Here is the paper I promised you guys about. I wrote it during my downtime at work. Fortunately my boss, who actually treated me like a human, let me work on this. In fact, when I told him the exciting news that I was getting released, he and I chatted a good bit. He likes to encourage the inmates he is in charge of so much so that he even contacts employers on the outside to help his inmates get jobs. VERY RARE OF CO’s TO DO THIS. He definitely tries to be a beacon of light for inmates. He also shared with me how he knows the system is extremely broken and there was no reason someone like myself should have been in prison. That was very nice of someone to see the truth of things.
Hopefully you guys enjoy the 28 page document. I will plan on writing more of my memoir once things settle down. I will discuss things that I just could not write about when actually in prison since the BOP monitors all email and phone calls.
Cold Case of Jesus Christ
Since I am considered a convicted criminal, I figured a good way to go about answering concerns about the Gospels is by seeing it through the eyes of a cold case detective. Therefore, I will attempt show that the Gospels are in fact reliable beyond any reasonable doubt. In doing so, it will show that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true beyond any reasonable doubt.
The first thing that cold case detectives must NOT do is enter into any investigation with a philosophy that dictates the outcome. Objectivity is paramount. It sounds simple, but presuppositions are sometimes hidden in a way that makes them hard to uncover and recognize. Majority of people that question Christianity have a presuppositional belief that nothing exists beyond the natural realm. We must try to best of our ability to resist the temptation to allow our biases to eliminate certain forms of evidence before we even begin this investigation.
Cold case detectives employ a methodology called abductive reasoning also known as inferring to the most reasonable explanation. To infer means “to gather in”. In logic, inference refers to the process of collecting data from numerous sources, and then drawing conclusions on the basis of this evidence. In legal terms, an inference is a “deduction of fact that may logically and reasonably be drawn from another fact or group of facts found or otherwise established”.
Just about anything is possible, but it is important to return eventually to what is reasonable, especially when the truth is at stake. That is why judges instruct juries to refrain from what is known as speculation when considering the explanations for what has occurred in a case. In the end, criminal courts place a high standard on reasonableness. Therefore, I will try to utilize this same abductive reasoning
Part 1: What Happened to Jesus of Nazareth
Let’s start off discussing what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. How can we explain the empty tomb? Did Jesus’ disciples steal his body? Was he only injured on the cross and later recovered? Did he actually die and resurrect from the dead? Below are 4 minimal facts to be the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity:
1. Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
2. Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced his body.
3. Jesus’ disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
4. Jesus’ disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations.
You will notice that NONE of these 4 necessitates that Jesus truly rose from the dead.
We next must assemble the possible explanations that have been historically offered to account for them which uses abductive reasoning. I will also point out their associated difficulties.
A. the disciples were wrong about Jesus’ death.
Skeptics of Jesus have offered this possibility by proposing that Jesus survived the beating and crucifixion and simply appeared to the disciples after he recovered.
While this proposal seeks to explain the empty tomb, the resurrection observations, and the transformation that occurred in the lives of the apostles, it fails to satisfactorily explain what the disciples observed and experienced when they pulled Jesus from the cross. As most homicide detectives will attest, when witnesses first come upon a dead body of one they care about, they will check for the most obvious sign of life. Is the person still who is injured still breathing? I remember when my infant son had a medical emergency, I kept checking to see if he was still breathing. The test is simple and effective and is reasonable to assume that an adult is capable of performing this check and even those who know nothing about human biology instinctively resort to it.
It is also widely known that 3 conditions become apparent in the bodies of dead people: emperature loss, rigidity, and lividity. The bodies become cold to the touch, they undergo rigor mortis, and when the heart stops beating, blood begins to pool in the body, responding to the force of gravity.
Is it reasonable to believe that those who removed Jesus from the cross, took possession of his body, carried him to the grave, and spent time treating and wrapping his body for burial would not have noticed any of these conditions common to dead bodies? In addition, the Gospel of John records that the guard stabbed Jesus and observed blood and water poured from his body. When people are injured to the point of death, they often enter into some form of circulatory shock prior to dying because their organs have not received enough blood flow. This is important because John was not a medical doctor or coroner. When Jesus was pinned to the cross in an upright position following the terrible flogging he received, it is reasonable to expect “pleural effusion” or “pericardial effusion” which are increased fluid in the tissues surrounding the lungs or heart respectively. Hence when Jesus was pierced, a medical doctor or coroner would expect to see blood and water whereas John would only expect to see blood. Therefore, seeing blood and water is somewhat surprising. This certainly is consistent with Jesus actually dying.
Other problems with this proposal that Jesus survived the crucifixion are:
1. Many first century and early second century non-Christian Roman sources such as Thallus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Phlegon, Josephus, and the Babylonian Talmud affirmed and acknowledged that Jesus was crucified and died.
2. The Roman guards faced death if they allowed a prisoner to survive crucifixion.
3. Jesus would have to control his blood loss from the beatings, crucifixion, and stabbing in order to survive, yet he was pinned to the cross and unable to do anything that might achieve this.
4. Jesus disappeared from the historical record following his reported resurrection and ascension and was never cited again as one might expect if he recovered from his wounds and lived much beyond the young age of 30’s.
The disciples lied about the resurrection
While this explanation accounts for the empty tomb and the resurrection observations, it fails to account for the transformed lives of the apostles. This would require a conspiracy effort of a large number of people, over a significant period of time, when there was personally little or nothing to gain by their effort. This theory requires us to believe that apostles were transformed not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus, but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax.
Other concerns with this explanation are:
1. The Jewish authorities took many precautions to make sure the tomb was guarded and sealed, knowing that the removal of the body would allow the disciples to claim that Jesus had risen (Matt 27:62-66)
2. The people local to the event would have known it was a lie. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 that there were still 500 people who could testify to having seen Jesus alive after his resurrection.
3. The disciples lacked any motive since the 3 main motives detectives see are financial, sexual or relational desire, and pursuit of power.
4. The disciples transformation following the alleged resurrection is inconsistent with the claim that the appearances were only a lie. How could their own lies transform them into courageous evangelists?
C. The disciples were delusional
Some skeptics believe that the disciples, as a result of their intense grief and sorrow, only imagined seeing Jesus alive after his death on the cross. These skeptics claim that the appearances were simply hallucinations,
This proposal fails to explain the empty tomb and only accounts for the resurrection experiences at first glance. Detectives that encounter witnesses who are related in some way to the victim are often profoundly impacted by their grief following the murder. As a result, some allow their sorrow to impact what they remember about the victim. They may, for example, suppress all the negative characteristics of the victim’s personality and amplify all the victim’s virtues.
However, it is not reasonable to encounter loved ones who have collectively imagined an identical set of fictional events involving the victim. It is one thing to remember someone with fondness, another thing to imagine an elaborate and detailed history that didn’t even occur.
Other concerns with this explanation are:
1. While individuals have hallucinations, there are no examples of large groups of people having the SAME EXACT hallucination.
2. While a short, momentary group hallucination may seem reasonable, long, sustained, and detailed hallucinations are unsupported historically and intuitively.
3. The risen Jesus was reportedly seen on more than one occasion and by a number of different groups (and subsets of groups). All of these diverse sightings would have to be additional group hallucinations of one nature or another.
4. Not all the disciples were inclined favorably toward such a hallucination. The disciples included people like Thomas, who was skeptical and did NOT expect Jesus to come back to life.
5. If the resurrection was simply a hallucination, what became of Jesus’ corpse? The absence of the body is unexplainable under this scenario.
D. The Disciples Were Fooled By An Imposter
Some nonbelievers have argued that an imposter tricked the disciples and convinced them that Jesus was still alive; the disciples then unknowingly advanced the lie.
While this explanation accounts for the resurrection observations and transformed apostles, it requires an additional set of conspirators (other than the apostles who were later fooled) to accomplish the task of stealing the body. As many detectives could attest, the less the victim understands about the specific topic and area in which he or she is being “conned” the more likely the conn artist will be successful. Victims are often fooled and swindled out of their money because they have little or no expertise in the area in which the con artist is operating. The con artist is able to use sophisticated language and make claims that are outside of the victim’s expertise. The crook sounds legitimate because the victim basically does not know more about the subject than the person attempting the con. However, when the targeted victim knows more about the subject than the person attempting the con, the odds are good that the con artist will fail at the attempt to fool the victim. Therefore, the proposal that a sophisticated first-century con artist fooled the disciples seems unreasonable.
Other concerns with this explanation are:
1. The impersonator would have to be familiar enough with Jesus’ mannerisms and statements to convince the disciples. The disciples knew the topic of the con better than anyone who might con them.
2. Many of the disciples were skeptical and displayed none of the necessary aspects that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly skeptical from the beginning.
3. The con artist would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus performed many miracles and convincing proofs” (Acts 1:2-3)
4. Who would seek to start a world religious movement if not one of the hopeful disciples? This theory requires someone to be motivated to impersonate Jesus other than the disciples themselves.
5. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.
E. The Disciples Were Influenced By Limited Spiritual Sightings
Solme skeptics have offered the theory that one or two of the disciples had a vision of the risen Jesus and then convinced the others that these spiritual sightings were legitimate. They argue that additional sightings simply came as a response to the intense influence of the visions.
This proposal may begin to explain the transformation of the apostles, but it fails to explain the theory of the empty tomb and offers an explanation of the resurrection observations that is inconsistent with the biblical record. It is not unusual to have a persuasive witness influence the beliefs of other eyewitnesses, it is unreasonable this persuasive witness could influence every one of the eyewitnesses. The more witnesses who are involved in a crime, the less likely that all of them will be influenced by any one eyewitness regardless of that witness’s charisma or position within the group.
This proposal also suffers from the same liabilities of the earlier claim that the disciples imagined the resurrected Jesus. Other concerns with this explanation are:
1. This theory fails to account for the numerous, divergent, and separate group sightings of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospels. It is not reasonable to believe that all these disciples could provide such specified detail if they were simply repeating something they didn’t see themselves.
2. As many as 500 people were said to be available to testify to their observations of the risen Jesus (1 Cor 15:3-8). Could all of these people have been influenced to imagine their own observations of Jesus? It is not reasonable to believe that a persuader equally persuaded all these disciples even though they did not actually see anything that was recorded.
3. This theory also fails to account for the empty tomb or the missing corpse.
The Disciples Observations Were Distorted Later
Some unbelievers claim the original observations of the disciples were amplified and distorted as the legend of Jesus grew over time. There skeptics believe that Jesus may have been a wise teacher, but argue that the resurrection is a legendary and historically late exaggeration.
This explanation may account for the empty tomb if we assume the body was removed, but it fails to explain the early claims of the apostles related to the resurrection. Cold case detectives typically deal with the issue of legend more than other types of detectives. So much time has passed from the point of the original crime that it seems possible that witnesses may now amplify their original observations in one way or another. Usually the first recollections of the eyewitnesses are more detailed and reliable that what they might offer 30 years later. The reliability of the eyewitness accounts related to the resurrection, like the reliability of cold case witnesses must be confirmed by the early documentation of the first time investigators. For this reason, the claim that the original story of Jesus was a late exaggeration is undermined by a few concerns:
1. In the earliest accounts of the disciples’ activity after the crucifixion, they are seen citing the resurrection of Jesus as their primary piece of evidence. From the earliest days of the Christian movement, eyewitnesses were making this claim.
2. The students of the disciples also recorded that the resurrection was a key component of the disciples’ eyewitness testimony. This explanation also fails to account for the fact that the tomb and body of Jesus have not been exposed to demonstrate that this late legend was false.
G. The Disciples Were Accurately Reporting The Resurrection of Jesus
Christians, of course, claim that Jesus truly rose from the dead and that the Gospels are accurate eyewitness accounts of this event.
This explanation accounts for the empty tomb, the resurrection observations, and the transformation of the apostles. It would be naïve, however, to accept this explanation WITHOUT recognizing the fact that it also has a liability that has been examined and voiced by skeptics and nonbelievers. The claim that Jesus truly rose from the dead presents the following concern and objection: This explanation requires a belief in the supernatural, a belief that Jesus had the supernatural power to rise from the dead in the first place.
Adductive Reasoning And The Resurrection
We limited the evidence to 4 modest claims and kept the explanation options open to all the possibilities (both natural and supernatural). The last explanation, though it is a supernatural explanation, suffers from the least number of liabilities and deficiencies. Therefore, if we approach the issue of the resurrection in an unbiased manner, the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected can be sensibiy inferred from the available evidence. The resurrection is reasonable.
Part 2: Trusting Eyewitnesses
In part 1, we showed that the resurrection is reasonable, but skeptics will bring up about the trustworthiness of the eyewitnesses. Since Christianity claims there were eyewitnesses, one must be able to evaluate these witnesses. Detectives use 4 basic criteria to evaluate a witness:
1. Was the Witness present
2. Can what the witness says be corroborated (verified) by additional evidence
3. Was the witness accurate and honest in the past 4. Does the witness have any motive to lie before going into the 4 basic criteria, it is best to do a bit of Detective Training 101. Detective Training 101: disagreement of eyewitnesses Detectives have been trained to NOT disqualify a witness if there are disagreements. In fact, section 105, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions says, “Do not automatically reject testimony just because of inconsistencies or conflicts. Consider whether the differences are important or not. People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember. Also, two people may witness the same event yet see or hear it differently.” Petectives know the more witnesses involved in a case, the more likely there will be points of disagreement. This is why detectives are trained to separate witnesses as quickly as possible. This will allow the detective to be provided with a more likelihood of uninfluenced pure accounts of what they saw. Yes, their accounts will inevitably differ from the accounts of others who witnessed the same event, but that is the natural result of a witness’s past experience, perspective, and worldview. These detectives are trained to deal with the inconsistencies and quite frankly expect them.
When witnesses are allowed to sit together prior to being interviewed and compare notes and observations, they are likely to have one harmonized version. They will offer the same story. While it may be tidier, it will give up certain aspects a witness saw in order to align with the other witnesses. Detectives will know in the end they will have a much easier time determining the truth of the matter by examining all the stories. The apparent contradictions are usually easy to explain once the detective learns something about the witness and their perspectives both visually and personally at the time of the event. In fact, when 2 people agree COMPLETELY on EVERY detail of their account, detectives are more inclined to believe that they have either contaminated each other’s observations or are working together to pull the wool over the detective’s eyes. Therefore, detectives expect reliable eyewitnesses to disagree along the way.
Another thing detectives are trained on is if there is a witness who might be within earshot of a detective’s interviews of other witnesses, this additional witness is more likely to simplify the missing details since they were already aware of what has been offered from the initial interviewed witnesses.
Most skeptics of Christianity do not view the biblical narrative as eyewitness accounts, but rather view it as something more akin to religious mythology. However, when one reads through the Gospels and letters that followed, it appears the writers identified themselves as eyewitnesses. Peter, John, and Paul identified themselves as eyewitnesses.
Was the text written by an apostolic eyewitness (Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, James, Jude, etc…) or at least had meaningful access to one or more eyewitnesses such as the Gospel of Mark and Luke? If there were, can they be trusted?
The traditional definition of biblical inerrancy maintains that the Bible is accurate and completely free of error. Inerrancy does NOT require, however, that the biblical texts be free of any personal perspectives or idiosyncrasies. In fact, the existence of these distinctive features only helps us recognize the accounts as true eyewitness statements written by real people who revealed their human gifts (and limitations) along the way. These characteristics can help us have confidence in both the accuracy and the reliability of the accounts. Hence, reliable eyewitness accounts are met (at least preliminarily and superficially) by the Gospels since all 4 are written from a different perspective and contain unique details that are specific to the eyewitnesses. There are, as a result, divergent (apparently contradictory) recollections that can be pieced together to get a complete picture of what occurred.
All 4 Gospels are highly personal, utilizing the distinctive language of each witness. Mark is far more passionate and active in his choice of adjectives, for example. Several of the accounts in Mark, Matthew, and Luke contain blocks of nearly identical descriptions. This could be the result of common agreement at particularly important points in the narrative or more likely the result of later eyewitnesses saying, “The rest occurred just the way he said.” Finally, the last account which is John’s Gospel, clearly attempts to fill in the details that were not offered by the prior eyewitnesses. John, aware of what the earlier eyewitnesses had already written, appears to make little effort to cover the same ground.
Detective Training 101: Not All Memories Are Created Equal
We have all forgotten details from past events, we understand what it is like to struggle with a particular memory. Isn’t it possible, reasonable in fact, that witnesses might confuse some important details. For example, I got married on June 12, 2004. If you asked me what we did 5 years ago on our anniversary, I may or may not be able to remember many of the details. I probably took my wife out for dinner. may be able to recall the day with accuracy, but most likely I will confuse it with other anniversaries. If I am able to recall it, I would probably not be able to give you specific chronological details. would definitely struggle with the details.
However, if you ask me for details of June 12, 2004, I can provide you with a much more accurate recollection since it was the day my wife and I got married. It definitely sticks out in my mind. It is the only time I have ever been married and the excitement and importance of the event were unparalleled for me. Again, not all memories are created equal as you can see.
When eyewitnesses encounter an event that is similarly unique, unrepeated, and powerful, they are far more likely to remember it and recall specific details accurately. This doesn’t mean that their testimonies ought to be accepted without testing the 4 criteria. If these criteria can be met, we have a good reason to trust the testimonies as reliable.
Now put yourself in the shoes of the apostles as they witnessed the miracles and resurrection of Jesus. None of these eyewitnesses have ever seen anyone like Jesus before. The apostles experienced only 1 Jesus in their lifetime. The resurrection was unique, unrepeated, and powerful. The Gospel eyewitnesses observed a singularly powerful and memorable event and provided us with accounts that are distinctive, idiosyncratic, personal, and reliable.
Detective Training 101: Forensic Statement Analysis
Gospel of Mark: An eyewitness account of the apostle Peter
Detectives use forensic statement analysis to determine truthfulness or deception on the part of the person making the statement. This type of analysis examines the words by witnesses and suspects in an effort to determine:
1. Is the writer or speaker more involved in the event than he or she might like us to believe?
2. Are there relational problems between the writer or speaker and the victim who is the subject of the case?
3. What are the hidden difficulties between the writer or speaker and the victim?
4. Was the writer or speaker actually doing what he or she claimed to be doing at the time of the event?
5. Should the writer or speaker be considered a suspect in this event under consideration?
When examining the Gospel of Mark, the early church maintains that it was the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. Papias (70 AD-163), the ancient bishop of Hierapolis claimed that Mark penned his gospel in Rome as Peter’s scribe. Papias reported that “Mark, having become the interprete of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” Iraneaeus (115 AD-202), a student of Ignatius and Polycarp (2 students of the apostle John) reported that, “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria also mentioned the same thing about Peter being the eyewitness for the Gospel of Mark.
Using forensic statement analysis it appears that the Gospel really is the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. Below are some reasons.
1. Mark mentioned Peter with prominence. Mark referred to Peter 26 times whereas Matthew mentions 3 times.
2. Mark identified Peter with the most familiarity. Mark is the only writer who refused to use the term “Simon Peter” when describing Peter. He either used Peter or Simon. (Simon was the most popular male in Palestine at the time of Mark’s writing.) Mark made no attempt to distinguish the apostle Simon from the hundreds of other Simon’s known to his readers. John, by comparison, referred to Peter more formally as “Simon Peter” 17 times.
3. Mark used Peter as a set of bookends. Unlike in other gospel accounts. Peter is the first disciple identified in the text and the last disciple mentioned in the text.
4. Mark paid Peter the utmost respect. He repeatedly painted Peter in the kindest possible way, even when Peter made a fool of himself. Matthew’s gospel, on the other hand, describes Peter’s failed attempt to walk on water when Jesus asked him to. Luke’s gospel includes a description of Peter’s doubt to Jesus’ wisdom on how to catch fish. While other gospels mention Peter directly as the source of some embarrassing statement or question, Mark omits Peter’s name specifically and attributes the question or statement to “the disciples” or some other unnamed member of the group.
5. Mark included details that can best be attributed to Peter. Mark alone included a number of seemingly unimportant details that point to Peter’s involvement in the text. Mark alone told us that “Simon and his companions” were the ones who went looking for Jesus. Mark alone seemed to be able to identify the specific disciples who asked Jesus about the timing of the destruction of the temple.
6. Mark used Peter’s rough outline. Many scholars noticed that Peter’s preaching style consistently omits details of Jesus’ private life. He limited his description to Jesus’ public life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Mark also followed this rough outline, omitting the birth narrative and other details of his private life that are found in Luke and Matthew.
There circumstantial facts support the claims of the early church fathers who identified Peter as the source of Mark’s Gospel.
Detective Training 101: Conspiracies
Detectives are used to investigating conspiracies. They are difficult to pull off. The smaller number of conspirators, the more likely the conspiracy will be a success. Lies are difficult to maintain and the fewer the number of people who have to continue the lie, the better. Not only that, lies are hard enough to tell once, but even harder to tell consistently over a long period of time. Therefore, the shorter the conspiracy, the better. The ideal conspiracy would involve only 2 conspirators and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime.
In addition, the greater the relational bond between the conspirators, the greater possibility of success. Few suspects confess to the truth of a conspiracy until they recognize the jeopardy of failing to do so. Unless pressured to confess, conspirators will continue to lie. The coconspirators, the more likely the conspiracy will fail.
Most skeptics of the apostolic eyewitnesses question the claim related to the resurrection. This was the big one, larger than ANY other miracle ever performed by Jesus and the proof that the apostles seemed to trot out every time they talked about Jesus. Most skeptics simply assume they were lying. They assume these 12 men concocted, executed, and maintained the most elaborate and influential conspiracy of all time.
However, the number of conspirators required to successfully accomplish the Christian conspiracy would have been staggering. The book of Acts tells us there were as many as 120 eyewitnesses in the upper room following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:15). Let’s assume for a minute that this number is a gross exaggeration and say it was just 12. The apostles had little or no effective way to communicate with one another in a quick or thorough manner. Following their dispersion from Jerusalem, the 12 were scattered across the Roman Empire and according to ancient accounts, were ultimately interrogated and martyred far from one another. From Peter in Rome, to James in Jerusalem, to Thomas in Mylapore, the apostles appears to have been ultimately interrogated in locations that prevented them from communicating with one another in a timely manner. They had no idea if the coconspirators had already “given up the lie” and saved themselves by simply confessing that Jesus was never resurrected.
In addition, the apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for an incredibly long time. To make matters worse, many of them were complete strangers to one another prior to their time together. Some were brothers, but many were added over the course of Jesus’ early ministry and came from diverse backgrounds, communities, and families. While there were certainly pairs of family members in the group of apostolic eyewitnesses, many had no relationship to each other at all. Whatever the relational connection between these men, the short years they spent together would quickly pale in comparison to the decades they would spend apart from one another prior to the time of their final interrogations. At some point, the bonds of friendship and community would be tested if their individual lives were placed in jeopardy.
Successful conspiracies are unpressured conspiracies. The apostles were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India. Ancient writers recorded that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, James was killed by sword in Jerusalem, and Thomas was murdered by a mob in Mylapore. There was immense pressure to recant about the resurrection, but none of the 12 did. NOT ONE.
Now multiply the problem by 10 to account for the 120 disciples in the upper room or by 40 to account for the 500 eyewitnesses described by Paul in 1 Cor 15:6 and the odds seem even more prohibitive. None of these eyewitnesses ever recanted.
History is filled with examples of men and women who were committed to their religious views and were willing to die a martyr’s death for what they believed. The hijackers who flew the planes into the Twin Towers for example. Does this martyrdom testify to the truth of their beliefs in a manner similar to the 12 apostles? No, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. You and I might die for what we believe today, trusting in the testimony of those who were witnesses 1000’s of years ago. We were not there to see Jesus for ourselves, but we may believe that we have good reason to accept their testimony. Our martyrdom would be a demonstration of our trust, rather than a confirmation of the truth. The original eyewitnesses, however, knew firsthand if their claims were true or not. If their claims were a lie, they would know it personally.
Detective Training 101: Chain of Custody
Detectives quickly learn the importance of documenting and tracking key pieces of evidence. AKA Chain of Custody. If the evidence isn’t carefully handled, a number of questions will plague the case as it is presented to the jury. Those who are skeptical of the New Testament Gospels offer a similar objection based on the chain of custody. The Gospels claim to be eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
These accounts were eventually entered into the “court record” when they were established as Scripture at the Council of Laodicea in AD 363. It was here that early Christian leaders first identified and codified the New Testament Scripture which is the official list of 27 books and letters. No council prior to this meeting in the 4th century formally acknowledged the list of accepted books and letters. If the life of Jesus could be considered the Christian “crime scene”, this council was undoubtedly the “courtroom” where the evidence of eyewitness testimony was first formally acknowledged.
That is quite an expansive period of time between the “crime scene” and the “courtroom”. Definitely appears to be a cold case. A lot could happen in 330 years. Skeptics have considered this period of time and argued that the eyewitness evidence of the Gospels was “planted”. These skeptics argue that the Gospels were written well after the life of Jesus. They say the Gospels are not true evidence they say they were manufactured by conspirators who wanted to fool those who were not at the “crime scene”.
The best way to counter this sort of claim is to retrace the chain of custody to see if we can account for who handled the evidence from the point of the “crime scene” to its first appearance in the “courtroom”
To trace the New Testament Gospels, we are going to identify the original eyewitnesses and their immediate disciples, moving from one set of disciples to the next until we trace the Gospels from AD 33 to AD 363. We must have this chain of custody stand beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard is met when there is NO plausible reason to believe that the proposition is UNTRUE.
Now that we have gone over a some Detective training, lets discuss the 4 criteria on how to evaluate an eyewitness.
Criteria 1: Were the Witnesses present
First let’s establish when the Gospels were written. There are many pieces of circumstantial evidence that form a compelling case for the early dating of the Gospels.
- The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the temple.
The most significant Jewish historical event of the first century is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Roman army under the leadership of Titus destroyed the temple just as Jesus predicted in Matt 24. One might think this important detail would be included in the New Testament record since this would corroborate Jesus’ prediction. But no gospel account records this.
2. The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem.
Even before the temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was under assault for 3 years prior to the temple being destroyed. No aspect of this 3 year siege is described in any New Testament document, in spite of the fact that the gospel writers could certainly have pointed to the anguish that resulted from the siege as a power point of reference for the many passages of scripture that address the issue of suffering
3. Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter
Years before the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, another pair of events occurred. The apostle Paul was martyred in Rome in 64 AD and Peter was martyred in 65 AD. Luke wrote extensively about Paul and Peter in the book of Acts, but he said nothing about their deaths. In fact, Paul was still alive under house arrest in Rome at the end of the book of Acts.
4. Luke said nothing about the death of James.
Luke featured another important figure of Christian history in the book of Acts. James, the brother of Jesus, became the leader of the Jerusalem Church and was described in a position of prominence in Acts 15. James was martyred in the city of Jerusalem in 62 AD. This account is absent in Acts even though Luke described the deaths of Stephen (Acts 7) and James the brother of John (Acts 12)
5. Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts.
Luke wrote both the book of Acts and the gospel of Luke. It is clear Luke wrote the gospel before Acts because in Acts 1:1-2 Luke says “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven….”
6. Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy
Paul appeared to be aware of Luke’s gospel and wrote as though it was common knowledge by quoting Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18 by writing, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
7. Paul echoed the claims of the gospel writers.
Even the most skeptical scholars agree that Paul is the author of the letters written to Rome, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. The letter to the Romans reveals something important by proclaiming that Jesus is the resurrected “Son of God”. Throughout the letter, Paul accepted the view of Jesus that the gospel witnesses described in their own accounts. Just 17 years after the resurrection, Jesus was described as divine. In 1 Cor 15:3-8 Paul summarized the gospel message and reinforced the fact that the apostles described the eyewitness accounts to him. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described his interaction with these apostles (Peter and John) and said that their meeting occurred at least 14 years prior to the writing. Galatians 1:15-19 and 2:1.
This means that Paul saw the risen Christ and learned about the gospel accounts from the eyewitnesses of Peter and James within 5 years of the crucifixion and he visited Peter and James within 3 years of his conversion according to Gal 1:19. This is why Paul was able to tell the Corinthians that there were still more than 500 hundred brethren who could confirm the resurrection accounts. That is a gutsy claim to make when his readers could easily have accepted his challenge and called him out as a liar if the claim was untrue.
8. Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to the Corinthians.
Paul discusses communion in 1 Cor 11:23-25 just like Luke says it in Luke 22:19-20. If Paul is trying to use a description of the meal that was already well known at the time, this account must have been circulating for a period of time prior to Paul’s letter.
9. Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly
Luke, when writing his own gospel, readily admitted that he was NOT an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus. Instead, Luke described himself as a historian, collecting statements from the eyewitnesses who were present at the time. Luke 1:1-4.
As a result, Luke often repeated or quoted entire passages that were offered previously by either Mark (350 verses from Mark appear in Luke’s gospel) or Matthew (250 verses from Matthew appear in Luke’s gospel). It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that Mark’s account was already recognized, accepted, and available to Luke prior to his authorship of the gospel.
10. Mark’s gospel appears to be an early “crime scene” broadcast.
When first responding officers arrive at the scene of a crime, they quickly gather details related to the crime and the description of the suspect, then clear the air with the radio dispatchers so they can broadcast these details to other officers who may be in the area. This first crime broadcast is brief and focused on the essential elements. There will be time later to add additional details, sort out the order of events, and write lengthy reports. There is a sense of urgency in the first broadcast because officers are trying to catch the bad guys before they get away.
Although Mark’s gospel contains the important details of Jesus’ life and ministry, it is brief, less ordered than the other gospels, and filled with “action” verbs and objectives. As a detective, this is what one would expect if it was an early account of jesus’ ministry. As the years passed and the eyewitnesses aged, others made a more deliberate effort to place the narrative in its correct order. Papias seems to indicate that this was Matthew’s intent by saying, “Therefore Matthew put the logia in the ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language, but each person interpreted them as best he could.
Luke also seems to do the same as Matthew when he says in Luke 1:3 “It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order.”
Hence, both Matthew and Luke appear to be writing with a much different intent than Mark. Their accounts are more robust and ordered. While Mark seems to be providing us with the initial “crime broadcast”. Matthew and Luke are more concerned about the “final report”.
11. Mark appears to be protecting key players.
Detectives understand that at times witnesses carefully choose their words to avoid dragging someone else into the case. This is especially true when dealing with gang cases. These witnesses were simply trying to protect someone who they thought was defenseless and vulnerable.
On the other hand, if it is a cold case investigation, when reinterviewing witnesses who spoke to investigators years earlier, they typically are willing to provide the detective the identities of people whom they previously refused to identity. Sometimes this could be the boyfriend broke up with the girlfriend or sometimes it was a matter of diminishing fear if the suspect died.
Many careful readers of Mark’s gospel have observed that there are number of unidentified people in his account. These anonymous characters are often in key positions in the narrative, yet Mark chose to leave them unnamed. For example, Mark includes the report that one of those who stood by Jesus drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear in Mark 14:47. Mark chose to leave both the attacker and the man attacked unnamed even though John identified both Peter as the attacker and Malchus as the person being attacked. Similarly, Mark failed to identify the woman who anointed Jesus at the home of Simon the leper even though John told us that it was Mary the sister of Martha.
If Mark, like some witnesses in gang cases, was interested in protecting the identity of Peter and Mary, it makes sense that he might leave them unnamed so that the Jewish leadership would not be able to easily target them. In fact, Mark never even described Jesus’ raising of Mary’s brother, Lazarus. This also makes sense if Mark was trying to protect Lazarus’ identity in the earliest years of the Christian movement, given that the resurrection of Lazarus was of critical concern to the Jewish leaders and prompted them to search for Jesus in their plot to kill him.
if Mark wrote his gospel early, while Mary, Lazarus, Peter, and Malchus were still alive, it is reasonable that Mark might have wanted to leave them unnamed or simply omit the accounts that included them in the first place. Scholars generally acknowledge John’s gospel as the final addition to the New Testament collection of gospel accounts. It was most likely written at a time when Peter, Malchus and Mary were already dead so they were no longer in harm’s way.
Given these 11 pieces of circumstantial evidence, what reasonable inference can be drawn about the dating of the Gospels? The evidence supports an early dating of the Gospels. The gospel writers appear in history where we would expect them to appear if they were in fact eye witnesses. This early placement alone does NOT ensure that the Gospels are reliable accounts, but it keeps them in
the running and becomes an important piece of circumstantial evidence, in and of itself, as we determine the reliability of the gospel writers.
$ome skeptics still argue that the gospels were written much later because none of the authors specifically identifies himself in the accounts. They contend this lack of identification is evidence that the accounts were not written by anyone in the first century, but were falsely attributed to these authors much later in an effort to legitimize the forgeries.
However, no one in antiquity ever attributed the Gospels to anyone other than the 4 traditionally accepted authors. This is important because early Christians consistently recognized, identified and condemned the false writings of forgers who tried to credit false gospels to the apostolic eyewitnesses. For example, The Traditions of Matthias (AD 110-160) was identified as a forgery by early Christians as well as the gospels of Thomas and Peter.
Moreover, why would forgers pick Mark or Luke when they could have chosen Peter, Andrew, or James? Mark and Luke appear nowhere in the gospel records as eyewitnesses, so why would early forgers choose these 2 men around which to build their lies when there were clearly better candidates available to legitimize the work? While it is possible that the Gospels were not written by the traditional first century writers and were given these attributions only much later in history, it is not evidentially reasonable. If skeptics were willing to give the Gospels the same benefit of the doubt they are willing to give other ancient documents, the Gospels would easily pass the test of authorship.
As previously mentioned, juries are encouraged to evaluate eyewitnesses in the 4 categories mentioned previously. The first test is making sure the witnesses were truly present at the time of the crime. When evaluating the gospel writers, the most reasonable inference from the evidence is an early date of authorship. This does not mean the witnesses are reliable yet. There a be passed.
Can what the witness says be corroborated (verified) by additional evidence?
There is corroboration available to us when we examine the claims of the gospel accounts. Some of this corroboration is internal (evidences from within the gospel documents that are consistent with the claims of the text), and some is external (evidences that are independent of the gospel documents yet verify the claims of the text). Much has been written about the internal evidences that support the reliability of the New Testament authors: scholars have studied the use of language and Greek idioms to try to discover if the writing styles of each author corroborate the New Testament claims related to the authors. These scholars ask if John’s use of language is consistent with that of a first century fisherman or is Luke’s language that of a first century doctor. These are definitely interesting, but to a detective not so much.
The Gospel writers provided unintentional eyewitness support
No single witness is likely to have seen every detail, so detectives must piece together the accounts. Allowing the observations of one eye witness to fill in the gaps that may exist in the observations of another eyewitness. That is why it is so important to separate eyewitnesses before they are interviewed.
When looking at the Gospels forensically, comparing those places where 2 or more gospel writers were describing the same event, a detective would be struck by the inadvertent support that each writer provided for the other. The accounts puzzled together just the way one would expect from independent eyewitnesses. When one gospel eyewitness described an event and left out a detail that raised a question, this question unintentionally answered by another gospel writer (who, by the way, often left out a detail that was provided by the first gospel writer.) This interdependence between the accounts could be explained in one of two ways. It may have been that the writers worked together, writing at precisely the same time and location, to craft a clever lie so subtle that very few people would even notice at all. The second possibility is that Gospels were written by different eyewitnesses who witnessed the event and included these unplanned supporting details; they were simply describing something that actually happened.
Some examples are:
Question: Matthew 8:16: Why did they wait until evening to bring those who needed healing?
Answer: Mark 1:21, Luke 4:31: Because it was the Sabbath
Question: Matthew 26:71: Why did the maid notice Peter?
Answer: John 8:16: A disciple spoke with her when he brought Peter inside.
Question Mark 15:43: Why did Mark say Joseph of Arimathea acted boldly?
Answer: John 19:38: Joseph was previously a secret disciple who was in fear of the Jews.
The Gospel Writers Referenced Names Correctly
The gospel writers are believed to have written from a number of geographic locations. Mark probably wrote from Rome, Matthew probably wrote from Judea, Luke probably wrote from Rome or Antioch, and John from Ephesus. Skeptics have argued that these accounts were not written by people who had firsthand knowledge of the life and ministry of Jesus, but were simply inventions written generations later by people who weren’t all that familiar with the locations they were describing. All of the gospel writers described a large number of people as they wrote out their testimonies and often identified these people by name. As it turns out, these names provide us with important clues to help us determine if the writers of the gospels were actually familiar with life in first-century Palestine.
Talllan wrote the Lexicon of Jewish Names dating between 300 BC and 200 AD. She discovered that the most popular men’s names in Palestine during the first century were Simon and Joseph. The most popular for women were Mary and Salome. As it turns out, when one examines all the names llan mentioned in her work, they reflect nearly the same percentages found in the New Testament narrative. For example, during the first century, 15.6% of the men had the name Simon or Joseph. 18.2% of men mentioned in the New Testament had the name Simon or Joseph. 41.5% of men during the first century had one of the 9 most popular names. 40.3% of men mentioned in the New Testament had one of the 9 most popular names.
If the gospel writers were simply guessing about the names they were using in their accounts, they happened to guess with remarkable accuracy. Many of the popular Jewish names in Palestine during the first century were different from the popular names in Egypt, Syria, or Rome. The use of these names by the gospel writers is consistent with their claim that they were writing on the basis of true eyewitness familiarity.
Moreover, when names are very common, people find themselves having to make a distinction by adding an extra piece of information. For example, I am known for being very thin and there are several people here named David. So people will add a distinctive piece of information when mentioning me by saying skinny Dave. We see these types of distinction throughout the Gospels. The gospel writers introduce us to Simon “Peter”, Simon “the Zealot”, Simon “the tanner”, Simon “the leper”, and Simon “of Cyrene”. The name Simon was so common to the area of Palestine in the first century that the gospel writers had to add descriptors to differentiate one Simon from another.
The manner in which the gospel writers described details unintentionally supporting one another and the approach the gospel writers took when they referred to people using the names with descriptors corroborate their testimonies INTERNALLY. The gospel accounts appear authentic from the “inside out”. The words of the gospels themselves are consistent with what we would expect from eyewitnesses.
If the Gospels are true, we should also expect them to be corroborated EXTERNALLY as well. The Gospels are similarly corroborated from the “outside in” by the testimony of witnesses who reported what they knew to be true, even though they were NOT Christians and did not necessarily believe the testimony of the gospel writers. These non-Christian eyewitnesses were often hostile to the growing Christian movement. In spite of this, they affirmed many of the details that were reported by the gospel writers.
Hostile Nonbiblical Eyewitnesses
Thallus (40 AD – 60 AD)
He was a Samaritan historian who wrote a 3 volume account of the history of the Mediterranean area in the middle of the first century. Thallus chronicled the alleged crucifixion of Jesus and offered an explanation for the darkness that was observed at the time of Jesus’ death.
Tacitus (56 AD-117 AD)
Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents. In his Annals of 116 AD, he described Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.
Tacitus, in describing Nero’s actions and the presence of the Christians in Rome, reluctantly admitted several key facts related to the life of Jesus. Tacitus corroborated that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in Him.
Mara Bar-Serapion (70 AD- unknown)
Sometime after 70 AD, this Syrian philosopher wrote to encourage his son by comparing the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. The fact that Mara Bar-Serpion described Jesus as a real person with this kind of influence is important. He wrote:
What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these 3 wise men: the Athenians died of hunger, the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea, the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion.
Although Mara Bar-Serpion does not seem to place Jesus in a position of preeminence (he simply lists Him alongside other historic teachers), he does admit several key facts. At the very least, we can conclude that Jesus was a wise and influential man who died for his beliefs. We can also conclude that the Jews played a role in Jesus’ death.
Phlegon (80 AD-140 AD)
in a manner similar to Thallus, Phlegon mentioned the darkness surround the crucifixion under Tiberas Caesar and described Jesus as having the ability to predict the future.
These late first-century and early second century writers were not friends of Christianity. In fact, they were largely indifferent to the Christian movement. In spite of all this, they all provided important corroborating details of Jesus’ life. These ancient writers establish that Jesus was a true historical person, wise man who did miracles, and taught his disciples, Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to crucifixion, and an earthquake shook a large region surrounding the execution. Following this execution, a mischievous superstition spread about Him from Palestine to Rome. These descriptions of Jesus, although incomplete, is remarkably similar to the description offered by the gospel writers. Early, EXTERNAL, non-Christian sources corroborate the testimony of the New Testament authors.
Archaeology Continues to Corroborate the Gospels
Quirinius Has Been Corroborated
Luke wrote that Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem because a Syrian governor named Quirinius was conducting a census (Luke 2:1-3). Quirinius’ name has been discovered on a coin from this period of time, and on the base of a statue erected in Antioch.
in Romans 16:23, Paul wrote, “Erastus, the city treasurer greets you.” A piece of pavement was discovered in Corinth in 1929 confirming his existence.
in Acts 13:51, Luke described this city in Phrygia. In 1910 a monument was discovered that confirmed Iconium as a city in Phrygia.
Luke describes a tetrarch named Lysanias and wrote that this man reigned over Abilene when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:1). Two inscriptions have been discovered that mention Lysanias by name as the tetrarch in Abila near Damascus.
The internal and external evidences corroborate the gospel narratives and capture an image of Jesus’ life and ministry. The broad and general elements of the Gospels are imaged for us by the ancient nonbiblical authors of the first and second centuries, and they are confirmed by the archaeological record. The more we identify unintentional support, correct identifications of proper names and locations, the more confidence we can have that these accounts are providing details consistent with first century Palestine.
So far we examined 2 areas that juries consider when evaluating eyewitnesses. The evidence supports the fact that gospel writers were present in the first century and their claims are consistent with many pieces of corroborative evidence. Does this mean that they are reliable? Not yet, but we are halfway there. Now we have to make sure they haven’t been corrupted over time. We have to make sure that the accounts we have today are an accurate reflection of what was originally recorded by the eyewitnesses.
Criteria 3: Were the witnesses accurate and honest in the past
Skeptics who claim that the biblical narratives are mere fiction and filled with error presume that the authors of the Bible wrote the Gospels long after the reported events occurred and far from locations they described. False, fictional elements can be inserted into an account if they are inserted well after any living eyewitnesses are alive to identify them as lies. In addition, if the true historical record has NOT been preserved well or guarded to prevent corruption, errors can slip in without much notice. If this occurred with the Gospels, they are untrustworthy. Cold case investigators understand the relationship between time and reliability.
Like cold case investigators, we need certainty in two important areas of investigation. First, we need to make sure we know what the Gospels said in the first place. Second we need to know if there is good reason to believe that these documents were preserved well over time.
One way to be certain about the content and nature of the early eyewitness statements is to examine the evidence related to the transmission of the New Testament. If we can examine what these first eyewitnesses said to their students, we can reasonably trace the content of the Gospels from their alleged date of creation to the earliest existing copies so we can have a good chain of custody. The oldest complete, surviving copy of the New Testament we have is Codex Sinaiticus discovered in the Monastery of Saint Chatherine, Mount Sinai from 350 AD. Our examination of the New Testament chain of custody will attempt to link the claims of the original authors to this 4th century picture of Jesus’ life and ministry.
John’s Students Confirmed the Accuracy of the Gospels
The apostle John (6 AD-100 AD) taught 2 important students and passed his gospel into their trusted hands.
His first student was Ignatius (35 AD-117 AD). He eventually became Bishop of Antioch. To date, 6 letters of his written to local church groups has been found and 1 written to Polycarp. It was Ignatius’ goal to encourage and admonish local church groups. Along the way, he did, however, refer to the New Testament documents and the nature of Jesus, even though this was not his primary goal. It is clear that he knew many of the apostles, as he mentioned them frequently and spoke of them as though many of his older readers also knew them. It is clear that he quoted or alluded to 16 New Testament books indluding Matthew, John, and Luke and all of Paul’s letters. This establishes the fact that the New Testament concepts and documents existed very early in history and it provides us a picture of Jesus of how John described him.
John’s other student he taught was Polycarp (69 AD-155 AD). Polycarp was a friend of Ignatius and he eventually became the Bishop of Smyrna. He wrote a letter to the church in Phillipi in response to its letter to him. The content of them refers to Ignatius personally and is completely consistent with the content of Ignatius’ letters. Polycarp also appears to be familiar with the other living apostles and eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. Polycarp’s letter is focused on encouraging the Philippians and reminding them of their duty to live in response to the New Testament teaching with which they were clearly familiar. He quoted Paul’s letter to Ephesians as an example to these scriptures. Polycarp referenced 16 New Testament books. Along the way, Polycarp also presented the image of Jesus he gleaned from his teacher, the teacher John.
Ingatius and Polycarp are an important link in the New Testament chain of custody, connecting John’s eyewitness testimony to the next generation of Christian evidence custodians. The next generation both taught was Irenaeus (120 AD – 202 AD). He was born in Smyrna, the same city Polycarp served as Bishop. He wrote an important work called “Against Heresies”. This refined defense of Christianity provided Irenaeus with the opportunity to address the issue of scripture authority and specifically mentioned 24 New Testament books. He provided us another link in the chain of custody, affirming the established eyewitness accounts and faithfully preserving them for the next generation as he connected the students of the apostles to the generations that followed him.
One of these next generation Christians was a man named Hippolytus (170 AD-236 AD). He was born in Rome and was a student of Irenaeus. He wrote a huge 10 volume treatise called “Refutation of All Heresies”. In this expansive work, Hippolytus identified as many as 24 New Testament books as Scripture. This confirms that the New Testament accounts were already well established in the earliest years of the Christian movement.
John’s students recorded Jesus’ teachings and identified the sources for later generations. Long before the Codex Sinaiticus was first penned or the Council of Laodicea formalized the canon, the New Testament was established as a reliable eyewitness account.
Paul’s Students confirmed the Accuracy of the Gospels
The apostle Paul (5 AD – 67 AD) wrote the largest portion of the New Testament and was closely associated with several key apostles, historians, and eyewitnesses who helped to document and guard the scripture we have today. Paul’s friend Luke, for example, was a meticulous historian with access to the eyewitnesses and a person involved in the history of the New Testament Church.
Paul spent his last years in Rome under house arrest. During this time he was able to teach Clement of Rome mentioned specifically in Philippians 4:3. Clement wrote several letters and one of these letters is called “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians”. It was written between 80 AD and 140 AD. It was written to encourage the Corinthian church and call it to holy living. He referenced a number of Old and New Testament books and even talked specifically about the chain of custody that existed from the apostolic eyewitnesses to his own second generation readers. He wrote, “the Apostles for our sakes received the gospel from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ then is from God, and the Apostles from Christ. Both therefore came in due order from the will of God.” Clement mentioned many attributes of Jesus that were consistent with the way Peter, Paul and the gospel writers picture him. His letter provides us with another link in the chain of custody.
Clement taught, discussed, and passed the eyewitness scriptures along to their successors Evaristus (? AD-109 AD), to Alexander (? AD- 115 AD), to Sixtus I(? AD – 125 AD) to Pius (90 AD – 154 AD). Pius taught Justin of Caesarea (103 AD-165 AD). Justin is known as Justin Martyr. He wrote several voluminous works such as “First Apology”, “Second Apology”, and “Dialogue with Trypho”. He quoted Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Revelation. Justin taught Tatian (120 AD – 180 AD) who wrote Diatessaron which referenced all four gospels.
The custodial sequence from Paul acknowledges that the eyewitness accounts existed, were treated as scared Scripture from a very early time, and were handed down with care from one generation to another. All of this happened many years before any council determined what would officially become the New Testament record.
Peter’s Students Confirmed The Accuracy of the Gospels
After Jesus ascended, Peter established the church in Antioch. Peter communicated through Mark as we already established. In fact, Peter described Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). Mark taught Anianus (? AD-82 AD), Avilius (? AD-95), Kedron (? AD-106 AD), Primus (40 AD-118 AD) and Justus (? AD – 135 AD). They faithfully preserved the eyewitness account.
Mark appointed Justus as the director of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. This school became an esteemed place of learning where the eyewitness accounts and scriptures were collected and guarded. A key figure of this school was Pantaenus who traveled East of Alexandria. He is an important link in the chain of custody because the writing of one of his students survives to this day, chronicling and identifying the books of the New Testament that were already considered sacred.
Titus Flavius Clemens (150 AD-215 AD) was also known as Clement of Alexandria. He was a student of Pantaenus and eventually became the leader of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. His three most important volumes were the “Protrepticus”, the “Paedagogus”, and the “Stromata”. Besides addressing Christian morality and conduct, they discussed the existing scriptures handed down to him by Pantaenus quoting all of the New Testament except Philemon, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John. Clement received and accepted the same New Testament documents that were known to his predecessors in the chain of custody.
Clement of Alexandria taught Origen (185 AD-254 AD). He was an Egyptian who came to faith and eventually taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He wrote prolifically and penned commentaries for every book of the Bible and quoted from EVERY NEW TESTAMENT book.
Origen taught Pamphilus in Alexandria and eventually both moved to Caesarea Maritima. Pamphilus wrote a 5 volume treatise called “Apology for Origen”. Pamphilus guarded and defended the work of Origen. One of Pamphilus’ students was Eusebius of Caesarea (263 AD-339 AD). Eusebius became an important church historian and devoted student who documented Pamphilus’ career in a 3 volume work called “Vita”. Eusebius was a prolific writer, and much of his work survives to this day, including his “Church History”. Eusebius quotes 26 New Testament books as Scripture. This chain of scriptural custody, from Peter to Eusebius brings us well into the period of time in which the Codex Sinaiticus was penned and to the doorstep of the Council of Laodicea. It is clear that the eye witness accounts and writings of the apostles were collected, preserved, and transmitted from generation to generation during this span of time.
Some skeptics still question the New Testament due to copyist insertions that are obvioustions. They contend that if some parts of the text have been corrupted, none of the text can be trusted. There are 1000’s of ancient copies of the Gospels to compare to one another. By way of comparison, the Greek researcher and historian Herodotus wrote “The Histories” in the 5th century BC. Many trust we have an accurate copy of it even though we possess only 8 ancient copies. When the 1000’s of ancient copies of the New Testament coming from a number of different Christian groups located in a number of different regions, these variations are revealed immediately. As a result, we can remove the late additions and reconstruct the original with a high degree of confidence.
Skeptics also continue to discuss the different way in which the gospel writers describe the same events and have argued that these variations constitute contradictions that simply cannot be reconciled. These irreconcilable differences, according to the skeptics, invalidate the accuracy of the biblical account. However, any good detective will attest to the fact that we should expect variations among true eye witness accounts.
So now using abductive reasoning we come back to which explanation is more reasonable regarding the accuracy of the gospels. Either the Gospels were recorded early and recited to the students of the apostles making the text we have today consistent or the students of the apostles never wrote any letters and the message of the apostles was distorted over time. Given the record of the second generation disciples of John, Peter, and Paul, we can have confidence that the essential teachings of the Gospels have remain unchanged for over 2000 years. Hence, the first explanation that the Gospels and other New Testament documents were written early and taught to the students of the apostles is the most reasonable conclusion.
We have now evaluated 3 of the 4 areas in which detectives evaluate witnesses in criminal trials. The gospel writers were present and corroborated. The chain of custody allowed the records to be preserved over time so they are accurate. However, we are NOT ready to say they are reliable yet. There is still one final area to examine.
Criteria 4: Do the Witnesses Have Any Motive to Lie
Were the disciples lying about the resurrection? Were their claims based on religious expectation or bias? If so, what was it they were hoping to gain from the elaborate lie? If the apostles wanted Jesus to be God, an elaborate lie wouldn’t actually accomplish this, at least for the apostles. Lies might fool those who weren’t there, but they wouldn’t fool those who knew better. What did the disciples hope to gain if their stories were false?
Homicide detectives will attest that there are 3 broad motives that are at the heart of any murder. As it turns out, these 3 motives are also the same driving forces behind other types of misbehavior.
1. Financial Greed
2. Sexual or Relational Desire
3. Pursuit of Power
In fact, Judges advise juries that they may consider motive as they assess the guilt of defendants. Section 370 of California Criminal Jury Instructions in 2006 says, “Having a motive may be a factor tending to show that the defendant is guilty. Not having a motive may be a factor tending to show the defendant is not guilty.”
Did the alleged eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry have an ulterior motive when writing the Gospels? There is nothing in history (Christian or secular history) to suggest that the disciples had anything to gain from their testimony.
The Apostles Were Not Driven by Financial Gain
There are many ancient accounts describing the lives of the apostles following the period of time recorded in the book of Acts. None describe any of the disciples as men who possessed material wealth. Many scriptures attest to this such as 1 Cor 4:11, 2 Cor 6:9-10, Acts 3:6, and Acts 20:33. The most reasonable inference from the early record of the New Testament documents and the agreement of the nonbiblical record is that financial greed was not a motive that drove these men to make the claims they made in the Gospels.
The Apostles Were Not Driven By Sex or Relationships
While the New Testament documents say little about the love lives of the eyewitnesses, we do know that Peter was married and had a mother-in-law (Matt 8:14). Clement of Alexandria wrote that Peter and Phillip had children and that Paul, although married, did not take his wife with him when testifying as an apostle. Clement suggested in his writings that these apostles denied themselves sexual contact with their wives after the ascension in order to better minister to those they sought to reach. Ignatius also reported the same.
The apostles were not 12 single men in search of a good time. They were not using their position or testimony to woo the local eligible women. The most reasonable inference is that sexual or relational desire was NOT the motive that drove these men to make the claims they made in the Gospels.
The Apostles Were Not Driven by the Pursuit of Power
The early Christian movement immediately faced hostility from those who actually did possess power in the first century. In fact, Tacitus recorded Nero’s response when Christians refused to worship Nero as divine. It was during this time in history that being a leader in the Christian community was a liability rather than an asset. Nonbiblical histories and writings related to the lives of the apostles consistently proclaim that they were persecuted and eventually martyred for their testimony. The eyewitnesses REFUSED to change their testimony about what they saw, despite being faced with torture and execution.
If a defense attorney were representing any of the apostles, defending them against the accusation that they lied about their testimony, the attorney could fairly ask the question, “Why would my client have done such a thing when it would not benefit him in any way?”
Motive is a key factor that jurors must assess when evaluating the reliability of witnesses. That is why judges advise jurors to ask questions like “Was the witness promised immunity or leniency in exchange for his or her testimony?”
It is clear the gospel writers did not have motives that typically compel people to lie. They were free of ulterior motive. But what about bias? Even if they did not possess one of the 3 self-serving motives, how do we know if the gospel writers were simply biased? Judges encourage jurors to find out if the witness was “influenced by a factor such as bias or prejudice, a personal relationship with someone involved in the case, or a personal interest in how the case is decided.” If a witness held a preconception or partiality as he or she watched the event, that bias may have influenced how the witness interpreted what he or she saw. Bias can cause people to see something incorrectly. Was this the case with the apostles?
WERE THEY BIASED
Skeptics argue that the Gospels cannot be trusted because they were not authored by objective non-Christians. These skeptics contend that The New Testament records were written by biased Christians who were trying to convince us of their religious perspective. As a result, the gospel narratives are biased and unreliable.
However, this is not an accurate description of what occurred in the first century as the gospel eyewitnesses observed the life and ministry of Jesus. The Gospels are filled with examples of the disciples misunderstanding the predictions and proclamations of Jesus. There are many examples of doubt and hesitancy on the part of those who witnessed Jesus’ life. The skeptical disciples continually asked Jesus for clarification. Moreover, Thomas, after spending all that time with Jesus, still would not believe Jesus’ prediction of the resurrection until after he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched Jesus with his own hands. The apostles become convinced of Jesus’ deity AFTER they observed His life and resurrection. They did not start off as Christians, they ended up as Christians as a result of their observations.
Skeptics have also argued that little or no weight can be given to the fact that apostles were allegedly martyred for their testimony because the histories that describe their martyrdom are largely Christian legends written by believers. However, there aren’t any ancient non-Christian authors that contradict the claims of the Christian authors who wrote about the deaths of the eyewitnesses. All the non-Christian authors actually UPHOLD the Christian author’s claims that the apostles died because of their beliefs.
Using abductive reasoning we can decide between 2 conclusions related to the bias or motive that the apostolic eyewitnesses may have had when writing their Gospels. Either they reported what they actually observed or they had ulterior motives that drove them to make false claims to accomplish a particular goal.
They lacked evil intent. They simply couldn’t benefit from lying about what they saw. In fact, they would have been far better off if they had kept their mouths shut. What could they possibly have gained from this elaborate lie? It is clear that the gospel writers appeared to be more concerned about eternal life than material gain. Could a lie about Jesus make His claims true? Does it make sense that the disciples would forsake EVERYTHING for spiritual claims they knew were untrue? The evidence from history supports the first explanation that the gospel writers reported what they actually observed. It offers reasonable responses to the challenges offered by the skeptics. The second explanation, on the other hand, is simply unable to account adequately for the lack of motive on the part of the apostles. The first explanation is feasible, straightforward, and logical.
The Gospels Pass the Last Test
We have examined the four important areas that a juror must consider when determining the reliability of eyewitnesses. The most reasonable inference is that the gospel writers were present, corroborated, accurate, and unbiased. If this is the case, we can conclude with confidence that their testimony is reliable.
COLD CASE SOLVED !!!
Hooking at the cold case of Jesus Christ through the lens of a homicide detective, we have been able to solve this case. Initially, we discussed all the explanations skeptics give for refuting the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We limited the evidence to 4 modest claims and kept the explanation options open to all the possibilities (both natural and supernatural). The last explanation, though it is a supernatural explanation, suffers from the least number of liabilities and deficiencies. Therefore, if we approach the issue of the resurrection in an unbiased manner, the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected can be sensibly inferred from the available evidence. The resurrection is reasonable.
Since the resurrection was seen by many eyewitnesses, we have examined the four important areas that a juror must consider when determining the reliability of eyewitnesses. The most reasonable inference is that the gospel writers were present, corroborated, accurate, and unbiased. If this is the case, we can conclude with confidence that their testimony is reliable.
Our Cold Case is solved!!!!
Can a Homicide Detective Use Their skills to Show if There Is A Creator?
Direct and Circumstantial Evidence
Detectives utilize direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is evidence that can prove something all by itself. For example if a witness saw that it was raining outside that is direct evidence that it was raining. On the other hand, circumstantial evidence also known as indirect evidence does not prove something on its own, but points us in the right direction by proving something related to the question at hand. For example, if a witness says he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside. The more pieces of consistent circumstantial evidence, the more reasonable the conclusion.
With this in mind, how reasonable is it that God exists. We live in a universe filled with evidences that demand an explanation.
A Universe With a Beginning
Avast majority of scientists continue to acknowledge that the universe came into being from nothing at some point in the distant past. But if the universe “began to exist”, what “began it”? What caused the first domino to fall in the long sequence of cause and effect dominoes? This uncaused first cause that is capable of starting the domino run must exist outside of space, time, and matter as nothing has ever been observed to cause itself to exist. The evidence of a universe that had a beginning points CIRCUMSTANTIALLY to the existence of such a God.
A Universe With the Appearance of Design
Science has helped us understand that the universe appears to be remarkably “fine tuned” to support the existence of life. There are a number of forces in the cosmos that are precisely calibrated to work together to make life possible. The laws of electron mass, atomic mass, proton mass, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, speed of light, cosmological constant, gravity, mass of the universe, and many more finely tuned to govern the universe and our world. In addition, there are also specific conditions that are necessary for the planet to support life. If, for example, the size of the Earth were altered slightly, life would not be possible on the planet. When a planet is too small, it loses internal heat and cannot keep its interior core active. If a planet is too large, it will have too much water and too thick of an atmosphere. The fine-tuning of the universe is another important piece of circumstantial evidence that points to the existence of an intentional, supernatural, powerful, and creative being.
A Universe With Complex Life: Design Evidence
Structures and systems that cannot be explained by some natural law requiring their appearance, exist in spite of the high improbability they could result from chance, conform to an independently existing and recognizable pattern are most reasonably explained as coming from the design efforts of an intelligent agent. Biological systems possess these characteristics. Therefore, the presence of DNA code suggests the involvement of an intelligent designer. In fact, scientists have demonstrated that DNA is actually a digital code which means it is SPECIFIED information. In the history of scientific and intellectual research, there is NO example in which information came from anything other than an intelligent source. Since DNA is a form of specified information, intelligent design stands as the best reasonable explanation. If God exists, He would certainly possess the characteristics and power to accomplish such a thing. The presence of specified information in biological systems is yet another piece of circumstantial evidence that points to the existence of God.
A Universe With Objective Morality
Each and every one of us feels a certain obligation to moral duty. We have an intuitive sense of moral oughtness. We recognize that some things are right and some things are wrong regardless of
culture, time, or location. We understand that it is never morally right to lie, steal, or kill for the mere fun of it. These moral laws are transcendent and objection. Regardless of how you or I might feel about these laws, the truth of their moral status lies in the actions themselves, not in our subjective opinions about the actions. We may discover moral truth, but we do not invent it.
All moral laws come from moral lawmakers. If there exists even one transcendent moral law there must exist a transcendent moral source. If moral truths are merely behavioral concepts that survival, morality then is rooted in humans rather than in the objective moral truth. If God exists, He would transcend all species, cultures, locations, and moments in time. For this reason, the existence of transcendent moral truth is most reasonably explained by the existence of God as the source. Once again, another piece of circumstantial evidence. CONCLUSION: God Does Exist
The circumstantial evidence in our universe is consistent with God’s existence and involvement as the uncaused first cause, the fine-tuner, the designer, and the moral lawgiver required to account for all the evidence we observe. Therefore, it is reasonable enough to conclude that God does exist.