Popular author and apologist, J Warner Wallace, wrote a book, “Forensic Faith” and in it he begins by defending the need for apologetics in the church. In this book he was not trying to reach out to the skeptics, but to the church which has seemingly fallen asleep and has settled, nearly, into a postmodern view of truth, or one which is apathetic toward its existence. In this book he raises an important question, “How many of us are accidental Christians?” Have we stumbled into a faith which just so happens to be true, or do we know what we believe and why we believe it? The former is more like driving a car without checking the oil, and once having reached our final destination, do we check under the hood to discover the belts, hoses and oil is all in good working order, however, en route it could have been the case not everything was mechanically sound. If we step out into this world unable to explain or defend our faith, how do we articulate it to unbelievers? With this type of “accidental faith” one can say they hold it as a matter of private conviction, but how do we reach out with this and communicate its truth to unbelievers, especially in an information age where there is hardly a free pass in the arena of debate and ideas.
The following is a piece I have been writing to, and adding to, over the years as an apologist, and I continue to add to it as I learn more. No doubt, this is a long piece for a blog, but the curious reader may browse and see which portions are relevant to them and their position.
In this piece, I use Norman Geisler’s 12 apologetic step approach, which logically deals with each stage of belief in varying evangelistic encounters. When one masters these steps, they will be able to evaluate where the person, with whom they are evangelizing to, is at. For instance, there are many shared presuppositions shared between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, and us as Christians, so one may not feel the need to start at the beginning, but will wish to defend the validity of the New Testament documents and the Christological claims. It is my sincere hope that this serves as a free resource for people interested in apologetics to use, one which I will continually add to as my learning grows, and as people contribute with their own thoughts and ideas.
Any contributions and thoughts are welcome and can be emailed to, ColinBurgess890@gmail.com
In light of various world views which speak against religion in general, and furthermore against Christianity it becomes necessary to respond with a reasoned defense and that is what apologetics is all about, and whether one is defending a political ideology, a position on an environmental issue, or their faith in a particular worldview, they are doing apologetics.
Apologetics is pre and post evangelism. One is using philosophical, scientific, and scriptural answers to gently divide the unbeliever from the lies they have accepted, giving them ‘intellectual permission’ to accept Christianity’s truth claims.
More often than not people have not rejected Christianity, itself, but they have rejected a caricature of Christianity. They have been taught what it is not, and thinking that we believe something which is actually false, they rightly reject it.
Philosophically, a more technical definition of ‘apologetics’ is, The utilization of various forms of epistemology, in order to build a cumulative case for the reasonableness of a particular worldview or idea. The Greek word, “apologia,” as mentioned in 1 Peter 3:15 means to make a defence, so the apostle is exhorting Christians to provide a reasoned defence for why they believe what they believe and this attitude is very consistent with what the Bible teaches, that Christianity is committed to the reasonableness of its propositions.
There are various world views which present their own challenges to Christianity and they are, but not limited to the following: Atheism, Agnosticism, Deism, and the kingdom of the cults.
The main apologetic issues are, but not limited to:
DOES GOD EXIST?
The atheist says, ‘No!‘, the agnostic says, ‘One cannot be certain.’, the deist and the theist answer in the affirmative.
HAS GOD SPOKEN?
The atheist is of course exempt from this question. The agnostic says once again, ‘One cannot be certain.’, the deist says, ‘It does not matter.’, and the theist answers in the affirmative.
IS JESUS THE SON OF GOD?
Here the Christian theist is the only one who answers in the affirmative.
With pluralism, post-modernism, relativism and the various cults in the world prevailing in today’s churches, schools and worksites it is more important than ever we be equipped with answers to engage the skeptic and those who are Christians, but not strong in sound doctrine. (This is where post evangelism comes in.) This stuff is for the parent as much as the philosopher and theologian,. Finally it is for the pastor, as much as the layperson. The pastor needs to be equipped to engage sincere questions within the body, and the members of the flock need to take intellectual responsibility for their faith, if not for themselves, but to disciple others.
While it may seem frustrating to sell apologetics to the church, due to the misunderstanding of the nature of this discipline, or concern over members being divisive, it should be understood that the very nature of truth is divisive and not all ideas are created equal.
From a theological perspective, Apologetics is the culmination of the spiritual gifts of both teaching, and discernment, so it is reasonable not to expect everyone to be well learned in philosophical defenses of the faith since we all have different gifts, but is certainly not a discipline that should be discouraged by the church for the wrong reasons such as promoting arguments, or concerns of being divisive.
A Biblical objection to apologetics. Colossians 2:8 says,
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
While the critic overlooks what type of philosophy we are being cautioned against using they will often point to this verse, but what we are being cautioned about in this passage is not philosophy, but ‘hollow and deceptive’ philosophies. Paul answered his opponents by using the philosophy of his day in Acts 17:28, while he debated Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. It could not be truer that one should avoid useless philosophies, it is false that the Bible teaches against using philosophy to point to Biblical truths. “Philosophy” means ‘the love of thinking’, and since philosophy seeks to discover truth and all truth is God’s truth, the Christian should not take exception to philosophy playing a ministerial role in their faith. One should also note that when one is doing theology, they are using philosophy to discover truths about the nature of God, so philosophy is unavoidable, therefore, shouldn’t we be good stewards of our mind and use this valuable tool for Kingdom matters?
A Biblical defense of apologetics.
Within Christendom many are critical of becoming intellectually involved with their faith, and many within the church tend to distrust philosophy. It would seem as Christians we are already convinced of the truth of our faith and too easy is it to slip into fideism, or, worse yet, becoming apathetic toward evaluating why we believe what we believe. This is one reason getting apologetics into a church may be difficult. Those who are Christians are, unfortunately, not seeing the relevance in taking intellectual responsibility for their faith. This approach is very unbiblical. Faith is not responding to an esoteric experience which we use as our evangelistic method. One cannot take a private experience to a skeptic who could dismiss it as drug induced or to the Mormon who will also claim they had an experience while reading the Book of Mormon, and praying about it. (Burning in the Bosom.). As Christians, are we not called to exercise our mind and hearts in loving God? Why, then, is there a tendency to be thinking people 6 days a week, about politics, or our jobs, and to slip into intellectual slumber when discussing matter pertaining to our faith? Nowhere does it mention in Scripture we are to be intellectually lazy, or apathetic about the understanding of truth and reality.
Faith is not a blind leap into the darkness. Faith is responding to the light provided and learning to respond to more and more light, as we mature as Christians. Reason tells us we are holding a rope and that it is sufficient to go climbing, eventually we must exercise faith and go scale the mountain with the rope. The Greek word for faith is ‘pistos’, which means, “confident trust in a reliable source.”
Several examples of apologetics in the New Testament are the various miracles performed by Jesus. These miracles had great apologetic value, and Peter affirms this when he says in Acts 2:22:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–”
These miracles, wonders, and signs were done to confirm Jesus as being a messenger of God and all His claims to divinity were vindicated through His death by fatal torment, His burial, and His empty tomb, all of which were attested by eyewitness accounts, subsequent resurrection appearances, and the changed lives of the disciples. In Luke’s sequel in the book of Acts, he says in 1:3,
“He [Jesus] also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
The early church were clearly evidential in their acceptance of the Gospel: The church, in light of early persecution, never would have survived a tomb containing the corpse of Christ, nor would hiding His body account for the changed lives of the disciples, and the widespread belief that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again.
Furthermore one needs to account for the violent deaths the disciples died for their beliefs when their way out of certain death would have been to say, ‘Nero, not Jesus is Lord.’
Since the early church is built on certainty, not feeling, it is more important than ever that we “We destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and that we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,–” 2 Corinthians 10:5 [My emphasis].
Philosopher and Systematic Theologian, Norman Geisler, is well known for his development of the following 12 apologetic steps, which one may unpack and employ as appropriate in an evangelistic encounter,
- Truth about reality is knowable.
- Opposites cannot both be true.
- A theistic God exists.
- Miracles are possible.
- Miracles performed in connection with a truth claim are acts of God to confirm the truth of God through a messenger of God.
- The New Testament documents are reliable.
- As witnessed in the New Testament, Jesus claimed to be God.
- Jesus’ claim to divinity was proven by a unique and unprecedented convergence of miracles.
- Therefore, Jesus was God in human flesh.
- Whatever Jesus (who is God) affirmed as true, is true.
- Jesus affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God.
- Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God, and whatever is opposed to any biblical truth is false.
Each of these points builds logically on the one previous. Establishing the knowability of reality is critical in light of a postmodern society, and there are those who hold to eastern religions and maintain contradictions can exist. Furthermore, one cannot demonstrate miracles are possible without a theistic worldview, since without a God who acts, there can be no acts of God. One cannot accept the Bible over the Quran, unless its internal truth claims are vindicated by historical facts and evidences.
The truth about reality is knowable.
First, what is the nature of truth?
- is truth knowable?
- is it absolute?
- does it have a counterpart in reality?
- Is it the same, and true for all peoples, in all times, and all places?
This is exactly what Christianity claims. We hold to a view that for every truth claim to be validated, there must be a reality that affirms what it is claiming, or it is falsified. We are making the claim the Bible is the word of God and therefore an effect of God. If the Bible is an effect we are presupposing a cause, which in this case is God. How do we arrive at ‘God’ without begging the question or making a non-sequitur? One needs to establish in logical sequence a ‘deistic’ then a ‘theistic’ worldview.
To better affirm what truth is, it is probably best to consider what truth is not.
- Truth is not ‘what works‘. That is pragmatism. Pragmatism logically collapses into subjectivism, which means truth is not ’out there’ as matter of objectivity, it is a subjective issue. A pragmatic view of truth clearly fails. At best, pragmatism serves as a negative test for truth. An example of how pragmatism fails is, one may receive a lung cancer diagnosis and quit smoking as a result, which is a good thing, but only find out later the test results were mixed up with another patient, and they were cancer free after all. While quitting smoking was favourable, it was not generated by a true belief.
- Truth is not what ‘coheres.’ An internally consistent story, such as an alibi, may be internally consistent, but when tested against external sources it may fall apart. Coherentism serves as a negative test, but not a positive test for truth.
- Truth is not what is ‘comprehensive.’ Often an explanation will go into great detail to defend an idea, but this does not guarantee its truth, or that all parts of the explanation are even relevant.
- Truth was said to be what is existentially relevant, by some existential philosophers. This makes it relevant not to all times, but to some persons. This is at best a fallacy of composition. While all truth is relevant, not everything true is relevant: A truth about life will be relevant to life, but not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.
- The popular subjective view is that truth is what feels good. Such a subjective view makes it impossible for a group of people to come to a conclusion of truth. Based on this view we would then have to deny the realities around us such as a cancer diagnosis, bad report cards and bad weather. This view of subjectivity simply is not livable. The fact still remains and cannot be denied.
- A view of truth that is absolutely livable, is needed. After examining false views of truth this should be easier to do. Truth should correspond with reality. (Toward the end, the interested reader may wish to read the section on the nature of a proposition and a state of affairs.)
Earlier mentioned was a negative test for truth, which is setting up the conditions for a theory to fail, or be false. As will be mentioned, regarding falsificationism, this is important. Using this one may evaluate ideas, or models, based on their internal inconsistency, and they can be dismissed as non-truth, without becoming experts in the entire model itself. An example of this is when atheists say to Christians, “How do you know you are correct? Have you examined every religion out there?” Obviously an exhaustive survey of every idea out there is impossible, so a negative test must be used to test for internal consistency. One may set up a minimal standard of what truth and reality are, which is a task of metaphysics.
Without there being a correspondence between truth and its referent, it would be impossible to move from a true to a false idea, since that is what learning entails.
What does it mean then that the Bible is the ultimate truth? Jesus says of Himself “I am the truth.”. It is argued that He said truth is personal, and not propositional, but this verse is qualified by other statements such as “He is the exact image of the invisible God.” (Heb 1:3). He said to Philip in John 14:9 – “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father.”. God totally lacks correspondence to anything outside of Himself. We can, ourselves, create analogies to understand Him, and the nature of the Trinity better, (bottom up), but as the first cause everything exists as an expression of His nature. God’s word then which is contained in the Bible is an effect of the first cause which is God.
It could then be fallaciously argued that:
1) All living things submit to God.
2) God submits to Himself.
3) Therefore God is not God.
The problem here is that God is by definition the uncaused being. He is bound to nothing outside of Himself. He is only obligated to act in accordance with His nature, which is truth.
Agnostic means: No knowledge. . The word agnostic comes from the Greek words (“a” no “gnosis“ knowledge). One may be agnostic about the nature of reality, see First Principles, one may be agnostic about the truth or falsity of an idea, or a set of ideas, see epistemology, and this is perfectly acceptable. Intellectual humility is an important belief in Christianity and a virtue which prompts further learning. However, agnosticism can come in two forms: 1) Weak agnosticism, as mentioned above, does not teach knowledge is impossible, but that there is not enough knowledge to form certain conclusions. This form is more reminiscent of Rene Descartes’ form of skepticism. 2) Strong agnosticism claims that reality is totally unknowable to anything outside our senses and that we can have certainty of mathematical and, perhaps, logical categories, there is nothing outside of these self-evident truths that can be known, because we have no sixth sense, or extra sensory view of reality.
As agnosticism pertains to obtaining knowledge of god, the weak agnostic acknowledges that there are truths that can be known about the nature of god, but that we cannot form strong conclusions from weak premises about the nature of god. The strong agnostic says there is absolutely nothing that can be known of god to form conclusions of god.
Weak agnosticism is not a threat to Christianity and it could be said it presents a healthy attitude in reserving judgement until presented with better evidence on a matter.
The latter is of course more of an enemy of not just Christianity, but also of any inquisition into the nature of reality. Its stronger proponents were David Hume and Antony Flew. Flew held this position before his conversion to Deism.
The stronger form is self-defeating. It says there may, or may not be a god, but says one cannot know anything about this god if it does exists. This is another case of committing the fallacy of composition The strong agnostic is claiming that there exists enough knowledge about god to say god is unknowable, which is laying claim to positive knowledge. This claim is self-refuting and cannot be taken seriously. This position is laying claim to a special body of knowledge, outside their five senses, and packing it into their premises. Bertrand Russell, in The Problems of Philosophy, compares this to one not wishing to leave the confines of their home for fear their word might not be taken as law.
Realists hold that there is a reality external to our mind which can be known. Realists affirm there is a correspondence between a thought, and a thing. According to realism, we live in a theory laden universe which is independent of our conceptual schemes and ideas, but resembles them, at least in part. We can test our ideas against other ideas for cohesion, as well as against first principles, which are self evident truths. Aristotle, and Aquinas held that there were undeniable ‘first principles.’ (FP) These FP are held to be self-evident, and once these terms are known, it is clear to a rational mind that they are true. These FP are not held independent of experience, but are held based on experience. There are just certain facts which cannot be denied, and to deny these facts results in a contradiction or absurdity. These facts are as binding on our thoughts as the laws of physics are on the physical world and are much less forgiving if violated. When one says, ‘I cannot confirm my own existence.’ because of the law of non-contradiction (a is a, not non-a) they are first affirming their existence by saying, ‘I’, in order to deny their existence. The truth about reality is knowable, and total agnosticism is totally self-defeating.
Opposites cannot both be true.
FIRST PRINCIPLES (FP)
There are principles of reality which without nothing can be known. Just as the laws of physics are the laws which govern nature whether or not we acknowledge them, then the laws which we call “logic” govern our thought. Theology is thinking about God, therefore it is important we think about God logically. In the order of things God is prior to logic, but logic is necessary to God, since His very nature is truth. God can no more deny His truthful nature than He can deny His just nature, or His love. These are all necessary attributes of an eternal God. Scripture affirms this in Psalm 119:160, “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.”, furthermore Jesus says in John 10:35 that ‘…scripture cannot be broken.’.
- The principle of existence. “Being (B) is.”.: One cannot deny this without first using it. When one says, ‘I do not exist.’ then are first affirming their existence to deny it.
- The principle of identity. “B is B.”.: This is a law that says A is A. How do I know I am speaking about A, and not B? I am making propositions true of A, and not true of B. Something is itself and not something else. For example when scripture says in 1 Peter 5:8 that it is Satan who is the lion who seeks to destroy, and it says inversely in James 1:17 that every good, and perfect thing comes from the Father of lights, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5). Then if we say for instance that God is tempting us, are we not mixing up attributes which belong to Satan, and assigning them with God?
To put this one a bit more succinctly, Leibnitz’ law of discernibles says,
If what is predicated of X, is predicated of Y, then X&Y are the same. However, if what is predicated of X, is not predicated of Y, then X&Y are not the same.
- The principle of Non-Contradiction. “B is not non-B.”: This builds on the previous and says B is B, and not non-B. This is so undeniable one cannot deny it without first affirming it, because its denial involves its use.
- Principle of excluded middle. “Either B or non-B”.: This law says there is no alternative between B, and non-B. There is no middle ground for truth, it is either true or false. This is why it is impossible to say, ‘Christianity is true.’, and out of the same breath, and intent say, ‘Islam is true.’ These two religions, although similar in some aspects, contain doctrines which are diametrically opposed to each other, therefore, if one doctrine is true in Islam, then its Christian counterpart cannot be true at the same time, and vice versa.
- The principle of causality. “non-B cannot cause B.”: Something that is undeniable is nothing causes nothing. If one wants to object to this they might say, ‘Nothing is something, and non-B, is B.’. Every effect owes its existence to a cause. The cause prior to the effect may not be the necessary cause, but we cannot have an infinite regress of causes, so there must be a prime mover. As Thomas Aquinas noted: ‘No potency for being can actualize itself. To actualize itself it must be in a state of actuality, and before it is actualized it must be in a state of potentiality. But it cannot be both at the same time.’. It would be a direct violation of the principle of non-contradiction for something to be in a state of actuality and potency at the same time.
- The principle of contingency/dependency. “Contingent-B cannot cause contingent-B.”. (B owes its existence to something necessary.): That which has begun to exist is contingent and has being, but that which is necessary (See Metaphysics) is not subject to the rules of contingency, while contingency owes its existence to a prior antecedent cause. See principle #5. An example of necessity, which has no prior explanation is logic and morality. These are principles which are discovered, not created.
- The positive principle of modality “Necessary being causes a contingent being.”: If 5, &6 are true, then it follows a necessary being cannot cause a necessary being. If anything comes to be it finds its ultimate reason in a necessary being, or better described, a ‘Prime Mover‘ then it is ultimately contingent.
- The negative principle of modality, which is inverse to 7, “Necessary being cannot cause a necessary being.” This is why there is only one God, God will not, and cannot share His glory with another. Isaiah 48:11): Necessary is that which is true, and cannot be false. If what is contingent could be true or false, then it follows what is necessary is what it is, but could not be otherwise. That which has been created in this world, see possible world semantics, is necessary to this world, for it to be this world and not another. That which is caused is contingent, but God is uncaused and, therefore, necessary in all possible worlds. He is the present, and sustaining cause of the universe.
- The principle of existential causality: “Every contingent being is caused by a necessary being.” The cause may be, in itself contingent, but is necessary to its effect.
- Principle of existential necessity: “Necessary Being exists.” To illustrate, there are necessary truths, such as logic and mathematics, which are not just true in this world but are true in every other world, whereas contingent B is not true in every possible world. Given the problem of a causal chain to infinity, there would exist the need for an uncaused Cause, in which there is no admixture of potency, or capacity, but would be pure actuality, see ontological argument, and this cause would find no explanation for itself in anything outside itself and would, therefore, be necessary. This can be deduced from the fact contingent B is observed. The nature of a Necessary Being, like logic and mathematics, is that it will be a mind independent truth and will be completely changeless, since change implies contingency.
- Principle of existential contingency: “Contingent beings exist”. Not everything that exists may be necessary, but some things may be necessary to each other such as food and parents, but are not ultimately necessary. Everything is changing, the old is passing away making it not necessary but contingent. If a necessary being exists it cannot in itself change internally, but only externally. God’s nature is at a constant, and cannot be otherwise, but God can change in relation to things external to Him. For instance God changed when He became the creator of the world, or when He became incarnate as the Son of God, being made like His brothers in all ways, yet remaining sinless. He took on human experience, yet remained sinless in His nature. This is in contrast to oneself, we went from non-being to being, and will become non-being one day making one contingent. Our change of knowledge also demonstrates our contingency. We constantly go from a state of ‘not knowing’ to ‘knowing’ throughout our human experience. If we were necessary we would know all things.
- The principle of analogy “Necessary being is similar to contingent being(s).”. There is only analogy between a necessary being, and a contingent being. Their similarities are that they both have being, but their differences are that the former caused the latter. Only a necessary being can cause, or produce a contingent being, but contingent beings cannot be the actual cause of another contingent being, an effective cause perhaps, but not the initial cause. The necessary Being would be the cause of all causes, and effects. However nothing can change the fact we were brought into being, and we, as contingent beings, have no creative abilities and are, therefore, not necessary. We resemble the initial cause in that we are rational, and moral, but we were not uniquely begotten of the initial cause and lack significant properties of what it takes to be a necessary being. There are attributes of the necessary Being which are communicated to finite creatures, but others which are not communicable by necessity, such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence.
We can say that we undeniably exist, but we could have not existed at all. Nothing cannot cause something, an effect must have a sufficient cause. We are not necessary, but we have a necessary cause which is prior to our existence. We are moral, volitional beings. We reflect the communicable properties of the necessary being in a finite way, therefore the necessary Being is moral and volitional in an infinite/undegreed sense. The necessary Being is unique in that it is uncaused and eternal. There cannot be more than two infinite beings, since two infinites cannot co-exist, since they could be compared at some point.
Suggested Further Reading:
Truth Decay, Groothuis Douglas
Problems of Philosophy, Russell Bertrand
Metaphysics, Hasker William
Epistemology, Wood Jay.
Logic is the foundation for rational thought. We all implement logic in our day to day lives, whether or not we use good logic, is another issue. When we think about God this is called theology, therefore it is important we use good logic in our thinking about Him. Logic is a normative discipline which allows us to draw valid inferences from a set of premises. Its use is unavoidable in all senses, logic governs our thoughts as morality governs our behaviour. While logic does not tell us what is actual, it tells us what is possible. Logic tells us that there are no married bachelors, or squared circles, and logic tells us what we ought to think and infer. This is a true, immutable, law, which functions without any assistance.
This does not make God subject to logic, but logic is subject to God. God is ontologically prior to logic (In the order of being) and it flows necessarily from His nature. In one sense God is subject to logic, not because it is superior to Him, but because He is obliged to nothing outside Himself, but He must remain true to His nature. God cannot deny His nature anymore than He can deny being God. Hebrews 6:18 says ‘God cannot lie.’. There are certain rules of logic which are prior to talking about God, or anything else for that matter. Without these rules we cannot have rational discussion. The law of non-Contradiction is essential. When we say we are talking about God, this law applies. It ensures that we are talking about God and not something else. So, logic is prior to God epistemologically, (In the order of knowing) but God is prior to logic ontologically. One could say that these attributes of God are concomitant with His existence.
We did not invent these laws of logic anymore than we invented math, or any other necessary truths. These laws are discovered and they do not become more true as we discover them, but we move closer to the truth as we discover them. Some object and say ‘God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:9) and we are making God subject to our logic. This is clearly a false dichotomy. Logic is logic, and it is not God’s logic as opposed to our logic. God is the one from whom all rationality and logic flows and we as rational beings derive our ability to think rationally by virtue of being made in His image. To understand this verse, as the objector might, would be to use confusion and obtuseness as the litmus test for truth.
Some might object by saying this type of thinking makes God subject to our reason, creating a form of rationalism. (See Epistemology) As mentioned previously, God is not being subject to our reason, but we are using God given reason to understand God. Some things within Christianity are perhaps outside of our reasoning abilities, but are not unreasonable. Take, for instance, the Trinity which goes beyond, but not against reason. If we brought God down to our level this would be a mistake and we would end up with a Gnostic form of Christianity, rather God condescends to our level and we apprehend His nature by means of reason.
God is ultimately rational, but we as His image bearers express His rationality in a diminished way. Without laws of logic to govern our thoughts we could not even understand special revelation. We could not in any way differentiate between the truth claims of the Bible as opposed to the truth claims of the Quran. When scripture affirms ‘God loves the world.’ how could we know what ‘love’ is unless we knew what ‘hate’ was and were able to distinguish between the two?
So there is a difference between ‘rationalism’ which is saying we bring God down to our level, and being rational which is using reason to understand God as He has revealed Himself to us. One might see logic, and morality, as being relational mechanisms which allow us to relate to God, and each other, in two different ways which fully cooperate with each other.
‘There are many types of logic, why choose just one?’, to which we may respond there are inductive and deductive types of logic, all of which depend on the law of non-contradiction because if contradictories are true then thought is impossible. If the objector wishes to say that there is Eastern Logic and Western Logic, why does Western Logic win out over Eastern? The answer is simple: Eastern logic denies the Law of Non-Contradiction, but as demonstrated previously, denying this law is self-refuting, as one must affirm it before denying it. There is fuzzy logic, which does not deal with absolute truth or falsity, but in-between states of truth or degrees, and asks the question “When does Socrates have a beard? After he wakes up in the morning, or after a week of growth?” Even this form of logic uses the law of non-contradiction and is absolute, but deals with degrees of truth or falsity, in a changing world of contingency.
God is omnipotent, scripture affirms He can do all things (Matt 19:26) so why can’t He violate the law of non-contradiction? Of course God can do all things that are logically possible, but He cannot make a married bachelor, or a squared circle because this would be a contradiction in terms and scripture equally affirms He cannot lie (Heb 6:18; 2 Tim 2:13). How then can a perfect God from whom all truth flows make two diametrically opposed terms compatible? The old question of ‘Can God make a rock so big He cannot lift it’ is, thus, solved. The question is “Can God do the logically impossible?” and the answer is ‘No.’. To go against His own nature would to stop being God. Can a necessary being stop being necessary? (See First Principles.).
Why can’t logic be broken like the laws of physics? Jesus healed the blind, and walked on water, why the exception? The laws of physics are contingent truths and not necessary. Logic, math and ethics are all laws which are necessary, God cannot deny these anymore than He can deny His own nature. When we see miracles in the Bible God is not breaking His physical laws, rather He is working supernaturally through them like a computer programmer who programs ‘back doors’ into his software so that he can leave room for external intervention. Miracles are not exceptions to the laws of nature, rather they are suspensions of natural laws. Creation itself was not an act of nature, rather it was, in itself, a supernatural act. See, miracles.
God did not create the laws of logic anymore than He created the laws of math or even Himself. They flow necessarily from His nature which is truth. God, by definition, must be necessary and if God exists God exists necessarily, and if God is necessary then His nature must be immutable, and this includes truth being a necessary component. (See Ontological Argument.) The mysteries of the Christian faith do contradict these necessary truths, nor do they go against reason, they go beyond our reason. We as finite beings could not bear the burden of omniscience and should not expect to know all things, but we can ‘know in part.’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).
One may use similar arguments in defending the objectivity of logic as they would in defending the objectivity of morality. Both are binding on either our thoughts or behaviour and neither can be violated. Even if one fails to behave morally, or logically, an objective law has not been broken and it still remains valid, even if one fails to govern themselves accordingly.
A Theistic God Exists
While Deists maintain there is a god, they deny this god is involved with day to day events of the world. This god would be more like a negligent father who creates and steps out of the picture making miracles very unlikely, if not logically impossible, including the initial act of creation, given there would be no reason for an indifferent entity to arbitrarily act. Theists, on the other hand, all agree, that there is a god and this god can be involved in day to day affairs. The three main models of Theism are Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The Moral Law is what the 3 major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, all have in common. It could be understood that if these religions and their subsets did not have doctrinal differences pertaining to the afterlife, sin salvation and the nature of God they would all be virtually the same. After all, many religions are attempts to understand the moral experience we all share, how far the application is extended is variant, especially in the case of Islam.
The basic outline of a Theistic worldview would be:
- God exists as the past and present cause of the universe.
- The universe was created out of nothing. The world is not eternal and it was not created out of pre-existing material, nor was it made out of God’s essence.
- Given the existence of a Theistic God miracles are now possible. What is natural is not the whole show, there is the supernatural. God works through natural laws which He implemented. From the Judaeo/Christian perspective creation was the first and greatest miracle making all other miracles possible.
Alleged Disproof’s of God.
While the theists offer several arguments for the existence of God, atheists have responded by offering what they believe to be logical subsets of our arguments.
AN ONTOLOGICAL DISPROOF
- God is, by definition, a necessary existence.
- Therefore God cannot exist.
- But necessity cannot apply to existence. (Necessity here is logical, not ontological.).
The second premise is self-defeating. It is not illogical to say necessity applies to existence. The criterion used to say necessity cannot apply to existence is arbitrary.
A COSMOLOGICAL DISPROOF
- God is a self-caused being.
- But it is impossible to cause one’s own existence, a cause is prior to its effect and one cannot be prior to oneself.
- Therefore God cannot exist.
The first premise is a straw man, and the theist is not claiming, and is not obliged to, that God is self caused. Rather, the theistic claim is that God is an uncaused cause.
Furthermore, this objection expresses the same misunderstanding Hume expressed to the cosmological argument. No cosmological argument states ‘All things have a beginning, therefore all things have a cause’, rather it states, ‘All things that have a beginning have a cause.’
A TELEOLOGICAL DISPROOF
- The universe was either designed or it happened by chance.
- But chance is an adequate cause of the universe.
- Therefore the universe was not designed.
In support of the second premise, given an infinite amount of time, every possible combination will occur no matter what the odds are against it. (Infinite time = Infinite possibilities.).
Presenting chance as a cause is inadequate. Chance, in itself, is not a force. Let us say that all the material in the universe eternally existed. How then, without a decision, did it orchestrate itself to move to the left, or to the right? Chance is not a causal agent and it only potency. There needs to be pure actuality in order to make a decision to cause or to refrain. The laws of nature are not what cause anything to happen. (see philosophy of science). Laws of nature describe how things happen and laws still require agency.
A MORAL DISPROOF OF GOD
- An all-good God would destroy evil.
- An all-powerful God could destroy evil.
- Evil exists.
- Therefore as such God does not exist.
William Lane Craig in Tough Questions Real Answers writes:
‘…the atheist’s goal is to show it is logically impossible for both God, and evil to exist, just as it is logically inconsistent to say that an irresistible force, and an immovable object both exist…The Christian faith is committed to the reality of evil, just as it is to the reality of an omnipotent, and Omni-benevolent God’.
This is known as the logical problem of evil. The objector may argue that if god exists, but is unable to destroy evil, then this god is not all-powerful, and that if god exists, but is unwilling to destroy evil, then this god is not omnibenevolent.
This objection presupposes that evil exists, but has abandoned any grounds to define evil, which is grounded in the moral nature of a necessary being. The objection claims that evil is a logical disproof of god, but by giving up god the objector has no grounds to define evil, since evil implies that there is a design from which there is a departure from. Simply put, this argument is begging the question. Dismissing god does not get rid of the evil, rather it makes it more difficult to explain the existence of. Furthermore, it is an argument from ignorance, because while there is undeniable evil in the world, we do not yet know its purpose. It could be the case the evil in this world serves a higher purpose. Hugh Ross notes that there are many necessary evils we put up with, such as rigorous study in preparation for an exam. Another example is how we induce comas in patients to aid in their healing. There are natural evils in the world, such as earthquakes and storms, which do cause harm, but as design arguments show it would serve a greater evil to not have these, as they provide life sustaining conditions for humanity to thrive.
The objector must, therefore, demonstrate that the evil present in the world is gratuitous and logically incompatible with the existence of God. Hugh Ross also notes that the evil in the world does not seem to be so great that it thwarts any efforts we put into building and cultivating. Weeds do not immediately overtake our gardens, as soon as we plant them, and storms are not so constant, so as to wash away our structures and homes.
CONTRADICTIONS FROM CAUSALITY
Positing God is a science stopper because it gives us no reason to keep looking. This unfortunately goes against the principle of causality which even non-theists affirm. Without effects having causes one cannot do science. Non-theists will not contest that ‘Everything has a cause.’ Which is almost true and should be re-stated as, ‘Every contingent thing has a cause.’ Obviously we cannot multiply causes to infinity, there needs to be a stopping point, even in science. Once we arrive at a necessary being, or an infinite first cause, this would be a stopping point for causes and this cause, or being would explain its own existence, whereas that which is contingent finds its reason for being in the necessary being. Those who believe in God do not stop doing science they just stop looking for ultimate/primary causes. The theistic scientist can now look not for ‘what’ is the cause, understanding that the nature of God is an efficient cause and departure point.
There are several other objections for the existence of God such as:
- ‘Arbitrary models’ which teaches we have modeled reality as contingent or composed actuality and potentiality forcing us to posit a Necessary Being.
- ‘Modal fallacies’. Modal logicians would argue that it is possible for all the parts of a car to break down all at once, but this doesn’t not mean that it is necessary for all the parts in a car to break down at once. So just as all contingencies do not happen all at once so not all contingent beings exist at one time and thus would need no universal cause of existence. As far as this type of logic is concerned, this is correct, but does not apply to Aquinas’ argument since it is not concerned with showing that all things that could not exist needed a single cause.
- ’Chance and infinite possibilities’. It is said that given an infinite amount of time anything could happen up to and including the existence of the universe. So while science is concerned with finding causes to effects entertaining the possibility of ‘chance’ as the first cause is somehow considered rational and empirical.
This fails in that:
- An effect cannot be greater than its cause. Chance is non-intelligent we are intelligent.
- This is unscientific, if science seeks to find causes it will never find the ultimate cause.
- While chance describes the likelihood of a force producing a given event but is in itself non-force. The infinity of chance multiplied by nothing, no motion, no matter, will invariably equal nothing.
Therefore, chance is an insufficient explanation for the current state of affairs.
These are all unconvincing arguments against theism. They ultimately deny knowledge and are based on a misunderstanding of the proofs.
Miracles, Nature/Purpose of.
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst…”[NASB].
Miracles are essential to a Christian worldview, they demonstrate we live in a theistic universe controlled by God. However, a strict definition of a miracle is essential, otherwise we end up making god-of-the-gaps arguments in explaining the mysterious or unknown. It follows that challenges, particularly from David Hume, are more helpful than not in nailing down a definition of miracles.
Theologically, miracles would be a confirmation of a messenger of God, or a message from God. If the natural laws, which were supernaturally created, were to be suspended such as the blind receiving their sight or the dead rising, we would know God is in control and involved with the situation.
A miracle is not the unlikely convergence of natural explanations in unlikely circumstances which prove in the end to be beneficial, this would be providential but not miraculous.
The purpose of miracles in the Bible has always been to confirm a messenger of God so that people would know it was God speaking to them and not a false messenger. While Satan has the ability to counterfeit miracles he has no creative power of his own, so it is important that a solid definition be in place before we attribute such acts. David Hume’s objection toward miracles may serve as a starting point for defining and understanding miracles.
First of all miracles require a theistic God that can act otherwise there can be no acts of God. As mentioned previously, a deistic god is insufficient for generating a miracle.
Miracles could be understood in the weak(Augustinian sense) or in the strong sense (Thomistic).
Weak sense: Not contrary to laws of nature but contrary to our knowledge of the laws of nature.
Strong sense: Contrary to or a suspension of the laws of nature.
Since creation out of nothing is a miracle and nothing comes from nothing, miracles could be understood in the strong, Thomistic, sense. Natural laws describe naturally caused regularities but miracles are supernaturally caused singularities with no explanation within the natural realm. In other words the natural presupposes the supernatural. In light of all this and more it is essential to understand the nature and need for miracles, since they carry great apologetic value. Past/Biblical, not modern day miracles, will be argued for here. These will not only serve to confirm a messenger of God, but will flow from the nature of said God.
The ingredients for a miracle and for belief in a miracle are:
- A Theistic, not a Deistic God.2. Knowing that miracles are possible/free of anti-supernatural presuppositions.
- Knowing New Testament documents are reliable.
- Knowing that the New Testament eyewitness accounts are reliable.
While it is true by definition, in philosophy, miracles are possible if a theistic, omnipotent and all-powerful God exists, but whether or not they are true historically is another issue.
Miracles are something that would get our attention, no doubt Jesus got peoples attention when He turned water into wine, or multiplied the loaves of bread and the fish. Even His disciples had to wonder what was going on when He calmed the waters. So miracles have an unusual nature, but they are much more than parlor tricks. (teleological dimension). They presuppose a theistic God who acts (theological dimension). If there is a God who can act then there can be acts of this God.
These miracles would then show the moral attributes of this God. The blind receive sight, the dead rise, the lame are healed. Jesus didn’t go around blinding and crippling people. He was in no way mischievous with His power.
Then there is the doctrinal dimension of miracles. While a false prophet can counterfeit miracles they can be easily discredited by the real thing as with Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians. A true message is confirmed by a true miracle while a false messenger will be exposed as a fraud. (Deut 18:22).
It is only from understanding the regularities of nature that we can recognize a miracle. If there were no regularities of nature, as the Bible predicts there are (Jer 33:25), then a miracle would be impossible to recognize and would be subsumed by the natural course of events.
Arguments Against Miracles
The Scottish skeptic, David Hume, was one of the strongest opponents of miracles and presented arguments against them from philosophical, historical, and religious views. Hume attacked the possibility of identifying a miracle and in his essay “Of Miracles” he launches a two-pronged assault against miracles which take the form of ‘Even if…in fact.’.
IN PRINCIPLE ARGUMENT
The first argument is an argument ‘in principle’ which says natural laws are suspended and there is little or no exception to natural laws. It would be impossible, in principle, to prove a miracle has taken place. Hume’s famous statement, “a wise man proportions his beliefs according to the evidence”, rings true, but does it make a valid argument against miracles!? If the evidence makes a conclusion certain then we may move on to call this a “proof.” then a wise man may give belief to that conclusion. If the evidence makes a conclusion ‘more likely than not’ we may speak of a “probability.”. Hume goes on to argue that even if the evidence amounts to a full proof, it is still, in principle, impossible to identify an event as a miracle. Any proof one can present as evidence for a miracle on the other side of the scale exists the proof of the unchangeable laws of nature that it is not a miracle. So while Hume concedes the possibility of a miracle on one hand he equally takes into consideration evidence to the contrary which is the regularity of nature, so any miraculous occurrence would immediately get swallowed up as being acts of nature and not of God.
With regards to the resurrection Hume asks which would be the greater miracle: that a man should rise from the dead or that the witnesses should either be deceived or try to deceive? Hume of course argues for the latter of hypotheses of pretended death theories rather than the miraculous event of the resurrection no matter how much evidence was presented to him.
IN FACT ARGUMENT
The second argument is an argument in practice, which challenges the credibility of witnesses.
Here Hume doesn’t allow for the evidence to amount to a full proof. The evidence is so poor that it doesn’t even amount to a probability. This is the catalyst. In the ‘In Principle Argument’ the likelihood of a miracle was set at ‘0’ which is absolute neutrality, now the evidence is stacked in favor of the regularity of nature.
Here Hume presents four reasons why the evidence for miracles is negligible:
1: No miracle in history is attested to by a sufficient number of educated and honest men who are of such social standing they would have a lot to lose by lying.
2: People crave the miraculous and will believe in anything to confirm their beliefs.
3: Miracles only occur among barbarous peoples.
4: Miracles occur in all religions and therefore they cancel each other out.
A CHRISTIAN DEFENSE OF MIRACLES
With regards to the testimony of nature being stacked against the possibility of miracles, Thomas Sherlock, the Bishop of London, presents a mock trial in which the apostles are accused of hoaxing the resurrection of Jesus. In essence his argument is that if we only admit evidence that squares with our prior knowledge of things then a man living in a hot climate never would or never should believe in the testimony of a man that water could exist in the solid state of ice.
With regards to the resurrection one could say ‘I was executed a year ago, behold now I live.’ we would be immediately suspicious, not that the man was alive but that he was ever dead even if we heard multiple testimonies that the man was indeed dead a year ago. Could the same testimony prove the man was alive?
We are suspicious in these cases not because the facts in question cannot be proved by evidence, but because we are suspicious of reports that go against our preconceived notions of what can and cannot happen. While we rightly reason from the seat of our everyday experience, this can also cause us to be biased and we may not recognize events which fall out of the norm.
A miraculous claim requires no more evidence than any other event, it just requires evidence. No matter how unlikely it could be that one has won a lottery, it requires no more proof that they lost. Hume is incorrect, probabilities do not determine facts, facts determine facts.
Given a theistic worldview the idea of the resurrection certainly goes against our understanding of the uniformity of nature, but certainly not against the abilities of a God who acts.
Hume’s argument for ‘uniform experience’ is also very question begging. He assumes to know that all possible experience will confirm naturalism without access to all possible experiences past, present and future. The fact such things do not happen according to natural laws, without the interference of the supernatural, is what truly separates them as miraculous events. Hume fails to recognize truth is not determined by a majority vote. At best consensus argues for the probability of truth, but without exceptions we cannot move forward in scientific discoveries. In fact, anomalous events strengthen the explanatory scope of science because our scientific models are forced to respond to and account for them. Our natural laws are only descriptive, not prescriptive, of how nature operates. If we cannot account for an anomaly, using known natural laws, then we must revise our understanding of these laws. When an exception to a scientific law is discovered we are forced to revise our scientific beliefs and the law is changed if we can account for the exception.
This does not mean that a miracle is a placeholder for our ignorance of the world. A miracle is a singular event, that will not happen under natural conditions, therefore by its very nature, it cannot be tested under laboratory conditions, which studies the regularities of nature.
LACK OF CREDIBLE WITNESSES
Hume believes that there is not a sufficient amount of credible witnesses with unquestioned good sense, education and learning to establish a miracle claim, nor have the alleged miracles been performed in a public manner. Furthermore Hume believes miracles were performed among ignorant and barbarous nations who would easily attribute acts of nature to acts of a deity.
While Hume said that he is open to actual miracle evidence should it meet his standards he in a candid moment admitted “no cloud of witnesses” would convince him a miracle has actually taken place since no “reasonable person” would believe these “absolutely impossible events.”.
So what Hume has here is not a lack of evidence but an anti-supernatural bias. Gottfried Less, a German theologian, believes that the testimony of the disciples to Jesus’ miracles meets the conditions put out by Hume. The apostles may not have been educated, all one really needs to prove that a disease has been cured is five good senses and common sense. Jesus’ miracles were also witnessed by hundreds including His enemies. The apostles were men of integrity and had comfort and life itself to lose in proclaiming the gospel and no one will willingly die for what they know to be a lie. To question their integrity, their motives and their ability to reason is claiming to be able to read their minds thousands of years after the fact. The sskeptic is asking that we grant them a lot of concessions with regard to their special abilities to see into the past and know what people were thinking. No reason exists why we should not trust these people who were of good standing in the Jewish community and held the law which prohibited lying in high regard.
So far, no good reason has been established as to why we should doubt the possibility of miracles except to prop up our own anti-supernatural biases. Miracles may be different events that do not square with everyday occurrences in general, but they are not contradictory to everyday experience in general. Given the existence of God, miracles are physically possible and not logically incoherent, since creation was out of nothing. If there is a God who can create out of nothing there is no reason to doubt His ability to interact with His creation by means of miracles.
Miracles also have a moral dimension which would serve to confirm the message of the messenger. A true miracle would only accompany a true messenger since an all-powerful all good God would not confirm a lie since His nature would prohibit it. Jesus’ words were accompanied by miracles, wonders and signs. Had His miracles been illegitimate His words never would have gotten off the ground and He would have easily been dismissed long ago with all the other god’s of mythology.
Apologetic Value of Miracles
Granting the possibility of miracles, one would assume that if they were possible then a genuine miracle would confirm a genuine messenger of God and the God who does not share His glory with another, would not permit a true miracle to be performed by a false messenger.
Before we can say a miraculous event actually took place, we must be able to identify what a miracle is. There are two aspects to the case of identifying miracles.
1: Miracles in general must be of course identifiable before a particular miracle can be identified.
2: One must be able to point to distinguishing marks in order to identify a specific event as a miracle.
For a miracle to have occurred we need a theistic not a deistic God. One can either presuppose the existence of God or demonstrate that a theistic God exists. (See Arguments for/against God’s existence.). Is it fair to presuppose the existence of God without using arguments? Certainly, but this unnecessarily gives up strength in the theist’s favor and insults the intelligence of the sceptic. All arguments against God’s existence are self-refuting and deny knowledge, so we could let the atheist fall on their own sword and present God as an alternative explanation, or one may earn the right to define miracles if they can demonstrate that it is very likely a God exists by means of the cosmological/teleological arguments. Once there is good reason to believe the supernatural is possible there can now be acts of God rather than strictly acts of nature.
MOVING THE GOAL POSTS
The atheist could keep moving the goal-posts when they see a miracle. What if we observe a miracle which is an exception to known natural laws? All the atheist needs to do is come up with a new natural law to explain the phenomenon. If they can legitimately do this, miracles do not have a supernatural explanation and have no apologetic value, but as Alistar McKinnon argues miracles suspend the laws of nature which is impossible.
McKinnon begs the question by failing to recognize that there are events beyond nature. His objection is loaded in advance against any possibility of miracles. McKinnon also misdefines what natural laws mean. They are what actually happens, not what regularly happens. Laws of nature explain how things can happen in a regular and predictable way, so a miracle cannot be ruled out simply by defining a natural law as what actually occurs.
A true miracle will be distinguishable from a natural occurrence even though it takes place in the natural world, or better put, a miracle is what would never happen had nature been left to itself. By invoking natural laws to explain a miracle is making a category mistake. It is clearly mixing apples with oranges. A miracle is not a mini-natural law; it would be a unique event with its own characteristics. One would be greatly mistaken to say a miracle has not happened because it fails to fall into the class of natural events. This is arguing from ignorance and must be avoided. It is the same ‘god- of-the-gaps’ type fallacy atheists charge theists with, rather it is ‘nature-of-the- gaps.’.
The gaps in our knowledge must not be plugged with what we ourselves know to be true when other legitimate explanations are available. The scientist mustn’t arbitrarily dismiss the philosopher, nor the philosopher the scientist.
UNIQUENESS OF MIRACLES
In the Bible miracles are truly confirmatory of a true apostle, (2 Corinthians 12:12) but what do we do about the other miracles that cancel out the miracle claims of Christianity in the Qur’an? If miracle claims are just as true within Islam as they are within Christianity then how can we say they confirm a truth? If there is an All-powerful, all-wise God He would not confirm contradictories as truth. It should be briefly noted that Muslims believe Moses, Elijah and Jesus performed miracles that fulfilled the authenticating, unique and predictive criteria of miracles the Qur’an in Sura 3:181-84 documents Muhammad refusing to perform confirmatory miracles when asked to do so. Rather Muslims claim the Qur’an itself to be a miracle of Allah because of its eloquence and Muhammad’s lack of education. Eloquence certainly does not meet the criteria of a miracle.
Miracles will be connected with a truth claim. (The opposite of true is false), they will be truly supernatural and have no natural explanation. One characteristic of the supernatural is that it will be immediate and not gradual. A miracle will be unique and unrepeatable. Hume rightly said that an alleged supernatural event cannot support one religious claim as long as a contradictory claim is made of another who can perform the same kind of alleged miracles. However from a theistic position it is impossible for a true miracle to confirm a falsity. A true God would not confirm a lie unless the nature of this god was to be mischievous. We can appeal to the ‘Ontological Argument’ for God’s existence, in order to know that God is a maximally great being, who cannot contravene His perfect nature by confirming lies as truth.
A miracle would be multiply attested, or as Deuteronomy 17:6 says confirmed by ‘two or three witnesses.’. A private miracle may have occurred with no witnesses, but an apologetically relevant miracle will have multiple witnesses.
Finally a miracle will have a predictive element to it or it could be attributed to being a fluke. Jesus predicted His resurrection (Matt 12:40; 17:22-23; 20:18-19; John 2:19-22). He even said His resurrection would be a ‘sign‘. (Matt 12:39-40). He even used a miracle as evidence He was Messiah when He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:10-11).
In the Old Testament miracles had the same predictive value. Elijah predicted fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:22). Moses promised supernatural judgements of God on Egypt. (Exodus 4:21-23).
If miracles can be disproved then they have no apologetic value, but if the theist can demonstrate that a theistic and not a deistic God exists, then it can be demonstrated both historically and philosophically miracles are possible. Not even Flew would claim that his argument eliminates miracles, but he does believe it seriously cripples Christian apologetics.
Skepticism is certainly healthy and we do need reasonable objections to our beliefs so we know we have valid reason to hold them, however the hard skepticism of Flew and Hume is more dogmatic than the theist’s affirmation of miracles and their anti-supernatural biases are entirely unwarranted. We must therefore question false miracle claims and be able to demonstrate the Bible is the inerrant word of God, that contains documentation of legitimate miracle events.
Finally, Hume’s statement that ‘wise men proportion their beliefs according to the regularity of nature’, is mistaken. We base our beliefs on facts, not probabilities. No matter how improbable it is that one has won a lottery, given the odds, if, “I won”, the fact is, “I won”. This objection adds up one side of the ledger and only takes into account evidence in favour of the non-miraculous, which is a clear case of special pleading.
The reliability of the New Testament
NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS
The reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is essential for apologetics. Using apologetics to steer someone away from a false belief will be useless unless we have a better alternative to offer them and can demonstrate the Biblical accounts correspond to the reality of the past.
The three sources of the New Testament are Greek manuscripts, ancient translations and quotations of scripture by Christian writers. Greek manuscripts come in the form of papyri, uncials, minuscule’s and lectionaries. A term frequently used to refer to medieval manuscripts is ‘codex’. Catalogued Greek texts include eighty-eight papyri manuscripts, 274 uncial manuscripts and 245 uncial lectionaries. The other 2795 manuscripts and 1964 lectionaries are minuscule. The earliest manuscripts are extremely valuable in establishing the original text of the New Testament.
While other works of antiquity such as Caesar’s Gallic War (9-10), Livy’s Roman History (20), Tacitus’ Annals (2), Thucydides’ History (8) and the most documented ancient secular work Homer’s Iliad has survived in 643 copies. The New Testament text is preserved in 5686 partial and complete manuscript portions that were copied by hand from the second through the fifteenth centuries. In addition to the Greek there are numerous translations from the Greek and quotations of the New Testament. Counting major early translations in Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Latin and other languages there are 9000 copies of the New Testament making a total of over 14,000 New Testament copies. Furthermore if we compile the 36,289 quotations by the early church Fathers of the second to fourth centuries the entire New Testament can be reconstructed, minus 11 verses.
Textual critics consider older copies to be the most reliable since they are closer to their original composition and there will be fewer copyist errors. These errors are, however, insignificant and when we put all the copies side by side the errors can be easily worked out and we can trace our way back to the autographs, which are the original manuscripts, which we do not have. This would be the same as if I wrote an essay and gave it to my friend to copy, then someone copied his copy and so on. There would no doubt be copyist errors in each essay, but they would not be the same errors. One could reconstruct the original essay if all copies were taken and juxtaposed and a textual critic could work out the copyist errors. It is also the case that not one copyist error affects any doctrine or core belief of Christianity.
While Muslims claim the Qur’an has been accurately preserved it is a medieval book from the seventh century, the New Testament is the most accurately copied book from antiquity. With regards to age and reliability, the Qur’an is not even in the same weight class as the New Testament.
What is important is not whether the copies are precisely accurate, but whether the original is the Word of God. Widespread misunderstanding of the 200,000 biblical errors is that they are not at all biblical errors but variant readings, most of which are grammatical. These readings also spread throughout more than 5300 manuscripts. A variant spelling in one letter of one word in one verse in 2000 manuscripts counts as 2000 “errors”. Textual scholars, Wescott and Hort, have noted that only one in sixty of these variants have significance. Schaff calculated that of the 150,000 variants known in the day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage, only fifty were of real significance and not even one affected an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not affirmed by clear passages. Other ancient books are not so well authenticated. New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger, calculated that the New Testament is calculated with 99.5 percent accuracy.
What we are dealing with today in modern Bible Translations is reasonably close to the autographs. Variant readings are easily reconciled through the art and science of textual criticism and we can come very close to the autographs in our understanding. Our understanding of ancient cultures and newer discoveries of older manuscripts brings us closer to the originals.
[Recommended further reading: Has God Spoken? by Hank Hanegraaff; From God to us, by Geisler and Nix. Law History and Christianity, John Warwick Montgomery.]
HISTORY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS
Hard sceptics such as Thomas Paine have said of Jesus, “There is no history written at the time Jesus Christ is said to have lived that speaks of the existence of such a person, even such a man.”. Bertrand Russell in his essay Why I Am Not a Christian writes, “Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we know nothing about Him.”
Of course, if the above is true, Christianity is in trouble since it depends on the reality of the person and miracles of Jesus Christ. The challenge right within Christianity is 1 Corinthians 15 that if the essential things we believe are not true then go find something else to do. Christianity rises or falls on the basis of its truth claims.
Evidence for the historicity of the New Testament documents presupposes we can know about history and miracles. There is such a thing as ‘historical relativism’ which denies we can know anything about history. This school of thought eliminates us really knowing anything with regards to science since discoveries are made in history, then observed and repeated in the present which becomes the past. This would rule out any court rulings made since courts deal with past events and make judgments based on them. However if living eyewitnesses can testify to what they saw and their reliable testimony can be accepted while they are living, then the valid records they leave behind are just as credible. As mentioned previously some critics only object to miracle evidence, but this begs the question and is an assumption loaded against miracles. Anyone who is sincerely looking for truth will not put up intellectual smokescreens, but will weigh in all the evidence fairly. True the resurrection and other miracles are rare occurrences, but the big bang was a single unrepeatable occurrence and there is more evidence supporting the resurrection than the big bang hypothesis.
We need to demonstrate first that the New Testament documents have been accurately translated to both skeptics and cultists alike since cultists allege they have been corrupted necessitating their more revised translations or amendments. Secondly we need to show they were written by reliable eyewitnesses or contemporaries of the events.
To reject the historicity of the New Testament is to reject all history. We cannot reject all history without engaging in some history of our own. Saying, “The past is unknowable” is in itself an objective statement about the past and is self-refuting and I would like to know what objective evidence the sceptic has which they use to say ‘we cannot know the past accurately.”.
DATING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
In order to have confidence in New Testament documents we need to know that they are dated very early and were written by contemporaries or eyewitnesses of the actual events. Bible critics try to put as much time between the alleged events and the dates they were written..). If this were true it would strongly suggest the writers created, rather than reported, the events.
Arguments for Early Dates/Internal Evidence.
1 Corinthians is widely accepted by both conservative and critical scholars to have been written within a quarter century after the crucifixion in 33. In the 15th chapter Paul speaks of 250 eyewitnesses who are still alive and available for questioning. Specifically he mentions the apostles and James the brother of Jesus. This book also repeatedly claims to be written by Paul (1:1, 12-17; 3:4, 6, 22; 16:21).
- There are parallels with the book of Acts which was written by Luke. Luke was written from eyewitness accounts. (Luke 1:1-4).
- There is a ring of authenticity to the book from beginning to end.
- Paul mentions 500 who had seen Christ, most of whom were alive for questioning.
- The contents harmonize with what has been learned about Corinth during that era.
Arguments for Early Dates/External Evidence.
1. Clement of Rome refers to it in his own Epistle to the Corinthians.
2. The Epistle of Barnabas mentions it.
3. Shepherd of Hermas mentions it.
4. There are nearly 600 quotations of 1 Corinthians in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian alone. It is one of the best attested books of any kind from the ancient world.
Acceptance of early dates is even common among critical scholars such as William F. Allbright and John A.T. Robinson.
Of the four gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the early church fathers from the late first century on and this gives strength to the belief that the gospels were in existence before the end of the first century while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive.
No other book from the ancient world has as small of a time gap between its composition and earliest manuscript copies as the New Testament. Jose O’Callahan identified a manuscript fragment from Qumran as a piece of the Gospel of Mark. The piece was from Cave 7. Fragments from this cave had previously been dated 50 B.C and 50 A.D. Using the accepted methods of papyrology and peleography he compared sequences of letters with existing documents and eventually identified 9 fragments as belonging to one Gospel, Acts, and a few Epistles. Some of these were dated slightly later than 50 A.D, but still early.
The early dating for the New Testament has huge implications for apologetics. If these documents are dated within the 1century no time for myths or legends exists. Legend development takes at least 2 full generations.
Recommended further reading:
The Resurrection of the Son of God, NT Wright.
The Son Rises, by William Lane Craig. The Battle for the Resurrection, by Norman Geisler.
MYTHOLOGY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT
The latest fad in anti-Christian arguments is that Jesus was a good teacher but we have made Him more than what even He intended to be and turned Him into the miracle worker we perceive Him to be today. Since Jesus existed in an era of pre- scientific enlightenment where the earth was at the center, heaven, God and angels above and the underworld below. Rudolf Bultmann insists that we must strip the New Testament of its mythological content to get at the existential kernel of truth. Bultmann’s argument is as follows:
- Myths are, by nature, more than objective.
- But what is not objective cannot be part of a verifiable space-time world.
- Therefore, miracles (myths) are not part of the objective space time world.
Of course such an objection is very biased right from the start leaving the objectors no room to accept any objective evidence offered. This objection is built on the premise of “Resuscitation of a corpse is not possible.”. This is exactly the point the theists are trying to make. Such things are not possible from a strictly naturalistic point of view, what we are contending for is the supernatural intervention which took place in time and space from influences outside of time and space. If things such as the occasional rising from the dead were known to happen then it would be possible to posit a natural explanation. [Miracles, evidence for.] We are not even arguing for magic here. Magic, which is unverifiable would have a cause within this world, but we are arguing for supernatural intervention, or a computer programmer accessing the code of his own program through a back door he left available to himself for maintenance purposes.
Bultmann’s view that what is objective is only part of the space-time world is dogmatic and unverifiable. This stands against the overwhelming evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament documents. [New Testament, historicity of.] The Apostle Peter who was an eyewitness of the events says that they were not preaching “cleverly devised tales, but were eyewitnesses.”, and John says the same thing at the beginning and end of his gospel (1:1-3; 21:24).
CS Lewis, who wrote both non-fiction and fairy tales, knew the difference between the two and criticizes critics for attempting to read the minds of those who wrote the gospel accounts as though they knew they were writing stories and fables, when really they were documenting historical events. New Testament books appeared within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses and contemporaries, not leaving the 2-generations necessary for myths and legends to develop. Had legends arisen it would have been easy to question those who were witnesses of the events to clear up the details surrounding the events.
CS Lewis comments in his book on miracles that the accounts are straightforward, unembellished records which are written in artless, historical fashion by narrow unattractive Jews who were blind to the mythological wealth of the pagan world around them. Clearly people who are attempting to put a mythological label on the gospels are only demonstrating their incompetence as literary critics and not as those looking for truth. The gospels are written around actual historical times and places. Luke goes out of his way to mention that it was during the days of “Caesar Augustus” (Luke 2:1) that Jesus was born and later baptized in the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee…Annas and Caiaphas being high priests.”. (Luke 3:1- 2). Stories of Greek gods becoming human did not start popping up until after the time of Christ, but not before. If any influencing has been done on the other, it is the historical events catalogued within the New Testament on the mythology, not the other way around.
It takes an anti-supernatural bias to ignore the eyewitness accounts, how close the documents are to the original events they portray and the historical references, people, times and places.
Recommended further reading:
Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig. Chapter on the problem of History.
Deity of Christ/Christology.
“You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (CS Lewis: Mere Christianity)
Besides the resurrection what is at the heart of Christianity is the Deity of Christ. Who do we say Jesus is? So far in previous article summaries points 1 through 6 have been affirmed. If 1-6 are true then we can answer in the affirmative for 7-9 culminating in that Jesus is God in human flesh and His affirmations are true. Surprisingly there are objections from various false Christian spin-offs such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses/Christadelphians who derive their teachings from Arianism. The Deity of Christ is essential to understand and defend. If Christ did not have the fullness of Deity dwelling in Him bodily, we are left following the example of a man who obeyed God up until the point of death and all He left us with is an example of how we too must follow God. This of course is not the full story of the Messianic mission of Jesus. While it is true Jesus was made like His brothers in every way, it is equally true He remained sinless. (Hebrews 2:17). Kenneth Samples, in his book “God Among Sages” notes that Jesus is the engine that drives Christianity. Other worldviews do not rise or fall on the actual existence of their revered sages. Without Muhammad, Islam remains Islam, but without Jesus and His divinity, Christianity collapses into being another worldview, at best.
There are two types of Christology.
1: Explicit/Direct Christology – This is where Jesus wasn’t beating around the bush. He was clear and emphatic about who He was and His unique relationship to the Father. Jesus had a certain self-understanding that cannot be denied. If He was not a lunatic, or a liar then He certainly was Lord and His affirmations as such are true.
2: Implicit Christology. – What Jesus said about Himself in His titles only explicitly expressed what He understood about Himself, what He did implied what He understood about Himself. John 5:36 – “”But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish– the very works that I do– testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” (John 10:25 is similar.).
Jesus claimed to be “YHWH”, which is the name given by God for Himself in the Old Testament. Other titles have been used of God such as Adonai (Lord). YHWH uniquely refers to the one true God. In Isaiah 42:8 God says “I am the LORD (YHWH), that is my name! I will not give my glory to another, or my praise to idols.”.
Jesus claimed co-equal/eternal status when He prayed “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”. If Jesus’ statement here is true, and if Isaiah 42:8 is true, then it is odd that the LORD(YHWH) will not share His glory with another if Jesus is not YHWH the Son.
Jesus says of Himself in Revelation 1:17 that He is the ‘First and the Last.’ , which is the same language used by YHWH in Isaiah 41:9 (Co-equal). Jesus claimed to be the Judge of all people which parallels with language used of YHWH in the Old Testament. (Matthew 25:31; John 5:27 / Joel 3:12). (Co-equal).
Jesus spoke of Himself as he Bridegroom while the Old Testament speaks of YHWH in this way also. (Matthew 25:1 / Isaiah 62:5, Hosea 2:16). (Co-equal). Jesus’ strongest claim to divinity was in John 8:58 when He says “Before Abraham was, I am.”. By alluding to Exodus 3:14 Jesus was claiming to being YHWH of the Old Testament by saying He had pre-existence before Abraham and was an uncaused being, making Him necessary to all existence. This statement had such significance that the Jews picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy. He did more than say that He was a prophet or an angel here. This is a claim to co-eternal existence with YHWH the Father.
Jesus exercised prerogatives which belonged to God such as forgiving sins. (Mark 2:5-11). When questioned on what authority He did such things He healed the man as confirmation. Jesus raised the dead while in Deuteronomy 32:39 it says that life and death are in YHWH’s hands alone; In John 5 He specifically says, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.” (vs21). This is clearly claiming co-equal status. The honor due to the Father equally belongs to the Son as a result.
Jesus accepted worship which belongs to YHWH alone and He did not rebuke those who did as did the angel in Revelation 19:10. In Matthew 21 Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People shouted
“Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus accepts this worship, and later affirms it in vs16 by referencing Psalm 8:2 which directly speaks of giving praise to YHWH.
Thomas says to Him in John 20:28 “My Lord, and my God.”. Jesus neither rebukes Him for idolatry, nor does He rebuke him for taking the Lord’s name in vain. This was not like McCoy on Star Trek saying, “My god Jim!”. It was Thomas fully acknowledging and recognizing Jesus as God.
Again Jesus expresses a certain self-understanding of Himself putting His words on par with God’s by saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…But I tell you…”. Matt 5:21,22. Furthermore while the prophets in the Old Testament frequently said, “Thus says the LORD…”. Jesus spoke as one with authority and made the words of YHWH His own by saying, “Truly, truly I say to you…”.
Jesus claims all authority by telling His disciples in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me…”.
What Jesus says about Himself alone doesn’t matter because a lot of people have claimed to be god or a messenger of god of some sort. He confirmed these claims by a unique and unprecedented convergence of miracles. Numerous prophecies foretold the coming of the Messiah and the likelihood of them being fulfilled is nearly impossible, unless one is God and in control of the universe. These prophecies took place hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, yet they were uniquely fulfilled in Him and the likelihood of them being accidentally fulfilled in Jesus is nearly impossible.
There is a moral implication to this if things were accidentally fulfilled in Jesus. How could an all-powerful and all-knowing God let things get so out of control that His plans for prophetic fulfillment were all fulfilled in someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time? Philosopher of science Karl Popper argued making a “risky” prediction and having it come true authenticates its source. Predicting the time and events surrounding one’s death is risky enough, but predicting that you would rise again on the third day as Jesus did when He said He would rebuild the temple (His body) in 3 days is extraordinary. If one cannot accept this claim to authenticity then that person would definitely have an anti- supernatural bias and would not accept any line of evidence supporting the claim.
The sinless life of Christ confirms who He was. He even brings this up when addressing the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-18 when he calls Jesus a “good teacher.”. Jesus cautions Him about using such words and makes Him thing about the implications calling someone “good” has. He says, “No one is good but God alone.”. Here Jesus wasn’t denying deity, rather He was saying the title of “good” belongs to God and unless He is prepared to acknowledge Jesus as Lord he’d better not attribute such attributes to just anyone.
No other messenger of God offered a sinless life as evidence for their claims. The character of Muhammad was highly questionable and he could not offer such a life. While students of Islam claim Muhammad was free from major sin history tells us otherwise. Muhammad was polygamous and the pattern set forth in the Genesis account which Muslims acknowledge as truth prescribes 1 man with 1 woman, whereas the Qur’an permits up to 4 wives in Sura 4:3. Muhammad permitted the beating of a female servant to gain information from her. The Qur’an even provides testimony of Muhammad asking Allah for forgiveness in Sura 40:55.
Jesus’ ministry was predicted by numerous prophecies hundreds of years before He was born. His words laid claim to divinity and they were authenticated by an unprecedented convergence of miracles which the church and the Bible which we have today stand as an effect of. These lines of evidence should even serve to satisfy Hume’s objections that all religions lay claim to miracles and therefore cancel each other out. Christianity is truly unique in that its leader claims to be God and demonstrates this by supernatural events and condescending in humility to dwell with its creation as a sinless person, and furthermore promising us that we too will be raised again and our own resurrection will be patterned after His and we will be raised again immortal, imperishable and incorruptible. (1 Corinthians 15.).
Recommended further reading:
[Robert Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski: “Putting Jesus in His place: The Case for the Deity of Christ.”] [Murray Harris: “Jesus as God: Exploring the use of the word Theos in the New Testament.”]
[William Lane Craig: “Reasonable Faith(Self-Understanding of Jesus.”)] [Ron Rhodes: “Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses.”]
Miracles in the Bible
Miracles could be understood in a broad sense. Life itself is a miracle, but it is normative. For apologetic purposes we need to understand miracles in a narrower more technical sense which is exceptional and does not occur everyday. An unusual outward sign with a predictive element would confirm a messenger of God. The New Testament gives the Christian definition of what a miracle is for in Hebrews 2:3-4.
“How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
If a messenger of God is to be recognized as approved by God they will have accompanying signs, as did Moses when he challenged Pharaoh’s magicians by turning his rod into a serpent, or his hand becoming leprous in Exodus chapters 4 and 7. Korah challenged Moses in Numbers 16 and the miracle confirmation definitely took Moses’ side when Korah was swallowed up by the earth, or when the miraculous confirmed Elijah was a prophet of Yahweh the one true God on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18.
Jesus was acknowledged by Nicodemus as a teacher of God because he knew “… no one could perform the miraculous signs He(Jesus) was doing if God was not with Him.” John 3:2
The three words in the Bible used to describe a miracle are sign, wonder and power.
Although a “sign” could be used to refer to something natural such as the Sabbath (see Exodus 31:13) it also carries a supernatural significance. Moses’ miracles were signs to Israel. The apostles were confirmed by signs in Acts 4:16. The ultimate sign was Jesus’ resurrection which He promised as being the sign of Jonah. (Matt 12:39-40).
In the Old Testament signs and wonders are often synonymous. The Bible has described in some parts an event as being a wonder, then elsewhere calling it a sign. (Exodus 4:21; 11:9-10; Psalms 78:43; 105:27; Joel 2:30). In the New Testament the Greek word teras means a “miraculous sign, prodigy, portent, omen or wonder.”. In the New Testament the word “wonder” occurs 16 times in combination with the word “sign.”.
This word describes Jesus’ miracles (John 4:48; Acts 2:22), the apostles’ miracles (Acts 2:43, 14:3, 15:12; Romans 15:19; Hebrews 2:3-4.). Acts 7:36 refers to Moses’ miracles using this word as well.
While this word could be used of human power in the Old Testament it is also used of a divine power, including God’s power to create: “God made the earth by His power…” (Jeremiah 10:12). Hebrew words denoting “power” are used on par in the same verse with “sign and wonder.”. (Deuteronomy 4:34; cf 7:19; 26:8; 34:12). The Greek word “dunamis” can be used to describe human or even demonic power.
(2 Corinthians 1:8; Luke 10:19; Romans 8:38). When used in the context of divine power it is used of the event at Pentecost (Acts 1:8), the power of the gospel to save sinners (Romans 1:16) and the power to raise the dead. (Philippians 3:10).
BIBLICAL NATURE OF A MIRACLE
The 3 words “sign, wonder and power” help understand miracles from the vantage points of humanity seeing a wonder which is unusual. The wonder communicates an unusual message which to us is a sign by means of unusual power.
From God to us (the divine vantage point) a miracle is God’s power that attracts the attention of people by means of a wonder that points to the sign which is the word of God.
The 3 essential purposes of a miracle are to
- Glorify the nature of God. The miracle should point up, not down. (John 2:11; 11:40).
- 2. Accredit the spokesperson as being legitimate. (Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:3-4).
- 3. The act of God provides evidence of the God who acts producing belief. (John 6:2, 14; 20:30-31).
A miracle does not guarantee belief. In John 12:37 John grieved that “after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe.”.
Old Testament Miracles
Unfortunately CS Lewis in his book on miracles says that many Old Testament miracles are mythological, but there is no more reason to reject the authenticity of New Testament miracles than there is Old Testament miracles. As examined earlier the New Testament is scripture breathed by the same God that breathed the Old Testament. The same confirmatory evidence would have been needed to authenticate a messengers claim both before and after Christ. (2 Timothy 3:16- 17).
As demonstrated in the previous philosophical arguments, miracles are still philosophically possible, after all, an all-powerful, all-good theistic God who created can certainly perform miracles. Miracles may even be necessary to communicate the will of an infinite God to finite creatures. The New Testament logically builds on the Old Testament as its fulfillment so therefore it would not follow that Old Testament miracles are not authentic since they serve to confirm the same God making Lewis’ view on this matter inconsistent and not in accord with the New Testaments use of the Old Testament.
Lewis misunderstands the nature of a myth. He in his statement says that “…but as they were the chosen people their mythology (Israel) was the chosen mythology.”. What Lewis thinks is truth first appears as myth then as history, but the reverse is actually more often the case. Myths like jokes are built on realities which are later embellished. It has been demonstrated thoroughly that pagan myths first borrowed from Christianities resurrection accounts and not the reverse.
[In ’Come Let us Reason’ by Copan& Craig Mary Joe Sharp writes an article on the Jesus story mimicking pagan mystery stories.]
Lewis himself condemns such an antisupernatural view and his position does contravene his own overall position as well as Scriptural inerrancy. This position is biblically unwarranted, especially when the Bible hardly condones myths. (1 Timothy 1:3-4; 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:4). This view is also contrary to the Old Testament position of a monotheistic God that is actively involved in the affairs of the world and comes to the help of His creatures who are in need.
There is absolutely no evidence that any Old Testament manuscripts exist without the miracle accounts so there is no warrant to dismiss them as being factual and literal based on an historical objection. Jesus affirmed that the Old Testament miracles were literal miracle were real right up to the most controversial one by referring to the ‘sign of Jonah.’. He demonstrated it was a literal event because He said it was a sign what would happen to Him after being buried for 3 days in the earth. Since Jesus’ death was literal and his resurrection was literal so to was the Jonah account. (Matt 12:40). Without discrediting Jesus’ character or integrity there is simply no way to dismiss Old Testament miracles as being inauthentic as hard as they might be to believe since they do not line up with our everyday experience.
As Lewis rightly said “If you admit God must we admit miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it.”. As demonstrated previously we must admit to a theistic God who affirmed Himself in our midst through miracles, wonders and signs. We exist and our existence is undeniable. If we exist we were caused because we are contingent and not necessary. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes, therefore, our existence exists beyond ourselves, this presupposes a necessary transcendent cause, making our existence becomes miraculous.
The Nature of God.
Classical theists and the early church fathers and Thomas Aquinas continually cited scripture in defense of the doctrine of divine aseity quoting Exodus 3:14 – “I Am that I Am/ I will be Who I will be.”. This doctrine teaches that God ‘self- exists’. As one who stands apart from His creation as a Necessary and Uncaused Being He finds no reason for existing apart from Himself, whereas we, as the contingent beings, find our reason for existence in God. God exists as Pure Actuality with no potentiality. God does not go from a state of non-being to being, He does not grow in knowledge and He knows all things internally and necessarily. God who exists as pure Actuality in His Being and is not self-caused, this would be an ontological impossibility.
God cannot cease to be who He is, but He can create finite beings that take on knowledge, grow and change. God’s aseity ultimately means He IS Being, while everything else HAS being.
SIMPLICITY / INDIVISIBILITY
Since God is not composed, but just Is He cannot be decomposed. This is the doctrine of indivisibility. This flows from His immutable nature which will be discussed momentarily. If God could be decomposed, then He could go through a process of change. If one attribute such as His love or justice could be removed then this would do violence to His nature, therefore it is essential not to know God in terms of His parts since this would be a categorical error, but in terms of true propositions which will be discussed.
God by nature is necessary. He cannot ‘not’ exist. Thomas Aquinas argued in his Summa Theologica 1,2& 3 that we can know God exists necessarily from reason and revelation, therefore we can be sure that He exists necessarily and could not cease to exist.
The 3 arguments Aquinas proposes for immutability/ unchangeability are: Argument I – God’s Pure Actuality / I-Am-ness. God has no potentiality and therefore cannot change. Argument II – God’s Simplicity.
If God is composed of parts that change He would then change. God cannot change because an absolutely simple being has no composition. If one part of God changed He would cease to be what He once was and become an entirely different being by nature.
Argument III – God’s absolute perfection.
A changing being goes from a state to a non-state, or vice versa. There was a time when I, as a contingent being, did not know mathematics, but as time went on I learned mathematics. God logically and necessarily knows everything. He cannot acquire knowledge because this would suggest He lacked something prior to learning or taking on an attribute.
This doctrine is not to say God is without emotions, but that He is without passions. If God had a desire or a passion it would imply He lacked something external to Himself which He did not have prior and scripture teaches God is self- sufficient. An infinite Being with Pure Actuality would be totally satisfied in His own perfection. God’s emotions exist logically and He does not exist in a moment to moment state of anger, or love. Rather God necessarily loves what is good and hates what is evil.
“If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains” Psalm 50:12
Since God who is uncaused undergoes no intrinsic change with regards to His knowledge and emotions exists outside of time since time is duration characterized by substantial and accidental changes.
Aquinas proposes three levels of being in relation to time and eternity:
- God in eternity is Pure Actuality, without essential or accidental change. Here God would endure with no potency.
- Angels and saints who dwell in the spiritual world of heaven live in aeviternity / aevum.
Here angels endure with completely actualized potency. Their changes not being essential but accidental as they increase in knowledge by divine infusion.
Human beings, comprising soul and body, form and matter, live in time. Here humans would endure with progressive actualized potency which we receive in both spiritual form and our material bodies. Time involves change and humans go from a state of knowing to not knowing. Time measures the reality in which we live that plays out. There is only an analogy between time and eternity. God’s now has no privileged moment where as time does. According to Aquinas the now of time is moveable but the now of eternity is not moveable. What is eternal is unchanging but what is temporal is in a state of change.
According to the doctrine of Immensity God is not bound to time or space. This would be a categorical error. “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) therefore He is transcendent and is beyond time and space.
There are three reasons for God’s unity:
- Simplicity – God is indivisible and has no parts there for He is not a complex Being.
- God’s perfection – If two or more god’s existed they would have to differ in some way and if one differed from the other this would imply one lacks what the other doesn’t. God by definition is infinite in existence and in perfection. There cannot be two actual infinites. God is infinite in the sense that His properties are undegreed.
- Unity of the world/universe – The universe is composed of diverse things yet they are all ordered. Diverse things are not ordered unless they are ordered. Therefore there must be the one Orderer of the universe.
RELATIBILITY TO THE WORLD
How can an unchanging God relate to a changing world? Aquinas anticipated and answered this objection
There are three kinds of relations: One where both terms are ideas; one where both terms are real and one where one term is real and the other an idea. As finite changing creatures we are dependant on God, but God is not dependant on us. God knows about our relationship of dependence on Him, but He does not have it with us. We are dynamic creatures, but God is static. God being the pillar will not change whatsoever, but we are moving and our relationship to the pillar changes as we change.
How does such a God relate to such a world? He creates time and steps into it. Eternity intersects with time and God interacts with His creation by means of condescension. Eternity moves in time but time cannot move in eternity. When God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ no internal change can be said to have taken place rather God changed externally. He took on human experiences to relate to us, yet as Hebrews 4:15 says, “He remained sinless.”.
God knows Himself and being a simple Being He necessarily knows Himself. God knows Himself perfectly, therefore, His knowledge is completely self-actualized. His knowledge is completely identical with His essence. If God’s knowledge were not identical with His essence one would be actuality and the other potentiality. There is no potentiality in God. This is not to say God cannot know things other than Himself, He is the efficient cause of all things.
God’s knowledge is logically prior to all effects which are chronologically subsequent. God necessarily knows, but the events He knows are not what is necessary. All things pre-exist in the mind of the efficient cause not only with regard to their existence but also with regard to their individual essences.
The basis for God’s knowledge is His very essence. God’s knowledge extends as far as His causality. God knows all things in particularly not just in general. Take for instance the radii of a circle. God knows the radii of circles not by knowing the center, but he knows the radii and the center.
God knows evil. God knew every possible world necessarily in His mind and actualized the one that best fit His nature and desire for maximum greatness and this included evil, which God providentially prepared for. God did not actualize evil but rather evil exists in potentiality, in that it exists in the absence of His perfect will. (Theodicy/Problem of evil).
God knows things which are changing, but not in successive time frames, as we
know it. I have knowledge as a consequence of opening a textbook or undergoing experience in the chronological order of things. However from the Kairological perspective God knows the whole before the after without undergoing a learning process such as experience. Our knowledge is chronological, whereas, God’s knowledge is logical, much like a syllogism. He knows the consequent as well as the antecedent. He does not need to touch the stove in order to know it is hot and hurts. He necessarily knows the stove is hot and that touching it hurts.
God’s knowledge is very compatible with free-will of human beings. God knows all possible outcomes of all possible worlds within Himself. His foreknowledge came from His middle knowledge when He actualized this world since the current conditions became the present state of affairs. God providentially works around contingent acts of human beings and His general will is never frustrated. God who cannot err in His knowledge knows necessarily all future contingencies. Free choice is, therefore, not eliminated and are therefore culpable for all future actions, while God is providentially trying to restore our will to His.
The problem in human beings is not that we don’t have free-will, but that our will is operating in a distinct manner separate from the perfect will of God. It is bent against the mind and intent of its creator. We by extension of being created in the image of God are rational and volitional beings with the ability to make decisions at critical times. I may choose to jump off a cliff but once I start falling I no longer have a say in the matter. (Soft-libertarianism.). My decisions shape my character and therefore my will flows from my character.
God equally has a will, but this does not mean He undergoes change. Our decisions are based on our character just as are God’s. God’s character is a constant and never undergoes change. If one knew perfectly the character of God one could anticipate what God would do in every possible scenario. Such knowledge is impossible so the scenario remains hypothetical. This just goes to say the object of God’s will is His divine goodness.
Why did God create? Was He compelled by His will. In no way was God compelled to create. This would make creation as necessary as its creator. God is completely self-sufficient within Himself. He has eternally been in perfect Trinitarian fellowship. Therefore, willing other things through His own sufficiency denotes no insufficiency in God.
God wills out of His own goodness. Creation which was willed, not out of necessity, but condition was willed necessarily out of God’s goodness, which He could not have willed out of otherwise. So creation was not out of necessity, but the results of creation were necessary in that it has a will of its own, yet having God’s perfect will as its efficient cause. God can will Himself, of course, but He willed things outside Himself voluntarily. God knows necessarily, but does not will necessarily. All things exist necessarily in God, but not outside of God.
God’s will is uncaused as it is according to Aquinas the cause of all things. What is the cause of all needs no cause.
God’s will can never fail as it is the universal cause of all things. What fails to satisfy God’s will in one way satisfies it in another. If God’s will for salvation is not met it is inevitable that God’s judgment will then be satisfied. This is getting into God’s antecedent and consequent will. God wills that all be saved but consequently those that aren’t fall under wrath and judgment.
Scripture refers to intermediate causes which are used to bring judgment such as lying spirits in 1 Kings 22:22. These spirits are still accountable in the end like the Assyrians in Isaiah 10 who were evil people anyway but used against Judah as a tool of judgment. Romans 8:28 assures us God is working in all things to bring about a desired result and this includes being in control of even evil forces.
God never changes His mind. While scenarios may change God’s will does not change. King Ahab was going to be punished for stealing Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21 but as a result of his repentance, in vs27, God held back punishment. This is not a case of God changing His mind but a case of God responding out of His unchanging nature to scenarios which changed.
While we may never know what God looks like, in fact it may be a categorical error to ask “what He looks like?”; and we cannot know God in terms of His parts but we can apprehend the nature of God in terms of true propositions which we assign to His nature. Calling God ‘Allah’ certainly isn’t wrong, but assigning the false propositions to ‘Allah’s’ name is in violation of the law of identity and opposites cannot both be true, but they can both be false. True ideas of God is essential just like having true ideas of a friend or a spouse is also important in order to know who they are.
Recommended further reading:
William Lane Craig: Time and Eternity.] [William Lane Craig: The only wise God.] [Kenneth Keathley: Salvation and Sovereignty]
Evidence for the Bible.
The Bible is not simply just a book we have pulled out of the ground and assigned divine inspiration to, it is a collection of 66 books with approximately 40 authors. The authors of the Bible were priests, scribes, kings and shepherds. Their designation or gifting from God was a prophet or an apostle. Although Amos said “I am not a prophet or a son of a prophet” (7:14) his words were divinely inspired and he simply held no professional or prophetic office, but he did have a prophetic gift. The job of a prophet was to speak the words of God, no more and no less. The degree to which their personalities affected the words they wrote down I do not know, but they were men who were ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’, and their words ‘never had their origin in the will of man.’ (2 Peter 1:21).
Their personalities may have come through in the pages but the one meaning could not have been lost while there may have been multiple ways to say the same thing. No doubt God is capable of doing this as He chose the individual spokesperson for His unique purposes at the times in which a prophet was needed. (See, Nature of a Proposition.)
Paul writes of the entirety of the Old Testament in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…’.
Proverbs 30:5-6 echoes these words saying,
“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar”.
The Biblical authors were very honest people. Their Jewish faith was predicated upon the commandment that lying is abhorrent. The Bible even goes to great lengths to catalogue the shortcoming of these men of faith, including Abraham, who is considered to many the hero of their faith. He lied twice about his wife being his sister, because he was afraid of death.ßRetention of embarrassing material. (Gen ch12 and ch20). The only success story of a sinless life is Jesus. After His crucifixion the Roman guard even said ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’ (Matthew 27:54).
Jesus affirms the words of David in Matthew 22:43 saying ‘David Spoke by the Spirit.’. Paul says of the panoply of scripture in 1 Corinthians 2:13 that the words they spoke were not spoken by words of men ‘…but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.’.
Phrases such as “Thus says the LORD…” or “God said…”, and “The word of the LORD came…” are used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. These phrases say God’s Spirit is directly involved with the communication of these words, or these words are inspired.
In Matthew 15:6 Jesus says of people’s traditions and practices external to scripture that they ‘nullify the word of God.’. In contrast to our traditions Peter says of God’s word that we ‘…have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.’ (1:23).
Jesus said of His words and of the law that ‘not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.’. (Matthew 5:18). Isaiah 40:8 also affirms this saying “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”.
Only the original text is inspired and without errors, not the copies. As mentioned in ‘The Reliability of the New Testament’, we can work through copyist errors and come very close to what the original manuscripts said. This equally applies to the Old Testament since the same principle of textual criticism applies. God in His providence provided us with a substantial amount of manuscript copies so we could know His word. What is in the pages of scripture also corresponds to what is in the soil so we are not left without an external witness.
The testimony of Jesus is probably the most compelling evidence for scripture. Jesus affirmed the scripture as being God’s spoken word. Even unbelievers acknowledge Him as a good teacher, Muslims acknowledge He was a prophet of God and even the Qur’an acknowledges Jesus did miracles unlike Muhammad. The Bible Christians used in the 7th. century was accurate and people were challenged to consult it to verify Muhammad’s claims. It seems that is what many cults and false religions all have in common: They all want to borrow from the Christian concept of Jesus, but with one exception, they fail to call Him Lord.
It is only by rejecting the authority of Jesus and His truly divine status can one reject the authority of Scripture.
The Biblical witnesses could not be bought off (Num 22:18), they were faithful up until the point of death for their testimonies (2 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Peter 1:14; Rev 2:10).
These faithful witnesses could have escaped certain death had they confessed Nero Caesar as Lord and not Jesus. No one will die for what they know is a lie. No Muslim who kills themselves in the name of Allah believes their cause is a lie, they have genuine conviction. There was something legitimate going on in the early church that people would die for something that had no time to turn into a legend.
A true messenger of God is confirmed by signs as was Moses (Exodus 4), and Elijah on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). Nicodemus said recognized Jesus as a messenger of God by His miracles. (John 3:2). The Qur’an agrees that a messenger of God including is confirmed by miracles. (Sura 7:106-8; 116-119). Allah allegedly says in Sura 23:45 “Then We sent Moses and his brother Aaron with Our signs and authority manifest.
Muhammad when challenged by unbelievers to do miracles refused, therefore failing to confirm himself as a true messenger of the true God and it witnessed in the Qur’an the sole authority for faith and practice in the Islamic faith. (Sura 2:118; 3:183; 4:153; 6:8, 9, 37).
“They will say: ‘Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?’”
The unique feature of Christianity and Judaism is our Scripture is reinforced by miraculous confirmation, ultimately the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No other world religion has this since only a true messenger will be confirmed by a true miracle. God is not a trickster and will not send true miracles to confirm a false messenger.
The unity of the Bible also gives it great credibility. As mentioned in the article The Nature of God the multiple parts of the universe functioning in an orderly fashion point to one past, present and future cause, so does the 66 books contained in Scripture with its various authors pointing to one theme which is the cross and our future hope as it uses Israel, the priesthood and the sacrifices, all to prefigure a much greater and more significant reality through types and shadows.
Critics may say this isn’t so amazing, after all, all one so-called prophet needs to do is pick up the works of another prophet before him and carry on with the story. This all is of course assuming without reason that these authors anticipated their works would be preserved in pottery, in caves and in tombs to someday be discovered and venerated as Scripture in the minds and hearts of billions. I could read various books by many authors I greatly respect such as Norman Geisler, or William Lane Craig and out of my appreciation for their work I would write essays on their works. This does not mean in any way that I completely agree with all of their ideas, but the Biblical authors showed complete agreement in their works, without contradiction.
The archaeology also confirms (not proof) the truth contained in Scripture. According to archaeologist Nelson Glueck (1900-1971) “no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”. In other words: What is in the pages of scripture corresponds with what is in the soil. The Book of Mormon and the Qur’an cannot boast these claims.
The transforming power as attested to in scripture and in many changed lives can only be accounted for by the supernatural origins of the Bible. The disciples went from running and hiding when their master was arrested to being bold change agents in their world after they saw their resurrected Lord. No wonder Hebrews says “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” (4:12).
It is very true that Christianity has been misrepresented by the misuse of military power in the Crusades and at other isolated times earlier, but it is not true that this way of spreading the Gospel is the normative. Christianity has grown around the world by its spiritual power and not by political force. If anything it has faced political opposition.
There is one meaning contained in Scripture and many ways of expressing it. This is unique to the Bible and no other holy text. The Bible is confirmed by various miracles and widely attested to by eyewitness accounts and manuscript evidence. At the very least this is a book we can trust as a reliable historical document. It’s transforming power, its prophetic prowess and unity however confirm it as much more than being historically reliable rather it is divine in origin.
Recommended further reading:
Hank Hanegraaff: Has God Spoken?
Kenneth Kitchen: On the Reliability of the Old Testament.
Steven Collins: Let My People Go.
Geisler&Holden: Popular Handbook of Biblical Archaeology.
J Warner Wallace: God’s Crime Scene.
PROPHECIES UNIQUELY FULFILLED IN JESUS
- Born of a woman (Gen 3:15; cf. Gal 4:4). 2. Born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matt 1:21). (See Virgin Birth and Biblical Typology.). 3. Cut off (would die) 483 years after the declaration to reconstruct the temple in 444 B.C. (Daniel 9:24; this was fulfilled to the year. Hoehner, 115-38). 4. The seed of Abraham. (Gen 12:1-3&22:18; cf. Matt 1:1, Gal 3:16). 5. From the tribe of Judah. (Gen 49:10; cf. Luke 3:23,33 and Heb 7:14.). 6. A descendant of David. (2 Sam 7:12; cf. Matt 1:1). 7. Born in Bethlehem. (Mic 5:2; cf. Matt 2:1&Luke 2:4-7). 8. Anointed by the Holy Spirit. (Isa 11:2; cf. Matt 3:16-17). 9. Heralded by a messenger. (Isa 40:3&Mal 3:1; cf. Matt 3:1-2). 10. A worker of miracles (Isa 35:5-6; cf. Matt 9:35). 11. Cleanser of the temple. (Mal 3:1; cf. Matt 21:12). 12. Rejected by Jews. (Ps 118:22; cf. 1 Peter 2:7). 13. Die a humiliating death. (Ps 22&Isa 53; cf. Matt 27:31). His death would involve enduring rejection by His own people. (Isa 53:3; cf. John 1:10-11; 7:5, 48). He would be mocked. (Ps 22:7-8; cf. Matt 27:31). He would have hands and feet pierced. (Ps 22:16; cf. Luke23:33). He would be crucified with thieves. (Isa 53:12; cf. Mark 15:27-28). He would pray for His persecutors. (Isa 53:12; cf. Mark 15:27-28). His side would be pierced. (Zech 12:10; cf. John 19:34). He would be buried in a rich man’s tomb. (Isa 53:9; cf. Matt 27:57-60). They (His enemies) would cast lots for His garments. (Ps 22:18; cf. John 19:23-24). 14. He would be raised from the dead. (Ps 2:7&16:10; cf. Acts 2:31&Mark 16:6). 15. He would ascend into heaven. (Ps 68:18; cf. Acts 1:9). 16. He is sitting at the right hand of God. (Ps 110:1; cf. Heb 1:3).
MORE SUGGESTED READING:
Philosophical Foundations for a Christian World View: JP Moreland and William Lane Craig.
Christian Apologetics: Douglas Groothuis.
Introduction to Philosophy: Norman Geisler.
Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: Gary DeWeese and JP Moreland.