There’s a Difference Between Evidence and Proof – J Warner Wallace – Revisited

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This is a WordPress repost of a critically important concept of understanding as articulated by Jim Wallace from coldcasechristianity.com

Every Christian needs to understand what Jim is saying because it is, in itself, a truth and ultimately anyone who witnesses for Christ will experience this reality. Also please bear in mind that this post was originally posted by myself back in 2017.

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a co-worker about our Lord and at the end of our conversation he stated the following to me: “I believe in God but I haven’t made any decision about Him because of what He might ask me to do.” I gently reminded my co-worker that in essence, he had already made a decision. When someone asks you for proof of what you believe, in essence they are asking you to provide iron clad unrefutable evidence, for what you believe, and usually that means that the evidence you give them may or should change their minds on a given subject. And as J Warner Wallace indicates below, we really can’t do that, because evidence is a matter of objective truth, proof is in the mind of the evaluator. And even when two people look at the exact same evidence, there is no guarantee that they will both come to the same conclusion. But I digress, Mr. Wallace says it much better directly below, than I can. Enjoy.


Several years ago I presented a talk at the Apologetics Canada Conference in which I examined the reaction Bart Ehrman had related to the textual variants he found in the Biblical text. As he pursued his education over the years and poured over the manuscripts of the Bible, he evaluated the evidence and eventually decided that Christianity was false. Ehrman is clearly a very smart man, raised in the Church and well educated:

Bart Ehrman
Studied at Moody Bible Institute
Graduated from Wheaton College
Received his PhD and MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary
Former President of Southeast Region of the Society of Biblical Literature

After reviewing Ehrman’s  academic credentials, one can’t help but think he might be right about his conclusions related to the evidence. How can someone this well-trained be mistaken? Part of the explanation, it seems to me, is found in the difference between evidence and proof. I never tell people I can prove the reliability of the New Testament; instead, I tell them I am happy to share the evidence that convinced me of the Bible’s reliability. While evidence is a matter of objective truth, proof is in the mind of the evaluator, and many of us resist the truth in spite of the evidence. I did this for many years.

I understand now that before I can ever convince someone with evidence, God will have to do the work of regenerating the heart of my listener. It’s not up to me; God’s calling can only be done by God Himself. And that’s the difference between evidence and proof. We can offer evidence all day long: facts about eyewitness testimony, archeological verification and scientific harmony, but none of this will serve as proof unless God first changes a heart.

Evidence
The facts we offer to support our claims of truth

Proof
What we infer from the facts offered

Ehrman may be an excellent example of this, I don’t know enough about his personal life or situation to comment with certainty, but it is interesting that the man he so admired and trusted, his mentor at Princeton, Bruce Metzger, was also interested in the evidence of scripture:

Bruce Metzger
Received his BA, MA and PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary
Served on the board of the American Bible Society and United Bible Societies
Authored approximately 20 books (including one with Ehrman)
Received the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies (British Academy)
President of the Studiorum Novi Testimenti Societas
President of the International Society of Biblical Literature
President of the North American Patristic Society

Metzger had an even higher educational and professional pedigree than Ehrman, yet came to a very different conclusion about the reliability of the New Testament. Metzger is widely considered one of the most influential Biblical scholars in history and he was a committed Christian, ordained as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. When Lee Strobel interviewed him at the age of 84 for Lee’s book, “The Case For Christ”, Metzger said:

“I’ve asked questions all my life, I’ve dug into the text, I’ve studied this thoroughly, and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed. Very well placed.”

How can Metzger come to such a different conclusion than Ehrman? Was he looking at different evidence? No. Both men are examining the exact same set of facts, yet coming to two very different conclusions. How can this be? All of us, as fallen humans, are at war with the God who created us. All of us have an enmity toward God that must first be removed if we are ever going to see the evidence clearly. Only God can do such a thing. So, while I am always delighted to examine the evidence with someone, I recognize that I am only one of several means by which God can reveal Himself to those He has already called. I am prepared to make the case, but only God can turn the evidence into proof.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case DetectiveChristian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case ChristianityCold-Case Christianity for KidsGod’s Crime SceneGod’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!

26 comments

  1. I hear in this: ‘head knowledge’ versus ‘revelation knowledge’ – thank God for the revelation of Jesus Christ and His Word. Good post – thanks.

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    • Hi Damon, actually I thought that J. Warner Wallace did make his point and he, among many others can and do, frequently make their case, based on evidence that they do present. You see the same thing happening in the sciences where one PhD sees God and another PhD sees random chance. James Tour, Steven C Meyer, Sy Garte, Michael J Strauss and David Gelernter being a small sample of scientists and scholars who do see God’s hand at work, where as, there are numerous others who don’t. When you say the unknown, that would have to include OOL and the creation of the Cosmos I would think, because no one as of yet has been able to provide unquestionable proof of how OOL and our universe came to be, all by itself, that I am aware of. I have well over a hundred posts on numerous scientists who do believe in God on my blog, many of which, do make their case. Here are some of them if you are interested: https://bcooper.wordpress.com/category/science-and-the-bible/ The whole point of J Warner Wallace’s post was not to state his case, but to show that two scholars with notable credentials in the same field can study the same evidence and come up with different conclusions. If you are asking whether scholars in numerous scientific fields support the concept of the reality of God existing (supposedly the unknown), the answer would have to be yes, some of them do. And finally, Wallace was not making a case in this particular instance, he was clarifying why stating that one has unquestionable proof is unrealistic because proof is something that is determined in one’s mind by how one looks at the evidence that is available and not everyone looks at the evidence in the same way. Hope this helps. Blessings.

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      • No, my “unknown” only pertains to whether or not the Bible is the true God. Again, only a belief. Therefore, arguing a single view of God, which may or may not be true, and coming to two very different conclusions from two different men who only think conceptually about a questionable explanation of the Creator. It’s like a man saying ghosts are real and another saying they aren’t, based on facts and evidence. Neither knows for certain. Am I missing something? Aren’t you implying that the facts and evidence are being considered solely in this case from the view of Biblical theology?

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      • Am I implying that the facts and evidence are being considered solely in this case from the view of Biblical theology? For the existence of God, no, because I have also looked at OOL, archaeology, history (secular and Christian), evolution, Intelligent Design and cosmology. For the person of Jesus the Christ, being the Son of God, yes, but not exclusively. I did read through the Koran twice and I have read a number of books (written by Christians) on the Islamic faith. I also studied Roman Catholicism for a couple of years, especially with regard to Church history. My faith and trust in Jesus (Christianity) happens to be my personal belief based on all of the evidence that I have looked at plus my personal experiences, over the years, which includes living in Egypt, Cyprus and Israel, a number of years ago. I also studied comparative religions while in university many years ago. The “facts” and “evidence” that I focus on now is obviously Christian orientated because of my faith and trust in Jesus as the Son of God. And you are correct Damon, it is a belief that I have now come to believe represents the testimony of God, our Creator, to humanity, His creation, as stated within the Bible. It definitely wasn’t a straight line but it has always been slanted towards Christianity and it now includes a good number of Christian Apologetic related subjects. Short story is I am just an ordinary Christian layman, trying to walk with Jesus. I can’t prove to you that Jesus is God’s Son any more that I can prove to you that I stood in the presence of God, but I know that I did and I know that Jesus has and continues to draw me closer to Him. I know why I believe what I believe but for sure, some of it is just faith because we are dealing with God who is spirit and Jesus is not here in body form right now. Look through my “Christian Resources” web page to get a bigger picture of some of the things that I have studied. It is where I am and no, I definitely am not perfect and I still make mistakes and I can still mess up. BUT, I am learning and I don’t mess up near as much as I used to. 76 years old, not exactly what you would call a fast learner but I am still in there trying because Jesus is still teaching and guiding me. That’s all I can tell you. Hope this helps. God’s blessings on you and yours.

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      • Well thanks for your clarification. I don’t see it the way that you do. You stood in the presence of God? That’s bold.
        Fear and ego run the mind, and in turn, religion dominates. This is such a common pattern.
        Blessings

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      • No Damon, it isn’t bold, it was sheer grace and I mentioned this to you just recently, in our exchange on my “What is Progressive Christianity” post. You now ask me a broadly stated question and I try to honestly respond to you and somehow you take what I have said and equate it as being motivated by fear and ego, thus fulfilling the common pattern where religion dominates. I have a question for you. Is that me being condescending to you or is that you being condescending to me? All you had to say was you don’t see it the way that I do, but you need to add the BS factor in to underscore your point. I was kind of hoping we could move beyond that. Take care Damon.

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      • No, the comment was an observation within all of humanity. If you choose to take it personal, then okay. My mistake, I didn’t think about the last post. Although the “grace” of God is something I am not sure of, since you have mentioned it.

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      • Damon, why don’t we try to give one another a little breathing room when we converse with one another. I am not out to attack you. It would be nice if we could become friends and I sincerely mean that. I have to work tomorrow so I’d better hit the sack. Hope you enjoy the rest of your evening. Take care and God bless.

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      • Then give non-Christians a break. Not everyone is one, and everyone deserves love. The attack is always present when we think we have the correct—and the only correct—view of God. I mean this.

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      • Evidently potential friendship with you comes at a high cost. You are allowed to express your opinion that differs from mine but I am not allowed to express my opinion that differs from yours. You ask me questions and when I honestly try to answer them, you equate my answers as an attack on you because my answers include my faith and trust in Jesus, the Son of God and the truth that He gave us, especially about Jesus being the only way to God the Father. You reject His exclusiveness but you dictate your own all encompassing perspective as being a prerequisite, which is an exclusiveness in itself. The exclusiveness that Jesus imposes intrudes on your chosen exclusiveness. Surprise, surprise. God does not conform to us, it’s actually the other way around. And you indicate that everyone deserves love. Is that God’s love that everyone deserves or do you just wish to take God out of the picture because He needs to comply with your prerequisites in order to meet with your approval? I don’t think that we do DESERVE God’s love, so we disagree on that too. Correct me if I am wrong but I didn’t ask you questions, you asked me questions. Who is attacking who? The recent posts on your website would have me believe that you find Elkhart Tolle’s teachings in line with your own thinking. Am I familiar with Elkhart Tolle’s teachings? Yes I am: https://bcooper.wordpress.com/category/eckhart-tolle/ Did I challenge you on your website about his teachings? No I did not. We disagree, I get it. Apparently big time. And for added emphasis, you state “I mean this”. I’m sure you do, but you are not the only one who has strong reasons for believing what you believe in, I do too. You reject my evidence because it does not fit into your beliefs. Which pretty much puts us back at square one on this particular discussion, where J Warner Wallace makes this very point. It isn’t necessarily the evidence that is the deciding factor, it is the mindset in operation behind the evidence that often determines the conclusion, in a person’s mind. I’m thinking we just validated Mr. Wallace’s clarification. And in closing, here is a recommendation you might want to entertain. We disagree, let’s just leave it at that. Take care Damon. God’s blessings on you and yours.

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      • Actually Bruce, no it wasn’t.
        Jesus would have us love Jew and Gentile, or everyone. The thing is, most Christians exclude. They cannot even agree on their book.
        What is also not sarcasm is the fact of you being great in your own eye. Evidence shows me when I look at your extensive blog, and the massively long-winded speeches. If this makes this through your moderation, I’d be surprised. You are not that hard to figure out. Oh, I expect the usual Bruce response, but let it go ahead and be known that your pompous ignorance won’t matter to me. As you would end all conversation between you and I, God bless!

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  2. Thanks for your like of my post, “Tribulation Prophecies And Doctrine 14 – The Gap Between The 69th And 70th Week 6;” you are very kind. I wish you well with your own work.

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  3. I love this! So glad you reposted it! This statement is so true: “We can offer evidence all day long: facts about eyewitness testimony, archeological verification and scientific harmony, but none of this will serve as proof unless God first changes a heart.” Bruce, your patience with unbelievers is astounding! Love you, Brother! Stay the course!

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    • Hi Cindy. Actually I needed reminding myself but you summarized it perfectly. Sometimes we forget that the battle isn’t really ours. We can spread the seed but it is God who brings it to life. Thank you so much for your encouragement, God’s timing is beautiful because I really needed it. Love you in the Lord Cindy, I’m thinking you’re one of His gems! Blessings!

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  4. I do think it boils down to this line; “How can this be? All of us, as fallen humans, are at war with the God who created us. All of us have an enmity toward God that must first be removed if we are ever going to see the evidence clearly.”

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