Recently a Christian apologist named Ross Clifford (principal of Morling College, Australia) has written a response to an article here on Κέλσος. Clifford’s response is to my article “Objection! The Resurrection of Jesus Is Not a Court Case,” which is a critical rebuttal to the arguments used by juridical apologist John Warwick Montgomery. Montgomery became famous in apologetic circles way back in the 1970’s for popularizing the argument that legal reasoning and the laws of evidence can be applied to documents of the New Testament in order to affirm the core claims of the Christian faith.
Clifford’s article is titled “Objection Overruled! Let’s Hear the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus,” and was published in Vol. 12, No. 1 of Montgomery’s online journal, Global Journal of Classic Theology.
Now, as everyone who reads this blog should know, I do not even think that ancient historical methodology can be used to prove the miraculous claims found in ancient Christian scriptures (which is a far more relevant standard for evaluating ancient texts), let alone modern juridical reasoning. Ancient literature was not produced in a context or style that makes it useful for legal testimony or courtroom investigation, nor would any of the NT documents even be admissible as evidence in court. Montgomery and other juridical apologists are only using a pretense of legal reasoning in order to (like many other apologists) exaggerate the evidence for Jesus. The purpose of juridical apologetics is, in Montgomery’s own words (Faith Founded on Fact, pg. 42): “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.”
Despite such brash assertions, however, the reality is that none of Montgomery’s arguments are accepted in mainstream New Testament Studies, nor are they even widely accepted in legal circles. Instead, the notion of “juridical” apologetics mostly became popular back in the 1970’s and 80’s, when popular apologists like Josh McDowell were publishing lay apologetics books like Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Since then, even more serious resurrection apologists, such as William Craig and Gary Habermas, have not used the juridical approach, but instead fallen back on “minimal facts” arguments for the resurrection. Montgomery’s arguments are thus rather dated these days, even in apologetic circles.
Regardless, I was glad to see that Clifford’s response was not as overtly polemical as I had expected (to be sure, there were a decent number of jabs against myself, but nothing as excessive as I had expected). I had expected this response, because when legal expert Richard Packham wrote a critical rebuttal to Montgomery’s arguments back in 1998 (available here), a writer named Boyd Pehrson wrote a highly polemical response to Packham in Montgomery’s journal (available here). In Pehrson’s response he made a number of ad hominem attacks and false statements about Packham allegedly not having legal training, which Packham refutes in his response to Pehrson. Furthermore, Packham discusses how when he searched to find Pehrson’s legal credentials, he could not find the name “Boyd Pehrson” on any list of attorneys in England or the United States. When Packham asked Montgomery in an email for more information about Pehrson’s legal background, Montgomery literally accused Packham of having Alzheimer’s disease (you can read the email for yourself here).
Given this track record, I was expecting Clifford’s response to me to be full of personal attacks. As such, I posted an announcement here on Κέλσος a couple months back, in which I summarized Montgomery’s previous vitriolic behavior in dealing with Richard Packham, in order to anticipate any similar attacks against Κέλσος. After reading Clifford’s article, however, I have decided that this preemption was not necessary. Accordingly, I have taken down my previous announcement (which, for the sake of record, can still be read here).
Part of the reason for why I think there is no need to preempt Clifford or Montgomery is because I am not sure that their article is even worth responding to at all. I had expected a large number of personal attacks against myself, but after reading Clifford’s response, I am not sure whether people who have not read my article previously will even be able to understand Clifford’s rebuttals to my arguments. Clifford seldom summarizes my positions with anything more than quoting a few words of text, so that my main points are not even really addressed in his response. Where Clifford does respond to crucial points, he is not persuasive. For example, one of the major points in the article is that it is a huge stretch to try to apply the “ancient documents rule” of legal documentary evidence to the New Testament scriptures, since the rule is normally applied to documents that are in the range of being over 30 years old, but not thousands of years old. Clifford (pg. 7) responds to this argument with the example of a newspaper that was admitted in Dallas County v Commercial Union Assurance Co., which was more than 50 years old. I think that exposing Clifford’s hyperbole in comparing a 50 year old newspaper to millennia-old religious scriptures, as allegedly being comparable in terms of legal evidence, requires no further elaboration on my part.
Nevertheless, I do want all of my readers on Κέλσος to be able to read Clifford’s response, if they are interested. So, here is the link to Clifford’s article. I am happy to answer any questions in the comments. I’m also interested in hearing whether readers think I should or should not respond to Clifford’s article. So, feel free to also indicate in the comments below whether you think that Clifford’s response deserves any rebuttal here on Κέλσος.