Man who memorized the whole Bible

How a cold-case investigator uses criminal techniques to validate the Bible

How a cold-case investigator using criminal techniques confirms the Bible.

“As I started reading the Gospels, I realized that this is not primarily about some nice life wisdom, but about concrete assertions of fact that are either true or false. It's something I was able to verify, ”says Cold-Case investigator J. Warner Wallace. During our first interview, Wallace shared how examining the Gospels changed his life. In this article, you can look over Warner Wallace's shoulder as he solved the biggest case of his life.

Warner Wallace is a cold-case detective. That is, he solves criminal cases that have been considered unsolved for many years, some of which have gained national interest in the United States. Wallace's research is guided by a number of fundamental principles. He always has an emergency bag to hand in case he is suddenly called to an emergency at night. It contains a flashlight, a notepad, latex gloves and his service weapon as well as a checklist. There are points on it that are indispensable for any investigation. The "Jesus" case is no exception. Here are two examples.

1. Principle: Be impartial
Wallace learned how deceptively jumping to conclusions can be at the start of his homicide career. When he first started his job, he was trained by a colleague named Alan. During the first mission that Wallace accompanied Alan to, they found a 46-year-old woman lying on the bed, strangled, half-naked. While Wallace’s brain was still rattling trying to figure out what had happened, Alan said, “Find your husband. He's our culprit. ”Alan had been in the business for a long time and quickly analyzed the scene: There were no signs of a forced break-in. An upside down photo on the bedside table showed the woman in the arms of a man of about the same age. And some of the men's clothes in the closet were apparently missing.

But the first "trace" led to a dead end. It later emerged that the woman was single. The man in the photo was her brother, who always kept some clothes in her closet - in case he comes to visit her. In reality, it was the neighbor who persuaded the woman to open the door, raped and murdered her.

A ready-made opinion prevents a case from being resolved. Wallace used to be an atheist and believed that miracles are not possible and that the Christian faith is only a pipe dream. "Anyone who smuggles a finished result into the investigation falsifies the result," says Wallace. It's important to start empty-handed. This also applies to the study of the Gospels. Cold-case investigator Warner Wallace: Anyone who smuggles a finished result into the investigation falsifies the result. Click To Tweet

2. Principle: Draw plausible conclusions
The second important prerequisite is understanding the weight of cumulative evidence. This can be illustrated by a case that Wallace mentioned in our first interview. It was about the murder of a young woman. Although there was an eyewitness, she could not identify the perpetrator because he was wearing a mask at the time of the crime. The victim's ex-boyfriend, Ron, gave a fake alibi and was extremely nervous during the interrogation. “That was suspicious. But not enough to prove guilty, ”comments Wallace. Then investigators found an unnaturally dented baseball bat. There was no blood on it, but someone had treated it with a chemical cleaner. It was also proven that Ron had chemically cleaned his pants in some places on the day of the murder. There was no evidence of a violent break-in at the scene and there were only two people who had access to the apartment. Ron was one of them. Was he the culprit?

Next, investigators found a suicide note that Ron had written on the day of the murder, in which he announced his suicide. The eyewitness also noticed a special striped pattern on the perpetrator's shoes. With Ron, Wallace’s team found shoes that exactly matched the description. Further research revealed that only ten of the rare shoe model had been sold across the country in the past year.

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The eyewitness had noticed something else: The perpetrator left the scene in a mustard-colored Volkswagen Karmann Ghia from the 1970s. Bingo! The investigators discovered a yellow Karmann Ghia in Ron's garage. Further research revealed that there was only one licensed Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the entire state. Is Ron the culprit? “From what we know about him, that's the only plausible conclusion. Of course, it is theoretically possible that Ron is only the victim of a chain of insane coincidences. But let's be honest: How plausible is that? ”Asks Wallace. It is not my job in court to dispel every possible doubt, but every plausible doubt. This is how I did my study of the Gospels. J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Investigator Click To Tweet

The manhunt begins: Wallace takes on the Gospels
With these principles in mind (and some more that you can read about in the book Cold-Case Christianity) in mind, Wallace took on the case of Jesus. Similar to Ron's example, he gathered clues until they gave a coherent picture beyond reasonable doubt.

Eyewitness account or fiction?
Let's get started and follow Wallace’s first steps. First of all - as with every interrogation - it was important for him to check whether the alleged eyewitnesses were even present at the time of the crime. For the Gospels this means: Were they written early enough to be eyewitness accounts? If not, the scribes could tell anything about Jesus. Nobody could have said: “Wait a minute, it was completely different. I was there myself! ”On the other hand, if they were written relatively early, when people around them were still aware of the events, it would hardly have been possible to make obviously false statements.

The evangelist Luke states that he is not an eyewitness himself, but that he has documented the testimony of other witnesses in his gospel. However, he was an eyewitness to the accounts of the Acts of the Apostles. “If we date the Acts of the Apostles, we can also date the Gospel of Luke because Luke says he wrote the Gospel before the Book of Acts. We can date the Acts of the Apostles very well with circumstantial evidence, ”explains Wallace. An example: Luke does not mention the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which took place in 70 AD. The significance of this event for the Jews and Christians at that time can hardly be overestimated. That would be as if a contemporary witness wrote a review of the year at the end of 2001 and said nothing about September 11th. Any reader would have expected a report on it.

Luke also does not write about the martyrdom of such important apostles as Paul, who was killed in AD 64 or Peter, who died in AD 65. His readers would have expected a report on the ordeal of these two figureheads. On the other hand, Luke deals in detail with the earlier death of the comparatively “small” deacon Stephen. The most plausible explanation is that Peter and Paul were still alive at the time of this writing. “So we can shift the dating for the book of Acts, inch by inch, to roughly the year 60 or just before that. We know about the Gospel of Luke that it must have been written before that, ”Wallace sums up.

A sentence from Paul's first letter to Timothy is also interesting: “Scripture says: 'Do not prevent an ox from eating while he is threshing the grain.' And elsewhere it says: 'Whoever worked has earned wages!' “(1 Tim 5,18) The second sentence can only be found in this way in the Gospel of Luke. This suggests that the gospel existed as early as the 1950s and was even considered scriptural! There is another interesting place in 1 Corinthians. There Paul describes how Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11: 23-26). The section is almost the same as the corresponding verses from the Gospel of Luke, except for the word. Wallace doesn't think it's a coincidence here. Obviously Paul was quoting the Gospel of Luke.

Wallace scrutinizes every word
In his research, Wallace also used a method called Forensic Statement Analysis. Here's how it works in homicide investigations: Wallace gives suspects a pen and paper and lets them write their version of the story. Changes to the text can only be made by underlining. So Wallace sees where the suspect felt uncomfortable with the first phrase. Wallace and his team carefully analyze the choice of words afterwards, because it reveals a lot more than the suspect is aware of himself. “Does the suspect slip from the past tense to the present tense? Where does it shorten or stretch periods? Is he trying to appear particularly friendly or disinterested towards the victim? ”Wallace explains the approach. It makes a difference whether someone says: "I took my dear wife to the cinema yesterday" or: "I went to the cinema yesterday with my old woman."

With forensic statement analysis on the trail of the credibility of the Bible
Take the Gospel of John. Wallace noticed that, unlike any other evangelist, John never speaks of “Mary” but always of “the mother of Jesus”. What could be the reason for this? He found the answer in Chapter 19 of the Gospel of John. At his crucifixion Jesus said that Mary should receive John as a son and he as a mother. From then on, Johannes took care of Maria as if she were his own mother. “In time, he will surely have referred to her as 'my mother'. I'm not surprised that Johannes would have been unfamiliar with calling her by her first name, ”says Wallace.

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Another example: Wallace had noticed that Matthew, Luke and John mostly speak of "Simon Peter". Only Markus consistently writes either “Simon” or “Petrus”. Since Simon was a very common name at the time, an addition was needed to distinguish Simon Petrus from the many other Simons. For Mark, however, Peter seems so familiar that he leaves out the addition. Wallace learned that the Apostolic Fathers attributed the gospel of Mark to a close associate of Peter. For example, Papias (c. 70-163 AD), himself a disciple of the apostle John and leader of the church in Hieriapolis, wrote: “Mark, Peter's translator, wrote carefully, if not always chronologically, what Peter said remembered the deeds and words of Jesus. "

Peter himself mentions a certain Mark in one of his letters and affectionately calls him “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). And Wallace found more clues. In the much longer Gospel of Matthew, Simon Peter is only mentioned explicitly three times, and Mark mentions him 26 times. Even more important: Markus treats Peter with the greatest respect throughout. Mark deliberately omits passages in which Jesus rebukes him and describes him as "of little faith" (as in the story in which they walk on water, Mt 14:31). In several places the other evangelists report that Peter asked an embarrassing question or made an inappropriate comment on the best. Mark prefers not to mention names there and speaks generally of "the disciples".

Have subsequent generations falsified the Gospels?
Wallace began to consider that the Gospels could be real eyewitness accounts. But what if the original reports were changed or even falsified over time?

Wallace draws a comparison to a murder case in which he re-interrogated a suspect named Jassen after several years. There were still records from the first interrogation from 1988. Jassen had stated that he had a flat tire while driving the car at the time of the crime. At his second interrogation years later, he could no longer remember his old story and said he had changed the oil in the garage. His alibi collapsed like a house of cards.

Are there such "recordings" for the Gospels that could document whether history has changed over time? Wallace did some research and found out: Yes, there are. The apostle John had a student named Ignatius. He lived AD 35-117 and was the church leader in Hierapolis. During this time he wrote letters to various churches that we still have today. Although it is not primarily about Jesus' life, it contains all of the central teachings about him.

According to Ignatius, Jesus was the Son of God, heralded by a star, born of the Virgin Mary, sinless, crucified, risen and ascended to heaven, etc. Even if the New Testament had been lost, we could fully understand all the important teachings about Jesus reconstruct these letters. John had another student, Polycarp (69-155 AD). Scriptures have also survived from him and he too confirms the teachings of the New Testament in many details. He cited or alluded to 14 books of the New Testament. Polycarp's successor was Irenaeus (120-200 AD). Among other things, he wrote an extensive work called "Against the Heresies". In it he names 24 books that belong to the New Testament and cites them intensively. Ireneus ‘successor was Hippolytus (170-235 AD). The chain continues until the Council of Laodciaa in 350 AD, at which the biblical canon was made binding. First and second century Christians believed in the same Jesus that I believe in today. - Cold-Case Detective J. Warner Wallace Click To Tweet

The Scottish historian David Dalrymple (1726-1792) is credited with the quote that he could reconstruct the entire New Testament down to eleven verses from the writings of the Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Even if a little more than eleven verses were missing, the early Apostolic Fathers had the same account of Jesus in our hands as we do today.

J. Warner Wallaceis a homicide detective, senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, adj. professor of apologetics at Biola University, author of theCold-case Christianity, theScene from God's crimes andForensic Belief.

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More German articles HERE. Original translation HERE.