Throughout history, eyewitness accounts have been the method for establishing credibility, guilt, and innocence. When it comes to the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ, why don’t more people believe the eyewitnesses?
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“Seeing is believing,” is a phrase that has become a cliché. Throughout history, believing what is seen has been one of the most preeminent standards of accepted fact. Indeed, throughout history, eyewitness accounts have supported either guilt or innocence for individuals accused of a crime.
Why then, do so many people not believe the Bible, even though it is supported by eyewitness accounts?
There are many reasons for this. One is the popular fallacy that the Bible is somehow “made up” to control people. But the truth is that the veracity of the Bible is supported by documentation and other eyewitness accounts within and outside of the Bible. We have more supporting documents for the Bible than we do of other ancient literature, historical biographies, and including writings we consider scientific fact.
Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed that the writings of the Bible had not changed in over 2,000 years. Further still, eyewitness accounts in the Bible corroborate one another, despite a few differences or omissions.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
– 2 Peter 1:16
Peter’s words in the verse above speak to the authenticity of the gospel authors concerning Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter, who is also known as St. Peter, Simon Peter and Cephas, was among the 12 main Disciples of Christ, and one of the closest companions of Jesus, according to the Overview Bible. In other words, Peter was an eyewitness to the events that occurred in the life of Christ – he was there. He saw and heard the teachings of Christ, the crucifixion and Jesus after Christ’s resurrection from death.
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
–1 John 1:3
J. Warner Wallace is a former LAPD cold-case homicide detective, who was formally an atheist and went on to become a professor of apologetics at Biola University and southern evangelical seminary.
“The New Testament authors repeatedly referred to themselves as eyewitnesses, even if they did not make overt statements including their names,” Wallace says. “In the last chapter of John’s Gospel the author tells us he is testifying and his testimony is true.”
“Language such as this presumes the author has seen something he can describe as eyewitness testimony,” Wallace continues. “In addition, the authors of 1 John and 2 Peter identify themselves as eyewitnesses who directly observed Jesus, and were not inventing clever stories.”
“While Luke clearly states he is not an eyewitness to the events in his gospel, he does tell us he is relying on the true eyewitnesses for his information (Luke 1:1),” Wallace clarifies. “These cumulative statements are consistent with the notion the authors of the Gospels saw themselves as eyewitnesses who were recording history.”
While Peter didn’t write any of the first four Gospels in the New Testament himself, a tradition holds that he Gospel of Mark is a record of Peter’s account of the ministry of Jesus, told through his companion, John Mark.
This is backed by one of the early church fathers, Papias who said: “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.”
In addition to Papias, other early church fathers such as Ireneaus, Origen and Jerome, according to Cold-Case Christianity, also confirmed “the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel by the tax collector described in the account, written for the Hebrews in his native dialect.”
He investigated the Gospels for veracity in the same way he would pursue criminals – looking for facts he could establish as truth. On Wallace’s website and books titled “Cold-Case Christianity,” he often compares the methods that law enforcement utilizes for establishing facts in a case for examining the Gospels. One of those is the authority of eyewitnesses.
Wallace says: “The New Testament authors repeatedly referred to themselves as eyewitnesses, even if they did not make overt statements including their names.”
Warner argues that what he learned over his 25-year career in law enforcement is that “we should expect witnesses to disagree” and that “reliable eyewitnesses never agree.” However, even the witnesses don’t agree on every single detail, their perspective is important. Wallace stresses that: “A witness can be incorrect about a particular detail, yet still be reliable as an eyewitness.”
Wallace reminds us that no two people experience an event in precisely the same way, as no two people are alike. And even though two people may not get a particular detailer element exactly correct, it does not mean that their testimony is unreliable or disqualifies their account. “If that were the case,” Wallace points out, “we would never be able to prosecute anyone for anything.” Their testimonies and recollections can still be considered reliable. Wallace adds that “inerrancy is not required of witnesses in a court of law, reliability is.”