Critique of John Warwick Montgomerys Arguments for the Legal Evidence for Christianity

Richard Packham

 Because I am a retired attorney and an atheist, and because I became involved in an online discussion group involving the evidence for Christianity, I was referred by several Christians to the works of John Warwick Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery’s credentials are very impressive, and he has written extensively on Christianity. This is a summary, from one of his books:

John Warwick Montgomery is Professor of Law and Humanities at the University of Luton, England, and Director of its Human Rights Centre. He annually conducts the University’s International Seminar in Jurisprudence and Human Rights inStrasbourg,France. Professor Montgomery holds eight earned degrees besides the LL.B.: the A.B. with distinction in Philosophy (CornellUniversity; Phi Beta Kappa), B.L.S. and M.A. (UniversityofCaliforniaatBerkeley), B.D. and S.T.M. (WittenbergUniversity,Springfield,Ohio), M. Phil. in Law (University of Essex,England), Ph.D. (UniversityofChicago), and the Doctorat d’Université fromStrasbourg,France. Before moving to theUnited Kingdom, he served on the faculty of theUniversityofChicagoand was Chairman of the Department of History atWilfrid Laurier University,Canada. He is a barrister-at-law of the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn, England; member of the California, Virginia, Washington State, and District of Columbia Bars and the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Dr. Montgomery is the author of over one hundred scholarly journal articles and more than forty books in English, French, Spanish and German.

From another book I just recently came across (The Quest of Noah’s Ark by Montgomery, describing his expedition to Ararat) I have learned that he was also a professor of Theology in Washington, D.C. and professor and chairman of Church History and Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is an ordained Lutheran minister.

I certainly do not claim to have the extensive credentials of Dr. Montgomery. For what they are worth, however, I present mine: B.A. with high honors in German, Spanish, English and Education, M.A. in German, Northwestern University, three years postgraduate studies in Germanic and Comparative and Historical Linguistics (Ph.D. qualifying exams passed), Johns Hopkins University, Fulbright Scholar in Germanic Linguistics at University of Munich, Doctor of Law with Honors from University of San Francisco, member of the State Bar of California, State Bar of Oregon, admitted to practice before the Federal District Courts of Northern California and Oregon. I speak German and Spanish fluently and have a working knowledge of French, Italian, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Russian, Gothic, Anglo-Saxon, and Hebrew. I taught foreign languages, law and computer science for 33 years. I practiced law for fifteen years, the last five primarily in trial work and the preparation of appellate briefs, where I was required almost daily to deal with the rules of evidence.

My Christian friend (a former student of Montgomery’s) did not refer me to any particular book, and I found no books by Montgomery in my small local public library – even though it has a large collection of Christian apologetic literature – so I selected a title at random from those available at an online bookseller, and borrowed it through interlibrary loan.

The book I got was Evidence For Faith: Deciding the God Question, Probe Books, 1991. Of the manyMontgomery titles available, I chose this one to get on interlibrary loan because it appeared to be among the most recent. It turns out that it is not all by Montgomery: it is a collection of essays of which he is the editor, and he contributed only one essay, which appears, however, to be a concise summary of Montgomery’s evidentiary argument for Christianity, titled “The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity.”

This is a summary of the arguments presented byMontgomeryin that book, pages 319-337 (my paraphrasing, except where indicated by quotation marks):

The Christian claims can be tested as to their truth by “the very reasoning employed in the law to determine questions of fact.” These facts are “historical facts, open to ordinary investigation,” about the man Jesus, his claims, and his resurrection.

Montgomeryhas presented historical analysis elsewhere, but here he presents arguments based on “legal reasoning and the law of evidence.” This has the advantage that “legal rules of evidence are reflections of ‘natural reason’.”

Four questions must be answered, using legal reasoning:

  1. Are the historical records of Jesus solid enough to be relied on?
  2. Are these records reliable enough to know what he claimed about himself?
  3. Do the resurrection accounts establish Jesus’ claims of divinity?
  4. If so, did Jesus (as God) affirm the Bible’s truth?

The canonical New Testament writings are the primary foundation for Christian claims. These writings claim to have been written by eyewitnesses or by close associates of eyewitnesses. Their inclusion in the canon demonstrates their apostolic origin, since that was the main criterion for inclusion.

These New Testament writings can be relied upon because:

  1. their texts have been transmitted accurately from the time they were written;
  2. they claim to be primary source documents, and “ring true as such”;
  3. their claimed authorship and dates are “backed up by such solid extrinsic testimony as that of the second-century writer Papias, a student of John the Evangelist, who was told by him that the first three Gospels were indeed written by their traditional authors”) The “ancient documents” rule can be applied to them, which makes their “competence” such as “would be established in any court of law,” according to Simon Greenleaf, “the greatest nineteenth century authority on the law of evidence.”

The suggestion that the Gospels were “faked” is disproved because fakes bear tell-tale signs of fakery to later generations.

The “skepticism of the so-called higher critics… stems from an outmoded methodology (almost universally discarded today…), and from… anti- supernaturalistic bias and bias in favor of religious evolution.”Montgomeryquotes an authority on Roman law to the effect that historians are willing to write a history of Tiberius Caesar, even though the contemporary documents disagree and are contradictory “in the wildest possible fashion.” Thus, one should accept the New Testament.

And the New Testament records (seen now to be sound historical documents) say that Jesus claimed to be God, and testify that he rose from the dead.

“In a court of law, admissible testimony is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful.”

Montgomerycites a legal work on methods of exposing perjury, based on defects in the witness or the testimony.Montgomerythen applies the test to the New Testament records:

  1. Were the “apostolic witnesses” untrustworthy? e.g. pathological liars? No: they were simple, literal and direct.
  2. Were they people unable to distinguish fact from fantasy? No: they said themselves that they were not (citing 2 Peter).
  3. Did they have a motive to falsify (every perjurer has a motive)? Money or social acceptance are ruled out. To please Jesus? No: Jesus taught them not to lie.
  4. Is the testimony inconsistent or self-contradictory? Although not verbatim the same, if they were the same it would point to collusion. The gospels are written from four different perspectives. No gospel was intended to be complete in itself. And duplications probably reflect actual duplicate events (e.g. cleansing of temple). Also, the “unflattering manner [in which] the apostolic company picture themselves in these records” indicates that they are genuine. They have “the ring of truth.”
  5. Extra-biblical historical records and archaeology confirm the reliability of New Testament geography, chronology, and general history.

Misrepresentation is rarely successful “when a cross-examiner is at work.” A false witness will surely be exposed in his fabrications, the more complicated story he must tell and the more elements involved. The New Testament witnesses “admittedly … were never put on a literal witness stand,” but they preached to many hostile audiences who undoubtedly cross-examined them, and were unable to expose their testimony as false. Their Jewish audiences certainly would have exposed the claims that Jesus “fulfilled dozens of highly specific Old Testament prophecies” had the claims not been true.

Montgomerywill not “waste time” on the possibility that the disciples were “suffering from insane delusions” because: 1) the law presumes a man sane; 2) their enemies would have “used this against them.”

That the accounts we have are hearsay – and thus would be rejected as evidence by a modern court – can be largely answered by the fact that the enemies of the disciples provided the “functional equivalence… of formal cross-examination.” Thus the problem is reduced “to the vanishing point.”

Also, the rule against hearsay evidence is a “technical device” now even abandoned in English civil trials where there is now no jury. There are so many exceptions to this rule that the rule has practically disappeared. Besides, the “ancient documents” rule would apply to the New Testament documents to allow them to be “received as competent evidence.”

The “underlying principle of the hearsay rule remains vital: that a witness ought to testify ‘of his own knowledge or observation,’ not on the basis of what has come to him indirectly from others.” But the New Testament writers “continually tell us” that they are telling what they themselves have seen (citing 1 John 1:1).

Montgomerycites Simon Greenleaf’s plea, to treat the Christian evidence like any other evidence, compare the witnesses, subject them to rigorous cross-examination, and the claims will be demonstrated true.

The claim of the resurrection is “at the heart” of the apostolic claims. “These accounts are all contained in the very New Testament documents whose historical reliability we have already confirmed and are testified to by the same apostolic witnesses whose veracity we have just established.”

To disbelieve that testimony then would be only to apply a “dubious metaphysic (resurrections from the dead are cosmically impossible)” which cannot be established. David Hume’s assertion that a resurrection has never been observed is a result of circular reasoning.

The “missing body” argument is forceful (citing Frank Morison): 1) if Jesus didn’t rise, someone must have stolen the body; 2) the only people involved were the Roman authorities, the Jewish leaders and Jesus disciples; 3) The Romans and Jews would not have taken it, since it would have been against their interests; 4) The disciples would not have taken it and then died for what they knew to be untrue; 5) Ergo, Jesus must have risen from the dead as the New Testament claims.

There is no evidence that the disciples were “psychologically aberrant” (willing to die for a falsehood), but the testimonial evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is “powerful.”

Schonfield’s Passover Plot is not a satisfactory explanation: 1) it is based on a deception, which would have been contrary to Jesus’ own moral teaching; 2) there would still be the problem of what happened to Jesus’ body when he really did die.

Although such an explanation may be possible, legal reasoning operates on probabilities. E.g., “A guilty verdict in a criminal matter should be rendered only if the jury cannot find any reasonable explanation of the crime (… in accord with the evidence) other than that the accused did it.”Montgomery suggests applying such rigorous thinking to the resurrection evidence.

Are even probabilities sufficient? We have no other choice – nothing is absolute.

How much evidence should one require to establish the claim of a resurrection? Eyewitnesses saw him crucified, which proves he was dead. Eyewitnesses saw him later alive. Resurrection has occurred: res ipsa loquitur.

Although eyewitnesses are sometimes unreliable, “an unimpeached eyewitness’s identification of a prior acquaintance” such as the apostle Thomas’s, could not be challenged; it is of the highest reliability.

Montgomerythen discusses reasons for accepting the resurrection as proof of Jesus’ divinity and Jesus’ statements stamping the Bible as divine message [not summarized here].


Critique

I have taken considerable space to summarizeMontgomery’s arguments, and I have tried to state them in an objective manner. I will now proceed to point out what I see as objections. I apologize that this is so long, but almost every statement inMontgomery’s article must be objected to, on logical, factual or legal grounds.

I agree wholeheartedly withMontgomerythat “The Christian claims can be tested as to their truth by ‘the very reasoning employed in the law to determine questions of fact.’ These facts are ‘historical facts, open to ordinary investigation,’ about the man Jesus, his claims, and his resurrection” and that “legal rules of evidence are reflections of ‘natural reason.'”

I also agree wholeheartedly that the first question to be answered is “Are the historical records of Jesus [the canonical New Testament writings] solid enough to be relied on [to establish the claims of Christianity]?” If the answer to this question is negative, the other three questions become moot.

Montgomeryhas considerable problems with documents and what they can prove and what they cannot prove. First of all, he does not distinguish sufficiently between the meaning in the law of a document being “authentic” and the question of whether the content of the document is admissible or probative as evidence. Those two questions are quite different. An “authentic” document is not necessarily believable. The Mormons have a document which is “authentic,” written by Joseph Smith with his own hand, accurately dated to about 1832, in which he says he was visited by Jesus, and in which he quotes Jesus’ words to him. Now, does this “authentic” document establish (or even tend to establish) in your mind that Jesus actually did visit Smith?

The New Testament writings, however, do not even have that good a claim to authenticity, andMontgomery’s claims are by no means established:

“1) their texts have been transmitted accurately…” On the contrary, there are no original texts of any New Testament document, but only copies, which differ among themselves. How can one assert anything with certainty about what the text said when it was written, if later copies differ? Granted, Bible scholars (usually those same “critics” which evangelical Christians love to impugn) have been able to make fairly intelligent guesses about what the original texts said probably said, but any doubts about their accuracy makeMontgomery’s assumption untenable. However, for the sake of getting on with the discussion, let us assume that the New Testament texts have been established to the extent that scholars agree as to what the original words of the texts were.

“2) [New Testament writings] claim to be primary source documents, and ‘ring true as such'”

On the contrary, only the epistles can lay any claim to being primary source documents. However, even the epistles are not primary source documents for the miraculous events that Christian claims are based on.Montgomery seems not to understand what a “primary source document” is, either in a historical or a legal sense. A “primary source document” is a contemporary record made by someone with direct knowledge of the fact written. It may be a letter, a diary, a business or government record. For example, if we had Peter’s original diary, containing the entry “This evening we were all seated at supper, and Jesus walked in! We all thought he was dead! We were stunned! …” then that would be a primary source document tending to support a post-crucifixion appearance. But we do not have such documents. Note that later recollections, or reports of the recollections of others, are not “primary source documents,” and that is the most that can be claimed for the gospels or the Book of Acts.

Letters are “primary source documents” only as to those matters which they report that are contemporary events and within the direct knowledge of the writer. Paul’s accounts of arriving in a certain town, of meeting so-and-so that day, of losing his coat (2 Timothy 4:13) are all primary sources, but any statement in a letter which is not contemporary or not the writer’s own direct knowledge (such as Paul’s mentioning of the appearance to the five hundred) cannot be considered primary source material.

The “ring true” test, being extremely subjective, is not evidentiary because it is not objective. Nor is it even a valid subjective test: I have hundreds of historical novels in my library, fictionalized accounts of historical events, and all of them “ring true.” However, they are to a large extent fiction, the product of the author’s imagination. The people, the conversations, the details of the events – all are fiction. And yet, they certainly “ring true.”

“3) their claimed authorship and dates are ‘backed up by such solid extrinsic testimony as that of the second-century writer Papias, a student of John the Evangelist, who was told by him that the first three Gospels were indeed written by their traditional authors’…”

Montgomeryoverstates his case extremely here. If he were being completely honest, he would say that the claimed authorship of the the gospels and of quite a few of the epistles are still the subject of debate among Bible scholars. Why doesn’t he admit this? In fact, the authorship of 2 Peter is generally acknowledged to be an anonymous writer of the second century, and not Simon Peter the Apostle. To put it bluntly, it is a forgery. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has long been acknowledged not to be Paul, as many pious Christians assume, but someone whose identity is completely unknown.

The testimony of Papias is the earliest authority for the authorship of the Apostles, but it is scarcely “solid.” We do not even have Papias’ direct testimony, since his writings are lost. Our information about Papias’ testimony comes only by way of Eusebius, who wrote in the fourth century, and who portrays Papias as being somewhat gullible. The “John” of whom Papias was a student was more likely John Presbyter than John the Evangelist (or John the Apostle, if they can be proven identical). In short, the “solid” evidence is not as solid asMontgomerywould like us to believe.

Montgomery continues: “…The ‘ancient documents’ rule can be applied to them, which makes their ‘competence’ such as ‘would be established in any court of law,'” according to Simon Greenleaf, “the greatest nineteenth century authority on the law of evidence.”

Here is one of the grossest misrepresentations in the entire article, andMontgomeryrepeats it later. The “ancient documents” rule in English (and American) Common Law developed in order to allow a document, under certain circumstances, to be introduced into evidence without requiring that a witness testify to its authenticity. Ordinarily, documents which a party wishes to introduce into evidence must be proven to be “authentic” before they can be placed before the court. This requires (usually very brief) testimony from some witness who is knowledgeable about the document. The bookkeeper is asked, for example: “Is this document a page from your company ledger?” “Yes.” “Is that ledger maintained in the ordinary course of business?” “Yes.” “Were these entries made at the time of the transactions they purport to record?” “Yes.” The document has thus been “authenticated” and can be used as evidence.

All authorities on the rules of evidence emphasize that authenticating a document does not guarantee the truthfulness or accuracy of its contents. Authentication merely shows where the document came from and when it was created.

The “ancient documents rule” developed to deal with the problem arising when documents contained useful information, but there was no longer any witness around to authenticate them, because the documents were old. The rule under common law is discussed at length in 29 American Jurisprudence 2d, “Evidence,” section 1201, where the requirements are listed in order for a party to present an otherwise unauthenticated document under the “ancient documents” rule: the document must 1) be over 30 years old; 2) be produced from proper custody (i.e., the chain of custody must be shown); 3) its authenticity must be corroborated by the circumstances; 4) copies of the document may be admissible if properly authenticated, but then the proof that the writer signed the original must be made.

The great modern encyclopedic authority on the law of evidence, Wigmore on Evidence, (cited hereafter as “Wigmore,” and available in any county law library) gives the same requirements, section 2137ff.

The New Testament writings satisfy only the first requirement: they are over 30 years old. On all other requirements they fail completely.

I question even whether the gospels even qualify as “documents” as the term is used in this rule. A document is a physical thing, a writing usually on paper, usually in someone’s handwriting, but perhaps produced by printing. It is the document itself, not its content, which must pass the ancient documents test. What “documents” would the Christians present to the court as evidence? The documents to which this rule would apply would have to be the actual original manuscripts of the evangelists, which, of course, no longer exist. Shall we accept copies? Then we must insist, as stated above, that evidence prove that the writer signed the original, which cannot be proven. But, in fact, we do not have copies. We have only copies of copies of copies that have gone through no one knows how many hands. And we do not know whose hands. Thus, one of the primary requirements of the ancient documents rule is not fulfilled: we cannot establish the gospels’ “provenance.”

The fact that they are copies of copies makes them inadmissible, as discussed at Wigmore, section 2143, where the general conclusion is reached that “..[copies] must fail [both] the custody and appearance test,” citing as only one example the case of Carter vs. Wood 103 Va 68, 48 SE 553 (1904), where a copy of a deed was not admitted to evidence where it was not shown that the person making the copy had adequately tested the genuineness of the original.

The “appearance” test requires that the document must show no suspicious signs of tampering or alteration (Wigmore, section 2140). Mere “age will not sanctify earmarks of fraud,” citing Hill vs. Nisbet 58 Ga 586, 589. The copies we have definitely do not appear to be free of tampering. On the contrary, they show multiple evidences of tampering, altering, deleting, inserting. It does not matter, in applying the “free of tampering” test that the tampering does not affect the fundamental import. If it appears that the document has been tampered with, the document does not pass the test.

Furthermore, as 29 Am Jur 2d says (section 1202), the “ancient documents” rule is a rule of authentication only, not a rule for admissibility. Its purpose is only to dispense with authentication by a witness. Wigmore in section 2145a says that the “ancient documents rule”..

“… deals only with the authentication of the document. Whether the contents are material, or whether any statements of assertion contained in them are admissible for any purpose, should depend on different principles.” [emphasis added]

Wigmore emphasizes (section 12) that “Admissibility falls short of proof or demonstration.”

You will note thatMontgomerydoes not make this distinction, but leaves the impression with the lay reader that if the document is “authenticated” and “admissible,” it is to be believed. That, in my opinion, is a dishonest distortion.

Montgomery’s next statement, about how fakery may not be obvious to the contemporaries of the faker, but will become obvious to later generations, is entirely true, and amply shown by modern scholars’ discoveries about the tampering, forgery, and pious embellishment of the New Testament documents. (See, for example, John Shelby Spong (Episcopal Archbishop of Newark), Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Harper, San Francisco, 1991, and Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, Prometheus Books, Amherst, 1988, for just two of many such discussions.

WhenMontgomeryimplies that the “outmoded methodology” of the higher critics is “almost universally discarded today,” one must wonder what publications in textual criticism and Bible studiesMontgomeryhas been reading. He would have us believe, it appears, that the world of Bible scholarship has now almost uniformly rejected the results of the last 150 years of research by the “so-called higher critics.” That is scarcely the case, as proven by the general acceptance of the general conclusions of higher criticism in reference works and scholarly journals. If anything, the higher critics have pretty much conquered the field except for the most conservative evangelical seminaries.

Montgomerynow proceeds as though he had demonstrated that the New Testament records are “sound historical documents.” This “historical authenticity” argument is based on a great fallacy. It is a favorite argument of Christian apologists. The logic goes like this:

– The gospels make many statements of fact that are confirmed as historically and geographically accurate by other sources (dates of reigns of rulers, locations of towns, details of cultural events, etc.)

– Therefore other statements of alleged fact are likely to be accurate (Jesus was resurrected, Mary was a virgin, Jesus ascended into heaven, etc.)

First, there is no rule of evidence which says that we must accept uncorroborated evidence because it comes from the same source as other evidence which has been corroborated.

There is a well-known rule of evidence which states the reverse principle, which is the maxim “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus”, meaning “false in one thing, false in all.” That is, if a witness is shown to be false (wrong, mistaken, incorrect, lying) in one matter, then that witness’ entire testimony may be considered suspect. And that is precisely what we have in the New Testament writings.

(The harshness of this rule as formerly interpreted – namely, that such a witness’ entire testimony must be disregarded – has been softened in most jurisdictions, and leaves it to the jury as to the extent the remainder of the testimony should be suspect. But the jury is free to disregard it entirely.)

Regardless of such suspicions, are we required to accept a witness’ testimony at face value? We may accept it, but only if there is no reason to reject it. In the case of the uncorroborated events such as the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the ascension, there are excellent reasons to reject it. I will quote from Summary of American Law, “Evidence: 11:5. Weight and Sufficiency of Evidence” p 289:

“The testimony of a disinterested witness which is in no way discredited, or contradicted by other evidence, to a fact within his knowledge, which is not in itself improbable or in conflict with other evidence, must usually be accepted by the jury and may not be arbitrarily disregarded or rejected. It does not necessarily follow, however, that a verdict or finding must be made in favor of the party introducing such evidence, where the issue remains in dispute or doubt. Although the testimony of a disinterested witness is not directly contradicted by other witnesses, if there are circumstances which controvert it or explain it away, or if the testimony is clouded with uncertainty or improbability, or if it otherwise appears to be unworthy of belief, the trier of fact is not bound to accept it. Where testimony is on its face incredible, contrary to physical facts, settled scientific principles, or the laws of nature, or if it is opposed to common knowledge or to judicial notice, it may properly be disregarded…” [emphasis added]

In the article “Witnesses,” section 1037, of 81 American Jurisprudence 2d (a standard encyclopedia of American law, often cited by the courts, hereafter cited as Am Jur 2d) the rule is summarized as follows:

“Where an unimpeached witness testified distinctly and positively to a fact, and is uncontradicted, his testimony should be credited… But there may be such a degree of improbability in the statements themselves as to deprive them of credit, however positively made…” [emphasis added], citing Keene vs. Behan 40 Wash 505, 82 P 884 (1905), and referring to many other cases in the Century Digests “Evidence” section 2438.

The Keene case further commented (82 P at 887):

“[The witness] may be contradicted by circumstances as well as by statements of others contrary to his own. In such cases courts and juries are not bound to refrain from exercising their judgment, and to blindly adopt the statements of the witness, for the simple reason that no other witness has denied them, and that the character of the witness is not impeached.”

Another standard work on the rules of evidence in the law is Jones On Evidence, where, at section 26.1, the rule is stated:

“It is permissible to contradict the witness by … show[ing].. that he was not in a condition to know and remember the facts, that he had not an opportunity to acquire knowledge, or that his statement is improbable or impossible”

Among possible reasons for not believing the testimony of a witness are listed “manifestations of mental derangement, such as hysteria, delusions, hallucinations,… not readily observable to non-experts” [emphasis added].

Those statements of the rule pretty well remove the miraculous New Testament claims from consideration by any court. Actually,Montgomerygave an abbreviated statement of the above rule when he said:

“In a court of law, admissible testimony is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful.”

He neglected to give us an explanation of “doubtful,” because it includes being improbable, unworthy of belief, incredible, contrary to physical facts or the laws of nature, all of which apply to the New Testament statements on which Christianity is based.

Montgomerythen discusses perjury and how to expose it. This discussion contains a number of logical fallacies.

He asks first: “1) Were the apostolic witness untrustworthy?…” That is precisely the question, butMontgomerygives us only one possible version of “untrustworthy”: “…e.g. pathological liars?” There are a great many ways of being untrustworthy besides being a pathological liar. This is the fallacy of the “false dilemma.” But evenMontgomery’s answer here is meaningless: “No, they were simple, literal, and direct.” CanMontgomeryreally be stating here a belief that a liar cannot be “simple, literal, and direct”? Joseph Smith comes to mind – Smith was certainly also “simple, literal, and direct”! WouldMontgomeryaccept Smith’s testimony about his miraculous experiences? I doubt it.

Montgomerythen asks: “2) Were they people unable to distinguish fact from fantasy?” That is also an excellent question, butMontgomery’s answer is really laughable: he calls upon those who are suspected of being subject to fantasy to tell us whether they are subject to fantasy! What an excellent example of begging the question! Shall we ask Joseph Smith (or any other non-Christian visionary) if he merely imagined his visions? What would he answer, of course? Folks, we do not have here an example of clear thinking.

But then, to make it even more astonishing,Montgomerycites only one New Testament author, whom he wishes us to take, I suppose, as a spokesman for all the New Testament writers, the author of 2 Peter, the very work which is most likely a forgery. So, we have the word of a probable forger that he is not imagining things.

Montgomerythen rules out a motive for perjury: the writers did not want money or social status, or to please Jesus.Montgomerymight profit from a study of modern psychiatry and pathological psychology, where he would perhaps learn that the motives for telling an untruth can be much more complicated that those three possibilities that he rules out. That is, we have here another example of the fallacious “false dilemma” (actually, here a “trilemma,” equally fallacious).

The fourth test by which perjury can be detected is inconsistency or self-contradiction in the testimony.Montgomeryadds nothing new to the traditional apologetic defense of the gospel contradictions: 1) agreement would point to collusion; 2) each writer had a different perspective; 3) no gospel was intended to be complete; 4) duplicate narratives probably represent actual duplicate events.

None of these arguments are based on any rule of evidence, but are rather intended to avoid the very valid rule of evidence that testimony which is inconsistent with other evidence, or contradictory, or self-contradictory, may be disregarded as unreliable. In fact, this very rule of evidence is affirmed in the New Testament: “For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.” (Mark 14:56, 59) It is unfortunate for the Christian apologist that his best testimonies are contradictory, and that these are the best explanations he can come up with. Let us lay them to rest:

First, “verbatim agreement would point to collusion”: There are two objections to accepting this as a valid excuse for the contradictions. First, at many places, the gospels do agree, word-for-word. This is taken (justifiably) by most scholars to indicate that the later writer simply copied or adapted from the earlier writer. Thus, both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. They apparently had another source (the so-called “Q”) which they both copied.

Second, no trial attorney would argue ipso facto that witnesses who tell a consistent story are in collusion. Collusion in witnesses can be uncovered by excluding each from hearing the testimony of the others, and then asking each for more and more detail. Montgomery says something similar when he discussed the difficulties of being a successful liar. If the colluding witnesses had not anticipated and agreed on the details now being asked about, each witness will invent something. His invention will make sense, sound plausible, so long as it stands alone. But when another witness is called upon to provide detail on the same topic, his invention will differ from the other witnesses, even though, by itself, it is plausible. And this is precisely what we see in the gospel narratives!

The “different points of view” argument sounds nice in the abstract, but collapses in absurdity when applied to specific details. Was Mark’s “point of view” so different that it does not matter to him that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Jesus’ career fulfilled so many prophecies, as Matthew takes such pains to point out? Is Mark’s point of view (supposedly Roman, supposedly Petrine) such that if we asked him why he does not mention the “upon this rock (Peter)” speech, he would say that he didn’t think it would make sense to include it? How does John’s “point of view” require Mary NOT to look into the tomb, but Luke’s “point of view” makes sense only when she is reported as the first to enter it? If we could ask John, Luke and Mark why they did not report the emptying of the graves in Matthew 27:52-53, would those authors (whoever they actually were) reply, “Oh, we were writing from a different point of view, and we didn’t think that event was to the point”? Hundreds of other examples could be given to show the absurdity of the “different point of view” excuse. Furthermore, the “different points of view” argument cannot possibly account for the outright contradictions.

To contend, asMontgomerydoes, that “no gospel was intended to be complete in itself” is objectionable on several counts: 1) how doesMontgomeryclaim to know this? On the contrary, if we did not have the other gospels, any one gospel would appear to tell a complete story. 2) It would be absurd to think that, if we had been able to ask Mark immediately after he published his gospel, “Mark, is this the whole story?” he would have answered, “Oh, no! You’re going to have to wait until the other three finish theirs… mine is just a part of a work in progress. It’ll be another forty years or so until the complete story can be known.”

In fact, the omissions of important material from each of the gospels which one or more of the other evangelists felt important to include points to another reason from the rules of evidence to discredit their stories. Wigmore says, section 1042:

“A failure to assert a fact, when it would have been natural to assert it, amounts in effect to an assertion of the non-existence of the fact. This is conceded as a general principle of evidence…[it is] ‘prima facie’ an inconsistency

Do we really have to remind the Evangelists that, as witnesses, they are obligated to tell “the truth, the whole truth…”? This, too, is a biblical principle: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he had seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:1, NIV translation)

Thus, John’s omission of any mention of the ascension is, legally, the equivalent of his statement that, so far as he is concerned, no ascension took place. Mark’s statement that one young man was inside the tomb is the legal equivalent of saying that it was not two (as Luke and John say) and that no angel was involved (as Matthew and John say). And so on. Material omissions are just as fatal to the conflicting “testimony” of the gospels as are the outright contradictions.

In every instance where the Gospels contradict each other (and there are many; for a partial listing click here), at least one of the accounts must be wrong, mistaken, false. Or, equally possible, all of them.

What, then, is the explanation? It is really quite simple, and very ordinary. Each gospel author had assumed the task of telling about the events of Jesus’ life, many years after the actual events. His sources were tales circulating among the faithful, snippets of teachings, aphorisms, parables, and the fundamental belief that Jesus was the Messiah as promised, that he had forecast the coming of the Kingdomof God, but that he had been executed by the authorities. Some of those who remained faithful were convinced that he had risen from the dead and would shortly return in glory. Now, the task is to fill in the details, to tell a convincing story. Is it any surprise that four imaginative and faithful writers would be able to come up with an impressive life story? Except that their details contradict each other, which shows that the gospels are fictionalized legends, and not based on personal knowledge.

Montgomeryrightly says that a false witness is rarely successful “when a cross-examiner is at work.” He then suggests that even though we cannot personally cross-examine the New Testament writers, they were undoubtedly cross-examined by Jewish audiences, who would have “exposed” them if they had been able. We should accept this “functional equivalence” of cross-examination. We have now left the realm of legal evidence and are in the never-never land of apologetics, folks. I challenge Dr. Montgomery to cite a single reported case where a judge allowed the testimony of an absent witness to be admitted as evidence, where the testimony was “inherently incredible, contrary to natural law,” on the basis of an assertion, without any written record, that other lay persons, outside of the courtroom, had provided the “functional equivalent” of cross-examination.

First, we have no record of any such cross-examination, of who the cross-examiners were, of the challenges made, of the questions asked, of what the disciples’ answers were. The record is absolutely empty. It is the purest speculation that anything like a juridical cross-examination of these disciples or witnesses ever took place. In effect,Montgomeryis telling the court: “My witnesses have already been cross-examined outside of court, your Honor, and here is a statement from my witnesses’ friends, assuring you that their testimony could not be shaken.” That is an absurd legal position.

Second, even if we were to grant the possibility that such cross-examination took place, and to accept it as the “functional equivalent” of a real juridical cross-examination, then Montgomerymust accept the obvious result: the disciples were not believed by the Jews who conducted the alleged cross-examination. The Jews rejected their claims almost en masse. This admission is almost a bulwark of later Christian theology: the Jews rejected Jesus. Why? The Christians explain the rejection by saying that the Jews were hard-necked or proud or wicked. I suggest that it’s because they had the opportunity to examine the evidence almost first-hand and to cross-examine the witnesses, and saw through the whole thing. Christianity never conquered Judaism inJerusalem where these miraculous events allegedly occurred, but only in more distant lands, where Gentiles had no such opportunity to cross-examine those alleged eye-witnesses.

Either way, Christianity’s claims do not pass the test of cross-examination.

The suggestion that the disciples were suffering from some delusions – which is a fairly reasonable explanation – is not worth Dr. Montgomery’s time to discuss, he says, because 1) the law presumes a man sane; and 2) their enemies would have used this against them.

The law indeed presumes a man sane. But if your neighbor insists that he sees visions, that he has seen a dead man come to life, then that presumption quickly disappears, and the man can be committed. If any of the apostles were alive today, I have no doubt that any court in the country would commit them to an institution.

As to the second point, Dr. Montgomery is presuming something that he has no basis in fact for presuming: how does he know that their enemies did not use this against them? He is making a wild supposition. Or, if he insists, this would be another reason why the Jews rejected their wild stories: they were obviously insane. Either way, it is not evidence for the truth of Christianity.

In fact, the argument whichMontgomerywishes to brush aside so quickly is the one which would give him a good deal of trouble. The world through all ages has had simple-minded people who suffer from religious delusions. How are Jesus’ followers any different?

Hearsay evidence is matter which is reported as someone else’s knowledge, not the direct knowledge of the person we are listening to. If Bill says in court, “I saw XYZ happen,” that is direct eyewitness testimony. If Hank says, “Bill saw XYZ happen,” that is hearsay, and not admissible in court as evidence.

And all of the New Testament reports of Jesus’ resurrection (except for Paul’s own account of his vision) are legally objectionable as hearsay. The gospels are entirely hearsay. Acts is all hearsay. It does not matter who Mark’s source was (Peter?), we are not getting it from the source. At best, it is second-hand hearsay. Montgomery is again overstating his case when he says that the New Testament writers “continually tell us” that they are telling what they themselves have seen. He cites only 1 John 1:1, but that is hardly “continually.” There is not a single passage in the gospels or in Acts where the writer testifies that he is reporting what he himself has seen. And even if they had been so bold, we are not obligated to believe even an eyewitness whose testimony is improbable or contrary to natural law (see above).

Because this objection (inadmissible hearsay) would effectively rule out much of the crucial New Testament material on which Christianity depends,Montgomeryis forced to downplay the importance of the hearsay rule. We have already discussed the lack of cross-examination opportunity, which is the primary reason for rejecting hearsay testimony in a courtroom.Montgomerydownplays its importance by saying that it is a “technical device,” now abandoned in English civil trials, and subject to many exceptions. All that is certainly true, but it leaves the wrong impression on the lay reader. Yes, it is extremely technical, but it is applied hundreds of times a day in courts. No lawyer would attempt to introduce hearsay evidence in a trial. Even in English civil trials, it is expected that the judge (who is specially trained to recognize hearsay) will not give it more than minimal weight. Certainly no case in any court will be based entirely on hearsay testimony, as the Christian case is.

It is often said among students of evidence, asMontgomerysuggests, that there are so many exceptions to the hearsay rule that there is not much of the rule left. This is also misleading. The fundamental rule is still there to catch the unwary lawyer who thinks it has disappeared. The “ancient documents” exception was discussed above; it is not applicable to New Testament documents, andMontgomeryshould know that.

Montgomerysuggests that to disbelieve the testimonies of the resurrection would be to apply a “dubious metaphysic (resurrections from the dead are cosmically impossible).” On the contrary, Montgomeryis here unfairly putting skeptics into a more extreme position than most skeptics (such as I, for one) take. I would have no difficulty accepting as fact any number of very improbable events, if the weight of the evidence were consonant with the inherent improbability of the event claimed. See my article on this subject, “The Man With No Heart”. I venture to suggest that Montgomery himself displays a similar skepticism concerning myths and miraculous reports of religions other than his own brand of Christianity, such as the heavenly manifestations witnessed by many at the dedication of the Mormon temple in Kirtland in 1836, or the manifestations at Fatima in 1917, or any number of other such miraculous events recorded in the religious literatures of the non-Christian world. It is not prejudice at all, but simple, healthy skepticism.

The “missing body” argument whichMontgomerycites is another fallacy-riddled argument:

“1) if Jesus didn’t rise, someone must have stolen the body.” This assumes that he was dead, to start with, which is not proven. There is not much doubt that he was crucified, but not everyone who was crucified died from it (Josephus relates such an incident), and the very short time on the cross, and the whisking away of the body with special permission from Pilate must arouse some suspicion.

The argument also assumes that the statements in the gospels that there was an empty tomb are completely reliable. Why are we forced to accept their accuracy on this point, when they are so unreliable on so many others? Why can we not assume that the story of the empty tomb (which we do not hear of until forty years later, in Mark) was made up to justify the otherwise inexplicable belief that Jesus was not really dead? That is, instead of this order of facts:

1. Jesus dies and is buried
2. Empty tomb is discovered
3. Disciples realize that Jesus is not dead

the more likely order was:

1. Jesus dies and is buried
2. Disciples refuse to accept that fact (he had promised the establishment of the Kingdom of God)
3. Therefore, disciples believe Jesus must be alive
4. Therefore, the tomb must have been empty

Remember that for Paul the empty tomb was not important enough even to mention, probably because that story had not yet begun to circulate.

Montgomery’s fourth point is also fallacious: “4) the disciples would not have taken [the body] and then died for what they knew to be untrue.” This argument neglects several other possible alternatives. All of the disciples would not have had to be in on the plot to steal the body: only a few (or not even the inner circle – Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus). Nor are we certain how most of the disciples ended. Tradition has them, of course, all as martyrs for the faith, but tradition is very unreliable, and legends are easily invented to serve a propaganda program. It is also not out of the question that some disciples spirited the body away in the firm belief that Jesus would later come back to life, and then assumed that, of course, he did, or lost the faith. One must not forget the power of belief to dull and deaden one’s common sense.

Montgomery’s dismissal of Schonfield’s theory in The Passover Plot as contrary to Jesus’ moral teaching is extremely weak, based on a Sunday-school image of the gentle savior. Jesus had no hesitation in urging his followers to abandon ordinary morality (love of family, devotion to parents, obedience to Mosaic Law) when it furthered his cause. WouldMontgomery allow the Mormons to make the same defense of Joseph Smith, who also preached fervently in favor of “truth”?

AndMontgomery’s argument that such a theory would still have the problem of what happened to the body is laughable: what happened to Mary’s body? to Lazarus’ body? Why couldn’t Jesus, as a condemned, escaped felon, simply have gone underground or left the country, to die later and be buried in an unmarked grave like millions of others? There is no problem about the body!

One of the few legal statements byMontgomerywith which I agree is that legal reasoning demands probabilities, not possibilities. He uses the example of a criminal charge, where a guilty verdict should be rendered only if the jury cannot find any reasonable explanation of the crime other than that the accused did it. Let us follow Greenleaf’s plea (as endorsed by Montgomery) and apply the same reasoning to the claim that we should accept the alleged facts of Christianity as a basis for our world-view and a guide for our daily lives: we should accept them only if we “cannot find any reasonable explanation of the [New Testament documents] than that [Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven].”

The evidence for the supposed events on which Christianity bases its truth is not, then, direct evidence, but only indirect (circumstantial) evidence. There is nothing wrong with circumstantial evidence. However, since such evidence is based on drawing valid inferences from other, direct facts which have been proven, the inferences drawn must be examined carefully. Jones On Evidence, section 29:6 states the rule as follows:

“Circumstantial evidence is sufficient… if the finding is reasonably probable (not merely possible) and more probable than any other alternative… the inference sought from circumstantial evidence must outweigh all contrary inferences so as to amount to a preponderance of all inferences that might be drawn from the same circumstances.” [emphasis added]

The direct evidence (existence and content of the New Testament writings and whatever undisputed facts which can be drawn from them, e.g. general facts about Jesus’ ministry, beliefs of his followers) can be used to infer other facts, which are circumstantial evidence only (Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus’ body was stolen by someone unknown, Jesus’ followers saw his pierced side on his resurrected body, Jesus’ followers gullibly believed reports of his resurrection, the evangelists slanted their reports to make them more effective propaganda at the expense of historical accuracy, etc…). It is these inferences which must satisfy the test of comparable probability. For instance, is it more probable to believe that an executed criminal came back to life, or that his followers convinced themselves that such an event took place? Which is the more probable explanation?

That is the fundamental problem with the Christian “evidence”: it is not legally acceptable evidence, and there are ample reasonable explanations to explain the documents of the New Testament other than the incarnation of the Creator and his resurrection.

“Legal Reasoning and Christian Apologetics”

After I had shared the above critique of Montgomery’s “The Jury Returns” article, my Christian friend responded to my critique by saying that I was unfairly criticizing Montgomery on the basis of one short article, and to be fair I should look at some of his other works, and he suggested specifically the book The Law Above The Law, Dimension Books, Minneapolis, 1975. I got the impression from him that this was a fuller explanation ofMontgomery’s arguments as to how legal principles of evidence would support the Christian claims. So I again used the interlibrary loan service, and obtained a copy.

It is a relatively small book, consisting of three essays byMontgomeryand a reprinting of Simon Greenleaf’s “Testimony of the Evangelists.”Montgomery’s essays are “The Case For Higher Law” (41 pages), “Witch Trial Theory and Practice” (26 pages), and “Legal Reasoning and Christian Apologetics” (7 pages). The reprint of the Greenleaf article is 50 pages long.

The only one ofMontgomery’s essays that is pertinent to the legal evidence for Christianity is the 7-page article, and is thus even more abbreviated than “The Jury Returns.” My criticism of this article is the same as my criticism of the “Jury” article:Montgomerygrossly misstates or misapplies the fundamental principles of legal evidence.

In this article he correctly praises “legal science, as an outgrowth of meticulous criteria for distinguishing factual truth from error.” He then lists and briefly summarizes four primary principles of the law of evidence: 1) the ancient documents rule; 2) the parol evidence rule; 3) the hearsay rule; and 4) the cross-examination principle.

He states the ancient documents rule as: “ancient documents will be received as competent evidence if they are ‘fair on their face’ (i.e., offer no internal evidence of tampering) and have been maintained in ‘reasonable custody’ (i.e. their preservation has been consistent with their content).” He then says, in one sentence, without explanation, that “this rule would establish their [the Gospel records] competency in any court of law.”

WhatMontgomerydoes not tell you is what “competency” means, and what the purpose of the ancient documents rule is. A layman might assume that “competency” means “truth” or “accuracy” or “trustworthiness” or “credibility.” It means none of these things.

As I pointed out in the previous critique, the original purpose of the ancient documents rule was to avoid a problem which frequently arose when introducing documents as evidence in a trial. A document cannot simply be introduced as evidence. Since I already discussed aboveMontgomery’s distortion of this rule, and since he uses the same distortion in this article, I will not repeat those arguments here.

The parol evidence rule says (as stated byMontgomery) that “external evidence, oral testimony, or tradition will not be received in evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will.” As far as it goes, that is a correct (but incomplete) statement of the rule.Montgomerythen applies it to the biblical documents, which he claims are “executed,” and thus cannot be “twisted,” that the Bible must be allowed to “interpret itself.”

Here’s whatMontgomerydoes not tell you. The parol evidence rule applies only to contracts, wills, and certain negotiable instruments. None of the biblical documents are of the type to which this rule would apply.

Wigmore emphasizes at the beginning of the discussion of the parol evidence rule (section 2401) that it “concerns the formation and constitution of jural acts.” [emphasis added] A “jural act” is an act, almost always a written document, which is intended to have some legal effect, such as a contract, a will, a promissory note, and thus to be enforceable by the courts if necessary. Historical documents, diaries, ordinary letters, biographies, essays (that is, the kinds of writings in the New Testament) are not “jural acts,” and thus not subject to the parol evidence rule.

Nor are any of the biblical documents “executed” (that is, signed by the author).Montgomerycites as evidence that the they “expressly claim to be ‘executed’ and complete” Revelation 22:18-19. Really, one must object: that passage at best applies only to Revelation, not to the entire Bible (which did not exist as a unit when those words were written); and it does not contain anything that could qualify as a signature (since we do not even have the original document).

Even if it were appropriate to apply the parol evidence rule to the biblical documents, the rule also contains many exceptions which would allow us to bring in precisely the kind of damning evidence which Montgomerywould not like to have introduced. For instance, external evidence is allowed if the document is ambiguous or unclear. It is also allowed for the purpose of showing mistake, fraud, customary usage, or to supply essential information that was omitted. Another important exception is that external evidence is admissible to show that the document is not what it purports to be. All of these would be applicable to the biblical documents, thus allowing the negative external evidence.

Montgomerythen cites the hearsay rule: “a witness must testify ‘of his own knowledge,’ not on the basis of what has come to him indirectly from others.” That is, indeed, a correct statement of this important rule. But in applying it to the New Testament, Montgomery relies only on the “constant asseverations” that the authors are telling only what they themselves have heard and seen, citing 1 John 1:1.

Yes, the author of 1 John says that. But what he testifies to in that document is quite vague and general, and he does not state in detail the kind of information we would need from an eyewitness. The author of 1 Peter says that he has seen the “sufferings” of Jesus, but does not mention any resurrection that he has seen, or any details. The author of 2 Peter claims to have seen the transfiguration. Paul testifies to his own vision (which is similar to Joseph Smith’s), but it is obviously some surreal event that only he could experience, since those with him did not see or hear the same thing. Those are the sum total of the “constant asseverations.” There are no others. When we then consider that the actual identity of the authors of some of these documents is not certain, we are justified in regarding their testimony as of practically no weight in establishing the specific facts of the resurrection.

The authors of the Gospels conspicuously do not state that they are testifying of their own knowledge. They write long after the events, and not as direct observers. In other words, hearsay.

The problem which the hearsay rule has for Christianity has been discussed at length above.

But ultimately, if Christians insist that these rules be relaxed – on some justification or other – when evaluating Christianity’s claims, then we must relax them when evaluating similar claims of every other miracle-based religion: Islam, Mormonism, Baha’i, Sikhism, Hinduism. Are Christians willing to do that? Mormonism, for example, has eye-witnesses galore, self-authenticating documents, miraculous events, and well-recorded cross-examination. WouldMontgomerybe willing to allow Mormons the same legal latitude in proving their religion?

This discussion of the legal rules of evidence may seem rather technical to lay readers. That is unfortunate, because the rules are not the fanciful products of lawyers’ imaginations, invented to confuse the non-lawyer. They are used and applied thousands of times every day in every court in the English-speaking world, in the attempt in every trial to determine the truth of conflicting claims. The statements of the rules of evidence that I have quoted are part and parcel of every attorney’s everyday knowledge. We carry these rules around in our heads, just as the practitioner in any trade knows its basic facts without having to look them up. Any experienced attorney reading this will know what I mean. The astonishing thing to me is how anyone trained in the law, likeMontgomery, can so greatly distort their meaning and their application.

Since a major part of Montgomery’s book is a reprinting of the Simon Greenleaf article, which is still in print after over a hundred years, and still cited by Christians as one of the outstanding legal arguments for Christianity’s evidence, by an acknowledged authority on the law of evidence, I also want to deal with that, but in a later article.

To give you a preview, Mr. Greenleaf begins by stating: “The proof that God has revealed himself to man… and that Christianity constitutes that revelation… has already been shown in the most satisfactory manner by others… [therefore] the fact will be assumed here as true.”

That indeed does make one’s job easier.

I do not challenge people like Montgomery and Greenleaf lightly. They (especially Greenleaf) have wide reputations. I was frankly expecting to read profound legal reasoning in their works, not such gross misstatements of the law. If I am wrong, I beg to be corrected. Any Christian attorneys out there?


A “refutation” of this article, by a nonlawyer and lay apologist, writing under a pseudonym, is at this website. After reading it, use your browser’s “back” button to read Packham’s response to it here.

Another response has been published in an online journal edited by Montgomery, in its January 2003 edition. After reading it, use your browser’s “back” button to read Packham’s response to it here.

 

This essay offers some brief, critical comments on the work of a Skeptic named Richard Packham, who is an attorney and a former member of the Latter-day Saints. Of particlar concern to us is his critique of the work of Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery, who is known for his attempts to apply modern legal evidentiary standards to Christian and Biblical truth claims.

With due respect toMontgomery, and his ideological predecessor Simon Greenleaf, I do have to agree with an essential view of Packham’s, namely, that it is misguided to apply the modern standards of legal evidence wholesale to the Gospel records. To do so is simply, in many ways, anachronistic; these standards should no more be directly applied to the Gospels than to the works of Tacitus, Josephus, or Lucian. If any legal standards may be applied to any of the Gospels, they may be applied to Luke and John, who, as a helpful reader recently advised me, are written within a legal genre; but even in this case it is anachronistic to apply modern stadards and rules of evidence. (My reader suggested that the lesser standard of proof found in the civil code of common law would be better suited for the Gospels, and that it might be better also to regard them in the category of, for example, amicus briefs.)

The proof of this is shown in Packham’s very criticisms, which are themselves anachronistic, even if they have a certain validity in terms ofMontgomery’s applications.

One ofMontgomery’s points is that the text of the New Testament has been transmitted accurately, and that we have an overwhelming assurance that we know what the original text said. This is a given in textual-critical circles, andMontgomeryis right enough on that point, but Packham is clearly not up on such matters. He objects:

On the contrary, there are no original texts of any New Testament document, but only copies, which differ among themselves. How can one assert anything with certainty about what the text said when it was written, if later copies differ? Granted, Bible scholars (usually those same “critics” which evangelical Christians love to impugn) have been able to make fairly intelligent guesses about what the original texts said probably said, but any doubts about their accuracy make Montgomery’s assumption untenable.

This would have been a good point for Packham to start tackling the likes of Metzger and the Alands, but he does not: He rather decides to assume “for the sake of getting on with the discussion” that “scholars agree as to what the original words of the texts were.”

As we have shown in this article, one can very easily “assert anything with certainty about what the text said when it was written,” and what Packham arbitraily calls “fairly intelligent guesses” are in fact the definitive statements of textual-critical scholars whose work he is clearly unfamiliar with.

Montgomery’s next assertion is that the NT writings “claim to be primary source documents, and ‘ring true as such.'” I myself am not clear on howMontgomerysupposes that the Gospels (other than John, perhaps) make this claim, so I don’t care to defend the point; on the other hand, Packham’s comment on the “ring true” aspect is unreasonable. He writes:

The “ring true” test, being extremely subjective, is not evidentiary because it is not objective. Nor is it even a valid subjective test: I have hundreds of historical novels in my library, fictionalized accounts of historical events, and all of them “ring true.” However, they are to a large extent fiction, the product of the author’s imagination. The people, the conversations, the details of the events – all are fiction. And yet, they certainly “ring true.”

Packham is again making broad, sweeping and authoritative statements about matters beyond his expertise. The “ring true” test is far from subjective, as C. S. Lewis made clear, and as I reiterated. Is Packham too literarily insensitive to perceive a difference between the Gospels (especially as ancient bioi) and that copy of Danielle Steel’s latest novel in his library, and to discern how to detect “ring true” from “ringer”?

Montgomery’s next point is on the authorship of the NT documents. Here Packham merely offers forth the standard line, saying: “If (Montgomery) were being completely honest, he would say that the claimed authorship of the the gospels and of quite a few of the epistles are still the subject of debate among Bible scholars. Why doesn’t he admit this?”

Why? Because as we have shown in this article, the arguments against authenticity are simply in error.

Packham goes on: “In fact, the authorship of 2 Peter is generally acknowledged to be an anonymous writer of the second century, and not Simon Peter the Apostle. To put it bluntly, it is a forgery.”

To which we say: Refute what Glenn Miller has to say about 2 Peter.

Packham’s next section has to do withMontgomery’s application of the legal rule of “ancient documents” to the NT:

The “ancient documents rule” developed to deal with the problem arising when documents contained useful information, but there was no longer any witness around to authenticate them, because the documents were old. The rule under common law is discussed at length in 29 American Jurisprudence 2d, “Evidence,” section 1201, where the requirements are listed in order for a party to present an otherwise unauthenticated document under the “ancient documents” rule: the document must 1) be over 30 years old; 2) be produced from proper custody (i.e., the chain of custody must be shown); 3) its authenticity must be corroborated by the circumstances; 4) copies of the document may be admissible if properly authenticated, but then the proof that the writer signed the original must be made.

Packham says that only #1 applies to the Gospels, and 2-4 do not. I disagree. The Gospels qualify on #2 via the process of textual criticism, which is good enough in the context of handling of truly “ancient” documents; either that or Packham will have to argue that professional textual critics are pursuing chimeras.

His statement that “(w)e have only copies of copies of copies that have gone through no one knows how many hands. And we do not know whose hands,” is little more than aarbitrary dismissal of the principles of textual criticism laid out in the articles linked above. How many hands, and whose, is of no relevance here. The wealth of textual evidence (embarrassing in its riches) means that no single person or group could have controlled the entire textual tradition.

Thus, Packham only further demonstrates his lack of knowledge when he objects that the Gospels “show multiple evidences of tampering, altering, deleting, inserting” — what they show are actually, overwhelmingly, signs of natural scribal error, as we have shown in the article linked above. His referral to the works of John Shelby Spong and Randel Helms [not a Biblical scholar] likewise demonstrate a marked lack of familiarity with the broad range of Biblical scholarship, as does his statement that “the higher critics have pretty much conquered the field except for the most conservative evangelical seminaries.” In truth, the critics are scrambling to keep their theories afloat.

Montgomerynext points to the general historical accuracy of the NT records as corroborating the accuracy of statements as yet unverified. Packham is unlikely to be incorrect in stating that “there is no rule of evidence which says that we must accept uncorroborated evidence because it comes from the same source as other evidence which has been corroborated,” but the only real problem here is that Montgomery is applying a rule of modern law where it doesn’t belong. Confirmed reliability is often a factor in considering works of history; we are more likely to believe Josephus is right about something we can’t verify of he is right about what we can verify.

That is, unless we have biases to begin with, and Packham has one: against the miraculous. He tells us, “In the case of the uncorroborated events such as the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the ascension, there are excellent reasons to reject (them).” He then quotes from a legal work that says that anything that “appears to be unworthy of belief” is not bound to be accepted.

Now I doubt if the writer of that passage had in mind any application to the miracles of the Bible; such a statement was more likely intended to work against appeals to deus ex machina by clearly guilty defendants. (“Your honor, God put that evidence there.”) And while miracles are indeed beyond rational, test-tube proof — in the same way any historical event is — it is not our place to a priori rule them out. That is the job of the historian, not the presumption of the critic.

Packham does offer this line of argument:

Among possible reasons for not believing the testimony of a witness are listed “manifestations of mental derangement, such as hysteria, delusions, hallucinations,… not readily observable to non-experts”…Those statements of the rule pretty well remove the miraculous New Testament claims from consideration by any court.

Packham merely assumes (here and later on) that “miraculous NT claims” must have had their source in “mental derangement” — and he assumes it a priori. That is not an argument but an assertion of a pre-determined bias.

We move down, now, to whatMontgomerysays about perjury. Packham writes:

Montgomery then rules out a motive for perjury: the writers did not want money or social status, or to please Jesus. Montgomery might profit from a study of modern psychiatry and pathological psychology, where he would perhaps learn that the motives for telling an untruth can be much more complicated that those three possibilities that he rules out.

But this raises questions. What motives for telling an untruth does Packham wish to apply to to the NT writers? We aren’t told, or given any idea at all, so this is little more than vague (and vain) speculation.

Next Packham takes onMontgomery’s argument that “verbatim agreement would point to collusion” between the Gospel writers. He asserts that:

There are two objections to accepting this as a valid excuse for the contradictions. First, at many places, the gospels do agree, word-for-word. This is taken (justifiably) by most scholars to indicate that the later writer simply copied or adapted from the earlier writer. Thus, both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. They apparently had another source (the so-called “Q”) which they both copied.

We hardly expect someone like Packham to reinvent the wheel, but as we have shown here, the literary theory he propounds is far from secure, even if it is uncritically accepted by a majority of Biblical scholars who themselves are merely going along with the suppositions rather than doing their own research (which very few have actually done in this area).

Actually, the agreement is mostly with the words of Jesus, and indicates a common oral tradition in this social context. How modern legal rules of evidence might apply in such a situation is somethingMontgomeryshould have addressed, but did not. As it is, his applications are anachronistic, as are Packham’s replies.

Packham also notesMontgomery’s argument that differences in the Gospels may be attributed to “different points of view” of the authors. Packham says that this argument “sounds nice in the abstract, but collapses in absurdity when applied to specific details,” thus:

Was Mark’s “point of view” so different that it does not matter to him that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Jesus’ career fulfilled so many prophecies, as Matthew takes such pains to point out?

Yes, it was. Packham is simply not considering what (“in”)significance the virgin birth would have had in this context, and that Mark was writing overwhelmingly to Roman readers who would have had little concern for Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT prophecies (vs. Matthew’s overwhelmingly Jewish readers), since they had no tradition establishing the OT as authoritative. All Packham does here is implicitly argue that since he personally thinks that the virgin conception is an amazing miracle, so amazing that it should have been reported, then Mark’s omission of it is significant. (See more here.)

Is Mark’s point of view (supposedly Roman, supposedly Petrine) such that if we asked him why he does not mention the “upon this rock (Peter)” speech, he would say that he didn’t think it would make sense to include it?

This offers a false dilemma. No one argues here that Mark thought that it “made no sense” to include it; rather, as we have pointed out, the speech would not be included by Peter himself in his own preaching. If Peter was the mind behind Mark, then it is quite understandable why this story was omitted. Within the honor-shame and limited-good society of the NT world, to make such noteworthy claims of one’s self would have been deemed offensive. “Humility” of this sort was the order of the day for the people of the NT world and we should not be surprised at all if Peter left out his own miraculous performance and chose not to highlight places where he did things that the other disciples did not do.

How does John’s “point of view” require Mary NOT to look into the tomb, but Luke’s “point of view” makes sense only when she is reported as the first to enter it?

I’m not sure what Packham is on about here. Mary tells Peter and John, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre.” How does she know this unless she looked inside? Or is she making a wild guess? (This is probably the explanation Packham would prefer; see below.)

If we could ask John, Luke and Mark why they did not report the emptying of the graves in Matthew 27:52-53, would those authors (whoever they actually were) reply, “Oh, we were writing from a different point of view, and we didn’t think that event was to the point”?

Precisely. The event in question is not to the point for the other authors, who have a hard enough time convincing Gentiles of one resurrection (in a context in which resurrection was considered the equal of animating a corpse); they do not need the distraction of something like the story in Matthew. Those who raise these sorts of objections at least needs to become informed about the social and literary contexts of the Gospel authors and their audiences.

Further objections are equally anachronistic:

To contend, as Montgomery does, that “no gospel was intended to be complete in itself” is objectionable on several counts: 1) how does Montgomery claim to know this? On the contrary, if we did not have the other gospels, any one gospel would appear to tell a complete story. 2) It would be absurd to think that, if we had been able to ask Mark immediately after he published his gospel, “Mark, is this the whole story?” he would have answered, “Oh, no! You’re going to have to wait until the other three finish theirs… mine is just a part of a work in progress. It’ll be another forty years or so until the complete story can be known.”

Such objections are irrelevant when considering how ancient biographies were written. Ancient bioi, as we have shown, arranged material either chronologically or topically, depending on the author’s purpose. The scattering and re-organizing of the Gospel material is recognizable as a normal process. The Gospel authors had the “right” within their genre to order material as they pleased, to omit, select, and arrange materials according to themes and whatever other constraints they chose.

We know these things (though Montgomerymay not) because that’s the way that ancient bioi worked. As for #2, it is a straw man, for a) no one would have thought it was the “entire story”, for the reasons we have laid out; b) an ancient bioi was not regarded, because of its “incompleteness,” to be a work in progress.

To apply modern legal principles to the Gospels is incorrect, regardless of whether Montgomery or Packham is doing it. However, Packham does try applying some ancient legal principles:

Do we really have to remind the Evangelists that, as witnesses, they are obligated to tell “the truth, the whole truth…”? This, too, is a biblical principle: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he had seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:1, NIV translation)

Packham’s application of Lev. 5:1 is erroneous. Where has he shown that the Gospel writers had a “public charge” to round out every detail that he thinks ought to be included in their works? He merely asserts: “Thus, John’s omission of any mention of the ascension is, legally, the equivalent of his statement that, so far as he is concerned, no ascension took place.”

This is simply false. The Gospels were written in the main to those who were already converts, who already knew the details of the story. Luke alone has reason to refer to it, because he writes a continuation of the church’s growth; the other Gospels rightly conclude with the resurrection and/or commissions to be disciples of Christ; the ascension would be an anti-climax in such contexts.

Next Packham addressesMontgomery’s arguments that “the New Testament writers…were undoubtedly cross-examined by Jewish audiences, who would have ‘exposed’ them if they had been able; and we should accept this ‘functional equivalence’ of cross-examination.” I agree with Packham that “(w)e have now left the realm of legal evidence,” but we have far from entered “the never-never land of apologetics” as a result. This is the realm of critical history: We do not need a “record of any such cross-examination, of who the cross-examiners were, of the challenges made, of the questions asked, of what the disciples’ answers were,” (although we actually do have that, in terms of Matthew’s “guard at the tomb” story) because it is logical, and unavoidable, that Christian claims would be questioned.

If Packham doesn’t think so, he needs to consider the social context within which Christian claims were made (a collectivist society in which indeed a deviant group would be closely questioned and socially pressured) — see on that further here.

Packham further objects that “the disciples were not believed by the Jews who conducted the alleged cross-examination. The Jews rejected their claims almost en masse…Why? The Christians explain the rejection by saying that the Jews were hard-necked or proud or wicked. I suggest that it’s because they had the opportunity to examine the evidence almost first-hand and to cross-examine the witnesses, and saw through the whole thing.”

Indeed? Then where is this proclamation in the Jewish literature of the period and beyond? If they saw through the fabrication, why isn’t there a complete report in the Talmud? Why isn’t the explanation uniformly circulated through the Judaistic tradition? Why is the only polemic we have Matthew’s “stolen body” report?

It is further said, “Christianity never conquered Judaism inJerusalemwhere these miraculous events allegedly occurred, but only in more distant lands, where Gentiles had no such opportunity to cross-examine those alleged eye-witnesses.”

Hardly so.Jerusalemat the time of Christ’s execution and resurrection was filled to the brim with Passover pilgrims from all over the diaspora — people who would have had the opportunity to perform plenty of cross-examination throughout Gentile lands. As for conqueringJerusalem, given that the city was destroyed in 70 AD, this isn’t much of an argument, but Packham might consider Stark’s analysis that the Jewish mission continued quite successfully even into the time of the Kochba rebellion.

Packham also objects that “…all of the New Testament reports of Jesus’ resurrection (except for Paul’s own account of his vision) are legally objectionable as hearsay. The gospels are entirely hearsay. Acts is all hearsay.”

In modern legal terms, it is indeed. So is practically all recorded history, but few discount it on that basis. And Packham applies the matter anachronistically — wee here for more.

So what does Packham believe happened to Jesus? He argues thatMontgomery’s thesis “assumes that (Jesus) was dead, to start with, which is not proven. There is not much doubt that he was crucified, but not everyone who was crucified died from it (Josephus relates such an incident), and the very short time on the cross, and the whisking away of the body with special permission from Pilate must arouse some suspicion.”

So it is: Packham would rather suppose that a conspiracy took place; the supposed parallel in Josephus indicates that the person who survived was taken down quickly and received immediate medical attention, so presumably Packham would rather suppose that someone in Jesus’ circle (Luke?) did the medical honors; etc etc. — but of course, this is contrary to all data, as we show in the linked series.

Otherwise it is said:

  1. There is no reason to assume “that the statements in the gospels that there was an empty tomb are completely reliable” because the Gospels contradict each other on “so many” other points.

We remind the reader that a professional historian, Michael Grant, has said that in spite of the differences among the Gospels, the fact of the empty tomb is undeniable…and that is because Grant rates the Gospels in terms of the canons of professional historians, not based on such assertions as this: “Remember that for Paul the empty tomb was not important enough even to mention, probably because that story had not yet begun to circulate.” (That Paul indicates a burial and a resurrection indicates a resting place of some sort that had been vacated.)

  1. Perhaps “the inner circle – Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus” – were in on stealing the body, but not the rest of the disciples. So what was their motivation, and why did they keep quiet? How about developed ideas rather than random suggestions?
  2. What of the apostles dying for their faith? “Tradition has them, of course, all as martyrs for the faith, but tradition is very unreliable, and legends are easily invented to serve a propaganda program. It is also not out of the question that some disciples spirited the body away in the firm belief that Jesus would later come back to life, and then assumed that, of course, he did, or lost the faith. One must not forget the power of belief to dull and deaden one’s common sense.”

One must not forget, either, that such ad hominem is not an argument. Actually, as Paul’s own testimony shows, persecution to the point of death was a reality for even the earliest Christians — and even without death, there were less pleasant things to endure that not even “the power of belief” alone would sustain people through. Would Packham allow himself to be whipped in the synagogue over and again merely from “the power of belief” or for a body spirited away on a whim? (See more here.)

  1. We are told: “Montgomery’s dismissal of Schonfield’s theory in The Passover Plot as contrary to Jesus’ moral teaching is extremely weak, based on a Sunday-school image of the gentle savior. Jesus had no hesitation in urging his followers to abandon ordinary morality (love of family, devotion to parents, obedience to Mosaic Law) when it furthered his cause.”

What’s Packham on about here? Other than a possible allusion to Luke 14:26 there isn’t any actual argument here.

In conclusion, there is really very little to say. Whatever faults Montogomery may have had, Packham does no better. They are both anachronistic in their approaches, and Packham earns no credence as a critic of Christianity.

Response

In April 2001, Packham issued a very short response to this article. I rather expected (or hoped) for something substantive, but it turns out I was to be disappointed. Rather than broaden his field of inquiry and discussion, Packham declared rather that it was not for me to say what ought to be discussed, and my request that he broaden his inquiry “shows an ignorance of some of the fundamental etiquette of rational debate.”

If one of the fundamental rules of “rational debate” is only discussing issues as far as one’s front door and thereafter assuming that the answer is sufficient, then I would rather be left out of the picture. Packham surely realizes that this kind of “etiquette” would have had us still languishing under the theories of geocentrism and luminous ether.

What follows — after a few summary points, and an comment that originally, I had his first name listed incorrectly (which is true) — is decidedly lacking in substance. In replying to my description of the work of Montgomery and Packham as “anachronistic,” Packham first retorts with claims that I have used the word “anachronistic” incorrectly. The word and its forms, he says, are “generally used in reference to the placement of an event or a person in an incorrect historical period.”

That is correct, and I have stated previously that to apply modern, legal standards of evidence to the NT documents is an anachronism. In so doing, I am not using the word in “a completely different way, as yet unfamiliar to the compilers of the dictionaries which [Packham] consulted.” Packham (and Montgomery) committed anachronism by using modern standards of legal evidence without making adjusments for the ancient nature of the evidence.

To say, as Packham does, that “[t]ruth is truth, whether ancient or contemporary, and our present ability to examine and test truth, whether in a legal or historical or scientific context, is the result of centuries of experience, developed through trial and error by the best human minds,” is essentially correct, but misses the point. The point is that to demand that the NT (or any ancient document) meet such standards is anachronistic; likewise, to “stretch” ancient documents and claim that they pass such tests (asMontgomery did) is also anachronistic.

Objecting, for example, that one Gospel reports things that another does not is to ignore the selective literary practices of ancient biography and the physical constraints of ancient literary reportage. We would be suspicious at trial when two witnesses did such a thing, but we should not be suspicious in the genre-context of the Gospels. Unless adjustments in thought are made (which neither Montgomery nor Packham did), applying the modern standards is like shooting an arrow before the target has been placed.

Moreover, as Packham admits, “it is more difficult to apply such tests for truth to ancient times and ancient writings.” Of course it is, since to apply these tests inevitably involves some level of presumption (regardless of who does it, believer or Skeptic) because of lack of adequate knowledge. We cannot question witnesses; we cannot do fingerprint tests on the tomb; we can only reckon with plausibilities and judge with our legal standards what evidence we have. I assume Packham would be unhappy about going to trial without sufficient evidence and would adjust his pleadings accordingly.

That said, my own objections are far more oriented not to anachronizing (which proportionately, Packham devotes a great deal more space to objecting to than matches with my own objection), but to the fact that Packham’s analysis is thoroughly inadequate, overbroad, and badly underinformed. Packham’s fair ad hominem reply, that I am myself a self-taught amateur, is true essentially, but also misses the point. I make no further claim than that, but I do bring to the fore here and elsewhere on this page (and Packham admitted in personal correspondence that he has not read much of my other writings) the works of those who are scholars.

Where I claim professional status is in the ability to locate, apply, and “translate” the works of those who are scholars. Those who respond to me argue not with me, but with them. Beyond that, if Packham wants to argue about credentials, his compared withMontgomery’s might be taken into consideration.

Regrettably, however, Packham shows no inclination to take the matter to a higher level, and indeed, seems to think he has no responsibility to do so. Note these points he makes:

First, one must keep in mind that the burden of proof in any argument is on the party making the positive assertion. In a discussion of the truth of Christianity, that burden is on the Christian apologist. Montgomery asserted that Christian claims would stand up under scrutiny if legal rules of evidence were applied to them, and thus he assumed the burden of proving that assertion.

The opposing party in such a discussion assumes no such burden, but has only the obligation to rebut the positive assertions made by the affirmative side. Specifically, in this discussion, I have no burden – and I assumed no such burden, as Holding seems to imply I did – to prove that Christianity is false, or that Christianity can be proven false if the modern rules of evidence are applied to it.

The problem here is that in asserting Christian apologetic arguments to be false, one is implicitly indicating that some other scenario is true — and therefore, even in opposition, a “positive assertion” IS being made, and Packham DOES have a burden, whether he chooses to shoulder it or not — especially since he does offer a few “positive” alternatives.

Of course, in the confines of the courtroom, the attorney is not expected, if his client is exonerated, to thereafter solve the crime himself and finger the true perpetrator — that is the job of the police and the detectives. Nevertheless, this is not a courtroom, and if Packham wishes to portray himself as an authority on these matters, he will indeed have to be lawyer and detective if he wishes to sustain any credibility. Otherwise, he may as well not write on the subject. To simply refuse to engage the further issues as Packham does is, in this context, irresponsible.

Let’s put it another way. I assume Packham to be an honest attorney — would he, in the course of his research on behalf of his clients, do only enough questioning of witnesses to divulge what was needed to achieve his victory? Or would he want to go further, and cover what bases were needed to assure that he was going down the right path, seeking out any and all evidence that might contradict his position? I would think the latter.

Packham goes on:

The second fundamental principle which apologists often overlook, and which is somewhat related to the first, is the amount of evidence required to prove the affirmative case. All too often, apologists seem to want us to accept as proven any claim for which they can provide some evidence, any evidence. The error lies perhaps in the confusion in the popular mind between “evidence” and “proof,” and the resulting erroneous conclusion that they are the same. That is not the case, either in law, history, or science. In any kind of legitimate dispute, or on any issue, there may be abundant evidence on both sides. Something is “proven” only when the evidence for it so far outweighs the evidence against it that all reasonable people would evaluate the evidence the same.

Packham follows with an extended analysis which we will comment upon, but I wonder where he has found me “guilty” of what he offers above. Perhaps he is alluding toMontgomery’s work again (rightly so), but that is not clear. Indeed, it becomes very clear that he could not be referring to me, unless innocently. That can be show by going right to the meat of the analysis:

I have elsewhere shown that I am perfectly willing to accept miraculous claims with ordinary evidence. I have not yet been presented with any such claim. I also would be willing to wager a good deal that Holding, along with most Christian apologists, would reject the claims of miraculous events that are offered by any non-Christian religion (and perhaps even those claimed by some Christians). Why the rejection? Why should Holding reject a miraculous event as reported by Tacitus, or Suetonius, or Joseph Smith, and yet accuse others of bigotry and bias who doubt the opening of the graves at the crucifixion, as reported only in Matthew?

Here it is indeed clear that Packham has hardly surveyed my writings at all, for if he had, he would know that I am not guilty of this sin. I do not reject the miraculous reports offered by Tacitus (the only one I have studied to any extent in the list above) — here I think Packham most likely alludes to the report of healings by Vespasian, to which I noted, in my critique of Thomas Paine, “I have no problem accepting any of this. Nor do we have reason to doubt that Tacitus is making an accurate report. The old politician seemed a bit surprised by the miracles himself.”

Packham makes much of that I charge him with bias against the miraculous, and I say that my charge is evident in that he says of certain miracles, like the virgin birth, that there are “excellent reasons to reject them.”

Really? It has always been my understanding that in order to reject an account, one must have negative evidence for it — otherwise, the most judicious thing to say is that, “there are excellent reasons to suspend judgment concerning this event.” In loading the freight that accompanies the harsh word reject, Packham implies bias — and indeed, goes further in the suggestions of mental derangement.

Packham says he will accept ordinary evidence for a miracle. In the article he refers to (“elsewhere”), he offers much the view, though, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is perhaps true in a context which does not allow for the existence of a deity, but clearly, in a theistic context, no such evidence is required, for such events would not at all be extraordinary (save by one’s subjective experience, which is exactly the flaw in Hume’s reasonings). One may justifiably suspend judgment, as they might for any event and for their own reasons, but to extend the burden of proof is simply not our prerogative.

But now, hoping to find in my work some inconsistency, Packham lifts from my essay responding to Robert Price on Jury Chapter 6 the following quote:

“As far as the “mind already made up” issue – that is absolutely correct! Hopefully, the whole reason the non-professional evangelist is wanting to witness is because he KNOWS JESUS CHRIST personally. Their mind IS made up – and why else would you witness?!? The personal experience of Christ is so much more convincing than academic and intellectual discussions!”

Of this, Packham says, that “Holding himself discards the first requirement for the honest searcher for truth: the open mind. I cannot imagine a clearer statement of bias and bigotry than Holding own statement of his position just quoted.”

But this backfires on Packham, in two ways.

First, this selection, though I do not indicate it, is actually an insertion suggested and written by Glenn Miller of the Christian ThinkTank website when he first reviewed the article years ago. This is not to say that I disagree with the sentiment, but it is rather ironic (in light of the objections by Packham that will follow about literary sensitivity) that he failed to see the difference from my usual style.

The second matter is that Packham fails to notice the context of this comment: It is about an evangelist, not an apologist.

Now, to the matter of literary issues. In response to my point about the “ring true” test, in which I intimated that Packham was too insensitive to make discernments, Packham replies that the “mere fact that Holding calls it ‘literary sensitivity’ admits that it is subjective, not objective.”

What’s this? The word “sensitivity” is used in objective contexts, is it not? Do we not speak of the sensitivity of earthquake detectors, or of particle-sampling devices, or of our very physical senses themselves?

I have “admitted” no such thing as Packham supposes. Beyond that, Packham adds that he was asserting actually that “such a characteristic [ringing true] is no guarantee of their authenticity as history,” which is quite true, but that is not what reads from Packham’s original statement, which raises an implicit connection between “historical fiction” and the Gospels — which I say, he is making illicitly, because even the historical novels he refers to seldom “ring true” to someone with proper literary sensitivity (which Packham clearly did not achieve in spite of his literary training).

As for the objection that I “did nothing to supply us with any kind of objective test,” Packham needs to consult the analyses of Apollonius and of Chaireas and Kalliroe at the end of the very article he quotes from.

In regards to the authorship of 2 Peter, for which I provided a link to Glenn Miller’s relevant article, Packham provides no reply at all, only asserting vaguely that because Biblical scholarship (which I seriously doubt he has consulted to any broad extent) does not agree, he need not reply, and accusing me of dishonesty for not noting that scholarship.

For someone who says that the “reader should examine the evidence on both sides,” we see remarkably little of this from Packham. One wishes there would be more, but the best Packham can do is say that “rational discussion” precludes expanding our inquiry.

On the matter of the “ancient documents” rule applied to the Gospels, I agreed with three of Packham’s four points, againstMontgomery, yet somehow I am said to be “clearly on unfamiliar territory.” Not a word is said about the matter of textual criticism, which is so essential in this context with reference to Packham’s objections about “copies of copies” passing through numerous hands.

Packham also refuses any real response on that matter of the Gospel writers’ motives. We are merely given vague assertions such as, “Many false things are believed and asserted by people who are completely sincere in their belief that they are speaking the truth.” Yes, but can we establish one in context, please?

More substantive, but not by much, is a reply on the matter of alleged contradictions among the Gospels; here I am first accused of “simply rationalizing,” but when it comes down to addressing the processes of ancient literature and biographies in particular, we are told:

Yes, and that is precisely the point. Unlike carefully written, objective biographies – either ancient or modern – such stories were not intended to be factually reliable, and therefore should be used by modern historians very carefully and very suspiciously.

Did Packham actually read and understand the very article on ancient bioi he links to? No, he is exercising bias again — ancient biographies like Tacitus’ Agricola, like the Gospels, were carefully written, and objective, but they expressed this is different ways than the modern “John was born in a log cabin on December 2, 1876” biographies (which are themselves often no more than a “propagandistic story of a famous person’s life by authors who want to present that person’s life in the most favorable light, to serve his own (or his sect’s) purposes” — which does not mean, necessarily, that what they report is untrue.

How interesting, as well, that Packham cites the example of Weems and Washington — an example quite irrelevant, as it happens: That story of Washington comes from the reminisces of one person (Parson Weems), and there was no movement formed around Washington based on this event, no followers who admired his tree-chopping prowess and made it one of the keystones of their membership drives.

Packham asks the question, “how could any biographer of Jesus know the words that he uttered in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, or the words that Satan spoke to him when he was tempted?” I answered the first question (originally) in the very same article he quotes from against Robert Price, and as for the second, is it too much to suggest that Jesus recounted the discussions with Satan to his disciples?

Holding offers nothing different on this issue than what Montgomery says, and my objection is the same. Again, Holding shows his apparent ignorance of the legal issues involved.

Here Holding outdoes himself in betraying the absurdity of his argument. At least Tertullian had the good sense to admit that Jesus’ resurrection was absurd. But Holding is so accustomed to believing absurdities that he does not even recognize them. He is more to be pitied than censured.

That’s it? No critical analysis, no proof (that I said no more thanMontgomery?), no sourcework; would even this suffice in a courtroom? All we get of substance is in response to my point about Packham being culturally insensitive, with reference to refusing evidence of martyrdoms, of which he writes:

I would be willing to wager a good deal that Holding, like most Christian apologists who use this argument, would not be willing to accept the martyrdom of anyone other than the disciples of Jesus as evidence of the truth of what they believed.

I hope Packham did not “wager” his pension: I am perfectly willing to accept these other martyrdoms; but the problem Packham has with his argument here is that he has mixed his apples and oranges. The “Jews martyred by the Inquisition, the pagans martyred by Christians” weren’t dying for the sake of a historical event that they claimed to have personally witnessed.

Packham closes his response with a comment, apparently directed to my request to expand his view of scholarship: “The side which feels as the trial proceeds that it is losing the case often wants the trial to continue, to give them time to think up another argument, to find the piece of evidence that will save their case.”

That’s a remarkably ironic statement from Packham, who heavily criticized Lee Strobel elsewhere for not interviewing contrary witnesses for Case for Christ. But I expect we would get little more from his quarter.

-JPH


Response to “Packham Refuted”

By Richard Packham

Background

I received some time ago two e-mails which informed me that a “refutation” of my critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s presentation of the legal evidence for Christianity had appeared on the internet, written by “James Patrick Holding” under the title “First of All, Let’s Laugh at All the Lawyers: Or, Cheap Legal Thrills at the Expense of Justice”. One of my informants urged me to “rebut” this “excellent case.” The other challenged me merely to read it, saying that he thought I was not “open-minded enough” to do so.

I did read the article. I immediately noticed two things: Holding had not indicated to his readers where my article could be found; and he referred to me as “Robert Packham.”

I e-mailed Holding and pointed out those two oversights. I also asked whether any response from me would be linked from his “refutation.” I received a response apologizing for the mistake in my name, and assuring me that he would link to the original article, even though, as he said,

I generally do not link to items I critique because it is assumed that only those who have read the item (and therefore know where it is) are interested.

The writer of the e-mail indicated that “James Patrick Holding” is his pseudonym. He also volunteered this information about himself:

By profession I am a librarian with a speciality in research and reference. I have the appropriate degree for the field (Masters’ in Library Science) and my articles [on Christianity] are the product of self-study.

In his reply to me, he assigned me my task and set the standard as follows:

I will be looking for any response to take careful consideration of the various source material I have alluded to. You are no doubt aware of my disdain for lower-level apologetic efforts like McDowell and Montgomery’s (and I’ll add, stuff against the Mormons like Ankerberg’s, to use another parallel you may know). My point (made via my usual vehicle of satire) in that article is to make it clear that any serious critique will need to have a much broader view of Biblical scholarship to be authoritative. I grant that you may not have intended an in-depth critique, just a critique of Montgomery, but as I have said in regards to the SecWeb and their critique of McDowell, in the long run that is not enough. I perceive that you have the tools and skills to go further and would like to see you do so.

Preliminary Comments

Before I respond to the specific points in Holding’s “refutation,” I feel a few remarks are appropriate.

I find it odd that Holding is so disdainful of others’ writings on apologetic issues, when his own qualifications, by his own admission, are only those of a self-taught amateur. His sloppiness with regard to my name, his failure to see the need to refer to the location of my article (he subsequently revised his original article to correct this oversight), and his abundant use of “satire” are not the marks of someone interested in a serious and rational discussion.

The abundant use of “satire” and emotionally-charged words (“biased,” “bigot,” “confetti in the air,” “low-level,” “absurd,” “showboating,” etc., the ad hominem and flippant title, inviting the reader to laugh at all lawyers) should have very limited place in a rational discussion, and their overuse by a disputant generally is an indication of a realization (conscious or subconscious) that the argument at that point is weak. Such tone also is useful when one is preaching to the choir, when substance is less necessary. I try to avoid the temptation to use such tactics in my writings, but when responding to someone like Holding, it is difficult to resist the impulse to return like for like. So, first, let’s laugh at all librarians and self-appointed bible scholars who think they know anything about the law.

I also find it presumptuous that Holding feels that he can dictate to me what I must do to respond satisfactorily to his “refutation.” He apparently forgets that I am not writing to convince him of anything, nor does he write to convince me, but rather we are both writing for the broad audience of readers who are the real judges and jury of these issues. Of course he can suggest issues which he feels the broader audience should hear discussed, but that is not for him to proclaim unilaterally. Such an attitude shows an ignorance of some of the fundamental etiquette of rational debate.Montgomery asserted that Christianity’s claims, when examined under the legal rules of evidence, would stand clearly proven. I showed in my article thatMontgomery twisted both the law and the evidence, and showed that there is considerable reason to doubt both Christianity’s claims andMontgomery’s. Now Holding comes along, and tells us that we are discussing the wrong thing.

Summary of Holding’s “Refutation”

It will be helpful to summarize Holding’s main points:

  • Both Montgomery and Packham are “anachronistic” in applying modern rules of evidence to the New Testament.
  • Packham errs in asserting that the “ring true” test is invalid.
  • Packham errs in asserting that the authorship of any of the Gospels, or of 2 Peter, is in doubt.
  • Packham errs in asserting that the legal “ancient documents” rule does not allow acceptance of the Gospels as legal evidence.
  • Packham is biased against the miraculous, and therefore excludes testimony of miracles.
  • Packham fails to provide possible motives by the Gospel writers for writing what is not true.
  • Packham misinterprets the reason for the contradictions and the identical passages in the Gospels.
  • Packham errs in assuming that the Gospel writers should have told a complete story, the whole truth.
  • Packham errs in objecting to the Gospels as legal hearsay and in his argument againstMontgomery’s claim of “equivalent cross-examination.”
  • Packham’s suggestion of an alternate scenario at the tomb (the corpse was taken secretly, or Jesus actually survived) is “absurd” – it is more believable that Jesus rose from the dead.
  • Packham’s dismissal of the martyrdom of the disciples as evidence of the truth of their beliefs is merely “the propensity of bigots to classify as stupid or insane those who disagree with them.”

Response

Notice that Holding dismisses entirely the whole issue ofMontgomery’s claim and my critique. He dismisses it as “anachronistic,” and then does not discuss – let alone refute – the legal objections I made.

Holding’s use of the word “anachronistic” makes one wonder what dictionary he is relying upon. The terms “anachronism” and “anachronistic” are generally used in reference to the placement of an event or a person in an incorrect historical period. This occurs sometimes in poor historical novels, or in attempts to pass off a forgery as a historical document. A “practical anachronism” is when something old appears out of place in a modern setting. It appears that Holding is using the word in a completely different way, as yet unfamiliar to the compilers of the dictionaries which I consulted. He seems to be saying that it is an “anachronism” to apply modern rules of evidence, modern tests for truth, to ancient events or ancient documents. Holding thus takes the position of Humpty-Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass:

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty-Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.'”

Whatever the correct word for it is, one must ask Holding why is it inappropriate to apply our modern tests for truth to ancient documents and events? Truth is truth, whether ancient or contemporary, and our present ability to examine and test truth, whether in a legal or historical or scientific context, is the result of centuries of experience, developed through trial and error by the best human minds. Those tests are not arbitrary or capricious, nor are they inherently biased. Those tests are now universally accepted. They are rejected only by those who do not understand them or who do not like the results and unavoidable consequences which the application of those tests gives us.

Admittedly it is more difficult to apply such tests for truth to ancient times and ancient writings. But to refuse to do so for any reason is to reject the fundamental validity of those tests.

I want to emphasize two fundamental principles of those truths to my readers, and to Holding, before I discuss specific issues. These principles are often forgotten – or even purposely overlooked – in such discussions as this.

First, one must keep in mind that the burden of proof in any argument is on the party making the positive assertion. In a discussion of the truth of Christianity, that burden is on the Christian apologist.Montgomeryasserted that Christian claims would stand up under scrutiny if legal rules of evidence were applied to them, and thus he assumed the burden of proving that assertion.

The opposing party in such a discussion assumes no such burden, but has only the obligation to rebut the positive assertions made by the affirmative side. Specifically, in this discussion, I have no burden – and I assumed no such burden, as Holding seems to imply I did – to prove that Christianity is false, or that Christianity can be proven false if the modern rules of evidence are applied to it. Nor am I as the opposing party obligated to bring up (and prove) issues which the affirmative side did not discuss. Holding is apparently oblivious to this fundamental principle, when he says:

“… any serious critique will need to have a much broader view of Biblical scholarship to be authoritative. I grant that you may not have intended an in-depth critique, just a critique of Montgomery, but as I have said … in the long run that is not enough.”

The second fundamental principle which apologists often overlook, and which is somewhat related to the first, is the amount of evidence required to prove the affirmative case. All too often, apologists seem to want us to accept as proven any claim for which they can provide some evidence, any evidence. The error lies perhaps in the confusion in the popular mind between “evidence” and “proof,” and the resulting erroneous conclusion that they are the same. That is not the case, either in law, history, or science. In any kind of legitimate dispute, or on any issue, there may be abundant evidence on both sides. Something is “proven” only when the evidence for it so far outweighs the evidence against it that all reasonable people would evaluate the evidence the same.

I will use a legal context to demonstrate this point, although it is really no different in any area where rational people are searching for truth.

In American law there are differing standards of evidence, depending on the kind of issue being tried. In an ordinary civil case, such as a suit for damages for injury or breach of contract, the plaintiff, in order to win, must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. That is, his evidence must simply outweigh the evidence of the defendant. If the evidence for each side is equal in weight, the plaintiff loses. This is called the burden of proof.

Certain issues, however, require a higher standard of evidence, where more is at stake. For example, in a criminal case, where the defendant is subject to possible punishment, depriving him of his freedom or even his life, the prosecutor must convince the jury of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is highest standard because the stakes are highest. If the members of the jury have any reasonable doubts that the allegations of the indictment are true, they must find the defendant not guilty. There may be a great deal of evidence against the defendant. But to find him guilty, the jury must have no reasonable doubts.

What standard should be applied to Christian claims? If those claims are true, then it is a matter of spiritual life or death. If they are true, I would give up my present world view. I would obligate myself to order my entire life in a particular way. I would undergo some risk, if it should turn out those claims are not true, of eternal condemnation under some other, contrary religious doctrine (the Koran teaches, for example, that whoever believes that Jesus is divine will go to hell). Should we not reject Christian claims if they cannot be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt”? Whether there is, in fact, “reasonable doubt” is, of course, up to each individual to whom those claims are made. No one expects Christians to prove their case with absolute certainty. But they should at least be able to remove our reasonable doubts.

It is sometimes said, in religious debates, that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” or “miraculous claims require miraculous evidence.” I think that is a mis-statement. Evidence for any claim, even the claim of a miracle, does not have to be anything more than ordinary facts, so long as those facts are reliable, material and relevant. Apologists often assert, as does Holding, that the only reason anyone rejects claims of Christian miracles is because of a bigoted bias against the miraculous. That assertion is false, on two counts.

I have elsewhere shown that I am perfectly willing to accept miraculous claims with ordinary evidence. I have not yet been presented with any such claim.

I also would be willing to wager a good deal that Holding, along with most Christian apologists, would reject the claims of miraculous events that are offered by any non-Christian religion (and perhaps even those claimed by some Christians). Why the rejection? Why should Holding reject a miraculous event as reported by Tacitus, or Suetonius, or Joseph Smith, and yet accuse others of bigotry and bias who doubt the opening of the graves at the crucifixion, as reported only in Matthew?

Since we are discussing bigotry and bias, and Holding’s accusation that I am guilty of such a terrible thing, it might be appropriate to quote his own statement, referring to himself, from another article on his website:

“As far as the “mind already made up” issue – that is absolutely correct! Hopefully, the whole reason the non-professional evangelist is wanting to witness is because he KNOWS JESUS CHRIST personally. Their mind IS made up – and why else would you witness?!? The personal experience of Christ is so much more convincing than academic and intellectual discussions!”

Thus Holding himself discards the first requirement for the honest searcher for truth: the open mind. I cannot imagine a clearer statement of bias and bigotry than Holding’s own statement of his position just quoted. But he accuses me of “bias.”

Response to Specific Issues

I will deal here with each of the main issues Holding believes he has “refuted.” I will avoid responding to his “cheap shots,” since I assume the reader will recognize them as such and ignore them.

Packham errs in asserting that the “ring true” test is invalid.

Holding says nothing to rebut my assertion that there is no objective test for whether a story “rings true,” other than to cast doubt upon my own literary sensitivity:

The “ring true” test is far from subjective, as C. S. Lewis made clear, and as I reiterated, Packham and Robert Price, they of non-literary training, notwithstanding. Perhaps Packham is (like many) too insensitive to perceive a difference between the Gospels (especially as ancient bioi) and that copy of Danielle Steel’s latest novel in his library, and to discern how to detect “ring true” from “ringer.” If so, that is his problem, and he has no business making authoritative statements on the subject.

The mere fact that Holding calls it “literary sensitivity” admits that it is subjective, not objective. His reference to C. S. Lewis cites Lewis’ mere assertion that Lewis finds that the Gospels “ring true,” based on his lifetime reading myths as a professor of medieval literature. My own training (B.A., M.A. and four additional post-graduate years of studies in medieval and modern literature) may not be as impressive as Lewis’s, but it scarcely is a lack of literary training. What I asserted was not that the Gospels did not “ring true,” but that such a characteristic is no guarantee of their authenticity as history. In other words, Holding does not even understand the issue clearly. And he did nothing to supply us with any kind of objective test for “ring true” (except, perhaps, for us to ask him or C. S. Lewis whether any particular work “rings true”).

Packham errs in asserting that the authorship of any of the Gospels, or of 2 Peter, is in doubt.

Of course their authorship is in doubt. As I explained above, the mere presentation of evidence to authenticate the traditional authorship is not enough. The fact that Holding cites such evidence by no means settle the question. The world of biblical scholarship does not agree on those issues, even though Holding implies the contrary. Such an implication, however, is dishonesty on his part. He simply dismisses those Bible scholars who disagree with him, implying that they are biased or dishonest or ignorant. The reader should examine the evidence on both sides, and take neither Holding’s assertions nor mine at face value.

Holding displays here again that he is unfamiliar with the fundamental nature of rational discussion. He said:

This would have been a good point for Packham to start tackling the likes of Metzger and the Alands, but no dice: He rather decides to assume “for the sake of getting on with the discussion” that “scholars agree as to what the original words of the texts were.” In other words, poison the well and run like the dickens.

To concede a point for the sake of argument is a perfectly appropriate means of narrowing the discussion, especially if it is a tangential issue. Holding seems to think that such a method of limiting the issues is inappropriate or dishonest. Holding thus exposes again his own lack of training (or, at the least, his lack of courtesy) in scholarly discussion, and utilizes the opportunity to give his cheering section a chance to feel smug.

Packham errs in asserting that the legal “ancient documents” rule does not allow acceptance of the Gospels as legal evidence

Here Holding is clearly on unfamiliar territory. This issue deals with a rule of legal evidence. My critique ofMontgomeryon this issue was thatMontgomerymisstated the rule and grossly misapplied it. Holding does not – probably cannot – deal with the legal rule, but merely repeats what Montgomery said in his original argument, and which I refuted. The “ancient documents” rule does not say whatMontgomeryand Holding say it says. I cited authoritative legal sources to substantiate both the statement of the rule and the limits of what the rule can do for documents offered in evidence. Holding completely ignores this. Neither he nor Montgomery cite any contrary legal authority.

Packham is biased against the miraculous, and therefore excludes testimony of miracles

I responded to this issue above.

Packham fails to provide possible motives by the Gospel writers for writing what is not true

Holding makes the unnecessary assumption that the only untruths are made by those who do so purposely, that is, with a motive. He shows a pitiful inexperience with human nature if he does not realize that people often say and believe things simply because they are mistaken, because they have relied in error on statements of others, because they have drawn mistaken conclusions from what they saw or heard. Many false things are believed and asserted by people who are completely sincere in their belief that they are speaking the truth.

Packham misinterprets the reason for the contradictions and the identical passages in the Gospels
Packham errs in assuming that the Gospel writers should have told a complete story, the whole truth

Holding says nothing more on this issue thanMontgomerydid, and my response is the same. The most obvious mark of fictitious testimony is contradictions in the statements of the witnesses. The Christian apologist who tries to explain those contradictions away is simply rationalizing. Let the jury decide whom to believe.

Holding emphasizes that the Gospels are ancient bioi, and refers to his materials on the subject. Yes, and that is precisely the point. Unlike carefully written, objective biographies – either ancient or modern – such stories were not intended to be factually reliable, and therefore should be used by modern historians very carefully and very suspiciously. There is little reason to accept the gospels as anything more than any other propagandistic story of a famous person’s life by authors who want to present that person’s life in the most favorable light, to serve his own (or his sect’s) purposes. One thinks of Parson Weems’ beautiful (but largely fictitious) portrayal of the life of George Washington.

Just one specific example of what must obviously be invention: how could any biographer of Jesus know the words that he uttered in prayer in thegardenofGethsemane, or the words that Satan spoke to him when he was tempted?

Packham errs in objecting to the Gospels as legal hearsay and in his argument against Montgomery’s claim of “equivalent cross-examination”

Holding offers nothing different on this issue than whatMontgomerysays, and my objection is the same. Again, Holding shows his apparent ignorance of the legal issues involved.

Packham’s suggestion of an alternate scenario at the tomb (the corpse was taken secretly, or Jesus actually survived) is “absurd” – it is more believable that Jesus rose from the dead

Here Holding outdoes himself in betraying the absurdity of his argument. At least Tertullian had the good sense to admit that Jesus’ resurrection was absurd. But Holding is so accustomed to believing absurdities that he does not even recognize them. He is more to be pitied than censured.

Holding makes much about my hesitation to admit that Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter morning, when such an eminent historian as Michael Grant is willing to admit that fact. However much I may respect Grant as a historian, it is only fair to point out that there are just as many (or more) historians of equal authority who do not accept the empty tomb as historical fact. It is a point, as we say in the law, “on which reasonable men [or historians] may differ.”

Even if one accepts the empty tomb as a fact, for the sake of argument (a legitimate debating device which Holding calls pejoratively “poisoning the well”), that does not help the Christian case. The apologist apparently reasons as follows:

If Jesus really was resurrected, his tomb would not contain a corpse.
His tomb did not contain a corpse; it was empty.
Therefore Jesus was resurrected.

This reasoning commits the logical fallacy sometimes called “affirming the consequent.” It is not at all uncommon for apologists to commit logical fallacies such as this, but such arguments must be disregarded. The fallacy lies in the false assumption that Jesus’ resurrection is an absolutely necessary condition for an empty tomb, that there is no other possible cause for an empty tomb. That, of course, is not the case.

Packham’s dismissal of the martyrdom of the disciples as evidence of the truth of their beliefs is merely “the propensity of bigots to classify as stupid or insane those who disagree with them”

I would be willing to wager a good deal that Holding, like most Christian apologists who use this argument, would not be willing to accept the martyrdom of anyone other than the disciples of Jesus as evidence of the truth of what they believed. Think of the martyrdom of the countless “heretics” (people who espoused doctrine unliked by the orthodox) murdered by the very doctrinal ancestors of the modern Christian apologist. Think of the Jews martyred by the Inquisition, the pagans martyred by Christians. Does the same argument apply to them? Would those pagans have been willing to die at the hands of the Christians, unless they knew that their beliefs were true?

Conclusion

In any trial, the evidence must eventually be submitted to the jury. The side which feels as the trial proceeds that it is losing the case often wants the trial to continue, to give them time to think up another argument, to find the piece of evidence that will save their case.

The same is true in a discussion of this kind. The reader is here the jury, and must decide whether the Christians have made their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They have certainly had sufficient opportunity to do so. Like many attorneys with poor cases to defend, they often appeal to emotion in their final remarks to the jury rather than to the hard facts placed in evidence. That appeal to emotion is a damning admission of the weakness of their case.

I have made my case and am willing now to submit it to you, the reader, as jury. I think that there is not much more to be said. You must decide for yourself.

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