Testifying Against One’s Own Interest and the Gospel Authors

As a street narcotics detective with the Portsmouth, VA Police Department “back in the day,” my tasks, along with the other members of the street team, were to conduct short term drug violation investigations where we utilized informants to provide information for search warrants, made street buys off of street “dope” dealers, conducted undercover anti-prostitution operations, and conducted surveillance of known high-drug activity areas. On one occasion while conducting surveillance of a high-drug activity area, a partner of mine and I were watching a man through long-range binoculars who we believed was dealing marijuana from the crotch area of his pants. On a number of occasions we observed the man reaching inside of his pants and then handing the item that he had retrieved to a person (customer) who would give him cash in exchange for an item.  After observing the man’s obvious drug transactions with different persons, my partner and I moved in and “jumped out” on the subject. As we encountered the young man, we asked for consent to search him and he refused our request. After he refused our request, we told him that we would get a search warrant for his person if he did not allow us to retrieve the items from his pants.  After this conversation, he allowed us to recover the drugs from his pants and he was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, a felony in VA.

However, upon the case being presented in court, his able defense attorney began to question me about the conversation and made a motion to have the marijuana evidence “suppressed” because it was a coerced consent. Upon the questioning of the defense attorney and without hesitation, I answered that I had told the street dealer that we would get a warrant if he did not consent to our search. Upon the defense attorney making the request to have the evidence suppressed, the judge agreed with the defense attorney and the case was dismissed because the “fruit (evidence) was obtained from a poisonous tree (bad search).” Because we had made an error in our investigation, the drug dealer was able to walk out of the courtroom that day. But interestingly enough, the judge did not forget my truthful testimony that went against my interest (professional interest; even though one of the qualities of a good police detective should be to tell the truth when questioned in court). Restated, I knowingly testified about facts that would most likely have my case dismissed. Even though the judge never verbalized it to me, it was apparent to me that the judge always ruled in my favor thereafter when there was a conflict between my testimony and the testimony of a defense witness. So, even though I lost the battle, I won the war in a sense because from that point on, the judge believed (in my opinion) that I was a credible and truthful witness.

So, what does this little story from my law enforcement career have to do with the truthfulness of the New Testament? In the New Testament, you will find that the authors do not spare the reputations of those who are prominent Christians. They tell it like it is no matter who the person is. The best example is the Apostle Peter who was arguably the most prominent leader of the early church. Some of Peter’s failings that the New Testament include are:

  •  He lacked faith and sunk into the water after his attempt to meet Jesus who was walking on the water (John 6)
  • He lied to those who were accusing him of being one of Jesus’ disciples (Mark 14)
  • He had a bad temper evidenced by his attack on one who was trying to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18)
  • He caved in to peer pressure regarding eating with gentile Christians (Galatians 2)
  • He approved of the practice of Gentile Christians being circumcised as a Christian sacrament until Paul confronted him about it (Galatians 2)

In addition to Peter, recorded in the Gospels are other examples of the faults of the disciples:

  • Several of the disciples were trying to curry favor with Jesus over who would be given the greatest reward in heaven (Mark 10)
  • The disciples constantly forgot that Jesus was God incarnate who could perform miracles and Jesus had to constantly remind them of this when the group was undergoing difficult circumstances (Matthew 14 and 16)
  • All of the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested (except John) (John 19)
  • Upon Jesus being raised from the dead and making an appearance to the disciples, some of them still did not believe, at first, that it was actually Jesus who had come back in the flesh even though he was among them (Luke 24)

The New Testament writers could have very easily edited out any information that made the disciples look bad from their accounts. Rather instead of sanitizing things, the Gospel authors show you the leaders of the early church, “with warts and all.” They do not place any of the leaders on pedestals, but reveal that they are just as human as you and me. Not only do these examples demonstrate the authenticity of these accounts, they also encourage me on a personal level because all of these leaders are like me in that they are weak at points. Just as the above-mentioned testimony that I gave against my own self-interest revealed that I was a truthful witness to the judge, the testimony of the evangelists (Gospel authors) also demonstrates to us today that they were honest when they wrote about the human frailty of the disciples. This is a good example of circumstantial evidence that supports the reliability of the New Testament in what it reports.

He Is Risen: Great Evidence Still Today!

Even before I became a Christian, Easter was a season that I looked forward to because of the celebrations and the festivities. After becoming a Christian, the fact that Easter was held in the early spring seemed so appropriate to me as the cold of winter relinquished its frosty grip to the warmth and the new life of spring with its panorama of colors and scents. How fitting it is in spring that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that trumpeted victory over death forever! This announcement comes anew each year even as the flowers come to life and the grass and trees turn green. So we can be reminded of this most momentous event in history every spring where life “sprang” eternal for so many.

In my last post, I wrote briefly about corroborative evidence and the presence of it in the New Testament. In other blog articles, I have also touched on other forms of evidence that are present in the New Testament as well (direct evidence or eyewitness testimony, indirect evidence or circumstantial evidence). In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ we have all of these different forms of evidence converging to confirm its “historicity.” Why do I mention this now? I mention this because there will be television programs that will have one or a panel of skeptical scholars that will be in front of a camera who will cast doubt that the Resurrection actually occurred as described. They will offer different opinions as to what “really happened.” Some will say that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus. Others will say that the Resurrection of Jesus is a myth that was invented to shore up a dying movement. Still others will say that there was not even a real Jesus. Christian theologians and skeptics alike have written volumes on these topics. What I have realized after studying a number of these skeptical accounts of the resurrection is that the evidence does not support them. In other words, even though these skeptical thinkers offer up creative arguments, they are not really supported by the types of evidence that I mentioned earlier that support the New Testament.  In contrast, there is great evidence to show that the NT accounts of the Resurrection are reliable and trustworthy:

Corroborative Evidence

  • The four accounts of the Gospel authors, two of them being eyewitnesses to the events leading up to the crucifixion and experiencing the risen Jesus in bodily form after His death (Matthew and John); the other two who received their accounts from Peter and Paul (Mark and Luke)
  • The conversion of Paul, an enemy of the early Christians, who had an encounter with the risen Jesus that totally changed him
  • Paul’s trip to Jerusalem where he confirmed his experience of the risen Jesus Christ with the experiences of James and Peter (Also eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus)
  • Corroboration or confirmation of the empty tomb that comes from early Jewish writings (Talmudic writings-The Mishna and Gemara-they confirm that the tomb was empty in their attack on early Christianity-They say it was empty “because”)
  • 500 see the risen Jesus at one time; most of 500 still alive who could verify their experiences of the risen Jesus when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15)

Circumstantial (or indirect) Evidence

  • The conversion of Paul, an enemy of the early Christians, who had an encounter with the risen Jesus that totally changed him (you see this listed under corroborative evidence too)
  • Dejected and scattered followers (after crucifixion) turn into re-energized and enthusiastic group of leaders (after resurrection)
  • All of the original apostles (save John) die for their faith (would not do so if they new it was a lie)
  • James the brother of Jesus (former disbeliever), becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15, 21; Galatians 1:19)
  • Gospels would have omitted the women who first experienced the empty tomb and Jesus if they were trying to create a story that would “sell” (because women witnesses were not seen as trustworthy in that culture- as reported by Flavius Josephus)
  • Early church leaders who also knew the apostles also die for their faith (Polycarp, Ignatius, etc.)
  • Peter’s speech in Acts 2 would have been nonsensical had the body of Jesus been located in the tomb
  • The tremendous growth of the early church in Jerusalem would not have occurred had the body of Jesus been found in the tomb

Direct Evidence

  • Eyewitness testimony of the Empty Tomb (John and Peter-John reported this for both)
  • The empty tomb itself (it was an established physical location and they knew where it was- John 20:1-4)
  • Eyewitness testimony of the Risen Jesus in NT (John, Matthew, Paul, Peter-John on Peter’s behalf)

Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and investigators use these forms of evidence every day in our criminal justice system. The above list presents very good evidence to know that Jesus arose from the dead and to counter the claims of “creative” skeptics.  This great evidence confirms the risen Jesus that we still experience today and celebrate this Easter. Even as spring declares its entrance with its beautiful foliage and warm weather, we can again renew with confidence that cherished and yearly proclamation of faith.  “He is risen, He is risen indeed!”