Tough Questions About God – Program 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Jack Harris, John Warwick Montgomery, Dr. Norman Geisler, Dr. Paul Kurtz, Dr. Walter Martin, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. R. C. Sproul, and Dr. John MacArthur; ©1998|
|Is it true that miracles can’t happen? Can legal reasoning help us decide the veracity of the resurrection? Was the resurrection a psychological miracle rather than a physical miracle?|
What Objections Have Been Raised Against the Resurrection of Jesus?
Besides the major religions in our world, there are thousands and thousands of religious groups all claiming different ways to God. But Jesus taught that He is the only way to God; there is no other way. Who is right? Logically, Jesus or one other religious leader could be right; but they both can’t be right at the same time if they are saying contradictory things. What evidence will help us decide and come to a conclusion?
If you are a Christian, do you know how to answer the tough questions about God that people are asking? The Bible says, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” [1 Pet. 3:15] Can you do that?
On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show, we’ll present the evidence that will strengthen your own faith and help you assist those who are sincerely searching for the truth. Join us today as we examine some of the tough questions about God.
- Ankerberg: Every one of us knows that someday we’re going to die. Psychologists tell us that death is a subject that lurks in the background of our minds on a weekly if not a daily basis. Most people fear death and wonder what will happen after they die. Christianity says someone has conquered death and His name is Jesus Christ. He conquered death because He was God in human flesh and had the power to do so. His resurrection from the dead is proof to all men and women living on the earth that His claim to being God is true.
- Further, Jesus said He is willing to help sinners like you and me. He promises, at the moment we die, He will take us to live eternally with Him in Heaven. If we place our trust in Him, He promises we will never be punished for any of the sins we have done in our life.
- Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Then He asked the question, “Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]
- Let me ask you, do you believe Jesus? Maybe today, you’re facing death because of age or disease. Because none of us know when we will die, we need to be prepared. Princess Diana is a good example of this fact. In other words, it’s time for all of us to get serious about this topic. Either Jesus is telling the truth or He isn’t. Jesus can either forgive your sins or He can’t. He can either give you eternal life or He can’t. If He can do all of this and you don’t take advantage of His offer, the Bible says you’re going to be in deep trouble when you die. You’ll face God and have to take the punishment for the sins of your life yourself. The Bible warns and says, you don’t want to do that.
- But how do we know Jesus can deliver? How do we know that Jesus actually died on a cross, was buried and rose again on the third day and is living now? What about the philosophers and skeptics who claim that there is no real evidence for a thinking man to believe? What about David Hume’s philosophical arguments against the miraculous, hence, against the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?
- Trial attorneys know all about evidence. In one of our programs I invited law professor and practicing trial attorney Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a man who has two earned Ph.D.s, to lay out the evidence and answer these questions. I’d like you to listen:
- [Excerpt from Was Jesus Christ a Liar, a Lunatic, a Legend or God?]
- 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. 12:39-40; Luke 11:29-30] 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] And after He rose again from the dead, they remembered what He had said. In other words, Jesus made His resurrection from the dead the final proof that He was indeed the person He claimed to be.
- Ankerberg: Now, what about Hume, and what about the philosophical arguments against miracles taking place in the twentieth century?”
- Montgomery: Most philosophical arguments against the miraculous derive from the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume. And Hume engaged in a perfectly circular piece of reasoning. He said that there is uniform experience against the miraculous and he therefore concluded that miracles don’t occur. But that’s, as C. S. Lewis has pointed out, just two ways of saying the same thing. It’s like saying if miracles don’t occur, why then miracles don’t occur.
- Unfortunately, there’s been a tendency in the history of philosophy for philosophers to assume that you can solve problems as to the nature of things by some kind of deductive reasoning from first principles. But this is a very mysterious universe. It is a relativistic universe. We are living in an age of Einsteinian relativity, and we know perfectly well that the universe is too large to be embraced in that kind of deductive formulation. The only way we can find out that anything exists is to check the evidence for it. And that shows a difference in perspective on the part of philosophers in many instances from that of lawyers. Lawyers deal with the particulars of evidence.
- Fascinatingly enough, there are some philosophers who have begun to recognize that the lawyers’ approach would be more helpful even in the field of philosophy. Stephen Toulmin, in his book The Uses of Argument, has said let’s use the model of jurisprudence, because lawyers are concerned with investigating evidence and drawing conclusions on the basis of the evidence. And so it seems to me that if we want to deal with the question as vital to religious truth as the question of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we’ve got to turn from philosophical speculation to the facts, to the evidence.
- Ankerberg: Okay, why are we getting all excited about the resurrection in the first place? Why is it important to those that are listening?
- Montgomery: Because if a person honestly looks within himself, he knows that the problem of death is at the very heart of his own experience. Existentialists have pointed out that only in death does life become truly meaningful. Great litterateur have used this as a central theme for what they have done. And psychologists tell us that we think about our own death perhaps once a week, maybe even more frequently. We know that this is the over-arching problem that we face. So, if someone comes along and says, “I can solve that problem. He who believes in me shall never see death.” [John 11:26] And He goes ahead and He demonstrates that He can conquer death. Well, you’ll never have a better reason for worship as long as you live.
- Ankerberg: Why is it that many of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith have been lawyers? And what do you think most of those lawyers would say about Paul Tillich’s statement that even if the resurrection didn’t take place, it wouldn’t hurt the Christian faith. You could still have the Christian faith without the historical event of the resurrection. What do you think most of the lawyers would say about that?
- Montgomery: Well, it’s fascinating to see what a legal scholar recently had to say about that kind of liberal reasoning. He wasn’t referring specifically to Tillich, he was referring to those higher critics of the Bible that say, “It doesn’t make any difference whether this material is sound historically. We can still have a ‘faith experience’ in Jesus,” this kind of business. The man is Professor Sherwin White. He is an English scholar, and delivered a series of lectures at the University of Oxford, a lecture series entitled “Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.” And he uses the New Testament as a basis for his conclusions about the nature of the Roman legal system.
- So he finally had to come down to the question of how sound those documents were. And he said, “I listen to liberal theologians, and the liberal theologians give me the impression that you can’t get any kind of solid historical picture of Jesus, and that it doesn’t make any difference.” Says Sherwin White, “This is very curious.” (“Curious” is the English equivalent of “Nutty” in American English.) “This is very curious, when we look at these documents, because we look at them and they purport to be setting forth historical fact.”
- The people say, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the facts concerning Jesus. We were eyewitnesses of Him.” [2 Pet. 1:16] And Sherwin White says, “We compared this with the other documents of antiquity, and both are trying to do the same thing.” He says, “Take the best known contemporary of Jesus Christ, Tiberius Caesar. What we know of Tiberius comes from four documents. Four documents. And none of them is as good as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And yet, we all consider that the evidence is sufficient for a decent historical picture of Tiberius Caesar.”
- So, Sherwin White is saying, from a lawyer’s perspective, “These theologians are a strange breed of cat. What we ought to do is to get down to the evidence and stop a great deal of the speculation that they are engaged in.”
- Ankerberg: As both a theologian and an attorney, what do you think about Tillich’s statement?
- Montgomery: I think it’s nonsense. If Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead, I would instantly seek another profession or kill myself, probably the latter, because life would not have any meaning. The fact is that the truth of Christianity is directly dependent upon whether Jesus rose again from the dead.
- Ankerberg: How can legal reasoning assist in coming to a conclusion whether or not the resurrection occurred? Why is it that so many lawyers that have looked into this have become Christians?
- Montgomery: If the evidence is evaluated by the same standards that apply in any legal case, the result is the conclusion that Jesus rose again from the dead. And since lawyers are experts in evidence and testimony, that means a great deal to them, concretely. There was a book done some years ago, not by a lawyer but by a man who was very much influenced by legal reasoning, Frank Morison. The book is entitled Who Moved the Stone? It’s a classic of Christian apologetics. In this book, Morison reasons as a lawyer. He says, “If Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, you’re going to have to explain the missing body on Easter morning.”
- The missing body. Now, bodies do not walk out of tombs unless there is a resurrection. So, if Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, someone must have taken it. There are only three interest groups in the situation: the Romans, the Jewish religious leaders, and the disciples. Would the Romans have stolen the body? Are you kidding? They are not in the provinces engaging in body snatching. They had no interest in doing so. To the contrary, they would have wanted, as Pilate did, to keep things quiet at all costs and certainly, leaving the body where it was would achieve that.
- The Jewish religious leaders were the very last people on the face of the globe to want to steal the body, because they were at a disadvantage if even a rumor got started that Jesus had risen again from the dead. Indeed, they went to the Romans, asked for a guard for the tomb so that no rumors would start about the resurrection.
- What about the disciples? Well, listen to this closely. If the disciples had stolen the body, they then would have gone out and died for something they knew to be untrue. Now, people die for things that are untrue; I mean, all the way through history people have died for lame-brained religious ideas. But it’s one thing to die for something you think is true and it isn’t, and a very different thing to die for something you know very well is untrue.
- Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History in the fourth century has one of his very few humorous paragraphs on the subject in which he suggests that the disciples are sitting around after Easter and they say, “Well, of course, He didn’t rise again from the dead and we took the body and all that, but let’s go out and tell people that He rose again from the dead. Won’t it be fun! Of course, we’ll lose all our property. We’ll lose our friends. And let’s see, they crucified Him, there’s no telling what they’re going to do to us, but it’ll be fun. Let’s go ahead and do it anyway!” I mean, this is just psychologically out of the question.
- [end excerpt]
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re talking about, “Is there solid evidence to believe that Jesus actually physically, bodily rose from the dead?” Right now we are going to examine one of the more contemporary objections to the resurrection raised by Professor Antony Flew. He claimed that what we are dealing with in the New Testament is a psychological miracle, not a physical miracle. That is, Professor Flew thinks Jesus’ resurrection from the dead took place in the minds of the disciples, Jesus didn’t literally, physically come forth from the dead. Obviously, this is not what the apostles said, nor what Christians believe. Dr. Montgomery will tell us why. Then, we will turn our attention to Hugh Shonfield’s The Passover Plot in which he claimed Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, He just swooned and later was resuscitated. Listen:
- [Excerpt from Was Jesus Christ a Liar, a Lunatic, a Legend or God?]
- Ankerberg: What about Antony Flew’s objection that the disciples wouldn’t have taken the body of Jesus?
- Montgomery: Well, Antony Flew attempts to deal with the last element of the argument I’ve just presented by saying, “Yes, it would be a psychological miracle for the disciples to go out and preach the resurrection after they themselves had stolen the body. But, says Flew, as a skeptic, “I prefer that psychological miracle to a biological miracle, namely, the resurrection.”
- Sounds pretty good, but, of course, Christians are not people who prefer biology to psychology. The reason that Christians go along with the resurrection is because of the eyewitness evidence to it. Had there been eyewitness evidence to the disciples having a screw loose somewhere, then Christians would probably go along with that. You know, if earlier writers said, “Ah, those disciples! They’re always doing things against their interests. They really are crazier than March hares!” That would be one thing. But the testimony that we have, the firsthand testimony is that they were sane, sober people. And so you cannot suddenly opt for a psychological miracle over against all the evidence.
- The difference between Flew and Christians, especially Christian lawyers who dealt with this, is not that Christians prefer one style of miracle over another. The difference is this, and it’s extremely important: Skeptics really are bothered by facts. They don’t want to face facts; whereas Christians place their beliefs directly on historical fact.
- Ankerberg: Not only that, but the fact is that if you’re saying they went out because it psychologically made them feel good, then you are really passing up the truth question of whether they should have felt good or not. And that’s exactly what Christianity does when we talk about all these other religions, that they also have a feeling. We are saying many times, and maybe to people that are looking in that have a religious belief that is different than Christianity and it feels good. They’re comfortable. They’re psychologically in tune with that belief. The problem is, there’s no foundation. There’s no factual basis for it. Wouldn’t that be the same thing?
- Montgomery: Yes, that’s quite right. And I think it’s extremely important to distinguish between truth and feelings. Now, we all have feelings, and the feelings are terribly important; but we’ve got to be so careful that we don’t allow feelings to mislead us. And in the area of religion it’s so easy for that to happen. You know, we mentioned Jonestown. The people who drank the spiked lemonade down there in British Guyana certainly had the greatest religious feelings toward Jim Jones, but the result was a perfect tragedy.
- Some of you may have seen the film version of “Cabaret.” At one point the camera pans a little German town and there is a young, handsome blonde member of the Hitler youth movement and he’s singing folk songs and you can see the expressions on the faces of these German citizens. Hope is coming back into their lives. They have something now that they didn’t have before. Sure! And what they actually ended up with was a demonic kind of belief that resulted in the death of six million Jews, political prisoners, Christians and everybody else.
- We’ve got to be sure that our religious beliefs and feelings are based in the truth. And the truth is that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. All of the alternative explanations are out. They simply do not wash. And we are left with the eyewitness testimony over a 40-day period that Jesus rose again from the dead and that He had conquered the powers of death.
- Ankerberg: I want to come back to this thing that we were talking about, the fact of how can legal reasoning assist us in evaluating the resurrection. I’m thinking of people that are saying, “You know, it sounds pretty good what you’re talking about. It sounds pretty good, this thing about the resurrection. But, hey, fellow, you’re asking me to commit my entire life to this?” And I’m reminded of Lessing’s ugly ditch. Hey, you’ve got a historical event going here, but it’s not a hundred percent certainty. You’re talking probability, but you’re asking me to commit my entire life to that thing. Now, as a lawyer, help us out. I think you’re coming down the right line there.
- Montgomery: Yeah, that’s where lawyers can help also, because in the proof of facts in legal cases, the test is probability. The test is not absolute certainty or mere possibility. The fact of the matter is that where any facts are concerned, you never can get evidence that reaches 100% certainty. You can’t do it. The only place you can get a 100% certainty in any form of reasoning is a purely formal reasoning in which you define the certainty in to begin with. For example, in this statement: “All husbands are married.” That statement is absolutely certain. It’s certain because you’ve defined the certainty in by defining the terms. The minute you move off of that sort of statement to questions of fact, like “Is there a book on this table?” You’ve got to rely on probability.
- Now, does that mean that we can’t make any ultimate commitments? Hardly! We make ultimate commitments on the basis of probability every day of our life. When a jury comes in with a verdict, that’s based on probability, but the verdict is 100% certain and will be acted upon by the court. Every time you cross the street you act on probability. And as the number of Porsches increase in the United States, the probabilities get less of successfully crossing the street. But, as you cross, you do not take 80% of yourself or 60% of yourself. Most of us take 100% of ourselves across the street. And we are committing ourselves totally then on the basis of probability. Every time we go up in an airplane. Every time we sit in a building. There are only empirical stress formulae that determine that the building will hold up until the session finishes. All of our lives consist of making 100% decisions on the basis of probability.
- Ankerberg: Okay, summarize where we’re at and what you would have people do then with the information that we’ve given them tonight.
- Montgomery: Right. What we’ve tried to show tonight is that there is powerful probabilistic evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is better evidence than most people use to get married. And what we are asking you to do is to exercise faith, which is simply jumping the gap from probability to certainty in relation to Jesus Christ.