Did the Resurrection Really Happen? – Program 3

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, John K. Naland; ©1989
Jesus claimed he would come back from the dead. He also made statements which his enemies said were blasphemous, assuming power belonging only to God. So is he or isn’t he? Is there any way to know for sure?

Did Jesus Ever Claim to Be God?


What proof is there that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead? John’s guests for this debate are U.S. Diplomat Mr. John K. Naland, who is a foreign service officer currently assigned to the United States Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. Mr. Naland is skeptical about Jesus’ resurrection and has argued against the historical accounts in his article in The Free Inquiry, America’s primary secular humanist magazine.

Presenting the evidence for the resurrection will be Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a practicing trial lawyer both in Great Britain and in America. He holds two Ph.D.s, first from the University of Chicago, and a second doctorate from the University of Strasbourg, France, plus seven additional graduate degrees in law, theology, library sciences and other fields. He has written over 125 scholarly journal articles and authored 40 different books.

We invite you to stay tuned to find out for yourself if there is solid historical evidence that will convince a skeptic that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you joined us. And we are talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And a lot of people want to know, “Why would anybody talk about that?” Well, if it actually took place, and if there is evidence, intellectual, historical evidence that would point a person to believe that you should believe that, force you to that conclusion, then you have a basis for resurrections and life after death and all that that’s involved. And Jesus Christ would be the authoritative spokesman that would be able to speak about that. No other religious leader in history ever made such a claim as to conquer death, come back to life and tell us about it. Now, Jesus Christ did. We’re saying, though, did it happen in history? And we’ve been talking about the fact of do we have accurate information in the New Testament documents? And how do we evaluate that? And part of it would also be, “Did Jesus ever claim that He was God?” Mr. Naland, do you think that Jesus ever claimed He was God, according to the documents you’ve read?
Naland: This is a very complicated subject but I’d say “probably.” But it’s not something that I think I’m an expert in.
Ankerberg: Okay. Dr. Montgomery, what do you think?
Montgomery: Oh, no question about it.
Ankerberg: Give us an example, from the documents.
Montgomery: Well, it seems to me you mentioned last week a passage in Mark 2. Mr. Naland has placed great emphasis on Mark as the first of the gospels, so this would certainly be of significance to him. In Mark 2, which is the first description of a day in Jesus’ public ministry, there is a paralytic lowered down through the roof and Jesus says to the paralytic, “Your sins be forgiven.” [Mark 2:5] And the text says that the religious leaders standing around began murmuring, “Who can forgive sin but God only?” [Mark 2:7] Jesus doesn’t say, “Oops! You’re perfectly right. A slip of the tongue.” He says, “Which is it easier to say, Your sins be forgiven or Take up your bed and walk?” [Mark 2:9] He says to the paralytic, “Take up your bed and walk.” [Mark 2:11] Huh? The paralytic does this and goes forth. And the account says as a result of this, people believed in Jesus, what He was claiming for Himself. [Mark 2:12] The logic of it was, of course, that no one could see whether the paralytic’s sins had been forgiven; that wasn’t a visible consideration. But they could certainly tell whether he was leaping around on his own two legs or not. And so Jesus’ succeeding in the one gave evidence of the other. And the obvious point of this, at the beginning of the gospel, is to say this man was more than a man. At least He claimed to be more than a man and people believed it on the basis of empirical evidence of what He did.
Naland: Okay, excellent point. Now, when some people talk about Jesus, they talk about Jesus as though only one person in world history has claimed to have done miracles. Let me read one thing to you, just indulge me for a second. “In the first century of the common era there appeared in the eastern end of the Mediterranean a remarkable religious leader who was said to have worked miracles, casting out demons, healing the sick and raising a girl from the dead. His followers claimed that he was the son of God. Accused of sedition against Rome, he was arrested. After his death his followers claimed that he had risen from the dead, had appeared to them to prove that he lived yet and then ascended to heaven.” Now, who is this religious leader? Was it Jesus? No, it was Apollonius of Tyana.
Montgomery: Well, if you’ll pardon my saying so, that is a reconstruction of his life to make his life appear very much like Jesus. There were some similarity of claims, but the parallelism is not that strong. Even if it were, however, the issue really is not whether one claims this but whether one can back it up with sufficient evidence. In the case of Apollonius of Tyana, we have absolutely no primary source data to show that as a matter of fact he did those things, and therefore this is little more than Father Divine in New York a few years ago saying “I’m God.” A few years later a very tragic thing happened: “God” died there in New York.
Naland: Okay. If you don’t like that one, most of what we know about a certain period of the Roman Empire…
Montgomery: It isn’t that I don’t like it, it’s just non-historical.
Naland: Okay, let’s go to one that maybe will be. Most of what we know about a certain period of the Roman Empire, the Roman Republic, comes from Tacitus. I mean, if we didn’t have Tacitus, we wouldn’t know half of what we know, or what we think we know. And Tacitus records two miracles, and they weren’t done by Jesus, they were done by Roman emperors. If you read Livy and other Roman historians, they record miracles, they record beings with one eye, they record all sorts of stuff which didn’t take place.
Montgomery: My Uncle Alphonso has only one eye.
Naland: But in the center of the head.
Montgomery: Oh, I see.
Naland: Cyclops. Cyclops.
Montgomery: Oh, I see. I knew you meant that. Yes. The fact that classical writers record other miracles also, it seems to me, doesn’t cut any ice in reference to our discussion.
Naland: Why not?
Montgomery: Because we’re not arguing – or at least I’m not arguing – that merely because a miracle occurs that necessarily satisfies the claims of the one providing the miracle. It depends upon the nature of the miracle. If, for example, I were to come here with a billiard ball and miraculously grow hair on it, I don’t think it would produce a religious revival. The reason being….
Naland: You might be surprised.
Montgomery: Well, perhaps among billiard balls who don’t like to be bald. But among human beings, this kind of thing is not going to touch the wellsprings of their existence. It’s not going to reach them at the points of greatest need. If, however, Jesus actually was able to rise from the dead, to conquer the powers of death, that says something to every person…
Naland: Sure would.
Montgomery: Right. And therefore that sort of thing we’ve really got to look at very, very closely. In other words, if you come across somebody who rises again from the dead and you ask him, “How come?” And he says, “It’s because I’m God,” you’re never going to get a better reason for worship.
Naland: Correct.
Montgomery: Alright. Well, we’re trying to determine whether that was the situation relative to Jesus Christ.
Naland: Correct.
Ankerberg: What was the evidence that Jesus gave for His claim that would verify it to the people of His own day that might stand today? What’s the evidence?
Montgomery: It’s interesting that in Mr. Naland’s article there is that beginning section in which he talks about the failure of Jesus’ career. I believe it has that wonderful line in it, “Poor Jesus of Nazareth.” Yes. He did everything He could but things just didn’t work out. And I wonder if perhaps that doesn’t come about as a result of a certain selectivity of data. Because Jesus predicts His resurrection from the dead. He speaks of Himself as God. And the ultimate success of what He’s doing relates to that. He says, “Tear down this temple [referring to His body] and in three days I’ll build it again.” [John 2:19] And “Only one sign will be given to this wicked and perverse generation, the sign of Jonah. As he was in the beast, so I will be in the earth and will rise again.” [Matt. 12:29-30] And the accounts say that after the resurrection, people remembered what He had said in that respect and believed in Him.
What you have here is a person who claims all the way through His ministry that He is God Almighty and He then points to the resurrection as the key factor for establishing this. And this brings the thing, it seems to me, totally out of the realm of Fatima visions and other fascinating phenomena that you were alluding to earlier. If this turned out to be true, it would in fact establish the ultimate issue of salvation, which presumably is what all of us are worried about or would very much like to get taken care of in our own existence.

Ankerberg: Alright. Is there solid evidence in history for the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Does it make a difference to you? This is not just an intellectual exercise. If there’s evidence in real history that this actually took place, then we have a figure in history that has done something that no other person in the world has done: come back from the dead. And that One says that He is the life, He is the resurrection, and He can give us life and He can forgive our sins. We need to listen to Him. That’s proof.
Now, do we have that in religion? That’s what we’re talking about. And, Mr. Naland, you said in your article that Jesus’ ministry apparently ended in failure. You gave about five reasons why: Jesus was doubted by His own family; they thought He was insane; His own disciples sometimes doubted Him; because of His teachings some people withdrew from Him; and Jesus’ own neighbors in His own hometown rejected Him. I find it interesting that you didn’t conclude what the documents conclude of why, though, in each case.
Jesus was doubted by His own family. Yeah, if my brother said he was God, I’d have doubts, too! And James said he wouldn’t believe Him, but it’s interesting that he became one of the leaders in Jerusalem. Why? What pulled him kicking and screaming over the line after he says, “Hey, my brother is nuts!” It was evidence. And his brother came back from the dead is what the record says. His own disciples sometimes doubted Him because of His teachings. Yeah, Jesus was rugged. He said He was God. He had all authority. Jesus’ neighbors in His own hometown, they liked Him but they didn’t like the fact that He kept on saying that He was God and was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
So the question is not the fact of during His life did Jesus come into conflict, but it seems like the very conflict shows that the people and the religious leaders knew what Jesus was saying, namely that He was God. I think it’s in John 10 Jesus said, “Hey, why is it you want to stone me?” And they said, “Because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.” [John 10:30-33] So they understood.
Now the question is, did Jesus pull off giving the evidence for His claims, namely, He told these people He was going toward Jerusalem, He would be crucified, and on the third day He would come forth from the grave. Did He? The eyewitnesses said that after they watched Him murdered on the cross, with thousands of other people, that He actually appeared to them. Now we come into Thomas; now we come into Peter; now we come into the apostle John. And maybe I’m drawing the argument along here but you’re talking about the apostle Paul. And what you do is in 1 Corinthians 15, you say, Paul lists all these people: boom, boom, boom. And finally he comes to the end, after he goes through even 500 people and says, “And finally He appeared to me.” [1 Cor. 15:8]
But you say, really, it wasn’t an objective physical resurrection that Jesus appeared in a body to Paul but just in a straight vision, therefore all the rest are like that, too. Tell me a little bit more about your conclusion.
Montgomery: There’s a wonderful passage here. Would you permit me to quote you?
Naland: I have no choice.
Montgomery: “What could have caused Paul’s vision? Common sense suggests several possibilities.” (Incidentally, “common sense” is a very poor guide. I had a Professor of Philosophy at Cornell by the name of Max Black who said, “Anytime anyone says ‘obviously,’ it isn’t!”) “Common sense suggests several possibilities. It is possible that Paul suffered from an organic disease such as epilepsy which would account for his collapse. He might be referring to this malady when he wrote ‘a thorn was given me in the flesh.’” (It also could have been falling hair. There’s no indication in the account at all as to what the disease was, but suddenly it’s “epilepsy.” Alright?) “Or perhaps the heat and exertion of a walking journey under the midday sun in the Middle East could have led to a heat stroke.”
Naland: It happened to Martin Luther.
Montgomery: Oh, no, not at all. It wasn’t a heat stroke, it was a lightning storm. But anyway, to my way of thinking, this is so terribly speculative. It is just speculative. There is no possible way to establish anything like that.
Naland: Correct.
Montgomery: Well, then why do you…
Naland: I wasn’t there; you weren’t there.
Montgomery: Ah-hah!.. alright…
Naland: But some people act like they were.
Montgomery: Ah! Right! The people who…
Naland: Some modern people.
Montgomery: That’s right. That’s right. And they’re wrong, aren’t they. They certainly shouldn’t give that sort of an impression. But it seems to me that unlike you and me, who weren’t there, we’ve got Paul who was there. And Paul describes his experience on the Damascus Road and his companion, the physician Luke, describes it also, in two places in the book of Acts. And so out of this we find that this thing was certainly not a “Fig Newton” of Paul’s imagination. This was not a matter of pure subjectivity.
Naland: But what does Acts say? Does it say his followers saw nothing?…
Montgomery: Oh, no…
Naland: …followers did not see Jesus…
Montgomery: Ah, no…
Naland: …they saw a light…
Montgomery: Careful. But by the way, do you read Greek? Do you handle the Greek New Testament?
Naland: No, I do not.
Montgomery: Okay, I wondered, because in a footnote to your article, footnote 85, you say…
Naland: That’s my favorite footnote.
Montgomery: Yes, it is. I thought it would be. You say that “Acts 9 and Acts 22 contain bizarre contradictions in dealing with the same thing…” Do you know, on the basis of the Greek there’s no contradiction at all there. What the text says is that “the people with Paul were not able to make out the person who was there, but they saw a man,” right, they saw a light. Huh?
Naland: Well, which is it?
Montgomery: It’s “light.” It’s “light.”
Naland: Okay. Careful!
Montgomery: “They saw a light, but they were not able to make out the person, the individual.”
Naland: Well, what did they hear? Did they hear the voice?
Montgomery: Ah! They heard sound but they were not able to make out the words. That’s the distinction between acouein followed by the genitive and acouein followed by the accusative in those two passages. This is a clear distinction between hearing sound and making out specific words. So the point of those passages is that even the people with Paul were directly affected objectively by something happening outside of Paul. So you can’t very well say that this was a vision that he created out of… maybe he had had poor hot tamales for lunch before this had occurred.
Naland: But you and Mr. Ankerberg keep talking like we could go back and pick up the old Cable News Network tape of what actually happened. Or we could go back and pick up the old New York Times edition that morning and see what actually happened.
Montgomery: No, no. Merely Paul’s own writing and that of his immediate companion, the Tonto to his Lone Ranger, namely, Luke.
Naland: Okay, why does Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 not give details?
Montgomery: He gives plenty of details.
Naland: He says Jesus appeared to this person, that person, and this group of people. He doesn’t say where, when, what order. Some scholars believe he didn’t say because he didn’t know.
Montgomery: Well, again, Mr. Naland, we can’t second guess a writer. You cannot demand that a writer give the detail that you would like to have him give at a particular point. The question isn’t what he might have said, it’s whether what he did say actually occurred. And when Paul himself was there, he’s in a much more advantageous position than you or me. And when he goes on in 1 Corinthians after listing these witnesses and talks about the nature of the resurrection, he uses the word in Greek “body” again and again. He talks about a spiritual body. You give the impression that he was talking about a sort of spirit flitting around and that this could be purely subjective and visionary. But Paul stresses soma, the word “body,” throughout that entire passage. And the reason is that for Jews the disembodied soul was an impossible idea. Paul, if he were talking about any resurrection, was certainly talking about a bodily resurrection, to correlate it with the general resurrection at the end of time which is bodily, after all.
Ankerberg: Mr. Naland, also, wouldn’t it make sense that if this came out around 55 AD that you have people that are very vocal and visible that he’s naming? Peter was not in hiding. The other apostles were out standing in these cities saying the same thing, and he was merely reporting, “Listen, go over to this city, or even here, you’ll see these men. Check it out.” Or possibly even people in Corinth themselves. These people were well known and still alive that he was quoting, and I think that as such that put them on the hot seat. You also, I think, in the gospels have the fact that places where the appearances came were mentioned and the people that were there were mentioned again. So it’s not like he’s saying these things in a vacuum.
Naland: Okay, but…
Ankerberg: Does that make sense?
Naland: Some. You’re talking as though, if I was a skeptic…if I was a Jew, or a pagan, or whatever living 2,000 years ago, that if I went and checked out these things that I could write it down and have it survive to today.
Montgomery: Right on! Right on!
Naland: How could I, when in 312 when Constantine… the conversion of Constantine, the Christian religion became the dominant religion, and all of the…
Montgomery: The official religion of the Roman Empire.
Naland: …all of the books were burned? Celsus.
Montgomery: No they weren’t.
Naland: Yes!
Montgomery: What do you mean all the books? Not the books of all Jews, for goodness’ sake!
Naland: No, but… okay, take Celsus, the….
Montgomery: Yes, but wait a minute! We have a tremendous quantity of Jewish literature from that early period that survived in the Middle Ages and there was no systematic decimation of Jewish writings. And it was the Jews who had the primary interest in this, and the Jewish religious leaders who had brought about many of the events that we’re talking about, who had the means, motive and opportunity to destroy this if they had had any evidence.
Naland: What we’re doing is we’re reading the importance of this issue today back into time. And if you read Josephus who writes about events of this time, you see there were miracle workers everywhere all over Palestine. So why would…
Montgomery: They’re miracle “claimants.”
Ankerberg: I think Josephus is one who said that some claimed and in the documents themselves, I think the ones that I remember that he said, “A guy went out and said, ‘Part Jordan,’ seven times. It didn’t part and so they stoned him.” They had a rock party.
Montgomery: That was Thedas. That was Thedas, the pseudo-messiah. And of course there were people who went out and said things like that. But there was quite a difference between Thedas who huffed and puffed on the banks of the Jordan, nothing happened, and the Romans came in and “cleaned him up!” And Jesus…
Naland: Well, the Romans came in and crucified Jesus.
Montgomery: Ah, but then we have the little matter of the resurrection, don’t we, which is the subject of our focus.
Naland: That’s correct.
Montgomery: And, for which the primary witnesses assert facticity.
Ankerberg: Okay, final statement, Mr. Naland, and then Dr. Montgomery.
Naland: I defer to you.
Montgomery: Oh, no!
Ankerberg: Does this make sense what you are hearing, because this is not just an intellectual argument.
Naland: This is an incredibly crucial question, because, you know, if I’m wrong, there are certain things that are going to happen to me, probably.
Ankerberg: Yes, and I appreciated you saying that at the front of your article that it was of primary importance, because we couldn’t agree more. What I want to know, is the evidence bringing you toward different conclusions?
Naland: I look at the world today, because I work for the Department of State I look at the whole world, not just the Christian part, and according to the Encyclopedia Britannica 32.8% of the human beings on this planet today are Christians. And that’s kind of a vague definition of “Christian.” That includes a lot of people. And so after…
Montgomery: Did you know that in the Middle Ages 100% of the people believed that the sun went around the earth? They were all wrong.
Naland: That’s correct. So what you’re saying is that after 2,000 years that this “shining truth” has only been able to convince 32.8% of the people of this planet. At that progression it will be 6,000 years before you get everyone.
Montgomery: Well, my goodness, it…
Naland: And the reason I think that’s the case is that because there are all these religions out there, and they all have the same truth value, which is pretty low.
Ankerberg: Okay, I agree, Mr. Naland; the question would be, though, let’s say we’re going that direction. The only reason we’re going to go that direction, and you ought to be the first to hop on board and become part of the new statistics, is if there’s evidence.
Naland: Right.
Ankerberg: And that’s what we want to know. It’s not how many haven’t yet accepted it, because there’s a lot of people listening tonight that may accept it simply on the evidence alone. There was a time when I had to do it, and I looked at the evidence and felt compelled that there was no other choice: Jesus was who He claimed to be and gave evidence.
Montgomery: That was my situation also. I went to university as a “garden-variety” 20th century pagan. And as a result of being forced, for intellectual integrity’s sake, to check out this evidence, I finally came around. I think often of the statement of Pascal. Said Pascal, “There is enough light to convince anyone who’s willing to check it out. And there is enough obscurity that no one has to accept it if he doesn’t want to.” So it seems to me that the style of Mr. Naland’s approach here will eventually lead him in a different direction.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to pick this up again next week and I hope that you’ll join us.

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