Another excellent post by James Warner Wallace.
Three Witness Accounts When we examine ancient history in an attempt to understand just who Jesus is, we discover that there are three separate witness accounts that we have to consider. First, of course, there are the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament writers. But in addition to these, there are the hostile gentile eyewitness accounts of the Greek world and the hostile Jewish accounts of antiquity. So how are we supposed to know which group we can trust? Let’s try to look at the evidence as though we were in a court of law, OK? That’s something that I am very familiar with, as I have been in and out of court for nearly 20 years, and have been examining the nature of evidence and eyewitness testimony for that entire time. Let’s review what the three witness groups say about the nature of Jesus:
There Are Some Differences! We need to start off by recognizing the fact that the three accounts are AMAZINGLY similar, and record the same basic testimony about the life and death of Jesus. But clearly there are a few differences between the three witness accounts from antiquity. We’ve highlighted or dimmed the differences to make it easier to discuss them. First, you’ll notice that the hostile gentile witnesses are silent on a few important points (there is no mention of the prophecies that predict Jesus, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Judas Iscariot, the beating prior to the crucifixion, or the resurrection or ascension). But this does not mean that there is a contradiction with the Jewish witnesses or the Biblical account. It simply means that ancient Gentile writers either assumed their readers knew these issues, or were themselves focused on other issues, or did not carefully guard the entire record (and as a result, some has now been lost).
In addition to this, you’ll note that there are some dramatic differences between the Jewish account and the Gentile and Biblical record. The difference here is NOT it terms of the historical details of the story of Jesus, but is instead in the EXPLANATIONS for these details. The Jewish record affirms the fact that Jesus was said to be born of a virgin, but denies this truth, saying that Jesus’ parents simply covered up the truth about Jesus’ true father. The Jewish record affirms the fact that Jesus had supernatural powers, but attributes these powers to demonic forces. Finally, the Jewish record also affirms the fact that there was an empty tomb (and that Jesus’ followers claimed he was resurrected and ascended into heaven), but they deny that this was true, and claim that Jesus’ grave was later found in the garden next to the tomb. So while the narrative of the life of Jesus closely parallels the Biblical account, there are a number of alternative explanations that are offered.
Reliable Eyewitnesses So, which of the ancient records are we to believe? Why should we accept the Biblical account when there are clearly a number of other witness records out there? What make the Bible more trustworthy than the other witnesses? When a prosecutor brings an eyewitness into a courtroom, he or she needs to be very careful to bring the very best eyewitnesses that are available. After all, these folks are eventually going to be cross examined by the defense attorney. So, prosecutors evaluate their witnesses and have determined a set of simple principles that demonstrate the reliability of a witness. Even the jury instructions in each state refer to criteria such as those we are about to discuss! So let’s take a look at the criteria for reliable eyewitnesses and see if the Biblical record can compare with the other ancient witness accounts.