Testimony for the Resurrection Admissible in a Court of Law

“They Came to Understand….”

Clarrie Briese is a distinguished Australian citizen.  He has multiple degrees and qualifications in the practice of law.  From 1979 to 1990 he was the Chief Magistrate of NSW, and also served as Commissioner on the NSW Crime Commission.  In a tract, he wrote on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I here quote a section of it which I have taken from a book written by another Australian lawyer and Christian, Ross Clifford: “Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection” p. 132-135, by Ross Clifford (Albatross Books 1991).

“Now we would all agree that to claim to be God is a pretty staggering claim for a human being to make.  People who make such claims like that today are dismissed by us as mad or eccentric.  We in the courts put many of them in mental institutions, diagnosing them to be suffering from schizophrenia or paranoia.

But this man Jesus cannot be so easily dismissed in that way.  In a relatively short period of time after his death, his followers changed the world.  And today they are still influencing and changing it……

……Now the reason that Jesus’ immediate followers were finally convinced that Jesus was what he claimed to be, namely God, was, as they tell us, that they were eyewitnesses to the monumentally staggering fact that Jesus, whom they saw to have been dead and buried, had risen from the dead.  They saw and experienced this.  It was for them a mind-shattering event.  And no wonder.  It clearly and finally demonstrated to them that his claim to have been not just a mere man but God in human flesh was in fact the truth.  At least that is their evidence.

Now if this evidence of these witnesses is true, not only must it be the fact that there is a God of this world, but he must be found and can only be found in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.  It further follows that you and I are not accidents in the world, arriving here by chance.  We are the creation of an Almighty God and therefore accountable to that God.

Well now, all of what I have just said depends on the reliability of the witnesses to Jesus and his resurrection……At the end of our examination, putting our witnesses through Judge Chandler’s five tests, one is left to say that the only rational conclusion is that the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ are witnesses of the highest credibility.  If we are unable to accept their histories, why would we accept the histories of any other incident of the human race?……

…….When first confronted with this fact (the Resurrection), they were initially staggered, dumbfounded.  Some of them couldn’t believe it to be true – for example, Thomas.  But when the truth did finally bear in on them and they knew it to be a fact through their own senses, their reaction was one of enormous joy.  And no wonder!  They now recognised fully who he was, the scales fell from their eyes and they understood what the prophecies of the Old Testament scriptures had been saying.

And mind-boggling as it was, they knew that these prophecies had been fulfilled before their very eyes.  Jesus was that Messiah whom God through the centuries of history of the Old Testament period had promised to send to his people in the fullness of time.  They came to understand that Jesus had come to redeem not only the Jewish people, but the Gentiles as well – that is, the whole of humankind.  And they had actually seen it happen; they were witnesses – eyewitnesses”.

What’s the Difference?

So why is it that people accept the written accounts of secular historians such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Pliny the Younger, Livy, Julius Caesar etc.; but when it comes to the writers of the Christian gospels, they dismiss them and call them “religious texts” rather than dignifying them by regarding them as historical records, as if that means they’re inferior and not to be trusted as reliable witnesses?; as if, being Christian documents, they are dishonest, incapable, or simple.  As I’ve shown above, the gospel writers wrote what they saw; they gathered eye-witness accounts of others who had seen; they directed attention to hundreds of other witnesses still living who had seen the resurrected Jesus and who could therefore be questioned. 

Papyrus 75 is one of the Bodmer Papyri (c200 C.E.). It contains most of the gospels of Luke and John, and is the earliest surviving manuscript of these gospels.  Academic consensus among evangelical scholars is that Luke wrote his gospel between 60 and 80 C.E., while the Douay Rheims Bible introduction to Luke’s gospel says it was written “…about twenty-four years after our Lord’s Ascension”.  Therefore Papyrus 75 is within 25-50 years of the original gospel.  There is no secular history which has a witness anywhere near as close to the original as this.  And Luke tells us how he came to write his gospel.  In his dedication of it he writes: Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed (Luke 1:1-4). 

So Luke tells Theophilus, to whom he dedicated his gospel, and we, the readers, how he got his information and what his purpose was in writing.  His use of previously written accounts, interviewing of eye-witnesses, and his own careful research, have given posterity a trustworthy and carefully researched account of the resurrection of Jesus.  But modern man, in his wisdom, has decided that the gospels are religious and are therefore not to be taken seriously.

Compare this with the secular Roman historian Livy.  His stated purpose for writing his multi-volume history of Rome was to restore Roman citizens to their original moral values and religion.  This was because the eastern religions which were gaining huge popularity in Rome were corrupting its citizens, as were the enormous wealth and power of the State, thereby weakening Rome and the empire.  He saw that a return to the original values of Rome was the only way to restore Roman strength.  He also tells us that he made use of the written histories at his disposal for the writing of his own.  Thus his purpose could also be regarded as religious; yet today his history is regarded as trustworthy and accurate – as it should be.

So why is Livy acceptable, and Luke and the other gospel writers unacceptable?  Why are Livy’s books regarded as history while the New Testament documents are regarded as religious texts and therefore lack credibility?  What is the difference?  It is one of bigotry – people don’t want the New Testament to be true because, first of all, they have already made up their minds that it isn’t; they have already decided that Jesus isn’t who he claimed to be.  And secondly, if Jesus is true, if he is who he claimed to be, i.e. God, then they are obligated to bow down and worship and obey him – and that would never do.

The Testimony for the Resurrection Would be Admissible in a Court of Law

The following is a selection of lawyers’ statements which state that the testimony of the New Testament writers would be admissible in a court of law.  They are taken from a wider selection which can be found in “Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection” by Ross Clifford (Albatross Books 1991, p 125-131).

“(c) Sir Edward Clarke, a former King’s Counsel, wrote the following:

As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter Day.  To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling.  Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect.  The Gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class and, as a lawyer, I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.

(d) Charles Colson is a lawyer and was Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon.  He became involved in the political scandal, Watergate, gave his life to Christ and is the founder of Prison Fellowship.  He wrote:

Take it from one who was inside the Watergate web looking out, who saw firsthand how vulnerable a cover-up is.  Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused these men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and Lord.

(e) Dale Foreman, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a lawyer in Washington State, is author of Crucify Him: A Lawyer Looks at the Trial of Jesus:

These facts [the trial, crucifixion and death of Christ], I believe, are clear and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Whether you can take one step further and believe the miracle of his resurrection is something only you can decide.  Still, the reliability of the rest of the Gospel is so plain that it is but a small step to believe in the resurrected Christ.  And what’s more, it would be hard to believe that a man could have such an influence on the world if he had not overcome the ultimate enemy – death.

The teachings of Jesus have changed the world.  In 2000 years not a day has gone by when the influence of this itinerant teacher from Nazareth has not been felt.  As a trial lawyer, trained to be rational, sceptical and critical, I believe it improbable that any fraud or false Messiah could have made such a profound impression for good.  The most reasonable conclusion, and the most satisfying, is that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, that he was who he claimed to be and that he did come back to life.

(i) Sir Leslie Herron was Chief Justice of NSW, Australia.  In an address given on Palm Sunday, 1970, he stated:

Let any objective reader put side by side the four Gospels and add them to the account in Acts of the Apostles and he will be struck , as any judge accustomed to evaluate evidence is always struck, with one outstanding fact.  It is this: that while there may be a great variety of detail or form of expression or narration of or emphasis put on occurrences, underneath it all, the substance and weight of the narration are true.

(j) Francis Lamb was a lawyer from Wisconsin, USA, who wrote the work, Miracle and Science, which examines Bible miracles by legal tests:

Tested by the standards and ordeals of jural science by which questions of fact are ascertained and demonstrated in contested questions of right between man and man in courts of justice, the resurrection of Jesus stands a demonstrated fact.

(n) Stephen D. Williams was a Detroit, USA lawyer and author of the popular book, The Bible in Court or Truth vs Error, in which he wrote:

We have been asked many times if the proof of the resurrection of Jesus was as complete and convincing from a legal standpoint, as that afforded by the record of the other events in his life narrated in the Gospel.  To this question we must answer: Yes.  The proof is to be found in the same record, supplied by the same witnesses”

This article doesn’t claim to be the ultimate proof for Jesus and his resurrection; it only presents reasonable statements from leading lawyers who state that the New Testament testimony would be acceptable in a court of law.  I’ve provided it for those who are searching for the Truth about Jesus as part of the picture.  No matter how much proof one provides for Jesus, however, unless God works in the heart, no amount of evidence will suffice for a sceptical mind. 

This is demonstrated when Jesus predicted his death to the crowd who followed him.  The Apostle John writes: Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.  While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.  John then adds a terrifying comment on their response to him.  But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him (Jn 12:35-37).

There are many “bible scholars” today who will convince the unwary that that Jesus didn’t even exist.  They can “prove” that the Bible has been so corrupted that you can’t trust a single word of it.  Beware of such “scholars”.  They’re like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and refuse to believe the evidence.

But as the Bible shows, ultimately one doesn’t believe in Jesus after proving that the Bible speaks the truth about him; it is by faith that we are saved.  The Bible is a book of evidence but we must believe it.