A recent search for quotes to use in the Resurrection Sunday (Easter) bulletin led to the following excerpts:
[A man] was accused of theft. “At least four people have seen you take the article,” the judge told him. “Sure, your honor,” he replied. “They may swear to that, but I can bring you forty people who will swear that they did not see me take it.” Negative testimony has no weight against the evidence of those who actually saw Christ after His resurrection.” [i]
“. . . The Evidence for the Resurrection is not so much what we read in the Gospels as what we find in the rest of the New Testament—the new life of the disciples. They are a new group. When it came to the Cross, His Cross, they ran away. A few weeks later we find them rejoicing to be beaten, imprisoned, and put to death.”[ii]
The word “evidence” is found in both of these quotations, but are these examples regarding the bodily resurrection legitimate from a legal standpoint? What are the rules for determining whether something can be used as evidence?
In the United States, the Federal Rules of Evidence (applicable in all federal courts) may be summed up in one sentence—“Material and relevant evidence is admissible if competent.”[iii] So, to determine whether evidence can be used—three criteria must be met: materiality, relevance, and competence.
Take a step back—is the resurrection of Jesus Christ substantive to our faith? If not, then our entire case is moot. It doesn’t matter then whether evidence of the resurrection is material, relevant, and competent. The Apostle Paul thought the resurrection was critical—“And if Christ be not raised, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”[iv] Peter called the resurrection our “lively hope.”[v] Neither swooning, martyrdom nor accidental death with a stolen body offers expiation of sin with a new nature. Both for satisfaction of sin and as the first fruits of the believer’s resurrection—a bodily resurrection of Christ is a substantive element of the Christian faith.
Back to the three criteria of evidence—first, is the evidence presented material? Since our plea is the truth of the bodily resurrection, and the evidence is offered to prove that—then it is material to our case.
Second, is the evidence relevant? Does the evidence presented tend to prove the resurrection? Does it make the likelihood more probably true with the evidence than it would be without the evidence? This answer is also yes—our evidence is relevant. (In contrast the “negative testimony” referenced in the first quotation above probably does not meet the standard for relevance. In the case of the bodily resurrection—negative testimony by soldiers that the body was stolen would be relevant but also subject to refutation.)
If the first two criteria are met, then evidence is competent as long as it does not violate a rule that would exclude it.[vi]
We hear a lot about the types of evidence. Direct is an eyewitness account[vii] while circumstantial deals with inference from a collateral fact(s). Evidence may also be testimonial (oral under oath), documentary (contract, confession), or real (physical).[viii]
In our New Testament courtroom–direct [ix]testimony of the bodily resurrection includes the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John. Paul also gave testimony of having seen the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, and Peter provides his testimony in Acts and his Epistles.
Is “hearsay” a rule that excludes some of these accounts from providing competent evidence? Not when the testimony or documents (the Epistles and Acts) were provided for reasons other than to prove the resurrection. (For just one example—Peter’s sermon after Pentecost recorded by Luke in Acts 2 was not preached or written specifically for the purpose of proving the resurrection—to the contrary, the resurrection was assumed.)[x]
Circumstantial evidence also abounds. In addition to the changed lives of the disciples—we find the introduction and early spread of Christianity (as well as writings of the early church fathers)—and don’t forget the attitude of the Roman guard and circumstances surrounding the empty tomb.[xi]
Evidence of the resurrection is meaningless, of course, without faith (Ephesians 2:8,9; Hebrews 11:6). As believers we should remind ourselves daily –“He is risen—risen, indeed!”
What does the resurrection mean to your faith? How have you used apologetics in your Christian life?
[i] J. Calvert Cariss, Resurrection of Christ in TREASURY OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD, 306 (A. Gordon Nasby, ed.).
[ii] T.R.Glover , The Jesus of History in TREASURY OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD, 306 (A.Gordon Nasby, ed.).
[iii] Evidence in BARBRI (Thompson 2005)
[iv] I Corinthians 15:14 (KJV)
[vi] Hearsay is the most well-known exclusionary rule, but also see paragraph above discussing hearsay in this case.
[vii] Two or three eyewitness were required under Old Testament law to establish the proof of a matter.
[viii] This includes DNA evidence.
[ix] If not direct, as in outside of the courtroom, this is still legitimate testimonial or documentary evidence.
[x] Likewise, a “statement” may be “noverbal conduct” and offered in evidence – conduct of disciples after the resurrection are legitimate “statements” and not “hearsay.”
[xi] See J. McDowell, The Resurrection—Hoax or History, in EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT, 179-206 (Here’s Life Pub. 1979).