History, Law, and Christianity

History, Law, and Christianity - MontgomeryBRIEF OVERVIEW:
This short paperback (~ 100 pages) of two sections (historical and legal analysis) was originally written ~ 50 years ago (since updated) and has two appendices. The author, Dr. John Montgomery, wrote this condensed apologetic to hit certain highlights of argumentation about the value of the New Testament documents in painting an accurate, trustworthy, reliable picture of Jesus of Nazareth, what He did, and Who He actually was (and is) as presented by Himself according to the testimony of immediate followers in the primary, well-attested documents (the canon of Scripture) historically received by the whole church and to which we have ready access. In the legal section, the main standard used by the author is that used in modern trial law of proving a case beyond any “reasonable doubt”.

The author, John W. Montgomery is a lawyer with 11 advanced degrees and has practiced law in three nations. He attempts to provide a brief overview of the methods used to judge the reliability of ancient documents using normal, applicable standards of history. In the legal analysis section, he uses evidentiary standards as applied to any other type of evidence. In presenting a solid, factual basis of the reliability of Scripture, his ultimate goal is to point the reader intellectually / volitionally to the One to whom those documents point with powerful, penetrating, reliable witness.

INTERACTION & REFLECTION:
In the historical evidence section, Dr. Montgomery uses three standard tests of historical authenticity / reliability of the New Testament accounts: the quality of textual tradition: 1) Bibliographical – the rich, unsurpassed multiplicity of venerable manuscripts available, 2) Internal evidence – the benefit of the doubt goes to the document itself, not to presuppositions of fraud or error but rather honestly testing such based on internal evidence (contradictions, factual errors, etc.). Also, NT writers repeatedly claim eyewitness status and / or direct access to such. 3) External evidence – archaeological, geographical, historical accounts, early writers (Papias, Irenaeus, etc.). Finally, if Jesus was not divine as He repeatedly and pointedly claimed then He was: 1) a con artist, 2) insane, or 3) the NT authors (His immediate disciples) were one or both of those things and / or wild-eyed exaggerators. All those options however are contrary to logic and any genuine evidence we have.

In the legal section, Montgomery uses the evidential standards of common law by keeping unhelpful, unnecessary presuppositions to a minimum while applying probability analysis (as with any judicial case, based primarily on the actual facts of the case and the implications of those) and the ‘burden of proof’ principle (what fact-driven arguments can a person, with intellectual integrity, bring to bear on the discussion). He also helpfully delineates legal methodology used to determine fact from fiction and the complexities of deception. He finally insists, as every good trial lawyer must, on an unequivocal, intellectually honest acceptance and genuine welcoming of the verdict regarding Christ based on the foregoing data, logic, reasoning, and analysis as being both inescapably reasonable, rational, and, most importantly, as divinely commanded.

Stimulated by a speech by a skeptical philosopher, Avrum Stroll, Montgomery attempts to show certain glaring deficiencies and intellectual dishonesty of Stroll’s approach (similar to B. Ehrman) in: disregarding important facts, cherry picking ‘authorities’, discounting primary documents, using faulty circular or a priori reasoning, and adopting wildly off-key depictions of the religious milieu of Jesus’ time.

The clarity in setting out this evidentiary, fact based, philosophically sound approach was helpful in clarifying for me the historically reliable basis of the Christian faith and the One it depicts. The implications of such for each person’s destiny are profound and inescapable – intellectual dodging at some point will be clearly seen by all for the damning, heart-driven folly it really is.

CONCLUSION:
Although not an apologist, I found this book to be helpful, well written, logically sound, insightful concerning historical and legal methodology, and fact based. It attempts to evaluate, fairly and honestly, the extant evidence we have by the highest standards of jurisprudence and historical methodology.  Due to a seemingly intractable, deep-seated bias, some attempt to downplay the factual evidence and its obvious implications and / or bring to bear a priori presuppositions about the existence of God, miracles, etc. ruling such out before fairly evaluating the evidence rather than objectively address the facts of the case as they stand. In contrast, the author produces “a case of staggering consequence for the serious (honest) inquirer.”

This book should be very useful and is recommended (4.5 stars) for genuine seekers of truth, those whom God may be preparing for and calling into His salvation. It is also useful for believers to help see the solid historical / factual basis for the Christian faith, something of vital importance for all of us. This book was provided gratis by EP Books via Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest, careful review.

 

EXCERPTS &/OR RESOURCES:

See “The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable”   by F. F. Bruce

“… if the only possible foundation for human rights is transcendental and revelational …, it is imperative to demonstrate evidentially that God did indeed reveal himself in the human sphere.” p. xiv

“Here, we present the primary, relevant, ‘admissible’ facts concerning the most influential single individual in the history of mankind. It is the up to the reader to give a personal answer to the question he posed to his contemporaries: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ”. p. xv

“The earliest records we have of the life and ministry of Jesus give the overwhelming impression that this man went around not so much ‘doing good’ as making a decided nuisance of himself…. When Jesus asked, ‘Who am I?’ he was evidently fully aware of his own (divine / human nature and unique mission). What he sought to achieve by his questions was a similar awareness of his nature by others.” p. 3

“What, then, does a historian know about Jesus Christ? … first and foremost, that the New Testament documents can be relied upon to give an accurate portrait of him, and that this portrait cannot be rationalized away by wishful thinking, philosophical presuppositionalism, or literary maneuvering (among other things).” P. 20

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