Four Ways God Has Revealed Himself to the World

The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some material object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God).

One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intentions. (1)

But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of GodHence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil. Thus, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we wouldn’t know our destiny.

The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him.  Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  However, there seems to be other texts that indicate  people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.

Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly  with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).

Hence, the acceptance of revelation, therefore, is, of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word ” apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”

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. (2)

What are the mediums that God chooses to reveal Himself to man?
1. General Revelation: Creation: (external manifestation)
2. General Revelation: Conscience: (internal manifestation)
3. Special Revelation: The Messiah: (external manifestation)
4. Special Revelation: A Messenger: (external manifestation)

Medium #1- The Light of Creation

While God predominately revealed Himself to the Jewish people through specific actions in the course of human history, the Jewish people agree that the Torah was the pivotal moment of God’s supreme revelation to them. But what about the Gentile nations? After all, it is Israel that was given the Torah. The good news is God has also taken the initiative to reveal Himself to Gentiles through general or natural revelation. In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine, invisible being, we have to use induction. Induction is the method of drawing general conclusions from specific observations. For example, since we can’t observe gravity directly, we only observe its effects.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened.” (Rom.1:18-21)

In this passage, God’s knowledge is described as “eternal power and divine nature.” 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).

Romans Ch1:18: The word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.” However, that which is “suppressed” is not destroyed. As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him.

In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.

Theologians, philosophers, and apologists have made significant comments in relation to Romans 1:18-21. Here are a few of them:

1. The revelation of God in nature is mediate, but it is so manifest and so clear that it does not necessitate a complex theoretical reasoning process that could be achieved only by a group of geniuses. If God’s general revelation is in fact “general,” in that it is plain enough for all to see clearly without complicated cosmological argumentation, then it may even be said to be self evident. The revelation is clear enough for an unskilled and illiterate person to perceive it. The memory of conscious knowledge of the trauma encounter with God’s revelation is not maintained in its lucid, threatening state, but is repressed. It is “put down or held in captivity” in the unconsciousness. That which is repressed is not destroyed. The memory remains though it may be buried in the subconscious realm. Knowledge of God is unacceptable, and as a result humans attempt to blot it out or at least camouflage it in such a way that its threatening character can be concealed or dulled. (Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, John and Arthur Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.1984, 46-59).

2. Former atheist J. Budziszewski:
I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. ( Geisler, N. L. and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49).

3. 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. (Plantinga, A. Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).


Medium#2: The Light of Conscience

“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. (3) Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality.

The Hebrew word for the conscience is “lebad,” which is usually translated as the “heart” in the Old Testament. The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Hebrew mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person. (4) In the Hebrew Bible, not only is “heart” used to describe as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, but it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the heart is the psychic center of human affection or the source of spiritual life and the seat of intellect and will. (5)

We see the conscience in Scripture: When Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15), Pharaoh steeled his conscience against God’s will. A tender heart (2 Chronicles 34:27), refers to a sensitive conscience. The upright in heart (Psalm 7:10), are those with pure consciences. When David prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, (Psalm 51:10), he was seeking to have his conscience cleansed. (6) The conscience can become dull, or seared (1 Tim 4:2). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sadly, a hardened heart can make someone less sensitive to the things of God. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit.

Special/Historical Revelation

Medium #3: Jesus as the Messiah

A few things shall be mentioned here: If you want to study this topic further, there are other articles on this website that deal with the reliability of the New Testament. However, I am starting with these premises and conclusion.
1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is the God of Israel.
3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is the God of Israel.

While general revelation manifests God as Creator, it does not reveal Him as Redeemer. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16). Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, it is not sufficient for salvation. The ultimate special revelation that God has given to mankind is the person of Jesus the Messiah.

As Heb. 1:1–2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Jesus did comment on how people respond to Him by saying, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

Furthermore, the New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil 2:5-7; Col 2:9;Titus 2;13; Heb 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1). Furthermore, Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12).

While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22), Paul makes it know that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah. (Rom. 3: 9; Acts 20:21). For those who have already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus states that they already under condemnation (John 3: 16, 18).

Paul: The Need for Faith in Jesus the Messiah

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

We see: (1) Paul is urgent in his appeal for repentance; (2) According to Acts 14: 26, Paul states there was “a time in which God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways,” but now Paul states in Acts 17: 30, “The times of ignorance is over” – God has given man more revelation in the person of Jesus the Messiah; (3) Paul uses the same language as is used in the Jewish Scriptures about judgment (Psalm 9:9); (4) The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed; (5) Paul treats the resurrection as an historical fact and he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead! (7)

Medium #4: A Messenger
The normative way God reveals Himself to all humans is through the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah by a specific individual who takes the initiative to explain the message of salvation to another. This matches up with the biblical data. There are cases in the Bible where people are sincerely religious but still had to have explicit faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. For example, in Acts 10, Cornelius is shown to be a God fearer. He worshiped the correct God. However, he received a vision with instructions to send for Peter and awaited his message (Acts 10: 1-6, 22, 33; 11: 14). Because Cornelius ended up responding to special revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, he attained salvation. In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12).

One of the largest obstacles in motivating people to obey the Great Commission is a fear of rejection, misunderstanding, or ridicule. Perhaps we forget that Paul wrote to Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). The fear of being rejected by people does not come from God. Since the primary role of the Holy Spirit is to magnify the person of Jesus (John 16:12-15), He is faithful to enable us to share the gospel with the people He brings into our lives. The motivation for communicating the gospel is a compassion for people and a desire to bring glory to God. It is incumbent upon each follower of Jesus to ask whether they will make a commitment to obey God.

Sources:
1. Dulles, A.J. Models Of Revelation. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1983, 13.
2. Erickson, M. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.1998, 199.
2. W.E. Vine, Unger, Merrill F. and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, 532.
4. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing.1994, 36-37.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Marshall. I.H., The Acts of the Apostles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press. 1980, 288-290.

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A Look at Jesus and His Contemporaries: The Miracles of Jesus

Introduction

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions with people about Jesus. I can say without hesitation that one of the most common objections I hear is the following: “I think Jesus was a good teacher, but I don’t take those miracle accounts in the Gospels as literal events.”

It is evident that this objection to the miracles of Jesus is mostly philosophical in nature. Many skeptics attempt to claim that it was during the Enlightenment period that any so called miracle claim was cast into the domain of superstition and pre-modernism. After all, modern people can’t believe such silliness. Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification.

As N.T Wright says,

“The natural/supernatural distinction itself, and the near-equation of ‘supernatural’with ‘superstition’, are scarecrows that Enlightenment thought has erected in its fields to frighten away anyone following the historical argument where it leads. It is high time the birds learned to take no notice.” (1)

In this post, I won’t be dealing with the philosophical objection to miracles. You can read more about that here and here.

But far as the miraculous, I think a more balanced approach is seen here in the comments by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona:

“Our knowledge of the world around us is gained by gathering information. When we cast our net into the sea of experience, certain data turn up. If we cast our net into a small lake, we won’t be sampling much of the ocean’s richness. If we make a worldwide cast, we have a more accurate basis for what exists. Here is the crunch. If we cast into our own little lakes, it is not surprising if we do not obtain an accurate sampling of experience. However, a worldwide cast will reveal many reports of unusual occurrences that might be investigated and determined to be miracles. Surely most of the supernatural claims would be found to be untrustworthy. But before making the absolute observation that no miracles have ever happened, someone would have to investigate each report. It only takes a single justified example to show that there is more to reality than a physical world. We must examine an impossibly large mountain of data to justify the naturalistic conclusion assumed in this objection.” (Habermas & Licona 2004:144)

I am in full agreement with James Sire that Jesus is the best apologetic that the Christian can offer to a dark and needy world. Therefore, I would like to examine the miracles of Jesus.

1. The Context of Jesus’ Miracles-God’s Relationship With the Nation of Israel

The historical and religious context for the miracles of Jesus is God’s interaction with the nation of Israel. Even during thousands of years of Bible history miracles were clustered in three very limited periods:

(1) The Mosaic period: from the exodus through the taking of the promised land (with a few occurrences in the period of the judges)
(2) The prophetic period: from the late kingdom of Israel and Judah during the ministries of Elijah, Elisha, and to a lesser extent Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Is.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1).
(3) The apostolic period: from the first-century ministries of Christ and the apostles. Occurrences of miracles were neither continuous nor without purpose. (2)

2. Jesus as the Inaugurator of the Kingdom of God: The Actions of the King

In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43).

In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.

Within the context of first-century Jewish miracle workers, how much weight should be given to Jesus’ miracles?

As Ben Witherington III says,

“The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like.” (3)

Wolfgang Trilling, a German New Testament scholar argues for a consensus in New Testament scholarship that Jesus performed some sort of miraculous acts ascribed to him in the Gospels. Jesus’ authority is evident as His role as an exorcist. He said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

This is significant for 3 reasons:
(1) It shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil
(2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history
(3) Jesus was in effect saying that in Himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting Himself in God’s place. (4)

In Matthew 11:13, John the Baptist, who in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus’ responded by appealing to the evidence of his miracles. As Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matt. 11:4-6).

Jesus’ evidential claim can be seen in the following syllogism:
1.If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3.Therefore, I am the Messiah. (5)

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in Matt.11: 4-6: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (6)

3. Jesus and His Contemporaries

During the time of Jesus, there were other “holy men” are what are called “Hasidim.” A Jewish Hasid was someone who had a close relationship with God and had the ability to call upon God for power over the natural realm. Two examples of Hasid’s are Honi, “the Circle Drawer” and Hanina ben Dosa. In comparing the miracles of Jesus and Honi the Circle Drawer, the records of Honi’s miracles are from are the Mishnah (c. A.D. 200) and from Josephus (c. A.D. 90):

In comparing these healers with Jesus, we also see some other glaring differences. First, the earliest portions of the Misnah date no earlier than roughly a.d. 200, becoming part of the Talmud even later. Josephus relates other cases of Jewish holy men, but his account was written perhaps a.d. 93–94, at the very end of the New Testament period. Also, Honi had no control over the forces of nature, but he could ask God for rain. Other Jewish exorcists resorted to power other then themselves through prayer to send away demons. They even invoked “powerful” names such as those of God and Solomon. Jesus was quite different because when He did a healing He did not “receive” power before he drove out the spirits; He did it with a simple, powerful word that was His own. Rather than invoking the name of Solomon, he said “Behold, something greater than the wisdom of Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). Furthermore, Jesus did not ask God to quiet the storm or calm the waves; He did with His own word. (7)

4. Hellenistic Divine Men?

There have been other comparisons between Jesus and Hellenistic divine men such as Apollonius of Tyana. Philostratus, his biographer, tells that Apollonius cast out a demon from a young man and ordered it to provide a sign that it had left. A nearby statue promptly fell down. This example sounds like the account of Jesus expelling the demon from the Gadarene man (Mark 5:1–20). Did this account influence the Jesus story?

Gary Habermas points out four problems with the Hellenistic Divine Men theory:

The first problem is that Jesus was obviously Jewish and was probably even widely considered by some to be a Jewish holy man. We are told that he was sometimes addressed as Rabbi (John 1:38, 49; 3:2; 6:25), as was John the Baptist (3:26). Still, we have no clear signs of mimicry. The ancient definition of magician, one who was involved in such practices as incantations, sorceries, spells, and trickeries, hardly seems to have applied any influence on the Gospel depiction of Jesus.

Secondly, there are few parallels between the magicians, divine men, and Jesus. Clearly, the Gospels are much more closely aligned with the Old Testament, Palestinian Judaism, and rabbinic literature. But given this, it becomes very difficult to establish the influence of pagan ideas on the Gospels. As Habermas notes, historian Michael Grant has shown that Judaism strongly opposed pagan beliefs, helping us understand why these ideas never gained much of a foothold in first-century Palestine.

Thirdly, the evidence for Apollonius is rather scant. While the miracles of Jesus pass the test of multiple attestation, the single account of Apollonius was recorded by Philostratus nearly 2-300 years later. This means it may have borrowed from the Jesus story, not the other way around.

Fourthly, Christianity centers on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this message is not borrowed from the beliefs of others. Habermas also notes that the late Martin Hengel asserted, “The Christian message fundamentally broke apart the customary conceptions of atonement in the ancient world and did so at many points.” (8) .

Scholar Werner Kahl provides some insights about three characteristics of miracle workers: First, the person who has inherent healing power is called a “bearer of numinous power” (BNP). Kahl uses the term “petitioner of numinous power” (PNP) for those who ask God to perform the miracle. Between both (BNP) and (PNP) is what Kahl calls the category of a “mediator of numinous power” (MNP), which can apply to an individual who mediates the numinous power of a BNP in order to produce a miracle. Kahl concludes being a MNP or PNP clearly is not the evidence of deity, whereas being a BNP could possibly be evidence of a deity. (9)

Eric Eve makes another valuable contribution to this topic in his published dissertation The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles. Eve observes that only the God of Israel is the only BNP while Moses is an example of an MNP and Elijah is an example of a PNP. After studying the miracle accounts in Josephus, Philo, the wisdom and the apocalyptic literature of the period, as well the Qumran texts and Jewish literature such as Tobit, Eve concluded that it can be demonstrated that the God of Israel is the only BNP. Hence, Eve contends that the Gospels display Jesus’ miracles as departing from Jewish tradition since Jesus is shown to be a BNP and his miracles point to him as being the incarnation of the God of Israel.

The Gospels provide valuable insight into the relationship between prayer and the miracles of Jesus. Jesus has no need to pray before performing any miracle, and the exceptions are prayers of only thanks or blessing, not prayers asking God to effect the miracle (Mark 14:9; 15:36; Mark 6:41; 8:6; Luke 9:16; John 6:11; 11:41-43). Eve concludes that the Gospels show no hint of Jesus being a “petitioner of numinous power” (PNP). (10)

It must not be forgotten that Jesus did not perform any of his miracles independently of the Father; instead Jesus did all his miracles in union with the Father (John 5:36; 10:38; 14:10-11) so that His audience would see the unique relationship between the Father and the Son.

5. Conclusion

It is evident that Jesus’ miracles are best understood within the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. Most importantly, God took the initiative by revealing to mankind a fuller part His kingdom program through the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ miraculous deeds, healings, and power over nature as well as His role as a Suffering Servant was another stage of inaugurating the kingdom of God. Jesus, being the divine Messiah exhibits the same attributes as the God of Israel. One day, Jesus will return to fulfill the promise of completing the earthly aspect of His kingdom work. May all of us as wait with eager anticipation.

As the Apostle Peter said,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Peter 3:10-12).

Sources:
1. Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, Minneapolis.
2003), 707 n63.
2. Geisler N.L., Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 468-469.
3. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12.
4. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.
5. Douglas Grotthuis, “Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist,” http://www.theapologiaproject.org/JesusPhil.pdf/2002{accessed January 10, 2011}.
6. See Evans, C.A., and P. W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997). Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.
7. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact? (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House: 1991), 35-36.
8. Geisler, N.L., and Paul K. Hoffman Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. 2001), 112-113.
9. Kahl, W, New Testament Miracle Stories in Their Religious- Historical Setting: A Religionsgeschichtliche Comparison from a Structural Perspective (FRLANT 163. Gottingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 76; cited in Eric Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles, JSNTSSup 231 (London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 15; cited in R. M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski, Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007), 195-206.
10. See Eve, E, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles, JSNTSSup 231 (London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 15; cited in R. M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski, Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007), 195-206.

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Seven Ways to Approach the Existence of God

How do we know God exists?  Over the years, when I have been asked this question, I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I ask the person “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, “What method should we use?” Now I know that when  you ask a Christian, Jewish person or Muslim, and Mormon as well how they know what they believe is true, they might just say, “I have faith.” This should cause us to stop and ask if that is an adequate answer. It probably won’t go very far in a skeptical and pluralistic culture. So in this post I want to discuss some of the various ways we can approach the existence of God. I am well aware that there are other methods as well. Some say God’s existence is irrelevant. But remember, the God question impacts:    

  1. Metaphysics/Ontology: The way we view reality
  2. Epistemology: How we define and attain knowledge
  3.  Ethics: Rules or standards governing the conduct by which we make decisions.
  4. Origins: Where do we come from?
  5. Destiny: Where are we going?
  6. The Human Condition: What is wrong with humans? How do we fix it?

So in this post I want to discuss some of the various ways we can approach the existence of God. I am well aware that there are other methods as well.

#1: The Revelatory Approach

The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.

Christianity stresses that  the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intentions.  Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.

The mediums God uses in the Bible are General Revelation (The Created Order/Conscience; Rom. 1&2); Special Revelation: Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), The Bible (2 Tim. 3:16); Miracles, Prophecy, Theophanies, Missionaries/Messengers, and other means as well.

But  why the need for revelation? First,  we need to know the character of GodHence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil/the Fall. In other words, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we would not know our destiny.

Let me expand on the miracles/prophecy issue a little bit: There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.

#2: Historical Arguments/Prophecy

When it comes to historical arguments, we ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity. Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics.

For example, former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Another aspect of the historical argument  is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does not prove the existence of God, but it does show that events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity. When we look at the resurrection of Jesus, we can ask what is the best explanation for:

  1. The death of Jesus. Note: not many debate whether Jesus actually died by Roman crucifixion. Mostly Muslims disagree (Quran was written 600-640 years after NT).
  2. Jesus appeared to many individuals and groups after he died.
  3. Paul, once a persecutor, became a follower of Jesus.
  4. The empty tomb.
  5. Why James, once an unbeliever, came to faith in Jesus.
  6. How and why the Jesus movement got started and continued on after the death of Jesus. Could it have continued without a resurrection?
  7. Why the early followers of Jesus changed their devotional practice to include Jesus (he was worshiped, honored, prayed to, etc).

Also see The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

#3: God or Theism as an Explanatory Hypothesis?

The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

Abduction can operate when people on both sides of an argument agree on what needs to be explained (certain features of reality) but they disagree on why this feature of reality exists.   Why does this feature of reality exist? Is it the result of nature itself or something outside nature? Remember, when we look at the questions above, if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to interpret every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else.

You can see this approach in The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

#4: Metaphysical Demonstration

If we could remember the nature of the object determines how we know it, than for skeptics to constantly say there is no evidence, the first thing to ask “What is the nature of the object they are trying to know?” What is God? Welcome to natural theology!

Recall that ‘proof’ is a loaded term, which turns on our understanding of what constitutes knowledge. There are knowledge claims that are rooted in inference, and are therefore on various levels of probability. Some arguments for God’s existence use this approach. A different approach in terms of ‘proof’ in establishing the existence of God is by metaphysical rational demonstration. This is found in the classical writings of Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, & Leibniz. Feser writes that philosophical arguments are still the most adequate approach to showing there is a God—the God of classical theism. The God of classical theism is immutable, immaterial, eternal, uncaused, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and can’t be compared to created gods that are part of the physical world such as Thor, Zeus, and others. Two recent books that have taken this approach are the following books by former atheist Edward Feser.  Please note that if you want to find out about these thinkers by reading Richard Dawkins, you are already off to the wrong start. You can also see his interview with Ben Shapiro here:

Five Proofs of the Existence of God by [Feser, Edward]

#5: Pragmatic Arguments?

Many people might ask why I would bring this one up. The reason I mention it is because about 70% of people I talk to about Christianity object to it by saying ” I don’t understand what difference Christianity would make in my life?” This is a very popular approach. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”

This does have some merit. After all, if the Christian faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Jesus and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Furthermore, the Gospel is not “What Can Jesus Do For Me?” but instead a call to die to ourselves and follow the Lord (Luke 9:23).

It could be that the person is not under healthy teaching/discipleship or living in sin.  So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. Everyone knows Christians have done some amazing things for the world (see here), but we also have some inconsistencies.

#6: Existential Arguments

The latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God.

According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant.

Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:

  • the need for cosmic security
  • the need for meaning
  • the need to feel loved
  • the need to love
  • the need for awe
  • the need to delight in goodness
  • the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
  • the need to be forgiven
  • the need for justice and fairness
  • the need to be present with our loved ones

#7: Religious Experience 

Here we have to differentiate between knowing our faith is true and showing our faith is true: [1]

1.Knowing our faith is true though personal experience:  Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience.

Showing our faith is true through reasons and evidence: While religious experience is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. Knowledge can be the key thing as to what keeps us close to God over the long haul. Plus, Jesus says we should love him with all our being (i.e., mind, emotions and will). Sometimes people think that personal religious experience negates the need for having other good reasons for faith.

But think about this: Would you accept Islam as true if a Muslim said to you, “I know Islam is true because of my personal experience.” Or, what if a Mormon said to you, “I know Mormonism is true because of personal experience.” The list goes on. I assume many of us wouldn’t consider Islam nor Mormonism as being true based on these comments. Therefore, perhaps when we say, “I follow Jesus  because of my personal experience,” some people aren’t very impressed.  In conclusion, religious experience should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for our faith.

Conclusion:

There are several other approaches to the existence of God.  Given humans are emotional, intellectual, and volitional creatures, there is no “one size fits all approach.” I hope that has caused you to go further in the question of God’s existence.

[1]. W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Faith and Apologetics 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 43-60.

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Miracles: “Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?”

Biblical Miracles

What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. For example, Peter Kreeft says, a miracle is “a striking and religiously significant intervention of God in the system of natural causes.” (1) So we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. In the Bible, miracles have a distinctive purpose: they are used for three reasons:

1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40) 2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4) 3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (2)

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2).

In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). Miracles also confirmed the apostolic claim. In 2 Corinthians 12:12: Paul says, “The things that mark an apostle signs, wonders, and miracles were done among you with great perseverance.” (3) For the record, Jesus’ miracles are not the same thing as magic. But that topic can be dealt with at another time.

There is no kingdom without a king. In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this Scripture, God confirmed the Messianic claim when Jesus said the sign that would confirm his Messiahship was to be the resurrection.

And in Matthew 11:13, John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In response to John, Jesus provided evidence that His miracles serve as an evidential feature of his messianic identity. Jesus responded to John’s question by saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Lk. 7:22).

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in Matt.11: 4-6:

“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.”

The prophet Isaiah also spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Is.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1).

It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. In this event the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

As Ben Witherington III says,

“The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like.” (5)

“Do Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?”

Sure, I have heard it before. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Skeptics tend to view the claim of miracles as something that was part of the pre-modern worldview.  After all, can we as moderns really believe in miracles? This complaint is part of the naturalistic worldview which came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” Therefore, any attempt by the theist to claim that there is God who acts in the affairs of mankind (especially through Jesus) is an extraordinary claim. I do agree that there is the need for a healthy skepticism regarding revelatory truth claims. After all, several faiths claim to be founded on divine revelation.

However, phrases like “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” need clarification. I tend to see this as one way to look at it:

(1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
(2) The claim that God exists/any miracle  is extraordinary….
(3) Therefore, any evidence supporting it ought to be extraordinary as well.
(4) I’m not sure what I mean by “extraordinary.”
(5) But whatever you come up with, it’s not going to work.
(6) Therefore, God does not exist.

If “extraordinary evidence” means that one must provide miraculous evidence for any miracle or so called extraordinary claim, it would lead to an infinite regress. In other words, if the theist kept providing miraculous evidence the objector would most likely keep asking for more evidence. It would go on and on. So in the end, it is ends up being a trap for the apologist.

Natural Causes Only?

If an “extraordinary claim” means something that is non-natural, than it must be shown that natural laws are immutable. However, natural laws are not immutable because they are descriptions of what happens, not prescriptions of what must happen. Natural laws don’t cause anything, they only describe what happens in nature.

In asking whether “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” it is also important to understand the difference between deductive reasoning which is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). But whether a miracle has occurred is not determined by a priori probabilities but by a posteriori facts.

Who was David Hume? 

Quite frankly, the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” is a phrase that has a Humean aroma to it. David Hume ( 1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian. Although many of his arguments have been found to be problematic in contemporary philosophy, his legacy and writings live on in the academic arena. Almost all the skeptical arguments against miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) in the Bible can be traced back to Hume. As James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis say in their book In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment“It is no exaggeration to say that, from his days to ours, the vast majority of philosophical attacks against the rationality of theism have borne an unmistakable Humean aroma.” Hume left us with his argument against miracles:

1. Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence. 2. A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence. 3. The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare. 4. A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence. 5. Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.

A response to Hume’s argument:

1. Even if people saw Jesus rise from the dead, according to Hume, you as a wise person, should not believe it. It seems a bit odd to something wrong to disbelieve what you verified to be true. 2. Hume confuses probability with evidence. He does not weigh the evidence for each rare event; rather he adds the evidence for all regular events unworthy of belief. This is flawed reasoning. The issue is not rather we have an event is that is regular or rare, the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event. We must weigh the evidence for the event in question, not add the evidence for all previous events. 3. Hume’s Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview) is cleary seen here. He rules out miracles in advance and hides behind his presuppositions. 4. Hume’s “uniform” experience either begs the question or is special pleading. It begs the question if Hume presumes to know the experience is uniform in advance of the evidence. (6)

There have been more responses to Hume’s arguments than I can count on my hand. Even people were writing counterarguments to Hume in his own day. To read one of the more current responses to Hume, see John Earman. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles.

The Resurrection?

I have been told that the resurrection of Jesus requires extraordinary evidence. And I do agree that the resurrection of Jesus in not an ordinary claim. But the statement, “extraordinary claims require evidence” can cut both ways. One can’t dismiss the historical data for the resurrection simply because it is a so- called “miracle claim.” We need to remember that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical claim.

Therefore, historians can and do apply historical tests to the very documents that discuss the resurrection.  After all, it is certain aspects of the historical method that makes it possible to attempt to demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happened. Hence, it is falsifiable.  For exampple,  I remember watching documentary film  by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron called The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The documentary was an attempt to demonstrate that archeological evidence warranted that Jesus’ tomb was found. So we need to be consistent in our use of the historical method to show what can and can’t happen.

So in my opinion, we must at least be willing to look at the five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus). These five facts are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a commited follower of Jesus the Messiah

And one must explain how naturalistic theories that have been presented throughout the centuries have better explanatory power for: 1. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimatha 2. The discovery of Jesus’ tomb 3. The postmortem appearances 4. The origin of the disciple’s belief in Jesus resurrection 5. A high Christology in a very short time period/The birth of the Messianic Movement-pre 70 A.D.

What about the other religious claims such as Mormonism, Islam, etc., who make extraordinary claims? For starters, in evaluating any extraordinary claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it? 4. What is the historical and religious context for the claim?

No thinking Christian that I know has a problem with giving reasons or evidence for their beliefs such as the resurrection of Jesus. I also remember hearing a debate between William Lane Craig and a skeptic. When Dr. Craig asked the skeptic what kind of evidence would convince him that Jesus rose from the dead, the skeptic said a 20 foot Jesus would have to appear to him. Dr. Craig responded by saying that the skeptic would probably just say it was a hallucination. This is the way it is with many people. C.S. Lewis addressed this issue when he wrote in Miracles:

Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting their time by looking into the [evidence]: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question, pg 304

False Analogies

Also, we want to avoid false analogies. This type of analogy is said to be false when it compares two objects that are actually relevantly dissimilar or if the points of comparison are used to draw a conclusion that simply does not follow. For example, skeptics like to compare the resurrection of Jesus with belief in Big Foot, UFO’s, etc. This gets really old. I don’t have any  historical or religious context for Big Foot or UFO’s. And the last time I looked, there is quite a bit of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and very little if any for Big Foot, or UFO’s. So it would be nice if skeptics would stop with the poor analogies.

Conclusion

I don’t expect the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” to go away. It is so engrained in skeptics minds that it comes up with almost any conversation with them. There is no need for the apologist to keep providing evidence for the one who keeps bringing this objection to the table. I doubt much will ever satisfy them. To see more on this, see the post “What evidence will satisfy hard-core unbelief?”

Sources: 1. Kreeft, P. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1994, 101-120. 2. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481. 3. Ibid, pgs 470-481. 4. Ibid. 5. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12. 6. See Geisler, N.L., and Frank Turek. I Do Not Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 197-217.

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What Can We Know About Jesus? Six Guidelines to Follow

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

“BUT PAUL NEVER MET JESUS”AND OTHER BAD ARGUMENTS ABOUT PAUL ON THE INTERNET

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 

Reviewing the Resurrection Creed in 1 Cor 15:3-8

Did Paul Invent Christianity?

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Is the Founder of the Christian ReligionPaul 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)

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 antiquityJust 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.

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Does the Bible Utilize One Type of Apologetic Methodology?

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Note: Thanks to No Blind Faith.com for the logo here.

Apologists can tend to be quite rigid when it come to apologetic methodology. We sometimes argue a lot over which form of apologetics is the most effective model for reaching the world for the Christian faith. The reality is when we glance into the Scriptures, there isn’t one form of apologetic methodology. So what kind of apologetics do we see in the Bible?

Evidentalism: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the apostles utilized an evidential model by appealing to prophecy and the resurrection as the basis for the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship (Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16, 4:8-14; 17:1-4; 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). F.F. Bruce says the primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracles (1)

Obviously the Apostles were speaking to Jewish theists (many modern Jewish people are not theists) and we need to understand the hermeneutics of messianic prophecy. But the point is that they did appeal to an evidential model.

Prophecy as a Verification Test

Also, when it comes to the history of Israel, God would continually speak through prophets to correct the problem of His people turning away from him towards false gods/nature deities. There are texts that support the God of Israel from other nature deities: For example:

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”-Isaiah 42:8-9

We see the following:

1. God will demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking.
2. He will do so by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold.
3. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him. (2)

God also challenged Israel’s ‘gods’ to do the same:

“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.”- Isaiah 41:21-24

To see more on this, see here:

There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:

1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).
3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

1. The word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.

2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.

3. Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).

4. Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

5.“Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God.

What about Jesus?

While Jesus appealed to several methods, he most certainly utilized an evidential model. Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22).

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

We see in other Scriptures that Jesus continually appeals to His “works” as proof of His Messiahship (John 7:3, 21; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 37, 38, 14:10, 11, 12, 15:24). These Scriptures appeal to the individual works of Jesus. The miracles “bear witness’” that He is the Messiah.

Natural Theology

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). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator. We should be able to look at the natural world and see some evidence for a Creator.

So what has been made (i.e., designed, created)? The laws of nature? The existence and fine tuning of the universe? The Genetic Code? Or, does nature and chance act on their own without any agency?

Does the Bible say people already have some awareness of the knowledge of God?

Even though there are cases for evidentialism throughout the Bible, do we see any case for a presuppositional approach? The answer is yes. But as I just demonstrated, it is not the only model.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom.1:18-20).

According to Romans Ch1:18, the word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.”As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him. In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.

Former atheist J. Budziszewski says the following about the Romans passage:

I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. (3)

So can we tell people “According to the Bible, you already know God and you are suppressing the truth?” You can try this approach. Or, for that matter you can try the entire presuppositional approach and tell people they can’t make sense of reality without God as a starting point. But expect some challenges to this. I prefer to use abduction and point out that theism is a better explanation for what we observe than naturalism. Paul Copan does something similar to this right here.

Conclusion:

I once read Five Views On Apologetics. Most of the authors admitted we should allow a thousand apologetic methods to flourish and not to dogmatic about using one apologetic model. This is the approach I have taken over the years. I hope you will as well.

Sources:

1. F.F. Bruce, A Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 74-75.).
2. Dennis McCallum, Discovering God: Exploring The Possibilities of Faith (Columbus, Ohio: New Paradigm Publishing, 2011), 10-13.
3. N. L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49

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