The Resurrection account itself can be traced to the real experiences of the original Apostles even if you disregard the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the other epistles of Peter, James, Jude and John. This can be concluded as follows:
  • 1. Paul recounted the oral tradition he received (1 Cor. 15) from the original Apostles he spent time within just five years after the cross (Gal. 1 & 2), but likely he would have heard about it much sooner than that since he was a persecutor of Christians before being saved;
  • 2. they set up churches based on the resurrection of Jesus (in Acts and Paul's epistles);
  • 3. the fact that James, who did not become a believer until after he saw Jesus resurrected, was an Elder of the church of Jerusalem; and
  • 4. various second generation Apostles reported they knew the original Apostles who testified to them that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead.
If embellishments were added over time so that the ending of the account became the resurrection of Jesus, then the original disciples would have given an account which would not have included the resurrection. But these earliest sources are the best evidence we have, and there are no early sources contradicting their eyewitness testimony.

Paul came to Christ through an experience which he thought he encountered the risen Jesus objectively with others present with him whom also at that moment had seen the light, fell to the ground, heard the voice and may have seen the man, but did not understand what was happening as Paul was talking to Jesus.

Since his conversion was based on his personal eyewitness testimony of the appearance of Jesus along with the testimony of the original Apostles having the same eyewitness testimony whom he spent time with, we can be sure legends theory is is not possible as people don't willingly die for what they believe to be a lie. All of the original Apostles were put to death for their claim except for John who was imprisoned. Paul almost died seven times in the Scriptures before his final martyrdom in the Neronian persecutions around 65 AD.

With the early martyrdom of James the Greater and Stephen, and Jesus telling the disciples they would be put to death for their eyewitness testimony of having seen Him resurrected, precedence was clearly set in their own hearts, they knew full well what was going to happen to them if they continued to preach the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ being God and died on the cross for the sins of the world, was resurrected the third day, seen the fortieth day ascending to the clouds and gave the Holy Spirit to indwell believers at Pentecost.

Legends theory does not account for the martyrdom of the Apostles in their defense of the resurrection of Jesus. People don't willingly allow themselves to be put to death unless they really believed it, so those original twelve Apostles who spent over three years with Jesus would not set up churches based on the resurrection of Jesus if Jesus did not really rise from the dead. There were no early churches we know of that were not based on the resurrection of Jesus.

If the resurrection occurred they would be in the best position to know it more than anyone. Hence, the original disciples are the best primary source and thus, the key source.

Of all that we can glean from the New Testament, one thing we can be absolutely certain of is the disciples truly believed they had seen Jesus alive from the dead in various group settings. As Gary Habermas puts it, "The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus." The appearances were on multiple occasions with different individuals in places.