by Bill Nugent
Some people like to tell lawyer jokes. Lawyers are one of the few groups that can be put down publicly in our politically correct age. That’s unfortunate because, as the saying goes: “nobody likes a lawyer until you need one.”
One lawyer that America needed was Lewis Wallace (1827-1905). In addition to his lawyering he also found time to be a Union general in the Civil War and after the war became governor of New Mexico for three years.
Wallace set out to write a book disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Wallace, as an able lawyer, was accustomed to examining legal (also called forensic) evidence. To prove or disprove the truth of a historic event a person must use the same principles used by lawyers to prove or disprove the truth of an event related to a court case. Wallace was therefore qualified to examine the writings and behavior of the earliest witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. In fact when it comes to proving or disproving the resurrection a lawyer is better suited for the task than a philosopher or even a theologian.
Wallace studied the evidence and concluded — contrary to his predisposition — that Jesus Christ did indeed rise from the dead and was seen by His disciples. Wallace went on to write the famous book Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ which was made into one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed films.
Another individual who began as a skeptic and ended up writing a book affirming the resurrection was the British lawyer Frank Morison who wrote Who Moved the Stone?
The famous Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf, considered by many to be the greatest authority on legal evidences, turned his talents toward examining the evidences for the resurrection and became convinced that the resurrection of Christ is historical fact.
A lawyer who approaches the resurrection as a “cold case” examines evidence consisting of ancient written historical records, and archaeological evidence. The lawyer examines the writings of those who claim to be eyewitnesses of the resurrection to establish as near as possible the time that they actually wrote. Then — and this is very important — the lawyer examines the behavior of the eyewitnesses and the impact of their behavior on the surrounding population.
Lawyers are of necessity, experts on motive. The behavior of the eyewitnesses in their personal lives — and deaths — and the extent and effect of their preaching to others is crucial in determining their motives. It is evident from early reliable written historical accounts that the eyewitnesses of the resurrection lived holy lives and died rather than deny their faith.
Of the original apostles, only John lived to an old age and even he was severely persecuted. Furthermore, the end product of their lives was a radiant, vibrant church thronged with believers on three continents. Those who knew Jesus best lived lives of radical obedience, died under persecution and left a rapidly growing church. This is strong inferential evidence for the truth of their claim to have seen the risen Christ. Their experience of seeing the risen Christ motivated them to live the way they did.
There is a theory promoted by unbelievers that claims that the resurrection was a legend made up by church leaders to promote the gospel message. If the resurrection was a legend or hoax perpetrated by the early church leaders, the leaders would have known it was a lie. While many people down through history have been willing to die for a lie who would die for a lie knowing that it’s a lie? And how could the apostles and the other witnesses (the Bible says there were over 500 witnesses) leave hearth and home to travel to preach a message if they knew its central miracle was a hoax? Again we are drawn to the conclusion that the early church leaders did in fact see the risen Christ and this radically impacted the way they lived and preached. The legend theory does not explain the pattern of behavior of the early church leaders and is therefore seriously undermined.
The ancient historical, manuscript and archaeological evidence points to the fact that the gospels were written very soon after the time of Christ. The ancient records indicate that the early church grew very rapidly very early in its history. This clearly infers that both the writings and early missionary work occurred too early for legendification to occur. It would take several decades or even several generations for the rise of legends to occur. These facts also discredit legend theory.
Other theories put forward by unbelievers such as hallucination theory and swoon theory (popularized in Hugh Schonfield’s bookThe Passover Plot) are so far-fetched and tenuous as to be rejected out of hand by most serious scholars.
We can therefore have every confidence in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.