How I Would Prove to a Jury that the Bible is True
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A.P. auxiliary writer Robert Veil, Jr. formerly served as a district attorney for the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office, and previously maintained an active private law practice. He currently preaches in Martinsburg, West Virginia.]
The truthfulness of the Bible can be proven in much the same way that we prove cases to a jury every day. As a prosecutor, I had the responsibility of presenting numerous cases at trial, including a large number of jury trials. Working within the rules of evidence and procedure, I soon learned that juries are, for the most part, receptive to logical and reasonable arguments. They have an almost uncanny ability to hear cases presented and come to a fair verdict. They may not always get it right, but they usually do.
I also learned that the same type of logical arguments which are compelling to a jury can be formulated from the inspired biblical record. Proving the truthfulness of the Bible is no mysterious, incomprehensible exercise. It is done by the presentation of logical proof. And, at its most fundamental level, the Bible is an extremely logical and compelling book. It does not leave the reader depending upon mere hopes, wishes, and hunches. It is an evidentiary record (Hebrews 11:1).
The Bible claims to be the inspired Word of God. But in a secular culture of increasing ignorance and doubt, these claims are often rejected without investigation. Fewer and fewer, it would seem, are willing to accept the Bible’s claim that it is the infallible and absolute truth of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 2:11-13). In teaching others how to be saved, we sometimes need to take a step back to a more basic question.
So, how would I prove to a jury that the Bible is true? I would do it the same way that I would prove any factual pattern or scenario. I would utilize the rules of evidence in presenting the case, and then emphasize the standards which the jury should apply in making a fair and correct decision based upon that evidence.
For example, it is commonly recognized in the various criminal justice systems of our land, that the jury can properly evaluate the credibility of witnesses. It can do this by considering such things as: (1) The witness’s opportunity to observe the things about which testimony was given; (2) The accuracy of the witness’s memory; (3) Whether the witness has a motive not to tell the truth; (4) Whether the witness has an interest in the outcome of the case; (5) Whether the witness’s testimony was consistent; (6) Whether the witness’s testimony was supported or contradicted by other evidence; and (7) Whether and to what extent the witness’s testimony in court differed from the statements made by the witness on any previous occasion (“3:10–Credibility…,” 1986).
Let us notice how these accepted standards can be applied in a specific Bible event: the empty tomb. Actually, they can be applied in a similar fashion to most any major event recorded in the Bible. But we will use the incident involving the empty tomb because of its centrality to the gospel message, and because if it can be established, most of the other Bible events will readily fall into place.
First, we raise the question, who observed the empty tomb? Who are the witnesses? We recall that the Bible teaches, and good jurisprudence demands, that important matters must be established “at the mouth of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16). Interestingly, the witnesses to the empty tomb more than satisfy this corroboration requirement. They are listed in the complimentary accounts of John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke as follows: Mary Magdalene, the “other” Mary, Mary the mother of James (that is, James the less, or Jacob), Salome, Joanna, and “other” women. Also of significance is the fact that there are actually two different “layers” of witnesses, since both John and Peter arrived at the scene as well.
These individuals are among the last people to see the Lord before He died. They had an excellent opportunity to observe the events immediately preceding His death, as well as His body after crucifixion. Most of them were in close proximity to Jesus throughout His intensive ministry, and they had an excellent opportunity to observe the facts in question.
Their memory has never been seriously questioned. There is not the slightest indication that any of them suffered from mental illness, delusional episodes, senility, or mental impairment of any kind. Both John and Peter went on to write detailed narratives and well-reasoned statements of doctrine and instruction. None of them would appear to have had any trouble recalling the events, and there is no indication that any of them ever deviated from their recollection of the empty tomb. If they had given conflicting reports due to failing memory, such would no doubt have been published broadly, but history records no such discrepancies.
Second, we cannot help but notice the details in the record. Details are signs of credibility. They tend to establish a witness’s opportunity to observe the events in question, and they show a carefulness typical of truthful testimony.
John details these events as occurring “on the first day of the week,” “early,” and “while it was yet dark” (John 20:1). Matthew’s account is consistent, but utilizes language which might be expected with a Jewish audience: “after the Sabbath.” He then provides an additional detail: “as the first day of the week began to dawn” (Matthew 28:1). Another mark of truthfulness is the fact that these accounts use language which at first glance appears to be contradictory. The contradiction disappears upon a realization that Matthew is framing the time with a Jewish mindset, as opposed to John’s description. But that realization may not be at first apparent, and if these accounts were falsified (developed in collusion), it is hard to understand why they would not have simply used the same language, rather than what at first seems inconsistent. Mark, reverting to a Gentile mindset, sets the time as “when the Sabbath was past” (Mark 16:1) and adds yet another detail: “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun was risen” (Mark 16:2). Again, one wonders why language was used, which at first seems contradictory, if this is a concocted account. Typically, when witnesses are falsifying a story, they try to present their accounts using identical language. This, then, becomes another mark of truthfulness, particularly when all three accounts are read together, which suggests that these events occurred after the Sun was risen, but just barely risen, in the early morning, while it was still largely dark. Such an understanding comports well with Luke’s detailed observations that the events occurred “on the first day of the week at early dawn” (Luke 24:1).
Thus, when all of these details are considered together, we get a consistent and complete picture of the time of these occurrences. Yet it reads like truthful testimony, each using slightly different wording, providing additional detail, seeming at first to be contradictory, but upon closer examination stating an accurate account.
If four witnesses had taken the stand in court and described an early-dawn occurrence as depicted here, it is difficult to imagine a more believable sequence of testimony. Had it been manufactured pursuant to some preconceived plot, it would have been much more uniform, but far less believable. The differences provide helpful details, and do not amount to contradictions or discrepancies in fact. On the contrary, they provide helpful and credible pieces of the overall picture. After reading and considering each of them, we get the confident conviction that we understand exactly what occurred.
There are a great many other details, which, if they are not truthful, are unexplainable. John tells us that, as between him and Peter, he arrived at the empty tomb first (John 20:4). Mark informs us that the women brought spices that they might “anoint him” (Mark 16:1), and Luke adds that the women brought spices which they themselves had prepared (Luke 24:1). Such details have the ring of truthfulness. Further, John advises us that he stooped and looked into the tomb (John 20:5). Mark actually provides details of the conversation the women had on their way to the tomb regarding who would roll away the stone (Mark 16:3). Luke offers the interesting detail that Peter ran to the tomb (Luke 24:12). Upon arrival, John tells us that he saw the linen cloths lying there (John 20:5), but Luke adds that Peter saw the linens by themselves (Luke 24:12). John agrees that Peter saw the linen cloths, but adds the telling fact that he saw a napkin separate from the cloths, “in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7). Why would such details be included if they were not true? Details provided in a witness’s testimony are marks of truthfulness, especially when they appear to serve no other purpose, because they end up establishing overall credibility of the narrative.
Third, we notice some things which might have been omitted in these accounts, had they been manufactured for some deceptive purpose. These are relatively small insertions which would not be necessary to advance a false narrative. For example, it is a consistent trait of human nature that people do not usually include “unflattering” details about themselves, especially if they are not necessary to the narrative. Mark provides the unflattering detail that the women did not speak to others after this occurrence out of simple fear (Mark 16:8). Indeed, the women are seen, not in some artificial and well-reasoned conspiracy, but in a completely believable state of confusion, failing to even consider who would roll away the mighty stone until they were well on their way to the tomb. Such details, however unflattering, are completely consistent with actual human events. They are typical of what people really do, not of what people say they do.
Mary’s pitiful, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2), so typical of an exasperated and unplanned predicament, shows that she did not at all comprehend what had really occurred in the resurrection of Christ. Such is an unflattering admission, written long after the events, which would have been corrected had it not been true.
Nor do the apostles escape this less-than-complimentary treatment. Luke concedes that the report of the women “seemed as idle talk” to the apostles, and admits very plainly that they did not believe them (Luke 24:11). If they can be avoided, people do not usually include details which make themselves look bad. John, for example, admits that after he had out run Peter to the tomb, he hesitated and did not enter. But Peter boldly did, a fact included by John himself which appears to be unaccounted for unless it is true. It is also stated that the apostles, who later had such a commendable understanding of God’s plan, at the time simply left the tomb and went to their own homes. Such behavior, being fully characteristic of confused and exhausted men, would be inexplicable were it not true. People making up a story do not usually include distasteful or disagreeable details about themselves.
Finally we notice the consistency in these accounts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each describe the same event. Yet their language is quite dissimilar, far from a mere copy of each other. Such consistency is a mark of truthfulness. It has the indicia of reliability, and does not read like accounts which were deliberately manufactured to advance a false story. Each writer approaches the story from a different cultural background and expresses it in words and concepts consistent with his audience. The accounts are not contradictory but supplementary. By reading all of the narratives in full, one gets a complete understanding of what occurred. Likewise, reading only one or two narratives leaves questions and an incomplete perception. This suggests an over-arching Guide in these writings, a higher control, which guaranteed that all of the necessary information was included. It verifies the Bible claim that these writings are inspired by God.
Our faith is founded upon evidence (Hebrews 11:1). The evidence adduced from these credible witnesses is believable and compelling. It certainly proves the narrative beyond any reasonable doubt. If there is any remaining doubt, one might well ask how could a band of working-class fishermen and women “cook up” such a well-documented event? If they had lied, the accounts would not bear such marks of truthfulness and credibility. Further, if they had lied, they would have had to have maintained those lies consistently to their deaths. Believing such a thing would stretch credibility beyond its limits.
If I were trying this case before a jury, I would summarize the evidence we have and point out these standards which the jury should apply. When that is done, the conclusion becomes obvious: There is no reasonable and proper explanation, except that the events described in the Bible concerning the empty tomb are true.
“3:10–Credibility of Witnesses” (1986), Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions (MCPJI) (Baltimore, MD: MICPEL, Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.).