Apologetic Methodology and Practical Application

What is Apologetics?

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). Throughout Acts, Luke uses words such as reason, (trying to) persuade, eyewitness, witness, defense. It is true that many other religions have their own apologists. But in this post, I will focus on what are called apologetics systems. Thus, in this post we will discuss various types of Christian apologetic systems.

Classical Apologetics

Classical apologetics operates in a two-or three step process (philosophical, theistic, and evidential). Working from the vantage point of certain undeniable foundational principles, such as the laws of logic and self-existence, certain philosophical questions are addressed, such as truth, reality, meaning, and morality. Since a belief in God as creator is essential for an individual to become a Christian (Hebrews 11:6), the primary goal is to help the unbeliever understand reality untainted by false assumptions. The second step offers evidence for the existence of God, usually in the form of traditional theistic arguments and empirical data such as manuscript and archaeological evidence. Norman L. Geisler’s and Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist is an example of a classical method.

The outline of the book goes like this:

1.Truth about reality is knowable
2. Opposites cannot both be true
3. The theistic God exists
4. Miracles are possible
5. Miracles performed in connection with a truth claim are acts of God to confirm the truth of God through a messenger of God
6. The New Testament documents are reliable
7. As witnessed in the New Testament, Jesus is God incarnate
8. Jesus’ claim to divinity was proven by an unique convergence of miracles/his resurrection
9. Therefore, Jesus was God in human flesh.
10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) affirmed as true, is true
11. Jesus affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God
12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God

We notice in Point #1 that Geisler and Turek are aware that we are living in a somewhat post-modern culture. That is why they point to the issue that truth is knowable. As seen above, the classical apologist generally starts with the evidence for God outside the Bible and then works his way to demonstrating that such a God would want to reveal more of Himself to the human race through special revelation. Hence, classical apologetics relies heavily on natural theology. Of course, the classical apologist knows that many faiths try to use miracles to validate the truth of their religion. Therefore, the classical apologist demonstrates that many of the miracle claims outside the Christian faith are lacking in historical/evidential support.

While natural laws may be descriptive, they certainly are not prescriptive. Therefore, the classical apologist will demonstrate that there are good philosophical reasons to believe that miracles are both possible and actual.

Reasonable-Faith-Christian-Truth-and-Apologetics-by-Craig-William-Lane-and

Probably the most well know defender of the faith that utilizes the classical model is William Lane Craig. If you watch any of the debates with Craig, anyone can see Craig utilize cosmology and other arguments for God outside the Bible before providing evidence about the resurrection of Jesus.

Classical apologetics has also been practiced by Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologists also include Winfried Corduan, John Gerstner, Stuart Hackett, Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, and R. C. Sproul,.

Practical Application: In my conversations, classical apologetics is always utilized. So in many of the discussions between  the following topics come up:

  1. How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  2. How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  3. How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  4. How do you explain the Biological Fine-Tuning of Complex Life on Earth?
  5. How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  6. How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  7. How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  8. How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  9. How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  10. How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  11. How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  12. How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  13. How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  14. How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  15. How do you explain Ultimate
    Purpose
     in Life?

In regards to these questions, any attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed document or book) is cast off as a “God of the Gaps” argument. Granted, I think we have provided answers to the “God of the Gaps” charge. And in return, the atheist just punts to a “nature and chance of the gaps” argument. In other words, whatever God explanation is given, some atheists assume that science (which is not a search for natural/material causes alone) will be able to show that eventually we will arrive at naturalistic explanation.

Historical /Evidential Apologetics

Historical Apologetics does have some things in common with classical apologetics in that they begin with evidence to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Both the classical and historical apologist see historical evidence to be crucial to the defense of Christianity. However, the historical apologist doesn’t see the need for theistic apologetics (starting with evidence for God outside the Bible) as prior to historical apologetics. The classical apologist believes it begs the question to discuss the resurrection as an act of God unless one had first established that a God exists who can intervene into the world. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the supreme apologetic.

When looking at the New Testament, the approach of historical apologetics is to start with the historicity of the New Testament documents and then to use the miracles of Christ, particularly the resurrection, to point to the fact that Christ is the Son of God. This approach shows that there is a theistic God exists who can work miracles. Historical apologetics generally begins by attempting to show the historicity of the New Testament documents by using the following syllogism:

1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique combination of His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So we see in this syllogism that another step would be to examine the New Testament claims of Christ to be the Son of the theistic God who offers miraculous proofs for his claims. The most important part of this type of evidence is that Christ was resurrected from the dead. Once the deity of Christ is established, it can be, and often is, argued that the Bible is the Word of God, since Jesus (who is God) affirmed it to be so. Two present day historical apologists are Gary Habermas and Mike Licona who specialize in the resurrection of Jesus.

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I recently finished reading the book called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona. In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).

However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.

Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.

Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the Historical Bedrock that Licona mentions. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. Some of the critical scholars even included atheists, agnostics, Christians and Jews. So there was some impartiality in the study.

Bart Ehrman and The Historical Bedrock
What is interesting is Licona’s discussion of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has become somewhat of a hero of the atheist community because of his popular works such as Misquoting Jesus, etc. I hope the atheist community knows Ehrman agrees with the Historical Bedrock.

For example:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion: Ehrman says: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 261-262).

2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them: Ehrman says: “Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19).” ( see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 282).

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him: Ehrman says: “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” (see see see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301).

Practical Application:  I generally can start with people by getting them to agree that there are at least three facts about the Historical Jesus that are held by most critical scholars and historians. I list some of those sources here. See here as well.

We can  then discuss the best explanation for the resurrection appearances. Former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Another aspect of the historical argument  is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does not prove the existence of God, but it does show that events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity. See more here: The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.   In the end, the debate over the resurrection is always going to be about metaphysics. One approach is what it called the a priori  approach while the other is called the a posteriori approachDeductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). Some scholars may say they are open to taking an posteriori approach to the resurrection, when it comes time to actually examine the evidence. However, in many cases, they set the bar so high that no amount of evidence will ever convince them. So in many cases, if one is just utterly convinced that the natural world is all there is than we are back to natural theology and whether naturalism can explain reality better than theism.

Also, one reason historical apologetics will always come up is because even if someone does believe in some sort of Intelligence or Designer  in nature, they will eventually have to look into history to get a fuller picture of God and his plans for humanity. Another popular level book on evidential apologetics is James Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. 

You can see him lecture here:

Presuppositional Apologetics

Another approach to apologetic methodology is called the presuppositional approach. This approach starts by assuming Christian truth about God and Jesus as revealed in Scripture and reasons from Christianity. The presuppositional apologetic to the unbeliever begins with reasoning “from” Christianity through special revelation (Bible). The presuppositionalist assumes the content revealed in Scripture to be true and encourages the unbeliever to do the same since these assumed biblical truths offer only possible foundation and explanation for life and godliness- a framework on which to make of the world and God the way they actually exist. Due to the noetic effects of sin (sin on the mind), the unbelievers presuppositions are deemed irrational and inadequate to understand or explain the basis for religion, morals, communication and beauty. In some instances presuppositionalists test consistency by using the laws of logic. The goal is to demonstrate in any of several ways, that only biblical presuppositions provide the tools for one to make sense of reality and show that Christianity offers the only foundation and framework on which on which to make sense of the world and God.

The apostle Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Therefore, the unbelievers problem is not one of not understanding the truth of God, but of suppression, which leads to not receiving the truth.

As former atheist J. Budziszewski says:

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

Presuppositional apologetics differs from classical apologetics in that presuppositional apologetics rejects the validity of traditional proofs for the existence of God. Also, the presuppositional apologist differs with both classical and historical apologetics in its use of historical evidence. The presuppositionalist insists that one must begin with presuppositions or worldviews. The historical apologist believes that the historical facts “speak for themselves.” They are “self-interpreting” in their historical context. The pure presuppositionalist, on the other hand, insists that no facts are self-interpreting, that all facts are interpreted and can be properly understood only within the context of an overall worldview.

One well known presuppositionalist was the late Cornelius Van Till. Van Till answered the objection that the presuppositionalist method is circular by claiming that every system of though is circular. For example, a rationalist can defend the authority of reason only by using reason. Also, the Christian worldview is the only one that renders reality intelligible in its own terms. To read more about Van Till, click here.

Depending on how one is defined, there are three or four basic kinds of presuppositionalism: (1) revelational presuppositionalism (2) rational presuppositionalism and (3) systematic consistency. Some view Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic as an example of a fourth variation that might be called practical presuppositionalism. Each approach differs in the way in which a worldview is judged for truth.

Practical Application: I can’t say I have utilized a ton of presuppositonal apologetics. I do agree with the Romans 1 text that people do suppress truth. But it can be a challenge to start with the Bible with people.

Cumulative Case Apologetics

Advocates:
1. Paul Feinberg
2. C.S. Lewis
3. C. Stephen Evans
4. Basil Mitchell
5. Richard Swinburne

Advocates of the “cumulative case” method say the nature of the case for Christianity is not in any strict sense a formal argument from probability. In the words of Basil Mitchell, the cumulative case method does “not conform to the ordinary pattern of deductive or inductive reasoning.” The case is more like the brief that a lawyer makes in a court of law or that a literary critic makes for a particular interpretation of a book. The cumulative case method is an informal argument that pieces together several lines or types of data into a sort of hypothesis or theory that comprehensively explains that data and does so better that any alternative hypothesis. Paul Feinberg says that “Christian theists are urging that [Christianity] makes better sense of all the evidence available than does any other alternative worldview, whether that alternative is some other theistic view or atheism.” The data that the cumulative case seeks to explain include the existence and nature of the cosmos, the reality of religious experience, the objectivity of morality, and other certain historical facts, such as the resurrection of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” ( The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?” (1944), para. 24, p. 92). To apply what Lewis says, we can utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. Another example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

Also, using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue.

To see a short example of this approach online see,  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

Practical Application: I do like this approach. When talking to people, you can find common ground in that all humans observe the same things. Thus, they are both seeing many of the same features of reality. The question becomes is the most adequate explanation for accounts for  these features of reality.  Frank Turek has taken this approach in his latest book called Stealing from God.

 

1. House, H.W, and J. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences. Baker Publishing Group. Grand Rapids, 2007.
2. Geisler, N.L. BECA. Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, 2007, pgs, 41, 154, 316, 607.

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Doing Resurrection Apologetics: Starting with Paul’s Letters

Introduction

In discussions about the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, it is common to start with the Gospels. But in my opinion, I think it is best to  back up and start with Paul. After all, Paul’s writings are the earliest records we have for the resurrection of Jesus.

Paul, who was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ was a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. There are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul.

But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians.  Bart Ehrman has written a book called Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

In this book, he discusses the Pauline books that are in question to authorship. I will provide a response to this here by Mike Licona. I think Mike shows there can be a plausible case for the traditional authorship of the disputed New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul.

One common tactic by skeptics is to say Paul yielded no information about the earthly Jesus. In other words, Paul only speaks of the “heavenly Jesus.” Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy tackle this issue in greater detail in their book  The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition. I have written more on that here in my post called “What Can Paul Tell Us About Jesus.”

or Paul and the Historical Jesus: A Case Study in 1 Corinthians by Stephen J. Bedard.

Another tactic is to assert that since Paul never met Jesus his writings are of no great value. I have heard this objection on several occasions. In response, do you just pitch every writing you have written about someone else if the author never met the person they are writing about?  I doubt it. Secondly, remember the following:

As Louis Gottschalk says:

“Written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness….A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. It does not, however, need to be original in the legal sense of the word original-that is, the very document (usually in a written draft) [autographa] whose contents are the subject of discussion-for quite often a later copy or a printed edition will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classic seldom are any but later copies available.” (Understanding History, 53-54).

As we see, since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).

Furthermore, Ricahrd Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony that 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).

A little time line may be helpful: Remember Paul’s Letters are dated 48 A.D to 60 A.D. However, the information he receives about the death and resurrection of Jesus predate his writings.

The death of Jesus: 30 A.D.—–33A.D

Paul comes to faith between 33 and 35 A.D.

Paul’s Death: 60-65 A.D.

Temple Destroyed: 70 A.D.

Here are some of Paul’s remarks about the resurrection in his letters:

Romans: Date: 55-56 A.D

Romans 1: 1-5

“ Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh   and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Here we see that:

1. Jesus is a descendant of David

2. Jesus was spoken of in the Tanakh (the O.T.)

3. Jesus rose from the dead

Romans 6: 1-5

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

We see here:

1. Jesus died

2. He was buried

3. He rose from the dead

4. Paul can’t exhort his readers to understand their identity in Jesus without these historical facts

1 Thessalonians: Date: 50 A.D

1 Thess.1: 9 “ For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,   and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

We see here that 1. Jesus rose from the dead

1 Thess.4: 13-14

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Here we see that:

1. Jesus died

2. Jesus rose from the dead

1 Corinthians: 50-55 A.D.

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” (“παραλαμβάνω”) is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

“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.”

Here, Paul mentions:

1. Jesus died

2. He was buried

3. He rose

One of the key words in this text is “receive.” While the word “received” (a rabbinical term) can also be used in the New Testament of receiving a message or body of instruction or doctrine (1 Cor.11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal. 1:9, 12 [2x], Col 2:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6), it also means means “to receive from another.” This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.

The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion. At that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19).This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38.

Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan  writes:

Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” -Crossan, J.D. & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, 254.

To read more about this in detail, see my post here called The Earliest Record for The Death and Resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7.

The point is that Paul received this information long before he even wrote his letter.

Conclusion:

In the end, when it comes to the resurrection, I understand some apologists like to start with the Gospels. But from a tactical perspective, I think a wiser approach is to start with Paul.

Note: To see our post on a supposed contradiction between a passage in Galatians 1 and 1 Cor. 15: 3-8, see here.

Also,  see “But Paul Never Met Jesus”And Other Bad Arguments About Paul On The Internet

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A Very Challenging Task: Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus

Introduction

Out of all the people I have encountered over the years, I find Jewish people to probably be the most difficult to reach for the Messiah. We seem to be living in a day when some Christians are being stumbled by objections by Jewish people. And for the record, I also see atheists appealing to Jewish objections to Christianity. So I think this is a worthwhile topic. I know it is easy for many Christians to forget that the Gospel is still “To the Jew First” (Romans 1:16).  Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, isand believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. (1) Also, as Trevor Wax notes in his article, “Why Did Jesus Say He Came Only For Israel,”

“The Gospels reveal a Jesus focused on Israel. In fact, his ministry appears to be focused so relentlessly on the Jewish people that many scholars have debated whether Jesus was concerned with outsiders at all. When taking into consideration the nations-focused mission of the early church as directed by the risen Jesus that was so prominent in Christian thinking, it is striking to discover that this global impulse appears to be absent from Jesus’ earthly ministry.”

I want to go over some of the objections that I have heard and still hear from Jewish people. I will provide some tips and resource that may help:

The Incarnation and Trinity Issue:

Over the years I have heard several objections from Jewish people. Keep in mind, there are many Jewish people who are not overly religious. Hence, they are not Orthodox in practice and belief. But for the ones who are Orthodox, they have spent some time learning from counter-missionary organizations like Jews for Judaism and Outreach Judaism.  Hence, they know our arguments and tend to be ready to give their own apologetic as to why we are wrong about our claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah.

In other words, the entire belief in Jesus’ deity is a Christian invention that developed much later in church history. Therefore, Christian theological concepts like the incarnation, the virgin birth, the Trinity, etc. are totally foreign to both Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures (The Old Testament). I would like to give some tips in how to handle these objections. I speak from personal experience:

The study of the Godhead is an enormous task. A study of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus/ making a case for a divine Messiah go hand in hand with each other.  My advice is to take the time and do a long study of the topic. If you want to do this superficially, you will pay the price. One of the best resources on this topic is my friend John Metzger’s  Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God (over 900 pages).  For Orthodox Jewish and some conservative Jewish people as well, the idea of God becoming a man is just an impossibility and it goes against their strict monotheism. Hence, God is noncorporeal and that settles it!

I always cite evidence  that the early Jesus community’s adhered to monotheism, resisted  idolatry and was not corrupted by Hellenism. And we can give extensive answers to the charge that Christians  are not committing Idolatry and Violating the 2nd commandment.  But we have to remember that we are trying to provide a response to paradigms that have been long established in Jewish thought. The paradigm that the Messiah is not God and that the Trinity is something that is a pagan idea is firmly entrenched in Jewish people’s mindsets.

In the end, you may need to just stick with the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and show there is a case for the plurality in the Godhead. But in order to do this you will need some linguistic/hermeneutical skills or rely on those who have done the hard work to provide resources to the Church (see the Metzger book or other resources). And remember, both the incarnation and the Trinity are revealed truths. What was implicit in the Old Testament becomes more explicit in the New Testament. But you may say “But the Jewish Scriptures was what Paul and Apostles appealed to when they witnessed to Jews.” True! However, what text were they using? The Greek Septuagint ( “LXX”, or “Greek Old Testament”) is an ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible, or The Masoretic Text which is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible?  Most Jewish people don’t have a high regard for the Septuagint. So now you need to explain why the Septuagint is valid translation. For more study on this topic, see:
Dr. Michael Heiser: The Jewish Trinity

Jewish concept of the ‘Word’ being a Divine Person

Messianic Expectations and Maimonides

Another problem in discussing messianism with Jewish people is that the most dominant messianic expectation is one put forth byMoses Maimonides (1138- 1204), who was a medieval Jewish philosopher. His writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Maimonides asserted that since God is incorporeal, this means that God assumes no physical form. Therefore, God is Eternal, above time, Infinite, and beyond space. Maimonides also stated that God cannot be born, and cannot die. For Maimonides, the Messiah will be born of human parents, nor be a demi-god who possess supernatural qualities. Furthermore, for Maimonides, it is clear he was writing in response to Christianity. Here are some of the things he said about the Messiah are still at the forefront of the minds of Jewish people:

  • Restore  the throne of David
  • Rebuild  the Temple (He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18).
  • Gather  the exiles (He will bring about the  political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and  restoring Jerusalem
  • Be a descendent of David
  • He  does not have to perform signs or wonders

Let’s look at a couple of these:

#1 The Temple Issue and the Gathering the Exiles

Now don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for Maimonides. But I don’t think he is inspired by God and I am not going to look to him as the sole authority for the messianic credentials. But the reality is for Jewish people that are convinced the messianic task is all a one act play, they generally appeal the following:

  1. The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18;  23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
  2. The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jeresulem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
  3. Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
  4. The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
  5. The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.

In response, Christians generally appeal to the Second Coming of Messiah to fulfill those things. Some Christians see no fulfillment at all and spiritualize these texts. In the end, the entire issue leads to the next point :

Is There One Messianic Expectation?

The problem with talking to many Orthodox  or other Jewish people is that the only messianic expectation is the one put forth by Rabbinic Judaism which came into being after the Temple was destroyed in 70 a.d. So the problem with this is that we don’t get a broader understanding of what the messianic expectations were pre-70 ad/before the time of Jesus. Before 70 CE, messianic figures could go by a variety of names such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth.  It is when we study the entire history of messianism that we get a much broader understanding of the topic. To see more on this, see our posts:

Six Messianic Expectations and One Messiah

THE MESSIAH AND THE HEBREW BIBLE: JOHN H. SAILHAMER

Messianic Hopes and   Messianic Figures   In Late Antiquity/Craig Evans

The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament by Randall Price

Three Reasons Why Jesus is Qualified to be called the “Messiah”

Messianic Prophecy

When I was a new Christian I was exposed to popular apologetic works. Messianic prophecy has always been one of the main ways Christian use to show Jesus is the Messiah. The problem is that many of these works treat the topic in an overly superficial fashion.  The more I have taught on this topic, the more I realize that one of the first steps is to learn the hermeneutics of prophecy. To simply say some prophecies are about the first coming of the Messiah and others are about the return of the Messiah takes greater clarification. Some of the pertinent questions are the following: Are we sure that when the prophets spoke, they knew for sure about the timetable?  Did they know or not know that centuries would come and go between their initial prediction and its actual fulfillment?  Are some of the messianic promises  gradually being fulfilled or are partially fulfilled and will be completely full filled one day? What about typology?   These things are important since we see that both Christianity/Messianic Judaism and  Traditional Judaism have had to make adjustments in their thinking about messianism. Even in the time of Jesus we see that the disciples were confused about what the role of Jesus was. And after he rose from the dead, they still thought he would establish the Davidic Kingdom. Jesus says that ” If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”- John 5: 46. Can you show exegetically where Moses wrote about Jesus?

See more here:

Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?

Did Moses Really Write About Jesus? A Look at Messianic Prophecy in the Torah

Resources for the study of Messianic Prophecy

Answering the Objection: Jesus Fulfilled None of the Messianic Prophecies! 

What About an Atoning Messiah?

For the disciple of Jesus, His death is a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15). Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32ff), and the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). While the Christian community takes these truths for granted, the majority of the Jewish community asserts that Jesus’ death automatically annulled the possibility of Him being the promised Messiah of Israel. Christians tend to cite Isaiah 52:13-53 and Psalm 22 as a slam dunk for a suffering/atoning Messiah. But Rabbinic Judaism sees the Isaiah texts (and for that matter most of the Servant Songs) as being about Israel. Also,  no man can atone for anyone else! The gist is that the Suffering Messiah concept eventually made its way into Judaism. I have written more about this here Atonement and the Suffering Messiah in Judaism

But speaking from experience, in order for Christians to cite Isaiah 52-53 correctly, they will need some knowledge of Hebrew.  A more recent resource on this topic is The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology [Darrell Bock, Mitch Glaser. Another good online resource is The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) by Peter J. Gentry (just scroll down to the bottom)

Also, SOME Jewish people are unaware of the Jewish literature about the Suffering Messiah concept. And even if we do cite some of it (see our link above),they will say it is not referring to Jesus. I respond by saying I agree that while this may be true, it is incorrect to say there is NO mention of a person who can atone for the sins of Israel. Hence, to say it is a Christian concept that has no basis in Judaism is just patently false.

Furthermore, an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two:  Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for its final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace.(19)

What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah be David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par.(20)

This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a). (2)

Note: See Can We Reconcile The Messiah Ben David and The Messiah Ben Joseph Tradition in Judaism?

Supersessionism

You may say what is Supersessionism? In this article, Michael Vlach says two points that stand out about Supersessionism are the following: (1) national Israel has somehow completed or forfeited its status as the people of God and will never again possess a unique role or function apart from the church; and (2) the church is now the true Israel that has permanently replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God. Supersessionism, then, in the context of Israel and the church, is the view that the New Testament church is the new Israel that has forever superseded national Israel as the people of God.

Does this matter? Well, I know some Christians don’t know much about this. But others are aware of it and do hold to this position. Just think if you were trying to tell a Jewish person about why Jesus is their Messiah (the Jewish Messiah) and you said, “By the way, I do think national Israel has no future in the plan of God. Your people and land have no future as well.” This will probably cause your discussion with Jewish people to end very quickly.

Conclusion:

Believe it or not, I have barely scratched the surface on all the Jewish objections to the Christian faith. You can see our page here called A LOOK AT JEWISH OBJECTIONS TO JESUS. Also, 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 read Dr. Brown’s books called:

General Objections/Historical Objections

Theological Objections

Messianic Prophecy Objections

New Testament Objections

Traditional Jewish Objections

The apostle Paul 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). The best thing to do with any Jewish person is to build relationships of trust. Never assume anything. Always follow the example of our Lord by asking questions. And always remember that all Jewish people come to faith just like anyone else. They must be open to the truth and God’s Spirit must open their eyes (2 Cor.4:4-6).

Sources:

1. This section was taken from JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP, Article 3 of 13: GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE PLAN by Sam Nadler at http://messianicassociation.org/ezine14-sam.God%27sUnchangeable%20Plan.htm?vm=r&s=1

2. Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.

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Jewish Professor Speaks About the Incarnation of Jesus: Is it Really a Non- Jewish concept?

Anyone that has ever talked to Jewish people about the deity of Messiah will come across the challenge that Jews for Judaism says here: 

The Jew equates worship of Jesus with idolatry. A Jew sees  no room for discussion of this issue. A man cannot be God and that’s all there  is to it. The missionary effort to present scriptural quotations as evidence to  support his devotion to Jesus, is wasted on the Jew.  God gave the Jewish people an understanding of Himself before He gave them the  scriptures. The Jewish people read scripture in light of their understanding of  God. It was God Himself who gave the Jewish people their conception of God, and  it is through the lens of this fundamental teaching that we understand all  subsequent revelation. The words of the prophets do not have the power to alter  that which God Himself has taught us. The exact opposite is true. Our  conception of God is the criterion by which the prophet’s words are evaluated. (see full article here)

 

For the Jews or Judaism crowd, there are some challenges to their comments above. I have blogged about this here. But Dr. Benjamin D. Sommer, Jewish Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a non-Messianic Jew, stated the following in one of his lectures concerning the book he wrote called ‘The Bodies of God and The World of Ancient Israel’:

“When the New Testament talks about Jesus as being some sort of small scale human manifestation of God, it sounds to Jews so utterly pagan, but what I’m suggesting is perhaps the radical idea for us Jews that in fact, it’s not so pagan. That in fact, there was a monotheistic version of this that existed already in the Tanakh. And that the Christian idea, that Jesus, or ‘The Logos’, The Word, as the Gospel of John describes it in it’s opening verses, that the presence of The Word or Jesus in fleshly form – in a human body on the planet earth – is actually God making God self accessible to humanity in a kind of avatar. This is what we were seeing in the ‘J’ and ‘E’ texts [differing Hebrew manuscripts]. This is much less radical than it sounds. Or when the Gospel of John describes God’s Self as coming down and overlapping with Jesus – which is a famous passage early in the Gospel of John – that is actually a fairly old ancient near eastern idea of the reality, or self, of one deity overlapping with some other being. So, this is not just Greek paganism sort of just smoothed on to a Jewish mold, which is a way that a lot of Jews tend to view Christianity. This is actually an old ancient near eastern idea, that is an old semitic idea, that is popping up again among those Jews who were the founders of Christianity. We Jews have always tended to sort of make fun of the trinity. ‘Oh how can there be three that is one? If they’ve got this three part God, even if they call it a triune God, a God that is three yet one, really, really, they are pagans. They are not really monotheists like we Jews are or like the Muslims are. Those Christians are really pagan.’ But I think what we are seeing in the idea of the trinity that there is this one God who manifests Itself in three different ways, that’s actually an old ancient near eastern idea that could function in a polytheistic context as it did for the Babylonians and Canaanites, but it can also function in a monotheistic context as it does I think in the ‘J’ and ‘E’ texts. In fact, to say that three is one, heck, Kabbala [Jewish mysticism] is going to go further than that. They say ten is one. The Zohar says ten is one. Actually certain parts of Kabbala say that within each of the ten spherote has ten spherote within them so that there is a hundred spherote, we are taking this much further than the Christians did. One of the conclusions that I came to, to my shock, when I finished this book [The Bodies of God and The World of Ancient Israel], is that we Jews have no theological objection to the trinity. We Jews for centuries have objected to the trinity, have labeled it pagan, have said: ‘Well, that’s clear. There you can see that the core of Christianity doesn’t come out of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, what they call the Old Testament. Really, they are being disloyal to the monotheism of the Old Testament.’ Actually, I think that’s not true. To my surprise, I came to the conclusion, somewhat to my dismay, I came to the conclusion that we Jews have no theological right to object to the trinity. Theologically, I think that the model of the trinity is an old ancient near eastern idea that shows up in the Tanakh and in a different way shows up in Jewish mysticism as well.”

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Why Jesus in Jewish Context Matters!

“One of the first things seminarians are taught about biblical interpretation is the importance of context. If the interpreter has found the proper context, his or her interpretation will be the better informed and more accurate for it. Becoming acquainted with Jesus’ Jewish context is a must for sound exegesis; finding it brings us much closer to the Jesus of history and of faith.”- Craig Evans at https://www.gci.org/jesus/judaism

As a Christian, I have learned plenty of spiritual insights from my Jewish friends who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the entire world. When I became a Christian in my 20’s, I was fairly ignorant about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. What is more interesting is that as of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn. In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

Two other comments need to be noted. The first is by Philip Yancey. He says,

“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” (1)

The second is by Jaroslav Pelikan. He says,

“Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?” (2)

As we read through the Gospels, we see some of the aspects of the Jewishness of Jesus such as:

•Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt. 3:13-16)
•Circumcision (Lk. 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day
•Mary’s Purification (Lk. 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Lev. 12)
•Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Lk. 2:41)
•Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matt. 6:8-13)
•Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matt. 9:20)
•Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(Jn. 2:16)
•Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matt. 12); Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7); Feast of Passover (Matt. 26); Hanukkah (Jn. 10)
•Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Lk.4:14-20; Jn. 18:20)
•Jesus gathered disciples:(Matt. 8:23)
•Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Rom. 15:8)
•Jesus settled disputes: (Mk. 9:33-37)
•Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matt. 12:1-14)
•Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 15:24)
•Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 10:5-6)
•Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Lk. 24:44); (Jn. 5:39)
•Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matt. 4:1-11)
•Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-48)
•Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (Jn. 10:35)

 

Some suggested readings:

 

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The Most Common Objection to God’s Existence on a College Campus

 

DISCLAIMER: From what I gather, atheists and skeptics have told me “Well, I never bring up the arguments to theists that are mentioned in this post. Thus, no atheist or skeptic that I know would bring up these objections.” My response: This is based on my experience from the last 12 years of doing apologetics on a major college campus. So whether you don’t accept it has nothing to do with my own personal testimony from what I have seen.

In 2004, I started going to the Ohio State University and engaging students for the truth claims of Christianity. I did hundreds of surveys with students and certainly begin to see some of the objections people had to the Christian faith. Around 2006 I moved away from the survey approach and started using a variety of approaches to reach out to the students here. Anyway, it was 2009 when myself along with some OSU students planted a Ratio Christi chapter on the campus. This was done out of the necessity for a stronger apologetics presence on the campus. Since we planted the chapter we have had some very well-known speakers come such as William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Bart Ehrman and Michael Brown, Paul Nelson, Michael Licona and James Warner Wallace. We have also had some student debates with the skeptic group on the campus. Keep in mind that Ohio State is a very large campus (60,000) students. Therefore, I do not mean to stereotype anyone or act like I speak as an authority for the entire campus. There are plenty of other campus ministries and people who might share different experiences that they have seen on the campus.

What About Skepticism?

Sure, skepticism has always been an issue on college campuses. But what kind of skepticism do I see? All kinds of skepticism! But as you will see in the objections below, I also see alot of pragmatism and some post-modernism, mysticism, etc.  I will also provide some resources to the objections I have heard over the last several years.

The more I have talked to hundreds of students about spiritual beliefs, the more I realize there is one objection that comes up more than any other. Now I realize this may not be the same for everyone else. But when the discussion turns to the question “How do we know God exists?”   I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, If God exists, how should God show people he is real? Now when I say “God,” I am referring to the God of the Bible (see more below). Obviously, when it comes to terms like “evidence” and “proof” we always have equivocation issues. But in many cases, this illustration come into the discussion:

The Most Common Objection: “Why Won’t God Show Me A Sign?”

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Yes, over the last several years, this is the most common objection that I hear. The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him. Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. The first question as to why won’t God just write it in the sky that He exists or make Himself known in an unmistakable way, leads to the response, “What do you mean by God?” If someone is referring to the God of the Bible, they might want to reconsider the demand for such a thing. Of course, in many cases, skeptics have created a god in their own mind which is idolatry. See Ed Feser’s post called “The One God Further Objection.”  But remember, God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation. Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel.

But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed.  Furthermore, perhaps the demand for such a sign assumes the individual is certain as to how they would respond to such a sign. After all, any assumption that a clear sign will lead to a full surrender of one’s autonomy over to their Creator is quite presumptuous.

You Can’t Prove God’s Existence

One of the most common objections I hear is that there is no way to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ God’s existence. Sadly, this can allow a person to punt to some form of lazy agnosticism. Thus, they are off the hook and and can ignore the God question. When this comes up, I now ask  students what they mean by ‘prove’ and then I ask them if they know the difference between deductive, inductive or abductive proof. I hope this chart helps.

Direct Evidence 

 In this post,  we see how the author discusses the issue of objective evidence and the role our mind plays in the perception of the evidence.  After all, in many cases, people have access to the same evidence but they come to different conclusions based on their interpetation of the evidence. In this clip, you will see the issue of the demand for a sign or direct testimony/direct evidence will come up. Granted, the issue of our interpretation of evidence is always an issue.


After viewing this clip, here is a summary of what the student says:

“I would have to say unambiguous, direct evidence…. Some people will use their explanation for God existing as things we don’t know… [like] the arguments [that] everything is so fine-tuned, but that doesn’t do much for me. I would very much prefer to have actual, direct evidence of somebody saying, “This directly points to God himself coming down and speaking.” And at that point I’d have to verify with someone that I’m not hallucinating…. It has to be some direct evidence of God, not an extrapolation of evidence from something else.”

And here we see the same topic discussed in this clip called ” I Would Believe If God Knocked On My Door” by Brett Kunkle of STR.

Unfortunately, many people (I was one of them) don’t know the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence.  One of the most helpful ways to approach the question of the existence of God is to utilize an approach that is successfully practiced in science, history, law, philosophy, and other areas. It is called “Inference to the Best Explanation.” For example, when we identify a range of data to be explained, formulate a pool of possible explanations, and judge that one is the best among that pool.  When this happens, the data provide evidence that the explanation is true. This is important because when we talk about the God question, so many people (like the student above)  demand what we call “direct evidence.” In other words, they think they should be able to “see” or verify God directly. As I just said, that is a fruitless approach. Of course, Jesus is the full revelation of God. Thus, if you want to know what God is like, look to Him! But, when it comes to history, science, and many criminal investigations, we are dealing with many events that nobody was able to participate in. Thus, these events are in the past and aren’t repeatable. That’s why historians, scientists and criminal investigators, have to collect the information and then make a conclusion based on the combined weight of all the evidence taken together. Note: Please see our short post called a Chart on Approaches to God’s Existence and 30 Suggested Readings on Apologetic Responses to Atheism/Skepticism.

Miracles

Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there.

When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. The pattern for miracles is the following:

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

In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God should show them a miracle.  It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue. At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37).

This is why we need to remember the following.  In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli say there are three components to faith:

  1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
  2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
  3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their sign or miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, signs and miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them. From my experience, 90% percent of the people that say they want a sign admit afterwards that even if they got it, they might think they are hallucinating.

In the end,  many people simply know very little about the nature of God. Perhaps we need to get back to Theology 101. NOTE: ALSO CHECK OUT PAUL MOSER’S PDF: “WHY ISN’T GOD MORE OBVIOUS?”

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