The Resurrection of Jesus Christ/Part 4 | John Ankerberg Show

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ/Part 4

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By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©1996
Would the evidence for the resurrection stand cross examination in a modern court of law? In Acts 1:3, the historian Luke tells us that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead by “many infallible proofs.” The Greek phrase used here is an expression which is defined in the lexicons as “decisive proof” and indicates the strongest type of legal evidence.

How Compelling is the Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

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Would the evidence for the resurrection stand cross examination in a modern court of law?

In Acts 1:3, the historian Luke tells us that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead by “many infallible proofs” (KJV). The Greek en pollois tekmariois is an expression which is defined in the lexicons as “decisive proof” and indicates the strongest type of legal evidence.[1]

Lawyers, of course, are expertly trained to deal in the matter of evidence. Skeptics can, if they wish, maintain that only the weak-minded would believe in the literal, physical resurrection of Christ, but perhaps this only reveals their own weak-mindedness when it comes to taking the evidence at face value.

Lawyers are not weak-minded. Hundreds of lawyers are represented by The National Christian Legal Society, The O.W Coburn School of Law, The Rutherford Institute, Lawyers Christian Fellowship, Simon Greenleaf University, Regent University School of Law and other Christian law organizations, schools, and societies. Among their number are some of the most respected lawyers in the country, men and women who have graduated from our leading law schools and gone on to prominence in the world of law. The law schools of Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Boston, New York University, University of Southern California, Georgetown, University of Michigan, Northwestern, Hastings College of Law at U.C. Berkeley, Loyola, and many others are all represented.[2]

Among the Board of Reference or distinguished lectureships given at coauthor Dr. Weldon’s alma mater, Simon Greenleaf University, we cite Samuel Ericsson, J.D., Harvard Law School, Renatus I. Chytil, formerly a lecturer at Cornell and an expert on Czechoslovakian law, Dr. John W. Brabner-Smith, Dean Emeritus of the International School of Law, Washington, D.C., and Richard Colby, J.D. Yale Law School, with Twentieth Century Fox.[3] All are Christians who accept the resurrection of Christ as a historic fact. In actuality, the truth of the resurrection can be determined by the very reasoning used in law to determine questions of fact. (Indeed, this is also true for the reliability of the New Testament documents.)

So let us proceed with specific examples of noted legal testimony concerning the resurrection.

Lord Darling, a former Lord Chief Justice in England, states: “in its favor as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”[4]

John Singleton Copley (Lord Lyndhurst, 1772-1863) is recognized as one of the greatest legal minds in British history. He was solicitor general of the British government, attorney general of Great Britain, three times the high chancellor of England and elected high steward of the University of Cambridge. He states, “I know pretty well what evidence is; and I tell you, such evidence as that for the Resurrection has never broken down yet.”[5]

Hugo Grotius was a noted “jurist and scholar whose works are of fundamental importance in international law” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. He wrote Latin elegies at the age of eight and entered Leiden University at 11.[6] Considered “the father of international law,” he wrote The Truth of the Christian Religion (1627) in which he legally defended the historic fact of the resurrection.

J.N.D. Anderson, in the words of Armand Nicholi of the Harvard Medical School (Christianity Today, March 29, 1968), is a scholar of international repute eminently qualified to deal with the subject of evidence. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on Muslim law, dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of London, chairman of the Department of Oriental Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London.[7] In Anderson’s text Christianity: The Witness of History, he supplies the standard evidences for the resurrection and asks, “How, then, can the fact of the resurrection be denied?”[8] Anderson further emphasizes, “Lastly, it can be asserted with confidence that men and women disbelieve the Easter story not because of the evidence but in spite of it.”[9]

Sir Edward Clark, K.C., observes:

As a lawyer, I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect. The gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class, and as a lawyer I accept it unreservedly as a testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.[10]

Irwin H. Linton was a Washington, D.C. lawyer who argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In his A Lawyer Examines the Bible, he challenges his fellow lawyers “by every acid test known to the law… to examine the case for the Bible just as they would any important matter submitted to their professional attention by a client….”[11] He believes that the evidence for Christianity is overwhelming and that at least “three independent and converging lines of proof,” each of which “is conclusive in itself,” establish the truth of the Christian faith.[12] Linton observed that “the logical, historical… proofs of… Christianity are so indisputable that I have found them to arrest the surprised attention of just about every man to whom I have presented them….”[13] He asserts the resurrection “is not only so established that the greatest lawyers have declared it to be the best proved fact of all history but it is so supported that it is difficult to conceive of any method or line of proof that it lacks which would make [it] more certain.”[14] And that, even among lawyers, “he who does not accept wholeheartedly the evangelical, conservative belief in Christ and the Scriptures has never read, has forgotten, or never been able to weigh—and certainly is utterly unable to refute—the irresistible force of the cumulative evidence upon which such faith rests.…”[15]

He concluded the claims of Christian faith are so well established by such a variety of independent and converging proofs that “it has been said again and again by great lawyers that they cannot but be regarded as proved under the strictest rules of evidence used in the highest American and English courts.”[16]

Simon Greenleaf was the Royall Professor of Law at Harvard and author of the classic three-volume text, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence (1842), which, according to Dr. Wilbur Smith “is still considered the greatest single authority on evidence in the entire literature on legal procedure.”[17] Greenleaf himself is considered one of the greatest authorities on common-law evidence in Western history. The London Law Journal wrote of him in 1874, “It is no mean honor to America that her schools of jurisprudence have produced two of the finest writers and best esteemed legal authorities in this century—the great and good man, Judge Story, and his eminent and worthy associate Professor Greenleaf. Upon the existing law of evidence (by Greenleaf) more light has shown from the New World than from all the lawyers who adorn the courts of Europe.”[18]

Further:

H. W. H. Knotts in the Dictionary of American Biography says of him: “To the efforts of Story and Greenleaf is ascribed the rise of the Harvard Law School to its eminent position among the legal schools of the United States.”…
Greenleaf concluded that the resurrection of Christ was one of the best supported events in history….[19]

In his book Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, Greenleaf states:

All that Christianity asks of men… [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 [to the resurrection] 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.[20]

Lord Caldecote, Lord Chief Justice of England, observed that an “overwhelming case for the Resurrection could be made merely as a matter of strict evidence”[21] and that “His Resurrection has led me as often as I have tried to examine the evidence to believe it as a fact beyond dispute….”[22] (Cf., Thomas Sherlock’s Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which places the resurrection in a legally argued forum and in the words of lawyer Irwin Linton, “will give anyone so reading it the comfortable assurance that he knows the utmost that can be said against the proof of the central fact of our faith and also how utterly every such attack can be met and answered.”[23] At the end of the legal battle one understands why “the jury returned a verdict in favor of the testimony establishing the fact of Christ’s resurrection.”[24]

But any lawyer familiar with the evidence could do the same today either for himself or a jury. Although admissibility rules vary by state and no lawyer can guarantee the decision of any jury (no matter how persuasive the evidence), an abundance of lawyers will testify today that the resurrection would stand in the vast majority of law courts. The following statements were taken by us in phone conversations with the individuals cited on March 26-28, 1990, or January 10, 1995. John Whitehead is founder of the Rutherford Institute and one of the leading constitutional attorneys in America. He asserts, “The evidence for the resurrection, if competently presented, would likely be affirmed in a modern law court.”

Larry Donahue is an experienced trial attorney in Los Angeles. He has over 20 years of experience with courtroom law trials. He also teaches courses on legal evidence at Simon Greenleaf University in Anaheim, California, as well as a lengthy course subjecting the biblical eyewitnesses to legal cross-examination titled, “The Resurrection on Trial.” He states, “I am convinced that in a civil lawsuit in nearly any courtroom today there is more than sufficient admissible direct and circumstantial evidence that a jury could be persuaded to a preponderance burden of proof that the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ did occur.”

Richard F. Duncan holds a national reputation as a legal scholar whose area of specialty is constitutional law. He graduated from Cornell Law School (where he wrote for the Law Review) and practiced corporate law at White and Case, a major Wall Street law firm. He has spent 11 years teaching at such law schools as Notre Dame and New York University, and is a tenured professor at the University of Nebraska. Mr. Duncan has written briefs at the Supreme Court level and is the author of a standard text on commercial law widely used by attorneys practicing under the Uniform Commercial Code, The Law in Practice of Secure Transaction (Law Journal Seminars Press, 1987). He observes, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the central fact of world history, withstands rational analysis precisely because the evidence is so persuasive…. I am convinced this verdict would stand in nearly any modern court of law.”

A. Eric Johnston is currently a member of the law firm of Seier, Johnston, and Trippe in Birmingham, Alabama. He practices in areas including constitutional law, federal statutory law, and litigation in the federal and state courts on trial and appellate levels. He is a member of the American Bar Association, was the 1988 republican nominee for place four on the Alabama Supreme Court, and has been listed as one of the Outstanding Young Men of America and also in Who’s Who in American Law. He states, “In a civil court, if the evidence were properly presented, I believe this would be sufficient for a jury to find that Christ did rise from the dead.”

Donovan Campbell, Jr., is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Texas (where he was editor of the Texas Law Review). He was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1975; the U.S. Tax Court in 1976; the U.S. Court of Claims in 1977; and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1978. He has had wide experience in the field of law and litigation. He states, “If the evidence for the resurrection were competently presented to a normal jury in a civil court of law at the current time, then a verdict establishing the fact of the resurrection should be obtained.”

Larry L. Crain, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, a general partner in the law firm of Ames, Southworth, and Crain in Brentwood, Tennessee, a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar, the Federal Bar Association, and the American Trial Lawyers Association, and who has argued before the Supreme Court agrees in principle with the above statements cited.

Wendell R. Byrd is an Atlanta attorney and graduate of Yale Law School. As a student, he was the first ever to exempt the freshman year at Vanderbilt University, where he graduated summa cum laude; he also received Yale’s prize for one of the best two student publications. He is a member of the most prestigious legal organization, The American Law Institute, has published in the Yale Law Journal and Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy and has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, and Who’s Who Among Emerging Leaders in America. He asserts: “In a civil trial I believe the evidence is sufficient that a modern jury should bring in a positive verdict that the resurrection of Christ did happen.”

William Burns Lawless, retired justice of the New York Supreme Court and former dean of Notre Dame Law School, asserts, “When Professor Simon Greenleaf of Harvard Law School published his distinguished treatise on the Law of Evidence in 1842, he analyzed the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Under the rules of evidence then he concluded a Court would admit these accounts and consider their contents reliable. In my opinion that conclusion is as valid in 1995 as it was in 1842.”

In Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection, many other examples are given, such as Sir Lionell Luckhoo who is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s “most successful lawyer,” with 245 successive murder acquittals. He was knighted twice by the queen of England and appointed high commissioner for Guyana. He declares, “I have spent more than forty-two years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world… I say unequivocally the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no doubt.”[25]

Such citations could be multiplied indefinitely. We have not mentioned the eminent Lord Chancellor Hailsham, lord chancellor of England and Wales,[26] or Lord Diploch,[27] or Joseph J. Darlington, the only lawyer in the nation’s capital to whom a public monument has been erected, whom former president and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Howard Taft said was one of the three or four greatest lawyers in the nation’s history.[28] We have not mentioned Sir Matthew Hale, the great lord chancellor under Oliver Cromwell; John Seldon; Sir Robert Anderson, former head of Scotland Yard, knighted by Queen Victoria for his utmost skill in exposing “the mazes of falsehood… discovering truth and separating it from error”; Daniel Webster, Lord Erskine or many others.[29] And, not merely in the field of law—eminent philosophers, historians, scientists, physicians, theologians, and experts in literature and comparative religion can be cited in abundance, proving that the resurrection of Christ must be seriously considered by any thinking person.[30]

Societies of Christian believers exist for most scholarly categories—law, science, history, philosophy, literature, and so forth. Collectively they include thousands of members among whom are some of the most erudite minds of our time. Yet all of them believe in the physical resurrection of Christ because they find the evidence convincing. For example, among philosophers we could cite Basil Mitchell, for many years the Nolloth Professor of the Christian Religion at Oxford University and author of The Justification of Religious Belief; Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame has taught at Yale, Harvard, UCLA, Boston University, and University of Chicago and been president of the American Philosophical Association and the Society of Christian Philosophers; Richard Swineburn of Oxford University is widely known as one of the premier rational defenders of Christian faith in the twentieth century and is author of The Coherence of Theism Faith and Reason. We also could cite Mortimer J. Adler who has held professorships at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, is director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, chairman of the board of editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, architect of The Great Books of the Western World and its Syntopicon, and author of over 50 books including Ten Philosophical Mistakes and How to Think About God.[31] Hundreds of other distinguished names could also be added from other scholarly disciplines. Again, men of intellectual caliber as this simply do not believe in the resurrection apart from rational, convincing evidence.

Notes

  1. Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), p. 617; James Hope Moulton, George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 628; Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 71; Kurt Aland, et al., The Greek New Testament (New York: American Bible Society 1968), p. 179.
  2. See the Simon Greenleaf School of Law catalogues, 1989-1990 and future issues.
  3. Ibid.
  4. In Michael Green, Man Alive! (Chicago: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1969), p. 54.
  5. Wilbur M. Smith, Therefore Stand: Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Ml: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 425; cf., p. 584.
  6. Q.v., “Hugo Grotius,” Encyclopedia Britannica Micropaedia, vol. 4, p. 753, and references.
  7. In Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, rev. ed. (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), pp. 201-2.
  8. J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (London: Tyndale Press, 1970), p. 90.
  9. Ibid., p.105.
  10. In John Stott, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity Fellowship, 1969), p. 47.
  11. Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible: A Defense of the Christian Faith (San Diego: Creation Life Publishers, 1977), pp. 13, 196.
  12. Ibid., p. 192.
  13. Ibid., p. 120.
  14. Ibid., p. 50.
  15. Ibid., p. 45, cf., pp. 16-17.
  16. Ibid., p. 16.
  17. Smith, Therefore Stand, p. 423.
  18. Linton, Lawyer Examines the Bible, p. 36.
  19. In Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale/Living Books, 1983), p. 97.
  20. In John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1975), pp. 132-33. (Greenleaf’s Testimony of the Evangelists is reprinted as an appendix.)
  21. In Linton, Lawyer Examines the Bible, p. XXIV.
  22. Ibid., p. XXV.
  23. Ibid., p. 242; Sherlock’s text is reproduced herein.
  24. Ibid., p. 227.
  25. Sir Lionell Lucknoo, What Is Your Verdict? (Fellowship Press, 1984), p. 12, cited in Ross Clifford, Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection (Claremont, CA: Albatross, 1991), p. 112.
  26. Lord Chancellor Hailsham, “The Door Wherein I Went” (“On His Conversion and the Truth of Christian Faith”), The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, vol. 4; Lord Diplock, ibid., vol. 5, pp. 213-16, the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim, CA.
  27. Thomas Sherlock, The Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (rpt.) in John Warwick Montgomery’s Jurisprudence: A Book of Readings, 1974; also in Linton, Lawyer Looks at the Bible.
  28. Linton, Lawyer Looks at the Bible, p. 186.
  29. See Ibid., pp. 14-20, and Stephen D. Williams, The Bible in Court: A Brief for the Plaintiff (1925); Judge Clarence Bartlett, As a Lawyer Sees Jesus: A Logical Analysis of the Scriptural and Historical Record (Cincinnati, OH: New Life/Standard Publishing, 1960), pp. 127-28; William Webster, “The Credibility of the Resurrection of Christ Upon the Testimony of the Apostles” (1735), The Simon Greenleaf Law Review (Anaheim, CA), vol. 6 (1986-1987), pp. 99-145.
  30. Cf., the membership of: The Victoria Institute of Great Britain, Christian Medical Society, Creation Research Society, American Scientific Affiliation, Christian Philosophical Society, Evangelical Theological Society, and related professional organizations.
  31. See their essays in Kelly James Clark ed., Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Eleven Leading Thinkers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

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