Monday, May 26, 2014

Faith in Jesus: Blind or Evidence-based?

In this Postmodern culture we live in that is mostly controlled by the Humanists/Atheists that have power and influence in the academic world, the word "faith" has acquired negative connotations.  According to Richard Dawkins, faith, in the context of religion, is based on zero evidence.  In his video "Faith Can't Survive Unless It Glorifies Ignorance", Scott Horlbeck asserts that the bible tells us that you can't trust reason (of course he provides ZERO evidence for this).  

Anyone who seriously studies the bible knows that the Bible never defines faith as a blind, leap into the dark without any evidence supporting it; in fact, it's quite the opposite.           

Jesus never called people to blindly believe in him:

Atheists who assert that faith in Jesus requires blind gullibility that has no evidence backing it up clearly haven't read or studied the Gospels.  Let's look at a few passages to see what kind of faith Jesus is calling for:

John 10:22-39:  "Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.  The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.'  

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.'

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?'

'We are not stoning you for any good work,' they replied, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'

Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your Law, "I have said you are 'gods'" If he called them "gods," to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set asidewhat about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?  Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, "I am God’s Son"?  Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.'  Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp."

As we can see, Jesus never told people to blindly believe in him when he claimed to be God in human form; instead, he told them that they should believe in the evidence that pointed towards his claims being true, which was his hospitality and kindness towards others, the contents of his ethical teachings, and the miracles that he was performing.  In verses 37-38 of John 10, Jesus is clearly saying that if you don't accept his claims to be God in human form at face value, then you should believe his claims to be God in human form on the basis of his actions, his teachings, and the miracles he was performing.

The clearest example of Jesus giving evidence to support his claim to be God in human form can be found in the gospel of Mark:

Mark 2:1-12:  "A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.  They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.  Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, 'Why are you thinking these things?  Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Get up, take your mat and walk"?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.' So he said to the man, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.'  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!'” 

Jesus expected everyone to believe the evidence that supported his claim to be God in human form, including his disciples:

John 14:1-14:  "'Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.'

Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?'

Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.'

Philip said, 'Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'

Jesus answered: 'Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father"?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.  Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.'"

In verses 9-11, Jesus is essentially saying this to Phillip:  "You've followed me around and lived with me closely for three years; you've heard all my teachings.  You've heard all my claims to be God, and you saw me perform miracles to back up my claims to be God.  I've given you all this evidence that I am God; how can you ask me to show you God?  Don't you believe me?"  

The Faith of the Apostles was based on evidence:

The Apostles didn't display blind, gullible faith when they started to preach to everyone about Jesus; they quite clearly claimed to be eyewitnesses who saw the evidence that backed up Jesus' claims to be God in human form: 

Acts 10:34-43:  "Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.'”

Peter made it crystal clear that he wasn't lying or making up things when he preached about Jesus: 

2 Peter 1:16-21:  "For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain."

John, another one of Jesus' twelve disciples, also claimed to be an eyewitness of everything that Jesus said and did:

1 John 1:1-4:  "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete."

As we can see, the Apostles faith in Jesus was not based on blind gullibility.  They walked closely with Jesus for three years:  They observed his hospitality and acts of kindness towards all people, they heard all of his teachings, and they observed him perform miracles to back up his claims to be God in human form.

The apostles had more than enough evidence to justify placing their faith in him.  

We don't need to be an eyewitness of Jesus to believe in him:

Now I can already hear what some people will say:  "That's nice, but what about all us people who live 2,000 years after Jesus was on the Earth?  How can we place our faith in someone that we've never seen?"

Thankfully, Jesus pointed out that you didn't have to observe his life with your own eyes in order to put your faith in him:

John 20:24-29:  "Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!'

But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'  Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'

Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'

Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'"

Jesus is not only saying that you can believe in him without having observed his life with your own senses; Jesus asserts that those who believe in him despite having not observed his life with their own eyes are actually blessed.  Every follower of Jesus who came after Jesus ascended up to heaven would fall under this category.

All the New Testament Documents were written before 70 AD:  

Since none of us observed Jesus while he was walking around on Earth 2,000 years ago, we have to rely on the Gospels to give us the historical facts about Jesus.  I can already hear this question coming up:

"We know the Gospels were written in the historical narrative style, but how do we know that they're giving us accurate history?  Weren't they written long after Jesus was gone?"

The answer is no.  Not only were the Gospels written early, but I believe that all the letters of the New Testament cannon were written before the destruction of Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans in 70 AD.  Here is some evidence supporting that assertion:

The destruction of Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans in 70 AD is easily the most traumatic event in Jewish history, and yet there is no mention whatsoever of this tragedy in any of the New Testament documents.  

I find that amazing because Jesus predicts the Destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, and yet not a single one of the New Testament writers mentions that the prophecy was fulfilled.  If the New Testament documents were written after 70 AD like many assert, and I was writing one of those documents, I would have said "remember when Jesus predicted that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed within 40 years?  It came true!  Only God could make such an accurate prophecy!"

The only logical conclusion to why the fulfillment of that prophecy wasn't mentioned is because the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple hadn't occurred yet at the time of the writings.  Now before everyone accuses me of making an argument from silence, let's look at the book of Revelation.

Everyone agrees that Revelation was the last of the New Testament documents to be written, and most scholars assert that the book was written in 95 AD.  However, this website makes a solid argument that Revelation was written in 69 AD, just prior to the Destruction of Jerusalem.  While they make many points supporting that assertion, there is one point they make that definitely shows that Revelation was written before 70 AD.

In Revelation 1:4, John addresses the letter "to the seven churches in the province of Asia...", which is also called western Asia Minor.  As Revelation 2-3 reveals, the locations of those churches are in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  There is only one time frame in history where these churches made up all the churches in western Asia Minor, and that was in the 60s AD, before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

If Revelation was written before 70 AD, that means that all of the New Testament documents, including the Gospels, were written before Revelation.

The Gospels were written within 30 years of the Life of Jesus:

The next question becomes, when exactly were the Gospels written?  

Virtually all scholars agree that 1 Corinthians, which was Paul's first letter, was written between 53-57 AD.  In this letter, Paul writes the following:  

1 Corinthians 11:23-26:  "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."

Paul appears to be quoting from Luke here:

Luke 22:19-23:  "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' 

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.  The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!'  They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this."

Since 1 Corinthians was written between 53-57 AD, that means that Luke was written before 1 Corinthians.  Since we know that Luke repeated and quoted passages from Mark and Matthew, both Mark and Matthew had to have been written before Luke.  In other words, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within roughly 20 years of Jesus' life.  

While John's gospel was written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we know that it wasn't written too much longer after.  How do we know this?  In 1 Timothy 6:13, Paul makes a reference to the conversation Jesus had with Pilate, which was recorded in the gospel of John.  Since 1 Timothy was written in 64 AD, John's gospel had to have been written before that.  In other words, the gospel of John was written within 30 years of Jesus' lifetime.

On page 245 of "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist", Geisler & Turek write: 

"If the New Testament was written within 60 years of the events it records, it is highly unlikely that those events could be legendary."  

As I have shown, not only were all the New Testament documents written within before 70 AD, but the four gospels were all written within 30 years of the life of Jesus, with Matthew, Mark, and Luke written within about 20 years of the life of Jesus.  That means that the majority of the eyewitnesses were still alive when the New Testament documents were being written down.  


Since the Gospels were written within 30 years of the life of Jesus, which is during the age of the eyewitnesses, and the writings of Josephus, Celsus, Serapion, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, Seutonius, and Tacitus regarding Jesus and the early Christians are congruent with the New Testament (see my post titled "The Historicity of Jesus Christ, The Gospels, and The New Testament"), we can trust the gospels to give us accurate history about Jesus.  That means that we can see the evidence that Jesus provided to back up his claims to be God in human form even though he walked the earth 2,000 years ago.  

Since the Apostles' faith in Jesus was based on their observations of his actions, teachings and miracles, and since Jesus himself encouraged people to believe his claims by looking at the evidence he provided, it is as clear as day that the myth that Jesus and the Bible ask us to have a blind, gullible faith based on zero evidence is categorically false.   

The final question is, will you accept the historical evidence that Jesus provided supporting his claim to be God in human form?  Will you put your trust in Jesus and submit to him?  Whether or not you do it is up to you, but if you choose to ignore that historical evidence, then your rejection is based on volition rather than reason and truth.  God allows us to do that because he respects our free will.  Geisler & Turek explain it beautifully on page 31 of "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist":

"One beauty of God's creation is this: if you're not willing to accept Christianity, then you're free to reject it. This freedom to make choices--even the freedom to reject truth--is what makes us moral creatures and enables each of us to choose our ultimate destiny. This really hits at the heart of why we exist at all, and why God might not be as overt in revealing himself to us as some would like. For if the bible is true, then God has provided each of us with the opportunity to make an eternal choice to either accept him or reject him. And in order to ensure that our choice is truly free, he puts us in an environment that is filled with evidence of his existence, but without his direct presence--a presence so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him. In other words, God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet he has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling. In this way, God gives us the opportunity either to love him or to reject him without violating our freedom. In fact, the purpose of this life is to make that choice freely and without coercion. For love, by definition, must be freely given. It cannot be coerced."

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