12 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus Second

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – MARCH 28, 2017

Today’s skeptics of Jesus’s resurrection sometimes state that religious people are too quick to accept reports about miracles. Those who doubt the miraculous often insist that miracle claims aren’t usually sufficiently questioned. But was this the case among Jesus’s apostles concerning the resurrection?

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I briefly addressed three evidences for Jesus’s resurrection. In this article I’ll present one more reason in our series of 12 evidences for believing in the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

4. Extraordinary Transformation of the Apostles

The New Testament describes a remarkable and enduring transformation of 11 of Jesus’s disciples. These frightened, defeated cowards after Jesus’s crucifixion soon became bold preachers and, in some cases, martyrs. They grew courageous enough to stand against hostile Jews and Romans even in the face of torture and martyrdom. Such amazing transformation deserves an adequate explanation, for human character and conduct does not change easily or often. Because the apostles fled and denied knowing Jesus after he was arrested, their courage in the face of persecution seems even more astonishing. The disciples attributed the strength of their newfound character to their direct, personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus. In Jesus Christ’s resurrection, the apostles found their existential reason to live—and die.

According to the earliest reports concerning Jesus’s resurrection, three of the men Jesus appeared to were either initially highly skeptical of the truth of the resurrection or adamantly opposed to Jesus’s claims to be the messiah. Those three were Thomas, James, and Saul (who would become Paul), all of whom were predisposed to dismiss the truth of the resurrection. Since Paul’s conversion will be addressed later, let’s consider the stunning impact Jesus’s resurrection had on Thomas and James.

Thomas the Doubter

While Thomas was one of the original 12 apostles, he was not among the first of Jesus’s followers to see the risen Christ. Upon hearing the report from his fellow disciples concerning Jesus’s bodily resurrection, he doubted its truth. The Gospel of John conveys Thomas’s skepticism: “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” (John 20:25).

Though a follower of Jesus, Thomas was highly skeptical and needed direct, empirical evidence of Jesus’s actual bodily resurrection before he would believe the claim of his fellow disciples. Thomas demanded evidence of a concrete, empirical nature. He demonstrated tough-mindedness when it came to claims of the miraculous, even when the testimony came from his close friends and associates. Yet according to John’s Gospel, Thomas soon had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus that more than satisfied his doubts:

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!”
–John 20:26–28

If the resurrection was merely a concocted mythical story, it is highly unlikely that it would include the claim that one of the original 12 disciples seriously questioned Jesus’s resurrection.

James the Family Skeptic

The Gospels convey that prior to the resurrection, Jesus’s brothers were highly dismissive of his messianic claims (see Mark 6:3–4 and John 7:5). In fact, Jesus’s family viewed him as suffering from mental delusion (Mark 3:21, 31–35). Yet the early creed that Paul had been given by the apostles (which included James) reported that Jesus had appeared to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7). James then became one of the critical leaders of the early Christian church, even holding unique authority at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:12–21). Sources in church history convey that James was later martyred for his belief in Jesus Christ.

What accounts for James’s amazing change of heart from undoubtedly being deeply embarrassed by his brother’s claims to becoming a distinguished leader in the early church, and finally to even undergo martyrdom? The resurrection seems to best account for this radical transformation in James’s understanding and perspective. James claimed to have seen his brother alive after his public execution, and that event changed everything.

So it appears that Thomas and James seriously questioned the actual truth of Jesus’s resurrection, the way skeptics demand.

Reflections: Your Turn

Of Thomas and James, whose transformation seems more remarkable? Why? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

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Did Moses Write the Torah? A Brief Positive Case for Mosaic Authorship, Part 1

BY TRAVIS CAMPBELL – DECEMBER 27, 2019

The notion that Moses actually lived and wrote the first five books of the Bible has long been rejected in academic circles and is now being increasingly questioned among conservative Old Testament (OT) scholars. However, since Mosaic authorship is the traditional view of the church, it would be unwise for Bible believers to reject Moses’s involvement in the production of the Torah (or Pentateuch, the first five books). Indeed, while the Torah probably did not come into its final form until the sixth century BC, there are at least five good lines of internal evidence suggesting that Moses (thought to have lived around the fifteenth century BC) authored the Torah. We will look at two of those reasons here in the first part of a two-part series.

  1. Hebrew Consistency

The Hebrew of the Torah, though similar in many respects with the rest of the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible), is consistent with the theory that Moses wrote it during the fifteenth century BC. Richard Hess, professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages, explains:

[T]he language of the Pentateuch is similar to that of the remainder of the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of the tendency to spell words with fewer vowel letters. This seems to betray a greater antiquity. However, the absence of distinctive features within the grammar of the Pentateuch, features that can definitely be recognized as possessing greater antiquity than the remainder of the Hebrew Bible, implies one of three possibilities: (1) The entire Hebrew Bible was written at about the same time; (2) there is no history to the Hebrew language so that it did not change over a period of a thousand years of usage; or (3) the Pentateuch, though written earlier, was edited or updated at a later period so that its language would conform to that of the remainder of the Bible.1

Hess favors the third option and suggests that evidence for an earlier dating of the Hebrew text may have been lost in the process of transmission. He also notes that scholars think some poetry would not need to be updated so as to preserve its form. Thus, some early verbal forms are used in Exodus 15 in the past narrative sense, implying a date for its writing consistent with the traditional date.

The similarity in language between all sections of the Hebrew Bible, then, is explained by the updating of the Pentateuch and prophetic oracles under the direction of Ezra and the Great Synagogue around 500 BC.

  1. Non-Palestinian Perspective

The Torah was written from a Non-Palestinian point of view, to an audience more familiar with Egypt and Sinai than the land of Canaan, suggesting a date for the writing of the Torah long before the sixth or even tenth century BC. As an example, we offer the following text:

Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. (Genesis 13:10, NASB)

This passage implies that its author and his readers/hearers knew what Egypt was like, but were not very familiar with Palestine. It is difficult to see how or why a tenth century BC (or later) author, living in Palestine and writing to an audience born and raised in the land of Israel, would want to express himself in this way. However, this text makes sense if Moses wrote to a primarily Egyptian-born audience. In this connection, the author of Genesis tells his readers about “the city of Shechem in Canaan” (Genesis 33:18). Why would a postexilic (after 538 BC) writer, or even a writer living in tenth century (BC) Palestine, feel the need to explain what Shechem—one of the most prominent cities north of Jerusalem—was? Note also that, as far as the geographical point of view of the narrator of the Exodus story is concerned, “The seasons and the weather referred to in the narrative are Egyptian, not Palestinian.”2

Counterevidence?

Of course, some scholars have argued that the Egyptian evidence we are citing is a double-edged sword. Since the late nineteenth century scholars have insisted that, had a contemporary of the exodus generation written this material, he would have given us the names of the various kings mentioned in Genesis and Exodus. However, this phenomenon actually favors the Mosaic theory; for as long as the Hebrews lived in Egypt, they would naturally follow the ordinary custom of the New Kingdom by referring to the king of Egypt as “Pharaoh.”

It is not until long after the Israelites are settled in their land, during the reign of Solomon and thereafter, that they adopt the practice of giving the names of the Egyptian pharaohs (cf. 1 Kings 11:402 Kings 23:29Jeremiah 44:30). “Hence instead of being an evidence of lateness, this conformity to Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian usage turns out to be strong evidence of an authentic Mosaic date of composition.”3

In fact, no author of the OT utilized Egyptian loanwords more than the writer of the Pentateuch. For example, “. . . the expression ’abrēk (Gen 41:43—translated ‘bow the knee’) is apparently the Egyptian ’b rk (‘O heart, bow down!’), although many other explanations have been offered for this; weights and measures, such as zeret (‘a span’) from drt—‘hand’;  ēphah (tenth of a homer) from ’pthīn (about five quarts volume) from hnwgōme’ (‘papyrus’) from ḳmytqemahi (‘flour’) from ḳm ḥw (a type of bread); . . . ye’ōr (‘Nile, river’) from ’trw—‘river’ (which becomes eioor in Coptic).”4

Hence, it is reasonable to accept the conclusions of respected researcher Garrow Duncan, who wrote, “Thus we cannot but admit that the writer of these two narratives [i.e., of Joseph and of the Exodus] . . . was thoroughly well acquainted with the Egyptian language, customs, belief, court life, etiquette and officialdom; and not only so, but the readers must have been just as familiar with things Egyptian.”4

Summarizing the Evidence

If the author and readers of the Pentateuch were Hebrews who were thoroughly acquainted with all things Egyptian, we must ask—which generation of Hebrews fits this description? The only answer, of course, is Moses and the Exodus generation. And this, indeed, provides us with strong circumstantial evidence for the Mosaic theory.

So far, we have seen two strong reasons to think Moses wrote the Torah. Defense of the traditional view becomes especially significant when we consider that Jesus himself affirmed Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (see Matthew 19:1–12, for example). In part two, we will look at several more lines of evidence for this traditional viewpoint.

 

Endnotes
  1. R. S. Hess, “Language of the Pentateuch,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 494–95.
  2. Hess, “Language,” 495.
  3. Hess, “Language,” 495.
  4. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, exp and rev ed (Chicago: Moody Press, 2007), 95-96.
  5. J. Garrow Duncan, New Light on Hebrew Origins (London: Macmillan, 1936), 176; quoted in Archer, Survey, 95-96 (n. 14).

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RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Individual freedoms Of A Liberal Democracy

By Will Myers

Our U.S. Constitution explicitly states that each citizen or human being has inalienable rights to seek a fulfilling, happy life without any person, group, or organization interfering with given rights. Our case laws have further placed emphasis on the “right to be let alone” by extending considerations into daily human affairs.  The rights are fundamental entitlements by merely being a human being. This has been recently labeled as a “liberal democracy.”

When there was a surge of communism in America after world war II, we had a well-defined reaction and began cutting the heads off of the snake commies. We kept our democracy. With the aid of intense public relations villainizing the clean sweep of communists in America and the computer which stores an enormous amount of information about a private citizen has enabled the commies to creep back. Now, we have hyper-communism growing with leaps and bounds. The surveillance of each citizen is now possible with never before capabilities. The social machinery exists at present needed to claim the mind of each citizen. It only needs to be implemented to its fruition.

Special interest groups (SIG) who monitor private citizens and orchestrate adversity into their lives are moving us from our goal of a liberal democracy unto hyper-communism whereas the individual loses the fundamental right to “be let alone.” An expert on governments once stated that regardless of the supreme knowledge that the person, group, or organization possesses, and desires to educate another person, the right “to be let alone” is far superior to being indoctrinated by such person, group, or organization.

From personal experiences on the job training quickly became a monster working to mold my life. This is hardcore communism. The encountering of strangers abroad, showing familiarity,  caused conflicts in my life; the monster was feeding on my life; the monster of hyper-communism. Our laws of the nation have been in the spirit of liberal democracy whereas the U.S. laws, more than any other nation, respect the freedom of conscience in the spirit of the right “to be let alone.” We are losing this freedom rapidly. This is shown by the increase of mass killings which is caused by the breach of our right “to be let alone.”  Our consciences are being invaded by SIG.

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STATE OF THE UNION AS AFFECTING THE INDIVIDUAL

By Will Myers

America has always been the leader of individual freedoms, but this has taken a turn, a reversal. With the advancement of technology, special interest groups (SIG who monitors private citizens and targets) are stealing our freedoms; stealing our free democracy. The U.S. Constitution has been codified being guided by the spirit of individual freedom with respect to our Lord Christ Jesus.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We hear about entities that are synonymous with the SIG snake organization such as big brother and police state but never about how to resolve such problems. As overwhelming as the problems are the answer is simple. All persons must obey the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you without displaying a duel value behavior. Listen to no-one about another person; get to know the person yourself; at least from reliable resources for the good of Christ. This is the basis for our democracy.  The SIG snakes are of the communist state.

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Tool Use and Mental Well-Being

BY HUGH ROSS – SEPTEMBER 23, 2019

If you ever watched Tim Allen on Tool Time, the handyman show within the television show Home Improvement, you saw a man who always expressed joy in using some tool or set of tools to fix or solve a problem. Allen (as Tim “The Toolman” Taylor) portrayed what is inherent in us all. All human beings find satisfaction and fulfillment when we successfully use a tool—or better yet, several tools—to fix or solve something that has stumped or vexed us. Research affirms that this fulfillment in humans and some animals appears to result from a Creator’s endowment.

For humans, tools can be tangible, like screwdrivers and crowbars, or abstract, like mathematical equations or computer software. People who use tools and are consistently successful in their tool use tend to be happier and more optimistic than people who are not.

Successful tool use ranks as just one example of how performing certain complex behaviors improves the mental state of humans. (Others that have been scientifically tested and affirmed include altruistic giving,playing sports,and working to achieve concrete goals.3) Interestingly, animals have been shown to benefit from tool use as well.

Environmental Effects on the Mental States of Birds and Mammals
Many experiments have demonstrated that for birds and mammals environmental enrichment generates optimistic responses whereas environmental deprivation brings on pessimistic responses. Experiments performed on rats, pigs, and starlings establish that when these animals are housed with environmental enrichment they show strong tendencies toward optimistic behavior, but when housed with environmental deprivation they show strong tendencies toward pessimistic behavior.4

Behavioral Effects on Tool-Using Crows
A few weeks ago researchers addressed the question of whether the emotional state of nonhuman animals is positively influenced by willingly initiated complex behaviors like tool use. A team of six zoologists and psychologists led by Harvard University’s Dakota McCoy conducted experiments on fifteen temporarily captured wild New Caledonian crows to test this hypothesis.5 They only experimented on crows that had no previous experience in an aviary or laboratory. Each crow was presented with four different circumstances:

  1. where it could get a food treat out of a box by just using its beak
  2. where it needed to use a tool to get the treat
  3. where little physical effort was needed to get the treat with or without a tool
  4. where much physical effort was needed to get the treat with or without a tool

McCoy’s team noted that the “crows approached the ambiguous stimulus significantly faster in tool use condition trials, where they used a tool to extract a meat block from an apparatus, then in no tool trials.”6 The stimulus was ambiguous in that the crows did not know ahead of time whether there would be a food reward. The team claimed that “measuring approach speed, in this spatial paradigm specifically reveals the ‘wanting’ component, from which we can infer affective ‘liking.’”7 McCoy and her collaborators therefore concluded that “wild New Caledonian crows are optimistic after tool use”8 and that their finding “cannot be explained by the crows needing to put more effort into gaining food.”9

McCoy’s team limited their experiments to wild crows that had no previous laboratory experience or any kind of developed relationship with human beings. As I explain in Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job,10 we see an even more dramatic mental health outcome for crows and ravens that are emotionally bonded to a human being. They especially enjoy showing off their tool-using skills to humans with whom they possess a strong emotional bond.

When my father was a young man, he had a pet raven. (Ravens, both biologically and mentally, are very similar to New Caledonian crows.) He built a large cage for the raven and equipped it with several different locks. The raven would hop into the cage, wait for my father to lock it inside, and then proceed to use different metal slivers that my father placed inside the cage to pick the lock, open the cage door, and hop out. The raven would then wait for my father to change out the lock with a more challenging lock, then hop back inside the cage, wait for my father to lock it in, and proceed to pick the second lock, open the cage door, and hop out.

My father told me that his pet raven was happiest when it was picking his locks but that his raven only wanted to pick the locks if he was close by and observing its lock-picking talents. My father also noted that his raven’s joy was most pronounced when it had successfully picked the most challenging of the locks. Apparently, his raven especially loved to show off its intelligence and skills to the human with whom it had a strong emotional bond.

Theological Implications
These observations seem consistent with conclusions drawn from Genesis 1, which describes God creating three different kinds of life:

  1. purely physical life-forms (such as plants)
  2. nephesh life-forms (life-forms that are not just physical but also soulish in that they possess mind, will, and emotions, the capability of forming emotionally bonded relationships with human beings, and an innate desire to serve and please human beings)
  3. a spiritual species (human beings endowed with the capacity to form a relationship with God and an innate desire to serve and please God)

In other words, the Bible teaches that among all Earth’s life the nephesh species (including crows) are exceptional, and that among all nephesh species human beings are exceptional. The experiments performed by McCoy’s team provide additional scientific evidence for both nephesh exceptionalism and human exceptionalism. Their experiments also yield insights into improving the mental health of both nephesh animals and human beings. Regularly employing all the gifts and talents God has given us really does make a difference in our well-being.

Endnotes
  1. Robert B. Cialdini and Douglas T. Kenrick, “Altruism as Hedonism: A Social Development Perspective on the Relationship of Negative Mood State and Helping,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34, no. 5 (November 1976): 907–14, doi:10.1037//0022-3514.34.5.907; Stephen G. Post, “Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good,” International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 12, no. 2 (June 2005): 66–77, https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327558ijbm1202_4.
  2. David Carless and Kitrina Douglas, Sport and Physical Activity for Mental Health (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), doi:10.1002/9781444324945; Nick Caddick and Brett Smith, “The Impact of Sport and Physical Activity on the Well-Being of Combat Veterans: A Systematic Review,” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 15, no. 1 (January 2014): 9–18, doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.09.011.
  3. Kennon M. Sheldon and Andrew J. Elliot, “Goal Striving, Need Satisfaction, and Longitudinal Well-Being: The Self-Concordance Model,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 76, no. 3 (March 1999): 482–97, doi:10.1037/0022-3514.76.3.482.
  4. Nichola M. Bridges et al., “Environmental Enrichment Induces Optimistic Cognitive Bias in Rats,” Animal Behaviour 81, no. 1 (January 2011): 169–75, doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.09.030; Stephanie M. Matheson, Lucy Asher, and Melissa Bateson, “Larger Enriched Cages Are Associated with ‘Optimistic’ Response Biases in Captive European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris),” Applied Animal Behavior Science 109, nos. 2–4 (February 2008): 374–83, doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2007.03.007; Catherine Douglas et al., “Environmental Enrichment Induces Optimistic Cognitive Biases in Pigs,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 139, nos. 1–2 (June 2012): 65–73, doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2012.02.018.
  5. Dakota E. McCoy et al., “New Caledonian Crows Behave Optimistically after Using Tools,” Current Biology 29, no. 16 (August 19, 2019): 1–6, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.080.
  6. McCoy et al., “New Caledonian Crows,” 3.
  7. McCoy et al., 3.
  8. McCoy et al., 1.
  9. McCoy et al., 1.
  10. Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 153.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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12 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus,

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – MARCH 21, 2017

Christian apologist Walter Martin used to say that the real death rate is one per person, meaning that each person’s death is a matter of when, not if. Therefore, because we are mortal creatures and thus stalked by death, if Jesus Christ actually conquered death through his resurrection, then this is the most important news for all human beings to hear and to reflectively consider. The inevitability of death should motivate Christians to share the message of the resurrection.

In part 1 of this series, I briefly addressed two evidences for Jesus’s resurrection. In this article I’ll present one more reason in our series of 12 evidences for believing that Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead actually happened.

3. Short Time Frame between Actual Events and Eyewitness Claims

Support for the factual nature of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead comes from eyewitness testimonies that were reported soon after the events happened. The apostle Paul claims both that he saw the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:1–1922:6–1626:12–23) and that others witnessed the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3) prior to his personal encounter. Paul asserts in his writings that he received the firsthand testimony from Jesus’s original apostles who were witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection even before him.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he employs a creedal statement about the resurrection that dates to the earliest period of Christianity.1 This creed is believed, even by critical scholars (those who doubt the supernatural), to be part of the original Christian kerygma (“proclamation”—representing the earliest preaching and teaching message of Christianity). This early statement of faith that Paul relays mentions by name two of Jesus’s apostles who said they had seen the resurrected Christ. These two apostles are Peter (one of the original 12 apostles and principal spokesperson of primitive Christianity) and James (the brother of Jesus who was also an early apostolic leader).

Here is that early creedal statement as the apostle Paul weaved it into his first Corinthian epistle:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

–1 Corinthians 15:3–7

Paul’s statement gives us a fourfold formula of the primitive Christian proclamation as it relates to Jesus’s death and resurrection:

  1. Christ died.
  2. He was buried.
  3. He was raised.
  4. He appeared.

This time frame evidenced in the early creed places the original proclamation by the first apostles about Jesus’s resurrection very near to the time of Jesus’s death and resurrection. This development has led even critical New Testament scholars to be amazed at the early and reliable testimony evident in Paul’s writings. In fact, distinguished New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn states, “This tradition [of Jesus’s resurrection and appearances], we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’s death.”2

Therefore, given the short interval of time between the early eyewitness testimonies about Jesus’s resurrection and the actual event itself (a mere matter of months), these accounts must be considered historically credible. There was clearly no time for myth, legend, or embellishment to accrue around the initial resurrection reports.

Watch for the next article in this series as we continue briefly considering 12 evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Reflections: Your Turn

Since death is one of the big questions of life, doesn’t that make the message of Jesus’s resurrection a topic relevant to all people? Is this a probative philosophical way of approaching evangelism? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. For more about these primitive Jewish-Christian creeds, see Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students, vol. 2 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999), 268.
  2. James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 855.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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How Apologetics Impacts Conversion: A Historical Case Study, Part 2

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – OCTOBER 22, 2019

How does the defense of the faith (apologetics) impact a person’s coming to embrace the faith (conversion)? As mentioned in part 1 of this four-part series, in historic Christianity the apologetics enterprise is often viewed as a tool to remove intellectual obstacles that may stand in the way of a person’s consideration and possible acceptance of the faith.

We’re examining the historical case of Augustine of Hippo (354–430) in which six specific apologetics-related factors contributed to one of the most famous conversions to the Christian faith ever. Augustine would later ascribe all of these elements to the providential grace of God at work behind the scenes of his life. These six features can be considered a broad apologetic model for how God, through his sovereign grace, prepares people for faith.

Let’s now introduce the first factor that removed a critical obstacle and thus paved the way for Augustine’s conversion to the Christian faith.

  1. Removing Philosophical Objections to Christianity

Augustine’s interaction with the philosophy of Neoplatonism (a strand of Platonic philosophy popular in the third century AD and associated with the philosopher Plotinus) helped him overcome the last vestiges of Manichaeism (a cultic religion that mixed pagan and Christian elements) in his thinking. Augustine’s materialism, which was part of Manichaean belief, kept him from envisioning the Christian God as an immaterial reality, and he struggled to understand how evil could emerge in a world made by such a supposedly benevolent God. Some philosophical concepts inherent in Neoplatonism helped answer these objections. The distinguished historian of philosophy, Frederick Copleston, explains:

At this time Augustine read certain Platonic treatises in the Latin translation of Victorinus, these treatises being most probably the Enneads of Plotinus. The effect of neo-Platonism was to free him from the shackles of materialism and to facilitate his acceptance of the idea of immaterial reality. In addition, the Plotinian conception of evil as privation rather than as something positive showed him how the problem of evil could be met without having to have recourse to the dualism of the Manichaeans. In other words, the function of neo-Platonism at this period was to render it possible for Augustine to see the reasonableness of Christianity, and he began to read the New Testament again, particularly the writings of St. Paul.1

So through the philosophical prism of Neoplatonism, Augustine came to see that materialism fails to account for the necessary conceptual, moral, and spiritual realities of life. He also came to embrace the Neoplatonic distinctive that while evil is real, it is not a substance or a stuff, but rather a privation (an absence of something good that should be in an entity). Thus, evil was not some “thing” created by God.

Augustine would later use Platonic or Neoplatonic concepts—to a certain degree—as a philosophical apparatus in order to explain and defend Christian truth claims. Though some have called Augustine a Christian Platonist philosopher and have criticized him for introducing Neoplatonic ideas into Christianity, the mature Augustine’s thinking was progressively transformed by Scripture and, thus, far less by Greek philosophy.2

As we consider Augustine’s experience as a case study, we see that elements of Neoplatonic philosophy helped remove philosophical difficulties that Augustine initially had with viewing Christianity as viably true. This shows that some aspects of pagan philosophy can serve as allies of sorts to some Christian truth claims. Thus, Augustine’s experience encourages us to become equipped to address philosophical objections to the faith.

In part 3 of this series we’ll examine other specific apologetics factors that facilitated Augustine’s move toward Christianity. Again, these factors can serve as a general model for how apologetics impacts evangelism.

Be sure to return next week to learn more about Augustine’s intellectual and spiritual transformation.

Reflections: Your Turn

Did apologetics factors impact your coming to faith in Christ? If so, visit Reflections on WordPress to share your experience in the comments.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 42–3.
  2. Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), s.v. “Plato, Platonism,” “Plotinus, The Enneads.”

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