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

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

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

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

Problem #1: A Priori Commitments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem #3: Confirmation Bias

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

Problem #4: The Will

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

The Argument from Religious Experience

Original Monotheism

The Argument from Beauty

Doubt, Skepticism, and the Hiddenness of God

The Atonement: Stating it Properly

The Atonement: Defending It

The Resurrection of Jesus: Prolegomena on Miracles

In Defense of the Church

The Problem of Evil: Dead Ends and the Christian Answer

Lament as an Apologetic for Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch their interview with Alisa Childers above.

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

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

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

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

Let’s give some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistemology: Knowledge By Testimony

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

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

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

As Paul Barnett notes,

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

To see more on oral tradition, see here:

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

1. Early Testimony

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

2. Ethical Testimony

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

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

3. Eyewitness Testimony

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

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

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

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

4. Embarrassing Testimony

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

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

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

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

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

5. Excruciating Testimony

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

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

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

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

6. Extra-Biblical Testimony

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

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

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

7. Enemy Testimony

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

8. External Testimony

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

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

The Book of Acts

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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What is Faith? A Look at 1 Corinthians 15

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

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

Some observations can be made from this passage:

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

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

“Paul is communicating to the Corinthians’ that their faith is “futile”( vs. 17). In other words, the Corinthians faith is valid only if its object is true. Faith is never validated in the New Testament when its object is not true. Indeed, New Testament faith is strengthened when its object is validated supported by witness, shown to be revealed by God, impregnably real, true. Such an understanding of “faith” is utterly at odds with the use of faith in the Western culture.” (1)

In relation to truth, both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. (2) According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony. (3)

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

Thirdly, biblical faith is rooted in historical reality: There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the verification of the Christian faith as true or false. There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. Biblical faith entails an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus’ resurrection), and a subjective element (the individual must appropriate the objective truths through a subjective act). Objectively speaking, no matter how much faith a Christian has, it can’t change whether Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, believing Jesus rose from the dead won’t make it true. The event of the resurrection is in the past. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He did not rise form the dead. Perhaps we can learn something about their own faith by reading this comment by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III:

“Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.” (4)

Finally, there is a relationship between faith and knowledge: Does biblical faith assert that we can’t believe in things we cannot know? According to Paul, unless his audience accepts the “fact” that Jesus rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history, they are still dead in their sins. They are to be pitied. In the words of Greg Koukl, “The opposite of faith is not fact, but unbelief. The opposite of knowledge is ignorance. Neither is a virtue in Christianity.” (5)

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

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Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?

One of the main themes that runs through discussions on college campuses and in academia is that faith/theology and science are diametrically opposed to one another. Since science tests the observable, is this the correct way to approach the existence of God?

Science or Scientism: Philosophical Errors and Presuppositions

Science is a method of gaining knowledge of the natural world by inference through observation, experimentation, and making predictions, based upon cause and effect relationships. Scientism is an epistemology (theory of knowledge) which reduces all knowledge to the aforementioned scientific method; this means that the only way to know things are true is through the natural sciences. This approach is illegitimate. That is because it reduces humanity’s knowledge of all of reality to this one area alone, and it argues in a circle. The assertion “All truth claims must be scientifically verifiable” makes a philosophical assumption: the very statement itself is not scientifically verifiable.

What needs to be remembered is that science is dependent upon certain philosophical presuppositions such as:

1. The existence of a theory- independent, external world 2. The orderly nature of the external world 3. The knowability of the external world 4. The existence of truth 5. The laws of logic 6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth-gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment. 7. The adequacy of language to describe the real world 8. The existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”) 9. The uniformity of nature and induction 10. The existence of numbers (1)

Paul Copan says something similar here: 

“ Those who consider science authoritative still assume and appropriate a lot of other philosophical ideas and assumptions—ones that can’t be scientifically proven. Though they don’t always recognize it, scientists will load themselves up philosophically before they engage in their scientific endeavors. So what kinds of philosophical ideas do they take for granted?

Here’s a start:

Realism: The physical, mind-independent world exists and isn’t an illusion, though admittedly some scientists would qualify this.

 Logic: Logical laws should be used to guide scientific work and theorizing. As Dallas Willard noted: “Logical results have a universality and necessity to them

 Math: Mathematics is important for making sense of the natural world and its processes.

 Beauty: Beauty or elegance is a criterion scientists take for granted when assessing scientific theories.

 Mental: The mental is required to understand the physical; without the existence of minds, we wouldn’t be able to understand our world.

Other minds: We can’t prove other minds exist, but we take their existence for granted. Those minds can critically examine and assess the outcomes of scientific studies.

Personal trust: Scientists trust the work of others in the scientific community and build on that research. Reliable reason: The workings of our minds are generally trustworthy and aren’t systematically deceiving us.

Reliable senses: We assume our senses are reliable and not systematically deceiving us.

 Natural laws: We count on the consistent natural laws and uniform workings of natural processes.

Mind-world correspondence: The natural world and its workings are capable of being studied and understood by human minds.

 Inferential knowledge: What we observe in nature can provide clues and indicators of unobservable processes and patterns (e.g., subatomic particles).

 Materialism (for some scientists): Scientism takes for granted the sole reality of the physical realm. But how can one scientifically prove this? This is an unverified philosophical assumption (2) 

A theist asserts that the physical universe is not all there is. There is an infinite, personal God who created it, sustains it and can act within it in a natural and non-natural way. As I can say without hesitation that I am ignorant about many things, I generally find that many people are generally ignorant about the history between theism and science. In the words of physicist Paul Davies, “Science began as an outgrowth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists…..accept an essentially theological worldview.” (3)

In John Haught’s book Science and Faith: A New Introduction, he says there are three current models about the relationship between faith and science:

1.Conflict Model: Faith is rooted in fantasy, whereas science is based on observable, empirically available data. Faith is highly emotional and subjective, whereas science is dispassionate, impersonal, and objective.

2. Contrast: Science and faith are distinct but no conflict can exist between faith and science since they each respond to radically different questions. There is no real competition between them, so there can be no real conflict.

3. Convergence: Science and faith are distinct because they ask different kinds of questions, but they may still interact fruitfully. Convergence tries to move beyond both conflict and allow for an ongoing conversation between science and faith.

One thing to always ask is the following:

Which of the following branches of science should demonstrate the existence or nonexistence of God?

The natural or physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy?

The social sciences, such as linguistics, textual hermeneutics, anthropology, and sociology?

The mathematical and logical sciences such as engineering, computer science, and theoretical math?

Can Science Demonstrate the Supernatural Exists? 

Atheists like to make the assertion, “Science has shown the supernatural does not exist.” Sadly, this displays an ignorance about the limits of science as well as how modern science is defined. Let’s look at a couple of definitions: 

“Science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural  processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations.  similarly, science is precluded from making statements about  supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance.” (4)   

Science the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm.”  (5) 

Or we could say: Science is limited to the following range of concerns:

1. Science only is concerned with the material aspects of the natural world.
2. Science restricts itself to the secondary/natural causes and would forgo consideration of a primary cause (such as a divine/intelligent primary cause) as part of the explanatory structure.
3. Science seeks to reduce the systems observed to their component parts as a way of simplifying observation and explaining the behavior of the higher levels of organization.

So if modern science  is built on methodological naturalism  which says science or history should seek only natural explanations and that attempts to find supernatural causes are ipso facto, not science, how would science be able to demonstrate the supernatural? Supernatural by definition means something that is outside nature, or something that is or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.  In contrast, metaphysical naturalism starts with the presupposition that all that exists is nature. Presupposing that all that exists is nature and then using methodological naturalism to prove this presupposition is arguing in a circle. In my experience, many atheists confuse metaphysical and methodological naturalism.

Of course, if one wants to use the scientific method to show there is evidence for a Mind behind features of the natural world, you can study the Intelligent Design debate. Steven Meyer just released his latest book on the topic. 

Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe by [Stephen C. Meyer]



Can Nature Explain Nature? 

 In his book Who Made God: Searching For A Theory Of Everything? Edgar Andrews has given us some things to ponder here:

It is important to understand that science can explain nothing except in terms of the laws of nature. Science works by first discovering (by observation) laws that describe the workings of nature and then using this knowledge to seek out further explanations — beginning with hypotheses and then confirming these hypotheses by various tests, the chief of which must always be repeatable experimental verification. To offer a scientific explanation of anything one must always appeal to existing laws (or at very least plausible hypotheses). No laws, no science; it’s as simple as that.

To explain the origin of the universe scientifically, therefore, requires an appeal to laws of nature (established or hypothesized) that pre-existed the universe. But laws of nature are nothing more than descriptions of the way nature operates. No one has ever proposed a law of nature that does not involve existing natural entities, whether they be matter, energy, space-time or mathematical systems. (Note that mathematics are arguably philosophical rather than scientific in character and are only scientifically relevant when applied to natural realities — that is, the world as it exists).

This creates a dilemma; the laws of nature cannot exist without nature itself existing but the origin of nature cannot be explained scientifically without pre-existing laws. The logical conclusion is that science cannot, by its very nature, explain the origin of the universe.

The only alternative is that the laws of nature did pre-exist the universe but existed as a kind of blueprint in some non-material medium such as the “mind of God”.

This is why Physicist Paul Davies, who is not a Christian says the following: 

“Clearly, then, both religion and science are  founded on faith—namely, on belief in the  existence of something outside the universe, like  an unexplained god or an unexplained set of  physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of  universes too. for that reason, both the  monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail  to provide a complete account of physical  existence.” (6) 

Does Science Prove Things with Absolute Certainty?

No, it does not. Here is why: Science relies on inferential reasoning. Inferential reasoning is drawing a conclusion or making a logical judgment based on indirect observation rather than based on direct observation. No scientist observed the start of the universe, or the beginnings of planet earth or how the first cell started. Much of history and science is based making inductive or abductive inferences. The goal is not absolute certainty. Induction is only based on probabilities and is always open to revision.

One Final Note on When Science Masquerades as Philosophy

In Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, he attempts to demonstrate why science is “our exclusive guide to reality.” Here, Rosenberg attempts to provide a neat synopsis of life’s big questions, along with what he considers to be scientifically reliable answers. Here are some of life’s big questions that he thinks science can answer:

Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck . . . Is there free will? Not a chance. What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or something obligatory? Anything goes. (7) 

Here, Rosenberg makes the assumption that what science reveals to us is all that is real. But as Edward Feser points out, Rosenberg is guilty of a reductionist view of reality. Feser illustrates:

Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

Therefore, what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is probably all that is real. (8) 

Anyone who came to this conclusion about metal detectors should visit a doctor, of course. The point is, Rosenberg and others who follow his lead should allow for additional ways besides science to explain reality along with life’s big questions. Metal detectors will always find metal and science will always find material/physical explanations to reality. We must ask what kinds of questions science can legitimately answer.  Can science answer the “why” questions?  Yes, it is true science can say why the universe exists. In other words, they can say the universe exists because of the Big Bang or some other scientific explanation. But, science is generally restricted to study how the mechanisms work behind several features of the natural or physical world. But once science attempts to answer whether or why the universe and several features of reality may have a deeper purpose, design, or an end goal, it enters the realm of philosophy.

Sources:

1. Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers Grove ILL: InterVaristy Press, 1994), 16-17.

2. Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom: A Guide to Philosophy and Christian Faith, Kindle Version, 3852 to 3873.

3. Davies, P. Are We Alone? (New York: Basic, 1995), 96.

4. Teaching about evolution and the nature of science,” available at the  national academies of sciences, engineering, medicine (1998),  accessed October 14th, 2017, https://www.nap.edu/read/5787/chapter/11

5. Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 15.

6. Paul Davies, “Taking science on  faith,” New York times, November 24, 2007,  available at    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24da  vies.html

7.  Alexander Rosenberg,  A. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton. 2012), 2-3.

8. Feser, E. Five Proofs for The Existence of God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 28

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Would You Believe the First Apologists Were Messianic Jews?

jesus-washes-feet-of-disciples-07

Who were the first apologists? Believe it or not, the first apologists were all Messianic Jews. You may say “Well, what are Messianic Jews?”  Messianic Judaism is not new at all. All the authors of the New Testament were Jewish (with the possible exception of Luke). For many years the early faith in Jesus was strictly Jewish in both orientation and practice. Hence, the early Church was 100% percent Jewish! We see the growth of Messianic Judaism in The Book of Acts: (Acts 2:41) 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost  after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7) “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul- “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands.”                                Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus. The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Good News is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia”  (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15), which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8),  and “bebaioō” which means “to confirm, establish (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3).

Obviously, we see our first Gentile convert in Acts 10 (Cornelius).  It was only over a long period where the Church become a predominately Gentile based phenomena. To read more about this, see The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed.  Isn’t it nice that we as Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph .2:11-13), and “without hope.” May we thank God for allowing us to participate in His redemptive plan for the entire world. To see the historical basis and background of Messianic Judaism, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations by David J. Rudolph.

Today, there are thousands of Messianic Jewish  believers in the United States alone and across the world. Of course, the Apostle Paul (a Pharisee and a Jewish Believer himself) showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5; Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). Paul understood that since Gentiles (I am one of them), have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in learning about how to share the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Messianic Judaism pertains to those who are Jewish and have come to faith in the promised Messiah of Israel. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, and means “Salvation.” Jesus was actually called Yeshua, a Jewish man living in the land of Israel among Jewish people.

But with acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah comes much opposition and objections from within the Jewish community. Also, it should not be surprising that the Jewish community has formed its own set of objections to Jesus and the claims of His followers. Many Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus can be ostracized by their own communities. I even know some who have been disowned by their own families.

Dr. Michael Brown

The most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr.Michael Brown. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at http://askdrbrown.org. You can see him walking down the streets of New York discussing the Messiah issue here:

Dr. Brown has written a five set volume called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:
Vol 1 is called General Objections/Historical Objections
Vol 2 is called Theological Objections
Vol 3 is called Messianic Prophecy Objections
Vol 4 is called New Testament Objections
Vol 5 is called Traditional Jewish Objections

What was the Message of the first Messianic Jewish Apologists?

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

After reading this, we can see that there wasn’t much appeal to personal testimony nor “Accept Jesus into your heart and he will make your life better.”

Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:

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

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Which Revelation is True?:Is Religious Experience a Test For Truth?

For the follower of Jesus, there is the call to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19). Any attempt to reach out to a lost and needy world will result in several encounters with people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds. Many Christians can be surprised to find out that many people from non-Christian backgrounds are incredibly sincere about their faith. Unfortunately, sincerity is not a test for truth. Many people have been sincerely wrong about many things. What about the question, “How do you know your faith is true?” In other words, if a Mormon and a Christian ask each other this question, they both may assert that the test for the truthfulness of their faith is a religious experience. In this case, the confirmation of the Mormon faith happens through the heart confirming through what is already true in the mind. In other words, the Mormon appeal to a religious experience sounds a bit like the Christian appeal to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Religious experience should not be taken lightly. After all, Biblical faith is not simply about adhering to a set of objective, historical, propositions. Biblical faith involves a commitment of the whole person.

However, the issue of religious experience brings up an interesting point in apologetic dialogue. Which revelation is true? What god is the individual encountering? Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being. The apostle Paul uses the Greek word “plerophoria” which means “complete confidence, full assurance,” to indicate that the believer has obtained the knowledge of the truth as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work (2 Cor. 2:2; 1Thess. 1; Rom. 4:21; 14;5, Col. 4:12). (1) But what epistemological rights does the Christian have in saying their faith is true? While we do not want to discount the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, critics object that several other religions that are not compatible with Christianity lay claim to a self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit. Do not all existential experiences need an external test for truth? In appealing to the Book of Mormon the Mormon says:

” And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (2)

And so we see with the Mormon, all that is required for truth is the subjective testimony of the Holy Spirit. How does the Christian explain the Mormon’s confidence that the burning in their bosom is really not an authentic experience with the Holy Spirit? Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed an angel appeared to him and directed him to what are called the golden plates. Smith then showed them to eleven others. Smith is supposed to be responsible for translating these plates into The Book of Mormon. Like the apostles of Jesus, Smith suffered and died for his beliefs. However, there is a major difference between the eleven witnesses to the gold plates and the apostles of Jesus. (3) While six of the eleven witnesses left the Mormon Church, we have no record of the apostles of Jesus (Paul, James and John, others) even leaving the early Christian movement. (4)

Atheistic philosopher Michael Martin has argued that religious experience cannot qualify as a test for truth. After all, the testimonies of Muhammad, as well as the founders of several religious movements such as Joseph Smith, Sun Myung Moon and Jim Jones all attest to having a testimony that God gave them a revelation from heaven. (5) While Martin makes the mistake of depending on religious testimony as the only source for testing the truthfulness of a religious claim within a historical context, his points are valid for the Christian. How could the Christian argue sincere people of other faiths do not experience God as some sort of Being or loving Father, in which they depend upon? Fortunately, Jesus has left his people with an external test to demonstrate He is the Son of God. One of the external evidences (and I emphasize one!) that the subjective experience that the Christian experiences is truly from God’s Spirit is Jesus’ resurrection.

The issue of religious experience demonstrates that there needs to be the willingness to implement critical thinking. There also needs to be a call to intellectual honesty. It is evident that it is impossible to not use the law of non-contradiction which states that two opposite views cannot be true at the same time. Without the law of non-contradiction, we could not say God is not non-God (G is not non-G). To assert that it is not possible to use the law of non contradiction in evaluating religious claims is to exercise the use of the law of non-contradiction itself. While there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation.. In evaluating any religious 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?

I would conclude with the following: In their book, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective: Norman L. Geisler and and Paul D. Feinberg show the relationship between reason and revelation.They say the following:

There is some truth in all of the basic views on reason and revelation: (1) “Reason is over revelation” is correct in that reason is epistemologically prior to revelation. The alleged revelation must be tested by reason. (2) “Revelation is over reason” is right in the ontological sense. God created reason and it must be His servant, not His master. (3) “Revelation only” is correct in the sense that ultimately and ontologically all truth comes from God. (4) “Reason only” has some truth, since reason must judge epistemologically whether the alleged revelation is from God. (5) “Revelation and reason” is correct because it properly assigns a role to each and shows their interrelationship. One should reason about and for revelation, otherwise he has an unreasonable faith. Likewise, reason has no guide without a revelation and flounders in error.

1. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 32
2. Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004, 27.
3. Ibid, 185-188.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 282.
6. Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 14.

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