Who is the One True God? A Look at Prophecy as a Verification Test

Introduction

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? [1]   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. Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God).The study of world religions involves a commitment to understand the issue of divine revelation. Furthermore, most religions think that there is a God who took the initiative to reveal himself to an individual or a group of people who later recorded it in a group of writings or sacred texts.

Therefore, for a Divine Revelation to Take Place, Three Things Are Required:

1. A Being capable of giving a revelation: God

2. A being capable of receiving a revelation: Man

3. A medium that is used for the revelation [2]

 Christopher Hitchens’ Complaint to the  Revelation Model

There are some challenges to the revelatory model. First, pop atheism asserts that religious people just “have faith.” It is blind and can’t be held to any empirical testing.  Also, what about all those contradictory revelations? Is there a way to verify whether there is a true revelation? Or, is there one God who gives a clear revelation? Or is there a God, or “god” who gives conflicting and contradictory revelations? Furthermore, if religious people start with their Holy Book (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question as to how they know their sacred text has it right? The late Christopher Hitchens said:

Since all these revelations, many of them hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition be simultaneously true, it must follow that some of them are false and illusory. It could also follow that only one of them is authentic, but in the first place this seems dubious and in the second place it appears to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one. [3]

A Solution: Predictive Prophecy and God’s Omniscience

So is Hitchens correct? Is is just impossible to weigh the evidence for each so called revelatory claim and come to a conclusion? There are several ways to approach this issue. However, 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.[4]

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

In this passage we see that if these gods could declare the course of history before it took place, it would prove they are deities.

What are the requirements for a prophecy to come to pass?

Let’s look at a case of predictive prophecy. For a prophecy to be predictive it must meet the following criteria.

1. A biblical text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment.

2. The prophecy was made well in advance of the event that was predicted.

3. The prediction actually came true.

4. The event predicted could not have been staged but anyone but God.

5. Clear Prediction: Is the prophecy publicly available with a reliable text and evident interpretation?

6. Documented Outcome: Is the prophecy documented by publicly available facts?

7. Is there evidence for it in world history?

8. Proper Chronology: Is there empirical evidence that is available presently and publicly to document that indeed the prophecy does predate its fulfillment? [5]

It must be remembered that the strength of this evidence is greatly enhanced if the event is so unusual that the apparent fulfillment cannot plausibly explained as a good guess.

Examples of Predictive Prophecy: The Messiah in the Torah

One of the most pivotal texts that speak to a time frame about the first coming of the Messiah is Gen. 49:8-12:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

 We see the following about this passage:

1. This person will have a decent that is limited to being a son of Judah

2. He is going to be a King

3. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

4. Notice the word “Messiah” is not mentioned in the text. However, remember that many “messianic prophecies”  in the Bible clearly refer to the Messiah without ever referring to that word.

There are three parts of the verse:

1.”The scepter shall not depart from Judah.”

a. Traditionally, the scepter is equated with kingship and Judah is the preeminent tribe among all the tribes of Israel.

b. All the governmental functions among the tribes will be lodged in Judah.

c. “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.

2. “Nor a lawgiver from between his feet”

a. The king would take the scepter when sitting on the throne and place it between his feet.

b. The scepter that belonged to the lawgiver meant that the governmental authority and power as represented in the chief executive shall continue “until Shiloh comes.” [6]

3. “Shiloh”

a. This word is confused with the first location of the tabernacle, which was at the town called Shiloh in the tribal identity of Ephraim.

b. Shiloh has been considered as a proper name for Messiah: “Regarding the Messiah, what is his name? Those of the school of R. Shelia said: “His name is Shiloh, for it is said in Gen. 49:10, ‘until Shiloh comes.’ (Sanhedrin 98b)

c. Shiloh can mean “to whom it belongs,” thus “until he comes to whom it [the scepter belongs].”  This view is supported in the LXX (The Greek Septuagint) and many English Translations (NIV, RSV,NLT). Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27, Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling.[7]

What Are the Strengths of Prophecy? What is the Messianic Interpretation?

1. The Extra-biblical literature supports the messianic interpretation (see more on this in the full post below).

2.  Judah will have the scepter [kingship], the authority to rule until the one who comes whose right it is and to whom it belongs.

3. Judah did have possession of the scepter until Herod obtained kingship over Israel in 38 B.C. While Judah ceased to be an independent tribe, they did still continue to be a self-governing nation within the Roman Empire.

4. In 70 CE the Roman armies destroyed the “city” and sanctuary.” Judah and lost both the scepter and tribal identity. This is seen at the trial of Jesus in that it was the Romans who enforced the death sentence. This transfer of power is even mentioned in the Talmud: “A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews.“–Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, filoi 24.[8]

5. Tribal identities were kept in the Jewish Temple. All of these records were lost in with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

6. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D.

7. If someone comes into the word today and claims to be the Jewish Messiah, there is no way to objectively verify they are from the tribe of Judah.

8. The “Scepter” did depart in the sense that at the coming of Jesus we see the Jewish people lost their power to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.[9]

To read the full post, click here:

The Prophet of Deut. 18:15-18:

One of the most pivotal texts that speak about the first coming of the Messiah is Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).

Remember, the prophecy says that a future prophet will be like Moses: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.”

Let’s look at the similarities between Moses and Jesus:

1. Moses was the greatest prophet, leader and teacher that Judaism has ever known.

2. Moses Maimonides (1138- 1204), was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. In one of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith is the belief that Moses’ prophecies are true, and that he was the greatest of the prophets.

Has Deuteronomy 18:15-18 been recognized by the Jewish people as Messianic?

A Prophet from the midst of thee.’ In fact, the Messiah is such a prophet as it is stated in the Midrash of the verse, ‘Behold, my Servant shall prosper’ (Isaiah 52:13)….Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of God, but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of God.” –Rabbi Levi ben Gershon-14th century [10]

 If the Messiah is supposed to be like Moses and draw all peoples to worship God, remember the following:

Given that the Messiah is called to be the ideal representative of His people, His mission is also to be a “light to the nations.” We see the following in Isa. 49:1-7: The Servant of the Lord is a chosen instrument by the Lord (1–3). The Servant glorifies the Lord before Israel and brings back the remnant of Israel ( 5–6). He has calling to all the nations (Gentiles). Kings and princes shall see and bow down to the Servant (vs. 7). Yet, for the sake of the glorified name of the Lord, this Servant also suffers (vs 4), being despised and abhorred by Israel (vs 7). In relation to Jesus’ messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity now the home of  1.4 to 2 billion adherents who are mostly non-Jewish people. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus?

Remember that the Abrahamic Covenant was prophetic. In this sense, there are several aspects of the covenant such as land promises, etc. But as far as Gentiles, they are supposed to receive spiritual blessings, but ultimately these were fulfilled though one specific “seed” of Abraham—the Messiah.

 If this prophet has to be “like Moses” how else does Jesus meets these qualifications?

He must be a great intercessor:

1. Moses was the great intercessor for Israel, preventing God from utterly destroying them when they worshipped the golden calf (Ex. 32:7-14; Num. 14:11-22).

2. Jesus is a greater intercessor. He now intercedes on behalf of all mankind (Jn. 3:16: Heb. 7:25; note Num. 21:4-9 and Jn. 3:14).

He must be a great prophet, judge and king:

1. Moses was a great prophet, judge, and king: (Ex. 18:13; Deut. 33:5).

2. Jesus was a greater prophet, judge and king (Jn. 1:19-21, 29-34, 45; Mt. 2:2; Jn. 5:26-29; Heb. 7:17).

He must be a Redeemer:

1. Moses rescued Israel from the bondage and slavery of Egypt (Ex. 3-4; Acts 7:20-39).

2. Jesus rescued the world from the bondage and slavery of sin (Eph. 2:1-8; Rom. 3:28-4:6).

He must be a Mediator:

1. Moses was the mediator between God and Israel. The first case we see for someone who wants to atone for the sins of Israel is one of their greatest prophets-Moses himself. You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” (Exod. 32:30).

2. Jesus is now the Mediator between God and all humanity (1 Tim. 2:5).

He must be able to speak to God “face to face.”

1. Remember, this individual will be like Moses in that God spoke to Moses “face to face.” This literally means “mouth to mouth.”

2. Therefore, whoever the prophet would be, he would be required to speak to God face to face.

 In order to be like Moses, this prophet will have to be a “sign prophet.”

While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses.

We see this is an important feature with Moses:

1. God says, “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)

How does Jesus fulfill the role of a “sign prophet?”

Remember, “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 did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22) [11]

To read  the full post, click here:

The Messiah in the Prophets

I briefly mentioned this issue above. But let me expand here: There are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.”

As we see in the Abrahamic covenant, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill its calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek. 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6).

In order for the prophecy of Isa. 49:1-7 to be successful, we must take some things into consideration. Remember, Isaiah 49:1-7 predicts that that the Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us ask the following questions:

1. Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of gentiles?

2. There are only a handful of major world religions, about five, so the search among the possibilities is rather manageable (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism Christianity/Messianic Judaism). Before the first century A.D. only the Jewish people and a few Greek philosophers were believers in one God, and only a small percentage of the world’s population had any awareness of the Hebrew Scriptures.

3. But now, 1.4 to 2 billion people profess to be followers of Jesus. And these are mostly if not all Gentiles.

4. How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion? A reasonable assumption is that a founder belongs to some people group.

5. Since the world has produced about five founders of major religions and since about one in 300 persons are Jews, a guesstimate for the antecedent odds of this prophecy coming true is highly improbable.

6. This expected Messiah would be despised by his own nation certainly gives him a tough start on becoming a world leader, and Jesus in particular is reliably reported to have been executed as a criminal.

7. Despised and executed criminals are not likely candidates for becoming major figures in world history, so the antecedent odds for this particular candidate, Jesus, to overcome these severe handicaps and still become a worldwide religious leader would be awfully difficult. [12]

Conclusion

I could go on with more here.  While I know I have barely scratched the surface, I want to go back to the comment by Hitchens.  I think the real question at hand is whether people want to dig deeper and see if there is one God who has spoken to humanity.  To assert that it is just impossible to arrive at an answer is really a copout. Perhaps deep inside we all know that  if we can arrive to a conclusion about this issue  it would mean that we are accountable to God.  If you wish to go deeper on this topic, see our page Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. 

 Sources:

[1] James Beilby and David K. Clark, Why Bother With Truth: Arriving at Knowledge in a Skeptical Society (Norcross, GA: RZIM Publishers, 2000), 60.

 [2] Norman L. Geisler, Introduction And Bible, vol.1 of Systematic Theology(Bloomington: Bethany House, 2002), 64.

[3] Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 97-98.

[4] Dennis McCallum, Discovering God: Exploring The Possibilities of Faith (Columbus, Ohio: New Paradigm Publishing, 2011), 10-13.

[5] R. D. Geivett and G.R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case For God’s Actions in Human History (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997), 221-223.

[6] John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries Publishing, 2010), 381-383.

 [7] Ibid, 49-51.

 [8] The appendix of Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Vol 2 (Grand RapidsMI: Baker Books, 2000), defines the Babylonian Talmud as the foundational text for Jewish religious study. It consists of 2,500,000 words of Hebrew and Aramaic commentary and expansion of the Mishnah. The Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud is similar to the Babylonian Talmud but a bit shorter and less authoritative in the Jewish community. It reached its final form about 400 C.E.

 [9]  Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998),  21-23.

[10] Rachmiel Fryland, What The Rabbis Know About the Messiah: A Study of Genealogy and Prophecy (Columbus, Ohio: Messianic Publishing Company, 2002), 33

[11]  Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 480-481.

[12] See Public Theology and Scientific Method: Formulating Reasons That Count Across Worldviews by Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., John A. Bloom, and Robert C. Newman Philosophia Christi (2002). Available athttp://www.drjbloom.com/public%20files/PubTheoMethod.pdf.

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Where Does it Say the Messiah Would Rise On the Third Day in the Jewish Scriptures?

Something that can tend to be overlooked is something Paul says in his well know resurrection text in 1 Cor. 15:

“ For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”- 1 Cor 15: 1-4

Obviously, we believe Jesus rose on the third day. I have noted elsewhere that the Tanakh does teach the importance of the Messiah rising from the dead. But a common question is where does it say in the Jewish Scriptures in that the Messiah would rise on the third day? The short answer is there is no text that specifically says the Messiah will rise on the third day. So did Paul lie? Is he employing some kind of  special Jewish hermeneutics here? In Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections, Vol 3, he notes that there are several places in the Jewish Scriptures where God does something very special on the third day. For example:

Hosea 6:1–2 states, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.”

This is a word given to Israel as a whole, but the sequence is there: full restoration on the third day!

2. According to Genesis 22:4, it was on the third day that Abraham arrived at Mount Moriah and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

3. God told the children of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai to be ready for the third day“because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exod. 19:10)

4. On the third day after Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners—both of whose dreams included a symbolic “three”—one of the men was hung and the other man restored to his former position (Gen. 40:1–23).

The list goes on. The point is it is on the third day that God does something significant in Israel’s history. It could be a restoration, and event that reaches a climax, or it could be something  signifying God’s  divine activity.

 

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Vern Sheridan Poythress on God Centered Bible Interpretation

Granted, you can read this entire book online. But I just wanted to share this from Vern Poythress. He could not be more on the money on all the different ways Christians (and non Christians)  approach the Bible. He lists some types of Christians here and their approach to the Bible:

Peter Pietist: The central purpose of the Bible, and of Christianity as a whole, is to promote a life of intimate personal devotion to the Lord. In Luke 4:31-37 the Lord speaks with authority to the sinful tendencies in my heart (v. 32). I react to him by acknowledging him, but also fearing him (v. 34). He says to my sin, “Be quiet,” and “Come out of him!” (v. 35a). The passage promises that as a result I will be delivered, (v. 35b) and that I should be amazed at Jesus’ work in my life (v. 36). I should be zealous to tell others about my deliverance (v. 37).

Dottie Doctrinalist: No, you are missing the point. The central purpose of the Bible, and of Christianity as a whole, is to promote doctrinal soundness. This passage teaches the deity of Christ by using the title, “the Holy One of God,” and by demonstrating Christ’s divine authority and power. It teaches that there is a realm of evil spirits, and that these spirits can take control of a person. But it also shows the sovereignty and the grace of God in saving and delivering people from these spirits.

Curt Cultural-Transformationist: You are both missing the point. The central purpose of the Bible is to promote a transformed approach to the whole world. The passage shows Christ transforming the world, so that we ourselves may engage in active transformation under the authority of Christ. The passage shows us the authority of Christ not as a doctrinal abstraction, but as an active, powerful authority engaging in world transformation. The overthrow of the demonic realm, and the entry of the Christ Holy One with his power, implies a reordering of political, social, aesthetic, and linguistic structures. The passage illustrates this reordering by the language of utter destruction of evil, by the sweeping, totalizing character of the change in the formerly demonized man, and by the obvious social consequences in the reaction of the crowd and the surrounding region. It energizes us to attack the demonized structures of evil in the institutions of our day.2

Laura Liturgist: The central purpose of the Bible is to restore true worship. Out of worship will flow healing that affects all of life. The passage sets forth a pattern for an order of worship: first, proclamation of the authority of God (v. 32); then, awe and fear at the holiness of God (v. 34); next, reception of the saving word of God (v. 35); next, response in amazement and gratitude (v. 36); finally, dismissal to go out to tell others (v. 37).

Missy Missiologist: The story ends with the news spreading “throughout the surrounding area.” It’s reminding us that our task is spreading the news of the gospel throughout the world. In some areas of the world the Christians have to deal with spiritual warfare against evil spirits and against demon-possessed people. This passage is a basis for casting out demons when the missionary church comes up against the powers of darkness. We in the West tend to have too narrow a horizon. If we don’t see demons in our own situation, we imagine that they don’t exist. We imagine that our problems with personal piety or with modern corrupt institutions are the only ones. We have to hear what’s going on in other parts of the world and in other cultures in order to see the full force of this passage.

Fatima Factualist: I think that we are letting our imaginations run away with us. The message is simple and obvious. The passage is just saying that these things happened when Jesus was on earth. The evidence of miracles shows that Jesus is who he claimed to be, and that the Bible is what it claims to be. It furnishes us with historical evidence with which to confront unbelievers.

Amy Affirmationist: You are all saying such wonderful things! I think everyone is right. The Holy Spirit can bring different messages to different people. Maybe the Spirit intends to minister in different ways to each person’s need. He is speaking to each of us according to our needs. We don’t need to be upset when people see different ideas in the same passage.

Oliver Objectivist: Amy, affirming everything is no solution at all. Look. We’re in a pickle because we haven’t got a clear objective when we read. Everybody is being swept along by his own prejudices. To have a clear objective, and for agreement even to be possible, there must be only one meaning to the passage. The meaning is the intention of Luke the author. That meaning is there objectively, for all time, before we start our discussion. Our task is to locate that meaning. Everything else belongs to what E. D. Hirsch calls “significances,” that is, the relation between the one meaning and our outside interests. These outside interests naturally differ from individual to individual. So there are many possible significances; but there is only one meaning.

If you are as interested in this topic as I am, feel free to read the book here:

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Apologetic Outline for God’s Existence

Here is a small cumulative case for God’s existence.  I have left a lot of supplemental reading. Obviously much more can be said. But for now, I hope this helps.

Which God Shall I Pick?

1.Pantheism: (Hinduism/Buddhism)

  • God is not personal and knowable
  • The  universe is eternal and unchanging, without an end or a beginning (this contradicts the evidence for the beginning of the universe)
  •  If divinity and matter are mystically “one” ( you can’t have god without matter), how is the pantheistic god capable of producing the effect in question such as the origin of space?
  • Says the universe is a necessary being. But this makes no sense because we know the universe is contingent.
  • To bring a universe into existence means the cause would have a volitional will- they made a choice. This is a personal cause (i.e., Agent Causation). Will is one attribute that characterizes personhood.

2. Polytheism

  • Says there are more than one god.
  • Gods either came from nature or where at one time men and women who became gods.
  • Gods are thus finite and contingent.
  •  The Universe has always existed. This contradicts Big Bang cosmology.
  • They don’t account for the creation of the universe. All things come from the  universe, even Gods. Gods don’t exist apart from the universe, and the beings that do exist all have limited power which causes polytheism to not meet all the requirements.
  • Polytheism fails the Ockham’s razor test: “Entities  must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

3. Other common internet objections: (i.e., Thor, Zeus, Santa Claus,  Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.)

  • These are created gods/they are part of the universe
  • They are contingent gods
  • The God of the Bible is necessary, not contingent, and he transcends the universe- he is not part of the universe! To compare the God of the Bible with Thor, Zeus, Santa etc. is a category mistake.
  • There is 0.0 evidence for Thor, Zeus,  Santa or FSM. Perhaps someone may find the evidence for the God of the Bible to not be sufficient, but that is not the same as having zero evidence. Those who say there is “no evidence,” or “zero evidence” have a very naïve view of epistemology  and classical theism.

4. Theistic God (i.e., Judaism/Islam/Christianity)

A God/Designer is  more likely to explain:(note: Thanks to Wintery Knight for some of these resources). Note I didn’t say this points to the God of the Bible!

However, note I said even if there is good evidence for a Designer, it doesn’t show  the character of the Designer. Hence, we now must  look at  Historical Revelation:

  • What is revelation? 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.
  • Communication: We rely on communication every moment of the day (i.e., emails, phone, texts). God does want to communicate with humans.

Why the need for revelation?

  • Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas offered a good case for the need for revelation. He set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):

1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.

2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.

3.  A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.

4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.

5.  It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

  • Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed. 1.  Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.2.  Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”3.  It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts.

We also need to know the following:

  • Character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: 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.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.

How would we defend the Bible is a true revelation of the true God?

  • We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.
  • Wrong approach: The Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God (we quote 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16).  This is circular.

We would have to establish there is a God who can give a revelation to mankind: Theistic God (see above)

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

The structure of the argument may be formalized as follows: Read a fuller form  from the book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture here:

(1)  The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence

(2) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection. 

(3)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate.

(4) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.

(5) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

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Why Fideism isn’t an Option for Christians

If you have never heard of the word fideism, it it quite common in Christian circles. It is true that many Christians and churches don’t use the word “fideism.” But the impact of fideism is all around us. Here is a short definition of fideism from the Stanford Encyclopedia online:

“Fideism” is the name given to that school of thought—to which Tertullian himself is frequently said to have subscribed—which answers that faith is in some sense independent of, if not outright adversarial toward, reason. In contrast to the more rationalistic tradition of natural theology, with its arguments for the existence of God, fideism holds—or at any rate appears to hold (more on this caveat shortly)—that reason is unnecessary and inappropriate for the exercise and justification of religious belief. The term itself derives from fides, the Latin word for faith, and can be rendered literally as faith-ism. “Fideism” is thus to be understood not as a synonym for “religious belief,” but as denoting a particular philosophical account of faith’s appropriate jurisdiction vis-a-vis that of reason.

As we have mentioned before, Jesus and the Apostles both engaged in reasons for the claims they made in the public square.  As Peter Williams points out,

” Jesus said: ‘believe on the evidence of the miracles’ (John 14:11)

•  When John the Baptist questioned if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus likewise appealed to the evidence of his works (cf. Matthew 11:4–6)

•  Paul wrote of ‘defending and confirming the gospel’ (Philippians 1:7) •  Paul ‘reasoned . . . explaining and proving’ (Acts 17:2–3)

•  ‘Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks . . . Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus’ (Acts 18:4; 19:8–9)

•  Paul urges Christians to ‘stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults’ (1 Corinthians 14:20)

•  Paul advises Christians: ‘Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions’ (Colossians 4:6 CEV)

•  Peter commands Christians to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:15) The Greek translated as ‘give an answer’ in 1 Peter 3:15 is apologia – from which we get the word ‘apologetics.’

Apologetics isn’t apologizing in the sense of saying sorry! An apologia is literally ‘a word back’, but the term means a ‘defense’ or ‘vindication. (See A Faithful Guide To Philosophy by Peter Williams).

Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King by [Bates, Matthew W.]

In his book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Matthew Bates says the following: 

Several years ago some zealous young missionaries happened to knock on the door of my sister’s apartment where I was visiting. These two young women, the radiance of their faces only surpassed by the gleam of their tracts, were eager to do God’s work. As they began to tell us the reason for their mission and the source of their joy, I asked a few probing questions about a sacred text known as The Book of Abraham. The Book of Abraham is a text that Joseph Smith Jr., the leading figure of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) tradition, claimed to have discovered when a traveling mummy exhibit came through Kirtland, Ohio, where Smith was living at the time. Smith asserted that the manuscript was an ancient document called The Book of Abraham, and, after purchasing it, Smith eventually offered his own interpretative translation. Smith claimed it told the story of Abraham’s departure from Chaldea, and that it included nonbiblical traditions, such as Abraham’s being bound to an altar to be sacrificed by a pagan priest.

According to Smith, it also contained speculation about Kolob, a creation alleged to be near to God’s celestial residence. Both the pictographs and Smith’s translations are easily available online. But there are large discrepancies between Smith’s claims and subsequent scholarly findings. For example, Smith takes the first image as a representation of a pagan priest seeking to sacrifice Abraham on an altar, translating: “And it came to pass that the priests laid
violence upon me [Abraham], that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record.” So Smith asserts that an image in the manuscript and the words associated with the image describe a pagan attempt to sacrifice Abraham. But scholars of the ancient world have determined The Book of Abraham to be from a class of Egyptian funerary documents known from elsewhere as “Books of Breathings,” and that this particular document was “copied for a Theban priest named Hor.” As to the alleged near-sacrifice of Abraham, it is actually a representation of “the resurrection of the Osiris Hor on the customary lion-headed funerary couch.” Meanwhile, an authoritative translation of the words associated with the image reads: “[Osiris, the god’s father], prophet of Amon-Re, King of the Gods, prophet of Min who slaughters his enemies, prophet of Khonsu” (and so forth). So there is significant publicly available evidence that Smith’s The Book of Abraham has nothing to do with Abraham at all if ordinary methods of scholarship and translation are applied. These young women were unflappable when presented with these evidence-based questions, simply stating, “We believe that we can only know the truth by faith,” and inviting us all to consider through prayer whether or not we might have a warm sensation in our hearts as we considered the truth of their presentation. I tell this story not to nitpick the Mormon tradition.

However, this private, experiential, anti-evidential notion of faith (often called fideism in scholarly circles) is not unique to groups such as the Mormons. It also sneaks into the mainstream church in more subtle modes. For instance, we find belief or faith being defined in this basic manner when an inquirer asks a tough question about evolution and creation (on the basis of data available in the public arena) and receives a curt anti-evolutionary response simplistically affirming, “The Bible says it, and I personally have found the Bible to be true, so I believe it,” a response that does not attempt to deal seriously with all the available data (including complexities in the Bible itself). Regardless of precisely how one comes down on the complex creation or evolution (or both!) debate, we should all agree that the “faith” God requires of us has nothing to do with ignoring relevant evidence that is easily available when adjudicating truth claims. And is it not largely due to this abusive use of “faith” and “belief” that so many, past and present, are quick to dismiss Christianity and religion in general, seeing it as purely “faith” based, while taking “faith” to mean the opposite of evidence-based truth? True Christian faith is not fideism.

To see more about this issue, see our post “Why Christians Don’t Think” 

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Some Possible Options in Explaining Why the Bible is Authoritative, True, and Inspired!

There is no doubt it isn’t getting any easier trying to explain why the Bible is an authoritative, true, and inspired book.  Here is possible discussion between two fictitious people. I call them Chris the Christian and Sam the Skeptic.

 

Now in the picture below here, this is how many Christians will attempt to show the Bible is authoritative inspired, and true. Keep in mind, I haven’t even defined all the terms here.

A couple of possible objections to the approach above: What if someone says “The Quran or The Book of Mormon has changed my life?” So let’s take a different approach.

In my opinion, we should offer a cumulative case approach. While there is wealth of archaeological confirmation for the Bible, at most that shows the Bible has recorded actual people, place, and events that really do exist. But that would not be enough! After all, the Book of Mormon has barely any archaeological confirmation. But even if it did, the Book of Mormon isn’t based on a true revelation. So here is small outline of what we could possible do to provide a case for the Bible being a true revelation.

Which God Shall I Pick?

1.Pantheism: (Hinduism/Buddhism)

  • God is not personal and knowable
  • The  universe is eternal and unchanging, without an end or a beginning (this contradicts the evidence for the beginning of the universe)
  •  If divinity and matter are mystically “one” ( you can’t have god without matter), how is the pantheistic god capable of producing the effect in question such as the origin of space?
  • Says the universe is a necessary being. But this makes no sense because we know the universe is contingent.
  • To bring a universe into existence means the cause would have a volitional will- they made a choice. This is a personal cause (i.e., Agent Causation). Will is one attribute that characterizes personhood.

2. Polytheism

  • Says there are more than one god.
  • Gods either came from nature or where at one time men and women who became gods.
  • Gods are thus finite and contingent.
  •  The Universe has always existed. This contradicts Big Bang cosmology.
  • They don’t account for the creation of the universe. All things come from the  universe, even Gods. Gods don’t exist apart from the universe, and the beings that do exist all have limited power which causes polytheism to not meet all the requirements.
  • Polytheism fails the Ockham’s razor test: “Entities  must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

3. Other common internet objections: (i.e., Thor, Zeus, Santa Claus,  Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.)

  • These are created gods/they are part of the universe
  • They are contingent gods
  • The God of the Bible is necessary, not contingent, and he transcends the universe- he is not part of the universe! To compare the God of the Bible with Thor, Zeus, Santa etc. is a category mistake.
  • There is 0.0 evidence for Thor, Zeus,  Santa or FSM. Perhaps someone may find the evidence for the God of the Bible to not be sufficient, but that is not the same as having zero evidence. Those who say there is “no evidence,” or “zero evidence” have a very naïve view of epistemology  and classical theism.

4. Theistic God (i.e., Judaism/Islam/Christianity)

A God/Designer is  more likely to explain:(note: Thanks to Wintery Knight for some of these resources). Note I didn’t say this points to the God of the Bible!

However, note I said even if there is good evidence for a Designer, it doesn’t show  the character of the Designer. Hence, we now must  look at  Historical Revelation:

  • What is revelation? 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.
  • Communication: We rely on communication every moment of the day (i.e., emails, phone, texts). God does want to communicate with humans.

Why the need for revelation?

  • Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas offered a good case for the need for revelation. He set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):

1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.

2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.

3.  A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.

4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.

5.  It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

  • Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed. 1.  Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.2.  Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”3.  It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts.

We also need to know the following:

  • Character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: 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.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.

How would we defend the Bible is a true revelation of the true God?

  • We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.
  • Wrong approach: The Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God (we quote 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16).  This is circular.

We would have to establish there is a God who can give a revelation to mankind: 

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

The structure of the argument may be formalized as follows: Read a fuller form  from the book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture here:

(1)  The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence

(2) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection .

(3)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate.

(4) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.

(5) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

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