Jesus Christ: Liar? Lunatic? Legend? or God?/Program 2

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery; ©1988
If you’re a thinking person, Christianity has always said you do not have to throw your mind away to become a Christian . You can investigate it from the outside and come to a conclusion with your head: “This is the truth.” Here is the evidence to back this up.



Recent surveys and polls show that 98% of Americans believe in God. But these same polls reveal many do not believe that Jesus Christ is the God they believe in. Tonight, John Ankerberg will examine the evidence and the claims of Christianity’s central figure to answer the question, “Was Jesus Christ a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or God?”

John’s guest is attorney John Warwick Montgomery, Dean of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law in the state of California and a practicing trial lawyer both in England and America.

During tonight’s program we will ask:

  • If a lawyer were to argue the claims of Jesus Christ in a court of law, what real evidence would he point to?
  • Are the biographies concerning Jesus’ life nothing more than legends that were written several hundred years after Jesus lived, or real historical documents written by eyewitnesses?
  • How would a lawyer determine whether the witnesses concerning Jesus’ life, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Peter, are lying or telling the truth?
  • How do the New Testament documents compare with other well-attested historical documents in the ancient world?
  • Is there any reason to believe we have a distorted view of what Jesus said and did because it happened so long ago?
  • If there is accurate historical information about Jesus Christ, is there any proof that Jesus actually claimed he was God?
  • Is there any evidence that Jesus ever offered proof to the people of his day to verify his claim that he was God?
  • What does a trial lawyer think about the evidence Christ presented to prove his claim of deity?

All of these questions and more will be answered during our program tonight. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Good evening. Tonight, we’re talking to those of you who are not believers. And we are taking the time to lay out the evidence for belief in the person of Jesus Christ. If you’re a thinking person, Christianity has always said you do not have to throw your mind away to become a Christian. In fact, if you’ll use that mind of yours, it will bring you to Jesus Christ. This is different than any other religion in the world. You don’t have to come into it, jump in with both feet, before you experience that it’s true or whatever you experience. You can investigate it from the outside and come to a conclusion with your head: this is the truth.
Now, that’s a powerful statement, and we want to back it up with evidence so I hope that you’ll stay tuned. This is week two in terms of what we’re talking about, and my guest is Attorney Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, Dean of Simon Greenleaf School of Law in Anaheim, California. He holds eight earned degrees, among them, two Ph.D.’s from some of our leading universities in the world. Tonight, we’re asking him to lay out the evidence for us. Dr. Montgomery, we’re glad that you’re here with us and we want to continue with the evidence for the claims of Jesus Christ. And last week we were simply asking the question, “Do we have accurate information about this person?” You claim it’s historical. Give us a little summary for all the people that missed last week.
Montgomery: Yes, last week we mentioned a debate that I had some years ago with Professor Stroll at the University of British Columbia. Professor Stroll said that the documents of the New Testament were simply not adequate to get a picture of Jesus. And I offered evidence to show that these documents are the best-attested documents of the classical world. I said, “If you want to give up Jesus Christ, you first of all have got to dump your knowledge of the classical world.” Professor Stroll said, “Fine. I will throw out the classical world.” At which point the head of the classics department got up and said, “Good Lord, Avrum, not that!” You can’t just toss out Greco-Roman antiquity because you don’t want to face the documents that present Jesus Christ. Last week we went over these documents and we showed that these documents are sound historical materials for understanding who Jesus actually was.
Ankerberg: And as William F. Albright said, they can’t be myth; they can’t be legend, because in his opinion every one of the books of the New Testament documents they’ve got on their shelf at home or in the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the time of 45 to 75 A.D., probably 50 to 80 in his opinion. But you went back and showed us it’s probably more likely under 65, right back to the time of Jesus.
Montgomery: Yes. In any case, there’s no doubt but what these documents were in circulation while hostile witnesses to the life of Jesus were still alive. And the existence of those hostile witnesses means that the writers could not have fabricated or altered or changed the material about Jesus and gotten away with it.
Ankerberg: Yeah, let’s give them an illustration. If I were to ask all the people that are above 30, where were you, and do you remember, and how did you feel when you heard President Kennedy had been shot? Most people can remember where they were, and bring back the very emotion that they had. Do you remember how you felt when you saw Jackie Kennedy coming off the airplane with that blood-splattered dress? Or watching the casket go down the streets in Washington, or John-John saluting at the casket? I mean, people can remember that vividly, but the fact is it happened in 1963, which is 24 or 25 years ago. If somebody were to come out and say, “You know, this is how Kennedy really died. There was an Indian standing on the street in Dallas, and he had a bow and arrow. And he took the bow, shot the arrow and got Kennedy right in the head. That’s how he died.” All the people that were eyewitnesses on the streets in Dallas and all the people that have watched it on television, even though it was 25 years ago, we would say, “No!” Because we’re still living. It happened that many years ago. Same thing with the Gospel records. Isn’t that what you’re saying?
Montgomery: Certainly!
Ankerberg: So that we have accurate information; it couldn’t be myth, couldn’t be legend. One other thing we didn’t cover last week. Some people say, “But listen, in these texts that have come down, don’t we have errors in the texts?”
Montgomery: Well, of course, copyists, as they work with materials will introduce what the textual critics call “errors of the pen” or “errors of the eye.” As a manuscript is dictated, they may mis-hear. As they have a copy next to them, they may mis-copy it. But it’s possible to discover these errors as the textual critic compares the texts that come from different copyist traditions. And that’s exactly what goes on in the case of the New Testament documents. And on the basis of that kind of analysis, the conclusion is that we can be surer of the texts of the New Testament than we can of any of the other books of antiquity. We certainly can be sure of the portrait set forth of Jesus. We can tell whether or not he was an Eastern guru, a seller of pastrami sandwiches, or God Almighty on the basis of this primary source evidence.
Ankerberg: It’s the same thing you have with every other historical document.
Montgomery: Surely. There’s no difference at all. And the method of analyzing that we have engaged in is exactly the method that we would use for any other document, and that’s very important. Because it means that if a person is listening to this broadcast who has not committed himself to Jesus Christ, we’re not asking that person to engage in some kind of special spiritual reasoning. We’re asking him simply to use the same kind of reasoning that he employs in every other area of life to determine the reliability of documents and the reliability of testimony, and if he applies those methods to the case for Jesus Christ, he’ll move right along the lines that we’re moving.
Ankerberg: Yeah, let me just give one example. If we take, I think we mentioned 24,000 manuscripts have come down to us, documents of the New Testament, different shapes and sizes and so on. But let’s say you’ve got 24,000 different versions of John 3:16, and you’ve got 23,900 of them that say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” And you have 100 that say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” and the textual critic says, “Well, you see, you’ve got an error there?” What was the word that was missing? Did you catch it? The word “for;” I left out “for” at the front. So now, textual criticism, for those of you who aren’t involved in it, but they would say, take a wild guess: if you’ve got 23,900 with the word “for” in there, and you’ve got 100 that don’t have it in there, what conclusion would you come to? Should it be in there or shouldn’t it be in there? That would be number one. But number two, even if you couldn’t decide that, if you would have to say, “Well, we just don’t know,” would it change the meaning of the rest of the verse? And it wouldn’t. And that’s basically what we’re covering in the New Testament. None of these scribal errors that have come down to us, even if you say, “Well, listen, we have “X” amount of documents over here that disagree with these documents,” when you put those disagreements on the board, none of them change the information, even if you can’t figure that out. Isn’t that correct?
Montgomery: Almost all of the errors, or “errors” so-called, are of the nature that you were just describing. They have to do with non-substantive matters. A very common example is to have a passage where one text will say, “Jesus and his disciples walked along the shores of Galilee.” And another text will say, “They walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee” where Jesus and his disciples had been mentioned in the preceding sentence. That sort of thing can easily be explained by copyists not following a text as closely as they might. But the point is, even in those instances, as we move back through time, getting closer and closer to the original writing, it’s possible to refine this and determine to a high degree of certainty what the original text said. It’s as if you are moving like this, and it’s true at the very tip of the triangle, you don’t have direct evidence, but you simply extrapolate. You would hardly assume that when you got back to that point, suddenly there would be gigantic problems appearing. It’s more reasonable to assume that those problems would totally disappear if you were arriving right at the original manuscript of the author.
Ankerberg: We’ve got one minute before we take a break, but this brings up the question, many non-Christians are starting to listen to you and say, “Well, listen, you really are taking this as historical documents by eyewitness writers; doesn’t sound like you’re talking about the fact that they’re inerrant.” We’re going to spend a whole session on the Bible, but to start with, define your terms. We are not taking these documents to start with for the non-Christian and saying, “Listen, we’re going to start pushing the inerrancy of the Word of God down your throat to start with.” Explain what we’re doing.
Montgomery: As we move along, we’re going to discover that these reliable historical documents with which we began turn out to be far more than that. They turn out to be the very Word of God. But, we are beginning with them as ordinary historical documents, the same kind of documents that we have dealing with other historical events. And it’s important that we move in this fashion, because we cannot expect a person who isn’t already committed to Jesus Christ suddenly to look at a Bible and say, “My gosh, every single word is true!” The fact that the Bible is written on India paper isn’t going to impress a person who has not seen what the evidence is. So we’re building up to the total truth of this material through a series of steps. Hang on. We’ll get to that.
Ankerberg: Right. Now we’ve got the fact on the board that we’ve got accurate historical information, and we want to come to the next point: what does that information tell us about Jesus? What do the eyewitnesses say? What did Jesus himself say? He ought to have known. And we’re going to examine that because there’s a lot of people, and I’m sure that you’ve heard them, that have said, “Jesus never, ever claimed to be God.” We’re going to see if that’s true, so please stick with us. We’ll back right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and if you just joined us we’re talking about the person of Jesus Christ. Do we have accurate information about this person? Was he a real historical figure? If so, and we’ve come to the conclusion in looking at the evidence that we do have solid information, now the question is, who is Jesus Christ? Who did he say that he was? And, Dr. Montgomery, you have debated all kinds of professors that have said right to your face they did not believe that Jesus ever claimed to be God. What did you say back to them?
Montgomery: If a Martian suddenly landed here – buzzzzzz, plunk! – and it had absolutely no contact with the New Testament, there would be no question whatever that in properly reading it, he would come to the conclusion that Jesus claimed to be God. Why? Because of the way in which Jesus speaks of himself; because of the things that Jesus did; and because of the clear evidence that those particular approaches made on the people around him.
Now, specifically, in John 14, Philip says, “Show us the Father.” He says to Jesus, “Show us the Father.” Jesus says, “Have I been so long with you, Philip, and you have not known me? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14:8-9] Now, Philip is an orthodox Jew. He does not believe in a pantheon of Greek deities. There’s only one God for him. Jesus is an orthodox Jew. And so, if Philip asks to see the Father, and Jesus says, “You’re looking at him,” there is only one inescapable conclusion: that Jesus regards himself as God.
Now, that’s in John. And some critics pooh-pooh the Gospel of John. They say, “Ah, the Gospel of John, that’s a late theological interpretation of Jesus.” But, we’ve already seen, in our previous program, that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness, by one of the apostles. So, it reflects direct evidence from a person who had been in contact with Jesus through his entire ministry.
However, let’s go to the earliest of the Gospels. Let’s go to Mark. In Mark’s Gospel you hardly open it, you get to chapter 2, and it presents a day in the life of Jesus. The paralytic passage. The paralytic is being let down through the roof, and the Scribes and Pharisees are mumbling to themselves and they are saying, “What is he going to do?” and all this. And Jesus says to the fellow, “Your sins be forgiven.” [Mark 2:5] And the Scribes and Pharisees say, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” [Mark 2:7] Does Jesus say, “Oops! Oops! You’re perfectly right. Slip of the tongue. Didn’t mean to give that impression.” Not at all! Jesus says, “That you may know that I have the power to forgive sins, I say to the paralytic, Take up bed and walk.” The paralytic takes up his bed and walks and the people glorify God. [Mark 2:11-12] The point being that if Jesus could do the thing that they could see, namely heal the paralysis, then they could trust him for the thing they couldn’t see, namely forgiving sin. And only God forgives sin. This is a direct affirmation of deity by what he was doing.
And you go to the end of these Gospels and you find Jesus on trial. And what is he on trial for? Not for shoplifting, he’s on trial for blasphemy. The High Priest says, “Are you the one?” And Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with all the heavenly hosts.” [Mark 14:61-62] And that’s a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 and the book of Ezekiel where the Son of Man is the divine, apocalyptic Messiah coming to clean up history. And the High Priest says, “What need do we have for further witnesses? He blasphemes! Let him be crucified!” [Mark 14:63]
Now, nobody had any question about this in Jesus’ own time. They all thought he was claiming to be God. That’s why they crucified him. It therefore is “small potatoes” in my view that some liberal theologians twenty centuries later tell us that Jesus wasn’t claiming this at all. The eyewitnesses say he was.
Ankerberg: Okay, in terms of the claims, obviously he’s claiming to be God. Father Divine in Philadelphia, I think, he claimed to be God. A lot of people are claiming to be a god or in touch with God or the mouthpiece for God. So what?
Montgomery: Oh yes! There is the story of the young fellow who went to the insane asylum and there he found a fellow with his hand in his shirt like this and the fellow said, “And who are you?” The fellow said, “Napoleon, bien sur!” — “Napoleon, of course.” And the fellow said, “What makes you think that?” The fellow said, “God told me.” And a voice came from the other side of the room, “I did not.” So, claiming to be God is not the equivalent of being God. That is perfectly correct.
Ankerberg: Okay, so now what is the thing that Jesus gave to us? Did Jesus give us anything to look at that would verify his claim that would differentiate him, make him absolutely unique compared to all the other religious leaders of the world?
Montgomery: Well, he said, “One sign is going to be given to you, and it’s The Sign of Jonah. As Jonah was in the fish, so I will be in the earth, and I will rise again.” [Matt. 12:40] And it also says in the documents that he said on one occasion, “Tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it again, and he spoke of his own body.” [John 2:19-20] And after he rose again from the dead, they remembered what he had said. [John 2:22] In other words, Jesus made his resurrection from the dead the final proof that he was indeed the person he claimed to be.
Ankerberg: Alright, in terms of that, what about the resurrection? A lot of people would say, “Wait a minute. Now you’re getting into the miraculous side of things. And intellectually, Dr. Montgomery, I mean, we’re people of the twentieth century. We don’t believe in fairy tales. We don’t believe in miracles. Okay? And, I mean, didn’t David Hume, didn’t he knock that idea right out the window. I mean, when I was sitting in philosophy class, my professor went through that with me, and concluded miracles can’t happen. And here all of a sudden you’re basing the whole story, when we get right down to it, on Jesus’ claim to come forth from the dead. Now, what about Hume, and what about the philosophical arguments against miracles taking place in the twentieth century?”
Montgomery: Hume’s argument against the miraculous is a classic argument, and it ought to be presented to all first-year philosophy students. But it shouldn’t be presented in the religious philosophy section of the text, it should be presented in the logic section of the text; because it’s a perfect example of circular reasoning.
Ankerberg: What is circular reasoning?
Montgomery: It’s completely circular. The argument goes like this. Says Hume, “There is uniform experience against the miraculous,” and he concludes from this, “miracles do not happen.” Well, if there is uniform experience against the miraculous, meaning if no one has ever seen a miracle, then, of course, we cannot say that miracles occur, because the only ground for saying a miracle occurs is observational evidence that it has. So, if there is no experience in favor of miracles, miracles haven’t occurred.
That, however, is the question. Because the writers of the New Testament claim, for example, that Jesus did rise again from the dead. That he walked on water. That he healed people and so on. These claims are there. The trouble with Hume, and with many philosophers, is that they think that they can sit in an armchair and pronounce upon what cannot happen in the universe. They must get off their derriere and get out and investigate to find out what is going on in the universe. Maybe they won’t find anything, but they’re never going to get their ultimate questions answered unless they’re willing to investigate. You cannot deductively determine an issue like this.
Ankerberg: So people actually have to look at the evidence, and if the evidence is there, then you have an example that goes against the norm, and if it stands it stands.
Montgomery: Sure!
Ankerberg: And what you’re saying is, people will not accept this because it’s going against their presuppositions or it might mess up their world view. What would you say to people like that?
Montgomery: They’re like the old farmer who went to the zoo, and previously he had seen only cows and chickens and horses and so forth, and there was a giraffe. And he looked at this thing, and he looked again, and he said, “There ain’t no such animal!” The point is that when you come across something unique and out of your experience, you have a choice. And the choice is either to stick your head in the sand and refuse to admit that it’s there because it’s more comfortable not to alter your world view, or you enlarge your world view to pick up the event.
Ankerberg: Alright. Next week we’re going to take a look at the objections that scholars and philosophers have raised concerning the resurrection. But tonight, summarize where we have come from and where we are right now. For those who are not believers, what is the importance of the conclusion that we’ve arrived at tonight?
Montgomery: Alright. If you’re an unbeliever, you’ve come across lots of religious claims. What we said last week was that in the case of Christian faith you can test its claims that Jesus was indeed God. And we started that testing with the New Testament documents. We discovered that those are solid documents, written by eyewitnesses. You’ve got to pay attention to these if you want to pay attention to any historical documents. And this week we went ahead and we looked at the content of these documents. What do they say about Jesus? We found Jesus claiming to be no less than God Almighty. Not simply a prophet, not a religious teacher in some general sense, but God Almighty. And we’ve seen that that claim doesn’t hold in its own right. There’s going to have to be evidence for it. But the evidence is given also in those historical documents, namely that Jesus rose again from the dead. We’ve discovered that we cannot rule out miracles philosophically, we’ve got to check this case for the resurrection out, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do next week.
Ankerberg: Alright, so please join us next week. We’re going to look carefully at the resurrection of Jesus Christ and some of the objections that you have probably heard at the university or at the office with your friends, and we’re going to see if we can answer those for you. And remember this, that this is not just an exercise for the intellect, this has eternal consequences. Again, if this is true, then what will you do about it? Will you commit your life to Jesus Christ? That’s what we want you to consider and keep thinking about. So, again, please join us next week.

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