Should we reject eyewitness testimony in the Gospel accounts?

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Christian apologists have routinely argued that one can trust the eyewitness testimonies found within the gospel traditions. For example, the former atheist homicide detective Jim Wallace believes we have sound reason for trust since “They (the disciples) were students of Jesus. Unlike spontaneous, unprepared witnesses of a crime, the disciples were desperately attentive to the words and actions of Jesus, and I imagine their attention to detail became even more focused with each miraculous event. For this reason, the authors of the gospels became excellent eyewitnesses and recognized the importance of their testimony very early.”

It would also have been the case that Jesus’ followers would have studied from his actions & words, and his teachings would have been memorized. The disciples witnessed awe-inspiring events as they watched Jesus perform miracles, as well as listening to what he taught about God and eternal life. Jim Wallace provides a criterion (a template) to judge eyewitness reliability.

“For the case of any eyewitness it’s important to find out if he was actually present at the time of an event, can be corroborated by outside evidence, has been accurate and consistent in the past, and is free of bias that may influence his testimony. So, if these four areas have been examined and an eyewitness is found to pass these four areas, it would then be reasonable to accept their testimony as reliable. In fact, such an eyewitness is deemed reliable till proven otherwise – he is given the benefit of the doubt.”

However, as Wallace has pointed out that should the critic broadly undermine eyewitness testimony then he must concede that • All eyewitnesses to crimes or events are unreliable.
• That the trustworthiness of his own senses is undermined, and • That the trustworthiness of everyone else’s senses is undermined.

Eyewitness testimony is powerful, especially if it passes the template above. It is a method that courts of law allow to convict criminals. Wallace concludes by writing that |“That’s why I wrote a book about how we can determine who is to be trusted and who is not. I don’t trust the gospel writers simply because they are eyewitnesses. I trust them because they can be vetted and determined to be reliable eyewitnesses.”

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