There Are Good Reasons to Believe the Gospels Are True, Even if the Eyewitnesses Waited Years to Write Them
by J Warner Wallace
There was no Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook in the first century. We don’t have any photographs or instant messaging related to the observations of those who witnessed the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, the first written records of Jesus’ life don’t appear until decades after the fact. I happen to believe the Gospels were written very early (to within 15-20 years of the events) and I make the collective case for this in my book, Cold-Case Christianity. But I have friends like Dan Wallace who date the Gospels about 10 years later in history. What if the Gospels were penned as late as 30-35 years after the events? Does this disqualify them as eyewitness accounts? No. As a cold-case detective, I’ve worked repeatedly with witnesses who were contacted immediately after the crime and with witnesses who were not. My experience in these interviews has given me good reason to believe the Gospels are true, even if the eyewitnesses waited years to write them.
You Can Trust the Account If There Is a Good Explanation for the Delay in Reporting
When I begin to investigate a cold-case murder, I contact all the witnesses who were interviewed by the original detectives. Along the way I sometimes discover a new witness who wasn’t identified during the original investigation. Witnesses such as these will make claims about what they observed, even though 30-35 years may now have passed since the crime occurred. Why should I trust these additional witnesses? Why didn’t they come forward earlier? A lengthy delay in reporting may be a reason to doubt the veracity of a witness, or it may not. If, for example, the witness was unaware of the importance of his or her observation, he or she may not have thought to contact the police to be interviewed. Sometimes a witness moves away immediately after a crime occurs. Sometimes a witness is afraid to cooperate with the police. If there is a good reason why a witness’ statement is late, the statement can still be valid in the eyes of a jury.
The authors of the Gospels were part of a community of Christ followers who clearly expected Jesus to return imminently. James thought the “the coming of the Lord [was] at hand,” (James 5:7-9) and the writer of Hebrews thought Jesus “[was coming] and will not tarry,” (Hebrews 10:37). The New Testament writers expressed the collective belief Jesus would return within their lifetime (see 1 John 2:28, 1 John 3:2, Colossians 3:4, 2 Timothy 4:8, and 1 Peter 5:4). Interestingly, the first written Gospels appear after the first martyrdoms of the disciples (James, the brother of John, for example, was martyred in 44AD). This explains why the disciples waited to pen the Gospels. They truly believed the urgent nature of their eyewitness status was best served by their public proclamation as witnesses of the Resurrection. The Book of Acts reveals this sense of urgency. Once they realized Jesus might not return prior to their deaths, they began to record their observations…
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