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The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence Paperback – April 10, 1995
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From the Back Cover
How would the Gospels be regarded if they were submitted as evidence in a court of law? This fascinating question forms the basis for Simon Greenleaf's classic study of the rules of legal evidence as applied to the New Testament accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus.
About the Author
Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and began the practice of law in Portland, Maine. Serving as professor of law at Harvard University from 1833-48, he was instrumental in organizing the university's law program. His three-volume work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, in considered a classic of American jurisprudence and forms the basis for his study of the Gospels.
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Interestingly enough, Strobel does have mention of this very work, but it is not very prominent. Ironically, I find "The Testimony of the Evangelists" (TTOTE) to be far more convincing.
TTOTE has two primary assertions: The first is that the Gospels are reliable and the second that Jesus was tried unfairly.
I find it amusing how people, especially nonbelievers, bicker and argue over who wrote the Gospels. In my mind the exact authorship of the Gospels is of little relevance--what matters is that they agree with each other on all major points. The fact that they differ slightly from one another is of no concern:
1) One must keep in mind the Gospels were written for different audiences--Jew and Gentile.
2) The alleged "contradictions" have no bearing on the overall message of the Gospels--that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for our sins--yours and mine, Jew and Gentile.
3) Some "contradictions" I've seen pointed out from atheists (What were the last words of Jesus? etc.) are clearly refuted when one does a Chronological study of the Gospels. A good reference is this one The Gospels Interwoven: A Chronological Narrative of the Life of Jesus Interweaving Details from the Four Gospels in the Words of the New Internation.
4) It is quite natural for accounts to have at least a few variations but still be in harmony on all the major points. If you were to ask your significant other to describe how the weather was today, their answer would be similar to yours, but probably not exactly the same.
Of the five main arguments in favor of the reliability of the Gospels, I believe that the evidences of their honesty and circumstances are the most convincing.
As to their honesty, what could be more honest than writing a work for no monetary compensation and facing the threat of persecution and possibly execution? From reading the Gospels--and other historical accounts of that time--it is obvious that being a Christian was not something one would openly practice without being fully aware that such practice could lead to one's death.
This all being said, I would say that the writers of the Gospels--whoever they were--are more honest and reliable than other authors such as Richard Dawkins. Would Dawkins--or any other non-believing author--write a book FOR FREE? I think not. Would Dawkins and others write their books if they had full knowledge that they could be executed for their beliefs? Again, I think not.
As to the fifth point, Simon Greenleaf makes the argument that if the Gospel writers were fabricating their story, they were extremely foolish in that they were quite SPECIFIC. Anyone who has ever lied knows that the more ambiguous and vague you are in your speech, the more difficult it is for others to discern exactly what your story is. This lack of specifics may explain why Half-Truths are commonly used.
And finally, moving onto the second main part of the book, there are a few chapters that sufficiently show that Jesus was apprehended and tried unfairly. The most convincing argument among those--in my opinion--is the fact that even though Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, and even though he was near Jesus afterwards, he was never apprehended for his action.
I would love to hear from a non-believer an answer to the following: If the writers of the Gospels--whoever they were--wrote these works as pure fiction, then why have they survived so long? Why would people go to such great lengths over hundreds of years to spread a lie?
As I'm sure many non-believers will be reading this, I have one final observation I would like to remind them of. One must always keep in mind that even in the face of overwhelming logic, common sense and evidence, one's Self-Interest can OVERRIDE such things. As a matter of fact, we see this in action with the actions of Pilate. He found no fault with Jesus, but let the Jews have their way when they accused him of being no friend of Caesar. His Self-Interest of maintaining his office OVERRODE the FACT that Jesus was innocent according to his examination of Him.
As a final example outside of the Gospels--because I realize the Gospels mean nothing to non-believers--consider the true account of the man who lived on Mt. St. Helens just before it erupted. He was warned in advance of eminent volcanic activity. To us it would be common sense and rational to get off the mountain. But that man's Self-Interest OVERRODE that common sense and he remained on the mountain until it erupted and buried him.
This book would make an excellent read for those involved in the legal profession, but it would also be of use to any willing to start with an open mind and a willingness to examine the Gospel claims without a preconceived bias --- something that many today are unwilling or unable to do. But, regardless of how one feels at the conclusion of this book, one will still have gained an excellent understanding of the critical thinking processes of one of America's great legal thinkers as that relates to the Gospels.
For instance, I am even more convinced now that Matthew was the first gospel written, in the face of current scholarly argumentation for Mark.
In the end Simon Greenleaf makes a convincing argument for the veracity of the witnesses recorded, and the conclusion that Jesus did rise from the dead.
One buying this book gets more than he bargained for, as it also has 3 other manuscripts attached. There is a defense of the shameful way Jesus was tried by Joseph Salvador, and then a rebuttal by Dupin. There is a great little account of textual criticism by Constatine Tishendorff, who discovered the Sinaitic Codex. This little essay is worth your ten bucks by itself. As it shows how having the texts we do confirms and rectifies the text we commonly call the Bible.