The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf is a short and concise book that aims to evaluate the claims of the Gospel writers by the rules of evidence. Simon Greenleaf, a law professor at Harvard from 1833-48, wrote a three-volume work entitled, “A Treatise on the Law of Evidence.” Because of the author’s fame in the area of law, this book has been heralded many times as powerful testimony to the reliability of the Gospels. This reviewer found the book a disappointment.
Greenleaf spends fifty pages in his examination of the Gospels by the rules of evidence. In this brief section the reader will find some true nuggets. He addresses the burden of proof in law cases, showing that, “The burden of showing [the Gospel witnesses] to be false and unworthy of credit, is devolved on the party who makes that objection.” Greenleaf elaborates on a number of helpful perspectives from the rules of evidence and makes the case that the Gospel writers pass the tests very well.
The rest of the book (another fifty pages or so) delves into an evaluation of the trials of Jesus before Caiaphas and Pilate. From an apologetic standpoint, the second half of the book is worthy of a mere skim, as it simply goes into deeper detail of the trial accounts and evaluates the law methods employed. This somewhat dry section may be very interesting to the student of law.
In summary, The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf falls short in living up to its hype. It would seem that Simon Greenleaf’s testimony of being a skeptic-turned-Christian due to his own critical evaluation of the Gospels is the selling point of the book. Although the goal of evaluating the Gospels strictly by the rules of evidence is interesting and the goal is achieved, those looking for a more comprehensive case for Gospel reliability should look elsewhere.