Post Author: Bill Pratt
J. Warner Wallace, a former cold case detective and expert on eyewitness testimony, tells us in his book, Cold-Case Christianity, what we should expect to see if the New Testament accounts are provided by multiple eyewitnesses. Wallace’s first observation is that
THEIR STATEMENTS WILL BE PERSPECTIVAL.
Each eyewitness will describe the event from his or her spatial and emotional perspective. Not everyone will be in the same position to see the same series of events or the same details. I will have to puzzle together statements that might at first appear contradictory; each statement will be colored by the personal experiences and worldviews of the witnesses.
Wallace’s second observation is that
THEIR STATEMENTS WILL BE PERSONAL.
Each eyewitness will describe the event in his or her own language, using his or her own expressions and terms. As a result, the same event may be described with varying degrees of passion or with divergent details that are simply the result of individual tastes and interests.
Wallace’s third observation is that
THEIR STATEMENTS MAY CONTAIN AREAS OF COMPLETE AGREEMENT.
Some aspects of each eyewitness statement may be completely identical. This is particularly true when witnesses describe aspects of the crime that were dramatic or important to the sequence of events. It’s also true when later witnesses are aware of what others have offered and simply affirm the prior description by telling me, “The rest occurred just the way he said.”
Wallace’s fourth observation is that
LATER STATEMENTS MAY FILL IN THE GAPS.
Finally, as described earlier, I expect late witnesses who are aware of prior statements to simply fill in what has not been said previously.
Do the New Testament accounts contain these elements? According to Wallace, they do. With respect to the four Gospels, Wallace writes:
All four accounts are written from a different perspective and contain unique details that are specific to the eyewitnesses. There are, as a result, divergent (apparently contradictory) recollections that can be pieced together to get a complete picture of what occurred. All four accounts are highly personal, utilizing the distinctive language of each witness.
Mark is far more passionate and active in his choice of adjectives, for example. Several of the accounts (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) contain blocks of identical (or nearly identical) descriptions. This may be the result of common agreement at particularly important points in the narrative, or (more likely) the result of later eyewitnesses saying, “The rest occurred just the way he said.”
Finally, the last account (John’s gospel) clearly attempts to fill in the details that were not offered by the prior eyewitnesses. John, aware of what the earlier eyewitnesses had already written, appears to make little effort to cover the same ground. Even before examining the Gospels with the rigor we are going to apply in section 2, I recognized that they were consistent with what I would expect to see, given my experience as a detective.
Wallace, in his book, goes on to provide in-depth analysis of how well the Gospels meet these four criteria, but at first glance, the Gospels all seem to have the hallmarks of reliable eyewitness testimony.
Why should we care about Wallace’s thoughts on this subject? Because skeptics regularly accuse the Gospel accounts of being manufactured because they contain divergent details. But Wallace points out that there are divergent details because we are dealing with multiple eyewitnesses who see things from their own perspective. If the Gospels all said exactly the same thing, in all the details, then we would have serious reason to doubt that they came from multiple eyewitness sources.