Book Review: The Updated “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”

By Shannon Eugene Byrd

|

October 3, 2017

Evidence that Demands a Verdict has been a staple of any Christian apologetics library for over forty years. I first became aware of this monumental work when I was just beginning my apologetics journey. I discovered the earlier edition of the book titled “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” while browsing the local Christian bookstore, which at the time had almost no apologetics material and immediately I knew this book was going to give me an apologetics breakthrough I desperately was searching for and I fully suspect this newly expanded and revised edition will do so as well.

This review of the “completely updated and expanded classic” will be broken into four parts based on the four major portions of Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In each I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the material presented as well as updates from the earlier editions.

Apart from the four major sections of the book which are renamed and revamped from previous editions of Evidence, a prologue has been added to the book. Honestly, “prologue” is a bit of a misnomer as it is a major section of the book delving into previously uncovered material not found in the earlier editions. The prologue covers presuppositions, naturalism, and evidences for Theism and is a great addition to the earlier versions for the reason that worldview shapes one’s presuppositions and this leads to different interpretations of same data.

Of particular interest within the prologue is the arguments for God’s existence via the Kalam, Fine-tuning, Origin of consciousness, and the existence of free will.

Part I: Evidence For The Bible

In this part there’s a sub-section dedicated to the uniqueness of the Bible. There is a great amount of introductory material that serves as a good beginners guide to understanding basic Biblical hermeneutics. I found the section on literary Genre’s to be one of the most useful under this sub-section for the reason that hermeneutics is one of the best apologetics tools available and goes a long way towards handling objections to Christianity on the basis of faulty interpretive methods.

Within this part I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter  “Gnostic Gospels and Other Nonbiblical texts.” The arguments put forth in favor of the Gospels over Gnostic texts was cogent and very well written. The author demonstrated that the Gnostic gospels are much later in composition and are heterodox as opposed to the canonical Gospels which appear early on and are orthodox.

Part II: Evidence For Jesus

In this section there is a threefold emphasis on how relevant a text is to the historical inquiry of whether or not Jesus existed. The author demonstrates that though many ancient texts mention Jesus by name, some texts such as the Toledat Yeshu and the Quran are colored in strong anti-Christian bias and as such are of little to no use to historical inquiry. Authors/texts given a “limited value” label are Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, Thallus, Celsus, and Mara bar Serapion. It seems to me that this section goes hand in hand with Michael Licona’s in his book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” though Licona’s is a more scholarly treatment, “Evidence” has a different audience in mind.

One strength of this section is that it establishes Christ as a historical figure by using Christian, as well as non-Christian sources. This inquiry makes use of current N.T. critics such as Bart Ehrman, who is no friend of Christianity, yet argues that Jesus existed. After establishing the Jesus as a historical figure, the authors proceed to establishing his radical messianic self-understanding through his many claims to Deity and parity with God the Father in the Gospels. I cannot stress how good the structure of the book is for the reason that before a crucial point is made, reinforcement has been provided earlier in the text. An example of this is before Christ’s messianic self-understanding can be established, a case needs to be made for the trustworthiness of the Gospels and this was already demonstrated in “Part I.”

One of the most noteworthy updates from the older editions of the book is this text includes a Sean McDowell’s recent research into the fate of the Apostles. This is crucial for establishing the Apostles really believed Christ to be risen from the dead and were willing to suffer martyrdom for this belief. Much like the earlier inquiries of reliability of the Gospels, and Jesus as a person of history, this section establishes the martyrdom of some of the earlier Christian martyr’s with both Biblical and extra-Biblical materials written by Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, and early church fathers. McDowell groups the accounts as either “strong,” “moderate,” or “inconclusive,” in their respective historical probability.

Part III: Evidence For The Old Testament

In previous editions material covering the OT were usually confined to its historical reliability however that is not the case in this edition. A great deal of material has been added such as Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) creation and flood accounts and their  relationship with OT writings. One example is John Walton’s research of the synthesis between OT and ANE narratives is that describe cosmos as a temple, which Psalm 78:69 may allude to. Another strength of the section is the inclusion of easy to follow charts that demonstrates the numerous parallels and differences between Egyptian and Biblical creation accounts.

The treatment of the days of the creation account in Genesis is given special attention in this section. The authors demonstrate that there were a number of views on the creation account very early on in the Church. Irenaeus saw the days as epoch’s while Clement, Origen, and Augustine took a more figurative or metaphorical approach in interpreting them. While there are a number of varying interpretations taken into account, this section is by no means an exhaustive treatment on any of the specific views, nor does it exhaust all of the interpretations either.

One chapter dedicated to Archeology and the OT and redacts some of the older material from Giovanni Pettinato who argued that the Ebla tablets contained the names of various Biblical cities which would corroborate the OT, however his interpretation has now been widely criticized. That being said, the authors are quick to point out that sound Archaeology should seek to eliminate bias for and against corroborating Biblical texts. Overall Part III is very solid, but does contain some weak points. One section I consider to be rather weak covers ancient literary and linguistic evidence for Adam. While brevity precludes me from going into great detail, I was left unimpressed with this section simply for the reason that is relied too heavily on spurious interpretations of Chinese pictographs from Chan Thong. The other sections are very strong, however this one was rather weak, but that says nothing as to the overall strength of the book. In fact, I think Evidence is much stronger this go around than previous editions.

Part IV: Evidence For Truth

This part is perhaps the most fundamental of the four. Without an adequate understanding of truth, no one can proceed with an inquiry. In all honesty I think this section should come before the others. That being said, I was thrilled to see that this section focused on  the metaphysics and epistemology of truth. For instance, in discussing the law of non-contradiction it is demonstrated that in the attempt to circumvent the law, one winds up affirming it, so it is a “first principle.” The small portion dealing with subjective and objective truth claims was well written and should demonstrate to any newcomer in apologetics that our culture isn’t postmodern as some like to assert.

Another important addition to this edition is a small but important section dealing with how the Bible handle’s truth. It was noted though the Bible does not explicitly articulate a specific theory of truth, it does strongly imply the correspondence theory. One clear example cited was Deut. 18:22 which gives the test’s the validity of a prophet by whether or not what was predicted comes to pass.

Final Thoughts

As stated in the beginning, “Evidence” has been around a long time and has been a go-to source for many, including myself. Again, my qualms are very few with this resource. I think every apologist, pastor, and layperson should own a copy for the reason that it has a wealth of information in an easy to find format. What makes a great Christian Apologist is not knowing everything, but being able to find the answers by folks who are in the know, and “Evidence” makes great use of material from analytic philosophers, and theologians who are experts in their respective fields. This is a needed update and a must-have resource!

Share:

About the Author

By Shannon Eugene Byrd

Shannon Eugene Byrd grew up in Liberty South Carolina. At the age of 19 he joined the Air Force and entered basic military training one week after the September 11th attacks on the Twin towers. Since graduating tech school, he has worked as an Aircraft technician. In 2012 he graduated Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelors of Science in Technical Management. Around his last year at Embry-Riddle Shannon began feel called to study the Bible and Theology in depth. He enrolled at SouthWestern Assembly of God University (SAGU) and graduated in 2015 with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Upon graduating Shannon began studying more rigorously than before. He often quibbles “if there is one thing I learned in universities, it’s how to do research.” Shannon enjoys teaching theology at his local church and defending his faith from internet atheists using precise reasoning. His main vocation with FreeThinking Ministries is research and either writing or contributing to articles.