The Gospels are known as eyewitness accounts, but how do we determine their reliability?
American homicide detective and Christian apologist, J. Warner Wallace, shares a template that he has used in criminal trials for jurors as they assess a person on the witness stand. In the same way, he encourages us to test the Gospel accounts in these four areas:
Were they really there to see what they said they saw?
Looking at what the eyewitnesses say, and what they saw is an important reliability factor. J. shares from his personal experience.
“Early dating was important to me. If you date the Gospels, you will be very comfortable with how early they were written; they were definitely written early enough to have been either written by eyewitnesses, or to be vetted by those who would have known better.”
Can they be verified or corroborated?
“You could validate any ancient text and you’ll see that they are corroborated…remembering that we’re not going to get a video feed of this; you’re not going to be able to corroborate every single step, you have to corroborate in pieces when you have an old case.”
Have they been honest and accurate over time?
J. offers advice on how to identify if someone has changed their story or not:
“You can show they have been changed over time by tracing what I call the ‘Chain of Custody’. What did one person tell the next person? What did he say? What did he tell the next person? What did that person say? etc.”
Do they have bias?
“Bias comes down to only one of three things; the pursuit of money, the pursuit of sex or relationship, and the pursuit of power. Those three things get people in trouble every time.
“If that’s the case, you’ve got to ask yourself: Where is it in the life of the disciples that they are going to gain something in one of these three areas? That’s the problem – that they didn’t gain anything in any of those three areas. In fact, they lost their lives for what they claim to see.”
We need to base the reliability of the eyewitness on these four areas instead of relying on our own suspicions.
“If they pass the test in those four areas, you’re told you can trust them. As a matter fact, you’re told you should trust them – because on what basis wouldn’t you trust them? You can’t just say, ‘I don’t like the way he looks, I don’t like the way he spoke.’
“You have to have something solid to hang your hat on and it has to be one of those four areas.”