Responding to “You Can’t ‘Prove’ or ‘Disprove’ God’s Existence”

Over the years I have heard hundreds of objections to the Christian faith on a major college campus. 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 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. Unless they have taken an intro to logic course, in most cases, they don’t know any of these terms. I don’t bring this up to be snarky. Nor do I do it to try to show them how smart I am.  Nor am I trying to use confusing terminology. I am simply trying to get them to think through what they mean by the word ‘proof.’ See our chart here.

I discuss some of the issues that are mentioned in the chart above. I also ask them what would convince them God exists. In most cases, they will generally respond three ways. They will say “I have never thought of that before?” In many cases,  they also may say that they think God should show them some sort of sign that He is real. 
Anyway, I hope this helps in your discussions with people.

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The Problem with God’s Visibility and Invisibility

A common objection that comes up quite a bit in discussions about God’s existence is the “I Can’t See God!” objection. In other words, how can we expect people to trust in a being that can’t be seen as a material object. The argument is laid out in the following way:

  1. If we can’t see God directly, God does not exist
  2.  We can’t see God directly
  3.  Therefore, God does not exist.

First, many people assume it is irrational to believe in God unless they can use the empirical method to verify that God exists. In other words, many skeptics reject God because they cannot verify that God exists by utilizing their five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching). So for something to be real, it must be visible. The “principle of empirical verifiability,” which was formulated by the philosopher A.J. Ayer, was a dominant view in philosophy departments during the 1960’s. In critiquing this view, we need to use the principle of logic called self-refutation. In relation to empiricism, if we look at the proposition that we have to believe something is only true if it can tested by the five senses, this statement is self-refuting. The statement alone cannot be tested by the five senses. If I accepted the statement “I only believe what I can see,” then he or she would not be able to accept the statement itself, because the belief is not visible- it can’t be seen. Furthermore, there are several  non-physical things such as propositions, states of affairs,  numbers, platonic universals, our own thoughts, the laws of logic, etc. 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.

Biblical Passages about Seeing God

Interestingly enough, when it comes to the God of the Bible we see the visibility and invisibility of God in the following text:

The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.”  Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!”  And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”  But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  Then the Lord said, Behold, there is a place  by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock;  and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”- Exodus 33: 17-23

Here we see the declaration, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Andrew Malone says the following about this text:

Of all the Old Testament passages that describe seeing God, Exodus 33: 20 is regularly emphasized. What’s especially important is that it’s invoked both by those who insist that God is strictly invisible and by those who are more comfortable with his making visible appearances. Which interpretation is correct? First, we should note that the prohibition of 33: 20 is precisely that: a prohibition. Moses is not told that he is physically unable to look upon God; he is not permitted to do so. Almost every major English Bible translates this ambiguously: ‘you cannot see my face’. There are two reasons we should interpret this as describing what is permitted for Moses rather than what is possible. (1) God gives Moses a rationale: ‘for no one may see me and live’. This implies that someone can succeed in seeing him, albeit with fatal consequences. This is an odd warning if God is imperceptible to human sight. (2) God immediately makes arrangements whereby Moses does see something of God’s divinity (33: 21– 23). Indeed, Exodus proceeds to talk unashamedly of Moses being with and speaking with Yahweh – an encounter sufficiently intimate to alter Moses’ visible appearance (e.g. 34: 1– 9, 27– 35). Secondly, we must consider what we mean when we talk about God’s ‘glory’. That’s what Moses asked to see. God responds that it’s fatal to see his ‘face’. How do these terms intersect? It’s easy to think God is using the terms interchangeably: denying Moses a glimpse of his face denies a glimpse of his glory. That’s consistent with other occasions where God’s ‘glory’ cannot be endured, even by Moses (e.g. 40: 34– 35; 1 Kgs 8: 10– 11; Ezek. 1: 28).  But this itself suggests that something can be experienced. There are many other passages where God’s ‘glory’ is manifest, often in the sight of all Israel. So we cannot automatically assume that God’s glory is unseeable. Exodus 33: 20 does not disallow God’s ability to render himself visible; it merely reinforces that he can make himself too visible for human survival.- Andrew Malone, Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament? A Fresh Look at Christophanies

It can noted that 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. Here is a helpful quote:

“Suppose you want to answer some specific question. How will you proceed? That depends on what you want to know and how it can be known. For instance, “Where is Kenya?” can be answered by consulting an encyclopedia, looking at a globe, or asking someone who knows. Answering “Did I leave the bedroom light on?” usually requires going to the room to see or asking someone else to go.

Consulting an encyclopedia or  “What is 12 x 12?” can be answered from memory (if you learned your multiplication tables) or by looking at a multiplication table, working out the answer on paper, using a calculator, counting out twelve rows of twelve sticks and then counting through them all, or (again) by asking someone who knows. It cannot be answered by looking at a globe. We ask “What are you thinking?” only of persons—and only the person who is being asked can answer it. We may guess, but we won’t know for certain unless we are told. Consulting encyclopedias, looking at globes, going to another room, or trying to work out the answer on paper aren’t good ways to answer this question. Our primary question is, What is God like? That is what we want to know. Let us assume for the moment that it is possible to know some significant things about God. Yet still we must ask, How can we know them? Our answer to this question depends on the kind of being we think God is.”Mark Talbort, “Does God Reveal Who He Actually Is?” quoted in God Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents God, Douglas S. Huffman, Eric L. Johnson, R. Douglas Geivett, Gerald L. Bray, Bruce A. Ware, Charles Gutenson, James S. Spiegel, Mark R. Talbot, William Lane Craig, Paul Helm, and D. A. Carson/

I will add one thought to this: If we could remember the nature of the object determines how we know it, than for skeptics to constantly say there is no evidence, the first thing to ask “What is the nature of the object they are trying to know?” What is God? Welcome to natural theology. Revealed/Historical theology follows after that.

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

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

How much we may know about God from rational demonstration, or probabilistic arguments from scientific evidence may not lead us to worship the God of classical theism. So, assuming the arguments are good, and that theism is true, is the God that exists the God of the Bible? At this point, we may venture into the world of history. If there is a God, it makes sense that God would desire to communicate to us—after all, He made us. How are we to determine, of all the religions in the world, which one God has communicated through—if any? Or, has God communicated through some of them, or even all of them? While Christians understand the Old and New Testaments as God’s revelation to mankind, for example, Muslims take it for granted that it is the Quran—not the Bible—which is the Word of God. Mormons have the Book of Mormon, Hindus have the Vedas, animists have oral traditions, and so on.

The Inference to the Best Explanation Model

One of the best solutions to handling the issue of evidence and arguments for God’s existence is to 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. This type of explanation is commonly called “abduction” since it is a type of reasoning that is different from induction and deduction. As I just said, people assert that unless the God of the Bible is a material object that can be verified with one’s five senses, He doesn’t exist.  Since we can’t see God as a material object, one way to approach this issue is to look at the effects in the world and make rational inferences to the cause of the effect. Hence, we have to look to see if God has left us any pointers that lead the way to finding Him. To read more about this issue, see Paul Copan’s article, here:

Believe it or not, it seems that Rabbi Paul was on target when he said 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).

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

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

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

Also, the verification principle has broadened out to other kinds of verification tests such as experiential, historical, and eschatological. Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book.  Former atheist Antony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen.[1]  In a debate with Gary Habermas, Flew agreed that if it is a knowable fact that Jesus rose from the dead literally and physically it then constitutes “the best, if not the only, reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.” –  Gary R. Habermas, Antony Flew, and David J. Baggett, Did the Resurrection Happen?: A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Antony Flew (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2009), 85.

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Ratio Christi Recommends | Does God Exist? Why it Matters

Here is short blurb on our new book on God’s existence.

 

Ratio Christi is pleased to recommend a recently published resource aimed at equipping all Christians for action. Authors Eric Chabot and Chris Van Allsburg recently published the book, Does God Exist? Why it Matters, as a concise introduction to articulating and defending God’s existence.

Purchase your copy of Does God Exist? Why it Matters
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Both authors are Ratio Christi Chapter Directors. Eric Chabot represents RC at Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College, and Chris Van Allsburg leads at Lenoir-Rhyne University. The writing of this book was in response to a recognized need identified by the authors:

We wrote this book as a general introduction to the question of God’s existence. We cover a wide range of thinkers and ideas. We are keenly aware that many books covering the existence of God are too academic for readers new to apologetics. They tend to presume too much and surpass the reader’s comprehension. Our intent is to provide a primer that whets the appetite and compels deeper study. This little tome fills a well-defined niche.”

Does God Exist? is written at a level that will resonate with those new to apologetics and with those already possessing some fluency. Multiple chapters offer an intermediate course in several heady problems in the philosophy of religion. Terms like worldview, proof, evidence, science, metaphysics, and epistemology are laid out in an easy-to-understand way. For example, to make a conversation meaningful requires examining one’s worldview. But what is the structure of a person’s worldview, and how do we uncover it? As these questions are considered, the reader is postured to capture a birds-eye-view of why people think in certain ways about the Big Questions of Life. This book couches readers in the world’s intellectual landscape while explaining fundamental reasons why God’s existence is rational, justifiable, and desirable.

A book like this is important because Christians need to be apologists. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Apologetics is therefore an imperative for every Christian. And apologetics is simply this: making a case for what we believe with a view to proclaiming the gospel. In a post-Christian, and often intellectually hostile society, Christians cannot underestimate the need for apologetics. Some of our biggest challenges today include

1) skepticism and the existence of God
2) the historical reliability of the bible
3) science and the bible
4) the morality of the bible (to include violence in the Old Testament, feminism, homosexuality, and patriarchy)
5) Christian attitudes and hypocrisy towards social issues
6) the problem of suffering and evil.

While all of these topics merit careful examination, Does God Exist? focuses in on the first challenge. According to Chabot and Van Allsburg,

“We begin with common objections related to the human desire of experiencing a “sign” from God. We interlace these points with personal stories, including one about [spoiler alert] a murder charge against one of the authors of the book! We also cover rational demonstrations of God’s existence with a brief explanation of Aquinas’s Second Way and his argument from being and essence. To understand Aquinas requires a familiarity with new vocabulary, and we explain terms such as efficient cause, act, and potency. In addition to Aquinas, we cover Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason, the fine-tuning of the universe, human longing, morality, consciousness, biological information, and God’s actions in history. All of these, we think, will lead readers to a strong case for God. The history section includes a comparison of Christianity with other religions, centered upon the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.”

The end of each chapter includes footnotes, and the end of the book has a suggested reading list for deeper study. While the book stands well as a singular resource, the comprehensive lists of references provide readers a streamlined way to identify and access additional material.

From the authors:

We hope this small treatise will cause people to stop for a quiet moment and ponder one of life’s biggest questions, “Does God Exist?” And fitting with the subtitle, we hope readers will discover why it matters whether God does or does not exist.

Purchase your copy of Does God Exist? Why it Matters
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“What does it mean to say the New Testament is ‘Historically Reliable?’”

Over the years I have seen more than my share of articles and books written on what is called ‘The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.’

The irony is that hardly any of them have actually defined what ‘historically reliable’ even means.

I recently finished Michael Bird’s book The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus.  In it, he mentions  the issue of ‘historically reliability.’ He says:

“What is more, when we say that the Gospels are historically reliable, we do not mean that they were intended to be judged by the standards of modern historiography or that they are the ancient equivalent of what it would have been like to follow Jesus around with a hidden video camera. They are historically rooted in the memories of the earliest eyewitnesses. ”

“While I think the overall historical reliability of the Gospels is vitally important, lest we treat them as religiously laden fiction, we should not import anachronistic and modernist criteria of historical reality into our treatment of the Gospels and make it a condition for theological validity.”

This is helpful. Bird is mostly talking about genre criticism and eyewitness memory. But let’s take it a bit further. I think most, if not all  the following issues come up when people think of what we mean by ‘historically reliable.’

1. Archaeological/External Evidence: Are the people and events mentioned in the New Testament based on real, ‘historical’ people. Did they exist? Have we found archaeological confirmation of many of the geographical locations, cities, events? There has been quite a bit written on this topic. I have included some posts on my own blog on this issue:

Archeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Peter S. Williams

84 Confirmed Facts in the Last 16 Chapters of the Book of Acts

59 Confirmed or Historically Probable Facts in the Gospel of John

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY: FACTUAL EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THE HISTORICITY OF THE BIBLE

RESOURCES: ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONFIRMATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: A BIBLIOGRAPHY

CRAIG EVANS: JESUS AND THE EXORCISTS: WHAT WE LEARN FROM ARCHAEOLOGY

Craig Evans: Is the Bible Reliable?

2. Is the New Testament based on ‘eyewitness testimony?’ Of course, we need to ask what book we are talking about here. The Gospels? Paul? There still is a lot of ignorance about this issue. Here are some resources on this topic:

Are the Gospels a Reliable Eyewitness Account of the Life of Jesus?

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Why We Should Expect Witnesses to Disagree

Who wrote the Gospels? Dr. Timothy McGrew

The Hearsay Objection: How Can the Gospels Be Eyewitness Accounts If They Include Things the Writers Didn’t See?

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable?

Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony? The Test of Personal Names

Can A Witness Be Trusted If He Can’t Be Cross-Examined?

3. Can we offer responses to every single ‘apparent contradiction’ in the New Testament? Here, people like Bart Ehrman makes this out to be a big ticket item. It is an ‘all or nothing’ issue. Once again, there has been more than enough responses to this issue as well.

Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions: James Warner Wallace

Old News! Approaching Contradictions in the Gospels

Michael Licona on ancient biography and harmonizing Bible contradictions

4. Can we expect people to accept something as ‘historically reliable’ if we have documents recording resurrections, people walking on water, etc?  Can the historical method ever allow for any explanation that isn’t a natural explanation? This is a methodological issue that is still being debated. Mike Licona talks about that here.

5. Has the New Testament been faithfully transmitted? In this case, the question is whether the New Testament has been faithfully transmitted. In other words, what does textual criticism have to say about this issue? Here are the following sources:

Norman Geisler: A Note on the Percent of the Accuracy of the New Testament Text

Inerrancy and the Text of the New Testament: Assessing the Logic of the Agnostic View by Daniel Wallace

Dr. Daniel Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered

Can We Construct The Entire New Testament From the Writings of the Church Fathers?

Is the Bible Today What Was Originally Written? By Andreas J. Köstenberger

An Interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament Manuscripts

A Response to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: Dr. Thomas Howe

Wallace, Daniel B: The Gospel According to Bart: A Review of Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

So these are some of the things that come up when discussing The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. Let’s make sure we are defining our terms!

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Old News! Approaching Contradictions in the Gospels

Note: For anyone that wants to go deeper on this issue: Go to our articles/posts section and scroll down to the part about contradictions in the Bible. There are plenty of links that deal with these issues such as here.

Has anyone ever heard the objection that there are just loads of contradictions in the Gospels? We still have our share of scholars like Bart Ehrman who write books that are intended for the masses and act like there are so many contradictions. Sadly, they present this information to the public as if it is “new” news. But the reality is, this issue is “old” news. Scholars have known and written about these issues for decades.

I have always said that trying to place a hyper-modernist/Enlightenment grid on an ancient text is a bit silly and naïve. As Ben Witherington says so well, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.”

But in this case, I am going to appeal to my friend Neil Mammen who has his own apologetics ministry called NoBlind Faith.Com .

Neil gives us an illustration as to how to deal with this issue.

December 2005 
Neil writes:
Hi all,
I was just reading the news last night about that tragic accident in Chicago. One thing occurred to me. I don’t think there really was a crash. Because when I read the story from these 5 different sources they all seemed to disagree with each other. Just shows how the media twists things.

AP – Sat Dec 10,
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 rests in the middle of Central Ave. Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005 in Chicago. The jetliner, trying to land in heavy snow slid off the runway Thursday at Midway Airport, crashed through a boundary fence and slid out into the street, hitting one car and pinning another beneath it. A child in one of the vehicles was killed. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Radio@UPEI December 9, 2005

A snowy runway caused a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to skid off the runway in Chicago Thursday evening. Nobody on the plane was seriously injured, but a 6-year old boy was killed as the plane skid onto the intersection of 55th Street and Central Avenue, and hit the vehicle he was traveling in.

– This one must be false as well because it only mentions 1 vehicle being hit and nothing about going through any fence, but we know there were fences from the first report.

AFP/Getty Images – Fri Dec 9,
Southwest Airlines jet sits on a roadway after it crashed through a security wall the evening before at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois. US authorities launched an investigation after the jet skidded off a Chicago airport runway and into a street where it hit two cars and killed a child (AFP/Getty Images)

– This also must be made up because it says the plane went through a security wall, not a boundary fence like the last one said it did. Don’t you think that if a plane went through a brick wall it would have exploded or at least caught on fire?

Reuters – Fri Dec 9,
A Southwest Airlines plane bound from Baltimore, Maryland, sits on a road along Chicago’s Midway Airport December 9, 2005, after crashing through a safety barrier while trying to land during a snowstorm in Chicago on December 8, 2005. (Frank Polich/Reuters)

-This story doesn’t mention that someone was killed in this crash. Don’t you think this is kind of important? It talks about a safety barrier not a wall, it also doesn’t talk about any cars being hit. So were NO cars hit?

AP Canadian Press – Fri Dec 9, 
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 rests nose first at the intersection of W.55th Street and Central Ave. in Chicago Friday after it skidded off the runway at Midway Airport Thursday. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

– This is a second AP source that doesn’t agree even with the first source. It doesn’t say anything about any cars (forget about 2 of them), it doesn’t mention a fence of any sort, nor does it mention anybody dying. You’d think that was important.

So folks can you help? Are we being snowed by the media? Did this event really happen? Can we trust that it really happened?

Question 1: Did any cars get hit? Two reports don’t mention it, the others do.
Question 2: How many cars did get hit? One report only says 1 car, some say 2 cars.
Question 3: Did anyone really die? Two reports don’t mention any deaths at all.
Question 4: What did the plane crash through, did it crash through anything? Some reports say it crashed through a security wall, other a boundary fence, and others a safety fence. Some don’t say anything about crashing through any sort of wall or fence.

So my conclusion is: 
1. This story is a lie and made up by the media.
2. There may be some semblance of truth to it, but on the whole it is inaccurate and should not be given any credence. Probably a myth?
3. Each of these news medias are deliberately colluding to create a false story and they can’t even get their lies straight.
4. Besides we all know that if a plane crashes into a car it will explode in a big fireball, so this whole story is just unacceptable.

Now let’s apply this illustration to the resurrection accounts in the Gospels: 
To see the comparison of the resurrection accounts, click here:

As we compare the so-called discepranices in the resurrection accounts with the plane story, my friend Neil concluded the following:

” If you re-read the media stories, all the stories were correct. But only some emphasized certain parts. For instance some accounts mentioned 2 cars, others only mentioned the car with the 6 year old that died. They said “about 8 years old” which was correct. Some mentioned his brother who was OK, yet others did not mention him. Yet all the accounts were correct. They were not inconsistent since no account says there were no OTHER cars or no brother etc or that he was exactly 8 years old. This is similar in the resurrections accounts. Nobody said there was ONLY 1 angel etc. The overriding facts in the news story were the plane and the child dying. All other events were subsequent to this and thus each witness could choose to mention it or not without any inconsistency. Similarly, in the Gospel events on the resurrection, we see the overriding facts are that he died and that he rose. This is the “gist” of the event. All other events are noted or not, similar to the newspaper accounts when noted they are correct but not necessarily the complete picture. There is no inconsistency nor are there any contradictions – only apparent ones that can be as easily resolved as the SWA flight.”

I (Eric) assume that just about everyone has seen Titanic. When James Cameron was working on Titanic movie, he discovered numerous conflicts in the available eyewitness reports about what happened on Titanic’s fateful voyage. Some of the reports were given in court under oath, meaning there was no need to doubt their essential veracity. Yet, as is typical of multiple eyewitness accounts, the reports contained a variety of apparent contradictions.

Despite the conflicts in the reports, Cameron reported that he found enough in common among the reports to start reconconstructing the main lines of what really happened. And by the way, does anyone know that there are also discrepancies on the reports of Alexander the Great, the Kennedy assassination, the Lincoln assassination, or the 9-11 reports? The list goes on. We never hear anyone complaining about these issues. But then again, these stories don’t make claims that challenge our human autonomy before God.

As Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy note, “Examples like this demonstrate that a hypercritical historical methodology is just as damaging to good “critical” historiography as is a naively uncritical approach.” (see The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition)

I was recently having this discussion with a friend who is involved in the apologetic enterprise. We both concluded that the discrepancies in the gospel accounts are exactly what we would expect from the honest accounts of eyewitnesses. Anybody who handles eyewitness testimony knows this; so long as nobody’s lying, you can expect the accounts to match on the major details, but they’ll be all over the ballpark on the minor details. One will remember a person arriving, another will remember that same person leaving, a third will swear that same person wasn’t there. This actually strengthens the reliability of the gospel accounts, in that it confirms that these are the actual eyewitness accounts of genuine, honest witnesses. If they agreed on all the same points, it would be collusion

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Why Jesus Is the Most Likely Candidate to Rise From the Dead

Some people think the resurrection of Jesus is impossible to believe or they may think the entire story just doesn’t make sense. I think if there is anyone who would rise from the dead, it would be Jesus. In other words, when I look at the entire ministry of Jesus, he is the perfect candidate to be raised from the dead. Here are five reasons that help explain what I am saying about this topic:

 Jesus viewed Himself as the Son of Man/The Elect One

The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha) expression is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37). Second, the expression was used to describe the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Thirdly, the Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65). Jesus spoke of this function in the following texts:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations , and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father , inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25: 31-36).

“You, who have persevered with me in my tribulations, when the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne will also sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (cf. Matt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 2830).

One of the most pertinent issues is Jesus’ use of Son of Man in the trial scene in Mark 14.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows (Mark 14: 60-65).

As Randall Price notes:

“ The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. While we will deal more with this messianic title in the next chapter, it should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision.” (1)

Jesus viewed Himself as The Son of God

One of the most important Christological titles for Jesus is “Son of God.” There are numerous passages in the New Testament that attest to Jesus and His authority as the Son of God. The first is seen in John 5:22-23: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” In Psalm. 2:2-7 we see the relationship between the term “Son of God” and the King of Israel. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [that’s the word for Messiah]. . . . Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”

Therefore, when the Jewish people heard the term “Son of God” they mostly associated it with a king. The God of Israel is identified as King: (1 Sam. 12:12; Ps 24:10; Is. 33:22; Zeph. 3:15; Zech. 14:16-17), as ruler over Israel (Ex. 15:18; Num. 23;21; Deut. 33:5; Is. 43:15), and ruler over the entire creation, his reign is ongoing (Ps.10:16; 146:10; Is. 24:23), and rule and kingship belong to Him (Ps. 22:28). The Son of God was to be a descendant of King David who will rule Israel during the age of perfection: (Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5).

Dead Sea Scroll specialists such as Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint have shown that the writings that were found at Qumran show that divine sonship was clearly a part of the Royal- Christian rhetoric of pre-Christian Judaism. In relation to the “Son of God” term, these passages that were read during this period were referring to the Davidic King. The “Son of God” term is seen in the fragment known as (4Q246), Plate 4, columns one and two. In relation to this issue, within the Psalms, we see that God and His anointed king are described in ways that are equal in status and they are both qualified to be worthy of the same worship and reverence. (2)

Jesus was a Prophet like Moses

There is no doubt that Moses spoke of a prophet that would come who would be like him (see Deut. 18:1518). Moses was a sign prophet. We see this is an important feature with Moses: God says, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).

Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

Jesus was a sign prophet as well in that He gave the prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19). Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). “Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22)

A very important messianic text is seen here:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”- Luke 4: 18-19

A published scroll from Qumran has helped confirm this theme: According to 4Q521,

“Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah and all that is in them will not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones … for (the Lord) will honor the pious upon the throne of the eternal Kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bowed down…. For he will heal the wounded, revive the dead, proclaim good news to the poor.” (3)

Jesus is the Shechinah

In the Bible, the Shechinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. While the Hebrew form of the glory of the Lord is Kvod Adonai, the Greek title is Doxa Kurion. The Hebrew form Schechinah, from the root “shachan,” means “dwelling” while the Greek word “Skeinei” means to the tabernacle.

The Shechinah glory is seen in the Tankah in places such as Gen.3:8; 23-24; Ex.3;1-5; 13:21-22; 14;19-20; 24; 16:6-12; 33:17-23; 34:5-9. In these Scriptures, the Shechinah is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire, cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these. The ultimate manifestation of the Shechinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20).

The story of Jesus has tremendous parallels to the Shechinah story in the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, the Shechinah would appear and disappear at certain times while eventually making a permanent home in the tabernacle and the temple; the Shechinah also departed from the Mount of Olives. Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus as the visible manifestation of the Shechinah, also appeared and disappeared; He also departed from Israel from the Mount of Olives. (4)

Remember, the rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2) ; Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them.” (5)

Jesus had the authority to forgive sins and became the Temple in person

According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.

Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12). Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).(6).

 Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate

Another way of looking at Jesus’ deity draws on Israel’s Wisdom literature. Israel’s Wisdom literature includes books such as Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Protestants do not accept Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon as part of their canon. In examining the following texts, it can be observed there are amazing similarities. Hence, it would be hard to deny that the “high” Christology of the New Testament was not greatly influenced by Wisdom Christology. First century Jews were strongly monotheistic, so to them, the figure of Wisdom was not a second God. Wisdom is described not only as a personification of God, but as a separate person from God. Here are some of the Wisdom texts:

1.Wisdom: is seen with God at creation (Prov. 8: 27-30; Wis. 9:9; Sir. 1:1). Jesus: is seen with God at creation (John 1: 8).
2.Wisdom: God created the world by Wisdom (Wis. 7:22; 9:1-2; Prov. 8:27). Jesus: God created the world by the Word (Jesus) (John 1:3).
3.Wisdom: Is the “pure emanation of the glory of God” (Wis. 7:25-26). Jesus: is the “Reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15).
4.Wisdom: Invitation to draw near, bear Wisdom’s yoke and learn (Sir. 51:23). Jesus: Invitation to draw near and take “my yoke….and learn from me (Matt 11: 28).
5.Wisdom: Whoever finds wisdom finds life (Prov. 8: 35; Bar. 4:1). Jesus: Is the giver of life (John 6: 33-35; 10:10).
6.Wisdom: People reject Wisdom and find ruin (Prov. 1: 24-31; 8:36; Sir 15:7). Jesus: People who reject Wisdom are lost (John 3:16-21).
7.Wisdom: Has its dwelling place in Israel (Sir. 34:8; Wis. 9:10; Prov. 8:31). Jesus: Has come from God into the world (John 1:1; 9-11). (6)

As Oskar Skarsaune says:

Jesus appears in roles and functions that burst all previously known categories in Judaism. He was a prophet, but more than a prophet. He was a teacher but taught with a power and authority completely unknown to the rabbis. He could set his authority alongside of, yes, even “over” God’s authority in the Law. He could utter words with creative power. In a Jewish environment zealous for the law, only one category was “large enough” to contain the description of Jesus: the category of Wisdom. (7)

Many Jewish scholars believe that it is not the content of Jesus’ preaching in and of itself that sets Him apart and differentiates Him from other rabbis of his own time. What distinguished Him is the manner in which His own person, His own “I” manifests itself.

The Swedish rabbi Marcus Eherenpreis says,

“A difference appears immediately that from the very beginning constituted an unbridgeable wall of separation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus spoke in His own name. Judaism on the other hand, knew the one I, the divine Anochi (the Hebrew word for I) who gave us the eternal commandments at Sinai. No other superhuman has existed in Judaism other than God. Jesus sermons began, “I say to you.” Here is a clash between that goes to the inner core of religion. Jesus’ voice had an alien sound that that Jewish ears had never heard before. For Judaism, the only revealed teaching of God was important, not the teacher’s personal ego. Moses and the prophets were human beings encumbered with shortcomings. Hillel and his successors sat where Moses sat.” (8)

In their book Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ, authors R.M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski note again that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cites not one single rabbi or religious authority. Instead, he says “I say to you,” thirteen times in this one sermon (Matt. 5:18,20,22,28,32,34,39,44;6:2,5,16,25,29). He even challenged his hearers to base their own lives on his words (Matt. 7:24,26). Within the Tanakh, the prophets would introduce God’s message with a formula such “thus says the Lord” (over 400 times) or “the word of the Lord came” to such and such a prophet (about 100 times). As just stated, Jesus introduced his comments by saying “I say to you” (about 145 times).

What is even more significant is that seventy-four or seventy-five times, Jesus used the introductory locution that appears to be unparalleled: “Amen I say to you” (often translated “Truly I say to you”). Scholars have found no precedent in the Tanakh, nor have scholars found any precedent in the rest of ancient Jewish literature.

Conclusion

These are just a few reasons why I think Jesus is the most likely candidate to rise from the dead.

Sources:

1. See Randall Price, See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament at http://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…

2. See Craig Evans and P. W. Flint. Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls ( Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997).

3. Ibid.

4.These points were laid out systematically in Fruchtenbaum, A.G, The Footsteps of Messiah: A Study of Prophetic Events (Tustin CA: Ariel Press, 1977), 409-432.

5. Skarsaune,O, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 331.

6. Holmgren, F.C., The Old Testament: The Significance of Jesus-Embracing Change-Maintaining Christian Identity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1999, 157.

7. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact? St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House: 1991, 37.

8. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact?, 33-34.

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Answering an Objection to Apologetics: “Doesn’t Faith Come from Hearing the Word of God?”

Most recently, I had a discussion with another fellow Christian about the role of apologetics and evangelism. I was discussing how difficult it is to do outreach on a college campus without apologetics. The fellow Christian proceeded to tell me that apologetics isn’t the issue. Instead, her response was that students come to faith by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:5-13). I responded that she was confusing evangelism and apologetics. I have seen this happen on several occasions. Mark Denver summarizes the confusion:

“People mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we’ve considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel. Apologists for Christianity argue for its truth. They maintain that Christianity better explains that sense of longing that all people seem to have. Christianity better explains human rationality. It fits better with order. They may argue (as C. S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity) that it better fits with the moral sense that people innately have. It copes better with problems of alienation and anxiety. Christians may – and should – argue that Christianity’s frankness about death and mortality commends it. These can be good arguments to have. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism. Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what’s wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel. For that matter, Christians can raise questions with their non-Christian friends about the purpose of life, what will happen after death, or the identity of Jesus Christ. Any of these topics will take work and careful thought, but they can easily lead into evangelism. It should also be said that apologetics has its own set of dangers. You might unwittingly confirm someone in their unbelief by your inability to answer questions that are impossible to answer anyway. To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”—  Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism,  (pgs. 76-79).

But after I pointed this out, my fellow sister in the faith still lamented that she didn’t agree with me. I then pointed out something Tim Keller said here:

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

Once again, my sister still didn’t understand. So why do so many Christians misunderstand the relationship between evangelism and apologetics? One answer is scriptural illiteracy. If we read the Bible carefully, we see that the apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “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) (1)

Belief That and Belief In

Even though apologetics is seen in the Bible, in many cases, there seems to be confusion between belief that and belief in.  Let me explain:

Anyone who does apologetics knows the Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process. AsAfter all, it is impossible to be effective in apologetics without the work of the Spirit in both the apologist and the hearer. Hence, no mature apologist forgets that the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:4). How people respond to God’s revelation depends on several factors such as his/her personal history (both past and present). People can be hardened towards God; sin certainly dampens an individual’s ability to being receptive to God’s invitation to them.

Therefore, apologetics may serve as a valuable medium through which God can operate, but the mature apologist knows the issue is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. For example, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. But just because the demons think God exists, this doesn’t mean they have saving faith. Objectively speaking, apologetics or evidence for God may help someone believe that God exists. However, the individual still needs to place their trust in God. This can only be done with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15). The apologist knows and prays as well that the Holy Spirit will move the will of the individual to come to the place to have belief that God exists and also trust in him for their salvation.

[1] Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.

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