Why the Hearsay Rule Shouldn’t Apply to the Gospels

by J Warner Wallace

Imagine you are a witness to a homicide. After observing the murder, you are interviewed by a detective and several years later find yourself testifying in court. The prosecutor would certainly question you on the stand, and the defense attorney would also have the opportunity to cross-examine you. Now let’s change the scenario slightly. Imagine instead that you observe the same homicide, tell a friend all about the murder in minute detail but then suffer a heart attack and die. Can the prosecutor call your friend into court to tell the jury about your observations? No. The defense in this case has a right to cross examine the original witness to the crime, and this “second tier” testimony would not allow them access to the original witness. For this reason, the testimony of your friend would be deemed “hearsay” and excluded from the trial. If a witness’ statement can’t be cross-examined by the defense, that statement is not going not to be admitted in an effort to assist the prosecution.

I wrote Cold-Case Christianity in an effort to examine the Gospels using the same standard jurors use when evaluating witnesses in criminal cases. But these witnesses (the Gospel authors) can’t be cross-examined; they’ve been dead for many centuries. How can we consider them to be legitimate if they can’t be cross-examined? Isn’t any effort to evaluate them as eyewitnesses negated by this limitation? I think it’s appropriate to evaluate the reliability of the gospels using the standard typically applied to eyewitnesses, even though I don’t think it’s reasonable to exclude them because they can’t be cross-examined. There’s a big difference between evaluating witnesses for the purpose of a criminal trial and evaluating witnesses for the purpose of establishing a chronological truth…

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Why the Hearsay Rule Shouldn’t Apply to the Gospels