Book Review: 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible: Second Edition (40 Question Series) by Robert L. Plumber

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible: Second Edition (40 Question Series) by Robert L. Plumber, 368 pp. Kregel Publishing, 2022

When it comes to studying and interpreting the Bible, there is an avalanche of reasons as to why Christians should want to improve their skillset in this area. Have you ever noticed that almost every cult arises from improper Bible interpretation? Have also noticed how many skeptics and people from other faiths misinterpret the Bible? Also, have you noticed how in many cases, you go to a “home group” or a Bible study and the group leader asks the participants, “What do you think the passage means?” These are common problems that happen on a regular basis. This is why 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible: Second Edition by Robert L. Plumber is an important book. Once again, in line with the 40 Questions Series, each chapter is short but quite detailed.  If the reader wants to go further, there are always reading suggestions at the end of each chapter.

The first seven chapters of Plummer’s book discuss text, canon, and translation. I think this is the proper order. After all, if the reader doesn’t trust the Bible or question whether it is an accurate deposit of divine revelation, that can be a hindrance in wanting to learn how to interpret it. Plummer makes a case for inerrancy mostly adhering to “The Chicago Statement on Bible Inerrancy.” Thus, anyone familiar with that document (which can be read online), will be familiar with Plummer’s arguments.

The next six chapters cover general issues that are related to interpretation such as principles for interpreting the Bible, how we can improve as interpreters, and a list of some helpful tools we can use to enable us to interpret properly. He notes that knowing the genre of which book is important, as well as knowing the cultural context is critical. After all, the Bible was written in a totally different culture and language. It wasn’t written to Westerners. Also, paying attention to the context of the passage is crucial. As Plummer notes, “Any portion of Scripture must be read within the context of the sentence, paragraph, chapter, larger discourse unit, and entire book. “- pg. 118. In my experience, this is the most common mistake people make. Every systematic theology debate stems from “proof texting.”

Proof Texting is the method by which a person appeals to a passage/ passages to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. Then they assert, “theologian A has a more ‘biblical’ theology than theologian B”  based upon counting up verse in parentheses (on a random page from each work) and claiming to have three times as many.  For example, when someone says, “You can lose  your salvation,” and they quote a passage/ passages out of context, someone can turn around and say “No, you can’t, and I have my passages to show you to prove my point” (out of context again). This happens with the Calvinism/Arminianism debate as well as other debates as well. It gets exhausting.  Furthermore, since I have dealt with several people in cults, they constantly take passages out of context and base their entire theology off one text.

One example is Mormonism. They may quote the following passage: John 10: 14-15 which  says “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” But since they take this out of its original context, they assume Jesus is saying he must come to America and bring in other sheep (he must reveal himself to them). Thus, they assume Jesus came to America in person to do this. I could cite other examples as well. It is tragic and sad. A common mistake is to forget to allow “Scripture to interpret Scripture.” As Plummer says, “We need to listen to the full panoply of texts that touch on a specific topic.”- pg. 109. Plummer also stresses that it is important to interpret the Bible within community. We live in a very individualistic age. But we can’t afford to not take advantage of gifted teachers in the Body of Christ (Eph 4: 11-13).

One of the most important questions Plummer tackles is “Who Determines Meaning of a Text?” He notes that “the dominant approach in the secular academy to interpreting literature highlights the reader as the ultimate determiner of meaning.” – pg. 141. Reader created meanings can be driven by social concerns such as feminist, liberationist, or Marxist readings. In this case, they just read into the text what they want. Obviously, if the reader is the determiner of the meaning of the text, you end up with several contradictory interpretations. This happens in small group  studies as well. I am quite jaded because I have seen too many studies where the leader asks the participants “What do you think this passage means?”  

This leads to what is called eisegeis (the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas) vs “eisegesis” which relies on the original context of a biblical passage to determine that passage’s meaning. Also, good exegesis will take authorial intent seriously. There has been a debate over authorial intent. The question at hand is whether a passage of Scripture can have a meaning other than what the author intended in the text. This is a very important question to answer because if a text can have a meaning other than what the author intended, then another standard or set of principles is needed to determine that meaning. In other words, if meaning does not resign with what the author intended, then who?

If the reader is the one who determines meaning, then which reader is correct? In all honesty, when someone says, “What do you think the text means to you,” my response is “I don’t care what you think the text means.” In other words,  I want to know that the author meant to the audience he was writing to (which isn’t us). Once we do the hard work to figure that out, we can then attempt to make an application to our own lives. So many Christians are jumping to an application without even asking what the original author meant to his own audience.  Furthermore, just as people involved with cults take many passages out of context, they are constantly read into the text what they think it is saying.

Plummer also takes the time to give several tips on how to interpret the books of the Bible (i.e., Prophecy, Proverbs, the Psalms, the Parables, Historical Narratives. Apocalyptic Literature, etc). Plummer also discusses some of the current trends in Bible Interpretation. Overall, anyone who wants to enhance their interpretative skills will benefit from Plummer’s work.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback or any specific type of review.

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A Closer Look at the Virgin Birth

Introduction

From a traditional perspective, the virgin birth has always been one of the essentials of the Christian faith. Jesus was not born in sin and he had no sin nature (Hebrews 7:26).  For those that hold to the doctrine of original sin, given the sin nature is passed down from generation to generation through the father (Romans 5:12, 17, 19), the virgin birth thwarted the transmission of the sin nature and allowed  for the incarnation. So the virgin birth is important to both the deity and humanity of Jesus.

The First Messianic Promise

It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)

“And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history.  God was planning on doing something for the entire world.

Let’s look at Isaiah 7: 10-16:

“Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God;  make it deep as Sheol or high as  heaven.”But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a  virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name  Immanuel.He will eat curds and honey  at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”- NASB

Possible Options in Interpreting the Virgin Birth Prophecy

Single Fulfillment

In this case, the virgin birth has one fulfillment which is in the birth of Jesus. In some cases, the interpreter says Isaiah was prophesying of the future birth of Christ and the prophecy has little to do with the immediate context or situation at hand.

So when we look at the single fulfillment view, I do agree that there is a future referent.  However, I do think this has some challenges and I also think the next three options present some more favorable approaches to the issue of the virgin birth.

Double Fulfillment

In this view, this principle states that the prophecy may have more than one fulfillment. In other words, the immediate context shows that the sign is for King Ahaz while the Matthew 1:22-23 is a sign about the birth of Jesus. To read more about this approach, see Craig Blomberg’s article called Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew: Double Fulfillment.

Double Reference

In this interpretation, there is one block of Scripture that deals with one person, time, or event that may be followed by another block of Scripture that deals with a different person, time, and place without making any clear distinction between two blocks or indicating that there is a gap of time between the two blocks. While “Double Fulfillment” states that one prophecy can have two fulfillments, “Double Reference” says that one piece of Scripture actually contains two prophecies, each having its own fulfillment. [1]

So in the immediate context, while King Ahaz is under attack, the threat it to him and the whole house of David. God assures Ahaz that peace and safety are at hand. The first sign in vs 13, 14, is that there can’t be any attempt to destroy the house of David will fail. The second sign which is seen in verses 15, 16, is given to Ahaz personally. For Ahaz, an event 700 years in the future (about the Messiah) would make no difference to him. So in vs 15-17- the “You” is again singular and specifically for Ahaz. Before Isaiah’s son is old enough to make moral distinctions between right and wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria will be deposed and their threat removed. This was fulfilled within three years. Isaiah again uses the definite article before the term “boy.” This time there is another boy mentioned in the context.: Isaiah’s son. The boy of vs 16 can’t be the son of vs 14, but refers back to Isaiah’s son in vs 3. God promises that the attack upon him by Israel and Syria will not succeed, and before Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub, reaches an age of moral maturity, the two enemy kings will cease to exist.

Let’s go a little deeper at the Sign to the House of David in Isa. 7:13-14. In Hebrew, there is a clear change between the singular “you” of vs 9, 11, 16, 17, and the plural “you” of verses 13-14. The sign is not just for Ahaz, but for the whole house of David. [2] In vs  14, we see the word  “Behold,” This Hebrew word draws attention to an event which is past, present, or future. However, grammatically, whenever “behold” is used with the Hebrew present participle; it always refers to a future event. That is the case here. Not only is the birth future, but the very conception is future. This is not referring to a pregnant woman about to give birth. The NASB translates it as “a virgin” which is wrong. The NIV and NKJV translate it as “the virgin”- according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, when finding the use of a definite article “the”- the reader should look for a reference in the immediate previous context. Having followed the passage from 7:1, there has been no mention of any woman. Having failed the immediate context, the next rule is called “ the principle of previous reference”- something that which has been dealt with earlier and is common knowledge among the people. [3]

 Typological Interpretation

Duane A. Garrett says the following in his article called, “Type, Typology” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:

“In typology, the “type” is perhaps the least understood but most important concept in the hermeneutics of biblical prophecy. Typological prophecy occurs throughout the Bible and can be considered the “normal” way that the prophets, including Jesus, spoke of the future. Failure to take this method of speaking into account can lead to gross distortions of the prophetic message.

Typology is often confused with allegorical interpretations and is sometimes wrongly labeled as “double fulfillment.” It also contrasts with what is sometimes called the “literal interpretation.” The idea of a “double-fulfillment” of prophecy is closer to the concept of typology, but as a hermeneutical model it is crude and imprecise. The metaphor of two mountains often accompanies the idea of double-fulfillment. The prophet is said to have seen two separate events in the future juxtaposed like two mountains, one in front of the other. The one event was much closer in time than the other, but he saw the two together through “prophetic foreshortening.” This model does not explain why the two specific events were juxtaposed by the prophet; why two events rather than three, four, or five are juxtaposed; and what the basis for the “foreshortening” is.

The typological interpretation of prophecy asserts that the prophets did not so much make singular predictions as proclaim certain theological themes or patterns and that these themes often have several manifestations or fulfillments in the course of human history. These patterns often have their greatest manifestations in the life of Christ or in the eschaton, but there may be one or more other fulfillments elsewhere in human history, especially in the immediate historical context of the prophet.

The value of typology is twofold. First, it provides an intelligible hermeneutic for dealing with biblical prophecy. The problems of interpreting prophecies, especially those concerning Christ, have often left the interpreter with the unhappy choice of either ignoring the historical and literary context of a passage in order to point the text toward Christ or of focusing exclusively on the historical situation of the prophet with the implication being that the passage in fact has nothing to say about Christ. Faced with this dilemma, some interpreters take Isaiah 7:14 exclusively as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ and employ fairly desperate exegesis to explain why Isaiah would make such a prediction in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Others relate Isaiah 7:14 exclusively to its historical context and in effect say that Matthew was wrong to take it as a prophecy of Christ’s birth (Matt 1:23). In typological exegesis, however, the dilemma is not only avoided but is meaningless.”[4]

Translating the word “virgin”

Some scholars view Isaiah 7:14 as having reference only to the natural conception and birth of the son of the prophetess. Some argue that “alma” sometimes translated “virgin” (KJV, ASV, NIV), refers to a young woman, whether married or unmarried, and should be translated “young maiden” (RSV).  So if Isaiah had intended someone who was a virgin, he would have used bethulah (cf. Gen. 24:16; Levit. 21:3; Judg. 21:12).[5] But as Fruchtenbaum,  notes, “If the women in Isa. 7:14 were a non-virgin, then God would be promising a sign involving fornication and illegitimacy.” [6]

What we do know is that Matthew is using  the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament ) which uses the word “parthenos” which means “virgin.” The Septuagint written 200 years working before the birth of Jesus, evidently believed that this was a prediction of the virgin birth of the Messiah. It is also true that “parthenos” doesn’t always mean “virgin.” We see this by the Septuagint’s rendering of Gen 34;3 when Dinah is still called a “parthenos” even after she was raped. Amy Jill Levine, an Orthodox Jew who is a specialist in New Testament studies, says the following:

“When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew’s gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw a prediction of a virginal conception. That is a legitimate reading. Jews, however, reading their Scriptures in Hebrew, see no virginal conception. By applying Isaiah’s prophecy to his own time, Matthew is reading his Scripture in good first-century Jewish fashion. Contemporaneous Jews also took verses out of context and applied them to their own situations.

For example, the well-known Rabbi Akiva, a Jewish teacher executed by the Romans about 135 C.E., is reputed to have said that Bar Kokhba, the leader of the second revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.), was the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (see the Jerusalem Talmud,Ta’anit 4.8). Similarly, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Prophetic volumes from the Scriptures of Israel as speaking directly to their own time and situation. This form of interpretation, known as pesher (Hebrew for “interpretation”), quotes a Biblical text and then shows its fulfillment. For example, 1QpHab, the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran (“1” stands for the cave where the scroll was found, “Q” is Qumran; “p” ispesher, and “Hab” is the abbreviation for Habakkuk), states that “God commanded Habakkuk to write the things that were coming on the last generation, but the fulfillment of the era He did not make known to him … Their interpretation (pesher) concerns the Teacher of Righteousness [the leader of the Qumran group], to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servant the prophets.” The early followers of Jesus, Jews immersed in the Scriptures of Israel, searched in those Scriptures for teachings that would help them understand the man they believed to be the Messiah. At the same time, they used those Scriptures to help them tell the story of his life. In both cases, they were being thoroughly Jewish.” Note: Feel free to read the entire article here

But Why Would Matthew Create a Virgin Birth Story?

Despite the challenges of translation, we are still left to the issue as to why in the word Matthew would even create a story about a Messiah who was born of a virgin. After all, at the time of Jesus, there was no messianic expectation of a Messiah who would be virgin born. So if Matthew is trying to convince his readers Jesus is the promised Messiah, a made up virgin birth story seems counterproductive. As Craig Evans says,

“In other words, there was a tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth that informed Matthew’s exegesis of Isaiah rather than the text of Isaiah inspiring Matthew’s tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. There is no need for a divine messiah, and even if someone thought messiah to be divine, there is no evidence that anyone thought this was possible through a virgin birth alone. Of course, the more skeptical readers of Matthew will not find this argument convincing, but I admit that it is an argument like this one that has caused me to pause when I hear people speak of Matthew creating a virgin birth story. Even if Matthew was being apologetic in defense of Mary’s reputation wasn’t an appeal to Joseph as Jesus’ legitimate father an easier answer than a virgin birth?” –See entire article here:

The Virgin Birth and Paganism

Some skeptics still like to assert the virgin birth story is a rip off of pagan or parallel stories. However, in Raymond E. Brown’s highly respected work, The Birth of the Messiah, he evaluates non-Biblical “examples” of virgin births and his conclusions are as follows:

“Among the parallels offered for the virginal conception of Jesus have beneath conceptions of figures in world religions (the Buddha, Krishna, and those of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology (Presses, Romulus), in Egyptian and Classical History (the Pharaohs, Alexander, Augusts), and among famous philosophers or religious thinkers (Plato, Apologias of Tyana), to name only a few. “Are any of these divinely engendered births really parallel to the non-sexual virginal conception of Jesus described in the NT, where Mary is not impregnated by a male deity or element, but the child is begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit? These “parallels” consistently involve a type of hieros gamos (note: “holy seed” or “divine semen”) where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman, either through normal sexual intercourse or through some substitute form of penetration. In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians, the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.” [7]

Believe it nor not, I have still barely scratched the surface on this topic. For more info, see Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections, Vol 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections, or The Virgin Birth  by Robert Gromacki.


[1] Jaques Doukhan, On The Way To Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies Explained ( Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 30.

[2] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 33.

[3] Ibid, 36.

[3] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 36-37.

[4] Duane A. Garrett “Type, Typology” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 785-786.

[5] Norman Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1999), 760.

[6] Fruchtenbaum,34.

[7]Raymond E. BrownThe Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (London:Yale University Press; Updated edition, 1999) 522-523

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Mortimer Adler on God’s Existence

Jewish philosopher and well know author Mortimer Jerome Adler (December 28, 1902 – June 28, 2001) resisted belief in God even though he was fully convinced of the intellectual soundness of the Christian faith, until his late-life conversion on a hospital bed. He confessed that philosophical reasoning in itself cannot bring us into relationship with God.

He said:

“I simply did not wish to exercise a will to believe.” He wrote: The soundest rational argument for God’s existence could only carry us to the edge of the chasm that separated the philosophical affirmation of God’s existence from the religious belief in God. What is usually called “a leap of faith” is needed to carry anyone across the chasm. But the leap of faith is usually misunderstood as having insufficient reasons for affirming God’s existence to a state of greater certitude in that affirmation. That is not the case. The leap of faith consists in going from the conclusion of a merely philosophical theology to a religious belief in a God that has revealed himself as a loving, just and merciful Creator of the cosmos, a God to be loved, worshiped and prayed to”-Adler, “A Philosopher’s Religious Faith,” in Philosophers Who Believe, ed. Kelly James Clark (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 209.

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What is the Best Case for the Resurrection? Sean McDowell and Dr. Jonathan McLatchie

In this clip, Dr. Jonathan McLatchie gives a case for what he calls the “Maximal Facts” argument for the resurrection. You might be familiar with the “minimal facts” argument which I discuss here. In my opinion, there are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches.

I have also talked about what factors play a role in someone changing their view of the resurrection. I have spoken to hundreds of people from different religious backgrounds. I have also spoken to my share of atheists and skeptics. One thing that I have thought about is the complex factors in changing a belief system/worldview (i.e., the way a person views reality).

What factors play a large role in how people form their beliefs? In my experience, here are some of them:

Problem #1: A Priori Commitments

A priori belief/commitments: means to assume something or presuppose something prior to experience/observation. This means any attempt to look at or interpret evidence will be seen though a prior commitments. We can see this in the following quote:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.” – Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” Available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/ accessed May 17th, 2017.

Methodological naturalism is a position that says science or history should seek only natural explanations and that attempts to find supernatural causes are ipso facto, not science. In contrast, metaphysical naturalism starts with the presupposition that all that exists is nature. Presupposing that all that exists is nature and then using methodological naturalism to prove this presupposition is arguing in a circle. In my experience, many people confuse metaphysical and methodological naturalism.

Problem #2: Plausibility Structures (what sounds reasonable or probable)

Another issue with people changing beliefs must deal with plausibility structures.  Having talked to so many people from different backgrounds, this plays a huge role. As we talk to people, it is evident what we consider to be plausible is implausible to them.

NOTE: If you want to see a clip where an atheist won’t even consider any evidence see this short small critique of a debate between Hugh Ross and Peter Adkins. It is fascinating:

Problem #3: Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to process information by only looking for, or interpreting, information that confirms one’s existing beliefs. For example, a Christian, Mormon, Jewish person, Muslim, and even an atheist will be surrounded by community beliefs.  And when they hear something that challenges their community or longstanding convictions, this creates cognitive dissonance. For example, we may say to ourselves “I thought I knew this was the thing to believe, but now I am hearing counter evidence and I am experiencing dissonance or conflict.” People can tend to seek out answers that confirm what they already believe.  I have seen this happen with people from different faiths as well as atheists. Confirmation bias isn’t going away. It is unavoidable, and everyone is guilty of it. Remember, many people have access to the same evidence. But they don’t agree with the interpretation of the evidence. That’s because they take their presuppositions into the interpretative process.

Problem #4: The Will

I found this to be an outstanding quote from apologist Frank Turek. I have had Frank come to our campus a couple of times. He says:

“I am not saying that an atheist’s motivation proves that atheism is false  — someone can have the wrong motives and still be right. What I am saying is that many atheists don’t want Christianity to be true. I’ve seen this firsthand among atheists on college campuses. When I sense hostility during the Q& A period of an I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist presentation, I normally ask the questioner, “If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?” On several occasions I’ve had atheists yell back at me, “No!”

(Frank responds) No? “Wait, you claim to be a beacon of reason, yet when I ask you if something were true would you believe it, you say ‘no!’ How is that reasonable?” It’s not. That’s because reason or evidence isn’t the issue for such people. They don’t have an intellectual objection to Christianity  — they have an emotional, moral, or volitional objection. They’ve been hurt by Christians or think they’ve been let down by God. But more often, as several atheists have admitted, they simply don’t want to give up their autonomy and submit their will to God. They are not on a relentless pursuit of the truth, open to following the evidence where it leads. They’re on a happiness quest, not a truth quest. They reject Christianity because they think doing whatever they want will make them happy. So it’s a heart issue, not a head issue. It’s been said that this kind of atheist is looking for God as much as a criminal is looking for a cop. This resistance affects all of us at times. When we want to be our own gods, we’re not open to accepting the true God. Pascal put it this way, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Girlfriends, boyfriends, and maintaining your independence can be very attractive. Pascal’s insight may also help us answer the questions we posed at the end of chapter 1. Namely, why are atheists such as Dawkins and Krauss open to deism but not theism? And why are Dawkins and several other atheists open to admitting that the evidence points to an alien intelligent designer of the first life but not to God? I could be wrong, but it sure seems that the answer is right here: morality and accountability. A theistic God brings such demands, but an alien or a deistic god does not. What other reasons could there be? What reasons do you have for what you believe? Are you following the evidence where it leads? Honestly? Or are you more interested in believing what you find attractive? To be fair, this sword cuts both ways. Many people are Christians not because they’ve investigated the evidence, but because they find a heavenly Father and eternal life attractive. The difference is  — although many Christians don’t know it  — abundant evidence exists for their beliefs. So Christians can say with confidence that while some atheists have the attitude, “There is no God, and I hate him,” Christ had the attitude, “There are atheists, and I love them. In fact, I died for them. ” Frank  Turek, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (p. 113).

So in the end, is it possible for people to change beliefs. Yes, it can happen. But it can be a long process. There are many complex factors at work. People are holistic beings. Thus, changing beliefs involves questioning, study, our emotions, our intellect, and our will. We can’t divorce any of these issues out of the process.

Note: you can also see our video here on the topic.

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Book Review: Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Second Edition) by Douglas Groothuis



Dr. Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. Over the years, I have read several of his books and watched his lectures on various topics in Christian apologetics. Given that I read the first edition of Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith a ways back (2011), I was eager to read the second edition. This updated edition is a wonderful resource. Groothuis has added chapters on topics such:

The Argument from Religious Experience

Original Monotheism

The Argument from Beauty

Doubt, Skepticism, and the Hiddenness of God

The Atonement: Stating it Properly

The Atonement: Defending It

The Resurrection of Jesus: Prolegomena on Miracles

In Defense of the Church

The Problem of Evil: Dead Ends and the Christian Answer

Lament as an Apologetic for Christianity

Therefore, the reader is blessed with a tremendous amount of new material. The good news is each chapter that has been added is well researched and the arguments are clear and concise. Since writing the first edition, much has transpired in the culture at large and in the apologetic world as well. Thus, Groothuis responded to the need to address some of these issues in the newer edition. Given I do appreciate the role of classical apologetics, I already appreciated the chapter on In Defense of Theistic Arguments. Yes, this is in the first edition as well. There has been a slew of arguments on natural theology. Edward Feser, William Lane Craig, Alister McGrath, and others have all written on the topic.

But with the employment of natural theology, it has come with many criticisms. Groothuis covers nine objections to natural theology: He first mentions the biblical omission argument. Pascal said there was no scriptural support for natural theology. Groothuis notes that there is no prohibition for or against natural theology in the Bible. As Groothuis notes, there is plenty of support of general revelation in the Bible. He says that general revelation is necessary for natural theology, but not sufficient. He also doesn’t see the natural theology and general revelation as synonymous with each other. He says general revelation means that God has revealed Himself in nature and conscience. Natural theology engages in logic that in order to derive rational arguments for God’s existence- pg. 163. Other arguments against natural theology include the biblical authority argument (The Bible is all we need), the noetic effects of sin argument (that effects of sin on the mind), the direct knowledge of God argument (Paul Moser tends to defend this view), the proofs lead to pride argument, the natural theology is in competition with revealed theology argument, the religious irrelevance argument, the complexity of proofs argument (Pascal said the arguments are quite complex and have little existential impact), and rational weakness argument (they can’t compel belief)- pgs.170-173.

From personal experience, I know ‘natural theology’ can only take us so far. I look at it as a first step. It can point to fundamental realities of our existence and provides a cumulative argument and can point to the balance of probabilities and an inference to the best explanation for several features of reality. But I never thought natural theology can provide saving faith. Only the Gospel can do that.

I should note that Groothuis went through a very difficult season with his first wife Becky who passed away. She suffered from dementia and given she was a gifted writer and scholar, Groothuis had to watch her abilities wither away. Not to mention it was his wife who was suffering right in front of him.  It was very painful, and he has developed an apologetic in his chapter “Lament as Apologetic.” This is very helpful for those that experience suffering. Groothuis is a professional philosopher. Yet, he offers an apologetic that stems from his personal experience. This isn’t just some lofty philosophical argument. He has walked through the fire and offers his own take on dealing with tragedy and suffering.

In his chapter on “The Argument for Religious Experience,” he notes that religious experience should be used as part of a cumulative case for the existence of God. It should be a stand-alone argument.  I fully agree.

In his chapter on “The Atonement: Stating It Properly,” he defends propitiation and a substitutionary view of atonement. He then defends this view in the next chapter (“The Atonement: Defending It”) against the standard objections (i.e., the child abuse accusation, the divine violence argument, and the argument that punishment can’t be transferred from one person to another).

In his chapter called “Doubt, Skepticism, and the Hiddenness of God,”  Groothuis thinks the problem of God hiding is more about us hiding from God than the other way around. Just as Groothuis went through a dark period with his first wife, and he started to question whether God was hiding, he relied on the objective evidence for Christianity. He had to fall back on what he “knew” to be true. He also quotes the late Greg Bahnsen who gave an analysis of self-deception in light of Romans 1 where we see unbelievers know God but suppress that knowledge. Bahnsen says:

“All men know and hence believe that God exists. The revelational evidence is so plain that nobody can avoid holding the conviction that God exists, even though they may never explicitly assent to this belief. We are justified in ascribing such a belief to men on the basis of their observed behavior in reasoning (e.g., relying on the uniformity of nature), in morals (e.g., holding to ethical absolutes in some fashion), and in emotion (e.g., fearing death).

Nevertheless, all men are motivated in unrighteousness and by fear of judgment to ignore, hide, and disavow any belief in the living and true God (either through atheism or false religiosity). By misconstruing and rationalizing the relevant, inescapable evidence around them (“suppressing it”), men bring themselves to believe about themselves that they do not believe in God, even though that second-order belief is false.

Sinners can purposely engage in this kind of activity, for they also deceive themselves about their motivation in handling the evidence as they do and about their real intentions, which are not noble or rational at all. Thereby they “go to sleep” (as it were), forgetting their God.

Because the evidence is clear, and because the suppression of the truth is intentional, we can properly conclude that all men are “without excuse” and bear full responsibility for their sins of mind, speech, and conduct. Given the elaboration of self-deception offered here, we can better appreciate what Paul says in Romans 1, namely, that “knowing God,” all men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” And we can assert non-paradoxically that unbelievers culpably deceive themselves about their Maker.” —Greg Bahnsen, “The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics,” Westminster Theological Journal LVII (1995): 1–31.

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Second Edition) is certainly the most “comprehensive” book in the field of Christian Apologetics. As far as resources, it is at the top of the list. I highly recommend it.

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A Look at Counterfeit Kingdom: The Dangers of New Revelation, New Prophets, and New Age Practices in the Church

If you are not familiar with the New Apostolic Reformation, it is quite large. If you want to know how to respond to those that are caught up in this movement, there is a new book out called A Look at Counterfeit Kingdom: The Dangers of New Revelation, New Prophets, and New Age Practices in the Church by  Holly Pivec and R. Douglas Geivett.

You can watch their interview with Alisa Childers above.

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Responding to the Objection: “I don’t see the need for God or Jesus?”

The other day while doing an outreach on local college campus, we had a college student say she thought our religious commitments were based on felt needs. Thus, if people have the need to believe certain things and it helps them, that’s fine.  But she said she doesn’t have that need. This made me think of a great quote by Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus,”– J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30

What was my response to the student “What if it is actually true?” I went on to explain the claim “The God of the Bible exists” or “Jesus rose from the dead” has nothing to do with whether I have a felt need.  I also said, there is a difference between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ truth.  You rely on objective truth every day. Objective truth is something that’s not based on your feelings, emotions, or preferences. It is something that is true whether you believe it or not.

Let’s give some examples:

  1. “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and George Washington was our first president.”
  2. “Joe Biden is our current president.”

These statements are objectively true. It has nothing to do with how you feel about it. These are ‘facts’ of history.

Subjective truth is based on your personal preference or feelings. You might say, “Chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream in the world.” This is all based on our personal likes.

Once I explained this to the student, she began to see my faith isn’t based simply on a felt need. After all, I might see the need for Mormonism or Islam. But that doesn’t mean the central claims of these faiths are based in reality.

In conclusion it is not that needs are irrelevant. But the “Felt Needs” Gospel falls short.  I hope we ditch this approach.

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The Nature of Historical Testimony and the 8 E’s of Testimony in the New Testament

In a older article called The Gospels as Historical Testimony, author Paul Merkley says the following:

The question is this: on what basis do we generally believe what a historical testimony tells us? The answer is: we believe when and insofar as we have confidence in the author of the testimony. The issue of the reliability of an historical witness is absolutely unrelated to whether or not the witness can explain what he has witnessed. The witness may or may not have an explanation for the event. We may have to supply our own explanation. Frequently we do find ourselves supplying better explanation, after the fact. But for the actual occurrence of the event we depend absolutely on testimony of people who were there―and who may be lying to us. The ‘facticity’ of the event owes nothing to the plausibility (to us) of any explanation that the alleged witness may offer. His credentials as a witness come down to these two: (a). was he there? and (b). would he lie to us (or could he have been deceived?)

Epistemology: Knowledge By Testimony

We all know that many events that we study in history are things in the past. Since historians can’t verify the events directly (they weren’t there to participate in the events), they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. As a Christian, I share the faith of the early witnesses to the life of Jesus. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. We as humans come to know things by a variety of ways such as reason and logic, intuition, by making inferences, personal and religious experience, the scientific method, listening to authorities on a subject matter, and trusting the testimony of others. There is some overlap with this post and another post I did about the inability to trust eyewitness testimony here:

Epistemologically speaking, one of the tools that plays an important element in discovering the past is the testimony of witnesses. New Testament faith is portrayed as knowledge based upon testimony.

Given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves. Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. (1)

As Paul Barnett notes,

“Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (2)

To see more on oral tradition, see here:

Let’s Look at The Eight E’s of Testimony in the New Testament

1. Early Testimony

We don’t want to forget the advice of historian David Hacket Fisher who says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (3) So keeping that in mind, when I am asked as to why Christians don’t put as much weight into extracanonical Gospels, here is something to think about. The Gospel of Mary has been dated at 160 A.D, the Gospel of Peter at 170 A.D. etc. One of the earliest records for the death and resurrection of Jesus is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 contains a creed that can be traced back possibly as early as three to ten years after Jesus was crucified!. So keeping in mind the comment by Fisher, what source is more reliable? To read more about this click on our post called The Earliest Record of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus-1 Corinthians 15:3-7 here.

2. Ethical Testimony

There is no reason to distrust the character of those that wrote about the life of Jesus. Given they were predominately Jewish, they were familiar with the principles of the Torah. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in their book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

3. Eyewitness Testimony

One book that has recently handled the issue of the Synoptic Tradition is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham.

As Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period.

These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4). As Bauckham says, “This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”

4. Embarrassing Testimony

Another issue that speaks to the character and trustworthiness of those that wrote about Jesus is what is called The Principle of Embarrassment- a test that was put forth by John P. Meier in his A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1. This criteria seeks out material in the Gospels that would have been would create awkwardness or difficulty for the early church. This type of material would most likely have not been created by the early church because it would have been provided material useful for the early church’s opponents.

Let me go ahead and give an example: All four Gospels attest to Jesus’ baptism by John at the very beginning of his ministry. Would the Gospel authors make up such a tradition? In the Jewish culture, it was understood that the one who was being baptized was spiritually inferior to the baptizer himself. A careful reading throughout the Gospels demonstrate embarrassing issues such as where the disciples portray themselves as dim-witted, uncaring, uneducated, cowardly doubters who are rebuked by Jesus.

Furthermore, it can be observed that the disciples did not believe in Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection (Mark 8:31–33; 9:31–32; 14:27–31). Given that the disciples had spent time with Jesus and had personally witnessed His messianic sayings and actions, what benefit would it be for Mark to leave such an incident in His Gospel? Furthermore, after the resurrection, Mary does not recognize Jesus (John 20: 11-15) and Thomas is seen as disbelieving it (John 20:24-25). It seems that if John wanted to convince his audience of the truthfulness of the event, he would portray Jesus’ followers in a more positive light. The fact that John decided to leave these details in the story only lends credibility to the authenticity of the event.

But the one embarrassing detail that stands out in the Gospels is the proclamation of a crucified Messiah. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal.

The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”- the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. A crucified Messiah would be a tough sell to a Jewish audience that was still waiting to return to the glory days of the Davidic Dynasty (2 Sam. 7:5-16; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37).

5. Excruciating Testimony

If you read through the book of Acts, it is obvious that the early Messianic community was willing to die whether than recant their faith in the risen Lord. It is true that martyrdom doesn’t make a belief true. People die for things that they think are true all the time. But many of the disciples/apostles were given the opportunity to live, if they would only say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. A witness who is willing to die rather than change his story is a very strong witness.

Chuck Colson, one of the well known participants in the Watergate scandal who is now a Christian says the following:

“Critics of Christianity often try to explain the empty tomb by saying the disciples lied–that they stole Jesus’ body themselves and conspired together to pretend He had risen. The apostles then managed to recruit more than 500 other people to lie for them as well, to say they saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. But just how plausible is this theory? To support it, you’d have to be ready to believe that for the next fifty years those people were willing to be ostracized, beaten, persecuted, and (all but one of them) suffer a martyr’s death–without ever renouncing their conviction that they had seen Jesus bodily resurrected.

Does anyone really think the disciples could have maintained a lie all that time? No, someone would have cracked, just as we did so easily in Watergate. Someone would have acted as John Dean did and turned state’s evidence. There would have been some kind of smoking gun evidence, or a deathbed confession. Why didn’t they? Because they had come face to face with the living God. They could not deny what they had seen. The fact is that people will give their lives for what they believe is true, but they will never give their lives for what they know is a lie. The Watergate cover-up proves that 12 powerful men in modern America couldn’t keep a lie–and that 12 powerless men 2000 years ago couldn’t have been telling anything but the truth.”(4)

6. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Jesus of Nazareth is mentioned by ten non-Christian sources, including Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, and the Jewish Talmud! For example, Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3.

Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar (not some hyper-evangelical group) says the following:

“Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” (5)

7. Enemy Testimony

Historian Paul Maier notes that “positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence.” There are several places where we can see a hostile source testifies to the events in the New Testament. Enemy attestation can be recognized in the fact that the Jewish leadership did acknowledge that Jesus’ tomb was empty (Matt. 28:11–15) as well as the confirmation about the resurrection from the conversion of many of the Jewish priests (Acts 6:7).

8. External Testimony

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence. In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37. To read all 59 points, see here:

The Book of Acts

One book in the New Testament that plays as indispensible role in evaluating the resurrection is the book of Acts. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31). It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian.There are at least 84 events, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology. To see the list made be Hemer, see here:

Conclusion
What is significant about Richard Bauckham’s book is his mentioning of Thomas Reid. Reid was a Scottish philosopher and contemporary of David Hume who played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. It was in Reid’s “common sense” philosophy of the eighteenth century where Reid understood testimony as an integral part of the social character of knowledge. In other words, for Reid, to trust the testimony of others is simply fundamental to the kind of creatures we are. I hope the 8 E’s help in your study of the New Testament.

Sources:

Note: The 6 E’s (early, excruciating, extra-biblical, eyewitness, expected embarrassing, were created by my friend Frank Turek. He actually appeals to 6 E’s. But I have expanded on them a bit (I added enemy and ethical testimony) and left out the part about expected testimony. But to see more on this, see his book which he co-authored with Norman Geisler called I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.

1. Reid, D. G., The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004, 460
2. Barnett, P., Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, 138.
3. Fisher, D.H., Historian’s Fallacies:Toward a Logic of Historical Thought: New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.
4.Colson, C. The Impossible Cover Up. Available athttp://www.breakpoint.org/commentaries/2094-the-impossible-cover-up
5. Crossan, J.D., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994, 145.

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What is Faith? A Look at 1 Corinthians 15

Is it any wonder why our culture does not have a clear understanding about the nature of biblical faith? One of the most common assertions about biblical faith is that it is nothing more than a “leap of faith.” A good place to start looking at biblical faith is in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-17:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[ that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Some observations can be made from this passage:

1. First of all, biblical faith has an object.

2. 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.” (1)

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. (2) 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. (3)

Given that Paul was Jewish and he was raised in the Jewish Scriptures, he must have known that the seriousness of the Sinai Covenant. Within the covenant, bearing false witness was considered to be a major crime (Exod 20:16). Hence, he must have had a commitment to presenting the resurrection story in an accurate manner.

Thirdly, biblical faith is rooted in historical reality: There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the verification of the Christian faith as true or false. There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. Biblical faith entails an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus’ resurrection), and a subjective element (the individual must appropriate the objective truths through a subjective act). 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 form the dead. Perhaps we 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.” (4)

Finally, there is a relationship between faith and knowledge: Does biblical faith assert that we can’t 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.” (5)

1. Carson, Donald A. Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2005, 216.
2. Moreland, J.P. and W.L. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 131-132.
3. Ibid.
4. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.
5. Koukl, G. Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2009, 153.

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