Burden of Proof and Hearsay

Trained as I am as a lawyer, I got to thinking about evidence today at work; the kind of evidence that is required to win a case in a court of law. I touched on the subject a little bit in an earlier post, but not from a legal standpoint, if such a standpoint is valid in a discussion such as this. But, let me give it a shot.

In a courtroom, as the proponent of an issue, one has the burden of proving one’s case. The burden of proof is an aspect of argument that many theists don’t quite understand. If you’ve debated, or even mildly discussed, the question of the existence of God, invariably you will run into someone who, when backed into a logical corner, will counter with a statement similar to “But you can’t disprove the existence of God!”

Well, no, I can’t. I can make a good, convincing argument, with a lot of authority, that the likelihood of God’s existence is negligible, but I cannot disprove his existence. In a courtroom, as in logic, it is impossible to prove a negative, and that’s just what is being asked by that question. That is why the first thing lawyers and judges do, in any case, involving any issue, is determine who has the burden of proof.

Usually, that’s very easy, but sometimes it can get complicated. Generally, in a civil case, if you are listed as the plaintiff, it’s your claim that is being tried, so you have the burden of proof. In a criminal case, the State always has the burden of proving criminal guilt. The standard of proof is different in both types of cases (strict for the criminal case – beyond a reasonable doubt; more lenient for civil cases – usually, a preponderance of the evidence) but the burden is placed where is should be, on the proponent of the matter in issue. Once the Plaintiff or the State has met it’s burden, by presenting evidence that tends to establish all of the elements of the claim, then the burden can shift to the other party to show evidence that contradicts the claim of the plaintiff or the State.

Once the burden is established, the party with the burden proceeds to make his case. This is where the Rules of Evidence come into play. Most of you may have a smattering of knowledge concerning these rules from watching TV. The most common is the hearsay rule, but there are many others. Generally, the hearsay rule does not allow the introduction of out-of-court statements offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted (however, there are many exceptions to the Rule). Those types of statements are disallowed, whether they are verbal, or written. As an example, if your brother-in-law is put on the stand to testify on your behalf in a divorce proceeding, and he is about to testify that his co-worker told him that your wife was having an affair with another man, that statement of the co-worker would be inadmissible as hearsay, because it is a statement made outside the courtroom, by a third party, and is being offered to prove the truth of the statement (i.e. that your wife was having an affair).

One of the reasons why this type of statement is considered unreliable, is because the party against whom it is offered (the wife) does not have the ability to “test” the evidence, by cross-examining the person making the statement. Perhaps the co-worker has a grudge against your wife, because she owes him money, or spurned his advances, or something else that would motivate him to lie in order to hurt her. The attorney for the wife should be allowed to cross-examine the co-worker in order to elicit that information and show that the statement is unreliable, and he cannot do that if the statement is allowed to be placed in the record unchallenged, without cross-examination.

The Rules of Evidence are based on rules of logic that have stood the test of time and experience, developed through multiple judicial systems.

With this background, I want to discuss the evidence we have for the existence of matters religious, and why that evidence comes up short under common rules of logic and evidence. In the following example, I’m going to limit it to the evidence from the Bible for the existence of Jesus, as there are many other sources of evidence that theists point to, which I have neither the inclination nor the time to refute (such as personal revelation, the existence of miracles, etc., though much of what I say here may be applied there also). Hopefully I can show how hearsay would keep the Bible from being used as evidence to prove what’s in the Bible. There are a few other objections raised, but hearsay, and to a certain extent, burden of proof are the one’s I’m trying to illustrate.

Let’s imagine an actual trial brought in the Court of Common Pleas in a particular state, by a fundamentalist church, intent on proving the existence of Jesus, with an atheist organization as the Defendant. We join the trial after preliminary proceedings including opening arguments, and the disposition of some minor pretrial motions, at which time the Plaintiff has called its first witness, the Reverend M. Oses Patriarch, who has been sworn in:

Plaintiff’s Attorney: State your full name and address for the record.

Witness: M. Oses Patriarch. 123 Church Rd., Bliss City, PA.

PA: And your occupation?

W: I am pastor of the United Confessional Church of Christ of the Latter Day Holy Orders, located at that address.

PA: Do you know Jesus?

Defense Attorney: Objection! That is what the Plaintiff is trying to prove. The question assumes the existence of Jesus, which has not been proven.

Judge: Sustained.

PA: I’ll restate the question. Are you familiar with the life of Jesus?

W: Yes.

PA: Could you tell us what your understanding of the life of Jesus is?

W: Well, as I was trained at seminary, the Life of Jesus I know…

DA: Objection, again, he’s assuming the truth of the issue we are trying to determine.

J: Sustained. Reverend Patriarch, you cannot simply tell us you know Jesus. You have to prove it.

PA: Reverend, without telling us who you know, just tell us what the concept of God was that you were taught.

W: The God I was taught to believe in was omnipotent, meaning he could do anything, omniscient, meaning he knows everything, and omni-benevolent, meaning he was perfectly good and loving and could do no wrong.

PA: And how does Jesus fit into this concept of God?

W: Well, Jesus is the Son of God.

PA: His son. OK, how did God have a son named Jesus?

W: The mother of Jesus, Mary,  gave birth to him in a manger in Bethlehem…

DA: Objection. The Witness has not laid a proper foundation for this testimony. Where does he get this information about the Birth of Jesus, for instance?

J: Sustained. Counselor, your witness cannot just start telling a history of Jesus without laying a foundation for his knowledge. How does he know what he’s about to testify to?

PA: I’ll get him to explain. Where did you find this information about Jesus?

W: The Bible. Everybody knows that.

PA: What does the Bible say about Jesus?

DA: Objection, hearsay.

J: Counselor, I think I understand this Objection, and I know a little bit about the Bible. There’s no jury here, so before I rule, let me ask your witness a few questions. Reverend, the Bible is a book filled with the written statements of people from over 2000 years ago, correct?

W: Yes, our honor.

J: Are any of the authors of this book here today?

W: No your honor, they are all dead.

J: Do we know who they are?

W: No, not really, your honor.We believe a man named Paul, later St. Paul, wrote many of the books of the New Testament, and that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each wrote one story of the life of Jesus, but we can’t say for certain who these people were, when they lived, and even if they actually wrote them.

J: So the Defendant’s attorney cannot cross examine any these writers?

W: No your honor.

J: Then how can we be sure of the reliability of the statements about the life of Jesus in this book?

W: Your honor, the Bible is the Word of God, and…

J: Hold on. The Word of God? Then God is the author?

W: Yes. And No. Not exactly.

J: Which is it?

W: The Bible is the inspired Word of God, written down by the men who were inspired by God to write it.

J: That’s reassuring. For a minute there I thought you were going to say that God was going to tell us he exists. Let me get this straight. What we have here is a book, written by unknown men, 2000 years ago, none of whom are around to testify about what’s in the book. Your witness is going to testify about what they wrote, in order to prove to this Court that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he did the acts and said the words described in this book. Is that about it counselor?

PA: Yes, your honor. Reverend Patriarch will testify to just that.

J. Objection sustained. The Bible will not be admitted as evidence, due to the hearsay nature of the content, and the Reverend will not be allowed to testify about anything contained therein. Do you have any other testimony?

PA: <whispers to witness, then> You Honor, the Plaintiff requests a short recess to discuss possible settlement with the Defendant.

Hopefully, you can see that when Christians try to use the Bible as evidence for their beliefs, they are relying on hearsay, statements by people that can not be tested to see if the statements are true. So when asked if God exists, or Jesus did a certain thing, or said a certain thing, and the answer comes back in the form of a biblical quotation, the question has not been answered in such a way as to pass muster in a Court of law.

Christians think they have answered the questions. Skeptics are left scratching their heads.

45 thoughts on “Burden of Proof and Hearsay

  1. Excellent, very interesting post. I had no idea you were a lawyere, thank you for giving that perspective on the reliability (or unreliability) of the Bible.

    That is why the first thing lawyers and judges do, in any case, involving any issue, is determine who has the burden of proof.

    Isn’t the burden of proof always on the accuser, rather than the defendant? After all, the person making the accusation is making the positive claim, and the defendant is defending themself against that claim. Am I oversimplifying it?

  2. Thanks tobe!

    Isn’t the burden of proof always on the accuser, rather than the defendant? After all, the person making the accusation is making the positive claim, and the defendant is defending themself against that claim. Am I oversimplifying it?

    No, in most cases you are right. In criminal cases, the State is always the accuser (on behalf of the victim, if there is one) so the burden always rests on the state. But it is possible for the burden to shift, once the State has made a case. For example, if the Defendant is accused of Theft, and the elements of Theft (essentially, taking something that you do not have a right to) are met, then the burden shifts to the defendant to show that he was not guilty, by, e.g., showing mistaken identity, or maybe that the items stolen were his in the first place, etc. Burden shifting is where a lot of the arguments actually get tricky.

    Likewise, in civil cases, there may be competing burdens, with claims, cross-claims, and counter-claims being filed. The trick is to ascertain who is making what claim, and properly assign the initial burden to the proponent of that claim.

    I would never want to be a Judge. A thankless job.

  3. Thanks! That maked sense. I’ve often used the maxim “every man is innocent until proven guilty” as a way of illustrating the point that the burder of proof is always on the claimant.

    Forgive me drifting slightly off topic, but what is your view on the jury system in the USA? I’ve often seen (on films, if I’m honest) that before a proper trial starts, the attourneys of both sides can dismiss a certain number of potential jurors they don’t want. For example, in the movie A Time to Kill (adapted from the John Grisham novel), it was a black man on trial so the prosecution removed as many black people from the jury as possible. This seems spectacularly unfair to me. Surely the whole idea of a jury is that it should be picked at random and not manipulated?

  4. …what is your view on the jury system in the USA?

    I personally don’t try a lot of jury trials, so my opinion probably isn’t worth much, but on the whole, the jury system has been around a long time, originating, I believe in your country. There has been little change to the concept over the centuries, so that speaks volumes as to the efficacy of the system. Some lawyers get very good at manipulating juries, but that’s simply a skill, acquired from practice, and I don’t think it’s a good reason to denigrate jury trials in general.

    What you’re talking about is the peremptory challenge, that each side can make to strike a potential juror. Different states handle it in different ways, but generally each side has the right to “challenge for cause”, which means that if you find a good reason, after questioning jurors, that they would be prejudiced in some way, you can ask the court to strike them for cause. These strike are limitless, meaning that as long as you have a good reason, the Court should strike them. (Strike means disqualify).

    But sometimes you need the ability to strike someone that you think shouldn’t be on the jury, primarily because you think they may be prejudiced against you, but you can’t come up with a valid legal reason to strike, so you have a certain number of jurors you can strike for no reason at all. This is a peremptory challenge. This is set by the law of the state. You can strike them because they look odd, have cross-eyes, or smell. Doesn’t matter. For instance in a rape case you could use it to strike women, even though gender would not be a legitimate reason to strike (unless the potential juror admitted that they would string a suspected rapists up by his balls – that would give a good reason to strike. ) 🙂

    Sometimes, in individual cases, it seems unfair, and of course, movies dramatize this for effect, but on the whole, I think the system is quite fair. Juries have an unerring sense of what’s right, in a collective sense, and you’d be surprised how many times you might agree with a jury if you followed a lot of cases. There are exceptions (OJ anyone?), but they are just that, like every other thing in life, an exception to the rule.

    Hope that helps.

  5. Thanks – very helpful. I’m still not entirely sure I agree, but it’s certainly not as clear-cut as I first thought. I can see a lot of sense in “striking” certain jury member for good reasons.

    What got me thinking about it more recently, was this essay by Richard Dawkins, called Trial by Jury. I found it fascinating, I’d be interested to know what you think.

    By the way, you may become my unofficial legal consultant 🙂

  6. I found it fascinating, I’d be interested to know what you think.

    Interesting. I never read that before. I’m not knowledgeable about statistics, but he makes a good case. I would agree that you do get incorrect, or bad results from juries on occasion. Most of the jury verdicts that get press coverage usually do so BECAUSE they seem out of kilter. But for every one that may seem off, there are literally thousands of jury verdicts that most objective commentators would say are fair. So on the whole, I still like the overall fairness of the system.

    The French, I believe, don’t have juries, it’s all judge verdicts that are handed down. Sometimes I think that would work.

    In my experience, though, Jury trials are rare, at least on the civil side, primarily because they are time consuming, and hence expensive. There needs to be a lot at stake to justify a jury. Hence, most civil matters are handled by a Judge, or some lesser judiciary. Jury trials seem to be used primarily by the big medical malpractice claims, and an occasional traffic accident or contract claim. Most of the med mal claims that actually go to trial in my county end in a defense verdict, i.e. no award.

    Of course, on the criminal side, most of them go to a jury, if they don’t plead out, because any defendant would rather take his chances with 12 people than one.

    By the way, you may become my unofficial legal consultant 🙂

    Send me your billing address. 😀

  7. Pingback: Fallacious Arguments | The Inquisition

    • I think a very good argument could be made that the Bible is not a ancient document withing the meaning of the exception.

          • I follow you, so there’s no absolute on the topic. In that case, a good arguement could also be made that the bible is reliable history that it falls within the meaning of the exception?

            • A good argument could be made about anything. A convincing argument is another thing. William Lane Craig makes good arguments, but he never convinces anyone other than those that are already convinced.

              However, I’ve never seen a convincing argument that the Bible is reliable history, but I have seen many that it is not. Most arguments that the Bible is history rely primarily on the Bible itself.

    • No. Public records are admitted as an exception. Not to mention that the Constitution is the basis of all law in this country. To say it was inadmissible hearsay is to say that all law is hearsay.

      What planet are you from?

      • Well, I’m just following your logic there. Since the writers of the Constitution are all dead, they can not testify what they wrote. How do we know the reliability of the document?

        Don’t you worry where I’m from, just know that I find your court scenario hilarious. How many years have you been a lawyer, and how much trial experience do you have to make up such a hilarious court scene?

  8. I’d like to chime in on the tectonics article. He stated that the exception to hearsay would be statements in a document in existence 20 years or more whose authenticity is established. Well, the authenticity of the Christian bible has never been established, so his entire argument is moot.

    Clearly the US constitution is not hearsay since its authenticity is well established. I think, J, when you say “I’m just following your logic here”, you’re actually following whatever passes for logic on the planet you’re from.

  9. What’s in a good argument if it’s not convincing?

    Have you ever debated in high school? Handled a moot court argument in law school? If so, you know that two prepared debaters will both have good arguments. However, only one will ultimately be convincing.

    But let’s cut to the chase. There are two issues when trying to use the Bible as some form of authority in a courtroom.

    1. Authentication.
    2. Reliability.

    The first is determined by some evidence that the Bible is what it says it is: A book written quite some time ago about a certain subject. To some extent, we know that it was written thousands of years ago, and that it says what it says. But is it authenticated by the strict standards of evidence in a court of law? I say no.

    If you read Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”, you’d know that we do not have the original Bible, or anything coming close to it. The earliest extent copies, mainly scraps, are hundreds of years older than the original. So we have no idea what the original book actually said.

    Additionally, the copies we do have are multiple generation copies, hand copied by scribes, that were changed in small and large ways with every copy. So the book we know as the bible is not exactly the same thing as the book that was written.

    We also have no idea who wrote the various books. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are fictional characters, added to the books after the fact. The actual authors are unknown.

    Finally, the various books of the Bible were compiled into the single volume we know today by committee a few hundred years later. Many books written contemporaneously were left out.

    So, the book you hold in your hand and read as the bible can not be authenticated by any standard we know in the court room.

    Second, even if we could authenticate it, how reliable is it? This is where hearsay comes into the question. If we don’t know who wrote it, but we do know that the four gospels, for instance, were written somewhere between 30 and 100 years after the circumstances they relate in the books, and not by eyewitnesses (none of the Gospels, nor Peter’s epistles, relate eye witness testimony), so it’s all hearsay. We cannot cross examine the authors, because we don’t know who they are. We cannot substantiate their stories, because we have no idea how they came to obtain them. They could have made them up out of whole cloth, for all the evidence we have.

    Finally, there is no, non-biblical contemporaneous history written by known historians that corroborate anything in the Bible. The closest thing we have is the Testimonium Flavianum by Josephus, which at best merely confirms that Jesus existed, (and even that is seriously suspect). Nothing else in the New Testament is confirmable, other than some historical settings (like Herod, Pontius Pilate, Jerusalem etc.).

    In short, the best you can say about the Bible is that it is an interesting story. You cannot say that it is history. Even theologians admit that you have to take the Bible on faith, not evidence. Faith is not something we accept in a courtroom.

    The Constitution, on the other hand, is well authenticated. We have the original. We have contemporaneous writings by the authors and others discussing all aspects of the document. We know precisely who wrote it, who contributed to it, who favored and who opposed it. We have copies of drafts leading up to the final document. A more reliable document we could not find.

    There’s really no rational comparison. But then, when we talk about the Bible, reason never enters into it.

  10. First, thank you for taking the time detailing your thoughts about your position. It tells you’re a person that’s after the truth, and you have come to your position after extensive reading, I admire that.

    However, I can’t agree that a good argument need not be a convincing one. Argument must be persuasive, clear and specific. It’s not about how much you prepared, if you can not convince anyone, it’s not a good argument.

    With those in mind, I’d also like to point out that going to law school doesn’t necessarily make you mentally efficient than those that didn’t, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re more knowledgeable. So please, cut off the ego talk about law school, debate, blah, blah, blah.

    Now, in response to the points you made: I can’t think to the contrary that your knowledge is very different from the facts. I have to admit, I made a poor comparison when I compare the bible with the Constitution. The Constitution is much more younger while the bible is considered ancient document. I was assuming your logic is that any document is hearsay if you cannot bring the writers to the courtroom for cross-examination. The Constitution share that component with the Bible.

    With that said, I think a more rational comparison would be comparison between the bible and other ancient literature and documents. By that standard, the Bible has been proven to be more reliable than a lot well known ancient works in terms of transmission, authorship, and factuality.

    In regard to transmission, you mention “The earliest extent copies, mainly scraps, are hundreds of years older than the original.” Also the copies, “were changed in small and large ways with every copy.” I’m not sure if you have that correct. You might want to cite specifically which book in the bible you’re talking about. To my knowledge, the dead sea scrolls has proven that most of the content in the old testament we have on hand are accurate from the earliest copy we have. Not to mention the Bible has far more accurate transmitted copies than a lot of famous ancient literature out there. Such tells the transmission process of the Bible is far more reliable than most ancient literature.

    Further, the lack of original does not mean it lacks authenticity. Most ancient literature lack original. This include the Chinese Shiji, the earliest historical records of the Chinese. Also, the History by Herodotus, the classic Greek historical records.
    Commenting upon the comparison between the Bible and the classical writings, Andrew Archibald in 1890 declared:

    None of the original manuscripts of the Bible have been preserved. Shall we therefore reject this book? As well might we throw away the works of Homer, who flourished from eight to nine hundred years before Christ, but of whose writings we have no complete copy older than the thirteenth century, and no fragments even older than the sixth century–-fifteen centuries after the blind poet died. Of the history by Herodotus there is no manuscript extant earlier than the ninth century, but this historian lived in the fifth century before the Christian era. There is no copy of Plato previous to the ninth century, and he wrote considerably more than a thousand years before that.”

    If you have read From God to us, by Norman Geisler and William E. Nix, you would have a better understanding about how to examine the transmission process of the Bible.

    In regard to authorship and factuality, you mention that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are fictional characters. What’s your proof about that? The book of Luke stated it was written by Luke himself, while the book of John mention many eyewittness events by the author himself. I don’t understand why you say there’s no eyewittness testimony in the gospels. Yes, we can not cross examine the authors anymore, we also can not cross examine the author of Shiji and Herodotus. Shall we dispute the factuality about what they wrote?

    Even if there’s no eyewittness testimony in the gospel, I doubt if history has to be written by eyewitnesses testimony of the author himself. Many history were written when the historian — after extensive research and its reliability examined — find something very well known at the time of the work is created. And this brings us to your knowledge about Josephus’ record. To my knowledge, Josephus not only confirms Jesus’ existence and also his execution. The late first century Jewish historian Josephus, writing in The Antiquities of the Jews (c. 93 AD/CE), and the early second century Roman historian Tacitus, writing in The Annals (c. 116 AD/CE), also state that Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus. There are also non-biblical historical records that claim Jesus was a miracle worker at the time.

    In short, my knowledge is very different from yours. The best I can say is that you’re not very knowledgeable in the nature about how ancient documents transmitted and how ancient history were written.

    Lastly, you mention faith is not something we accept in courtrooms. I have a friend who is an attorney general of California that works in appellate courts. He told me a very memorable model he learned. He said in law, it’s very rare one can prove 100% of the facts, 80% is considered the maximum level, the rest 20% you have to believe it by faith.

    • There certainly are a lot of people out there that insist that their faith can be corroborated by science, history and other disciplines. Apparently, you need that type of corroboration also.

      You’re getting pretty far afield from my original post. I really have no concern for whether you or anyone else feel that the Bible is reliable, because that’s your belief, certainly not mine, and you can believe whatever you want without any interference from me. The OP, especially the latter part, was a humorous exercise in the application of legal principles to religious belief – specifically in the existence of God. My proposition is that in a court of law, you could not prove god exists by reference to the bible, anymore than you could prove Ulysses existed by reference to Homer. The rules of evidence will not allow it. I stand by that. Neither you, nor anyone else can prove the existence of god outside of a courtroom, where the rules are somewhat relaxed, to say the least, so doing it in a courtroom would be well nigh impossible.

      But, feel free to try. I’ve asked others who have come here to give me their best convincing evidence, and so far I’ve gotten zilch.

      Now, a couple of your points:

      1. The Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing to do with the New Testament, as you note, so they do not bear on the reliability of the NT. I cited Ehrman, whose book (not to mention lectures) deal almost exclusively with the NT. He notes that there are more differences between copies of the NT, than there are words in the NT. Many are insignificant, many are extremely significant. Some were intentional, some were not. The point, however is that regardless of the significance of the error in transmission, we clearly do not have a book that would pass authentication muster in a court of law. You may believe that what we have is sufficient, but a judge would not.

      2. Regardless whether the Bible was more accurately transmitted over the ages than say, Herodotus, neither book would past muster in a court of law, both for the same reasons. I’m not sure what issue would be at stake in a courtroom that would rise or fall on the word of Herodotus, but I doubt it would be something as crucial as the existence or non existence of a supernatural being. Whatever it would be, there probably would be contemporaneous corroborating evidence that would increase the weight of the total evidence, something that one cannot say about the existence of god. There is no evidence for the latter. Herodotus was not the only ancient Greek historian.

      3. “I don’t understand why you say there’s no eyewittness testimony in the gospels. ”

      Well, feel free to point a few out. Chronologically, I understand that Mark was the first of the Gospels, and Matthew and Luke were based primarily on Mark, and possibly another source. John, written last, could not have been written by an eyewitness, unless he was well over 100 when he wrote the book. In any event, the books were written in Greek, by educated Greek writers, not Aramaic speaking followers of Christ. Most textual scholars (as opposed to theological scholars) conclude that the names of the books were added after they were written. If you have proof otherwise, cough it up.

      4. Opinions are split, but a good many historians believe the reference to Jesus by Josephus is a later insertion (since we don’t have the original of that either). I’ve read both sides, and I tend to agree it’s highly suspect. Especially when you acknowledge that even though there were other historians writing at the same time, none mention Jesus, the miracle working, supernatural entity. No one else ever heard of him. And Tacitus doesn’t talk about Jesus at all, just “Christians”, which we know existed at his time. Just because there are Christians doesn’t mean there was a Christ. One would expect a lot more evidence of this wonderful Jesus if he really existed, even as a man, much less a god.

      He said in law, it’s very rare one can prove 100% of the facts, 80% is considered the maximum level, the rest 20% you have to believe it by faith.

      That’s what we call a nice story, but useless. I actually agree with him (though I dislike the use of the word “faith” – “trust” is a better word), but we’re talking apples and oranges here. Faith in the existence of god and trust in facts, direct or circumstantial, are widely different things. In a courtroom, you don’t need 100% proof of facts, just a preponderance of them. That’s why there are scales of justice. We “weigh” the evidence, we don’t insist on proof to a dead certainty.

      So no, faith isn’t accepted in lieu of evidence.

      • Well, I believe Christians should have a higher calling than Christianity. If Christianity is not the truth, we should abandon it. However, I was not trying to proof anything about the existence of God. A lot of renowned works have been written about that topic. It certainly is not a topic that can be addressed satisfyingly by going back and forth between us by blogging. I was merely trying to introduce to you, some of the important insights about the reliability of the Bible, since I find your knowledge very different than mine.

        For example, you mentioned Matthew and Luke were based primarily on Mark, and possibly another source. That is very different from the finding of Sir William Ramsay, the Scottish archaeologist. The credibility of Luke as a historian was verified by Ramsay, even highly ranked Luke one of the “greatest historians of all time.” Ramsay was a skeptic who began extensive research to disprove Luke. His colleagues expected Ramsay to uncover evidence to disprove much of the New Testament once and for all. Yet Ramsay’s final analysis surprised nearly everyone. After 30 years of study, Ramsay found Luke to be accurate in every detail.

        According to Ramsay, evidence was collected by Luke through interviews with people and study of records at the time. Luke and Matthew’s information was collected and recorded during the lifetime of those involved. Anytime history is documented during the lifetime of those contemporary to the events, it must stand the test of eyewitness critics. Otherwise it will not be accepted and will vanish into obscurity.

        This contradicts to your knowledge that there’s no eyewitness in the gospel. To name a few testimonies, we have Zechariah’s loss and regaining of speech witnessed by all living in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1: 21, 22; 1:65, 66). We also have Elizabeth’s miracle child witnessed by neighbors and relatives (Luke 1:58). The birth of Jesus was witnessed by Shepherds (Luke 2: 15-20).

        In regard to your comment that there’s no non-biblical historical reference made at the time about Jesus, first note very few written works of anything exist from the period of A.D. 30 to A.D. 60. In the years close to and after Nero’s killing of Christians in A.D. 64, we find the following references to Jesus:

        Thallus (A.D. 52) — Historical work referenced by Julius Africanus explains the darkness at the time of Christ’s death as a solar eclipse.

        Josephus (A.D. 64-93) — again, he not only referred to Jesus’ existence but also his miracles, his crucifixion, and his disciples. Also referenced are James, “brother of Jesus who was called the Christ,” and John the Baptist.

        Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 64-116) — Writing to dispel rumors that Nero caused the great fire of Rome in A.D. 64, he refers to Christians as the followers of “Christus,” who “had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus (Annals, book 15.44). The resurrection was called “the pernicious superstition.”

        Such differentiate your knowledge about Tacitus that he did not mention Jesus, and I especially find your comments about the historian’s record very funny. You mention just because Tacitus mentioned there were many Christians doesn’t mean there’s a Christ. Then where did all those Christians come from? Do you suppose they made up a lie that didn’t happenand in their lifetime so they could all be executed?

        Suetonius (A.D. 120) — a historian wrote about the events in teh late 40s — 60s. He referred to Christ, the “mischievous and novel superstition” of the resurrection, and to Christians being put to death by Nero.

        Phlegon (A.D. 140) — Referenced by Julius Africanus and Origen, he referred to the eclipse, the earthquake, and to Jesus’ prophecies.

        Lucian of Samosata (A.D.170) — This Greek Satirist wrote about Christian, Christ, the crucifixion.

        Mara Bar-Serapion (A.D.200) — A syrian philosopher, he wrote from prision to his son, comparing Jesus to Socrates and Plato.

        • Well, I believe Christians should have a higher calling than Christianity. If Christianity is not the truth, we should abandon it.

          It’s not, but they’re not leaving in droves, though they are leaving. No religion is the fastest growing “religion” (religious choice) in the world. The only thing that sustains Christianity in growth is the poverty of third world nations. First world countries are abandoning it.

          However, I was not trying to proof anything about the existence of God.

          I was. The little transcript I contrived up there in the OP is specifically about proving the existence of god in a court of law. We started this little dialog on that basis, with you questioning why that could not be done, using the Bible as evidence. It is the ultimate question in all religious debate, the elephant in the room, so to speak. If god doesn’t exist, all religious debate, all theology, all study of him is a waste of time. It is the first proof required, and it’s the one that all theists avoid proving, you included.

          A lot of renowned works have been written about that topic.

          All, without exception, failing.

          For example, you mentioned Matthew and Luke were based primarily on Mark, and possibly another source. That is very different from the finding of Sir William Ramsay, the Scottish archaeologist.

          Never heard of the guy, so I looked him up. The only place I find him, other than Wikipedia, is Christian apologetic sites, which says a lot. He was an archeologist from the 19th century. I need to study him more (but I won’t until you prove god exists) because I don’t see what an archeologist can say about textual research. The best he can add is that places, names and history from the 1st century CE can be confirmed by archaeology, but that’s a given anyway, since there is no doubt that the NT was written in the 1st century, so one would expect the writers, whoever they are, to reference actual historical places, people and events, in order to give their stories credibility. No one doubts that anyway.

          It’s the question of the divinity of Jesus that is at issue (assuming he even existed) and placing a fictional character in an actual historical setting is still called historical fiction.

          This contradicts to your knowledge that there’s no eyewitness in the gospel. To name a few testimonies, we have Zechariah’s loss and regaining of speech witnessed by all living in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1: 21, 22; 1:65, 66). We also have Elizabeth’s miracle child witnessed by neighbors and relatives (Luke 1:58). The birth of Jesus was witnessed by Shepherds (Luke 2: 15-20).

          No offense, but did you read what you wrote? The writer of the Gospels you reference is relaying stories about what other people say they saw. Stories from decades earlier. You say you are a lawyer, so don’t you see the hearsay in those stories? Those are not eyewitness stories, related by the eyewitness. The writer is not the eyewitness, and doesn’t claim to be. Those are stories about someone who says he/she was an eyewitness.

          There’s no more reliability to those stories than J. K. Rowling telling me that Harry Potter saw Dumbeldore fall to his death.

          …we find the following references to Jesus:

          As to your specific cites of ancient references check out the Wikipedia article here. The way you relate them, compared to the way they actually exist indicate a certain massaging of the claim to fit Jesus in there, most likely because you start with a belief, then look for the facts to support it, a legitimate criticism of Christian apologetics. One example, then I’ll stop:

          This is the passage you reference in Thallus:

          On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun.

          Could you point out to me how this “explains the darkness at the time of Christ’s death“? I don’t see any reference to Christ’s death, the time of Christ’s death, the year of Christ’s death, the place of Christ’s death, etc.

          • I think there’s some misunderstanding about our approach here. To me, proving the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible are two radically differenet thing. Reason being I don’t believe one needs the reliability of the Bible as premise in order to prove the existence of God. Many great works have been written without that premise, including non-Christian works.

            My attempt was trying to introduce to you, some of the important insights you could be missing when you make up your little exercise/scenario in the courtroom about whether we should treat the Bible as hearsay as opposed to ancient history in Law. That brings us to the reliability of the Bible.

            Make no mistake, I’m not trying to avoid proving the existence of God, like it’s something that cannot be logically proven. I avoid doing it here because I don’t believe I can do it nicely by blogging. Also, bearing the lack of philosophical background, I can only present to you my personal knowledge, as opposed to scholarly knowledge. Since I believe proving the existence of God requires discipline in philosophy more than that in Law. In fact, I strongly suggest you read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to gain insights about proving or disproving the existence of God using reasoning. It is the great philosopher’s belief that one cannot use strict reasoning to prove or disprove the existence of another world.

            Now, in response to your critcism:

            My attempt was to show how Luke was written, which is composed by independent research, rather than narration added on top of Mark’s story. I never claimed Luke was the eyewitness of the event. In fact, if you have read my previous post correctly, I said the Gospels contain eyewitness events. I even stated I doubt, Luke, being a historian, have to write history based on what he saw himself about every single pieces of information. If he did not see it with his eyes, he can not recorded it. History are not written that way.

            Yes, it’s a different case in Law when you do deposition. You can’t have one person telling you what the other person say without having the other guy sworn in or it’ll be considered hearsay. However it is unreasonable to treat the book of Luke the same manner, because what’s at stake here is whether Luke’s account is reliable history, you have to weight it just like you weight other reliable historical records, not like depositions.

            If no historical record are composed by the rule that the author ought to have first hand witness of the event recorded, then we shoudn’t place that upon Luke either. Therefore the NT, at least the book of Luke, should fall within the meaning of exception that it not be treated as hearsay. Because if we do, perhaps we should treat almost all history records as hearsay.

            As for Thallus: it was in the letters he was writing to Julius Africanus, as referred by Africanus. So if you want further information, it’s not in the wording of Thallus, but in Africanus’ writing. How did the scholars came to believe that the phrase was talking about Christ? That’s something you’re asking out of my expertise, I can only give you my personal knowledge.

            However, regardless whatever Thallus’ little phrase meant. There is broad scholarly consensus that the two passages Josephus referred to, John the Baptist, and to James the brother of Jesus are genuine — regardless whether the scholars are theologians or not. So there’s no question whether Josephus did in fact wrote something about Jesus. What is contested — about whether there is later insertion or addiction is, a third passage, the famous Testimonium Flavianum found in the Antiquities of the Jews 18.63-64, in its current form summarises the ministry and death of Jesus. Either way, it doesn’t disprove the historicity of Jesus, but merely leave us questions unanswered: if Jesus really existed, is he ordinary man or God?

            In Tactius’ case, the critics’ argument is even weaker. Those critical of the passage’s authenticity argue that early Christian writers likely would have sought to establish the historicity of Jesus via secular or non-Christian documents, and that their silence with regard to the Annals in this manner may suggest that the passage did not exist in early manuscripts. Furthermore, because the earliest surviving manuscript containing the passage is an 11th century Christian scribal copy, skeptics of the passage’s authenticity argue that it may be the result of later Christian editing.

            Supporters of the passage’s authenticity, however, counter that Christians would not promote their faith as a “most mischievous superstition”, or a “source of the evil” or as something “hideous and shameful”, though “there arose a feeling of compassion” toward the Christians. Just because early Christian wrtiers failed to mention the passage doesn’t mean they have to include it. Critics here are making common legal error that they’re assuming something that has not been proven. We have little knowledge what the early Christian writers know about the Annals, therefore it is a mistake to presume the passage to be a later addition. Just because the earliest copy we have are Christian scribal copy doesn’t mean one should be biased against it without resonable reason.

            Finally, a word about you saying that I “most likely … start with a belief, then look for the facts to support it.” Don’t we all do that? Tell me if you’re different, because I suppose you, start with a belief that Jesus never existed, then you started to look up evidence that support your position, either by self-reliant sources or those that attempt to dismantle theories that claim to have proven the existence. We all use premise.

            • Reason being I don’t believe one needs the reliability of the Bible as premise in order to prove the existence of God.

              Really? Then how would you go about proving the existence of god without the Bible?

              Make no mistake, I’m not trying to avoid proving the existence of God, like it’s something that cannot be logically proven.

              It can’t be, in my opinion, but you have the floor. Logically prove the existence of god for me. Here. Now.

              I avoid doing it here because I don’t believe I can do it nicely by blogging.

              Doesn’t have to be nice. Just logical. And convincing.

              It is the great philosopher’s belief that one cannot use strict reasoning to prove or disprove the existence of another world.

              And I happen to agree with him. But not because there is a deficiency in reason. It’s because their is an absence of evidence.

              My attempt was to show how Luke was written, which is composed by independent research, rather than narration added on top of Mark’s story.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synoptic_Gospels

              Yes, it’s a different case in Law when you do deposition. You can’t have one person telling you what the other person say without having the other guy sworn in or it’ll be considered hearsay.

              Well, in a depositions, as opposed to a trial, the witness can say anything. We call them fishing expeditions for a reason. It’s only hearsay if it’s an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

              However it is unreasonable to treat the book of Luke the same manner, because what’s at stake here is whether Luke’s account is reliable history, you have to weight it just like you weight other reliable historical records, not like depositions.

              Not sure what you are saying, but if you think Luke should be offered into evidence in my fake trial, to prove the truth of what Luke relates others say, then you actually have hearsay on hearsay, or hearsay twice removed. In fact, since Luke doesn’t say where he got his testimony, you could possibly have hearsay on multiple hearsay, perhaps 30, 40, 50 times removed from the original statement. That’s how an oral tradition works, and since Luke was written decades after the facts set forth in Luke, it could even be farther removed. The point is we don’t know, and if we don’t know, how can we be assured how reliable the statements are? For all we know, they were concocted as pure fiction, and there is no way in hell we can prove otherwise from simply reading Luke.

              If no historical record are composed by the rule that the author ought to have first hand witness of the event recorded, then we shoudn’t place that upon Luke either.

              Ever hear the story about George Washington and the cherry tree? “I cannot tell a lie.” That story has been related so many times over the years, that it was actually taught as history in school. Research indicates that there is no basis for it, i.e. no reliable witnesses to substantiate it. Historians are indeed held to rigorous standards. It’s not history unless it’s verifiable and reliable. Like science. In fact, history works just like science.

              If you want to claim Luke is a historian, as opposed to an ax grinder, one who is writing to shore up belief among the budding Christian community, then Luke must be held to rigorous historical standards, and that means that there should be corroborating evidence that everything he says is true, not just some things like the location of Jerusalem, or a description of a real historical person..

              Because if we do, perhaps we should treat almost all history records as hearsay.

              That depends on what you are doing. If you want to prove something as fact in a court of law, then yes, treat all historical records that way. However if you are simply doing history, then you take antiquated histories with a grain of salt. Much of Homer, or Herodotus, is not taken as fact unless there is something independent and reliable to corroborate it. Historians don’t pull out old documents and accept them because they are old. They accept them when they match a multitude of other bits of evidence, and all those bits come together to say the same thing.

              Same goes for Luke. They may accept his description of ancient Israel, because there are matching writings describing the same thing. But they will not accept his conclusion that Jesus was divine without corroboration, of which there is none, other than the other Gospels, all of which suffer from the same problems.

              As for Thallus:

              Excuse me if I end here. I’ve discussed this enough. Neither you nor I are qualified historians, so I’ll defer to what they say. Most of them don’t arrive at the same conclusions you do, unless they are already believers in the Christian belief system, which as far as I’m concerned, disqualifies them from objective research.

  11. As well might we throw away the works of Homer, who flourished from eight to nine hundred years before Christ

    The last time I checked, no one was claiming that the works of Homer were meant to be interpreted as divine truth. It’s accepted as the fiction that it is with a historical setting.

    As for eyewitness testimony in the NT, who was with Jesus for those 40 days when he was allegedly being tempted by the Devil? Chronologically, it takes place before he meets the apostles. Yeah, he could have told them about it one night sitting around a campfire, but he could have also been pulling their legs. It’s not enough to say “Yeah, but he’s Jesus man, so it has to be true!”

    • The guy was not talking about whether the literature is claimed to be divine truth. He was talking about the transmission of the documents. When we talk about the transmission of the documents, we examine whether the copies we have on hand are accurate from the earliest copy we could find. Factuality, as you note, is not what the guy meant.

  12. Ramsay found Luke to be accurate in every detail.

    Like the part where pre-born John the Baptists leaps for joy in his mom’s womb when near Mary with preborn Jesus in her womb?

  13. Why are you entertaining the irrelevant argument of the accuracy of the copies for nearly 2,000 years when not only aren’t the originals from which the earliest copies made known, but neither is the original authorship of those books? Then you allow this J character to shift the discussion from one irrelevant thing to another, even taking time to explain how all of his extra-biblical citing is bullshit (ie – Josephus, Tacitus, et al) is a diversion from the primary point, authorship of those books is unknown.

    Silly waste of time if you ask me.

    • What exactly is irrelevant? and please specify which ancient literature we have the original?

      Silly waste of time to even ask you

      • What exactly is irrelevant?

        That was explained in the previous comment. Your next question was irrelevant to the original topic, but I’m betting you might know that already since you’ve been spinning irrelevant tangents at some length here.

  14. The point is we don’t know, and if we don’t know, how can we be assured how reliable the statements are?

    That’s why I brought up the passage about John the Baptist in the womb leaping for joy when Mary with Jesus in the womb came near. How can one make such a conclusion? One can’t know what a fetus in the womb is thinking, so how can one say that fetus John experienced joy? And how exactly does a fetus leap, when it can’t stand on its legs? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the mothers of John and Jesus met, and that at that moment John kicked his mom in the belly. That happens to pregnant women all the time. It’s quite another thing to say that fetus John was filled with joy at that moment because he somehow sensed fetus Jesus in close proximity to him. It’s not like 30 years later someone interviewed John and asked him “So tell us about the first time you met Jesus.” “Well, I was in my mom’s uterus at the time, and I felt that he was close to me in his mom’s uterus, and I was just so filled with joy that I just spontaneously started jumping up and down.”

    • It seems you’re biased by your imagination. You’re making up something that is not in the context. Nowhere in the passage Luke claimed Elisabeth knows what fetus John was thinking. To me Luke here was simply recording what Elisabeth said to Mary when they met. It was Elisabeth’s opinion about what her fetus was doing. And that’s it.

      • In all fairness, J, the passage from Luke does not say anything about a “leap for joy”, which would be hard to confirm, (the fetus’s emotions in utero). However, the passage clearly says the fetus of John physically reacted to the proximity to the Fetus Jesus. As I mentioned above, Luke wasn’t there, so whatever he’s relaying would be hearsay in a court of law. To the extent that the passage is trying to claim some divinity of Jesus, even in utero, (one fetus reacting to the proximity of another is not natural) it’s worthless. How is that supposed to be corroborated, even if Elizabeth’s statement that the fetus kicked when she saw Mary is true. Babies kick in utero all the time. At best it indicate the fetus was alive. Nothing more.

        • “Thus our prime sources about the life of Jesus were written within about fifty years of his death by people who perhaps knew him, but certainly by people who knew people who knew him. If this is beginning to sound slightly second hand, we may wish to consider two points. First… most ancient and medieval history was written from a much greater distance. Second, all the gospel writers could have talked to people who were present, and while perhaps not eyewitnesses themselves, their position is certainly the next best thing.”

          Jo Ann H. Moran Cruz and Richard Gerberding, Medieval Worlds: An Introduction to European History Houghton Mifflin Company 2004, pp. 44–45

          • That’s quite a number of naked assertions they make. It cannot be said with certainty that the writings were written within 50 years of this character’s death, nor that they were “certainly” written by people who at least knew people who knew him. It can’t even be said with certainty whether the Jesus character was an actual person, pure fiction, or a combo of the two.

            Authorship would be a nice starting point for trying to authenticate any of those works.

  15. Coincidentally, I just wrote on Sir William Ramsay. You may be interested that he was not quite the “skeptic” as Josh McDowell claimed in his first edition of ETDAV. To the point Mr. McDowell removed the reference to him in the second edition.

      • My source doesn’t say Ramsay was an atheist, but a skeptic about the NT.

        There is some truth in what McDowell said about Ramsay initially believing Acts was a Second Century document. Specifically, a compilation of various accounts. In his first book, The Church in the Roman Empire, Ramsay argues Paul himself was the author of some passages—specifically those regarding his journey–due to the accuracy. In the later work, St. Paul the traveler, Ramsay adopts the notion the entire work was written by Paul’s traveling companion, Luke.

        • J,

          I understand your source says Ramsay was a “skeptic of the NT.” But that isn’t quite accurate. Ramsay was a skeptic of the Northern Galatia theory regarding Paul’s travels. And, at one time, he believed Acts was a Second Century compilation of material, some from the First Century. He was a skeptic of an internal, biblical scholarly debate—not a skeptic regarding all the events in the NT.

          Compare this to what you initially said (presumably quoting from McDowell, since it conforms to his 1st Edition ETDAV):

          J: Ramsay was a skeptic who began extensive research to disprove Luke.
          .
          I cannot find a single quote, or indication he was attempting to “disprove” Luke—far from it. He was using Luke to support his claim (against the prevailing consensus amongst biblical scholars of the time) regarding the Southern Galatia theory.

          More: His colleagues expected Ramsay to uncover evidence to disprove much of the New Testament once and for all.
          .
          Again, I cannot find a single quote or indication his colleagues expected Ramsay to disprove any, let alone “much,” of the New Testament.

          More: Yet Ramsay’s final analysis surprised nearly everyone.
          .
          Well…yes and no. His Southern Galatia theory may have surprised many of the Northern Galatia scholars—but this is far from the impression intended that his “analysis” was anything more than a particular biblical debate.

          A point so archaic and academic, I’ll bet real money that 9 out of 10 persons reading this blog don’t have a clue as to the difference between Northern Galatia theory and Southern Galatia theory. I am not saying this to indicate anyone is stupid; I am saying it to make a point as to how minute and trivial this particular debate is!

          More: After 30 years of study, Ramsay found Luke to be accurate in every detail.
          .
          Ramsay published St. Paul in 1893. If this was after “30 years of study,” Ramsay must have started in 1863. Since Ramsay was born 1851, he started this “study” at age 12. Is your source saying the “colleagues” who expected Ramsay to disprove the New Testament were his 12-year-old classmates?

          • I hope this answers your questions:

            http://creationwiki.org/William_M._Ramsay#cite_note-0

            To answer some of your concern, since most of the NT were written by Paul and his campanions. If his work could prove inaccuracy, at least on archaeology level, then almost all of the NT’s reliability would be questioned.

            In addition, I doubt if his work was based only on Acts. To my knowledge, he even examine all Paulline Epistles. St. Paul the Roman Citizen and Traveler was not published in 1893, but in 1895. 1895 was about The Church in the Roman Empire before A.D. 170. Further there are much more publication after that, his last known published work is 1927 — Asianic Elements in Greek Civilization.

            Here are his published works:

            1890 — The Historical Geography of Asia Minor

            1893 — The Church in the Roman Empire before A.D. 170

            1895 — St. Paul the Roman Citizen and Traveler

            1895 — The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, vol 1, pt 1

            1897 — The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, vol 1, pt 2

            1898 — Was Christ Born at Bethlehem?

            1904 — The Letters to the Seven Churches

            1907 — The Cities of St. Paul: Their Influence on His Life and Thought

            1908 — Luke the Physician

            1911 — The First Christian Century

            1915 — The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament

            1927 — Asianic Elements in Greek Civilization

            1898 — The Social Basis of Roman Power in Asia Minor

            1899 — A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

            I’m not sure how much you have read to come to to the conclusion that there is none saying about he was trying to disprove Luke or the NT. It doesn’t have to be a direct quote. It could be implied.

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