Wilfried F. Voss is the author of The Bleeding Hills. For more information see his website at http://wilfriedvoss.com.
During the snowy 2011 Halloween weekend that left millions of Americans without power (See my post My Adventure Trip: Delivering Snow From New York to Western Massachusetts), I enjoyed my time reading"The Case For Christ" by Lee Strobel.
Strobel used to be a sceptic when it came to believing in Jesus Christ, and I admit I am still there. There is a Hopi Indian saying, "You have to believe in Gods to see them," and that is where I come from. I believe in the Big Bang Theory - which is also described in the Bible - and what it basically says is that before the Big Bang there was no time or space, a concept totally incomprehensible to the human mind. In all consequence, there is a power at work that is beyond human comprehension, and I call that power God. You may as well call it Allah, Yehova, Buddha, or something else. You have to believe in the Gods to see them.
Lee Strobel is one of those believers who, according to indications in his book, went through hell before he found his way back to God. His journey started in 1979 when his wife Leslie stunned him with the announcement that she had become a Christian. He was surprised by the fundamental changes in her character, her integrity, and her personal confidence, and, intrigued, he plunged into the case for Jesus Christ and the apostles Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
He applied the training he had received at Yale Law School as well as his experience as legal affairs editor of the Chicago Tribune and, in the quest for the truth, he put the apostles on an imaginary courtroom's witness stand. He applied the same classifications that you encounter in a real-world courtroom:
- Eyewitness Evidence
- Documentary Evidence
- Corroborating Evidence
- Rebuttal Evidence
- Scientific Evidence
- Psychological Evidence
- Circumstantial Evidence
- Fingerprint Evidence
Yes, the last item is Fingerprint Evidence, which refers to evidence as strong as a fingerprint.
As a history buff, I did enjoy his approach of analyzing - through interviews with top experts on the individual topics - the apostles' credibility first, before developing his case. As a legal expert, he cites details of contemporary criminal cases where evidence was convincing enough to convict a murderer, yet, at least in one case, the more than convincing evidence proved to be misleading.
These days, we easily dismiss the evidence of Jesus' life - i.e. the gospels - as a product of embellishment to promote a new religion. Add to this that the gospels survived initially only through mouth-to-mouth records. Written records of Jesus Christ appeared only centuries after the fact. However, if you analyze in meticulous detail the ways of preserving records in the time after Jesus' death plus the customs and social responses, you might change your mind.
This is the part I enjoyed most about the book. It puts you, the reader, on the jury bench. You are being asked to affirm that you haven't formed any preconception about the case. You are required to vow that you will be open-minded and fair. You will be urged to thoughtfully consider the witnesses' credibility, carefully consider their testimonies, and rigorously subject the evidence to your common sense and logic. Ultimately, it is the jurors' responsibility to reach a verdict.
Let me point to two examples of evidence in the case that I, personally, found extremely intriguing; they address the credibility of the gospels and the death of Jesus Christ.
In terms of the credibility of the gospels, there are more than 20,000 written historical records of the gospels of which some date back close to the years after Jesus' death (i.e. within a lifetime). All these records are, with only minuscule differences, identical. In comparison, early written records of Homer's Iliad number at a little over 500, yet there is generally no doubt about the authenticity.
The Bible's description of Jesus Christ's death contains details (e.g. the flowing of blood and water after piercing Jesus' chest) that are in striking conformance to what a modern forensic pathologist would expect. Dr. Robert J. Stein, a leading forensic pathologist, explains in graphic detail the injuries and excruciating pain resulting from the torture, followed by inevitable death, as described in the Bible.
In terms of reasonable doubt, I believe that Strobel made a convincing case for the validity of the synoptic gospels as written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, the book cannot and Strobel never intended to provide the ultimate evidence. After a period of more than 2,000 years, his case can only be circumstantial, and you, the juror, depend on common sense to believe or not believe the evidence as presented. The ultimate evidence can only come from within yourself.