J. Warner Wallace is a retired cold-case homicide detective. For the first 35 years of his life he was a staunch atheist. Using his detective skills, however, he began to examine the NT gospels. To his surprise, he found them to be trustworthy accounts based on eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus Christ.
Wallace recently published his first book, Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, detailing the evidence that convinced him the Gospels were reliable accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Each chapter begins with an evidential principle derived from his experience as a detective, which is then applied to the Gospels.
Here is chapter-by-chapter overview:
Chapter 1 – Question your presuppositions about God. All of us have bias. Examine your bias to see if it is valid and true. Keep an open mind.
Chapter 2 – Abductive reasoning. What is the best explanation of the evidence? Distinguish between possible and probable/reasonable (applies this to the alternative, naturalistic explanations of Jesus’ resurrection).
Chapter 3 – The value of circumstantial evidence. Sometimes it is better than direct evidence. To illustrate the strength of the circumstantial evidence for God’s existence, Wallace looks at a variety of (mostly scientific) evidence (the universe began to exist, cosmic fine-tuning for complex life, the specified complex nature of life, existence of objective moral truths) and concludes that the existence of a personal God is the best explanation for these facts.
Chapter 4 – What makes an eyewitness credible? We must consider if they were truly present at the crime scene, if their observations are accurate, and if they have an ulterior motive to skew the truth. Eyewitnesses will offer divergent details. Their report will be perspectival. When they know others have told the same story, they will tend to focus more on the gaps in the story and missing details, and ignore the big picture. We see this in the gospels.
Chapter 5 – Wallace is trained in Forensic Statement Analysis. As he applied his training to the gospels, he discovered that they read like eyewitness accounts, not fictions.
Every word counts. Sometimes it is just subtle words that reveal the credibility of the account. For example, in John’s Gospel Jesus’ mother is never referred to by name. She is always referred to as “Jesus’ mother” or “the mother of Jesus.” We might expect this given what the author tells us that Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to the Beloved Disciple on the cross. Mary became the author’s mother, and he may have been reluctant to call his mother by name out of respect.
Chapter 6 – Textual variants. Scribal errors or intentional changes were introduced into the NT text, but they are identifiable and fixable. They do not undermine our confidence in the reliability of the text.
Chapter 7 – Could it all be a giant conspiracy? No. Successful conspiracies “typically involve a small number of incredibly close-knit participants who are in constant contact with one another for a very short period of time without any outside pressure.” None of this was true of the disciples. They gave their lives for their claims. While people may give up their lives for a lie that they think is true, large numbers of individuals do not give up their lives for a lie that they know is a lie.
Chapter 8 – Wallace introduces the question: How do we know that the church did not invent the Gospel stories many years after Jesus lived? The answer comes in chapter 12.
Chapter 9 – How much evidence is necessary before we can conclude some X is true? How much proof is needed? Do we need to be certain? What we need is evidence/proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Just like one does not need to have all the puzzle pieces fitted together before they can make out the image, we do not need to have every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed before we can draw some conclusions about the reliability of the Gospels and the person of Jesus. As an example, Wallace addressed those who see the evidence for God’s existence, but are hesitant to conclude God exists because of the problem of evil. He demonstrates that the problem of evil is actually evidence for God’s existence.
Chapter 10 – Taking a cue from how defense attorneys argue, Wallace prepares Christians to respond to specific attacks from skeptics: question the objectivity of truth, focus on the micro to distract from the macro, ad hominem attacks, focus on imperfect/incomplete evidence, and make possibilities look like probabilities.
Chapter 11 – Makes a case for an early dating of the gospels: no mention of the Temple destruction, no mention of Jerusalem siege, no mention of Paul’s or Peter’s or James’ death, Paul quoted Luke’s gospel. Arguments against an early dating are also addressed.
Chapter 12 – Corroborating evidence in support of the reliability of the gospel accounts, including undesigned coincidences between the gospel accounts, non-Christian testimony, and archaeological discoveries.
Two examples of undesigned coincidences:
- In Matthew 26:67-67 we read of the soldiers beating Jesus and telling him to prophesy who hit him. What need would there be for that if Jesus could see his attackers? Luke’s Gospel tells us why: Jesus was blindfolded (Lk 22:63-65).
- Mk 6:30-44 reports the feeding of the 5000, but Mark does not tell us why so many people were there in the first place. John fills in the gap (Jn 6:1-13) by telling us that they were searching for Jesus because of His miracles, as well as the fact that Passover was near, which brings many pilgrims to the area. In John’s account, when Jesus needed food, he asked Andrew and Philip where to get it. Why would he ask them, given their lack of prominence in the gospels? Luke fills in the details (Lk 9:10-17). According to Luke, this event took place in Bethsaida. That’s why Jesus specifically asked them where to obtain food: They were from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44).
Chapter 13 – Are the gospel claims about Jesus accurate? Wallace traces the chain of custody from the apostles to 4th century bishops. Each generation confirmed the accuracy of the gospels.
Chapter 14 – Were the apostles motivated to lie? No. They did not stand to gain money, power, or sex from the lie.
This is an introductory level book on the subject, intended for a lay-level audience (Christian and non-Christian). If you are an apologetics buff, don’t expect to learn much from this book that you have not learned elsewhere. That said, Wallace’s professional background makes his perspective and approach to analyzing the evidence both interesting and unique, so I would recommend this book to both the apologetics novice and experienced apologist alike.