Jesus Christ: Liar? Lunatic? Legend? or God?/Program 5

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery; ©1988
What view of the Bible should a person who embraces Jesus Christ and acknowledges Him to be very God have? What was Jesus’ view of the Scripture. What is Jesus’ view of the Old 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concerning Jesus’ life nothing more than legends that were written several hundred years after Jesus lived, or real historical documents written by eyewitnesses?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  • How do the New Testament documents compare with other well-attested historical documents in the ancient world?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! For many years I’ve been telling you that I believe Christianity is not just one of many religious beliefs but that Christianity is actually true. And if it is actually true, if there is evidence that we can show to you that will bring you to that conclusion, then you have a basis for placing your faith in Jesus Christ and your life will be solid. You not only can believe with your head, then you can entrust your heart to those facts. It’s dangerous to give yourself to a belief where you only put your heart into it and your head can’t be a part of that transaction. We have talked about the evidence for the person of Jesus Christ, because Christianity rests not on a philosophy, and not on a system of ethics but Christianity rests on a person, Jesus Christ. If he actually lived, if he actually said certain things, claimed certain things, and if he actually rose from the dead, then that is the basis, the foundation, of Christianity. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. Is there a credible foundation there? And our guest has been Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery, in this area give us a synopsis here, a conclusion concerning where we have come from before we start our discussion tonight.
Montgomery: We’ve used ordinary historical evidence and the kind of reasoning that is employed in the courts to look at the case for Jesus Christ. And our conclusion is that a decision ought to be made for Jesus as God and Savior. Simon Greenleaf, the great Christian lawyer of the nineteenth century, in his book The Testimony of the Evangelists said this, in summing up the kind of argument that we have presented and modernized in these programs, “All that Christianity asks of men on this subject is that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things, and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses as they deal with their fellow men when testifying to human affairs and actions in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances, and let their testimony be sifted as if it were given in a court of justice on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to a rigorous cross examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth.” That’s what we’ve found; the integrity, ability and truth of the witnesses to Jesus Christ. And so now the ball passes to your court. What are you going to do about it?
Ankerberg: I love the quote that you have in your book, Faith Founded on Fact concerning historical research. You say, “Historical research is perfectly able to determine, for example, whether Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater or fatally slipped on a banana peel in Peoria. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is in principle no less historically knowable. We can examine the evidence and arrive at an answer to this question. The people who reject the resurrection do so because of their philosophical presuppositions, not because of the evidence.” So we have come full tilt here to a conclusion that Jesus is God because of the evidence. Whether people want to believe it or not, the evidence is still there, which is a very scary thought. Jesus is there regardless if you look at him or if you ignore him; he is still the Truth.
Now, if Jesus Christ did come forth from the grave, and verified his claim to being God, there is one particular area that drives intellectuals crazy and that is when they hear Christians talk about the Word of God, the Bible. And I would like you to start us off in this area as to what should a person who embraces Jesus Christ and acknowledges him to be very God and invites him to be the Savior of their life, to forgive them of their sins, when they embrace Christ as Lord and Savior, what view should they also embrace concerning the Bible? Start us off.
Montgomery: Well, the simple answer to this question is that the Christian needs to take the same view of the Bible that Jesus took of it. There is that old line, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” And it’s essential that Jesus’ approach to the Bible become the position of those who believe in him. And Jesus’ position on the Bible is perfectly plain. This may come as a shock, but Jesus was a fundamentalist when it came to the Old Testament. He believed the whole thing, he quoted from all portions of it, he slapped a quotation from one book right next to a quotation from another, and he sometimes blended them. He had absolutely no interest in the sociological or historical circumstances of the writings. He considered the whole business to have one single author, namely God Himself. When Jesus quotes the Old Testament, he uses the formula, “It is written,” gegraptai. That’s a passive in the Greek with an implied personal agent, and the personal agent is God. It is written, by God, and therefore it is true.
Ankerberg: But some people will say, Dr. Montgomery, that, you know, Jesus was a Jew and was actually talking to other Jews that believed it was the Word of God and so therefore he was just accommodating himself to what other Jews believed. He wouldn’t go against the grain.
Montgomery: Yeah, that’s one version of the infamous “kenotic” theory or “kenosis” theory, that there is a limitation in Jesus. Interestingly enough, the people who maintain this take the things Jesus says as absolute when the things agree with them, but the minute Jesus says something that they don’t like, suddenly Jesus is suffering from a limitation. That makes one wonder about the theory in itself. But let’s look at the theory closely. There are two versions of it. One is that Jesus intentionally accommodated himself. The other is that in becoming man, he had to become accommodated; that this occurred apart from any decision on his own part.
Well, if you say that Jesus accommodated himself, then that means that he committed the worst of all moral faults, that “the end justifies the means.” He actually gave false information to people, knowing that it was false, but did so just not to disturb them. See? They weren’t up to higher criticism at that point, so he goes along with this idea that the Bible is reliable.
But this is ridiculous. For one thing, Jesus criticizes his contemporaries right, left and center on all sorts of things that are basic to them. For example, he goes after the Jewish religious leaders on their view of God. Do you think he would do that and accommodate himself on their view of the Bible if that view of the Bible actually had been false?
The other version of this is that in becoming man, he couldn’t help himself. In becoming man he ended up limited to the knowledge of his time. This suffers from an extreme fallacy logically. If God becomes man, but in doing so he is limited to the human sphere of knowledge, the end result is that you get no revelation at all. You would only get revelation if God remained God in his knowledge when he comes to you.
For example, let’s say that I come to Chattanooga and I have my white beard and my long prophet’s robe and I say, “Greetings, you thought it was mere Montgomery. Not in the slightest. It happens to be God.” And then I give a speech containing historical errors, scientifically erroneous information, and after finishing it I kick a little dog who has been bothering me. And you say to me, “Just a minute, didn’t you say you were God?” I say, “Certainly, but you don’t seem to understand. When God comes to earth, he ends up exactly like anybody else.”
Of course, your reaction to this is, “That kind of a God I can do without!” because I haven’t given you anything that you didn’t have to begin with. So, if there is the genuine appearance of God on earth in Jesus Christ, you can rely on what he says.
Ankerberg: Not only that, but we have Hebrews… in the book of Hebrews we find out where God says he does not lie [Heb. 6:18], and then you find in John 8 where Jesus said that he got every word from the Father. [John 8:28]
Montgomery: Yes. Incidentally, in the 17th century the philosopher Descartes asked the question, “Well, maybe God could be a liar… a cosmic liar?” And so he did a little treatise on the subject. But the end result of this was that Descartes realized that if God were a liar, he would be cleverer at it than any human being would ever be at detection, so it would be a totally meaningless kind of question anyway. Right? You could never catch him at it. So, if you do come across God, there is no question as to his truth-telling ability. That’s the time for you to shut up and listen.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to come back and we’re going to talk about the fact of what’s going on in some of our denominations and do it via, what is Jesus’ view of the Old Testament? What is Jesus’ view of the New Testament? What information does he tell us? Define the word “inerrant,” and of course that has a bearing on what’s going on in the Southern Baptist Convention and some of the seminaries and also in some of the other denominations. So you won’t want to go away. Hang in there, we’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright we’re back. We’re talking about, “What was Jesus’ view of the Scripture?” Since we have found from the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead proving his claim that he was God, now that he is God, what does he have to say concerning the Scripture? Dr. Montgomery, what is Jesus’ view of the Old Testament, including Genesis, including Adam and Eve, including Noah and including Jonah, these figures that have caused such a problem to many scholars? What do you think Jesus would say to that?
Montgomery: Well, it’s not what I think he might have said, he actually did make judgments on each of those Old Testament passages which modern man considers so silly and childish. Jesus considered all three of those passages to represent historical fact. He believed that there had been two first parents, Adam and Eve; he held that there was a flood and a Noah who escaped from it; and that Jonah was actually swallowed by the sea beast. He says, for example, about the bill of divorcement, Moses’ bill of divorcement, “From the beginning it wasn’t so.” [Matt. 19:8] And then he quotes the passage in Genesis, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two shall be one flesh.” [Matt. 19:5] So Jesus considered the Adam and Eve story to be at the beginning, at the beginning of human history and the basis of the covenant of marriage.
And He says of the flood and Noah, “As it was in the days of Noah so it will be when the Son of Man comes again.” [Matt. 24:37] He parallels the flood with his own second coming, which he clearly believed was a historical event in the future. And he says, as we’ve already noted in the series, that only one sign will be given unto this generation to prove the truth of his claims, The Sign of Jonah. “As Jonah was in the beast, so I will be in the earth.” [Matt. 12:40] The Greek word there that he uses is the strongest comparative in the language, kathos, even as Jonah was in the beast, so I will be in the earth and rise again.” So, he parallels Jonah with the central event of the Gospel, the resurrection.
Ankerberg: Yeah, it wouldn’t have made sense to compare a historical event with mythology.
Montgomery: Hardly.
Ankerberg: About Jesus’ view concerning the New Testament? Obviously it wasn’t written at that time, so how do we know that Jesus even talked about the New Testament?
Montgomery: Well, what he did was to promise his apostles a special gift, a special gift from the Holy Spirit. And that gift is the basis of the church’s collection of the writings of apostles, and the writings of close associates of apostles, to comprise the New Testament. The gift is described in John. He says, “It’s expedient that I go away, [the] Holy Spirit will come and He will bring to your remembrance all things whatsoever I have told you.” [John 16:7] That’s in the same passage where he says, “he will lead you into all truth.” [John 16:13] Those are specific gifts given to the apostles, they are not general gifts for the whole church. Now, obviously, you and I can’t have the things Jesus told us brought to our remembrance. That has to do only with those people. We call that today, probably in psychological terms, the gift of total recall. The Holy Spirit provided total recall to that apostolic group. So of course the church collected their writings. Their writings consist of the teachings of Jesus which will be accurately set forth for future history. And we see that that situation applied even in the case of Paul.
Now, Paul wasn’t among those original apostles, but Paul is accepted by the original apostolic group as a genuine apostle when he comes to them. And so it’s like this: Jesus puts his stamp of approval, his “Good Housekeeping stamp of approval” on the foreheads of the eleven apostles to set forth accurately what Jesus said. And then the eleven apostles stick their “Good Housekeeping stamp of approval” on Paul as a legitimate member of their company. And we see as early as Peter’s writings that this kind of thing is going on, that the New Testament writings are on the same level as the Old Testament. Peter says that some people are wresting or turning Paul’s writings out of context, they’re twisting them out of context “as they do the other Scriptures.” [2 Pet. 3:16] And he uses the expression ta graphe, “the writings”, which is the expression for the Old Testament. So as early as that, Paul’s writings are being treated as Scripture.
Ankerberg: Yes. Alright, now, we’ve got Jesus putting his stamp of authority on the Old Testament and the New Testament. To what extent does that authority go? In other words, obviously in the Southern Baptist Convention you’ve got the Conservatives and you’ve got the Moderates. And you’ve got the Conservatives and the Liberals in other denominations, and the question is, “Can we trust the Bible completely or just in certain areas?” Is the Bible totally true in what it conveys, or is it true in just salvation matters?
Montgomery: The first thing to know is that Jesus made no distinctions as to truth and error in Scripture. Everything that Jesus says about Scripture speaks of its truth. So, if we introduce the distinction between, say, the spiritual stuff that’s okay and the secular stuff that isn’t, it’s our distinction, it isn’t Jesus’ distinction.
Secondly, what kind of distinction is this? It is a very poor distinction, because you can’t divide up the totality of knowledge except arbitrarily. To keep us from going crazy we divide up the sciences from the humanities and then among the sciences we divide physics and chemistry and biology and we divide art and literature and history and so forth. But we know that all of these blend. There are no sharp lines in reality at all. And the deeper you go into any field, the more it takes you into other fields.
So, since all knowledge is one and interconnected, if we say the Bible is okay in spiritual matters but it isn’t okay in secular matters – geography, history, science – the fact of the matter is that we will find that it’s not okay in the spiritual matters either, because these blend totally the deeper you go. And in Scripture that’s especially the case, because Scripture deals with God becoming man, eternity entering time. And thus you can’t make ultimately a secular/spiritual distinction in Scripture that will hold.
Example: The death of Christ on the cross. Is the death of Christ on the cross a historical event or is it a theological event? That’s like the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Any answer you give to that will foul you up. The fact is that the death of Christ on the cross is a theological event because it is a historical event. If it didn’t actually happen in history, if it isn’t sound as a secular fact, it’s worthless as a theological fact. Therefore, the liberals who tell you that you don’t have to go along with the secular stuff in Scripture are actually undercutting the foundations of the entire theology of the Bible.
Ankerberg: Share with these people when you went to hear Karl Barth. Karl Barth was probably one of the most conservative of the liberals but what did he do when he got to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Montgomery: Karl Barth said, “You can’t investigate it because it occurred in a special realm of history,” outside of ordinary history. He called it “super-history” or “hyper-history,” geschichte in German, as opposed to history. And he said it really occurred, but you can’t check it out. Well, what does this do? It leaves you with a faith that floats up here, having no foundation in reality. And it may work all right among those who are already believers, but that’s the quickest way of making the Christian faith of no use or interest to a non-Christian at all. No non-Christian is going to go along with a thing like that anymore than a non-Christian goes along with some notion of God hundreds and millions of miles beyond any possible telescopic investigation on earth. You put God in a position where he can’t be checked out, and obviously it leaves the non-Christian with no opportunity to check it out.
Ankerberg: What does the word “inerrancy” mean and how would we come to the conclusion that Jesus took a view on inerrancy one way or the other?
Montgomery: Okay. Inerrancy simply means that the Bible does not err, it does not have errors in it. Now, it may be an unfortunate term in the sense that it’s a negative term. Maybe it would be better to speak positively, to say the Bible is totally true, to speak of it positively. But as Humpty Dumpty says in Alice in Wonderland, “I can use a word any way I want as long as I pay it extra.” So it’s not a question of the particular word it’s a question of the concept. And the issue is: Does the Bible always present the truth exactly as God wants? Jesus thought it did. Contemporary liberal biblical scholars and moderates think it doesn’t. Now, there is a tremendous difference between the two. Jesus rose from the dead and is God. The last news bulletin that I have received does not indicate that the liberal biblical scholars or the moderates have risen again from the dead nor that they are God. And therefore if you are presented with a choice between Jesus’ approach to the Bible and their approach to the Bible, the only rational and sound way to go is the direction in which Jesus went.
Ankerberg: Take us back; give us a summation of what you’ve said tonight concerning the character of the Bible, the truthfulness of the Bible and how we got there for the intellectual that is listening.
Montgomery: It may be having heard this program you think that there is some kind of subtle, circular reason going on in arriving at our conclusion that the Bible is totally true. Aren’t we actually beginning with Jesus’ own statements on it, and don’t they come from the Bible? Well, this isn’t circular reasoning. What we’ve done is this: we’ve begun with the New Testament documents as ordinary historical documents and checked them out as we would any other documents. They have led us to the conclusion that Jesus is God. Then we look at what he has to say in these good historical documents and we discover that the whole Bible, including those very documents, turn out to be far more than anything we had expected to begin with. They turn out to be the inerrant Word of God. It’s sort of like buying a field and thinking that you’re going to use it for agriculture and you strike oil. What we’ve done is, by this process, to find that the Bible is totally reliable.
Ankerberg: I hope that you’ve enjoyed this tonight. Next week we’re going to continue. We’re going to go back to the beginning, because even though the Gallup Poll has shown that the majority, some 90% of Americans, believe in God, there’s a small percentage that do not even start with the concept of God. And we’re going to talk about what is the evidence that you would give, that you could present to a person who is an atheist, who says, “I do not believe that God exists at all.” How do we start? We’re going to hear that next week so I hope that you’ll join us.

Read Part 6

Leave a Comment