I’m a cold-case detective, but many years ago, while working a “fresh” homicide, I got a call from a woman who wanted to provide important information related to my case. She gave me her name and started confirming some of the details of the murder. She knew a great deal about my victim and suspect, and she seemed to be familiar with many of the important particulars. She also provided a key detail capable of changing the case entirely. I was interested, to say the least. Alas, her “key detail” was a complete fabrication. Yes, she cloaked her lie in a number of true facts, and these truisms made her lie seem plausible. Most of what she told me was true, but not all of it. The more I investigated her claims, the more obvious it was she was lying. I eventually learned she was the killer’s sister-in-law. Her lie was an earnest (although misguided) effort to distract me from her beloved brother-in-law, the man who killed my victim. Clearly
In homicide cases, mostly true is good, but it’s not good enough. When examining the case for Christianity, this important principle is even more critical. Skeptics and critics of Christianity continue to bombard our culture with alternative proposals about Jesus, attacking the reliable New Testament history by distorting the truth to embellish a lie. This summer alone we’ve experienced three such efforts. Reza Aslan would have us believe Jesus was a political revolutionary, “a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords… and ultimately the seditious ‘King of the Jews’ whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime.” Bill O’Reilly would have us believe Jesus was more obviously human than unmistakably Divine, presenting Jesus more as the son of Mary than the Son of God. And most recently, Joseph Atwill would have us believe “the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats” who “fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.” All of these authors (none of whom agree with each other) built their alternative narratives on a collection of truths related to Jesus. Some (like O’Reilly) incorporated more truth than others. But in every case, the authors used some truths to tell some lies.
This has been going on for nearly 2,000 years. In the early centuries of Christianity, a number of groups attempted to co-opt the person of Jesus for their own purposes. There are dozens of late, non-canonical gospels written by authors who used a little truth to tell a much larger lie. Some did this in an effort to fill in the “gaps” left vacant by the canonical Gospels, some did this to support a heresy and others did this in an attempt to acquire power from an esoteric set of “secret” claims. In all these cases, folks driven by a variety of motives used a bit of truth to tell a big lie. Centuries later, other men, driven by motives of their own, repeated the effort. Joseph Smith built an entire religious system (Mormonism) by distorting and adding to the truths of the Old and New Testament. As a result, Mormonism has significantly (and errantly) redefined the truths of Christianity. Other historic figures have similarly distorted the truth in an effort to reshape the person of Jesus, including Charles Taze Russell, Mary Baker Eddy, and John Thomas.
All these storytellers began with the foundational truths of Christianity, but allowed their fallen motivations to shape and distort their message. When asked what he wanted to accomplish with his reinterpretation of Jesus, Joseph Atwill said he hoped his work would “give permission to many of those ready to leave the religion to make a clean break… Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history. To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.” It’s important to take a close look at the motivations of those who claim to have “new” information about Jesus, just as it was important for me to examine the motivations of the woman who claimed to have “new” information about my suspect. We’ve got to be careful to sift the facts from the fabrications, because people will always use small truths to tell big lies.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.