latin manuscript, is simply a part of the rich heritage of extra-biblical writings that lend historical support to the events recorded in the Bible. 

“Alongside the writings of Josephus the Jewish historian and Tacitus the Roman historian, both of which provide extra-biblical support for the history of early Christianity—that’s where the story of this Roman soldier who encountered the resurrected Christ belongs.” 

As recorded in the Latin manuscript, the Roman soldier Quintus Cornelius Benignus was stationed at the Roman military camp in Jerusalem in 30 AD, when he heard Christ speak firsthand at Solomon’s Porch, an event which the Bible records in John 10.

“Of course, his life starts to change,” Skelton continued.  “Shortly thereafter, this soldier is sent out of the area on a military assignment for a few fateful days.  When he returns, the crucifixion has occurred.  And the report that has the Roman camp so perturbed is that, by several eyewitness accounts, Christ, in fact, is alive again.”

In his search for answers, the soldier makes his way to Golgotha and sees the empty tomb itself.  At the tomb, a group of believers is meeting.  One of them introduces himself to the solider as “Johannes”—also known as the Apostle John.

Said Skelton, “John welcomes the soldier into fellowship, and over the next three weeks, the soldier makes a profession of faith, his belief in Christ.  And at that point, John extends an incredible invitation to the solder: Come see the risen Christ Himself once more before He ascends again to His heavenly life.”

Identifying this resurrection appearance as the one cited in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Skelton noted that what the Apostle Paul said there, readers of An Easter Disciple can echo this Easter.  “Basically, Paul says, ‘You don’t have to take my word for the fact that Christ is risen.  After all, the risen Christ appeared to over five hundred people.  Go and ask one of them.’  Well, this book contains the true story of one of the five hundred.”

Skelton pointed out that, at Easter time, when Christians begin to talk about the cornerstone of their faith, some people ask for proof.  “Church members get asked by friends or family if they can prove the resurrection occurred from sources outside of the Bible. 

“In other words, the folks asking say: You can’t use the Gospel to prove the Gospel.  And if the resurrection was a true, historical event, then more people would have written about it—other than the Gospel writers.”

Skelton smiled, “That’s exactly what the Easter Disciple answers to.”

When asked when this account first came to light, Skelton explained that this report is not “new news.”  He revealed that the account was first published in 1922, having been written by pastor Arthur Benton Sanford, who earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from Syracuse University.

“I believe it’s likely that the University is where he became familiar with the Latin manuscript that contains the story of this Roman soldier.  I think the account is better known in academic circles than it is the general public.  That’s why it seems like a new report when, in fact, the book about the account was first printed 86 years ago.”

For his contribution to the current publication, Skelton has placed comprehensive study notes in the margins of each page which give a running commentary on the main text.  “The purpose of the notes here is to provide the historical context of the story.  This is done in an effort to underline the fact that the resurrection is not a fairy tale made up by the early church fathers, but rather that it is a historically verifiable event.”

“At the appropriate places in the text,” Skelton related, “there are notes referencing extra-biblical historical sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Origen and others, as well as citing the corresponding biblical scriptures that are reflected in the story of the soldier.”

When asked what intrigued him most about the account, Skelton chuckled.  “Rather than being surprised by this account, we should be intrigued by the possibility of other accounts.  I mean this is the story of one of the 500 people at that resurrection appearance.  You might think a few of the other 499 also wrote something down.” 

Skelton concluded, “Nevertheless, we do have this account, and it does confirm the Gospel report of the resurrection—and that is what makes it such a perfect and powerful Easter gift for friends and family or church members and visitors.”

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Stephen SkeltonStephen Skelton serves as founder of The Entertainment Ministry. Previously, he has served as a writer-producer for Dick Clark Productions and later as host and writer for The Mayberry, Beverly Hillbillies, Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, Super Man and Lucy Show Bible studies. As a Christian in the entertainment industry, Stephen seeks to identify God's purposes in popular entertainment.

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