Billions of Christians from all over the world use the bible, and specifically the New Testament, as a basis for their faith. Some of them, the evangelicals, believe that the bible is not only a guide for their faith, but is literally the word of God and totally inerrant. They have no problem whatsoever in believing everything the bible says, despite its many contradictions and obvious mistakes in geography, history, and science. But despite some people’s unconditional faith that the bible is true, could it actually be used as evidence in a court of law? Could the bible be introduced as confirming evidence that Jesus was the Son of God who performed miracles and rose from the dead? Could it be used as evidence that God even exists?
Well let’s take a look at the rules of evidence for a criminal trial. According to Vincent Bugliosi, author and famous trial attorney, hearsay evidence cannot be admitted. The bible is clearly hearsay evidence because it is not relying on direct testimony from witnesses. The bible is composed of copies of copies of manuscripts that are long lost.
But even if we allow it latitude as hearsay evidence, there are more challenges to overcome. According to Bugliosi, before a piece of indirect evidence is allowed in, it must be authenticated. In other words, before a judge would allow a recording, a hand-written note, or a manuscript to be introduced as evidence, its authenticity as actually having been produced by its author must be verified. The authenticity of a hand-written note, for example, might be verified by a handwriting analysis. But how do we authenticate the bible? The short answer is, we can’t.
Take the four Gospels, for example. We can eliminate Mark and Luke almost immediately. Neither of them were disciples. They were not eyewitnesses to anything Jesus did or said. So their testimony is plainly hearsay. Couple that with the fact that no independent source can verify Luke or Mark as the authors of those Gospels. Their names are attached, but no claim is ever made of the authorship.
So let’s move on to Matthew and John. They were of Jesus’ disciples. So if they had written the Gospels, they could be counted as eyewitnesses to at least some of the claims about Jesus. But the Gospel of Matthew suffers from the same lack of corroboration as Luke and Mark. No one knows for sure that Matthew was the author. And many have argued that Matthew could not have authored it since he was most likely illiterate. And much of his text can be shown to be historically inaccurate. If it is inaccurate in some places, its trustworthiness is put into serious question.
That leaves us with John. Again, nobody knows for sure that John the disciple actually wrote the Gospel of John. Here, a claim is made of its authorship. But John was written around 90 – 100 CE. That means that if John did write it, he was very old and possibly senile. Speculation is that it may have been written by a close acquaintance who knew him and who took the liberty of writing for him. But even if that is so, it simply means that the book of John is entirely hearsay. We’re taking the word of an acquaintance of a man in his nineties telling stories that he remembers from a perspective decades after they happened. That means none of the Gospels can be authenticated. The faithful believe them because they want to believe them, nothing more.
What about the letters of Paul? Can they be authenticated? Well, of the 14 epistles attributed to Paul, seven of them can be thrown out of court almost immediately. When there is a question of authenticity, sometimes an expert witness is brought in to clear things up. In this case, the experts would be bible scholars. And almost all bible scholars agree that at least three of Paul’s epistles are not authentic. They are First and Second Timothy and Titus. Hebrews is anonymous but has traditionally been included as Pauline in origin. Most scholars believe, in fact, it was not written by Paul. The authorship of three other epistles is seriously questioned by scholars: Ephesians, Colossians, and Second Thessalonians. That leaves seven epistles that are generally agreed upon as being written by Paul.
So can we at least use these seven letters? No, not likely. The thing is, even if the letters are authentic, they are not written by an eyewitness. Paul did not witness any of the things he writes about. He, instead, relies on an obscure vision. How many courts do you think would allow someone’s hallucination in as evidence of a crime? Christians believe that what he saw was real and not a hallucination, but since we don’t have Paul available to question, a judge would be hard pressed to assume anything other than natural causes for Paul’s visions.
So even allowing some latitude for hearsay, the fact is that the bible cannot come close to being authenticated as bona fide evidence admissible in a court of law. Given its questionable authorship, the number of times it has been copied, the lack of any original manuscripts, and its fantastical claims of supernatural powers, it’s an amazement to me that anyone gives it any credence at all. It’s worth repeating: People believe the bible for one and only one reason – because they want to.