Information Enigma Trailer

This is from the website Evolution and News:

We are very pleased to announce a coming short documentary feature, The Information Enigma, that asks the ultimate question in biology: How does biological information arise? The focus is on the Cambrian explosion, some 530 million years ago, but of course the mystery is pervasive in the history of life. It’s a major stumbling block for the theory of unguided evolution, and pretty conclusive evidence for intelligent design.

I am looking forward to this documentary.

Why Do So Many People Misunderstand the Word “Faith”

Anyone who has been engaged in talking to people in our culture about the Christian worldview knows that many people misunderstand the word “faith.” I could go ahead and blame the media, pop culture, and the university for this widespread problem. But the reality is that it is incumbent upon pastors, apologists, and ministry leaders to teach and instruct Christians about the proper definition of the word “faith.” Yes, many Christians don’t know how to explain the word “faith.”

Some theologians and apologists have suggestedn that it might be a good idea to substitute the word “trust” in place of the word “faith.” This has some merit to it. Joseph Thayer says the following:

“To believe” means to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, [to] place confidence in. [And in] a moral and religious reference, pisteuein [from pisteuo] is used in the N.T. of a conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul. “ (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 511).

Here are some of the examples of faith in our popular culture:

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: starring Harrison Ford & Sean Connery as Indy’s father) – At the end of the story, Indy must retrieve the Holy Grail to save his father’s life. He makes it through a long corridor of obstacles; only to find he is standing on the edge of a deep chasm he must cross. He steps out “in faith” and finds he is actually walking on a camouflaged footbridge. Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING IN THE FACE OF CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE.

2. Revolutions: the third movie in The Matrix trilogy: In the final scene the Oracle is asked if she always knew that Neo was “The One”? She replies, “Oh no. But I believed. I believed.” Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING WITHOUT REALLY KNOWING.

3. The Polar Express: The boy, who is skeptical about whether Santa Clause is real, finally is lead to say, “I believe, I believe.” Just then, Santa appears to him. Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING MAKES IT REAL. (1)

The Leap of Faith or Leap to Faith?

Another common assertion is that faith in God or Jesus as the Messiah is nothing more than a “leap of faith.” Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), became one of the foremost contributors to existential philosophy because of a reaction to one of the largest influences on his life, that being George Hegel, who believed the only way to discover reality was through rationalism. (2) Another contributing factor to Kierkegaard’s existentialism was the experience he had in his formal church that was located in Denmark.

It was there that practicing faith with passion was discounted. Out of his reaction to the cold formalism, Kierkegaard discovered what was important was to have an existential encounter with God. (3) Many assume that the phrase itself “leap of faith” finds its origins in the writings of Kierkegaard. However, he himself never used the term, as he referred to the leap as a “leap to faith.” For Kierkegaard, since man finds his authentic existence in a relationship with the Creator, the decision to believe must involve a criterionless choice.(4) Even though Kierkegaard says there are no rational grounds to take the leap to faith, the individual must do so or he will forever remain in an inauthentic existence. (5)

Kierkegaard was correct in calling people to a passionate experience with God. After all, faith is not simply about adhering to a set of objective, historical, propositions.

In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.

Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God. There are four aspects of faith:

1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.
4. Faith: begins in that obscure mysterious center of our being that Scripture calls the ‘heart.” Heart in Scripture does not mean feeling, or sentiment, or emotion, but the absolute center of the soul, as the physical heart is at the center of the body. “Keep your heart with all viligence” advised Solomon, “for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

Lessons from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

” For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Four observations can be made from this passage:

First of all, faith has an object: In the Bible, the object of faith is sometimes described as resting in God Himself (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:24). Even in the New Testament, Jesus confirms this issue (Mark 11:22). But even as God is the object of faith, the author of the Gospel of John directs his audience to Jesus as being the object of faith as well (John 20:31).

Secondly, the object of biblical faith must be true: As D.A. Carson says,

“Paul is communicating to the Corinthians’ that their faith is “futile” (vs.17). In other words, the Corinthians faith is valid only if its object is true. Faith is never validated in the New Testament when its object is not true. Indeed, New Testament faith is strengthened when its object is validated supported by witness, shown to be revealed by God, impregnably real, true. Such an understanding of “faith” is utterly at odds with the use of faith in the Western culture.” (6)

In relation to truth, both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. (7) According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony. (8)

Thirdly, biblical faith is rooted in historical reality: Objectively speaking, no matter how much faith a Christian has, it can’t change whether Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, believing Jesus rose from the dead won’t make it true. The event of the resurrection is in the past. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He did not rise from the dead.

A correct view of biblical faith simply appropriates what is already written in the Bible. Perhaps modern-day Christians can learn something about their own faith by reading this comment by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III:

“Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.” (9)

Finally, there is a relationship between faith and knowledge: Does biblical faith assert that we can believe in things we cannot know? According to Paul, unless his audience accepts the “fact” that Jesus rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history, they are still dead in their sins. They are to be pitied. In the words of Greg Koukl, “The opposite of faith is not fact, but unbelief. The opposite of knowledge is ignorance. Neither is a virtue in Christianity.” (10)

What about Hebrews 11:1?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I hear skeptics quote this passage to support the view that faith is blind and not supported by any evidence. Is this correct?

First, don’t quote this verse out of context. It has to be read in light of the rest of the chapter.

Second, we need to know how the verse and chapter fits in the overall context of the the book of Hebrews.

Most of the time this passage is laid out by skeptics in the following way:

1. If we can’t see God, God does not exist.
2. We can’t see God
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

What is wrong with this argument?

It must also be remembered to insist that God must be a visible object which can be observed with the five senses is to commit a category mistake. A category mistake is to assign to something a property which applies only to objects of another category. We must not confuse two categories- the made and the Unmade. Obviously, from the Orthodox Christian view, God has no composition. The Hebrew word for one is “echad” which leaves room for a plurality within a unity of substance- but there is no implication of a plurality of beings or parts within a being. Scripture admonishes mankind about making any physical image of God (Exodus 20:4). God is pure spirit ( John 4:24). He has no parts and is an immaterial Being. Hence, the God of the Bible is unmade.

That is why we have to observe the effects in the world and make rational inferences as to what the cause is of the effect. So while it is true that God is not a material object, we can observe the effects in the world and ask whether they can be explained by a blind, undirected natural processes or intelligence. By the way, this is similar to what Paul says in Rom.1:18-21. We see that Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer (God is the cause), His “everlasting power and divinity” are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).

Biblical Faith: Three Aspects

There have been three aspects of faith expressed throughout church history: notitia (knowledge), fiducia (trust), and assensus (assent). Notitia refers to the data or doctrinal element of faith. Assensus refers to the assent of the intellect of the truth of the Christian faith. According to the book of James, the demons can have intellectual assent to the fact that God exists but not have saving faith. That is why a person must exercise fiducia- this is the aspect of faith that involves the application or trust in the faith process. (11)

In other words, fiducia allows a person to go beyond merely intellectual assent. Fiducia involves the will, emotion, and intellect.

Belief In And Belief That

It must not be forgotten that there is a relationship between belief that and belief in. For example, in James 2:19, it says the demons believe that God exists. Apologetics may serve as a valuable medium through which God can operate, but faith is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. Everyone takes their past and present history into examining the existence of God. Sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to God’s invitation to them.

Objectively speaking, the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian faith to enable us to understand that God exists. However, from a subjective perspective, the Holy Spirit also enables an individual to place his trustin God. (John 16: 12-15). In other words, one can trust that God exists and still not be a true believer.

So we can conclude by stating that humans not only need to believe that Christ is the Savior, but that they also need to put our trust in Christ to become a follower of Him.

One Piece of Advice to Christian Apologists

There is no doubt that we need to do our homework and examine all the passages about faith and the apologetic methods that were used by both Jesus and the Apostles. I can say without hesitation that the object of my faith is not evidence. If the object of my faith was evidence alone, than evidence would be an idol. Instead, the object of my faith is God or Jesus Himself. So while reason and evidence does support my trust in Jesus/God, it does not take the place of God Himself. If you are at the place where you have allowed evidence to take the place of faith, you need to pull back and find some balance on this issue.

1. These three examples of faith are courtesy of Summit Ministries. Available at
2. Erickson, M. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 1998, 40-47.
3. Ibid.
4. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 56.
5. Ibid.
6. Carson, Donald A. Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2005, 216.
7. Moreland, J.P. and W.L. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 131-132.
8. Ibid.
9. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.
10. Koukl, G. Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2009, 153.
11. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 60.

Six Guidelines About What We Can Know About Jesus

Here are some guidelines as to what we can know about Jesus. Please also note that you can check out our bibliography here. 

1. Paul is our earliest source for the life of Jesus. In these links I discuss some of the common internet objections about Paul.

Paul and the Historical Jesus

Evidence We Want and Evidence We Should Expect: A Look at Paul’s Letters

What Can Paul Tell Us About Jesus?

Darrell Bock responds to Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged

How Did Paul Receive the Gospel? Clearing Up A Supposed Contradiction Between Galatians 1:11-12, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

A Look at James Tabor on Christianity Before Paul

Why the Resurrection of Jesus is the Best Explanation For What Happened To Paul

The Earliest Record for The Death and Resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7

Did Paul Invent Christianity?

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Is the Founder of the Christian Religion Paul of Tarsus or Jesus of Nazareth?

Ben Witherington’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Forged

Mike Licona’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”

2. Before there was a written tradition, there was a oral phase of the Jesus story. This means that the culture of Jesus was predominantly oral. So this means the desire for an abundance of written sources for Jesus is misguided from the start.  Furthermore, the typical attempt “arguments from silence “objection falls flat.

Maurice Casey, who was a non Christian scholar who specialized in early Christianity summarized the importance of the oral world of Jesus:

“The major reasons why all our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus are Christian is that Jesus was a first- century Jewish prophet who lived in a primarily oral Jewish culture, not a significant politician in the Graeco-Roman world. By contrast, for example, Julius Caesar was an important political and literary figure in the highly literate culture of the Romans. It is therefore natural that he should have written literary works which have survived, and that other surviving literary sources have written about him.”

Casey goes onto say:

“Jesus of Nazareth left no literary works at all, and he had no reason to write any. He lived in a primarily oral culture, except for the sanctity and central importance of its sacred texts, which approximate to our Hebrew Bible. A variety of works now thought of as Apocrypha (e.g. Sirach) or Pseudopigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch) were held equally sacred by some Jewish people, and could equally well learnt and repeated by people who did not possess the then- difficult skill of writing. Almost all our surviving primary sources about Jesus are Christian because most people who had any interest in writing about him were his followers,and the few relatively early comments by other writers such as Josephus and Tacitus are largely due to special circumstances, such as Jesus’ brother Jacob (Jos.Ant .XX,200), or the great fire of Rome” (Tac.Annals XI, 44). – Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? by Maurice Casey

To see more sources on this topic, see here:

Jesus, the Gospels, and the Telephone Game Objection

Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus by Craig Evans

With no scripture in place, what controlled doctrine in the 1st century? By Darrell Bock

The Issue of Oral Tradition: Dr. Darrell Bock

How Reliable were the Oral traditions about Jesus? – Dr. Craig Keener

Mark Roberts on Oral Tradition/Telephone Game Objections

A Look at Oral Tradition/The Orality Phase of the Jesus Story

James M. Arlandson: Historical Reliability of the Gospels

3. It is hard to know much about Jesus without understanding the Second Temple Jewish period.  Given that internet skeptics are infatuated with how the Jesus story was borrowed from other pagan or dying and rising god stories, this is important. 

Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century was not seen as a single “way.”  There were many “Judaism’s”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.  The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).  Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. The first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism.  For all the different sects, they did have some core beliefs such as adherence to the Torah, belief in one God, and belief in Israel as God’s elect people. Would Second Temple Jewish people who  would recite three times daily his nation’s creed, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one’ (Deuteronomy 6.4),  be so quick to base the Jesus story after mythological constructs such as Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, or someone else?  Let’s say Paul and the New Testament authors decided to build the Jesus story off some of the these figures.  Based on each sects adherence to their core beliefs,  any form of religious syncretism is a form of idolatry. First, the Jewish Scriptures forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9).

Also, following the exile and subsequent intertestamental struggles, the Jews no longer fell prey to physical idolatry. So to assert that the Israel always had problems with idolatry in their early formation which would lead to further into idolatry in the Second Temple period leads me to cry “anachronism.”  Remember, idolatry is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But there are warnings about idolatry in other portions of the New Testament( 1 Cor 6:9-10 ; Gal 5:20 ; Eph 5:5 ; Col 3:5 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Rev 21:8).  Paul instructs believers not to associate with idolaters ( 1 Cor 5:11 ; 10:14 ) and even  commends the Thessalonian for their turning from the service of idols “to serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thess1:9). So I guess my question is the following: Why would Paul or the early disciples commit an idolatrous act and but then later speak against idolatry?  It seems rather inconsistent.

 Also, see Craig Evan’s article here called Jesus and Judaism. 

4.   It is important to understand the genre of the Gospels. See our resources here:

Richard Bauckham: The Gospels as Histories: What sort of history are they?

Ancient and Modern Historiography: What Are The Gospels?

Craig Keener on the Genre of the Gospels

The Gospels as Historical Biography (Richard Bauckham)

Glen Miller’s Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?

The Gospels as Biographical Kerygma-Michael Bird

5. If the Gospels are truly biased and only written for apologetic purposes, the Gospel authors made it very hard on themselves. See our article here:  

6. A final note: Nobody applies the same  standards to anyone else in antiquity as they do with Jesus. If they did, we probably would know little about anyone in antiquity. Just read John Dickson’s example in his review here.

Please feel free to take our look at What Can We Know About Jesus? 25 Suggested Readings or our resource page here.

A Look at the Apologetics of Paul

In this post, I want to examine some of the methods and apologetic approaches that Paul used in reaching his culture for the Gospel. There has been a lot of debate on the topic of apologetic methodology.  Which approach should we take in following Paul’s example? Presuppositional or Evidential? Many will quote one Pauline text and assert Paul favored one approach more than then the other. Sadly, this is not helpful at all. We need to look at various approaches Paul used before declaring there is only one approach to use in our present culture. I have noted elsewhere about the educational background of Paul.

Paul’s use of General Revelation

General revelation  serves to explain the worldwide phenomenon of faith. Many people are religious, because they have a type of knowledge of God. All people have knowledge of God although it may be suppressed to the extent of being unrecognizable or unconscious. It is still there, and there will be areas of sensitivity to which the message may be effectively directed as a starting point.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. ;For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.;For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”-Romans 1: 18-21.

First, Paul says God’s “divine nature” should be evident to all. This means we can see the non-moral attributes of God in creation such omnipotence in the created order. “Perceive” means to “perceive in the mind.” “What has been made” means God’s workmanship can be seen. The created order is more than a physical act, but the work of design, or art where the craftsman brings his will, thoughts or emotions, love and skill into it.

Remember, the Greco-Roman religious world which Paul is addressing would have assumed that only the wise were the ones who had knowledge of their gods. Also, being that Paul was Jewish, he knew that Jewish people would have seen the pagans as having no knowledge of the one true God. So Paul is turning things upside down here in saying that knowledge of the true God is  available to all. Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature).

When we observe the effects in the world, we can infer there are two kinds of causes—natural and intelligent. In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose).

Moral Knowledge

 “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:12-15).

The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” This type of natural revelation is called intuitive knowledge. It is instantaneously apprehended. The issue of moral knowledge is what C.S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man. Lewis recalls that all cultures, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian etc. show that natural revelation is true. In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law (The Torah).

The argument Paul is making is not whether people know they have moral knowledge. From an epistemological standpoint, they most certainly do!

Paul’s Use of  Historical Revelation: Messianic Prophecy

In many cases  Paul’s audience were Jewish people who were already theists. Paul is seen going to the Jew first  (Rom. 1: 16) in The Book of Acts. Paul goes to the synagogue first in Salamis (13:5), Pisidian Antioch (13:14), Iconium (14:1), Thessalonica (17:2), Berea (17:10), Corinth (18:4) and Ephesus (18:19 and 19:8). In other words, they were already believed in the God of Israel. Hence, Paul had no need to establish whether there was a God with them. That is why his apologetic methodology was to go right into the Jewish Scriptures.

Let’s see where Paul utilizes prophecy:

Acts 13

In his sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13: 16-41), Paul says Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant.

Paul also says Jesus is the fulfillment of Ps. 2:7 and Ps.16:10 (see Acts 13:33-37).

Let me mention some other Pauline passages:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

We see here:

1.The Messiah died according to the Jewish Scriptures (most likely he is referring to the entire redemptive plan of the Old Testament).

2.He was raised according to the Scriptures (once again, he is probably referring to the redemptive plan of the Old Testament ).

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-7:

 “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We see that:

1  Paul says that the information about the coming Messiah was written about beforehand in the Jewish Scriptures.

2. Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).

3. Remember, the New Testament authors unanimously declare Jesus as the one who is from the “seed of David,” sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; 2 Tim:2:8; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two ways for this prophecy to come to pass. Either God could continually raise up a new heir or he could have someone come who would never die. Does this sound like the need for a resurrection?

Acts 17:1-4:

“Paul went into the synagogue reasoning and giving evidence that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead.”

In this passage, Paul appeals to fulfilled prophecy which is probably a reference to Isa. 53:1-12; Ps. 22:1-16;16 or the entire redemptive plan of the Old Testament.

What about today? Can we use Paul’s approach with Jewish people? The answer is yes and no. When I debate Orthodox Jews or anti-missionaries(e.g.,Jews for Judaism), we are always debating prophecy and the issues in the Old Testament. So it depends on the Jewish person. However, there are many Jewish people that are not Jewish theists. They are agnostics or in many cases atheists. The majority of Jewish people that I have spoken to on a major college campus don’t have any strong convictions about whether God exists or not. Hence, I have to establish that God exists with them.

Paul’s Preaching and The Crucified Messiah

For Paul, “Christ Crucified” is central to his preaching and apologetic.

Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive”  (1)

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

A Misunderstood Text?

1 Corinthians 1: 19-21: ” For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

This is the text that many presuppositional apologists like to point out. For them, any apologist who tries to appeal to mankind’s fallen reason is on shaky ground. In response, no mature apologist thinks reason alone could give anyone a relationship with God. I have been at this long enough to know that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. In other words, sin affects the whole person—mind, emotions, and will. Human beings are radically depraved in their being. People can and do harden their hearts towards God. Sometimes they can reach the point where they are desensitized towards the ways of God. Furthermore, in relation to the text above, Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (2)

From Idolatry to Devotion to Jesus

Given Paul was a Torah observant Jew, he was well aware of the prohibitions against idolatry. For example:

“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.   Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.  For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land.  Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you.  For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deut 4: 15-24.

So here we have a prohibition against creating any male or figure into an idol. But Paul says the following:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”- Phil 2: 5-11.

Following the exile and subsequent intertestamental struggles, the Jews no longer fell prey to physical idolatry. Also, idolatry is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But there are warnings about idolatry in other portions of the New Testament(1 Cor. 6:9-10 ; Gal 5:20 ; Eph. 5:5 ; Col 3:5 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Rev 21:8).  Paul instructs believers not to associate with idolaters ( 1 Cor. 5:11 ; 10:14 ) and even  commends the Thessalonian for their turning from the service of idols “to serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thess1:9). So I guess my question is the following: Why would Paul or the early disciples commit an idolatrous act and but then later speak against idolatry?  It seems rather inconsistent.

They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. In several of Paul’s Letters Jesus is referred to as “Lord” (Gr. kyrios) (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6-8). Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.

Also, as pointed out by Richard Bauckham in his work on this topic, Paul believed that  Jesus was God by attributing attributes to him that were distinctly reserved for God. And he did so in a distinctly Jewish manner while also preserving  monotheism. There were three attributes that first century Jews uniquely assigned to God:

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things

2. God is the Sole Creator of all things

3. God is the only being deserving of worship

So let’s look at how Paul matches up the data here:

1. Jesus participates in God’s sole rule over all things

 Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

 Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being ”far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”

Here, Jesus is clearly given the authority to rule above every one of God’s created beings.

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

Jesus is clearly thought by Paul to have been the creator of the universe. This attribute is reserved only to God in Second Temple Judaism. Paul makes it clear that Jesus created all things.

Col. 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

3. Jesus as worthy of worship (see Phil 2 text above).

As discussed above, only God was worthy of worship in Second Temple Judaism. Nevertheless, Paul discusses the worship of Jesus. Since God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things He alone should be worshiped. Even within the Roman Empire, Jews worshiped God alone. No other entity was worthy of worship.

Paul and Work of the Holy Spirit

Paul insists that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14).. But Paul does not say that the undegenerated person cannot perceive truth about God, but that they do not receive (Gk. dekomai, “welcome”) it. Paul emphatically declared that the basic truths about God are “clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20). The problem is not that unbelievers are not aware of God’s existence but that they do not want  God  to exist because of their desire to live an autonomous life apart from God.

Anyone who does evangelism will generally experience several objections to the Christian faith.  Hence, it is almost impossible to do evangelism apart from some  apologetic training. Josh McDowell has gone on record saying, “The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not.,”

Therefore, the mature apologist knows the  Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process.  Apologetics may serve as a valuable medium but the mature apologist knows faith is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. For example, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. But just because the demons think God exists, this doesn’t mean they have saving faith. Objectively speaking, apologetics or evidence for God may help someone believe that God exists. However, the individual still needs to place their trust in God. This can only be done with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15).

What Can Apologists Learn From Paul?

1.Know your audience: As we see, Paul knew when to use general or historical revelation.

When Paul appeals to the evidence for design in nature (Rom 1:18-21), that takes us to the Intelligent Design debate. ID scholars have written enough on that topic. I  will leave it up to the reader to pursue further study.  Also, to use Romans 1 and to walk up to a skeptic and shout “You know God and are suppressing the truth” probably will fall on dear ears. This doesn’t mean I doubt what Paul is saying. I do think God has given knowledge of himself. But I have yet to have any success by telling people “You already know God.”  It just may be a matter of how we explain this text.  Maybe we can ponder the following comment by Alvin Plantinga:

“Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements.”

2. Paul’ use of messianic prophecy: I am not going to hold back here: many popular level apologetic books  are too simplistic on this topic. If you really want to engage the topic, see our bibliography here. I don’t advise using the common line, “There are over 300 messianic prophecies and they are all fulfilled in Jesus.” Skeptics and Jews as well have written on the problem with this approach. So while the good news is that there are answers, Christians need to work harder on this topic. Furthermore, given all the supersesessionism that permeates the Church ,many Christians don’t know the role of Israel and Jewish missions (Rom 1:16).

3. Education: I gave some background on Paul’s education. It is evident that God used Paul’s  education and background to reach different audiences. So the question is the following: Who is your audience? What area of study should you target?

4. The Power of the Gospel: Paul preached the crucified and risen Messiah. This is the first task of our outreach efforts.  We are called to be faithful and let God handle the results.


1.  Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith (Word &World Supplement Series 3 :St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

2. J.P Moreland  and  W.L. Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 13.

3. Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000), 214-125.