Never Believe an Extra-Ordinary Claim When the Eyewitness Status of the Person Making the Claim is in Dispute

If someone on the street comes up and tells you that someone told him that someone told him that a guy named “Bob” saw an angel appear to him, would you believe this story? Of course not, and not just because it is a very extra-ordinary claim. It is hearsay! For all you know someone made up this story. To even consider believing this story, you would insist on speaking to Bob himself or at least obtaining Bob’s undisputed testimony, right?

If you have ever debated a conservative Christian apologist regarding the evidence for the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, you know that the first argument the apologist will present is that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts and eyewitness testimony is second only to DNA evidence in a court of law. Therefore, if one is rational, without holding a bias against the supernatural, one will accept as fact the eyewitness testimony found in the four Gospels (and the Book of Acts). After all, Christianity does not have just one eyewitness account for the resurrection of Jesus, but multiple. Eyewitness testimony from multiple eyewitnesses is fantastic evidence in any court of law, the apologist will remind you.

And don’t bother pointing out to the apologist that supernatural claims are extra-ordinary claims and extra-ordinary claims require stronger evidence than just eyewitness testimony, at least for most modern, educated people. After all, just because a group of Elvis Presley fans claim they all saw Elvis at one time and place is not going to convince very many modern, educated people that they really did see “the King” alive again. The apologist will scoff at this argument. If eyewitness testimony is the accepted standard in a court of law, it doesn’t matter how extra-ordinary the claim. Eyewitness testimony from multiple eyewitnesses will win every time in court, in particular when the good character of the eyewitnesses is taken into account. The eyewitnesses to the resurrection were of good character and had nothing to gain and everything to lose by making such an outrageous claim.

But not so fast, dear apologist!

IF the Gospels were indeed eyewitness accounts, the Christian argument for accepting the historicity of the stories within those four ancient texts, might have merit. But Christians have a BIG problem: The eyewitness status of the Gospels is disputed among the experts. Yes, some scholars, mostly evangelicals and conservative Protestants, believe the traditional/eyewitness and associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. However, many other scholars, including many Christian scholars who believe in miracles and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, do not.

So what should modern, educated people believe about the eyewitness status of four ancient middle eastern texts when the experts can’t agree on their eyewitness status? Answer: Withhold judgment! Withhold belief until and if better evidence becomes available.

Bottom line: Modern, educated people should not believe any extra-ordinary (supernatural) claim if the eyewitness status of the person making that claim is in dispute. Therefore, modern, educated people should NOT believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.









End of post.


23 thoughts on “Never Believe an Extra-Ordinary Claim When the Eyewitness Status of the Person Making the Claim is in Dispute

    1. Most university educated people accept consensus expert opinion on all issues about which they are not an expert and withhold judgment on issues about which the experts are divided. That is a fact.

      The eyewitness status of the extra-ordinary tales told in the Gospels is disputed among the experts. Therefore, rational, educated people should withhold judgment on the historicity of these claims. Rational, educated people should NOT believe in the resurrection of Jesus.


      1. Appeal to authority, especially “alleged” authority is one of many fundamental fallacies in the arena of scientific logic. You still have not disproven that anything under the sun can be called into question by any number of groupings who have a polarized skepticism of their own.


        1. Your thinking is similar to that of conspiracy theorists, who distrust higher education and educated experts and hold themselves up as the final authority on all issues. Most university educated people accept expert opinion. Period. Most educated people reject your thinking and that of all other conspiracy theorists as illogical, irrational, and uneducated.


          1. Dear Readers: I am not saying that all Christians are uneducated. Not at all. There are many very intelligent, very educated people who believe that a first century brain-dead corpse came back to life, made multiple appearances to his family and friends, and 40 days later slowly ascended into the clouds.

            But just because a lot of very intelligent, very educated people believe a disputed claim, does not make their choice to believe that disputed claim rational and logical. The fact remains, most modern, educated people accept consensus expert opinion on all issues; and on those issues about which the experts are divided, most modern educated people withhold judgment. Most modern, educated people do NOT believe extra-ordinary claims when the experts are divided on the eyewitness status of the person/persons making those extra-ordinary claims.

            Why do intelligent, educated Christians violate this principle when it comes to the extra-ordinary claims in their holy book?? The eyewitness status of the Gospels is disputed among the experts.


            1. And most detractors think they know the proportions of agreement with themselves, and the disagreements. Self-made authorities such as yourself love touting the idea that one is on the side of consensus…which is yet another adult fantasy akin to evolutionary theory believing that molecules naturally arranged themselves into the order necessary for life. Not saying you personally are of that stripe, but that nonsense is embraced by many who see themselves as intelligent, and who are touted as being intelligent.


              1. I have never appealed to my own authority, only to that of the experts. YOU are appealing to YOURSELF as the final authority when you dismiss expert opinion.


          2. I so happen to not share in your enthusiasm for the alleged “experts” as being infallible. Were they so infallible, then they would not have so much disagreements within their own ranks.

            No thanks, Gary. I prefer to keep both my feet on the ground.

            Besides, appeals to authority is indeed a legitimate fallacy, whether you like that or not.



            1. You are a conspiracy theorist, my friend. Your thinking is not rational. Hopefully we will hear from Christians on this topic who think more rationally.


            2. You’re mis-using and misunderstanding the appeal to authority fallacy. The appeal to authority is a fallacy when the reason why a claim is true – the thing that validates a claim – is only what an authority says. Relying on what authorities say is true when their statements rest on actual evidence, like the consensus of an academic field, is not an appeal to authority fallacy.


  1. Les Bridgeman, theologian, graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, responds to my question (on his blog):

    You are right to point out that an extraordinary claim is at the heart of the Christian message——a dead man was raised to new life. Christians should not forget this. Regarding your statement, it makes sense to think twice before believing something uncommon, but I don’t think a universal rule——”never believe”—-will work. We may have good reasons for trusting a secondhand account. Your statement assumes that remarkable information can only be trusted if it comes directly from an eyewitness, but a lot of what we believe does not come directly from an eyewitness source. For example, we hear all kinds of crazy stories in the news from reporters who weren’t actually there when the events unfolded. Should we not believe any of them?

    Further, in 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul claims that Christ appeared to him so he is claiming to be an eyewitness. And Paul’s authorship of 1 Corinthians is widely accepted. Although the names of the authors are not actually included in the Gospels, the ancient manuscripts always included an inscription, such as “According to Matthew.” And according to tradition, two of these authors–Matthew and John–were eyewitnesses. I know that scholars can dispute anything and everything, but ancient people had reason to believe that these were eyewitness accounts.

    But all of this, including my post, is only focusing on the logical or intellectual side of things. This means that if everything I have written in this comment and in this post was wrong, there is still something else that will not go away–the experiential side. Many people have had deep and meaningful experiences that have led them to faith in Christ. For example, one man I know who was an atheist is whole life started reading the Bible in his 60s. He said it was like Jesus jumped off the page when he read. He felt that Jesus was right in the room with him. A lady I know who was raised as an atheist said she was dying in the hospital as a young girl. None of the treatments were working so she started praying to different gods to heal her. (She had only read about gods in a children’s comic book.) None of the prayers worked, but when she prayed to Jesus she got better. Both of them had an extraordinary experience that led them to believe an extraordinary claim.

    So the Christian message is highly unusual, and it’s right to think twice before believing something unusual, but I cannot agree to the statement “never believe” because that doesn’t work in the real world and people may have good reasons for believing a secondhand account.


    1. Hi Les,

      Thank you for responding to my question. You said: “…we hear all kinds of crazy stories in the news from reporters who weren’t actually there when the events unfolded. Should we not believe any of them?”

      When evaluating any truth claim, most university educated people today follow this process:

      –Does the reporter reporting the claim claim to be an eyewitness?
      –If yes, how credible is this reporter? Does this reporter have a reputation of integrity? Does the news agency which employs this reporter have a reputation for vetting news claims before broadcasting them?
      –If the reporter states he is not an eyewitnesses but that he has confidence in the reliability of his eyewitness sources, how accurate has this reporter’s sources been in the past? Does the news agency that employs this reporter have a solid reputation of vetting sources before broadcasting the alleged event?

      Uneducated people latch on to any sensational news and believe it, regardless of the source, whether it be in a supermarket tabloid or a conspiracy website on the internet. Educated people don’t do that.

      When it comes to the claims in the Gospels, we have none of these vetting steps. To begin with, none of the authors of the Gospels explicitly identify themselves or claim to be eyewitnesses! They all write in the third person. In addition, none of the authors claim that every story told within their gospels is 100% historical. They even admit that the purpose of their books is evangelization: “so that you may believe”. They never claim to be writing history texts. Bottom line: we have no clue as to whether or not the authors of the Gospels vetted their sources or which of their stories is historical fact and which are theological/literary embellishments.

      Most modern, educated people demand stronger evidence as a claim becomes more odd or rare (extra-ordinary). If my neighbor, who has a reputation for honesty and integrity, claims he saw a red Corvette yesterday, I am probably going to take him at his word. If however, the same neighbor claims that he saw a group of three foot tall, green, antenna-toting extra-terrestrials abducting a herd of cattle up into their mother ship, 100 feet off the ground, I am going to demand much stronger evidence to believe this.

      So to compare two thousand year old reports of people seeing a walking, talking corpse to a “wild” second hand report by a modern day reporter working for a reputable news agency is just not a valid comparison.

      You said, “Further, in 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul claims that Christ appeared to him so he is claiming to be an eyewitness.”

      What did Paul say that he saw? (Not what the anonymous author of Acts says that Paul said. What did Paul, in any of his own writings, say he saw?) Paul never describes what he saw! For all we know, all Paul saw was a bright light in his bedroom and believed it to be the resurrected Jesus! People on the internet make the same claim today!

      You said, “But all of this, including my post, is only focusing on the logical or intellectual side of things. This means that if everything I have written in this comment and in this post was wrong, there is still something else that will not go away–the experiential side.”

      Bingo! Thank you for this honest answer. No matter what objective, historical evidence we skeptics present regarding the resurrection of Jesus, Christians such as yourself are still going to believe this very extra-ordinary claim based on nothing more than your subjective perception that the spirit of this first century man/god lives within you.

      So I must ask: How reliable are your perceptions of an inner presence? Can you state to me and to your reading public that you are 100% certain that the presence you perceive living within you is that of Jesus of Nazareth?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. There will of course be exceptions here and there, but theologian’s are generally out of their element when discussing these kinds of ideas. Their world consists of assuming the stuff in their scriptures are all true. They live in a bubble, dealing more with ideas of interpretation and philosophy. This fellow’s points reflect that. They are naive, and demonstrate he hasn’t had much interaction with ideas outside his bubble. Does he not know other religions exist that would make similar claims?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Speaking of living in a bubble, when I was a Christian I never once took a moment to consider how the gospel authors could possibly know the 30,000 or so words in the NT attributed to Jesus. And not just paraphrasing from fuzzy memories or oral stories, but providing exact quotes. It was if modern day court reporters had followed Jesus around and recorded things verbatim. Instead, my pastors and theology instructors seemed to operate under the assumption that spoken words were so accurately recorded (and then accurately translated from Aramaic into Greek) that specific words and phrases could be parsed and dissected for their theological meaning and interpretation. Having escaped the bubble, it all seems absurd.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Good points, Bill. And they do parse and dissect every jot and tittle as if they are 100% certain Jesus said every word. I’ve frequently said that the Christian belief system is a house of cards, held together by the glue of many, many assumptions.


    3. I wish he would have indicated just how ancient the “ancient manuscripts” were that he says included an inscription of the author. 200Ad? 400? Because by those dates we already know things had been added in by scribes and in some cases forgers.


        1. I don’t think that would work- my reply was to your quote from Les, but the link is for the blog of Brian Chilton, where the only mention of Les is by you in the comment section there, as far I can see.


            1. Thanks. I asked Brian Chilton the same or similar question a couple days ago on your previous post but got no response. Hopefully Les will respond.


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