Why Should I Believe?
by J. Warner Wallace
I am a cold-case detective. I investigate events from the distant past (murders) and try to uncover the truth. When I come to a conclusion about what really happened during the commission of an unsolved murder, it’s based on the most reasonable inference from the evidence. I was an atheist until the age of 35, when I took my first even handed look at the claims of Christianity. Today, I can say that I am a Christian because of the evidence and not in spite of it. Many of the skills I’ve learned over the years as a cold-case detective can be used to examine the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Cold-case detectives learn how to evaluate eyewitnesses. In California, we encourage jurors to consider a number of factors related to witnesses in an attempt to assess their reliability. I consolidated these areas of consideration into four categories as I examined the gospel accounts. I eventually concluded that the gospels were trustworthy:
The Gospel Writers Were Present
There are times when people claim to see something, even though they weren’t present at the time. Is this the case with the gospel writers? Were the gospels written too late in history to have been written by true eyewitnesses? The key to answering this question is found in the Book of Acts. There are many good reasons to conclude that the Book of Acts was written before the destruction of the temple, the siege of Jerusalem, and the deaths of Paul, Peter and James. After following the evidence trail, I concluded that the gospels were written well within the lifetimes of those who claimed to be eyewitnesses. The gospels pass the first test.
The Gospel Writers Were Corroborated
When trying to decide if an eyewitness can be trusted, it’s helpful to have evidence that verifies the witness’ claims. Is it possible to corroborate the claims of the gospel writers? The key to answering this question is found on the pages of scripture, in the writings of hostile first century authors and in the archaeological record. The gospel accounts display “unintentional eyewitness support”; they also demonstrate an accurate knowledge of first century popular names for Palestinian Jews, a correct knowledge of local government and an accurate familiarity with the local geography. In addition, the first century writings of ancient non-Christians like Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Mara Bar-Serapion and Phlegon confirm the outline of Jesus’ life in ministry as described in the gospels. Finally, the archaeological record continues to corroborate the claims of the New Testament authors. The gospels pass this second test.
The Gospel Writers Were Accurate
Some of my cold-case witnesses were interviewed many years after the crime occurred. How do I know their testimony is accurate and unchanged? One way to corroborate accuracy is to review the earliest statements of the witnesses. Did they tell others about their observations years ago? Do their current stories match their first versions? A similar approach can be taken with the accounts given by John, Peter and Paul. We can form a “chain of custody” related to these accounts by examining what the first eyewitnesses taught their own students. By doing so, we can reconstruct an image of Jesus that is completely consistent with the description offered by the Apostles. The gospels pass this third test.
The Gospel Writers Were Unbiased
Witnesses sometimes lie in order to accomplish something self-serving. Every lie (or crime) I’ve ever examined was driven by one of three sinister motives: financial greed, sexual lust or the pursuit of power. Did the apostles possess one of these motives? Did they become wealthy or use their authority to increase their sexual prowess? Did they even have the power to stop their own martyrdom? The apostles lacked sufficient motive to lie about what they saw. The gospels pass this fourth test.
I’ve written much more about these four criteria related to eyewitness reliability in my book, Cold Case Christianity. I am a Christian today for one simple reason: Christianity is true. Evidentially true. Demonstrably true. You can believe Christianity because of the evidence rather than in spite of the evidence.