J. Warner Wallace came to New Jersey last week to make a case for Christianity at the New Jersey Apologetics Conference, Liquid Church, and Rutgers University. In his presentations he offered evidence for the reliability of the gospels, including how to test an eyewitness. The first step in testing a witness is to establish whether he/she was actually present. The next steps focus on accuracy and corroborative evidence. Additionally, if there are multiple eyewitnesses, can their statements be reconciled? Why don’t all the witnesses agree on the details of the event? Jim used his cold case investigative skills to address these issues and offer evidence for trusting the eyewitness testimony in the New Testament Gospels.
As part of Jim’s New Jersey tour, he agreed to have dinner with our Liquid Church life group, which focuses on apologetics and had just finished reading and discussing Jim’s book Cold Case Christianity. We had a lovely dinner which essentially was a Q&A session with Jim about various topics.
Let the Experiment Begin
Our life group met a week after our dinner with Jim. Rick, our creative leader said, “All week we have been talking about our wonderful dinner with Jim. I think it’s time we put pen to paper. Face it, none of us are spring chickens. We might experience untimely deaths and the history of our dinner with Jim will be lost.” (I think you see where this is going) Rick had a 3-step plan for capturing the historical event of Jim’s visit which in the process would highlight the techniques that he taught us.
- Rick directed Buzz and Kraig to the kitchen (they were Mark) and he directed Christine, Staci, and I to another room (we were called Matthew). Rick instructed us to write down our own account of our dinner with Jim. Each group titled their account The Gospel of Jim’s Visit and tried to include everything about the dinner, the conversation, the food, the order of the events, and every detail we considered interesting or important. After we finished, we re-convened in the family room.
- Rick instructed Bryan (who was deemed Luke) to read the accounts from Mark and Matthew and write his own Gospel of Jim’s Visit. Bryan had been talking with Rick, so he also had access to Rick’s eyewitness observations about the dinner with Jim.
- We had a newcomer to our life group that evening. Beverly had not attended the dinner with Jim, but she knew generally about the dinner and that Jim was an apologist and a cold case detective. Rick instructed Beverly to write her own Gospel of Jim’s Visit based on her general knowledge. We renamed it the Gospel of Thomas. Of course in a perfect analogy, Beverly’s gospel would be written after we were all dead.
Right about now you are probably thinking we left out the gospel account of John. Not so fast. The experiment will continue because four other members of our life group (Lee Ann, Joanne, Lillian, and Frank) attended the dinner, but were absent for the gospel experiment. They will represent John’s account because their Gospel of Jim’s Visit will be written last.
We read aloud all four Gospels, noting the similarities, differences, omissions, and other peculiarities. Here are the highlights:
- Mark, Matthew, and Luke gave similar accounts regarding the date, time, place, and most importantly the substance of the conversation. Each of these accounts were in agreement on the questions asked and Jim’s responses. The Gospel of Thomas agreed on the date, time, and place of the event, but only made general comments about the conversation topics (some were wrong) without stating any specific questions and answers.
- Mark and Matthew and Luke disagreed with respect to the order of the events and there was some disagreement about who asked which question, but no disagreement on the questions asked.
- Mark and Matthew included their own specific information and curious details, with some overlap. These details had nothing to do with substance of the conversation. Luke had the most detail and was the longest account.
- Mark and Matthew included some people’s names, but neither listed everyone present. However, Luke’s account specifically named everyone present at the dinner.
- Mark’s account omitted a portion of the dialogue because he (Buzz and Kraig) was in the kitchen and missed it. Matthew and Luke included it.
- Luke included his own embarrassing remark that he (Bryan) made during dinner.
- Matthew included details about the food, flowers, desserts, and how Jim takes his coffee. Mark omitted all of this.
It was very obvious which accounts were written by eyewitnesses and which was not. There were so many details given in the eyewitness accounts that if someone in 100 years wants to investigate the historicity of our Gospels of Jim’s Visit there will be many types of corroborating evidence to support it. Here are just a few facts they can confirm:
- Was there an airline called United that regularly caused delays and disrupted travel schedules because of mechanical problems with their planes?
- Was there a movie called Boyz in the Hood made in 1991 starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. set in South Central Los Angeles?
- Was it customary for people to drink Diet Coke and Pellegrino in 2014?
- Were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson generals for the Confederacy?
- Was there a church called Liquid in New Jersey in 2014?
- Are there records to show there was a Liquid life group that met in Bernardsville, NJ on Friday nights?
- Did Lee Ann Chupp work as a teacher in Newark at the Performing Arts High School in 2014?
- Was J. Warner Wallace an active police officer during the 1990’s through 2014?
- Was there a book called Cold Case Christianity, written by J. Warner Wallace in 2013?
- Is there video footage of a man named J. Warner Wallace hosting a podcast wearing a green plaid shirt?
These are just a few of the historical facts found in our experimental gospels that could be verified by anyone wanting to know if The Gospels of Jim’s Visit were reliable.
Host Your Own Experiment
You too can do this experiment! You need at least six unsuspecting people to be eyewitnesses, an event to observe, and someone who was not there. It helps if your group reads Cold Case Christianity prior to the experiment. This experiment will greatly benefit your case-making ability. Not only will you have a good story to tell, but you will gain a better understanding of the nature of the eyewitness testimony found in the Gospels. We should not be discouraged by the seeming contradictions in the Gospel accounts. Rather, we should appreciate the wonderfully messy accounts that fit together to give us a robust picture of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazereth.