Near the end of my law enforcement career, I entered the MA program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. As I began to study apologetic arguments for the reliability of the Bible, it dawned on me that the types of evidence that I dealt with routinely in my career were actually present in the pages of the New Testament. Conversely, what I also realized was that skeptical arguments against the Bible narratives were not based on accepted principles of evidence. So, in this post I’ll start out by going over the direct evidence that is in the New Testament.
As a city detective/officer charged with seeking out crimes and prosecuting those who committed them, I relied on developing these cases by interviewing victims and witnesses, collecting evidence from crime scenes, and making reports of my findings. An example of developing a criminal case against a suspect would be speaking with a victim of a crime and any witnesses who were in a position to observe what happened. For instance, if I spoke to a robbery victim, I would try and get as much detail from the victim as to all of the specifics of what happened and a detailed description of the suspect. In addition to getting the account from the victim, I also would talk with those who also observed the crime. In talking with these witnesses, I was able to confirm/disconfirm the account of the victim and perhaps get additional information that would help me to identify the suspect. Oftentimes as you may imagine, the witnesses would vary in small details but would give the same general description about what happened. As those of you who watch police programming on television already know, there is often physical evidence as well that is left at the scene of the crime and is collected, analyzed and often points to the identity of the perpetrator.
During my tenure in the federal government, even though my mission had changed, the principles of evidence remained the same. In my custodial/security role with the U.S. Marshals Service, I was able to observe many federal drug conspiracy trials. Even though the elements of this crime were different than the street crimes that I investigated as a local investigator, there was still a heavy reliance on testimonial evidence but now of co-conspirators. Oftentimes, there would be physical evidence in these conspiracy cases to include, drug and money seizures, scales, bookkeeping journals, and video/audio recordings. But testimonial evidence was the bread and butter of these cases and this evidence was often very convincing to a jury. For who would be better to describe the activities of the defendant than someone who dealt with him on a frequent basis and was involved in the criminal activity with the defendant? Sometimes, the federal prosecutors would bring in a small army of witnesses who would testify to their relationship and joint activities with the defendant(s). The more witnesses that took the stand against the defendant(s), the more credible the government’s case appeared.
Several notable examples in the national media over recent decades were the John Gotti federal conspiracy trial and the Watergate break-in cover up involving then President Richard Nixon and his “plumbers.” For the younger generation, that is why whenever some sort of corruption scandal comes to light, the media always comes up with a name for the scandal that ends with –gate (e.g. deflategate- New England Patriots). In the case of John Gotti, one of the most damaging witnesses to take the stand was Salvatore Gravano aka “Sammy The Bull” who testified about his relationship with Gotti, how he and Gotti murdered the head of the NY Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano in 1985, and also implicated Gotti in 19 other murders. After several other failed attempts by the federal government to prosecute Gotti, he was finally convicted of murder, racketeering and other related charges on April 2, 1992. Gravano spent nine days on the stand and 37 other witnesses also testified against Gotti. In addition to this evidence, there were also recordings of Gotti that were secretly recorded and were presented in court along with other documentary evidence.
As alluded to above, another well known conspiracy trial was the Watergate break-in cover up where burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Party in Washington, D.C. at the direction of the Nixon White House in order to obtain intelligence on their political opponents, but then were arrested there. In attempts to cover up the link between the break-in and the president, there was a conspiracy of the Nixon White House and campaign officials to destroy evidence connecting President Nixon with the break-ins. After starting an investigation into the cover-up, there were several men to include John McCord and John Dean who testified that the Nixon White House was connected to the burglaries and that there was a cover up to get rid of evidence for the same. In addition to the testimony of Dean and McCord, there was also evidence of a connection to the break-ins coming from written records (telephone numbers coming from a telephone number index, etc.).
In relation to the New Testament accounts of Jesus Christ, we also have eyewitness testimony to his ministry, death by crucifixion, and resurrection from those who were closely associated with Jesus Christ. The person closest to Jesus and in the best position to observe the aforementioned activities/life events of Jesus Christ was John otherwise known as the “Beloved Disciple.” John recounts in great detail in his Gospel about specific instances of the ministry of Jesus, about observing the circumstances leading up to the crucifixion and the crucifixion itself, as well as having sustained contact with the risen Jesus Christ. Moreover, he discusses his involvement in the narrative of the story itself. John is more than just a passive observer but an active participant in the ministry of Jesus. An example of this activity is when Jesus speaks to Mary and John as he hangs on the cross (John 19: 26-27). “Woman, here is your son, and to the disciple [whom he loved], Here is your mother.”
We also see John in the narrative of the empty tomb where he runs to the empty tomb and sees that Jesus was no longer there and he “believed (20:8).” In addition to John, other eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus are Peter, Matthew, and Paul the apostle who was the last to encounter the risen Jesus Christ while on his way to Damascus. All of these men write about their experiences with Jesus from their own perspectives and provide great evidence (in written form) for knowing that Jesus was/is God incarnate. If there was just one person who wrote these accounts there might be some pause to question the evidence. However, there are eyewitness accounts written from a number of different perspectives that differ slightly yet tell the same story. This type of evidence reminds me of the above-described evidence in the cases of Gotti and Nixon.
The fact that there are small differences in these accounts demonstrate to me that there was no collusion between the witnesses and also confirms the basic facts of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So in the New Testament, we have eyewitness testimony of Jesus Christ who performed miracles, was crucified on a cross, and had arisen from the dead. There are a number of skeptics today (Richard Carrier, Robert Price, et al) who state that there is no evidence to support that Jesus was even a historical person. However, they ignore the historical eyewitness testimony to the contrary. This testimony contained within the New Testament is similar to the testimony of “Sammy the Bull” and John Dean of Watergate fame as these early Christians were in a position to observe what they testified about. I am thankful that they informed us about Jesus who being God, came down to this Earth on our behalf in order to bring us into relationship with God and give us meaning in our lives even today. In my next post, I’ll go into another form of evidence that I observe throughout the New Testament, circumstantial or indirect evidence.