Updated: Aug 20, 2021
In a recent post about evidence relating to the New Testament (NT), I wrote about the similarity between evidence presented against suspects charged with criminal conspiracy. Much of the evidence against these sorts of defendants is testimonial evidence given by those who joined with the defendant in a criminal enterprise. In addition to this form of evidence, there is another type of evidence that is also used in the criminal justice system today that is evident throughout the pages of the New Testament as well. Not only is there a lot of circumstantial evidence to support the claims of the New Testament coming from within the pages of the New Testament but also located outside of the New Testament as well.
The effectiveness of circumstantial evidence against criminal defendants is well established. Also known as indirect evidence, circumstantial evidence can be very convincing indeed. A definition coming from federal jury instructions of indirect evidence is “simply a chain of circumstances that indirectly proves a fact.”
An example of indirect evidence would be someone purchasing a life insurance policy for their spouse before the death of a spouse. Another example would be finding a note/email where the above noted person is asking someone to assist them in their endeavor to “off” their spouse. There have been many high profile media trials where circumstantial evidence was front and center. One such trial that features this type of evidence was the federal government’s case against the Murrah building bombers back in 1994. The FBI had developed Timothy McVeigh as a suspect mainly on circumstantial evidence to include the statements of persons observing McVeigh in a Ryder rent-a-truck, and a woman who stated that she heard McVeigh state that on April 19, “you’ll remember me for the rest of your life. ” Other witnesses also heard McVeigh state similar things and were able to identify him from pictures provided to them. In addition, there was physical evidence found linking McVeigh to the crime scene. All of this indirect or circumstantial evidence (and a lot more) was instrumental in the development of the government’s case against McVeigh.
In relating indirect/circumstantial evidence to the New Testament accounts of Jesus, there are many instances of circumstantial evidence that support the truthfulness of the New Testament:
1. The apostles die for their faith (except John- they would die for their faith only if they believed it was true)
2. One of the main enemies of the early church, a Jew by the name of Saul of Tarsus, becomes a Christian and eventually becomes one of its main spokesman (he had an encounter with the risen Jesus)
3. A group of men who were dejected and without a leader suddenly become an energized team of evangelists (the apostles after the death of Jesus)
4. Many different people saw the risen Jesus at different places and times after his public execution by crucifixion
5. James, the half brother of Jesus, becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem
6. Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, becomes a Christian and authors a book of the New Testament
7. Physical (archaeological) evidence that confirms locations and persons mentioned in the Bible
8. Numerous writings outside of the New Testament that confirm prominent characters within the New Testament
This is not an exhaustive list of the indirect evidence for the reliability of the New Testament. However, the above relevant, circumstantial evidence is strong support that the NT accounts of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus are truthful accounts that happened in space and time. This strong, circumstantial evidence is one reason that we can know that the words of Jesus are true, that Jesus Christ died in space/time, and that Jesus Christ is alive today. Because he lives even today, this has tremendous implications on how we relate to each other, and how we live our lives. We can we find strength/guidance for living today and hope in knowing that we will be with him forever upon death.
1 Sixth Circuit Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/internet/crim_jury_insts.htm, Chapter 1 (accessed March 10, 2015).
2 The Oklahoma City Bombing & The Trial of Timothy McVeigh by Douglas O. Linder (2006) http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mcveigh/mcveighaccount.html