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belief | conversantlife.com

4 Reasons We Should Accept the Gospels As Eyewitness Accounts

In the movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Many skeptics reject the eyewitness authority of the Gospel accounts, even though the early Church selected and embraced the canonical Gospels based primarily on the eyewitness authority of their authors. Some critics even argue the Gospels were never intended to be seen as eyewitness testimony, in spite of the fact the earliest students of the apostles (and first Church leaders) repeated the content of the Gospels in their own letters, affirming the eyewitness status of their authors. As a cold-case detective who examines eyewitness accounts every day, I investigated the accounts in my book, Cold-Case Christianity; A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. My investigation led me to conclude the New Testament gospels should be considered eyewitness accounts for four reasons:

1. Eyewitness Authority Was Affirmed By the Gospel Authors
The authors of the Gospels proclaimed their authority as eyewitnesses (or as chroniclers of the eyewitnesses), and the earliest believers embraced the traditional authorship of the eyewitnesses. The Gospel authors (and their sources) repeatedly identified themselves as eyewitnesses:

2 Peter 1:16-17
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

John 21:24-25
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

2. Eyewitness Authority Was Confirmed By the First Believers
The early believers and Church Fathers accepted the Gospel accounts as eyewitness documents. Papias, when describing the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, for example, said, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” In addition, Papias, Ireneaus, Origen and Jerome affirmed the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel by the tax collector described in the account, written for the Hebrews in his native dialect.

3. Eyewitness Authority Was Foundational to the Growth of the Church
The eyewitness authority of the Apostles was key to the expansion of the early Church. The apostles were unified in the manner in which they proclaimed Christ. They repeatedly identified themselves, first and foremost, as eyewitnesses:

Acts 2:23-24, 32
“This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

4. Eyewitness Authority Was Used to Validate New Testament Writings
Even Paul understood the importance of eyewitness authority. He continually referred to his own encounter with Jesus to establish the authenticity of his office and writings. Paul also directed his readers to other eyewitnesses who could corroborate his claims:

1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

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3 Reasons Why the Historicity of Jesus Matters

In God’s Not Dead 2, high school student, Brooke Thawley, having just experienced the death of her brother, asks her teacher, Grace Wesley, how she might deal with the heartbreak and sadness she is experiencing. Grace responds by citing the source of her own strength in similar situations: Jesus. Later in the movie, Brooke asks a question about Jesus in the classroom. Grace responds and sets off a series of events that ultimately lead to a law suit against her. Can Christian teachers (or students, for that matter) make these kinds of statements? The movie echoes other true-life cases in which the name of Jesus is held in low regard in the public school setting. In 2013, for example, 10-year-old Erin Shead was attending Lucy Elementary School in Memphis Tennessee. Her teacher assigned a simple project: write about someone you idolize. Erin chose God. “I look up to God,” she wrote. “I love him and Jesus, and Jesus is His earthly son. I also love Jesus.” Erin’s teacher objected to her choice. She told Erin to start over again, and allowed her to pick Michael Jackson as the subject of her report. Erin’s mom brought the case before the School Board. The Board eventually agreed with the Shead’s and permitted Erin to write about Jesus. Why would anyone consider Michael Jackson as a credible source of wisdom and admiration but reject Jesus? Why is the name of Jesus increasingly held in contempt in our public schools? While it is most likely due to a growing bias against Christianity in general, it may also be due to disbelief in Jesus as a true person from history.

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Why Assumptions Can Be Hazardous to the Truth of Christianity

The producers of God’s Not Dead 2, asked me to play a small role in the film, testifying as an expert witness in a civil trial. I was happy to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels, but I know my efforts sometimes fall on deaf ears. The evidential strength of my case is usually dependent on the pre-existing biases of my audience. If my hearers hold a philosophical presupposition that prevents them from hearing (or fairly evaluating) what I have to say, the truth will elude them. Assumptions can be hazardous to the truth of Christianity.

I began to understand the hazard of philosophical presuppositions while working as a homicide detective.

You Can Trust the Gospel Accounts, Even If They Don’t Agree

In the upcoming movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Skeptics sometimes challenge the gospels because there appear to be differences between the accounts. As a skeptic myself, investigating the gospels for the first time at the age of thirty-five, I also observed the discrepancies between the gospels. These differences didn’t, however, automatically disqualify them for me. If there’s one thing my experience as a detective has revealed, it’s that witnesses often make conflicting and inconsistent statements when describing what they saw at a crime scene.

Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Simply Influenced by Limited “Spiritual” Sightings?

As an unbelieving investigator of the gospels, I made a list of explanations for the what the gospel authors reported about the Resurrection of Jesus. I was a committed philosophical naturalist at the time, so I rejected the Resurrection as unreasonable. Instead, I believed there had to be a better explanation. Were the disciples lying? Did they imagine the Resurrection? I searched for a more “acceptable” alternative. In recent years, some skeptics have offered one such alternate explanation: Perhaps one or two of the disciples had a “vision” of the risen Christ and then convinced the others that these “spiritual” sightings were legitimate. They argue that additional sightings simply came as a response to the intense influence of the first visions.

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Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Fooled By An Imposter?

As an atheist, the Resurrection of Jesus seemed preposterous to me. I was willing to accept the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but I rejected the supernatural claims of the New Testament Gospels, especially the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. When I eventually decided to investigate the Resurrection, I made a list of all the possible explanations for the claims of the disciples. Were they mistaken about the death of Jesus? Did they lie about the Resurrection? Were they hallucinating? I examined a number of explanations, including the possibility that an imposter tricked the disciples and convinced them that Jesus was still alive. If this were the case, the disciples might have unknowingly advanced a lie.

While imposter theories may account for the observations of the disciples, they require an additional set of conspirators (other than the apostles who were later fooled) to accomplish the task of stealing the body. Many of my partners spent several years investigating fraud and forgery crimes prior to joining us on the homicide team. They’ve learned something about successful con artists. The less the victim understands about the specific topic and area in which they are being “conned,” the more likely the con artist will be successful. Victims are often fooled and swindled out of their money because they have little or no expertise in the area in which the con artist is operating. The perpetrator is able to use sophisticated language and make claims that are outside of the victim’s expertise. The crook sounds legitimate, primarily because the victim doesn’t really know what truly is legitimate. When the targeted victim knows more about the subject than the person attempting the con, the odds are good that the perpetrator will fail at his attempt to fool the victim. For this reason, the proposal that a sophisticated first-century con artist fooled the disciples seems unreasonable. There are many concerns with such a theory:

1. The impersonator would have to be familiar enough with Jesus’s mannerisms and statements to convince the disciples. The disciples knew the topic of the con better than anyone who might con them.

2. Many of the disciples were skeptical and displayed none of the necessary naïveté that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly skeptical from the beginning.

3. Who would seek to start a world religious movement if not one of the hopeful disciples? This theory requires someone to be motivated to impersonate Jesus other than the disciples themselves.

4. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.

5. The impersonator would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus appeared miraculously (Luke 24:36), performed many miracles and “convincing proofs” (John 21:6, Acts 1:3), and ascended into heaven miraculously (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).

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Investigating Easter: Did the Disciples Imagine the Resurrection?

In the many centuries since the disciples of Jesus reportedly observed the risen Christ, critics of Christianity have challenged the supernatural claim of the Resurrection. Some skeptics believe the disciples, as a result of their intense grief and sorrow, only imagined seeing Jesus alive after His death on the cross. These critics claim the appearances were simply hallucinations that resulted from wishful thinking. But this proposal fails to explain the empty tomb and only accounts for the resurrection experiences at first glance.

As a detective, I frequently encounter witnesses who are related in some way to the victim in my case. These witnesses are often profoundly impacted by their grief following the murder.

Islam, Jihad, and ISIS

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a devout and loving Muslim home, but during his college years he began to closely examine Islamic teachings along with the claims of Christianity. As a result, Nabeel committed his life to Jesus Christ, a dramatic and engaging story he told in the New York Times bestselling and award-winning memoir, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, is Qureshi’s just-released book, rushed to press in the wake of the growing global concern over the threats and actions of Muslim extremists. This is Part 3 of a 4-part interview with Qureshi, currently studying Judaism and Christianity at Oxford, pursuing his doctorate in New Testament studies.
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Investigating Easter: Did The Disciples Lie About the Resurrection?

Did Jesus really rise from the grave on Easter Sunday? Is the Resurrection of Jesus a fabrication created by the disciples in an effort to start a world religion or accomplish some other nefarious goal? Some skeptics claim the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the grave and later fabricated the stories of Jesus’s resurrection appearances. While this explanation may account for the empty tomb and the resurrection observations (as lies), it fails to account for the transformed lives of the apostles.

In my years working robberies, I had the opportunity to investigate (and break) a number of conspiracy efforts, and I learned about the nature of successful conspiracies. I’ve written about this extensively at ColdCaseChristianity.com. Based on my experience, I am hesitant to embrace any theory that requires the conspiratorial effort of a large number of people, over a significant period of time, when there is personally little or nothing to gain by their effort. This skeptical apostolic conspiracy theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax. In addition to this concern from the perspective of a detective, there are other concerns that have to be considered when evaluating the claim that the disciples lied about the resurrection:

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Islam and Muslims

This is the second of a four-part interview with Nabeel Qureshi, author of the New York Times bestselling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Qureshi's newest book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, releases March 8.

Are there different kinds of followers of Islam?

Muslims interpret Muhammad’s teachings very differently, often along partisan lines of authoritative interpreters and cultural boundaries. That is why, in very broad strokes, Shia Islam looks different from Sunni Islam, why Bosnian Islam looks different from Saudi Islam, why folk Islam in the outlands of Yemen looks different from scholarly Islam in the halls of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Although the core of Islam is centered on the person of Muhammad in seventh century Arabia, the expression of Islam reflects local customs.

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