Rapid Response: It’s Impossible to Verify What the Gospels Say About Jesus

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In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone made the following claim: “Christians believe everything the gospels say about Jesus, but they believe this without good reason. It’s impossible to verify what the gospels say about Jesus.” How would you respond to such a statement? Here is a conversational example of how I recently replied:

“When I corroborate any kind of an eyewitness on the stand, I’m looking for something evidential that aligns with what it is the witness has said.  But every time I do this, I’m only going to get that what I call touchpoint corroboration.

Let me give you an example:  Let’s say I had somebody who comes in and says, “Yes, I saw him commit this robbery.  He jumped up on the counter. He pulled a gun out, and he pointed it at the at the victim, and he yelled, ‘Give me all your money!’”

How would I verify or corroborate this statement? Well, I could go back to the counter and look for his palm print on the counter’s surface, couldn’t I? If I find the suspect’s palm print there, it would verify the witness’ statement.  We would consider that corroborative evidence.

But you’ll notice that the palm on the counter says nothing about whether the suspect had a gun, and it tells us nothing about what the suspect said to the victim.  Corroborative evidence only gives you a small fraction of the larger testimony or claim.  I mean, I wish I had videos on every one of my cases, but I cold cases usually occur long before video was even available.  So I have to make cases with this touchpoint form of verification.

So, this is what I’m expecting, then, when I look at corroborative evidence for the claims of the gospels.  We can look to archeology, for example, to see if the Biblical narrative is supported by the archeological evidence. Will every detail be corroborated?  No.  But I would expect some claims in the gospels to be corroborated, and they are.

We could also reference the ancient writings of nonbelievers in the first and early second century who write about Jesus and his followers. They mention significant details related to Jesus.  Do they mention everything about Him?  No.  Again, that’s the nature of touchpoint corroboration.

We could examine the manuscripts themselves to see if the authors accurately describe the names of local cities, the most common names used by men or women at the time, or the customs of the ancient people groups they’re describing. Once again, this would provide us with touchpoint verification.

In none of these areas would I expect to find complete corroboration. That expectation is unreasonable. I hold high regard for corroborative evidence; but I have a low expectation for how much it’s going to corroborate.  Given those expectations, I do think we have enough evidence to verify what the Gospel authors said about Jesus.”

I hold high regard for corroborative evidence; but I have a low expectation for how MUCH it's going to corroborate... we have enough evidence to verify what the Gospel authors said about Jesus. Click To Tweet

This brief answer was modified from my interview with Bobby Conway. To learn more and watch many other short answers to difficult questions, please visit the One-Minute Apologist website.

For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case ChristianityGod’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.

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