A Lesson from a Skeptic’s Internet Web Page Objections
It pains me to have to refute what I consider to be, at best, poor scholarship. But I think it highly instructive to see the skeptic in his natural environment and observe his methods and styles of reasoning. I have seen many Christians making similar mistakes whilst undertaking criticism of unbelievers’ ideas, and there is much to learn so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.
We shall here examine Richard Packham’s web page article entitled ” Critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s Arguments for the Legal Evidence for Christianity.” Mr. Packham’s article is an attempt to dismantle Dr. John Warwick Montgomery’s essay “The Jury Returns, A Juridical Defense of Christianity” published both in his work Human Rights and Human Dignity and in the Cornell Symposium under his editorship (Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question). I have not attempted to do a line-by-line critique of Mr. Packham’s objections; I am merely offering some illustrations to show that legal reasoning is far more hospitable to classical Christianity than to Mr. Packham’s skepticism.
What is Legal Apologetics?
In his essay “The Jury Returns” Dr. Montgomery revives the sleeping giant of legal apologetics whose advocates include such renowned jurisprudents as 17th century Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius, 19th century evidence specialist Simon Greenleaf, and, more recently, Lord Chancellor Hailsham. Dr. Montgomery’s object is to investigate the truth claims of Scripture concerning Jesus Christ by the use of legal reasoning and the laws of evidence. He writes:
The advantage of a jurisprudential approach lies in the difficulty of jettisoning it: legal standards of evidence develop as essential means of resolving the most intractable disputes in society (dispute settlement by self-help–the only alternative to adjudication–will tear any society apart). Thus one cannot very well throw out legal reasoning merely because its application to Christianity results in a verdict for the Christian faith.
If the earliest documents we have concerning Jesus Christ assert, for example, that he was born in the days of Caesar Augustus when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, then Christians should not flinch to subject the Gospel records to objective tests of reliability.
The Apostles did not flinch in giving an answer to every man that asked about the hope they had in Christ. An appeal to inductive exploration of the claims of Holy Scripture is vital; as Dr. Montgomery puts it:
We must make clear to them [unbelievers] beyond a shadow of a doubt that if they reject the Lord of Glory, it will be by willful refusal to accept his Grace, not because His Word is incapable of withstanding the most searching intellectual examination.
The goal of apologetics in general is to remove barriers and objections to Christian truth claims, creating a clear path to the cross and the resurrection. Apologetics can even nurture the soul of the unbeliever by delivering him from the tyranny of what has overtaken much of the arts and sciences: an ‘enlightened anthropocentricity.' The Apostle Paul stood in the middle of polytheistic Athens and preached Jesus and the resurrection. Note the utterly Christocentric approach employed by Paul! One must always start with the Gospel. The Good News is all about the ministry of the One Mediator between God and Man: Christ the Revealer. The New Testament texts claim to be the inspired historical record of no less than the Incarnate God.
These days the value of legal apologetics cannot be overstated. People are familiar with courtroom drama by way of the entertainment media. The man on the street is rightly impressed and fascinated with legal arguments and judicial decisions. He or she is intuitively aware that rights and freedoms, even life and death, are decided in the courtroom. The unfortunate side effect is that many presume to know quite a bit about the legal system, yet have not actually examined the foundational structure of the legal system. Such legal terms as “evidence,” “burden of proof” and “hearsay” appear carelessly in casual conversation. In fact, by the proper and rigorous use of legal reasoning, Christian truth claims can be established as just as reliable and factual as events in one’s daily experience. The problem for the skeptic and unbeliever is that the consequences of establishing Christian truth claims are far more significant than that of ‘ordinary events.’ Jesus asserted, after all, that belief in him was essential for everlasting life; he said that not to accept him meant that “you will die in your sins.” Is it because of such potential consequences that the skeptic often seeks to remove the Gospel records from real testability, substituting philosophical speculation for a serious examination of the evidence.
“Legal Apologetics” focuses on two categories of evidence: writings and witnesses. The first is the category of general legal principles that can be applied to ancient writings–internal, external and bibliographical tests of competency, veracity, and consistency; the question of whether (in the matter of Christian truth) the New Testament documents are reliable historical accounts. The second category deals with the admissibility and weight of what witnesses say (for example, in sound documents); here we ask “Could the New Testament prevail as evidence in a court of law today?” The affirmative answer to this question and to the interrelated issue of the legal value of the New Testament documents is found, inter alia, in Simon Greenleaf’s classic treatment of the issue, in New York attorney Walter Marion Chandler’s comprehensive discussion, and in Dr. John Warwick Montgomery’s arguments which Mr. Packham endeavors to refute.
Packham the Skeptic
Richard Packham gives us his credentials on his web page, right under Dr. Montgomery’s curriculum vitae. The contrast could not be more startling. Mr. Packham says he practiced law for fifteen years, the last five of which were primarily in “trial work” and the preparation of appellate briefs, where, “almost daily” he was required to deal with the rules of evidence.
In this connection, the reader may be interested in Richard Packham’s “autobiography,” where his credentials can be checked. In Packham’s autobiography he wonders if law might not have been “a more lucrative choice than teaching at high school and City College.” He went to law school and passed his bar exam, and was admitted as a member of the California Bar. Was he a competent lawyer? He claims that after less than a year at a law firm he had asked for a raise, and “they decided they wanted a full-time attorney,” so they let him go. He says he then rented a small office, and continued to practice part-time, but “never very successfully.” He writes: “I did not enjoy it, either, and so I gave up the office and cut back my practice even more.” He says that he continued to offer some desultory legal advice, handle a few small cases, and write wills and dunning letters for his friends, but that he finally “gave up entirely” in 1984 and went on inactive status with the Bar. Some years later he took a job as a law clerk/paralegal in Roseburg, Oregon. That, apparently, is the extent of Richard Packham’s experience as a lawyer.
As to his critique of Dr. Montgomery’s legal case for the Gospel, Mr. Packham says that, as a “retired” attorney, he was directed to Montgomery’s writings by several Christians by way of a public forum discussion group on the internet. His general reaction?
‘almost every statement in Montgomery’s article must be objected to, on logical, factual or legal grounds.
We shall see that it is in fact Mr. Packham who commits the logical, factual and legal errors. Three egregious problems bedevil his critique: his misuse of legal references; his misunderstanding of the hearsay rule; and his reliance upon aprioristic conjecture. We trust that the Christian apologist will learn by negative example: he will take care not to make the same mistakes when critiquing unbelievers’ essays and ideas!
I. Packham’s Legal Confusions: the Ancient Documents Rule
Legal apologetics considers the rules necessary to admit the New Testament documents as evidence for jury examination. Dr. Montgomery cites Professor Simon Greenleaf’s use of the “Ancient Documents” rule:
‘Ancient documents [over 30 years of age] will be received as competent evidence if they are “fair on their face” (i.e., offer no internal evidence of tampering) and have been maintained in “reasonable custody” (i.e., their preservation has been consistent with their content). He [Greenleaf] concluded that the competence of the New Testament documents would be established in any court of law.
Dr. Montgomery then proceeds to explain in great detail how these qualifications are met by the New Testament texts.
The objection raised by Mr. Packham is that the admissibility requirements under the ancient documents rule as cited by Dr. Montgomery are insufficient. Packham comes up with his own “ancient documents rule” that he claims comes from an authoritative volume on rules of evidence:
The rule under common law is discussed at length in 29 American Jurisprudence 2d, “Evidence,” section 1201, where the requirements are listed in order for a party to present an otherwise unauthenticated document under the “ancient documents” rule: the document must 1)be over 30 years old; 2) be produced from proper custody (i.e., the chain of custody must be shown); 3) its authenticity must be corroborated by the circumstances; 4) copies of the document may be admissible if properly authenticated, but then the proof that the writer signed the original must be made.
The great modern encyclopedic authority on the law of evidence, Wigmore on Evidence, (cited hereafter as “Wigmore,” and available in any county law library) gives the same requirements, section 2137ff. The New Testament writings satisfy only the first requirement: they are over 30 years old. On all other requirements they fail completely.
Packham claims: 1) a strict requirement for “ancient documents” being established into evidence, and 2) another supporting source with much more restrictive requirements than those set forth by Professor Greenleaf and Dr. Montgomery. Packham claims there are four requirements, the fourth being proof that the writer signed the original. Are there really these four requisites? The actual citation in American Jurisprudence looks very different from what is found in Packham’s critique. The citation in fact reads as follows:[Section 1201] At common law, a document purporting to be 30 or more years old is generally admissible in evidence without the ordinary requirements as to proof of execution and authenticity, as long as it is produced from proper custody and is on its face free from suspicion, and circumstances exist which corroborate its authenticity. Under such circumstances any subscribing witnesses are presumed to be dead. Even where such witnesses are shown to be living, or are in court, their testimony is not required to authenticate an ancient document.
This citation is quite different from Packham’s supposed “quotation” of the same passage.
What about Packham’s use of the great modern encyclopedic authority, Wigmore on Evidence? The ancient documents rule in Wigmore is at odds as well with Packham’s own citation. Wigmore states the Ancient Documents Rule as follows:[Section 2137] Ancient Documents; General Principle. For three centuries the rule has existed, unquestioned in its general validity, that an ancient document, under certain conditions, is to be taken as sufficiently evidenced, in regard to its genuineness of execution, to be submitted to the jury.
The reasons for this specific and simple rule are twofold. First, after a long lapse of time, ordinary testimonial evidence from those who saw the document’s execution or knew the style of handwriting or heard the party admit the execution, is practically unavailable, and a necessity always exists for resorting to circumstantial evidence. Secondly, the circumstances of age–or long existence–of the document, together with its place of custody, its unsuspicious appearance, and perhaps other circumstances, suffice, in combination, as evidence to be submitted to the jury. Whether the mere age is itself an evidential circumstance at all has been judicially doubted; though it may be argued that men would hardly undertake the risk of forgery for the sole use of posterity, and thus the circumstance of age alone is some evidence; but it has never been suggested to be sufficient of itself. . .
The rule itself is simple enough, although the legislative attempts to re‑declare it have sometimes disfigured its native simplicity.
American Jurisprudence and Wigmore clearly employ more generous admissibility standards for ancient documents than Packham claims. By reason of long existence as public records, objections to the contents of such documents would have had time to surface if they were in fact unreliable.
What are we to make of Packham’s misuse of these citations? He has devised an elaborate “paraphrase” that misquotes and misuses the ancient documents rule. Packham attempts to take Dr. Montgomery to task for not applying all of his four rules!
And what about the “condition” that Packham mentions of needing a signature? It is not a part of the ancient documents rule. Professor Wigmore explains that signatures on documents are immaterial if the writer acknowledges or adopts the document. The act of adoption constitutes or substitutes for execution, just as evidence of an oral acknowledgement would operate to authenticate a document. In other words, a witness could acknowledge having written a certain document, or typed it, without signing it. It would be an “adoption” of the document. To be sure, we are dealing with ancient documents, where the witnesses are presumed dead or unavailable. Thus a signature is irrelevant.
A confirmation of the “ancient documents” rule in support of Dr. Montgomery’s position comes from the greatest of the 19th authorities on the common law of evidence, Professor Simon Greenleaf. American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts states the ancient documents rule nicely, and agrees with Greenleaf:
Written instruments of all kinds purporting to be 30 years or more old, if relevant, are admissible in evidence without the ordinary requirements as to proof of execution or handwriting, where they are regular on their face, and a showing is made that they came from proper custody. Such instruments are termed “ancient documents” and are presumed to be authentic. If there are subscribing witnesses they are presumed to be dead or beyond the court’s jurisdiction. (1Am Jur “Evidence” Section 932).
Packham apparently believes that the ancient documents rule is not really a rule of admissibility at all:
Furthermore, as 29 Am Jur 2d says (section 1202), the “ancient documents” rule is a rule of authentication only, not a rule for admissibility. Its purpose is only to dispense with authentication by a witness.
We turn to the actual citation. Once again the text does not support Packham:… An ancient document has no affect as evidence unless it serves to import verity to the facts represented or written therein, and such a document is admitted in evidence as proof of the facts recited in it provided that the writer of the document would have been competent to testify as to such facts.
American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts puts it even more clearly:
In actual practice ancient documents are generally accepted as competent proof of facts recited therein, if the writer would have been competent to testify to such facts.
Thus, the application of the ancient documents rule does indeed govern whether a document will be admitted into evidence. Again, what the authorities actually say is dramatically different from what Packham claims they say. We must regretfully conclude that Packham reveals a lack of understanding about the handling of ancient documents under rules of evidence.
The lesson for Christian apologists: obtain accurate citations and present them in context in order not to be discredited.
II. The Hearsay Rule Misapplied
Legal apologetics also analyzes the actual testimony of witnesses, whether that testimony is “live” in court or contained in documents. Packham claims that all reports of Jesus’ resurrection are hearsay, and hearsay is not admissible in court as evidence. He also claims that the entire book of Acts is hearsay or even “second hand hearsay at best.” According to Packham hearsay is evidence of what X says he hears or sees about Y’s statements or actions, not what Y has to say for himself in court. If X reports that Y said this or that, it is hearsay unless Y testifies in court for himself. Applied to the Gospels, Packham would say that if Peter tells Mark to write down ‘these facts and observations,’ and Mark writes them down and later they are submitted to the court after everyone is dead, that would constitute inadmissible hearsay.
What is hearsay in the rules of common law evidence? Hearsay consists of any statements (written or oral) made outside of court and offered for their truth if the person who made them is unavailable to testify in court to that evidence. It is not hearsay if the opposing attorney has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness under oath, and if the jury can observe the demeanor of the witness.
The hearsay rule was developed primarily to protect lay juries from dangerously misleading, secondhand evidence. How is the hearsay rule applied to ancient documents where everyone is presumed to be dead? If the ancient documents rule applies, as we have seen it does, the writing comes in as admissible. Mr. Packham complains that Dr. Montgomery is downplaying the importance of the hearsay rule when Dr. Montgomery says that it “exists especially as a technical device to protect juries from secondhand evidence.” But Dr. Montgomery doesn’t at all ‘downplay’ this rule, for he goes on to say: “To be sure, the underlying principle of the hearsay rule remains vital: that a witness ought to testify ‘of his own knowledge or observation””
Mr. Packham does not tell us that of the 190 countries in the world, only the United States rigorously employs the hearsay rule, or that only a few others (such as Britain and the Commonwealth countries, representing the common law tradition) even include it in their legal systems. Moreover, numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule are inherent in the common law, including exceptions for business and public records, dying declarations, former testimony, statements of family or personal history and (not least) the treatment of ancient documents themselves. Indeed, the U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence list no less than 24 exceptions to the hearsay rule under Rule 803, and five exceptions under Rule 804, including ‘other exceptions’–general categories that cover anything not covered in the other exceptions as long as there are guarantees of trustworthiness. Courts have decided that such exceptions pose no realistic danger of a jury being exposed to dangerously misleading second-hand testimony. In the other few countries where the hearsay rule is used, judges can sift evidence sufficiently to use hearsay where it is relevant and probative. In the rest of the world where there are no jury trials the hearsay rule does not exist.
Andrew L. T. Choo in his book Hearsay and Confrontation in Criminal Trialssets forth the rationale of the hearsay rule, arguing that the rule be used solely on a case by case basis. One of America’s most highly reputed trial lawyers and teachers of evidence and trial practice, Irving Younger, has offered another approach to the reform of the hearsay evidence rule. He proposed that all hearsay evidence should be admitted unless the court decides as a preliminary question that the hearsay evidence would not be trustworthy, for the real issue, after all, is the inherent reliability of the evidence:
Hearsay is admissible unless the court decides as a preliminary question [sic] that the hearsay could not reasonably be accepted by the finder of fact as trustworthy. The finder of fact remains free to disbelieve admitted hearsay.
The standard American work, McCormick on Evidence, cites the case of Samuel H. Moss, Inc. v. FTC, where attention is directed to the Second Circuit’s distinguished panel’s admonishing of those who would rigidly follow the rules of evidence:
‘Why he or the [Federal Trade] Commission’s attorney should have thought it so desirable to be so formal about the admission of evidence, we cannot understand. Even in criminal trials to a jury it is better, nine times out of ten, to admit, than to exclude, evidence and in such proceedings as these the only conceivable interest that can suffer by admitting any evidence is the time lost, which is seldom as much as that inevitably lost by idle bickering about irrelevancy or incompetence. In the case at bar it chances that no injustice was done, but we take this occasion to point out the danger always involved in conducting such a proceeding in such a spirit, and the absence of any advantage in depriving either the Commission or ourselves of all evidence which can conceivably throw any light upon the controversy.
We can only conclude that Packham’s understanding of the hearsay evidence rule is remarkably superficial and limited to the perspective of American law, where civil juries must be protected against evidence whose inadequacies they might not appreciate. This situation has little in common with the issue of evaluating the Gospel writers’ testimonies to the facts of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Are the Gospels really hearsay? No: in general, their writers claim to be providing eyewitness accounts of the events they document. Australian barrister Ross Clifford has written a fine essay on the admissibility of the New Testament texts as evidence in a hypothetical trial. He plays devil’s advocate and strictly enforces the hearsay rule. He concludes that the recorded Gospel testimonies are excellent historically and comply with general legal principles. The actual eyewitness observations of Matthew, Peter, John and Paul are the evidence a modern (including an American) court would admit. Luke and Mark do not technically qualify because they do not personally claim to be eyewitnesses. But Wigmore’s discussion of hearsay exceptions at Section 1580 includes matters of ‘general history,’ which are long recognized exceptions. Wigmore also addresses exemptions for ‘unquestionable facts’ of history, natural science etc. under the category of “Judicial Notice.” And the Manchester historian F. F. Bruce was at pains to point out that the circulation of all the Gospel materials in Jewish circles whilst hostile witnesses of the events of Jesus’ life and ministry were still alive constituted the functional equivalent of modern cross-examination, thus satisfying requirements of common-law evidence.
We contend that Luke and Acts would in fact be admissible. These works were both written for a person in a position of high authority‑ one Theophilus. Luke tells Theophilus that he, Luke, has had a perfect understanding of all of the events from the very first. Luke was a physician and uses language and observations that would be peculiar to a physician. His writings demonstrate excellent observation skills. If he were not an eyewitness, he would still be considered a reliable source of information–an expert witness. Luke accompanied the Apostle Paul and was his physician. Paul was constantly in danger of imprisonment and threat of death (as were all the Apostles). As a citizen of Rome Paul had certain rights. Paul was under constant investigation by various authorities and his ministry could be regarded as in the public domain; as he emphasized in Acts 26:26, what he testified to “was not done in a corner.”
Mark was a constant companion of the Apostle Peter, and it is reasonable to assume that his sources were firsthand. Paul states that Mark was profitable to him for the ministry. There is as well an allusion to Mark being an eyewitness. Mark’s writing style betrays a sophisticated understanding of the events.
We must be scrupulous in not dismissing valuable historic texts as inadmissible hearsay. There are ample and well-established exceptions to the hearsay evidence rule for all of the testimonies of the Gospel writers.
The lesson for fledgling apologists is first to understand the rules of collateral disciplines (here, the law) before applying them to religious questions. Packham again offers a negative example.
III. Packham’s Illogical Apriorism
Why has Packham so erred? I believe that he is motivated by an aprioristic unbelief against 1) the reliability of the New Testament; and 2) miracles in general. Everything he does in critiquing legal apologetics is ‘force fitted’ to these two presuppositions. No amount of evidence will convince him that Jesus walked upon water, healed the blind and rose from the dead. Packham suffers from a severe case of rationalistic skepticism.
A. Packham’s Use of Discredited Critics
To support his presuppositions, Packham calls on the likes of retired Bishop Shelby Spong and the so-called higher critics. Packham suggests that Spong, as a Christian scholar, has discovered tampering, forgery and pious embellishments of the New Testament documents. (Not so incidentally, Packham wrongly calls Spong “Episcopal Archbishop of Newark,” whereas the Episcopal Church in American has no archbishops!)
Spong’s views and methodology have been roundly rejected. His approach is not new and his higher critical conclusions have steadily lost ground for more than 150 years. Spong is actually a radical humanist, not a Christian at all, according to his own personal beliefs: he doesn’t believe in the deity, virgin birth, miracles or resurrection of Jesus Christ, nor does he believe in original sin or the need for the sacrificial atonement of Christ. His criticisms of the Bible texts are nothing but conjecture. He even imposes debunked Freudian sexual theories upon the New Testament writers (he detects suppressed sexuality at every turn of St. Paul’s pen; Jesus was the product of a rape of Mary as a teenager; etc., etc.).
C.S. Lewis said of the higher critics and their methods:
What forearms me against all these [Bible] Reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.
Lewis warns that despite refutation these methods and theories will be with us for a long time as laymen jump into the act. Bishop Spong has gleefully welcomed his lay critics; he says that he is reminded of what his publisher has said–that critics and bad reviews sell more books than supporters and good reviews. Controversy sells. Harper Collins, Spong’s publisher, has also been publishing the Jesus Seminar’s authors. Even Spong himself doubts that the Jesus Seminar can provide any conclusive evidence as to who Jesus really was.]
The higher critical method has been adequately refuted in other academic disciplines. The authorship of many previously questioned classical texts is now accepted, from Homer (the Iliad) to Sun Tzu (the Art of War). Yet according to those who inhabit the liberal theological ghetto, the New Testament accounts of Jesus do not qualify for this respectful treatment. Alvar Ellegård has recently claimed that Jesus was merely a myth and never even physically existed! His dating of the Gospels to the 2nd century A.D. is an effort to revive the arguments of George A. Wells, and to further the arguments of Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, and Earl J. Doherty. Ellegård complains that the large majority of theologians have passed over the ideas of these authors in silence. In point of fact, they have been rejected as historically absurd.
Packham labors under the notion that no credible theologians have dismissed the higher critics. He believes that the higher critics have pretty much conquered the field except in the most conservative evangelical circles. But liberal higher critic Bishop John A.T. Robinson concluded that the Gospels and, indeed, the entire New Testament were written at a very early date–before 64 A.D. Robert Gundry, hardly a conservative, uses Midrashic interpretation and higher critical methodology, yet holds that the resurrection and other miracles are true, that the New Testament is historically accurate and the claimed authors wrote them at a very early date. Do we see Packham embrace the findings by these liberal higher critics as well? Or do they conflict with his presumptions? Again, which of the higher critics has found the truth? Packham simply dismisses the conservative theologians and refuses to consider their work. That is an unacceptable approach.
Richard Swinburne, professor of religious philosophy at Oxford University, could hardly be mistaken for a conservative evangelical theologian, yet he does not agree with the higher critics’ methodology, and in spite of accepting some of their criticisms declares:
I am bound to add that in my view, only one of the world’s major religions can make any serious claim, on the grounds of detailed historical evidence, to be founded on a miracle, and that is the Christian religion.
Professor Dr. W. Stephen Gunter, of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, emphatically adopts postmodern ideas, but takes the higher critics of the past two hundred years to task for their unverifiable assertions. He calls for a more disciplined approach to the New Testament documents and specifically the question of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. He writes that we cannot limit ourselves a priori to what can and cannot be true, and with regard to the resurrection accounts goes so far as to say:
We respectfully entertain our doubts, but we are not required to be negatively suspicious. We are not discarding the inclination to question, but we are suspending judgment.
It will be noted that Swinburne and Gunter, unlike Packham, are willing to suspend judgment, rather than rationalistically and antisupernaturalistically to throw out sound historical evidence.
A classic case of the problems that the higher critics face is brought home by a consideration of the case of Sir William M Ramsay. Ramsay set out to support higher critical theories through painstaking and detailed archeological and geographical investigations of Luke’s writings. He was amazed that what he found supported Luke and refuted the widely held negative criticisms of Luke’s Gospel. Sir William concluded that Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.
What about all the biblical miracles? Can they really be a part of history? The logic of rejecting miracle claims prima facie on the basis of improbability is fallacious. We cannot accept bits and pieces of the Bible on the basis of what we think may have been true at the time it was written. We have to approach the texts as we would any narrative and test them as Ramsay did. The Bible writers do not claim to be writing fiction. We have to face the resurrection accounts squarely.
Packham has trouble dealing with the physical appearances of the risen Christ. All of Packham’s varying scenarios leave out the important details that Jesus was seen physically alive by hundreds of people. Names are named, places, times of day and dates are all spelled out in the eyewitness accounts. Large portions of the New Testament would have to be removed in order to eliminate encounters with Jesus after his death, burial and subsequent resurrection–and with no objective criteria whatever as a basis for doing so. But, owing to his presuppositions against miracles, Packham dismisses out of hand as false testimony all of the accounts of the resurrection.
B. Packham’s Conjectures
Packham (unlike the good lawyer) is not troubled by unverifiable assumptions.
He asks why Jesus couldn’t simply have gone underground or left the country, to die later and be buried in an unmarked grave. But where is the evidence? He says Jesus’ followers gullibly believed reports of his resurrection and that the evangelists slanted their reports. Again, where is the evidence? Packham thinks it is also not out of the question that some disciples spirited the body away in the firm belief that Jesus would later come back to life.
It is one thing to raise credible objections, but Packham descends into the abyss of the “possible.” He is picking and choosing a hodge-podge of scenarios that first allow and then disallow the same New Testament passages with no criteria as to why certain passages are to stay and other passages are to be eliminated. It apparently doesn’t matter to him that he has no criteria from which to admit or omit passages in the New Testament.
Packham never produces one shred of evidence to back up his claims. Any doubt, no matter how bizarre and unsubstantiated is entertained. Raising mere possibilities does not refute or cast doubt upon the New Testament unless evidence to support the claim is produced. Packham’s own legal training should have demanded at minimum a preponderance of evidence. But there are no reports contemporaneous with the New Testament that raise any of Packham’s possible scenarios.
At the end of his critique Packham suggests that Christians wouldn’t want Mormons and other religions to apply the standard rules of legal reasoning to the defence of their positions. But, in point of fact, other religions (Islam, Baha’i, Sikhism, Hinduism) do not base their faith on any verifiable historical event or miracle. Muslims, for example, do not claim that Islam was founded on any miracles: the Koran itself is the miracle of Islam. Mormons, ever since the historicity of the Book of Mormon has been thoroughly discounted, rely on personal experience (“the burning in the bosom”) to support their claims. Even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. weighed‑in against the Book of Mormon’s absurd archeological claims. Hindu and Buddhist claims of divine intervention lack historical solidity and eyewitnesses or persons who claim to have talked to the witnesses. I for one would welcome the application of legal reasoning to the truth claims of any and all non-Christian religions.
The third negative lesson for Christian apologists from Packham’s critique is that one must not present unverifiable assertions as matters of fact. Do not pontificate and expect the opponent to accept speculation as the equivalent of verifiable fact.
Richard Packham in his critique of Dr. Montgomery’s essay has misstated and misapplied legal rules and references. His use of legal principle is incorrect with regard to the handling of ancient documents. To put it charitably, his understanding of his own sources is misguided. His use of logic is flawed. He has attacked Dr. Montgomery’s motives in inflammatory terms. Commonly, when a lawyer begins to attack the honesty and integrity of his opponent, it is because his case is weak and he wants to cover‑up that fact.
Packham tries to play gadfly, but as gadfly his wings have been torn‑off by his all‑consuming skepticism. It wasn’t the skeptics who first flew at Kitty Hawk, combined inert gases, split the atom and went to the Moon. Skepticism is its own belief system‑ one that would leave us in the 18th century, stifling all sort of scientific and inductive investigation. Skepticism and Rationalism suffocate investigation and freethinking. The scientists have ignored Kantian metaphysics and they have prospered as a result. Scientific progress has been made where good philosophy prevails. In this 21st century‑an age of genetic research, exploration, and innovation, truly scientific methods of investigation will be the tool of progress. People will have to lay aside their rationalistic skepticism in order to move forward.
Christ’s Gospel has not changed. He is the same yesterday today and forever. Will we heed the summons of God, and appear as an unbiased jury ready to investigate the claim of Christianity‑that the human desire for the Creator to reveal himself personally and to show humanity the truth indeed happened two thousand years ago? The Christian is willing to submit the New Testament to legal methods of reasoning. It follows that the skeptic should be willing to suspend prejudice and disbelief in order to move forward and investigate the truth claims of Christianity with an open mind.
*****FOOTNOTES***** Richard Packham “Critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s Arguments for the Legal Evidence for Christianity,” 1998 http://www.teleport.com/~packham/montgmry.htm See Edward Dumbald’s The Life and Legal Writings of Hugo Grotius (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969).  Simon Greenleaf’s legal apologetics are set forth in his work The Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, reprinted in Montgomery, Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany, 1975). pp. 91ff.  See Lord Hailsham’s The Door Wherein I Went (London: Collins, 1975).  Montgomery, “The Jury Returns, Juridical Defense of Christianity,” Evidence for Faith, Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Probe Books, 1991) p. 320. Luke 2:1-2. 1Corinthians 15:3-4, 1Peter 3:15.  Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact (Nashville, New York: Thomas Nelson, 1978), p.42.  A great exposition of the burden placed on modern man by the 18th Century Enlightenment is found in Arthur Hertzberg’s book The French Enlightenment and the Jews, The Origins of Modern Anti‑Semitism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968).  Acts 17,18.  Cf. 1Corinthians 15:3-4.  1Timothy 2:4-6, Hebrews 9:11-15.  John 14:1 & John 8:24.  18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume argued to remove Biblical miracles from the realm of testability on the basis of general experience. Of course, one cannot say that miracles are apriori impossible and therefore one need not test the evidence for them, for this turns out to be circular reasoning. Nevertheless, Hume’s arguments are still used to this day by unwitting skeptics.  Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, reprinted in Montgomery, Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany, 1975) pp. 91ff..  Walter M. Chandler, The Trial of Christ from a Lawyer’s Point of View, 2vol. (Federal Book Co. 1925).  Richard Packham “Autobiography of Richard Packham,” 1998