Rules Of Evidence

As I mentioned in my book review of David Limbaugh’s Jesus On Trial, he presents the evidence for the validity of the Bible and the historicity of Jesus Christ as if he were presenting a cae before the jury. As a trial begins, a judge will share with the jurors the rules for considering the evidence that is being presented. Here is a fantastic summary from Mr. Limbaugh—

“Applying the rules of evidence. … These rules are the ancient documents rules, the parole evidence rule, the hearsay rule, and the principle of cross-examination. 

“The common law ancient documents rule presumes a document is truthful unless it is self-contradictory, inaccurate, or there is internal evidence of text tampering. The one challenging the document generally shoulders the burden of proof. Unsolved problems or lack of clarity in the document don’t necessarily invalidate it as erroneous or unreliable. …

“The parole evidence rule provides that external, oral testimony or tradition will not be admitted into evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will or a contract. This means the document, absent any applicable exceptions, will stand on its own. … 

“The hearsay rule precludes a witness from testifying as to what others may have said and, generally speaking, requires the witness to have firsthand knowledge of the matter to which he is testifying. As applied to the New Testament documents, this rule lends credence to New Testament authors who say they were eyewitnesses to the events they recorded. 

“The cross-examination principle holds that the more the testimony holds up once it is subjected to rigorous cross examination, the more credible we deem it to be, which, incidentally, is one reason for the hearsay rule, i.e., it excludes testimony from witnesses that can’t be subjected to cross-examination. … Law professor and historian John Warwick Montgomery, who rigorously applied all these evidentiary rules to an examination of the Bible, finds the witnesses who were challenged to confirm having witnessed Jesus’ resurrected body did so ‘in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case of Christianity’ had such accounts been contradicted by the facts. 

Josh McDowell summarizes Montgomery’s approach to New Testament examination as giving the document the benefit of the doubt, which is another way of saying the burden of proof is on the critic or challenger. So, Montgomery writes, ‘One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradiction or known factual inaccuracies.’ Applying this approach and similar ones, McDowell argues that we can’t just assume that what appears to be a difficult passage constitutes a valid argument against it. We must be sure we correctly understand the passage using accepted rules of interpretation.”

I present some evidence for the inspiration and validty of the Bible in these two posts: The inspiration of Scripture and Can we really know if the Bible is God’s Word?

Jesus On Trial (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I love studying Christian apologetics and learning how to explain to skeptics and seekers the eternal value in the Bible as it points me to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. David Limbaugh has given apologetics a new slant in his book Jesus On Trial.

Mr. Limbaugh uses his personal story from a childhood church attendee, to a skeptic of Christianity, to a reluctant seeker of the truth, and finally to a vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus. But he also lets us see how he examined the evidence for the truth claims of the Bible through the eyes of a trained lawyer. 

Throughout this book you will discover legalese terms like rules of evidence, items of probative value, rules of logic, and expert testimony. Each chapter feels like another witness Mr. Limbaugh has called to testify, or another piece of evidence that needs to be weighed and evaluated, and we the readers are empaneled as the jury deciding the case. As witness after witness takes the stand, as more evidence piles up, and as Mr. Limbaugh delivers his closing argument, the preponderance of evidence seems to make an airtight case of the truth claims in the Bible. 

Whether you are looking for answers or hunting for evidence to use in discussions with your friends, Jesus On Trial is a reference book to which I believe you will repeatedly return. 

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First-Century Rulers In Palestine

I have frequently made the assertion that God is sovereign over all history, or as I like to say it… All History is His Story

When we are reading the Bible, it is important to keep in mind that these are not “once upon a time” stories, nor are they set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but we are reading the accounts of actual people in actual moments of history.

I hope this chart from The Archeological Study Bible helps you in your reading of the New Testament.

Any of the names listed above in ALL CAPS are people who appear on the pages of the New Testament.

You may also want to check out a previous post where I discuss the historicity of the Gospels, or this post and this post about the resurrection appearances of Jesus.

The Historicity Of The Gospels

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

I’m intrigued by the way the four Gospel writers have recorded the dying declarations of Jesus:

  • Father, forgive them—only in Luke 
  • Today you will be with Me in paradise—only in Luke 
  • Dear women, behold your son—only in John 
  • My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?—only in Matthew and Mark (and this is the only dying declaration they record) 
  • I thirst—only in John
  • It is finished—only in John
  • Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit—only in Luke 

This is an excellent apologetic for the legitimacy and authenticity of the historical record. 

You know that when your friends are at an important event, not everyone notices the same thing or even to the same extent as the others. 

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace has pointed out that when he’s conducting an investigation, he separates the eyewitnesses from each other exactly so they don’t get their stories to “match.” Detective Wallace is able to get the full story precisely because of the differences in each of the accounts. 

This is why the Gospel writers’ accounts ring true: they tell us the same historical event from their unique perspective. It’s only by reading all of them that we get the full picture. If the death and resurrection of Jesus had been a conspiracy, these writers clearly would have collaborated to “get their story straight” ahead of time, and as a result, we would have four identical stories. 

The historicity of Jesus as told in the Bible is spot-on and completely trustworthy! 

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Resurrection Appearances Of Jesus

Jesus gave us ample evidence of His bodily resurrection. This is a recreation of a chart found in The Quest Study Bible:I also previously shared an infographic from The Infographic Bible. The historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is firmly established making it a historically verifiable event.

History Matters

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760-450 BC, and Jonah appears right in the middle of that. Jonah overlaps Amos and Hosea in northern Israel, and he finishes his ministry just before Isaiah’s ministry begins in southern Judah. 

Jonah is the only narrative in the minor prophets. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was temporarily growing in strength. He is the first of Israel’s prophets to be sent to a non-Jewish population. 

Critics have raised questions about this book. Questions like: Did Jonah write this book himself or is it just a story about him? Is this book historical or allegorical? 

The five biggest objections that are raised to Jonah’s historicity are: 

  1. The hyper-nationalistic feel is more like when Ezra and Nehemiah led people back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, and not during the time of Jeroboam II. 
  2. Parts of Jonah appear copied from the prophet Joel. 
  3. There are no (or incorrect) details about the major city of Nineveh that Jonah visited. 
  4. There are no extra-biblical historical records of a revival in Nineveh. 
  5. Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! 

I think there are very good reasons to believe that Jonah was both autobiographical and historically accurate. 

First, there was a revival of sorts (although not religiously) in Israel during the time of Jeroboam II. This was a time that Israel felt like it could flex its muscles again, so Jonah would not be acting out of character to be so pro-Israel. 

Second, Jonah 3:9 and Joel 2:14 sound similar, but scholars cannot tell which was written first. Couldn’t God amplify a message? Consider how many parts of the Gospel of Mark are used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And it’s a regular practice for authors even today to directly quote other sources. 

Third, regarding the lack of details about Nineveh, the biblical writers give very few details of any places outside of Israel or Judah. The only “incorrect” detail skeptics point to is Jonah 3:3 stating that the city was so big that it would take three days to walk around it. Nineveh was a city of about 120,000 inhabitants, so it could easily take three days of walking and preaching in order to get the message to everyone. 

Fourth, the revival in Nineveh was clearly short-lived. Jonah was probably in Nineveh around 760 BC. Assyria was rising politically and militarily during that time and defeated Israel just 40 years after Jonah’s preaching. Assyria itself was then defeated in 605 BC. 

Finally, Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! The root word for fish in Hebrew means something that has grown to such an enormous size that it overshadows everything else. But notice that what caused the sailors to be in awe of God was not the whale/fish swallowing Jonah, but the immediate calming of the ocean when Jonah was thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15-16). Miracles appear throughout this book. And throughout the entire Bible! 

Why should the appearance of miracles surprise us? Some people have a bias against the supernatural, where they wrongly believe that we can know everything through naturalistic means. C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power. … Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her.” 

I don’t think this story is a parable or an allegory because nowhere else in the Bible are such details given in the form of a parable. 

I believe this story is historical because Jesus talked about the historicity of Jonah in the same breath as He talked about other historical people: the Queen of the South and Solomon (Matthew 12:38-42). Jesus clearly viewed Jonah as historically reliable and accurate. To call Jonah into question is to call into question the truthfulness of Jesus Himself! 

History matters because all of History is God’s story! 

Our belief in the message of the Bible is not based upon “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s based upon real people in real places, especially the historicity of Jesus (notice all of the historical details Luke lists in the birth account of Jesus). 

Jonah was clearly one of those historical people, in an historic place, and at a precise moment in world history that tells the story of Jesus and our redemption which He purchased! 

If you want to check out all of the messages in our series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find that list by clicking here.

Halley’s Study Bible (book review)

I believe Halley’s Bible Handbook may have been the first Bible study resource I got my hands on when I was a pre-teen. It was a slender book but packed with insights that even this third-generation Pentecostal boy hadn’t heard before. So I was quite intrigued when I heard about Halley’s Study Bible. 

Let me get something out of the way right upfront. I’m a blogger for the BibleGateway Blogger Grid (sometimes called #bgbg2 on Twitter), so I’m occasionally offered a free book in exchange for my honest book review. However, there are more books that I pass on than books I agree to review. Since I am already working my way through the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible, I wasn’t too eager to dive into another study Bible just yet. But I’m so glad I did! 

Reading Henry Halley’s concise overview of each book of the Bible was nostalgic for me, reminding me of what initially intrigued about his handbook: taking voluminous information and giving such a clear, concise overview. 

The study notes on each page offer fascinating insights, and the unique perspective Halley offers of the people, places, and practices chronicled in the pages of Scripture are unparalleled. And what I especially appreciate is Halley’s whole-Bible approach. By that, I mean his ability to show you a theme that originates in the Old Testament and finds its fulfillment in the New Testament, showing how all of the Bible is interconnected. 

If you are looking for a new way to study your Bible, I highly recommend Halley’s Study Bible to you. 

I am a HarperCollins book reviewer. 

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