Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1, we read about J. Warner Wallace’s account of a grocery store robbery from his book Cold-Case Christianity. Two witnesses, Sylvia Ramos and Paul Meher, gave seemingly contradictory accounts of the robbery suspect. Wallace explained why Ramos saw things the way she did, but now we need to see why Meher saw things the way he did. Here is Wallace:
Paul Meher was visiting the cashier when the robbery occurred. The cashier was an old friend from high school, and Paul was standing behind the counter with his friend at the time of the crime. Paul couldn’t remember many details related to the suspect’s clothing, but believed that he was wearing a T-shirt. He was certain, however, that the robber pointed a gun at his friend, and he recognized this pistol as a Ruger P95 because his father owned one that was identical. Paul focused on the gun during most of the robbery, but he also observed that the suspect scowled and had a menacing expression on his face. The robber spoke his words slowly and deliberately in a way that Paul interpreted as threatening. Paul described the man as just slightly older than him, at approximately twenty-four to twenty-five years of age. He was certain that the suspect made no effort to purchase anything prior to the crime, and afterward, Paul had a visual angle through the glass storefront that allowed him to see that the robber walked to the end of the parking lot, then ran to a tan-colored, 1990s Nissan four-door.
Now that we know the circumstances behind Ramos’s testimony and Meher’s testimony, can they be harmonized? Can Wallace determine what actually happened during the robbery? Wallace explains just how he handled the two different eyewitness accounts:
Once I interviewed these two witnesses, I understood why they seemed to disagree on several key points. In the end, many things impact the way witnesses observe an event. A lot depends on where a witness is located in relationship to the action. We’ve also got to consider the personal experiences and interests that cause some witnesses to focus on one aspect of the event and some to focus on another.
Sylvia was older and had difficulty estimating the age of the suspect, but her design interests and experience with her husband helped her to correctly identify the kind of shirt the robber wore. Paul had personal experience with pistols and was sitting in a position that gave him an entirely different perspective as he watched the robbery unfold.
As the detective handling the case, it was my job to understand each witness well enough to take the best they had to offer and come to a conclusion about what really happened. Every case I handle is like this; witnesses seldom agree on every detail. In fact, when two people agree completely on every detail of their account, I am inclined to believe that they have either contaminated each other’s observations or are working together to pull the wool over my eyes. I expect truthful, reliable eyewitnesses to disagree along the way.
Take note of Wallace’s summary. He stated, “Every case I handle is like this; witnesses seldom agree on every detail.” He added, “I expect truthful, reliable eyewitnesses to disagree along the way.”
What is the takeaway with regard to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection? We should expect divergences in the accounts if they are truthful. This is the complete opposite expectation of the skeptic, who expects that the accounts be practically identical if they are truthful. The skeptic, in the end, simply does not understand the nature of eyewitness testimony, and therefore demands something of the Gospel accounts that should never be there, if they are true.