This week we’re going to address the question: Is there eyewitness testimony outside of the Bible? In other words, “Do we just have to believe what scripture says?” the non-Christian may ask. “Or, are there other people who are saying the same things?” On the face of it, this might sound reasonable, but here’s the question I’m going to immediately follow this up with: Do you believe miracles are possible? They ask, “Is there eyewitness testimony outside of the Bible?” and I say, “Do you think miracles are possible?”
Here’s where I’m going, because that probably seems totally unrelated. It’s a non-sequitur to you. Here’s the problem. Many people are using this question as a smokescreen, as a distraction from their main objection. Because even if we’re going to be able to point to other people outside of scripture who say the same things and were eyewitnesses, this person most likely does not believe the supernatural exists and that miracles are possible. That’s the biggest issue here. If we could/did point to extra-biblical eyewitness evidence, they’re likely going to say, “Okay, but a resurrection? Really? I don’t think that can happen.” We have to be prepared to deal with that objection too, but this objection about eyewitness testimony outside of the Bible is really a distraction oftentimes. Now that might not be the case. Someone might say, “Yes, I think miracles are possible,” and then I’ll say, “Okay, let’s address your eyewitness testimony question.” But that’s the more fundamental issue. Are miracles possible?
The next question I would ask the person is, “Why does the testimony need to be outside of the Bible? What is so special about the Bible that it gets disqualified from containing legitimate and trustworthy eyewitness testimony and evidence? Why these books?” Because we have to remember the Bible is not a book. It’s not like a chapter book. It has a binding today but it contains 66 different documents. Really what they’re saying is they’re going to put these documents in a category, call it the Bible, and then disqualify it from being able to speak to actual history. That’s what the non-Christian does oftentimes when they ask this sort of question.
Because what they’re saying is, “Well I don’t trust Matthew. I don’t trust Mark. I don’t trust Luke. I don’t trust John. I don’t trust Acts. I don’t trust fill in the blank biblical document.” Because all of the documents have been put in a category and called the Bible, and they’re in that category, at least in the New Testament, because they’re written by people who were eyewitnesses of the truth they proclaimed. We have taken all of the people who were eyewitnesses and wrote about things that we have, and we’ve put them in a category and called them the Bible, and that is the category the non-Christian wants to reject. They’ve taken the sum total of all the extent eyewitness testimony and said, “I want something outside of that.” That’s kind of odd, isn’t it? It’s kind of an illegitimate request. It’s kind of like going to a car dealer and saying, “I want the car that’s for sale that’s not on this lot that you have,” when the lots contains all of the cars that are for sale. It’s kind of like saying, “I want a non-relative who’s my brother.” That doesn’t work either.
The Bible contains eyewitness testimony. It makes that claim. Luke records Peter saying this in Acts 2. “We were all eyewitnesses of his resurrection.” Peter says this in epistle to, where he says that “we didn’t make up these things. We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” The biblical documents claim to be written by eyewitnesses or people who interviewed eyewitnesses.
Now, why should we exclude them? Why is this person asking for evidence outside of the Bible? I think this betrays a bias on the part of the questioner. “Well, okay, those Christians, they’re biased. They obviously believed Jesus rose from the dead. So where are the eyewitnesses who do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead?” Let’s just step back and ask, practically speaking, if even a question like that is reasonable. I think this will be a fair question to point out to someone. What would you say about someone who claimed to be in New York City one block from the Twin Towers on September 11th and did not believe they fell, who was there, who claimed to see everything that was going on and yet said, “This did not happen.” You would say, “That person is either crazy, a liar, or they weren’t an eyewitness.” Because to have been in that place on September 11th would have been to see the towers come down. You would have believed the towers came down. There’s no other plausible explanation.
It’s the same way with the claims that scripture makes. If you were an eyewitness to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, that pretty much guaranteed you would have been a believer, a Christian, a follower. What would make other sense to say that you saw a man rise from the dead and didn’t believe he was the person he claimed to be? Biblically, that doesn’t make much sense. Just common sense wise, that doesn’t make much sense either.
Take any other extraordinary event that has happened, put a person there to see it, and then say, “Yeah, but you can’t be a believer in that thing.” That’s really what someone is asking when it comes to scripture. We can make a generalization out of what’s probably behind this question. Because when the person asks, “Is there evidence from eyewitnesses outside Bible?” they’re saying we shouldn’t believe what people write if they believe what wrote. Because the people in scripture claim to be Christians, they claim to believe the history they write, and they’re being disqualified simply because of that. Or, they’re being disqualified not because they believe what they wrote but because the person who’s asking the question does not have a category in their worldview for miracles. It’s one or the other. It’s either “I can’t believe the types of things they writ” or they’re being disqualified because they believe what they write. There is no other option.
Honestly, I don’t think the person asking the question would find the evidence credible, if there were any, from non-biblical sources who are eyewitnesses, if those sources said the same thing as the Bible did. What would we say about someone who saw a remarkable event, wrote down that they saw it, and was not moved or changed by it. We’d say, “You probably don’t believe what you wrote.” There are some atheists who say this about Christians today who don’t evangelize. People have actually said, “If you don’t try and convert me, I don’t believe you actually believe what you’re telling me you believe.” In other words, our belief would motivate action if we actually believed what we claimed.
To find the category of non-believing eyewitness of the resurrection, that just doesn’t make much sense. More than that, this question is really getting at what’s acceptable proof. I think we can ask the person that sort of question. What type of proof for the things described in scripture would you believe? Often what you’ll find when you push this and you question the answers is even if God appeared in front of them and said, “The Bible is trustworthy,” they would not believe. They would check themselves into a mental hospital. People have even said this when they’ve been pushed.
I think what we have to remember, now we’ve talked about this before, is that worldview means so much in these conversations. If you don’t have a category for the type of thing we’re talking about, you’re not going to believe it, even if evidence points to it. Because you’re going to see it as a non-entity. You’re having to convince someone that something they think doesn’t exist exists, and that evidence actually points to it. That’s a tall order.
From a different angle, spiritually speaking, we understand why this is. Man suppresses the knowledge of God that is plain to him, we see in Romans 1. Now the way God has ordained to address this problem is through the preaching of the Gospel, through doing apologetics. We talked about that last week, through giving an answer, through giving a defense. But, all of that to say, sometimes we have to be wise in how we do that. We’ve got to be tactical. After you’ve had some of these conversations, frequently you’ll start to understand where they’re going to lead. That takes us back to where we started today.
When the question was asked, “Is there eyewitness testimony outside of the Bible for the things that the Bible describes?” my next question was going to be, “Do you think miracles are possible?” The reason for that is I’ve had this conversation enough to know that’s often where it ends up. So let’s just start there. We can address the question if it’s a legitimate question, but often it’s not.
In conclusion, we should not disqualify something someone says simply because they believe it, and to be a Christian is to believe the things that are written in scripture. So no, no one else is going to really write those down as a eyewitness and not believe them. They’re that large and magnificent of claims, like we pointed out with the 9/11 example. Then often, even if we give them the type of proof they want, it likely won’t be compelling because their worldview is going to dictate how they interpret that truth. A worldview is like glasses that we use to see the world. It accentuates some things; it filters out others. If you don’t have a category for the miraculous, you will always find ways to explain away that evidence.
Now the work of the Spirit is certainly more powerful than the human suppression of the truth, and through the preaching of the Gospel, through apologetics, through the work of the Spirit, these things come together to be persuasive as the spirit changes people’s hearts and changes their minds. We get to be a part of that process.
I hope you’re a part of that process for someone this week. Have a conversation. Start a dialogue about some matter of faith or the Gospel or the Christianity, and try and steer it towards spiritual things. You might be surprised what happens. I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.