Since assuming my new position on the faculty of the International School of Law in Washington, D. C., I have been asked by a number of well-meaning Christian friends: “What are you doing there?”

When considering the offer, what did I obtain for my personal library from a European antiquarian book dealer but a seventeenth-century Latin divinity thesis on the subject “whether one who gives up theology for law or medicine can be saved” (conclusion: yes, but be careful). My present role, however, has in no sense been a desertion of theology, since my professorship of jurisprudence (jurisprudence=philosophy/theology of law) was created at ISL specifically to reintegrate positive law and Christian truth in the manner characteristic of Blackstone and legal instruction in the early years of our nation’s history. The interrelations of law and theology are multifarious.

Readers of older apologetic literature are aware that lawyers and legal scholars have often been concerned with the credibility of Christianity. The “founder of modern apologetics” by way of his classic work The Truth of the Christian Religion (1627) was Hugo Grotius—and he is even more well known as the “father of international law” for his treatise on The Law of War and Peace (1625). The greatest authority on American common-law evidence in the nineteenth century was Harvard Law professor Simon Greenleaf, the author of the still published Testimony of the Evangelists, a demonstration of the reliability of the gospel accounts of our Lord’s life. Irwin Linton’s popular volume A Lawyer Examines the Bible, the tracts and booklets of J. N. D. Anderson (director of the University of London’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), and the writings of Jacques Ellul (professor of law at Bordeaux and member of the Advisory Board of ISL’s International Law Institute) are a valuable barometer of the extent to which the legal mind is drawn like a moth to the flame of apologetics.

Why does this occur? Why are lawyers more inclined to do apologetics than engineers or dentists? One reason might be that the law plays a very large role in Scripture itself—not only through the Old Testament covenant of law but also in the centrality of the trial of Jesus and Pauline legal imagery in the New Testament: thus such works as A. N. Sherwin-White’s Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (1963). But an even more important reason lies in the very nature of the legal operation.

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In spite of the popular notion that lawyers are sophists who (to use the language of Plato’s Apology of Socrates) “make the worse argument appear the better,” the fundamental function of the legal profession is to seek justice by seeking truth. The lawyer endeavors to reduce societal conflicts by arbitrating conflicting truth-claims. Inherent to the practice of the law is an effort to resolve conflicts over legal responsibility, and such conflicts invariably turn on questions of fact. To establish a “cause of action” the plaintiff’s complaint must allege a legal right which the defendant was duty-bound to recognize, and which he violated; at the trial, evidentiary facts must be marshaled in support of the plaintiff’s allegations, and the defendant will need to provide factual evidence in his behalf to counter the plaintiff’s prima facie case against him. To this end, legal science, as an outgrowth of millennia of court decisions, developed meticulous criteria for distinguishing factual truth from error. The preoccupation of the law with canons of evidence creates a natural interest on the part of lawyers to investigate religious truth-claims.

Concretely, here are some fundamental principles of the law of evidence that, if applied to the question of the factual truth of Christianity, will yield most significant results:

1. The “ancient documents” rule: ancient documents 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). Applied to the gospel records, and reinforced by responsible lower (textual) criticism, this rule would establish their competency in any court of law.

2. The “parol evidence” rule: external, oral testimony or tradition will not be received in evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will. Applied to the biblical documents, which expressly claim to be “executed” and complete (Rev. 22:18, 19), this rule insists that Scripture be allowed to “interpret itself” and not be twisted by external, extra-biblical data (comparative New Eastern religious texts and practices, Sitz im Leben interpretations, “historical-critical method,” “New Hermeneutic,” etc.).

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3. The “hearsay rule”: a witness must testify “of his own knowledge,” not on the basis of what has come to him indirectly from others. Applied to the New Testament documents, this demand for primary-source evidence is fully vindicated by the constant asseverations of their authors to be setting forth “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” (1 John 1:1).

4. The related “cross-examination” principle: “All trials proceed upon the idea that some confidence is due to human testimony, and that this confidence grows and becomes more steadfast in proportion as the witness has been subjected to a close and searching cross-examination” (Justice Ruffin, in State v. Morriss, 84 N. C. 764). Applied to the apostolic proclamation, this rule underscores the reliability of testimony to Christ’s resurrection that was presented contemporaneously in the synagogues—in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case for Christianity had the facts been otherwise.

These apologetic applications of legal reasoning are a mere sampling. What makes them particularly important is the place of the legal system in society: the indisputable consideration that upon just such rules of evidence issues of life and death are necessarily decided and man’s societal fate is determined. Analytical philosopher Stephen Toulmin, in his ground-breaking work The Uses of Argument (1958), goes so far as to recommend that philosophy itself cease to rely primarily on the deductive, mathematical, Cartesian model to solve its metaphysical problems, and instead “treat logic as generalised jurisprudence”—learn from the inductive, fact-oriented structure of legal argument.

Apologetically, the modern man faced with legally grounded evidence for Christ’s claims is in the awkward position of having to go to the Cross or throw away the only accepted method of arbitrating ultimate questions in society. Luther put it nicely in the Tischreden: “If the world will not hear the divines, they must hear the lawyers, who will teach them manners.”

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