Chapter OneTHE EYEWITNESS EVIDENCE:
CAN THE BIOGRAPHIES OF
JESUS BE TRUSTED?
When I first met soft-spoken Leo Carter, he was a seventeen-year-old
veteran of Chicago's grittiest neighborhood.
His testimony had put three killers in prison.
And he was still carrying a .38-caliber slug in his head-a
grisly reminder of a horrific saga that began when he witnessed
Elijah Baptist gun down a local grocer.
Leo and a friend, Leslie Scott, were playing basketball
when they saw Elijah, then sixteen years old, slay Sam Blue
outside his grocery store. Leo had known the grocer since
childhood. "When we didn't have any food, he'd give us
some," Leo explained to me. "So when I went to the hospital
and they said he was dead, I knew I'd have to testify
about what I saw."
Eyewitness testimony is powerful. One of the most dramatic
moments in a trial is when a witness describes the
crime that he or she saw and then points confidently
toward the defendant as being the perpetrator. Elijah Baptist
knew that the only way to avoid prison would be to
somehow prevent Leo Carter and Leslie Scott from doing
So Elijah and two of his pals staged an ambush. Leslie
and Leo's brother, Henry, were brutally murdered, while
Leo was shot in the head and left for dead. But somehow,
against all odds, Leo lived. The bullet, in a place
too precarious to be removed, remained in his skull.
Despite searing headaches that strong medication couldn't
dull, he became the sole eyewitness against Elijah Baptist
and his two cohorts. His word was good enough to
land them in prison for the rest of their lives.
Leo Carter is one of my heroes. He made sure justice
was served, even though he paid a monumental price for
it. When I think of eyewitness testimony, even to this day-thirty
years later-his face still appears in my mind.
Testimony from Distant Time
Yes, eyewitness testimony can be compelling and convincing.
When a witness has had ample opportunity to
observe a crime, when there's no bias or ulterior motives,
when the witness is truthful and fair, the climactic act of
pointing out a defendant in a courtroom can be enough
to doom that person to prison or worse.
And eyewitness testimony is just as crucial in investigating
historical matters-even the issue of whether the
Christmas manger really contained the unique Son of God.
But what eyewitness accounts do we possess? Do we
have the testimony of anyone who personally interacted
with Jesus, who listened to his teachings, who saw his miracles,
who witnessed his death, and who encountered him
after his alleged resurrection? Do we have any records from
first-century "journalists" who interviewed eyewitnesses,
asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they
scrupulously determined to be true?
INTERVIEW: CRAIG L. BLOMBERG, PHD
Craig Blomberg is widely considered one of the country's
foremost authorities on the biographies of Jesus,
which are called the four gospels. He received his doctorate
in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland,
later serving as a senior research fellow for Tyndale House
at Cambridge University in England, where he was part
of an elite group of international scholars that produced
a series of acclaimed works on Jesus. He is currently a professor
of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
As he settled into a high-back chair in his office, cup
of coffee in hand, I too sipped some coffee to ward off the
Colorado chill. Because I sensed Blomberg was a get-to-the-point
kind of guy, I decided to start my interview by
cutting to the core of the issue.
"Tell me this," I said with an edge of challenge in my
voice, "is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically
thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were
written by the people whose names have been attached to
Blomberg set his coffee cup on the edge of his desk and
looked intently at me. "The answer is yes," he said with
He sat back and continued. "It's important to acknowledge
that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.
But the uniform testimony of the early church was that
Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of
the twelve disciples, was the author of the first gospel in
the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of
Peter, was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that
Luke, known as Paul's 'beloved physician,' wrote both the
gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles."
"How uniform was the belief that they were the authors?"
"Then Irenaeus, writing about AD 180, confirmed the
traditional authorship. In fact, here-," he said, reaching
for a book. He flipped it open and read Irenaeus' words:
Matthew published his own Gospel among the
Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul
were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding
the church there. After their departure, Mark,
the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed
down to us in writing the substance of Peter's
preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down
in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then
John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on
his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he
was living at Ephesus in Asia.
I looked up from the notes I was taking. "Okay, let me
clarify this," I said. "If we can have confidence that the
gospels were written by the disciples Matthew and John; by
Mark, the companion of the disciple Peter; and by Luke,
the historian, companion of Paul, and sort of a first-century
journalist, we can be assured that the events they record
are based on either direct or indirect eyewitness testimony."
As I was speaking, Blomberg was mentally sifting my
words. When I finished, he nodded.
"Exactly," he said crisply.
Ancient Versus Modern Biographies
There were still some troubling aspects of the gospels
that I needed to resolve. In particular, I wanted to better
understand the kind of literary genre they represented.
There were still some troubling aspects of the gospels.
"When I go to the bookstore and look in the biography
section, I don't see the same kind of writing that I see
in the gospels," I said. "When somebody writes a biography
these days, they thoroughly delve into the person's
life. But look at Mark-he doesn't talk about the birth of
Jesus or really anything through Jesus' early adult years.
Instead he focuses on a three-year period and spends half
his gospel on the events leading up to and culminating
in Jesus' last week. How do you explain that?"
Blomberg held up a couple of fingers. "There are two
reasons," he replied. "One is literary and the other is
"The literary reason is that basically, this is how people
wrote biographies in the ancient world. They did not
have the sense, as we do today, that it was important to give
equal proportion to all periods of an individual's life or that
it was necessary to tell the story in strictly chronological
order or even to quote people verbatim, as long as the
essence of what they said was preserved. Ancient Greek and
Hebrew didn't even have a symbol for quotation marks.
Even so, according to the Bible, the fact that it did
occur is not in any doubt. Every attribute of God, says the
New Testament, is ultimately found in the Christmas child
who grew up to live a life unlike any other:
Omniscience? In John 16:30 the apostle John affirms
of Jesus, "Now we can see that you know all things."
Omnipresence? Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, "Surely
I am with you always, to the very end of the age"
and in Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three come
together in my name, there am I with them."
Omnipotence? "All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me," Jesus said in Matthew 28:18.
Eternality? John 1:1 declares of Jesus, "In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God."
Immutability? Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is
the same yesterday and today and forever."
Also, the Old Testament paints a portrait of God by
using such titles and descriptions as Alpha and Omega,
Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd,
Creator, giver of life, forgiver of sin, and speaker with
divine authority. It's fascinating to note that in the New
Testament each and every one is applied to Jesus.
As Lapides progressed through the Scriptures, he was
stopped cold by Isaiah 53. With clarity and specificity,
in a haunting prediction wrapped in exquisite poetry, here
was the picture of a Messiah who would suffer and die for
the sins of Israel and the world-all written more than seven
hundred years before Jesus walked the earth.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
When Was Jesus Born?
History doesn't pinpoint Jesus' birthday. Spring is
most likely, because shepherds were watching their flocks
at night and this is when ewes bore their young. In fact,
around AD 200, theologians concluded Jesus was born
on May 20. "Others," said journalist Terry Mattingly,
"argued for dates in April and March. This wasn't a major
issue, since early Christians emphasized the Epiphany on
January 6, marking Christ's baptism."
In AD 385, Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the
day for celebrating Christ's birth. "He chose that date,"
Christian researcher Gretchen Passantino told me, "partly
to challenge the pagan celebration of the Roman god Saturnalia,
which was characterized by social disorder and