Have you been watching the proceedings surrounding Oscar Pistorius and the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp over the past weeks? Once again it seems that a high-profile criminal case will occupy the media for many months to come.
Oddly enough, this decision, like so many others, will almost certainly be decided on "circumstantial evidence." There is no eyewitness testifying to having seen exactly how the victim was killed, so judges and juries will need to rely on the testimony and forensic evidence provided by investigation.
In talking to several lawyers who attend Grace, I have been told that the large majority of cases are decided on circumstantial evidence. Decision after decision which is "beyond a reasonable doubt" have been made which sentence individuals either to years in prison or have determined their innocence.
In fact, one article I was directed to quoted experts in the field as saying that often circumstantial evidence is even MORE convincing than even eyewitness, direct testimony.
The reason? Eyewitnesses give us one perspective for one moment. Stress and emotion, particularly in the midst of a crime, can cloud a person's memory or judgment. It's not like they're reporting on a casual conversation they had at a ball game.
But circumstantial evidence can come from many different sources from DNA to behavior patterns to expert testimony to the veritable "smoking gun." Dozens of sources can be cross referenced and bring about a preponderance of evidence that simply proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
So tell me why so many want to apply a far higher standard to matters of faith and the claims of Christianity than does a jury at a murder conviction? A person might be sentenced to execution by circumstantial evidence, but when such evidence is used to establish the claims of Christ, it is often dismissed out of hand as lacking "verifiability" or "believability?"
For example, when Christian detractor Bart Ehrman uses one or two examples of evidence that made him lose his faith, I wonder why the hundreds of other pieces of circumstantial evidence don't carry a similar weight? Why do we hold the claims of Christ and of Christianity to a standard we hold nothing else to? Why do we say, "Well, if there was direct eyewitness testimony we could verify ..." or, "If there was still an original autograph of the Gospels ..." or, "If we had several more physical examples of people rising from the dead, then I would believe it?"
Here's just a taste of the things we know: The Bible has 5,000 times more verifiable manuscript evidence than the next best and well-testified piece of ancient literature (Homer's “Illiad”), which is within one lifetime of its origin. There are over 40 prophecies regarding Jesus as the Messiah dating from 400 to 1,400 years before their fulfillment in one man, from the location of his birth to his family line to the manner of his death.
There are 100's of thousands of pieces of archaeological evidence which we have taken out of the ground, NONE of which refute a single claim found in the Bible. The translations of Isaiah found in the Dead Sea Scrolls pushed back the latest copy we had some 1,200 years, and when translated, found them to be virtually identical, with not a single change of meaning in any passage.
And finally, we have a man who strides onto the landscape of the Holy Land some 2,000 years ago, who forgives sins (any sins), receives worship, performs miracles prophesied by Isaiah 700 years before, and makes claims which caused his detractors to pick up stones to execute him several times.
Now, does any of this evidence prove that Jesus is God and Lord and Savior from sin? Does this prove that the Bible is, in fact, the word of God? Not if your standard is higher than the one we use to convict a man to execution. But if you're willing to accept circumstantial evidence to determine a "conviction" of your own, then why not examine the data in this new light?
Join the ranks of Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel — all of whom were challenged to examine the evidence for themselves and give it an honest hearing — and who not only came to faith but became among the boldest proponents of Christ and His Church.
The Rev. Jonathan M. Dinger is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Pocatello.