Why We Should Trust the Gospel Witnesses

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/21/2013

The best reasoning as to why we can rely on the Scripture accounts of the life and death of Jesus.

I. The disciples had little motivation to lie.

A. Not only was it contrary to their strict morality, it would gain them nothing.

B. Being a Christian back then was a ticket to ridicule and persecution. They were promised the same fate as their Master (Matt. 10:23–25).

C. Every apostle except John (who probably died a natural death) was killed because of his belief in Jesus. In other words, they signed their testimony in blood.

II. In a court of law these writers would qualify as the very best of witnesses.

A. In court, the testimony of a witness can be impeached by one of five lines of attack:

  1. By proving that the witness, on a previous occasion, has made statements inconsistent with his present testimony.
  2. By demonstrating bias in the witness.
  3. By attacking the character of the witness.
  4. By questioning the capacity in the witness to observe, remember, or recount the matters testified about.
  5. By proving through other witnesses that material facts are otherwise than as testified.

B. The testimony of these men is not vulnerable to any of these charges:

  1. There is no conflicting or inconsistent testimony.
    • There is no evidence that the Gospel writers claimed at a previous time that the events in question never happened.
    • Instead, they began proclaiming the salient facts from the outset and those facts didn’t change.
  2. The issue of bias and self-interest strengthens the credibility of the witnesses’ testimony rather than weakens it.
    • The lives of the witnesses to Jesus Christ were continually in peril. In many cases the early Christians were driven underground into hiding, yet they clung fervently to their testimony, affirming the teachings of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.
    • For this testimony they were crucified en mass, fed to the lions, sacrificed by Roman gladiators, beheaded or made into human torches.
    • One simple thing would have saved them this torment: recanting their testimony. These witnesses did exactly the opposite of what self-interest would dictate.
  3. There is no evidence to impugn the witnesses’ character, indicating that they might be lying.
    Not only was it totally inconsistent with the moral standard they professed and lived by, but also there was no motivation to fabricate.
  4. The unique nature of the events and the nature of the testimony lend themselves to accurate observation and recall.
    • Their is no direct evidence that the witnesses’ capacity to observe was distorted.
    • The accounts are clear and lucid, giving an abundance of detail.
    • The accounts read like the testimony of one intimately acquainted with the facts of the issue, someone who was personally involved with the process, who was proximal to the events in question, and who had repeated opportunity to observe those events.
    • Matthew and John personally made visual identification of the risen Christ, an individual they had spent more than three years with in intimate, personal contact.
  5. John and Matthew corroborate each other and are supported by other extraneous evidence.
    • Disproving the facts of the first witness is generally accomplished using the testimony of a second witness. When we compare the testimony of the eyewitnesses John and Matthew, however, we find that their accounts mesh.
    • Their accounts also coincide with the historical summaries given by Luke, the companion of Paul, and Mark, the Apostle Peter’s companion.
    • Since each one’s experience with Jesus was not the same, there are some differences, as you’d expect.
      • There is sufficient unanimity between the witnesses to demonstrate corroboration.
      • But there is sufficient variation in details and viewpoints in the accounts to eliminate the charge of collaboration.