Jesus Christ: Liar? Lunatic? Legend? or God?/Program 4

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery; ©1988
In this program, Dr. Montgomery, talks about the resurrection, He comments on [Hugh] Schonfield’s book called The Passover Plot.. His theory and why historically it doesn’t measure, doesn’t square with the facts. He also deals with some higher criticism of the New Testament.



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concerning Jesus’ life nothing more than legends that were written several hundred years after Jesus lived, or real historical documents written by eyewitnesses?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  • How do the New Testament documents compare with other well-attested historical documents in the ancient world?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: Welcome! Again tonight we’re continuing in talking about the evidence for belief in Jesus Christ. Is there solid, historical information that a thinking person must face? Now, we’re taking the objections that non-Christians have marshaled against the New Testament documents, the eyewitnesses that reported Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and we are scrutinizing those to see if those objections are valid. And, tonight, Dr. Montgomery, concerning the resurrection, let’s go right to the area of, many people have heard of Hugh Schonfield’s book called The Passover Plot. He advocated certain things in his book that many people believe settles the case. Comment on his theory and why historically it doesn’t measure, doesn’t square with the facts.
Montgomery: Yes, Schonfield’s Passover Plot says that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. He set the thing up himself and through the use of a drug, probably similar to a hallucinogenic drug. He survived the crucifixion long enough in the tomb to give the poor, muddled-headed disciples the idea that he had risen again from the dead. Now, a short answer to this is that if you can believe that, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the resurrection. But we probably ought to analyze a little bit more closely. Here we have a claim, first of all, that Jesus didn’t die on the cross. That is absolutely out; it is absolutely out! Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 255, No. 11, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” William D. Edwards, MD. Conclusion: Jesus certainly died on the cross. Moreover, would Jesus have employed a deceptive technique like this [that] goes entirely against his character, and would the disciples have been that deceived? My goodness, Thomas wouldn’t believe until he had contact with the physical resurrected Jesus. It’s inconceivable that the disciples would have gone along with a thing like this. And do you mean to say that the opposition, the Jewish religious leaders, would not have offered any objections to this kind of thing. And it doesn’t solve the problem of the missing body, of course, because you then have a body you’re going to have to get rid of and we’re right back to the same point we were last week. But this shows that many non-Christians will rely on the flimsiest possibilities to explain away the resurrection.
Ankerberg: Right in that area, when we talk about possibilities. People, when they’re faced with these facts, they start saying, “Well, isn’t it possible that we would have this?” or “Isn’t it possible that we would have that” in a universe that has all kinds of possibilities. And Von Daniken is one example that I think really goes out there and stretches the point of what people think might be possible, would you tell us about that.
Montgomery: Ah, yes, Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods. This is the theory that essentially Jesus was a space man, so cleverly dressed in a Jesus suit that no one noticed the difference. And because he had special abilities that human beings don’t have, he was able to do such little things as resurrections.
Now, isn’t that possible? Sure it’s possible! In a contingent universe, anything is possible, as one philosopher has said, “except squeezing toothpaste back into a tube.” It is theoretically possible that that could occur. But the issue is not possibility, the issue is probability in the sense of the solid, historical probability or solid legal probability on the basis of which life or death decisions are made.
Let me give you an analogy for this. The sheriff’s deputies get a tip that something hideous has occurred at the old mansion at Gopher Gulch. They break in, and there’s an Agatha Christie-style closed, locked room. And in this room they find the victim, divided into 18 equal-sized pieces, and the accused holding a bloody axe. He is brought to trial. It’s a short trial because the evidence is so “clean cut.” And when the jury returns, the clerk of the court asks the foreman for the verdict and they say, “We find the defendant innocent, your honor.” “Your honor” wakes up for the first time in an hour, and insists upon an explanation. The foreman of the jury says, “Your honor, we realize the evidence is overwhelming against the accused, but this is a mysterious universe, and it’s possible, isn’t it, that invisible Martians entered that locked room and with their laser guns they cut the victim into 18 equal-sized pieces, and because of their nasty temperaments they made it look as if the poor accused did it!”
Now, the judge would have apoplexy! He told these nincompoops when they went into the jury room that they were to pay attention only to the facts and evidence, and that they were not to bring in an innocent verdict unless they were convinced of guilt to a moral certainty beyond reasonable doubt. That’s what we mean by legal probability or what we mean by historical probability, and that kind of evidence exists in behalf of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as we’ve already seen.
Ankerberg: So that’s what you would say to a person that says, “I don’t want to become a Christian because you cannot absolutely, one hundred percent prove that Jesus rose from the dead.” That would be your illustration.
Montgomery: Exactly.
Ankerberg: Give me another illustration right along that line in terms of probability that should bring an intellectual to bowing before these facts and accepting Christ as Lord and Savior.
Montgomery: Well, it seems to me that all we really need to do is to analyze our own experience and see what kind of ultimate decisions we make all the time. When you meet the sweet young thing, the perfect mate, what you do is try your best to induce the attitude of that person toward you, the degree of love that exists, and you do this on the basis of the acts and the words of that individual. But you never get inside of that person to see really what’s going on there. You are inferring from the acts and words of that person that there is the kind of love that will lead to a lifetime relationship. When you go down the aisle, that is a 100% commitment to that person. If we examine our lives, we discover that our career decisions, our marital decisions, our decisions in every respect are of that nature.
Now, what we’re asking of you, if you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, is nothing different from what is asked of you in all of the ordinary experiences of your existence. We’re asking you to look at this evidence. The evidence is so powerful, it is so much greater than the evidence on the basis of which you make your ordinary decisions of an ultimate nature in life, that you should not hesitate to make a decision for Jesus Christ. Indeed, in the Bible, that’s talked about as a marriage, the marriage between Christ and the Church. The idea is that he wants to enter into an eternal relationship with you, and there is more than sufficient evidence to manage that.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break and we’ll talk more about this when we come right back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If you’re listening, maybe there are questions that are coming up in your mind. Dr. Montgomery, you’re so smart. Everybody knows you’ve got eight earned degrees; you can make stuff sound good. But all of these students that are listening, they’ve gone to school and they’ve had smart professors that have also had degrees. And they’ve heard this thing about the “higher criticism” of the New Testament, and they’ve heard about Bultmann and Tillich, and they’ve heard about the demythologizing of these documents. And they are simply saying, “Look, you’re talking about stuff that our professors never talked about.”
Deal a little bit with this higher criticism of the New Testament. Let me give you a couple of examples here, okay? With our computers today, we have two higher critics, G. H. C. MacGregor and A. Q. Morton who took the literary style of the books of Romans and Galatians and used these as standards to test the literary style of the other Pauline epistles. Now, when they threw all this information into the computer and then gauged it against these other books that Paul was supposed to write, they came out and said, “Look, the facts show that Paul did not write this stuff.” Okay? Now, the students listening to that kind of stuff say, “Look, you’re just really slick, you’re smart and you’ve made this sound really good, but what about this other information?”
Montgomery: Yes. This area of higher criticism is very important. Let’s begin with MacGregor and Morton to get them off of our field of attention right at the beginning. You heard, I suppose, of the statistician who drowned wading across a river with an average depth of three feet. Yes! The statistical analysis of MacGregor and Morton is flawed. As you say, they took the literary style of two of the books of the New Testament that everyone holds were written by the Apostle Paul, and then they compared the literary style to the literary style of the other so-called Pauline writings and came to the conclusion that these writings were not written by Paul.
Well, later on, a couple of wags took the book that MacGregor and Morton produced on the subject, fed the literary style of the preface and first chapter into the computer and demonstrated that seven different people had written their book. Now, what does this show? It shows that literary style is no adequate demonstration of authorship. And we all recognize this. Our term papers and our love letters are very different in style. Or, we have a very bad love-life or get very bad grades in school.
C. S. Lewis, who was a literary scholar his entire life, wrote an essay entitled “Biblical Criticism” in which he says that the higher critical assumption that literary style is a proper basis for determining authorship is simply wrong from a scholarly standpoint. This is not the way to determine authorship. He says people have tried to find the sources of his own writings, such as “The Narnian Chronicles,” by internal examination of style. He says, they have not been right once. And he says they were writing in his own time, in his own language.
What gives the higher critics the idea that they can look at documents in a language that is no longer a living language 2,000 years ago, and that on the basis of literary style absolutely establish questions of authorship? And, of course, if the [higher] critics were right, that these documents had not actually been written by the people that they are claimed to have been written by, how is it possible that that got by the hostile critics of that same period? The hostile witnesses stand there ready to find any flaw in this stuff, including false authorship.
F. F. Bruce of the University of Manchester had an interesting thing to say on this subject. He said, “It was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with. There were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies, not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts, which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so.” And certainly they would have exposed instances of people writing under false names.
Ankerberg: Alright, Jesus gave us the one important sign that would prove his claim, namely that he would come forth from the dead. You have shown historically that the evidence states that he did that. Now, people say, “Alright, we know that Jesus Christ claimed to be God, said that he would come forth from the dead proving his claim.” And he did, according to the information. Now, what is the importance and what should people do with that information right now that are listening?
Montgomery: Well, if Jesus rose again from the dead, the only reasonable conclusion is that he was the person he claimed to be. There are some people around, for example, a very fine and delightful Jewish rabbi by the name of Lapide who says, “Yes, Jesus rose from the dead, but he was not God. He was a special prophet that God sent to the Gentiles.” But surely if we want to know who Jesus was, we’re going to have to listen to him. If he rose again from the dead, he’s in the best position to explain this. We can’t take an explanation of someone who hasn’t gone through this experience. And Jesus says, “I rose again from the dead because I am God” and therefore we are, it seems to me, compelled to move in that direction.
Ankerberg: I remember I attended a debate that you had at Roosevelt University in Chicago with a professor that, after you had presented all of this evidence and the students were sitting there and they all came to the conclusion, “Yes, Jesus Christ actually was a historical figure that lived; he died on a cross, was put into a grave, rose the third day and is alive.” Tell the people what that professor said about how he felt about that, because there are other people that can say, “Okay, intellectually I believe Jesus rose from the dead. So what?”
Montgomery: Yeah, he said, “After all, that’s a miracle, very much like the miraculous healing of pattern baldness.” Said he, “If someone came along and miraculously took care of the problem of pattern baldness, that doesn’t mean that I would become a Christian.” And I said, “Professor, let’s say that during this discussion the door suddenly opens and the faculty secretary is there and she is shaking, she is gray with fear, and she says, ‘Professor, I don’t know how I can tell you this, but your wife and your children have just been killed in an auto accident on the Chicago Loop.’ You would say, of course, ‘How many times have I told you not to interrupt my class! What’s death? It’s just like pattern baldness.’” Hardly!
We all know that conquering the power of death is something qualitatively different from other things. And if that really occurred, if Jesus actually did rise again from the dead, then that compels us to move in the direction that He’s talking about. We’re not saying that simply because a miracle occurred one is to believe in Jesus’ deity. This has to do with the nature of that particular miracle because it cuts to the existential heart of human experience. And if you’re honest with yourself, you know it cuts to the heart of your experience, personally.
Ankerberg: Alright, summarize where we’ve come from in terms of this information. Where did we start and where have we come to and where are we moving with this?
Montgomery: Alright, we began checking out the New Testament documents to see if they sustain the value historically necessary to get a clear picture of Jesus Christ. We found that they did. And we discover that the Jesus of these documents presents himself as no less than God. He rises again from the dead to prove that that’s exactly the person he is, and that comes from the most solid eyewitness testimony. There are no philosophical ways to rule out the miraculous. And if we take the same kind of solid, legal evidence that we have to use in courts of law, we will find that this moves us directly toward the cross of Christ. We find ourselves compelled by Jesus’ successful conquest of the power of death to make an absolute decision about this. This is a decision, one with the absolute decisions that we make every day of our lives and based on better evidence than most of the decisions that we make.
Ankerberg: Dr. Paul Kurtz was a guest on our program a couple of months ago and he’s the man that wrote the Humanist Manifesto II. And when we got to this area he said, “But wait a minute, the only people that testified to the truth of the resurrection were all believers. Why didn’t Jesus appear to any unbelievers?” What would you say to that?
Montgomery: Well, as we indicated at one point earlier in this series, those disciples were not believers until the resurrection convinced them; thus Thomas was certainly an unbeliever. So there we are. But, you know, in a court of law the question is not how a person came to a particular conclusion. The concern in the court of law is whether or not his conclusion is based upon the evidence. If Jesus rose again from the dead, it doesn’t really make any difference who testifies to it. The important thing is simply that the person be in a position to have had direct contact with this man after he had come back from the dead. And fascinatingly enough, you know, the way of demonstrating this doesn’t require any great philosophical sophistication. All you’ve got to do is show that a person is dead at point A and alive again at point B. One good way to do this is to offer them a fish. Very few people will eat fish if they’re dead. Try it at the local funeral parlor. If that gray gentleman inside the door eats the fish, it’s the undertaker, it’s not the corpse! Jesus ate fish with his disciples under controlled conditions after the resurrection. This is just one of the innumerable evidences over a 40-day period to the effect that this man was alive again. Professor Kurtz ought to pay attention to evidence like that.
Ankerberg: Yeah, another way of saying it is…we expressed to him that that was like saying, “Listen, apart from the ten witnesses who saw the murder on your side, all these hundred people over here, they didn’t see it.” Well, you only need one witness to convict a guy of murder in a trial.
Montgomery: Precisely.
Ankerberg: Was there anybody that did see it, and are they credible? And we’re saying that the evidence is in and they are credible. One other thing here; what have we found in archaeology that substantiates the fact that these men knew what they were writing about? You’ve got Ramsey and you’ve got other people that started off as skeptics, and a lot of people don’t know there’s been a lot of archaeological study that’s been done here. Maybe give us one example before we go off the air here.
Montgomery: Well, it was said up until a generation ago that perhaps the New Testament writers had actually created Pontius Pilate, that such a person never existed at all because the only references to him in classical literature always relate him to the trial of Jesus. So perhaps he was a “fig newton” of the apostles’ imagination. But then, lo and behold, the archaeologists turn up the famed Pilate inscription. And there it states the name of Pilate and the fact that he was procurator there. This just goes to show that it’s a very poor idea to be a liberal biblical critic because you’ve got to change grounds every time someone sticks a spade in the ground.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take next week: “If Jesus is who he said, what implications does that have in other matters?” If he’s God, obviously we ought to do what he says because he is God. He wouldn’t lie to us. What does he say concerning the Bible? Alright, we’re going to take a look at that. And then the week after that I think we’ll come back to the area of those who say, “Dr. Montgomery, I am not a believer in God at all, and you have started with Jesus and I would like to start with the fact, is there any evidence for God in the first place?” And we want to tackle that question as we go along. So please join us.

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