Book Review: Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
by Rich Deem

Book Review

Synopsis: Best introductory book on Christian apologetics.
Summary: Cold-Case Christianity is a fresh look at the reliability of the New Testament gospels from the eyes of a cold-case criminal investigator. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and an expert at rules of evidence, examines the evidence for the truth of Christianity using examples of criminal cases he has investigated and prosecuted.

Rating: 5 Star Rating: Recommended
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels


Without a doubt, Cold-Case Christianity is the most creative and interesting examination of the case for the validity of the Christian faith ever published. It has become my favorite Christian apologetics book. If you have been trying to witness to a family member or friend and have been unable to make inroads, this book is an ideal way to get them interested in the topic. If the unbeliever is also interested in one or more of the many crime scene investigation programs on television, they will not be able to put this book down. The author, J. Warner Wallace is a cold case detective and former atheist, who upon examining the evidence for Christianity became a Christian himself. Since that time Wallace has been involved in Christian apologetics and evangelism and even planted a church.

Becoming a detective

The first section of Cold-Case Christianity is devoted to looking at evidence the way a criminal investigator would look at it. Those same rules that apply to criminal investigations also apply to the analysis of evidence regarding any topic, including the claims of Christianity. The first rule is not to assume you already know the answer (entering an investigation with a preconceived idea about how it will turn out). Wallace gives one of his many examples of how, when investigating his first murder, the lead detective assumed he knew the murderer, looking at the evidence with through a biased perspective. Each chapter of section 1 examines a different topic, including inference, circumstantial evidence, testing witnesses, reading between the lines, separating artifact from evidence, testing conspiracy theories, evidential chain of custody, determining reasonable doubt, and determining the nature of truth.

Throughout the book, Wallace refers to his "callout bag," which he took to every investigation upon being called in the middle of the night. The callout bag for the Christian or seeker are the tools one uses to examine the evidence.

Circumstantial evidence

Nearly all the evidence for God's existence falls into the circumstantial evidence category. Although skeptics tend to dismiss such evidence as not being convincing, nearly all criminal cases involve many forms of circumstantial evidence. Cumulative circumstantial evidence provides a very strong case to determine the truth of a matter. In a court of law, a suspect can be found guilty of a crime purely upon the strength of circumstantial evidence. Likewise, the case for the truth of Christianity is based upon many different pieces of circumstantial evidence, along with eyewitness testimony.

Reliability of the witnesses

Throughout both the first and second sections of Cold-Case Christianity, Wallace examines the question of the reliability of the gospel writers as eyewitnesses of the events and people they wrote about. Many skeptics assume the writers were either lying or biased, without any evidence that those writers were unreliable witnesses. In criminal law, a witness is assumed to be truthful unless there is evidence to the contrary (Section 105, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2006). Although skeptics often deem the New Testament writers to be unreliable, they provide no evidence that that is the case. In the second section, Wallace questions the motive for which the New Testament writers might have fabricated the life, ministry and resurrection of Jesus. In criminal cases, nearly all motives involve money, relationships or power. Wallace goes on to show that none of those motives could apply to the gospel writers, since they lived simple lives, without material possessions, did not have women following after them, and possessed virtually no political power—often being forced to flee from those who did possess that power. Ultimately, nearly all the apostles were murdered because of their preaching. It is unreasonable to assume the disciples would have gone to their death if their preaching were based upon what they knew to be lies.

Corroborative evidence

In addition to the more popularly presented evidence for the truth of the gospels, Wallace presents evidence that I had never been familiar with. For example, the names of people in the New Testament match the most popular names found in Palestine during the first century. However, those names did not match the most popular names of Jewish men found in Egypt, for example. The gospels also mention little-known towns in Palestine that would be unknown to those who were unfamiliar with the area or were writing centuries after the events took place. In contrast, the books rejected by the Church did not contain the details of these little-known towns and villages, suggesting an after-the-fact forgery. Many other examples of corroborative evidence can be found in Cold-Case Christianity.

Undesigned coincidences

There are dozens of "undesigned coincidences" between the gospels, which provide support for the reliability of the parallel eyewitness accounts. For example, in Matthew 26:67-68, the chief priest and members of the council struck Jesus and asked Him to prophesy who hit Him.1 It wouldn't seem to have been a difficult thing to do, unless one had read Luke 22:63-64, which included the added detail that Jesus had been blindfolded.2 In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus asked Philip where they should buy food (John 6:5).3 Philip is a very minor character in the gospels, who was very seldom mentioned. Why did Jesus ask him rather than one of the other disciples? It turns out that Philip was from Bethsaida (John 12:21),4 the location of the feeding of the five thousand. However, John's gospel does not tell us where the feeding occurred. Although the account of the feeding is in all four gospels, we only get the location from Luke's gospel (Luke 9:10).5 But Luke did not indicate whom Jesus asked and did not state where Philip had lived. So, we can only figure out why Jesus asked Philip where to get food by reading parallel accounts from Luke and John. Needless to say, Jesus already knew that even Philip would have no idea where to get enough food to feed five thousand.

Conclusions Top of page

Cold-Case Christianity is a fascinating examination of the evidence for the reliability of the gospel accounts. The examples of criminal cases and how those principles apply to a forensic examination of the gospels brings life to a topic (apologetics) that is often seen as uninteresting and boring. Once you start reading this book, you will not be able to put it down. The book is highly recommended for Christians who want to improve their ability to witness to others and also as gifts to skeptics, as a way to get them interested in the evidence for the Christian faith.

Book details:
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the GospelsCold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Paperback)
Pages: 288
Publisher: David C. Cook
Date published: January 1, 2013
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434704696

References Top of page

  1. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?" (Matthew 26:67-68)
  2. The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, "Prophesy! Who hit you?" (Luke 22:63-64)
  3. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5)
  4. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." (John 12:21)
  5. When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, (Luke 9:10)
Last Modified May 7, 2013


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