The Presence of Motive

In a previous post, I had pointed to an intriguing book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace. The author was a devout atheist for the first thirty-five years of his life—working as a cold-case detective for the Torrance Police Department (in Los Angeles County). His book chronicles how he came to the realization that the case for Christianity is a convincing one.

Before placing this recommended resource on my bookshelf, I just have to share another fascinating find from its pages. In this example, Wallace explains that there are three broad motives that lie behind any crime.1

In all my years working homicides, I’ve come to discover that only three broad motives lie at the heart of any murder. As it turns out, these three motives are also the same driving forces behind other types of misbehavior; they are the reasons why we sometimes think what we shouldn’t think, say what we shouldn’t say, or do what we shouldn’t do.

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This is often the driving force behind the crimes that I investigate. Some murders, for example, result from a botched robbery. Other murders take place simply because they give the suspect a financial advantage. As an example, I once worked a homicide committed by a husband who didn’t want his wife to receive a portion of his retirement.

I’ve also investigated a number of murders that were sexually (or relationally) motivated. Some sexual attackers murder their victims so they can’t testify later. Some murders occur simply because a jealous boyfriend couldn’t bear to see his girlfriend dating another man.

Finally, some people commit murders to achieve or maintain a position of power or authority. It might be a rivalry between two people who are trying to get the same promotion. Others have killed simply because the victim dishonored or “disrespected” them in front of a group of peers.

Sex, money, and power are the motives for all the crimes detectives investigate. In fact, these three motives are also behind lesser sins as well. Think about the last time you did something you shouldn’t have. If you examine the motivation carefully, you’ll probably see that it fits broadly into one of these three categories.

The presence of motive doesn’t always mean that a suspect actually committed the crime. Someone might have the motive to do something criminal, yet be able to resist the temptation to act. On the flip side, however, defense attorneys often cite the lack of motive when they are making a case for their client’s innocence. “Why would my client have done such a thing when it would not benefit him in any way?”

That’s a fair question and one that we need to ask as we examine the claims of the apostles… Did the alleged eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry have an ulterior motive when writing the Gospels? Do we have any good reason to believe that the apostles were driven to lie by one of the three motives we have described?

No. There is nothing in history (neither Christian history nor secular history) to suggest that the disciples had anything to gain from their testimony related to Jesus.

Wallace goes on to explain specifically how each of these men were not driven by these three motives. And he does so, from a thorough examination of the many ancient accounts we have in our possession about their lives.

Local believers in a variety of ancient communities wrote about the activities of the individual disciples as they preached the gospel across the region.

Put this on your summer-read list. You’ll be glad you did. As a believer, this book will strengthen your faith; and it most certainly is a great gift for the skeptic, too.


 Wallace, Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). 240-41.