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A Note from Our Editor: Refuting Richard Packham's Broadside Against Our Legal Apologetic

The Global Journal is finding its mark—not just with serious believers but also with opponents of the Gospel.  Thus, following the appearance of our issue dealing with the Editor’s apologetic approach (Vol. 3, No. 1 [4/02]), Richard Packham, a “free-thinking” retired lawyer, whose web essay endeavouring to refute my legal apologetic was the object of Boyd Pehrson’s article, “How Not To Critique Legal Apologetics,” posted on his home page a “Response to Pehrson”

Normally, we would not use space in the Global Journal for a rejoinder, especially when Packham has not even been able to get the name of our journal straight (!).  But an Editor must surely defend a fine contributor, and Pehrson’s original article does not warrant the treatment to which Packham has subjected it.

Packham begins by castigating Pehrson for ad hominem argumentation—in that Pehrson questions the level of Packham’s legal expertise.  In point of fact, the reason for this was simply that Packham, in his first article (the one that started all this) introduced his own legal background in an effort to show that he was indeed qualified to refute someone of my academic and legal qualifications!  Had Packham not brought up the issue of  curriculum vitae, Pehrson would doubtless not have bothered.  “What goes around, comes around.”

In discussing the Ancient Documents rule, Packham downgrades Pehrson’s perfectly valid point that any court in the common-law world would admit the Gospel records (as Simon Greenleaf, the foremost expert on the law of evidence in the 19th century so well argued in his classic, The Testimony of the Evangelists).  Says Packham: “Remember that ‘authentication’ is only the first step in presenting evidence.”  Quite: but neither Greenleaf, Montgomery, nor Pehrson ever suggested otherwise!  The weight of the admitted documents must still be presented—but that is exactly what Packham and his ilk never face.  They are not worthy to tie the laces of such scholars as F. F. Bruce (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?)—and they have yet to face the consequences of my History and Christianity and Tractatus Logico-Theologicus.  Moreover, Packham seems to be saying that the Ancient Documents Rule never goes beyond the authentication of the document itself (that is, it has nothing to do with the admissibility of the statements which are themselves contained in the authentic document).  Putting it otherwise, Packham appears to be arguing that when the Ancient Documents Rule is applied to a writing, the document can be regarded as genuine or authentic and yet full of errors.  However, in California for example (Evidence Code Section 1331) a document found to be an ancient writing comes into evidence for the truth of the matters stated therein (since the Ancient Documents Rule functions as an exception to the more general Hearsay Rule). It is not just that the document is authentic--the statements therein actually come into evidence (see Estate of Nidever, 181 Cal.App. 2d 367 [1960]; Kirkpatrick v. Tapo Oil, 144 Cal. App. 2d 404 [1956]).  And as long as the hearsay statements contained in the genuine or authentic document have been "acted upon as true" by persons with an interest in the matter, they are admissible (cf. the Law Revision Comment to Section 1331).  We think that dying for the truth of what they wrote should qualify the Apostolic witnesses in this regard!

As to the application of the Hearsay Rule itself, Packham asserts that Pehrson “reveals his own unfamiliarity with legal argumentation in his citation of McCormick on Evidence, where that handbook quoted the case of Samuel H. Moss, Inc. v FTC, in which the court chastised the trial court for being so strict in excluding hearsay evidence. Pehrson makes several blunders here that no one familiar with legal writing or legal argumentation would make.”  Actually, it is Packham who commits the egregious blunders.  He complains that the cited case is “over fifty years” old and would be cited only “when the lawyer is desperate and cannot find any more recent case on point.”  As a matter of fact, the age of a case is only relevant if a more recent case overrules it (which didn’t happen here).  In England , we still cite such cases as those in Coke’s Reports—even though they go back to the 16th and the 17th centuries.  And, contra Packham, the fact that Moss was an administrative proceeding with “more relaxed procedural rules” does not make the case any less significant; after all, critical matters of property and status are decided every day in administrative tribunals!  As for the employment of obiter dicta, these have continuing importance even if the obiter comment was not controlling in deciding the case.  Further, it should go without saying that “Pehrson and Montgomery do NOT “imply that in countries [where there is no rule against the admission of hearsay] hearsay is accepted by the courts on the same level as eye-witness testimony.” 

The whole point of Pehrson’s Hearsay discussion was to stress that (a) the Gospel materials in large part depend on firsthand, non-hearsay evidence (John: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you”; Peter: “We have not followed cunningly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty”; etc., etc.); and (b) even the dependent material (cf. Luke 1:1-4) would be accepted where the Hearsay rules still applied in American courts do not constitute part of procedural law (this would include decisions in civil actions by judges in England and most Commonwealth countries and decisions in both civil and criminal trials by continental European judges).

The issue of the sufficiency of evidence is the real centre of this controversy.  Here, Packham, like secular critics of the New Testament documents and the life of Jesus in general, never faces the fact that the same standards of documentary and testimonial soundness which apply to the New Testament are those applied to the entire corpus of classical materials, historical and literary.  To throw out the one is, logically, to throw out the other.  The same applies in the handling of evidence in ordinary life: If you object to the accuracy of the resurrection accounts (i.e., if you reject the evidence that Jesus died on the Cross and that he was alive subsequently, eating with his disciples), you might as well give up all reliance on funeral practice—since you will not be able to distinguish the dead from the living, the corpse from the undertaker.

Finally, we have Packham’s expression of “pain”—“the pain of knowing that people remain in bondage to the myths and superstitions of former ages, to the stories preserved in that black-bound book called the Bible.”   Here, we meet the classic fallacy of over-generalisation.  Pehrson, last we heard, was discussing certain New Testament documents.  The Bible consists of sixty-six books.  Has Packham and his ilk ever really taken the time to study the defense of this literature across twenty centuries?  What about the innumerable  prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in detail in the life of Jesus (see my Christ Our Advocate—  Why was this prophetic case never refuted by the religious leaders of Jesus’ time who knew their Old Testaments and whose murderous treatment of Jesus showed that they had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to destroy his claim to Messiahship had they the evidence to do so?  The real “pain” is that Packham never faces the totality of the evidence.  Perhaps, after all, there is an ad hominem point to be made: If the great physicists such as Einstein reject the flat-earth theory, we do not spend much time with the few adherents of that viewpoint.  In the realm of legal practice and jurisprudence, it is Sir Matthew Hale, Sir William Blackstone, Simon Greenleaf, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Norman Anderson, Lord Denning, Lord Diplock, Lord Hailsham, et al. versus Packham (cf. Ross Clifford, Leading Lawyers’ Case for the Resurrection).  One need not really hesitate for very long in deciding which side to join.

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This issue of the GLOBAL JOURNAL begins with one of the most important articles we have ever published—an article illustrating the stark contrast between reactionary politics (with which, sadly, not a few fundamentalist Christians have been identified) and true, biblical Christianity: “Holocaust Denial: What It Is and Why Evangelical Scholars Must Categorically Reject It,” by Richard V. Pierard, Professor of History Emeritus at Indiana State University. Dr. Pierard’s contribution is followed by a matching essay hitting the liberal, “politically correct” approach to things Jewish: “Why Liberals Didn’t Understand Passion Play 2000,” by Professor Craig Parton, Esq., American director of our International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights ( Then we take a crack at the cults by way of Gordon Allen Carle’s “How Mormon Scholars Conduct Patristic Research To Prove the Legitimacy of Their Religion.” Lastly—having stuck it to the far right, the far left, and the sectarian hinterland—the issue concludes with a nice piece of philosophical theology: Associate Editor Dr Edward N. Martin’s “Infinite Causal Regress and the Secunda Via in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas.”

-- John Warwick Montgomery

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