Bob's blog – A skeptical lawyer

2016 – Henry Hock Guan Teh, Principles of the Law of Evidence and Rationality Applied in the Johannine Christology (Wipf & Stock 2016).

Posted on October 22, 2018

       Saint John

I have read most legal apologetic books, and this is the worst of a bad lot. At least that’s my opinion.

Henry Hock Guan Teh is a Malaysian solicitor with a PhD from Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana. I speak only English, and I envy people who understand more than one language. That said, it is painfully obvious Dr. Teh wants to show off a sophisticated English vocabulary even though his grammar and syntax leave a lot to be desired. Consider the following paragraph from his abstract or “prolegomenon” in which Dr. Teh explains “the aim of the book.”

The research will argue that using reason, evidence and the mind are not wrong in our faith in God. In fact, the use of the ‘mind’ is compulsory, normal and encouraged in the Bible. The aim of the book is to demonstrate that the Apostle John constantly uses rationality, apologetics and evidence in his writings and he never over-emphasizes the subjectivity of the heart. On the contrary, he is applying the mind to appeal the intellect of the readers, instead of mere faith.

I intended to read the whole book, but my powers of concentration withered before 222 pages of this turgid and pretentious prose. I admittedly base this review on an incomplete reading. Nonetheless, I believe I read enough.

As quoted above, the aim of the book is to demonstrate that the Apostle John used rationality and evidence. The first 148 pages of this 222 page book consists of three lengthy preliminary chapters in which Dr. Teh discusses (1) Evidentialism, (2) legal apologetics, and (3) legal definitions and principles.

Dr. Teh discusses at least one legal issue that has escaped the notice of most legal apologists – expert testimony. As usual, his analysis is unnecessarily verbose, but he makes the valid point that legal apologists sometimes rely on expert opinion. For example, a doctor can testify regarding his medical opinion about the cause of Jesus’ physical death based on the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side. I know of no other legal apologist who has explained the standard for admissibility of such expert opinions.

In Chapter 4, Dr. Teh argues that the Gospel of John uses an evidential approach. Other authors have made the same observation.[1]

In Chapter 5, Dr. Teh finally gets to the main point of his book: “Systematically surfing through chapter by chapter, we shall attempt to identify the basic judicial evidential principles as indirectly applied by the Apostle John.” By this point, I had formed a completely negative attitude about this book, so I merely skimmed through its chapter-by-chapter analysis of the Gospel of John, and picked page 178 to criticize. Dr. Teh argues that Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of John is “demonstrative evidence.” Dr. Teh explains:

The first evidence is the performance of a miracle itself – demonstrative evidence. This is one of the best way to rebut a repudiation that a certain action necessitating the fact in issue cannot be performed. By demonstrating a miracle such as healing in front of those cynic (jury) is strong evidence to change their mind.

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but Jesus’ miracles were not demonstrative evidence. In the very next paragraph, Dr. Teh explains a reasonably accurate definition of demonstrative evidence. “The ‘real evidence‘ is the actual object itself e.g. the gun. ‘Demonstrative evidence‘ is a representation of the real thing e.g. a model of the gun to illustrate the original weapon.” If it happened, in what sense was the miraculous healing only a representation of the real thing?

That’s all I care to say about this book. If you’re considering spending your hard-earned money on it, you’ve been warned.

[1] William P Broughton, The Historical Development of Legal Apologetics 27 (Xulon Press 2009).