Unbelievable? Four Simple Principles to Determine Ancient Historical Reliability
by J Warner Wallace
I recently had the opportunity to appear on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley (the show will air this Saturday, August 24th2013). Justin had two skeptics lined up to ask questions about Biblical reliability and offer specific, detailed challenges related to portions of the Gospels of Luke, Mark and Matthew. Are you prepared to answer every challenge that might be offered about the historicity of the Gospels? Do you even know every challenge that might be offered? How do you respond when someone offers a challenge for which you don’t have immediate access to the all the pertinent data? This particular episode of Unbelievable? illustrated an important principle for all of us as Christian Case Makers. Historical challenges are often complicated, nuanced and detailed, and while it is nearly impossible to remember all the data related to every objection, there are four overarching principles of witness reliability appropriate to the task. These are the same four principles I’ve offered as a template in Cold Case Christianity. I used this template to evaluate the Gospels when I was an unbelieving skeptic, and these four principles will help you assess any challenge offered against the Gospel accounts:
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Principle One: Make Sure the Witnesses Were Present in the First Place
There are times in cold case investigations when a witness emerges with a story, even though he or she was not involved in the case when it occurred. Sometimes a person such as this is motivated by a desire to become “famous”, sometimes by a desire to harm the defendant or help the victim. It’s my job as an investigator to make sure the witness was truly present (and in a position to see anything) before the witness takes the stand in front of a jury. When it comes to the Gospel accounts, we have to ask a similar question: Were the gospels written early enough to have been written by true eyewitnesses? If the accounts were written and circulated early, the possibility of an errant or deceptive inclusion is greatly reduced. Early authorship allows the accounts to be fact-checked by those who were present and could expose the accounts as a lie. The gospels are the earliest ancient accounts describing the life of Jesus and the historical events surrounding His life. This must be considered when evaluating the gospels against any ancient account that follows them…
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