Religion and/or Naturalism: New Life For an Old Debate

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Philosophical Apologetics deals with the rational defense of the Christian Faith. Philosophy means the love of wisdom. 1 One of the functions of philosophy is the attempt to describe the true nature of reality. 2 Philosophy of religion (a branch of philosophy) and apologetics (a branch of theology) overlap in certain areas. 3 Arguments for God’s existence, the philosophical problem of evil, the possibility of miracles, and the nature of morality are common to both philosophy of religion and apologetics. These topics will be examined in this section.

ATHEISM AND AGNOSTICISM

Atheism is the belief that it can be proven that God does not exist. 4 Agnosticism, on the other hand, is the belief that man cannot know whether or not God exists. 5 It is possible to hold weaker forms of either view. 6 However, this chapter is only concerned with refuting the more dogmatic forms of atheism and agnosticism. Only the stronger forms, if proven, would defeat theism. The weaker forms leave open the possibility of theism. However, both atheism and agnosticism, in their strongest forms, are self-refuting.

In order for one to disprove God’s existence (atheism), he would have to be all-knowing. 7 One would need to have the ability to see and know all things in the physical and spiritual realms. In short, one would have to be God to disprove God’s existence. Of course, this is absurd.

Agnosticism is also self-defeating. One must know something about God to know that nothing can be known about God. 8 Obviously, this statement refutes itself. Therefore, agnosticism, like atheism, is a self-refuting view.

Many agnostics say that since man is finite (limited), he can never attain knowledge of an infinite (unlimited) Being. It is true that the finite cannot find the infinite on its own. However, this ignores the possibility that the infinite Being may choose to reveal Himself to finite beings. This is exactly what Christianity claims. The Bible teaches that God reveals Himself through both nature (Romans 1:18-22; Psalms 19:1) and the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

DID MAN INVENT GOD?

Throughout history thinkers proclaimed their belief that God was a product of man’s imagination. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) taught that man, due to his fear of death, wishes God into existence. Man recognizes his limitations and fears. God is projected to calm these fears. In short, God is what man wishes to be. 9

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) saw two separate causes for man’s belief in God. First, Freud believed that each boy desires to have sexual relations with his mother. Because of this, he becomes jealous of his father and develops a hatred for him. Second, since man could not fully understand the forces of nature, he began to fear nature. Freud concluded that due to these two factors (man’s guilt for hating his father and man’s fear of nature), mankind deified nature and personalized it into a Father God. 10

It should be understood that the speculation of Feuerbach and Freud was never meant to be used as an argument against God’s existence. Instead, these two thinkers believed that God’s existence had already been proven false by the advances of modern science. Their views were promoted not to disprove God’s existence. Rather, they were promoted as a desperate attempt to explain why nearly all of mankind believes in a non-existent God. Therefore, the ideas of Feuerbach and Freud should not be considered evidence against God’s existence. Instead, their theories were merely attempts to explain away some of the evidence against their views. 11

Freud’s own theories can be used against him. For it seems more likely that atheism is caused by the desire to kill the father image, rather than theism being caused by man’s guilt for wanting to kill his father. 12 In man’s attempt to be autonomous, he wishes God out of existence.

Whatever the case, the speculation of Feuerbach and Freud seems itself to be wishful thinking by atheists. If men were to invent a God, it is doubtful that it would be the demanding God of the Bible. 13 Man would create a more permissive god, much like the gods of the pagan religions. In short, the theories of Feuerbach and Freud offer a more adequate explanation for atheism and idolatry than they do for Christianity. 14

A. J. AYER AND LOGICAL POSITIVISM

In the first half of this century, A. J. Ayer and his colleagues popularized their view of logical positivism. Logical positivism was based upon the verification principle. This principle declared that for a statement to be meaningful, it has to be either true by definition or verifiable by one or more of the five senses. 15 This meant that all discussion about God should be considered meaningless. 16

If true, this view would be very damaging for theism. Though it would not prove God’s nonexistence, it would make all talk about God meaningless. 17 If one cannot meaningfully talk about God, one cannot speculate about his possible existence.

The problem with the verification principle is that it is itself not true by definition or verifiable by one or more of the five senses. 18 In other words, the verification principle is self-refuting. If the verification principle is true, then it is itself meaningless, for it fails its own test. 19

If atheism is to deliver a fatal blow to theism, it will have to look elsewhere. Logical positivism has failed to render discussion about God meaningless.

IS RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE EQUIVOCAL?

Some have maintained that all talk about God is equivocal. 20 In other words, they believe that terms used to describe God have totally different meanings than when they are used in connection with finite beings such as man. If this is true, then man cannot know anything about God. If someone says God is holy, he has uttered a meaningless statement. For man knows what holiness means only when it refers to a man. Man has no idea of what holiness means when applied to God. What holiness means in reference to an infinite being (God) cannot be known by finite beings. If the theist is justified in his or her claims to know something about God, then this objection must be answered

Some theists have argued that terms used to describe God are univocal. 21 This means that they have totally the same meaning when used to describe both God and man. The problem with this view is that it is hard to believe that God is holy in the same way that man can be holy. For God is infinitely holy, whereas man is only finitely holy. Can holiness have the exact meaning for both man and God? It seems not.

Other theists contend that religious language is analogical. 22 They hold that terms used of God and man are not equivocal (totally different meanings) or univocal (totally the same meanings). Instead, terms used of God and man are only analogical (similar meanings). However, this view is also problematic. For if God-talk is analogical, then theologians are still using meaningless terms about God. For terms like “holiness” still lack the same meaning they hold when used of men. We can only know what holiness means when it is applied to man. It appears that there must be some univocal element to God-talk if it is to be meaningful. 23

The answer to this dilemma is to hold the view of Thomas Aquinas. He reasoned that words have the same meaning (univocal) when applied to either God or man However, Aquinas taught that they can only be applied in a similar (analogical) way. 24 Therefore, holiness means the same thing for both man and God. Still, it must be applied finitely to man and infinitely to God. Therefore, God-talk is not equivocal. Theists can meaningfully talk about God.

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE AND EXISTENTIALISM

Jean-Paul Sartre was a famous French philosopher and existentialist. He argued that if the theist persists in his assertion that everything needs a cause, then even God needs a cause. Therefore, the theist, according to Sartre, must argue that God caused His own existence. But, this would make God a self-caused being, which is impossible. 25 For a being to cause its own existence, it must exist before it existed in order to bring itself into existence. However, it is absurd to say that a being existed before it existed. Therefore, reasoned Sartre, since God is a self-caused being, He cannot exist.

However, no informed theist believes that everything (including God) needs a cause. Only dependent beings (beings that have a beginning) need a cause. Since God is an independent and eternal being, He does not need a cause. 26 God is not a self-caused being. He is an uncaused being. His existence needs no cause for He always existed.

Sartre also contended that since man is free, God cannot exist. In his view, if man is free (and Sartre believed so), then there could be no sovereign God. If a sovereign God exists, then men are robots. 27

There have been two ways that theists respond to this argument. One can take a hyper-Calvinistic position and deny human free will. 28 Or, one can simply maintain that God sovereignly chose to make man free. 29 Still, man is not absolutely free. He is free to disobey God and reject Christ, but he is not free to escape the God-ordained consequences of his actions. In short, neither of Sartre’s objections presents insurmountable problems for theism.

BERTRAND RUSSELL

The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell reasoned that if everything needs a cause, then so does God. But if God doesn’t need a cause, then neither does the universe. 30 As mentioned above, the theist responds to this by pointing out that not everything needs a cause. Only that which has a beginning needs a cause. Since God does not have a beginning, He needs no cause. 31

Secondly, there is both scientific and philosophical evidence that the universe had a beginning. Scientific evidence consists in the second law of thermodynamics (energy deterioration) and the big bang model. The second law of thermodynamics shows that the amount of usable energy in the universe is running down. Therefore, the universe will eventually cease to exist when all its energy is used up. But if the universe will have an end, it had to have a beginning. This means that the universe began with all its energy in a usable state. Hence, the universe had a beginning. 32

THE BIG BANG MODEL

The big bang model reveals that the universe is expanding at an equal rate in all directions. This is much like the effects of an explosion which blows debris in all directions. If one goes back in time, the universe would become more and more dense until the entire universe would be compressed into an infinitely small point. This would mark the beginning of the universe. 33

The scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe does not stand alone. Philosophical evidence can be found as well. For if the universe is eternal, there would be an infinite amount of actual events in the past. But then it would be impossible to reach the present moment. For no matter how many events one traverses, there will always be an infinite amount of events left. Hence, the present moment could never be reached. But the present moment has been reached. This reveals that there is only a finite amount of events in the past. Therefore, the universe had a first event. In other words, the universe had a beginning. 34

Bertrand Russell’s objection therefore loses its force. The universe cannot be eternal. It must have a cause. Eventually one must arrive at a first cause, a being that needs no cause. This uncaused being is what the theist calls God.

ALBERT CAMUS

The French existentialist Albert Camus authored the novel entitled The Plague. In this work, Camus argued that if God allowed the plague to occur, then to fight the plague is to fight God. Therefore, to be religious, one must be anti-humanitarian. Only the atheist can be a humanitarian and remain consistent with his beliefs. 35

However, though God permits the plague (symbolic for evil and human suffering) for the purpose of a greater good, He is nonetheless working to defeat the plague. 36 In fact, the greater good coming from God permitting the plague may include the godly man joining God to battle the plague. 37 Just because God allows something to occur does not make it in itself good. For God could and does allow evil to occur for the purpose of a good that He will bring from the evil.

Therefore, a person can be religious and also be humanitarian without going against his or her beliefs. On the other hand, what is to prevent the atheist from doing whatever he pleases? It seems that the Christian humanitarian is more consistent with his or her beliefs than the atheist is. For in atheism there is no final judgment and moral values are mere human inventions. Atheists are not being consistent with their world view whenever they condemn an action as wrong.

ANTHONY FLEW

British philosopher Anthony Flew claims that since there is no way to falsify God’s existence, to assert that He does exist is an incoherent statement. 38 Flew is famous for his parable of the invisible gardener. 39 In this parable, a believer and a non-believer come upon a garden in the midst of the wilderness. The believer assumes that there exists a gardener who cares for the garden. The non-believer, however, disagrees. He concludes that there is no gardener. They were not able to detect the existence of the gardener though they ran several tests. They did not see or hear him enter the garden. Even bloodhounds could not smell him. Rather than surrender his faith in the gardener, the believer reasons that the gardener must be invisible and unable to be detected by the five senses. The non-believer responds by stating that there is no difference between this invisible gardener and no gardener at all. In other words, if there is no way to falsify a view, then the view is worthless. 40

Flew declares that just as there is no way to falsify the existence of the invisible gardener, so too the existence of the Christian God cannot be falsified. In short, to claim that God exists is to make a meaningless statement. There is no way to prove it false.

In response to Flew’s objection, several things can be noted. First, the believer views the universe as dependent and in need of a cause. If there were no independent God, there would also be no dependent universe. If the universe could be shown to exist independent of any cause, then this would go a long way to falsifying the God hypothesis. However, scientific and philosophical arguments for an eternal and independent universe have not been successful. Recent thought seems to lead in the other direction. 41

Second, the God of the Bible is not a silent God who is unable to be detected. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are filled with prophecies that were fulfilled hundreds of years after they were recorded. 42 If these prophecies had failed, then the God of the Bible would be falsified.

Third, Christianity claims that the God of the Bible has become a man (John 1:1,14). The invisible gardener has taken visible form. Jesus claimed to be God incarnate. Jesus gave persuasive evidence for this claim by performing numerous miracles in the presence of eyewitnesses. His greatest miracle was when He rose from the dead and appeared to many eyewitnesses. If the first century Jewish religious leaders had produced the rotting corpse of Christ, they would have falsified Christ’s claims and crushed Christianity in its embryonic form. Despite the fact that the Jewish religious leaders had the desire and to do so, they did not produce the body. In a later chapter, the resurrection will be examined in greater detail. What needs to be noted here is that the belief in the existence of the God of the Bible is open to testing and falsification. Instead of claiming that God is an incoherent concept incapable of being falsified, Flew would do better to examine the supposed evidence for the Christian God and then attempt to prove as false the claim that He exists.

ARGUMENTS FROM CONTRADICTORY ATTRIBUTES

One attempt to refute the existence of God is to claim that the God of the Bible has certain characteristics that are contradictory. 43 If this can be proven, the Christian God cannot exist. This atheistic endeavor can take its form in several different arguments. Two examples will suffice.

Atheists often argue that if God is all-powerful, then He can do anything. This would include the ability to create a rock so large that even He cannot lift it. But if God cannot lift this rock, He is not all-powerful. Therefore, concludes the atheist, no all-powerful God can exist. 44

Though the theist agrees that God is all-powerful, he recognizes that there are some things which even an all-powerful being cannot do. Since an all-powerful being will always be able to accomplish whatever He sets out to do, it is impossible for an all-powerful being to fail. The above atheistic argument is arguing that since God is all-powerful He can do anything—even fail. This is like saying that since God is all-powerful He can be not all-powerful. Obviously, this is absurd. An all-powerful being cannot fail. Therefore, God can create a rock of tremendous size, but, since He is all-powerful, He will always be able to lift it. 45

There are several things that an all-powerful being cannot do: He cannot lie, sin, or change His mind (Numbers 23:19; James 1:13; 1 Samuel 15:29). Anything that indicates failure cannot be credited to God. 46

It should also be noted that God cannot do whatever is impossible by definition. For instance, God cannot create square circles. 47 He cannot create a human that is non-human. He cannot make something both exist and not exist at the same time.

In short, when one says that God is all-powerful, one means that God is able to accomplish all that He desires to do. It means that God can do everything that is possible. 48 But even an all-powerful being cannot do what is impossible by definition. God can do many things that are humanly impossible. However, there are some things that even an all-powerful being cannot do.

Therefore, since God is all-powerful, He will always be able to master His creation. He will always be able to lift any rock that He creates. And, since all that exists (besides Himself) is His creation, there is no rock, nor will there ever be a rock, that He cannot lift.

A second example of an argument against God from supposed contradictory attributes is as follows. If something is good simply because God wills it, then good is merely an arbitrary concept. But, if God wills it because it is good, then good is a standard above God. Therefore, either good is arbitrary or good is above God. 49

If the theist concedes either of these two propositions, the concept of God will be damaged. For if good is arbitrary, then calling God good says nothing more than He does what He wills to do. He doesn’t do what is right. He simply acts arbitrarily. Whatever He does automatically is considered right for the mere reason that it is an act of God.

If the theist takes the other alternative of the dilemma, the situation is no better. For if God decides to do something because it is good, it appears that there is a standard of right and wrong above God. But then God would not be the ultimate being. A necessary element of the traditional Christian concept of God is that He is the ultimate being. There is no being greater than God. However, God cannot be the ultimate being if there is a standard of right and wrong to which He must submit. The standard itself would be the ultimate being since it would be above God.

Those who use this objection against theism fail to acknowledge that God wills something because it is consistent with His own good nature. Therefore, the standard is not above God; God is the standard. 50 Thus, good is not arbitrary, for it is based upon God’s good nature. 51

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

Many atheists believe that the existence of evil is proof that an all-good and all-powerful God does not exist. 52 The significance of this argument requires that an entire chapter of this work be dedicated to its refutation. Therefore, discussion of this objection will be dealt with in a later chapter of this dissertation.

THE REAL PROBLEM WITH ATHEISTS

According to the Bible, the real problem with atheists is not an intellectual problem. Rather it is a moral problem. It is not that there is not enough evidence for God’s existence. Instead, the atheist chooses not to submit to the Creator. The Bible declares that those who act upon the truth will come to the light of Christ (John 3:16-21). On the other hand, those who suppress the truth of God’s existence are without excuse. For the invisible God has revealed His existence and power through His visible creation (Romans 1:18-23).

It appears that there are two opposing drives in each person. One is a thirst for God (John 6:35). The other is the drive for human autonomy (Romans 3:10-12). If a persons seeks God with all his heart, he will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). But if he chooses to continually reject the Creator, there is no amount of evidence that will change his mind, unless he chooses to sincerely consider the evidence. All that the Christian apologist can do is provide evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible and to refute arguments for atheism. Once a strong case for Christian Theism is made, the atheist must still choose to accept or reject the evidence. The inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the nonbeliever is necessary, but, in the end, the atheist must choose to follow that persuasion. The ultimate problem is not one of the intellect; it is a moral problem of the will. When all is said and done, one must choose God.

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler and Feinberg, 13.

2 Ibid., 17.

3 Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 13-14.

4 Geisler and Feinberg, 430.

5 Ibid., 429.

6 Ibid., 296.

7 Geisler, Apologetics, 233.

8 Geisler and Feinberg, 298-299.

9 Sahakian, History of Philosophy, 202.

10 Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion trans. W. D. Robson-Scott (New York: Double Day, 1964), 20-27.

11 Sproul, 49-50.

12 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 229.

13 Sproul, 58, 145-146.

14 Ibid.

15 Geisler and Feinberg, 50.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Geisler and Corduan, 252-271.

21 Ibid., 252.

22 Ibid., 253.

23 Ibid., 255.

24 Ibid., 263-264.

25 Geisler and Feinberg, 293.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., 295.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 6-7.

31 Geisler and Feinberg, 293.

32 Roy E. Peacock, A Brief History of Eternity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 67-69.

33 Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), 19-27.

34 Craig, 81.

35 Geisler and Corduan, 365.

36 Ibid., 365-366.

37 Ibid.

38 Hick, ed. The Existence of God, 224-226.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Craig, 73-95.

42 Henry M. Morris, Many Infallible Proofs (El Cajon: Master Books, 1974), 181-199.

43 Geisler and Feinberg, 294.

44 Ibid., 294-295.

45 Ibid., 273-274.

46 Geisler, Apologetics, 229.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Geisler and Feinberg, 226.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Geisler and Corduan, 295-385.

The Teleological Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The ontological argument tried to prove God’s existence a priori (prior to and apart from experience).1 It sought to establish God’s existence as definitionally true. Rather than trying to deduce God’s existence with logical necessity, defenders of the faith should argue inductively. Apologists must argue a posteriori (from the particulars of experience to God’s existence).2 Thus, they must aim for conclusions that are probable, though not rationally inescapable.

Inductive arguments argue from particulars to the whole.3 They, unlike deductive arguments (which argue from the whole to the particular), do not bring conclusions which are logically necessary. Inductive arguments, at best, only bring conclusions which have a high degree of probability.4 But this is no cause for alarm since almost all of man’s knowledge, if not all he knows, is based on probability.5 The ontological argument (the only deductive argument for God’s existence) has apparently failed. Therefore, Christian thinkers should argue inductively for God’s existence.

Three of the best known inductive arguments for God’s existence are the teleological, the moral, and the cosmological. This chapter will discuss the teleological argument, also known as the argument from design.6

ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHERS

The teleological argument may be the oldest argument for God’s existence.7 Many ancient Greek philosophers reasoned that the the order in the universe could only be accounted for by the workings of an intelligent mind.8 Plato agreed. He referred to God as the Demiurge, which means “hard worker.”9 Still, Plato’s Demiurge differs from the God of the Bible. For the Demiurge designed the cosmos out of preexisting chaotic matter.10 The Demiurge is the designer of the universe, but not the Creator (as He is in Christianity). Plato’s student Aristotle also argued for the existence of a divine Being due to the design in the universe.11

THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-1274)

Thomas Aquinas, the great Christian theologian and philosopher of the thirteenth century, is famous for his five ways to prove God’s existence.12 In Aquinas’ fifth way to prove God’s existence, he argued that some things in nature work towards certain goals despite the fact that they have no knowledge.13 But things without knowledge do not move towards a goal unless guided by something which has knowledge. Aquinas reasoned that just as an arrow requires an archer, so too everything in nature is guided towards its goal by someone with knowledge (God).14

WILLIAM PALEY (1743-1805)

William Paley is famous for his “watch-maker argument.”15 This is probably the best known teleological argument. Paley stated that if a person who had never seen a watch before was to find one in the wilderness, he would conclude that it is a product of intelligent design. 16 He would see that its several parts were put together for the purpose of producing motion. This motion is so well regulated that it is able to mark the time of the day with precision.17 The person would see that if there were any small variation in the shape, size, or position of the many parts of the watch, there would either be no motion at all or motion that would not serve the purpose of keeping time.18 The person would conclude that the watch must have a maker.19

Paley then looked at nature and saw evidence of design similar to that of the watch, but to a greater degree.20 He reasoned that there must be an intelligent Designer of the universe.

Paley’s argument is thought to have been refuted by David Hume, but, this does not appear to be the case. Paley wrote his argument thirty years after Hume’s supposed refutation was published. 21 The watch-maker argument is not vulnerable to the majority of Hume’s criticisms.22

HUME’S CRITICISMS OF THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

David Hume (1711-1776) raised objections against the teleological argument for God’s existence in his work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Several of his objections will be mentioned here. First, Hume reasoned that the Designer of the universe would not have to be infinite. Since the universe is finite, its Designer needs only to be finite. 23 However, if Hume was right and the Designer is only finite, then this Designer would also need a Designer. Eventually one would have to arrive at an infinite Designer. Otherwise, there would be no explanation for the design in the universe. For an infinite regress of designers is impossible (this point will be established in the chapter on the cosmological argument).

Second, Hume speculated that since there is evil in the world, one would be justified in assuming that the Designer of the world is Himself evil.24 The Christian could here argue that evil exists merely as a privation of that which is good.25 Hence, for a being to be totally evil, it would have to be non-existent.26 Therefore, it would be impossible for there to exist an infinite evil being.

Third, Hume reasoned that since ships are designed by multiple designers, the universe may have been designed by multiple designers.27 Proponents of the teleological argument respond to this criticism by simply emphasizing the unity found in the universe. For it is more probable that the this unity is caused by one Designer rather than several designers.28

There is evidence that Hume himself did not find these and other objections to the teleological argument unanswerable. The closing paragraph of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion implies that he found the teleological argument to be more probable than the objections he raised.29 Hume’s point seems to be that the case for Christianity based upon the teleological argument does not have a rationally certain conclusion.30 Still, he does express respect for this argument.

MODERN SCIENCE AND THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

It should also be noted that recent advances in modern science have strengthened the teleological argument.31 Science has uncovered that the highly complex information found in the genetic code of living organisms is similar to that of human language. Since human language is known to have been produced by intelligence, it is reasonable to conclude that living organisms were themselves produced by an intelligent Being.32

CONCLUSION

Defenders of the faith need to recognize that the case for Christian theism does not rest solely on the teleological argument.33 Rather, a combination of other arguments with the teleological argument strengthens the case for Christianity.34 In fact, the objections to the teleological argument can be easily bypassed by utilizing the cosmological argument at the outset to prove the existence of one uncaused Cause of all else that exists.35 Then the teleological argument can be used to show that this uncaused Cause must also be an intelligent Being.36 Therefore, the teleological argument does have a useful, though supplementary, role in proving the existence of the God of the Bible.37

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler and Feinberg, 288.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 57-58.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 129-131.

6 Craig, 66.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Sahakian, 54.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 70-71.

12 Aquinas, 13-14.

13 Ibid., 13.

14 Ibid., 14.

15 Craig, 68.

16 William Paley, Natural Theology: Selections edited by F. Ferre (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1963), 3-4.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 13.

21 Craig, 68.

22 Ibid.

23 Geisler and Corduan, 98.

24 Ibid.

25 Augustine, City of God, 508.

26 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 154-155.

27 Geisler and Corduan, 98.

28 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 65.

29 Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 95.

30 Moreland, 65.

31 Geisler and Corduan, 104.

32 Ibid.

33 Moreland, 65.

34 Ibid.

35 Geisler, Apologetics, 247-249.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

The Ontological Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The ontological argument for God’s existence is an attempt to prove God’s existence solely from the idea or concept of God.1 It is an attempt to prove God’s existence from reason alone. No appeal to the facts of experience is considered. In this way the ontological argument differs from other arguments for God’s existence.

All other arguments for God’s existence argue from something in existence to the existence of God. The teleological argument argues from the design in the universe to the existence of an intelligent Designer.2 The moral argument argues from the existence of moral values to the existence of the absolute moral Lawgiver.3 The cosmological argument reasons from the existence of dependent beings to the existence of a totally independent Being.4 Only the ontological argument argues from the concept of God to His existence. The ontological argument alone does not begin with the facts of experience.

The ontological argument was originated by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109AD). Various forms of this argument has been defended throughout history by great thinkers such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). Charles Hartshorne, Norman Malcolm, and Alvin Plantinga are three twentieth century scholars who have also defended this argument.5 But, the ontological argument has also been opposed throughout history by other great thinkers such as Gaunilo (a contemporary of Anselm), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), David Hume (1711-1776), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).6 In short, the ontological argument has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the history of philosophy.

ANSELM OF CANTERBURY

In Anselm’s work entitled Proslogium, he introduced this unique argument for God’s existence. Though Anselm himself may not have been aware of the fact, he actually gave two different versions of the ontological argument.7

In Anselm’s first argument, he stated that both believers and unbelievers define God as the greatest conceivable Being. Anselm reasoned that if God does not exist, then a person could conceive of a being greater than the greatest conceivable Being. A person could conceive of a being who had the same attributes as the greatest conceivable Being, but also existed. But, then this would be the greatest conceivable Being. Therefore, concluded Anselm, the greatest conceivable Being must exist.8

Another way of stating this first argument is as follows. The greatest conceivable Being would, by definition, be a being who has every possible perfection. Since Anselm held that existence is a perfection, he concluded that the greatest conceivable Being must exist.9

Anselm’s second form of the ontological argument stated that God, by definition, is a Necessary Being. A Necessary Being is a being that cannot not exist. Therefore, reasoned Anselm, it is a contradiction to say that a Necessary Being does not exist. Hence, concluded Anselm, since God is a Necessary Being, He must exist.10

OBJECTIONS TO THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

In Anselm’s own lifetime his ontological argument was opposed by a monk named Gaunilo.11 Gaunilo’s main attack on the ontological argument was found in his illustration of a perfect island. Gaunilo reasoned that we have just as much right in concluding that God exists merely from our idea of a perfect Being as we do in concluding the existence of a perfect island solely from our idea of a perfect island.12 Anselm responded by stating that the analogy between a perfect island and a perfect Being breaks down. For the idea of a perfect island does not include its existence, while the idea of a perfect Being does entail its existence.13 Anselm accused Gaunilo of not understanding what Anselm’s argument was actually saying. Today, many philosophers agree that Gaunilo did in fact misunderstand Anselm’s argument. 14

Still, this does not mean that Anselm’s ontological argument cannot be refuted. Immanuel Kant believed that Anselm’s argument was fallacious. Kant stated that the deficiency of Anselm’s argument was in Anselm’s view that existence is a perfection.15 The concept of God as a Being who has all perfections does not entail the existence of that Being because existence is not a perfection. Existence does not change, in any way the concept of a being, it merely posits actual existence to that being. To say that something has existence is to say that it actually exists outside the mind. The concept of a perfect Being who exists is no greater than the concept of a perfect Being who does not exist. They are both the same concept, though one has existence while the other does not. Therefore, as far as Kant was concerned, it is faulty reasoning to go from the realm of pure thought to the realm of actual existence by treating existence as one of the perfections that the most perfect Being must have.16

From Kant’s time on, this has become the primary objection to the ontological argument.17 Still, many philosophers who agree with this criticism believe that it only applies to the first type of Anselm’s ontological argument. They believe that Anselm’s second argument remains intact despite Kant’s critique. Two of these philosophers are Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm.18

RESTATEMENTS OF THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

Norman Malcolm defended Anselm’s second type of ontological argument. Malcolm reasoned that the existence of a necessary Being can either be necessary (it cannot not exist), impossible (it cannot exist), or possible (it may or may not exist). Malcolm stated that since no one has shown the concept of a necessary Being to be contradictory (logically impossible), then the existence of a necessary Being is possible. If it is possible for a necessary Being to exist, then it must exist. It is a contradiction to say that a being which cannot not exist (a necessary Being) may or may not exist. Therefore, a necessary being must exist.19 The heart of Malcolm’s argument can be stated as follows. By definition, a necessary Being cannot not exist. Therefore, a necessary Being must exist.20

However, Malcolm admits a weakness in his argument.He concedes that he is unaware of any way to prove that there is no contradiction in the concept of a necessary Being. Therefore, it is logically possible that the concept of a necessary Being is contradictory. Hence, it may be the case that it is impossible for a necessary Being to exist. Therefore, at best, Malcolm’s ontological argument only shows that it is probable that a necessary Being exists. For it is always possible that someone will someday show that the concept of a necessary Being is contradictory.21

Another modern restatement of the ontological argument comes from Alvin Plantinga.22 After years of examining and critiquing the ontological argument, Plantinga proposed his own version of the argument. Though Plantinga viewed Anselm’s argument as problematic, Plantinga considers his own argument as valid.23

Plantinga argued that the greatest possible Being would have to be a being that exists as the greatest possible Being in every possible world. Plantinga concludes that since the actual world is a possible world (it is not an impossible world), then the greatest possible being must exist in the actual world.24

Though Plantinga’s argument appears valid, it ceases to be an ontological argument. Its premises leave the realm of pure reason by assuming the existence of the actual world.25 By definition, an ontological argument must prove God’s existence from the mere concept of God. The other arguments for God’s existence begin with something that actually exists and then argue to the existence of God. Plantinga’s argument should be classified as a type of cosmological argument. It starts with the existence of the actual world and then argues to God’s existence.26

Christian philosophers Norman Geisler and Winfried Corduan consider this the downfall of the ontological argument. For it is always logically possible that nothing exists.27 Therefore, in order for the ontological argument to work, it must start with the premise, “something exists.”28 But, then it is no longer an ontological argument. It starts with actual existence, not pure thought.

CONCLUSION

An examination of Anselm’s ontological argument has produced several observations. First, most philosophers believe that Immanuel Kant has successfully refuted Anselm’s first argument. Second, Norman Malcolm’s version of Anselm’s second ontological argument leaves the realm of logical necessity since he admits he cannot prove that the concept of a necessary Being is not an impossible being. In other words, Malcom admits that it is possible that someone will someday prove that the concept of a Necessary Being involves a contradiction. Therefore, his argument, if successful, could only prove that God probably exists. And, third, Plantinga showed that the only apparent way to rescue the ontological argument is to begin with the cosmological premise that something exists. But, then the ontological argument is no longer ontological; it leaves the realm of pure reason.

Another factor should also be mentioned. Charles Hartshorne and Benedict Spinoza were mentioned earlier as proponents of the ontological argument. But they both denied the existence of a theistic God. Spinoza’s God was a pantheistic God (a God who is identical to the universe).29 Hartshorne utilized the ontological argument to prove the existence of a panentheistic God (a God whose body is the world).30 Even if the ontological argument is valid (and it seems that it is not), it apparently does not reveal enough about God’s nature to show us what kind of God He (or it) is.31

At best, apologists should suspend judgment on the ontological argument. At worst, it is a failure. Either way, defenders of the Christian faith should look elsewhere to provide evidence for God’s existence.

ENDNOTES

1 Craig, 61.

2 Ibid., 66.

3 Ibid., 70.

4 Ibid., 62.

5 Geisler and Corduan, 123-149.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 123.

8 Anselm, St. Anselm: Basic Writings trans. by S. N. Deane (Lasalle: Open Court Publishing, 1966), 7-8.

9 Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, 102.

10 Anselm, 8-9.

11 Ibid., 145-153.

12 Geisler and Corduan, 126.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., 126-127.

15 Ibid., 134.

16 Ibid., 134-135.

17 Ibid., 135.

18 Ibid., 142.

19 Ibid., 142-144.

20 Ibid., 143.

21 Ibid., 144.

22 Plantinga, 85-112.

23 Geisler and Corduan, 146.

24 Plantinga, 108-110.

25 Geisler and Corduan, 147-148.

26 Ibid., 148.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 149.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

The Moral Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The moral argument for God’s existence reasons from the existence of universal moral values to the existence of a universal moral Lawgiver.1 This argument maintains that the source of the objective moral values we experience must be an ultimately good Being.2

The apostle Paul stated that Gentiles, who do not have God’s written Law, “show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15). The Bible declares that God has written His Law on the hearts of all men. This is the basis for defenders of the faith using moral arguments for God’s existence.

THOMAS AQUINAS

Aquinas’ fourth way to prove God’s existence is his argument from the different degrees of perfection found in finite things.3 Men commonly judge some things to be more perfect than other things. But judgment concerning the degree of perfection in things only makes sense if there exists a most perfect Being. To say that something is more perfect than something else is to say that it closer approximates the perfect. One cannot determine that something falls short of a perfect standard unless that perfect standard is known. Therefore, the perfect must exist. Whatever contains the most perfection must be the source of all the perfection that exists in other beings. Therefore, concludes Aquinas, there must exist a most perfect Being who is the cause of all the perfections that exist in beings containing lesser degrees of perfection.4

IMMANUEL KANT

Immanuel Kant rejected any attempts to prove God’s existence through pure rational argumentation. However, he believed that God’s existence must be practically posited in order to make sense of man’s moral experience.5 Kant argued that man must assume the existence of God and life after death if he is to make sense of his desire for happiness and his moral duty.6 Kant believed that the uniting of man’s desire for happiness with man’s moral duty could not occur in this life or without God’s power. Therefore, reasoned Kant, it is morally necessary (not rationally necessary) to assume God’s existence.7

It must be remembered that this argument does not prove God’s existence. It only states that man must assume God’s existence and the afterlife if he is to make sense of his moral life. Kant’s argument does not demand that we conclude that God exists; it merely says that man must live as if God does in fact exist.8

C. S. LEWIS (1898-1963)

C. S. Lewis used an advanced form of the moral argument for God’s existence in his work Mere Christianity.9 Lewis argued that man’s idea of right and wrong is a clue to the meaning of the universe.10 Lewis reasoned that there must exist a universal moral law for several reasons. First, all moral disagreements between persons imply an appeal to a standard of behavior to which all persons are subject.11 People accused of doing wrong usually claim that their action did not violate the universal standard, or that they somehow had a special excuse for not submitting to the standard in this particular case.12 They do not usually deny the standard itself. Second, quarreling often occurs when one person tries to prove that the action of another person is wrong. However, the fact that two people quarrel about whether or not an action was moral implies that they agree that there is such a thing as right and wrong.13 One person claims the action was right; the other person claims the action was wrong. What they agree upon is the concept of right and wrong (the moral law).14

Lewis reasons that this moral law could not be mere herd instinct. If it were, then the stronger instinct would always win, but, this is not the case. Often, man suppresses his stronger instinct in order to do what he thinks is right.15 For instance, when confronted with imminent danger, a man may desire to run for safety but instead chooses to disregard his own well-being to rescue another. Therefore, the moral law is not man’s basic instincts. Instead, it judges between these instincts to determine which instinct is to be applied in the specific situation.16

Lewis also believed that it is wrong to say that this moral law is merely a social convention.17 For not everything that man has learned from others is a social convention. Some things, like mathematics, would be true even if it was never taught.18 The moral law is like mathematics in this respect. It is real regardless of what one’s society teaches about it.19 Social progress makes no sense unless the moral law exists independent of societies.20 If the moral law is merely invented by society, then one society (America) cannot call the actions of another society (Nazi Germany) wrong.21

Lewis declared that the moral law cannot be a law of nature.22 For a law of nature is descriptive. It describes how nature is, how it usually acts. But, the moral law does not describe how nature is. The moral law is prescriptive; it prescribes how nature ought to be.23 The moral law stands above man and judges his behavior.

Lewis concluded that there exists a moral law above all men to which they are subject.24 However, matter could not be the cause of moral laws.25 Matter gives instructions to no one. Experience shows us that mind is the cause of moral laws.26 Therefore, this universal moral law that stands above all men must come from a Mind that stands above all men.27

CONCLUSION

Each of the three thinkers mentioned in this chapter have contributed valuable aspects to the moral argument. Lewis’ argumentation is impressive. A person might arbitrarily deny the existence of the moral law, but the denial is forced and temporary. If that person is wronged, he will appeal to the moral law for justice.

If the moral law is merely subjective, then no one can declare the actions of another to be wrong. If the moral law is produced by nations, then no nation can condemn the actions of another nation. The moral law could not even be the product of world consensus. The world consensus of the twentieth century could not condemn the slavery of the nineteenth, first, or any other century since world consensus favored the practice of slavery during those times.

The moral judgments of men do not make sense unless the moral law stands above all individuals, all nations, and any supposed consensus of the world. The moral law is universal; it applies to all mankind. The moral law is also eternal; it does not change with time. Therefore, there must exist an eternal moral Lawgiver who stands above all men. Prescriptive laws only come from lawgivers.

A variation of Kant’s argument can be utilized effectively by apologists. If there exists no God who will someday judge the actions of men, then it makes no difference how one now lives. One million years from now it will make no difference if one lived like Mother Theresa or Adolph Hitler. If God does exist, then how one lives does make a difference. If there is life after death with rewards and punishment, then the moral experience of man makes sense.

Finally, the thought of Aquinas can be used. When a man makes moral judgments he determines some things to be more perfect than other things. This implies the knowledge of something which is the ultimately perfect standard by which all else is judged. No one can determine a line to be crooked without knowledge of a straight line. The Christian believes that this ultimately perfect standard is the all-good God Himself. Without this all-good God, there could be no such thing as evil. For evil is merely the perversion of that which is good. There could be nothing that is good unless there exists an ultimately good Being who is the source of all lesser goods.

Despite the apparent strengths of the moral argument for God’s existence, it is susceptible to some of the same criticisms as the teleological argument. Could not there be several moral lawgivers instead of one? Maybe the moral lawgiver is only a finite being?28 Though these objections can be answered, premises from the cosmological argument for God’s existence must be utilized to do so.29

Therefore, it is probably best to start one’s argument for God’s existence with cosmological premises. This will provide evidence for the existence of one Being who is the eternal uncaused cause of all else that exists. Then one can use premises from the moral and teleological arguments to show that this one Being must also be a moral and intelligent Being.

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler and Corduan, 94.

2 Craig, 70.

3 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 121.

4 Ibid.

5 Geisler and Corduan, 109.

6 Ibid.,109-110.

7 Ibid., 110.

8 Ibid.

9 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 15-39.

10 Ibid., 15.

11 Ibid., 17.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 17-18.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 22-23.

16 Ibid., 23.

17 Ibid., 24.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 24-25.

21 Ibid., 25.

22 Ibid., 27-29.

23 Ibid., 28.

24 Ibid., 31.

25 Ibid., 34.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Geisler and Corduan, 121-122.

29 Ibid.

The Cosmological Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

There are three distinct types of cosmological arguments. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) used the argument based on the principle of existential causality (all limited, dependent existence needs a cause for its continuing existence).2 3 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) utilized the principle of sufficient reason (everything that exists must have an adequate explanation for why it exists).4 Bonaventure (1221-1274) used the kalaam cosmological argument (everything that has a beginning needs a cause).

AQUINAS: EXISTENTIAL CAUSALITY

Thomas Aquinas is famous for his five ways to prove God’s existence.5 In his first way, he argued from the observable movement or change in the universe to the existence of an unmoved Mover. Aquinas’ second way reasons that the the causality found in the universe demands the existence of a first, uncaused Cause. His third way concludes with the existence of an independent Being as the cause for the continuing existence of all dependent beings.6 These first three ways to prove God’s existence are cosmological arguments. They all use the principle of existential causality.

Aquinas’ fourth and fifth ways to prove God’s existence are not cosmological arguments. Aquinas’ fourth way (the limited perfections in other beings must be caused by the existence of a most perfect Being), could be classified as a moral argument. His fifth way (the fact that mindless nature moves towards specific goals implies the need for an intelligent Mind to guide these natural processes) is a teleological argument.7

Aquinas’ first three ways to prove God’s existence utilize the principle of existential causality. The thrust of these three arguments is as follows. Aquinas argues that experience shows man that limited, dependent beings exist. These limited, dependent beings need other beings for their continued existence. For example, humans and animals depend on air, water, and food to sustain their existence. However, argues Aquinas, adding limited, dependent beings together will never give someone an unlimited and independent whole. Therefore, the sum total of limited, dependent beings (the universe) is itself limited and dependent. Hence, concludes Aquinas, the ultimate cause of the continuing existence of all limited, dependent beings must itself be unlimited and independent.8

Aquinas further argues that there cannot be two or more unlimited and independent beings since, if there were, they would limit one another’s existence. But then they would not be unlimited. Therefore, there can only be one unlimited and independent Being.9

Aquinas reasoned that this unlimited and independent Being must have all its attributes in an unlimited way. Otherwise, it could not be an unlimited Being.10 Therefore, this Being must be all-powerful, for He is the source of all the power in the universe.11 No other power can limit Him. He must be eternal for He is not limited by time.12 He must be immaterial since He is not limited by matter.13 This Being must also be all-good since He is not limited by evil.14 He must also be unlimited in knowledge.15

As was mentioned in an earlier chapter, the teleological and moral arguments can be used to compliment the cosmological argument. Therefore, Aquinas’ fifth way to prove God’s existence (his teleological argument) can be used to provide additional information about the unlimited and independent Being. Since mindless nature works towards goals (such as acorns always becoming oak trees and not something else), there must be an intelligent Designer overseeing natural processes. For without intelligent design and guidance, nature’s processes would be left to chance. There would be no orderly patterns that could be described as natural laws. Therefore, this unlimited and independent Being that all finite and dependent existence depends upon for its continued existence, must be an intelligent Being.16

Christian philosopher Norman Geisler is a modern proponent of Aquinas’ cosmological argument using the principle of existential causality.17 Winfried Corduan, another contemporary Christian philosopher, also employs this type of cosmological argumentation in his writings.18

BONAVENTURE: THE KALAAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

Saint Bonaventure utilized the kalaam cosmological argument for God’s existence.19 Bonaventure argued that whatever began to exist must have a cause. He believed that it could be proven that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, concluded Bonaventure, the universe must have a Cause.20

Both Bonaventure and Aquinas believed that the universe had a beginning. They accepted this because it was taught in the Bible. However, Aquinas did not believe that this could be proven philosophically. Bonaventure disagreed. He believed that it could be philosophically proven that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, Aquinas argued for the sustaining Cause of the universe (existential causality), while Bonaventure argued for the Cause for the beginning of the universe (the kalaam argument).21

Bonaventure contended that if the universe had no beginning, then there would exist an actual infinite set of events in time. However, Bonaventure reasoned that an actual infinite set is impossible. If an actual infinite set is possible, then contradictions would be generated. For example, Set A contains all the even numbers. It is therefore infinite. But Set B contains all the even and all the odd numbers. Set B would then contain twice as many members as Set A; still, Set A and Set B are equal. For they are both infinite. Bonaventure did not deny potential infinite sets. He only denied infinite sets of actual things (such as actual events in time).22

Bonaventure also concluded that since it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite set, then the universe could not be eternal. It had to have a beginning. If the universe is eternal, then one could never reach the present moment. For no matter how many moments one passes, one will never pass an infinite set of moments. But, if the universe is eternal, then there are an infinite set of moments in the past. Hence, one would not be able to reach the present moment. But, since mankind has reached the present moment, then the universe had to have a beginning.23

In addition to this philosophical evidence, there is now strong scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe as well. Though this evidence was not available in Bonaventure’s day, it can be used by the contemporary apologist to strengthen or confirm Bonaventure’s cosmological argument. Scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe includes the second law of thermodynamics (energy deterioration) and the big bang model.24

The second law of thermodynamics is one of the most firmly established laws of modern science.25 It states that the amount of usable energy in the universe is running down.26 This means that someday in the finite future all the energy in the universe will be useless. In other words, if left to itself, the universe will have an end.27 If the universe is going to have an end, it had to have a beginning.28 At one time, in the finite past, all the energy in the universe was usable. This would mark the beginning of the universe. However, the universe is winding down; therefore, it must have originally been wound up.29 Hence, the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning. Since it had a beginning, it needs a cause. For from nothing , nothing comes.30

The big bang model also teaches that the universe had a beginning.31 In 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding at the same rate in all directions.32 As time moves forward, the universe is growing apart. This means that if one goes back in time the universe would be getting smaller and smaller. Eventually, if one goes back far enough into the past, the entire universe would be what scientists call “a point of infinite density.”33 This marks the beginning of the universe, the big bang.34

There have been two main attempts by modern scientists to refute the beginning of the universe. The first is the steady state model.35 This view holds that the universe had no beginning. Instead, it always existed in the same state. However, this view (which never gained wide acceptance in modern times) was disproven in 1965 when the radiation background of the universe was discovered. This radiation background indicated that the universe was at one time in an extremely hot and dense state. Thus, the universe has not existed throughout all eternity in a steady-state.36

The second attempt to escape the beginning of the universe is the oscillating model.37 This model teaches that at some point during the universe’s expansion, gravity will halt the expansion and pull everything back together again. From that point there will be another big bang. This process will be repeated over and over again throughout all eternity.38 But the oscillating model fails. First, there is no known principle of physics that would reverse the collapse of the universe into another big bang.39 Second, current scientific research has shown that the universe is not dense enough for gravity to pull it back together again.40 Third, even if it could be proven that several big bangs have occurred, the second law of thermodynamics would still require that there was a first big bang.41 Therefore, since the universe had a beginning, it needs a cause.

What if the cause of the universe needs a cause? Could not an infinite chain of causes and effects exist stretching backwards in time throughout all eternity? The answer is no. It has already been shown that an actual infinite set is impossible. There had to be a first Cause. This first Cause must be uncaused. It could not be caused by another, for then it would not be the first cause. Nor could it be self-caused because it is absurd to say that a being preexisted its own existence in order to cause its own existence.42 Therefore, only an eternal, uncaused Cause can be the cause of the universe.

Again, the teleological and moral arguments for God’s existence can be utilized to complete the cosmological argument. Since intelligent life is found in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be an intelligent Being. No one has ever shown how intelligence could have evolved from mindless nature.43 Intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence.44

Morality also exists in the universe. Without morality, there would be no such thing as right and wrong. The moral judgments people make show that they believe there is are right and wrong,45 but nature is non-moral.46 No one holds a rock morally responsible for tripping him. Since nature is non-moral, but morality exists in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be a moral Being.47

If morality is relative, then each person can decide for himself what is right and what is wrong.48 But then no one could condemn the brutal actions of Adolph Hitler. Society also cannot be the cause of moral laws since societies often pass judgment on one another.49 Therefore, one society, when judging another society, appeals to a moral authority that transcends all societies. Only an absolute moral Lawgiver who is qualitatively above man and societies can be the cause of a moral law that stands above man societies and judges their actions. Therefore, the uncaused Cause of the universe must be an intelligent and moral Being. This means that God must be a personal Being.50

LEIBNIZ: SUFFICIENT REASON

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz utilized the principle of sufficient reason to argue for the existence of God.51 This principle states that there must be a sufficient reason or explanation for everything that exists.52 Many beings exist that do not contain in themselves the reason for their existence. For instance, a man depends on his parents for his birth, and now he needs air and food to for his continuing existence.53 Leibniz argued that there cannot be an infinite regress of explanations because then there would be no explanation why anything exists at all.54 Therefore, reasoned Leibniz, something must exist which contains within itself the reason for its own existence.55 This Being explains not only its own existence but the existence of all else as well.

Leibniz is not claiming that God is self-caused; this would be absurd. Instead, he is claiming that God is self-explained. God is the explanation for His own existence only because He is an uncaused Being.56

FINDING COMMON GROUND

The cosmological argument for God’s existence (in any of its three forms—existential causality, kalaam, sufficient reason) is probably the strongest argument for God’s existence.57 Still, non-Christians often reject that it proves God’s existence. Yet, the apologist is not attempting to prove God’s existence with mathematical certainty. In fact, very little (if anything) can be known with mathematical certainty about the real world.58 One can, however, argue to God’s existence from premises that are beyond reasonable doubt.59 The denial of these premises is absurd, forced, and temporary.60 The premises can be viewed as actually undeniable (each premise must be affirmed in any attempt to deny it).61 Therefore, God’s existence can be proven with a high degree of probability.

Probability arguments can be extremely convincing. The everyday decisions that man must make are rarely (if ever) based on certainty. They are instead based upon a high degree of probability. When a person drives over a cement bridge extended hundreds of feet above the ground, that person is expressing faith that the bridge will support the weight of the vehicle. This is not a blind and irrational faith. There is much evidence for man’s ability to build such structures. The person driving across the bridge is basing his faith on the available evidence, though absolute certainty eludes him. In like manner, the existence of God can be proven with a high degree of probability. Because man is limited in knowledge and vulnerable to errors, his knowledge is limited and therefore extends only to the realm of probability.

It should also be noted that a person may know (with a high degree of probability) something to be true, though he or she may not be able to prove it.62 A suspect of a crime may know he is innocent yet not be capable of proving it. In the same way, many Christians know (with a high degree of probability) that God exists, though they cannot prove that He does.

Having said this, it is now necessary to show that the basic premises of the cosmological argument are beyond reasonable doubt. Once this is shown to be the case, the apologist and the non-theist will share common ground from which the apologist can argue for God’s existence.63

This common ground (which forms the premises for the cosmological argument) consists of four factors, 1) the law of non-contradiction, 2) the law of causality, 3) the principle of analogy, and 4) the basic reliability of sense perception.64 All people, whether theist or atheist, must live like these four principles are true.

The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way.65 If something is true, then its opposite must be false. If the non-theist attempts to deny the law of non-contradiction, he must first assume it to be true in order to make the denial. Otherwise, the opposite of the denial could also be true.66 Though a person may deny this law, he must live, speak, and think as though it is true.67

The law of causality states that everything that has a beginning needs a cause.68 However, to deny this law is absurd. If the law of causality is not true, then something could be caused to exist by nothing. However, nothing is nothing. Therefore, nothing can do nothing. Hence, nothing can cause nothing. From nothing, nothing comes. If one rejects the law of causality, then there is no basis for modern science. Modern science must assume this law when attempting to discover the relationships that exist between the elements of the universe.69

The principle of analogy declares that two effects which are similar often have similar causes.70 For instance, a watch shows tremendous design and complexity.71 So does the universe. In fact, a single celled animal has enough genetic information to fill an entire library.72 Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that since it takes an intelligent being to make a watch, it must also have taken an intelligent being to design the universe. It seems rather unlikely that an entire library’s worth of information could have evolved by chance. An Intelligent designer is needed.

Finally, the basic reliability of sense perception is accepted by theists and non-theists alike.73 Though people are sometimes mistaken in the conclusions they draw from what their senses perceive, their sense perceptions can usually be trusted. All people live as though their sense perceptions were reliable. They move when rocks are thrown at them. People stay clear of railroad tracks when they hear the whistle of a coming train. Modern science must assume the basic reliability of sense perception in order to examine nature.

Any strong cosmological argument will be built upon these four presuppositions (the laws of non-contradiction, causality, analogy, and the basic reliability of sense perception). Though the non-theist may deny these four presuppositions for sake of argument, he must presuppose them in everyday life. He must live as if they were true. Any philosophy that cannot be lived, such as is the case with atheism, is not worth believing. Though a person may verbally deny God’s existence, he must still live as if the God of the Bible does in fact exist.74

FIVE FINAL POINTS

First, after examining the theistic arguments, it is evident that the strongest philosophical argument for God’s existence is some type of cosmological argument. However, this does not mean that the other arguments for God’s existence have no place in apologetics. As was shown in this chapter, the moral and teleological arguments can be used very successfully to complete the cosmological argument.75 Premises from the moral and teleological arguments can be used to unveil some of the attributes of the uncaused Cause.

Secondly, when using the kalaam cosmological argument (as was utilized by Bonaventure) the Christian apologist should not argue against the existence of an actual infinite set. For the Christian believes that God is all-knowing (omniscient). This is usually understood to mean that God knows an actual infinite number of things. Therefore, an actual infinite set does exist (though only in the mind of God). Hence, the Christian apologist is incorrect when he argues against the existence of an actual infinite set. The kalaam argument for God’s existence loses no force by merely arguing for the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite set (this is all that Zeno’s paradox proves). That would be enough to prove that the universe had a beginning and, therefore, needs a Cause. Or, the apologist may argue for the impossibility of an actual infinite set existing outside the mind of an infinite God.76

Third, when doing apologetics, the Christian should adapt his or her argumentation to meet the personal needs of the listener. For some non-theists, psychological arguments for God’s existence will be more persuasive. For others, philosophical arguments are more convincing. The goal of apologetics is to lead people to Christ. Therefore one’s apologetics should be tailored to meet the needs of the listener.

Fourth, all defenders of the faith must remember that even if their argumentation is effective, the listener may still choose to suppress the truth. It is not easy for people to admit that there exists a God to whom they must answer. The desire for human autonomy (to be one’s own master) is very strong. Only the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit, working in this case with apologetic argumentation, can convince the human will to accept the existence of the God of the Bible.77

Fifth, arguments for God’s existence provide strong evidence for the existence of the theistic God. Still, historical evidences are needed to show that Christianity is the true theistic faith (as opposed to Islam and the present-day form of Judaism).78

ENDNOTES

1 Craig, 62.

2 Ibid., 63.

3 J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 18.

4 Craig, 65.

5 Aquinas, 12-14.

6 Ibid., 12-13.

7 Ibid., 13-14.

8 Ibid., 12-13.

9 Ibid., 25.

10 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 125.

11 Ibid., 23-24.

12 Ibid., 20-23.

13 Ibid., 19-20.

14 Ibid., 39-40.

15 Ibid., 134.

16 Ibid., 13-14.

17 Geisler, Apologetics, 237-258.

18 Winfried Corduan, Reasonable Faith (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1993), 102-121.

19 Moreland, 18.

20 Copleston, A History of Philosophy vol. II, 251-252.

21 Ibid., 262-265.

22 Ibid., 263.

23 Ibid., 264.

24 Craig, 81, 88.

25 Moreland, 34.

26 Norman L. Geisler and J. Kirby Anderson, Origin Science (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 117.

27 Moreland, 35.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 38.

31 Craig, 81-82.

32 Peacock, 83-85.

33 Craig, 82.

34 Ibid., 82-83.

35 Ibid., 83.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., 84.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid., 86.

41 Ibid., 90.

42 Geisler, Apologetics, 246.

43 Francis A. Schaeffer, Trilogy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 283.

44 Geisler, Apologetics, 247.

45 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 19.

46 Ibid., 26-29.

47 Geisler and Corduan, 112.

48 Ibid., 113.

49 Ibid.

50 Geisler, Apologetics, 249.

51 Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. IV, 324.

52 Geisler and Corduan, 164.

53 John Hick, The Existence of God, 168-169.

54 Geisler and Corduan, 164.

55 Ibid.

56 Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. IV, 325.

57 I disagree with Geisler and Corduan on this point. They consider only the Thomistic cosmological argument using the principle of existential causality as successful. The author of this work finds the arguments put forth by Geisler and Corduan against both the kalaam argument and the use of the principle of sufficient reason unconvincing. See Geisler and Corduan, Philosophy of Religion, 172-174.

58 Geisler and Feinberg, 129-131.

59 Ibid., 87-88.

60 Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. I, 210.

61 Geisler, Apologetics, 239.

62 Moreland, 245.

63 Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, 70-72.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid., 72-82.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid.

68 Craig, 74-75.

69 Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, 82.

70 Geisler and Anderson, 69, 124.

71 Hick, 99-104.

72 Geisler and Anderson, 162.

73 Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, 71-72.

74 Schaeffer, 78-79.

75 Geisler, Apologetics, 247-249.

76 I discussed the rejection of this premise (“the impossibility of an actual infinite set”) in a November, 1994 telephone conversation with Dr. J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology. Moreland used this premise in his book Scaling the Secular City. Moreland agreed that it is probably best to no longer use this premise in the kalaam cosmological argument, and that the premise “the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite set” would be sufficient in establishing the beginning of the universe. Dr. Moreland also related that the premise of the kalaam argument could be changed to “the impossibility of an actual infinite set in the concrete (outside the mind) realm.” This premise could be proven by showing the contradictions that would arise if actual infinite sets existed outside the mind. Some of these contradictions have already been discussed in this chapter. What the Christian should not argue for is the impossibility of an actual infinite set existing in the abstract (inside a mind) realm. For if an actual infinite set cannot exist in a mind, then God cannot know an actual infinite number of things. But, if an actual infinite set exists in a mind, this mind would have to be an infinite Mind (an omniscient Being). Only an infinite Mind can know an infinite number of things. Since it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite set, finite minds will never know everything an infinite Mind knows even if the finite mind continues to learn more and more throughout eternity.

77 Craig, 18-27.

78 Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 263-265.

Is the Bible God’s Word?

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved


CHRIST’S TEACHINGS CONCERNING THE OLD TESTAMENT

This work has shown that the evidence demonstrates that Jesus is God. Therefore, whatever Jesus taught should be accepted as true and authoritative. John W. Wenham discussed Christ’s view of the Old Testament:

Our Lord not only believed the truth of the Old Testament history and used the Scriptures as final authority in matters of faith and conduct, he also regarded the writings themselves as inspired. To Him, Moses, the prophets, David, and the other Scripture writers were given their messages by the Spirit of God.1

Some of Christ’s teachings concerning the Old Testament are as follows:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all has been accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).

And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ ” (Matthew 15:3-4)

But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? (Matthew 22:31-32)

He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down. . .” (Mark 7:9-13).

David himself said in the Holy Spirit, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet.’ ” (Mark 12:36)

It is abundantly clear that Jesus considered the entire Old Testament (what the Jews of His day called “the Law and the Prophets”) to be the inspired Word of God. He referred to the Old Testament authors as prophets (Matthew 11:13; 12:39; 22:40; 23:31-35; 24:15; 26:56; Luke 16:16-17, 31; 18:31; 24:44; John 6:45), meaning proclaimers of God’s truth. In fact, Jesus spoke of the prophets as beginning with Abel and ending with Zechariah (Luke 11:49-51). This covers the exact time period of the Old Testament, from creation to about 400BC. Since Christ is God Himself, his view of the Old Testament must be correct. Therefore, the Old Testament is the written Word of God.

CHRIST’S VIEW OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Christ ascended to heaven before the New Testament was recorded. However, the promises He made to his apostles guaranteed that the New Testament would be the inspired Word of God:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away (Mark 13:31).

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you (John 14:26).

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, and you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come (John 16:13).

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).

From these quotes of Christ, five conclusions can be drawn. First, Jesus promised that His teachings would be preserved. Second, He said that the Holy Spirit would remind the apostles of all that He told them. Third, the Holy Spirit would reveal future events to the apostles. Fourth, the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into the truth (prevent them from promoting doctrinal errors). Fifth, the Holy Spirit would empower the apostles to be Christ’s authoritative representatives to the world.

From the above conclusions it is clear that Christ promised to preserve His teachings through the apostles’ writings. Obviously, these writings make up the New Testament. Since Jesus is almighty God, His plan cannot be thwarted. Therefore, since He promised to preserve His words through the teachings of the apostles, then their teachings (which have been passed on to future generations) are the teachings of Christ. Hence, they are the Word of God

It should also be noted that Jesus taught that only the Old Testament and the teachings of His apostles (the New Testament) were the Word of God. The evidence declares Jesus to be God. Jesus taught that both the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God. Therefore, the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God.

THE SUPERNATURAL WISDOM OF THE BIBLE

The evidence presented above is sufficient to demonstrate that the Bible is God’s Word. Still, there are other factors which help corroborate this evidence. The supernatural wisdom and the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible verify that the Bible is God’s Word.

Christian thinkers such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)2 and Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984)3 have noted that only the Bible offers an adequate explanation for both man’s greatness and man’s wretchedness. Modern man, even with all his accumulated knowledge, cannot sufficiently account for both aspects in man. Atheistic evolutionists may be able to explain the wretchedness of man, for they see man as merely an animal, but they cannot satisfactorily account for man’s greatness. New Age Pantheists recognize man’s greatness by attributing godhood to him, but, they offer no convincing reason why man is so wretched. The Bible alone offers an adequate explanation for both aspects of man. Man is great because he was created in God’s image; he is wretched because he is in a fallen state.4 This indicates that the wisdom found in the Bible supersedes the wisdom of man.

Evidence for the supernatural wisdom of the Bible can also be seen in the realm of science. At a time when men thought the earth was flat, the Bible taught that it was a sphere (Isaiah 40:22, 700BC). At a time when men thought the earth rested on the back of a giant turtle, the Bible taught that is was suspended in space (Job 26:7, 2000BC). At about 1500BC the Bible taught that the stars could not be counted (Genesis 15:5); yet, in 150AD an astronomer named Ptolemy taught that there were exactly 1056 stars.5 Today, modern science confirms that the stars are innumerable.

In about 1850AD, the first and second laws of thermodynamics were discovered by modern science. The first law teaches that no new energy is being created or destroyed. The second law teaches that, though the amount of energy in the universe remains constant, the amount of usable energy is running down. Therefore, the universe is winding down. The Bible taught both of these laws thousands of years ago. The Bible states that God is resting from His creation work (Genesis 2:1-3), and that the universe will someday pass away (Mark 13:31; Isaiah 40:31). The Bible does teach, however, that God will make a new heaven and a new earth when the old ones pass away (Revelation 21:1).

There was no such thing as modern science in biblical times. Hence, the information mentioned above demands a source which transcends that of man, a supernatural source.6 H. L. Willmington commented on this subject:

In 1861 the French Academy of Science published a brochure of fifty-one “scientific facts” which supposedly contradicted the Bible. These were used by the atheists of that day in ridiculing Christians. Today all fifty-one of those “facts” are unacceptable to modern scientists.7

FULFILLED PROPHECIES

The Bible claims repeatedly to be the Word of God. One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of this claim is the many fulfilled prophecies proclaimed in the Bible. This work has already examined a sample of prophecies fulfilled by Christ. Here, a few more of the many biblical prophecies that have already come to pass will be discussed.

The Bible has made many predictions concerning the future of great nations and cities. The following is a brief discussion of a few of the prophecies fulfilled concerning these cities and nations.

Around 590—570BC, the prophet Ezekiel predicted that the city of Tyre would be destroyed and never be rebuilt, and that it would become a barren rock which fishermen would use to mend their nets (Ezekiel 26:4, 5, 14). Though Tyre was destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history, it was ultimately devastated in 1291AD by Muslim invaders. Today, all that is left of the ancient site of Tyre is a small fishing community which uses the barren ground to dry their nets.8

In the sixth century BC, Ezekiel also predicted that the city of Sidon would suffer much violence and bloodshed throughout her history, yet remain in existence (Ezekiel 28:23). Though Sidon has been invaded and defeated numerous times throughout her history, the city still exists today.9

In 625BC, the prophet Zephaniah predicted that the city of Ashkelon would someday be destroyed, but that it would eventually be inhabited by the Jews (Zephaniah 2:4, 6). Ashkelon was destroyed in 1270AD by Sultan Bibars. The city remained uninhabited for centuries until the nation of Israel was reestablished in 1948. Now, the Jews have rebuilt and re-inhabited Ashkelon.10

Zephaniah also predicted that the Philistines—a powerful enemy of the Jews throughout much of the Old Testament—would be totally wiped out. Though they continued to prosper for many centuries, they eventually became extinct in 1200AD (Zephaniah 2:5).11

The prophet Obadiah, writing in either 841BC or 586BC, prophesied the extinction of the Edomites, who were the descendants of Esau and enemies of the Jews (Obadiah 18). When the Romans devastated the city of Jerusalem in 70AD, they also defeated the remnants of Edom (called the Idumeans at that time). At that time, all traces of the Edomites disappear.12

In 740—680BC, the prophet Isaiah predicted that Egypt would still be a nation in the last days (Isaiah 19:21-22). In spite of the many wars Egypt has encountered throughout her four-thousand year history, this ancient nation remains in existence to this day.13

In 1410BC, Moses predicted that Israel would be scattered among the nations of the world (Deuteronomy 28:64). The prophet Hosea, in 710BC, predicted this dispersion of Israel as well (Hosea 9:17). History records that after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the Jews were scattered throughout the world.14

Both Isaiah and Ezekiel prophesied that Israel would be re-gathered in her land in the last days (Isaiah 11:11-12; Ezekiel 37:21). This happened in 1948AD when the nation of Israel was reestablished. The Jews continue to return to their land to this day.15

God told Abraham that those who cursed Israel would be cursed by God (Genesis 12:3). This prophecy has been fulfilled many times. Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, the Roman Empire, and Nazi Germany are a few examples of nations or empires that persecuted and oppressed Israel. While the tiny nation of Israel still exists today, Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany have collapsed and are no longer in existence. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Nazi Germany had slaughtered six-million Jews and its war machine was devastating Europe. By 1948, Nazi Germany was nonexistent and the Jews had control of their homeland—the nation of Israel— for the first time since 586BC.16

Each of these prophecies has been fulfilled to the detail. Many other biblical prophecies have also been fulfilled. It should also be noted that no futuristic prophecy of Scripture has ever been shown to be false. This separates the Bible from false prophets such as Edgar Cayce and Jean Dixon. Their success rate is much lower than the perfect accuracy of the predictions made by the Bible.17 Henry Morris made the following comment:

It seems reasonable to conclude that the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy constitutes a unique and powerful evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible.18

The evidence provided above for the Bible being God’s Word is threefold. First, Jesus (who is God) taught that the Bible is God’s Word. Second, the Bible contains insights that go beyond mere human wisdom. Third, the Bible made numerous predictions, many of which have been fulfilled. None of these predictions have proven false (though some prophecies have yet to be fulfilled). In short, there are good reasons for believing the Bible is God’s Word. Those who reject the divine inspiration of the Bible have failed to explain the three factors above.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE DIVINE INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE

Since the Bible can be shown to be God’s Word, several implications follow. First, since the cosmological argument has shown God to be infinite and perfect, there can be no error in His Word as originally recorded. God can only proclaim truth; otherwise, He would be less than perfect. Therefore, the Bible is wholly true (inerrant). Second, since the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, it is authoritative. God has spoken, and everything must be tested by the truth He has given. Third, whatever is taught in God’s inerrant and authoritative Word should be adhered to by all.

This work has already presented evidence for some of the major tenents of orthodox Christianity (the existence of one God, creation by God, the resurrection of Jesus, and Christ’s deity). Since the evidence indicates the Bible is God’s Word, whatever it teaches must be true. Therefore, other important Christian doctrines (e.g., salvation by grace through faith in Christ, the substitutionary death of Christ, the Trinity, and Christ’s future return to earth) can be defended by showing that they are taught in the Bible

Concerning salvation, the Bible teaches that all people are sinners who cannot save themselves (Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23; Matthew 19:25-26). Scripture teaches that man cannot earn his salvation; salvation is a free gift given by God’s grace (unmerited favor) to those who trust (believe) in Jesus for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 3:16-18; 6:35, 47; Romans 6:23). Only through Jesus can man be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The Bible teaches that Jesus took mankind’s punishment upon Himself by dying on the cross for their sins (Isaiah 53:5-6, 12; Matthew 1:21; Mark 10:45; John 1:29; Romans 5:8-10; Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 21; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; Hebrews 10:10, 14; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 1:7; 2:1-2; Revelation 5:9). The God of the Bible is holy and just; He cannot forgive sin unless it has been paid for in full. The good news is that Jesus (who is fully man and fully God) is the ultimately worthy sacrifice who has paid for the sins of the world through His death on the cross (Revelation 5:1-14). He died as a substitute for all of mankind. Those who accept Jesus as their Savior receive the salvation and forgiveness that He has purchased for them.

One of the most controversial teachings of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity, for this teaching transcends human understanding. This doctrine declares that the one true God eternally exists as three equal Persons (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). God is one in essence or nature (Mark 12:29; John 10:30), but three in Personhood (Matthew 3:16-17; John 14:16, 26; 15:26).

The Bible teaches that the Father is God (Galatians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2). However, Jesus (the Son) is also called God and is described in ways that could only apply to God (Isaiah 9:6; Zechariah 14:5; John 1:1, 14; 5:17-18, 22-23; 8:58-59; 10:30-33; 17:5, 24; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20; Revelation 1:17-18). Jesus is worshipped as God (Matthew 2:11; 28:9; John 9:38). The Holy Spirit is also called God (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 3:16).

Some have speculated that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they are one God, must also be one Person, but, this is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons (Isaiah 48:12-16; Psalm 110:1; Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; John 14:16, 26; 15:26). Before anything was created, the three Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other (Genesis 1:26; 11:7), shared the glory of God (John 17:5), and loved each other (John 17:24). Even while Christ was on earth, He and the Father spoke to one another, thus proving they were not the same Person (Matthew 3:16-17; 26:39; Luke 23:46; John 17:1). When all the data is considered, it is clear that the Bible teaches that there is only one true God, but this God eternally exists as three equal Persons. Hence, the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Bible also teaches that Jesus Christ will someday return to earth in power and glory. After His return, He will rule over the nations for one-thousand years (Matthew 24:29-31; Revelation 11:15; 19:11-16; 20:4-6).

Since the available evidence declares the Bible to be God’s Word, whatever it teaches must be true. Therefore, the biblical teachings concerning salvation, Christ’s substitutionary death, the Trinity, and Christ’s return should be accepted. It is also important to note that since whatever the Bible teaches is true, the morality taught in the Bible is authoritative. If God calls a practice wrong, then it is wrong, regardless of common political sentiment. Though the Bible student must differentiate between absolute moral laws which are universally binding on all men and temporary cultural laws prescribed for a specific people at a specific time, absolute moral laws taught in the Bible should be adhered to by all. The day will come when all must answer to God, at the judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15).

CONCLUSION

The argument of this chapter is threefold. First, Jesus of Nazareth, who is God incarnate, taught that the Bible is God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God. Second, this is confirmed by the supernatural wisdom of the Bible, as well as the many fulfilled prophecies of the Bible. Third, since God has been shown to be infinitely perfect, His Word is totally trustworthy. Therefore, whatever the Bible teaches is true.

Since the Bible teaches that salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as one’s Savior, then Christianity is the one true faith. All religions which deny salvation only through Christ alone are false religions. One’s eternal destiny depends on his response to Christ. It is Jesus who calls out to all mankind, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

ENDNOTES

1 Norman L. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1980), 16-17.

2 Pascal, 56-61.

3 Schaeffer, Complete Works vol. 1, 293-304.

4 Pascal, 56-61.

5 H. L. Willmington, That Manuscript From Outer Space (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1974), 99.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 108.

8 McDowell, 270-280.

9 Ibid., 280-281.

10 Ibid., 283-285.

11 Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, 183.

12 Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 233-234.

13 Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, 182.

14 Ibid., 186-187.

15 Ibid., 187-188.

16 Ibid., 186.

17 The predictions of Scripture are always clear in their meaning and no prophecy of Scripture has ever been shown to be inaccurate. On the other hand, the prophecies of Edgar Cayce and Jeane Dixon have been shown to be extremely vague and often inaccurate. Specific cases of false prophecies uttered by Cayce and Dixon are documented in Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, 169-174, 181-185. According to Deuteronomy 18:22, one failed prophecy is enough to identify a person as a false prophet. Hence, both Cayce and Dixon are false prophets while, as mentioned above, no prediction of the Bible has been shown to be false.

18 Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, 198-199.

Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved


The importance of Christ’s resurrection should not be overlooked. The apostle Paul considered belief in Christ’s resurrection to be necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9). Paul also stated:

. . . and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).

Paul was quick to point out that if Christ could not raise Himself from the dead, then faith in Him would be worthless. Therefore, Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ. If the resurrection really happened, then Christianity is true and Jesus is the only Savior. However, if the resurrection never occurred, then Christianity is just another false religion, promoting a false messiah.

CHRIST’S RESURRECTION WAS BODILY

Before examining the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, the nature of that resurrection must be discussed. Throughout the centuries the Christian Church has recognized that Christ’s resurrection was bodily.1 Despite this fact, many today deny that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a non-Christian cult which denies Christ’s bodily resurrection. Their literature states:

On the third day of his being dead in the grave his immortal Father Jehovah God raised him from the dead, not as a human Son, but as a mighty immortal spirit Son, with all power in heaven and earth under the Most High God.2

Jesus was the first one to rise from the dead. . . This firstborn one from the dead was not raised out of the grave a human creature, but was raised a spirit.3

Unfortunately, the denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ is no longer limited solely to non-Christian cults. Even evangelical scholar Murray Harris has denied that Jesus rose in the body which was crucified.4 To make matters worse, many evangelical scholars, rather than refuting his heresy, have come to Harris’ defense when he was confronted by Christian apologist Norman Geisler.5

If Christ did not rise bodily, then there would be no way to verify the truth of the resurrection. Presumably, His corpse would have been rotting in the tomb when the apostles were proclaiming Him as the risen Savior. Although those who hold to a spiritual resurrection of Christ usually invent an additional miracle through which Christ’s corpse dissappears, it seems more reasonable to conclude that either Jesus rose bodily or His corpse remained in the tomb. Since the New Testament records that the tomb was empty, it implies that the resurrection was bodily. A few passages of Scripture will suffice to show that Christ’s resurrection, according to the apostles, was bodily:

He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying (Matthew 28:6).

Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” . . . But He was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:19, 21).

And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:26-27).

And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst. But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them (Luke 24:36-43).

The apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. Their testimony revealed several important points. First, the tomb was empty. Second, Christ appeared to them on several occasions. Third, they thought He was a spirit. Fourth, Jesus proved to them that He was physical by inviting them to touch His body and by eating with them. Fifth, His pierced side, hands, and feet showed that His resurrection body was the body which was crucified. Therefore, it is clear that the apostles taught that Christ rose bodily. The debate about whether Christ’s resurrection was bodily is usually based upon this passage:

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. . . (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

THE SPIRITUAL BODY

Many people misunderstand the phrase “spiritual body.” They mistake this phrase for signifying some type of immaterial spirit. However, this is not the case. In the Greek, the phrase is “soma pneumatikon.” The word soma almost always refers to a physical body. Still, in this passage this physical body is somehow described as being “spiritual” (pneumatikon). But, the spiritual body is contrasted with the natural body. The natural body refers to the physical body before physical death. The Greek words for natural body are “soma psuchikon.” Literally, this phrase means a “soulish body.” The word soul usually carries with it the idea of immateriality, but, in this passage, it cannot. It is referring to the human body before death, and, the human body is of course physical, despite the adjective “soulish.” Therefore, if the “soulish body” is physical, then there should be no difficulty viewing the “spiritual body” as also being physical. The soulish body is sown (buried) at death, but, this same body is raised as a spiritual body; it receives new powers. It is no longer a natural body; it is a supernatural body. The body is changed, but it is still the same body. For, the body that was sown (buried) is the same body that will be raised. Gary Habermas discussed Christ’s spiritual body in the following words:

. . . the Gospels and Paul agree on an important fact: the resurrected Jesus had a new spiritual body. The Gospels never present Jesus walking out of the tomb. . . when the stone is rolled away, Jesus does not walk out the way He does in apocryphal literature. He’s already gone, so He presumably exited through the rock. Later He appears in buildings and then disappears at will. The Gospels clearly say that Jesus was raised in a spiritual body. It was His real body, but it was changed, including new, spiritual qualities.6

Paul is using the term spiritual body to contrast it with the natural body. He is making the point that Christ’s body after the Resurrection (and ours too) has different characteristics to it than it did before. . . But the point is made very clearly that what is being talked about is the same body, the contrast here is not between physical body and spiritual body, but rather between the same body in different states or with different characteristics.7

Walter Martin, the foremost authority on non-Christian cults during his lifetime, also discussed Christ’s spiritual body in his greatest work, Kingdom of the Cults:

However, Christ had a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53) in His glorified state, identical in form to His earthly body, but immortal, and thus capable of entering the dimension of earth or heaven with no violation to the laws of either one.8

Therefore, Christ rose in the same body in which He lived and died. However, His body had been changed in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53) so that His mortal body (a body capable of death) was glorified and became immortal (incapable of death). In His spiritual body, He can apparently travel at the speed of thought, unhindered by distance. The Bible teaches that in the first resurrection all believers will receive glorified bodies. Believers’ bodies will be changed into glorified and immortal bodies. The presence of sin will be totally removed from them (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).

Therefore, the apostles claimed that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Since the resurrection occurred in the physical realm it could be verified; it could be proven true or false. In reference to Christ’s resurrection, only four options exist: 1) the resurrection accounts may be legends, 2) the accounts may be lies, 3) the apostles may have been sincere but deceived, or 4) the apostles were telling the truth. The remainder of this chapter will determine, by process of elimination,which of these four options best explains the available evidence.

THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNTS WERE NOT LEGENDS

The resurrection accounts were not legends. The evidence presented in the last chapter clearly shows that the resurrection accounts predate even the New Testament itself. Legends usually take centuries to evolve.9 But, as chapter twenty-five has shown, the earliest known written resurrection accounts date back to less than twenty years after Christ’s death. These accounts were ancient creeds and hymns of the first generation church (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Romans 10:9; etc.). There is simply no way that a resurrection legend could receive universal acceptance (in order to become a hymn or creed) in the church while the apostles themselves led the church. If the resurrection account was merely a legend, the apostles would have refuted it. If the apostles chose not to refute a fictitious resurrection story, then they would have purposely perpetrated a falsehood. In that case, however, the resurrection accounts would not be legends; instead, the apostles would be liars.

The apostles knew Jesus personally. They were eyewitnesses of the events of His life and the things He taught. The apostles also led the early church. They were the authoritative witnesses to the facts concerning Christian doctrine, history, and practice. No legend could gain wide acceptance in the first generation church with the apostles in positions of authority. Since it can be shown that the resurrection accounts were not legends, some have concluded that the apostles were liars.

THE APOSTLES WERE NOT LIARS

Skeptics sometimes accuse the apostles of fabricating the resurrection accounts. One theory suggests that the apostles stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.10 In fact, this was the first attempted refutation of Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15).

Though it would be ludicrous to suggest that the apostles overpowered the Roman soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb, this point will not be argued here. For many skeptics reject the apostolic witness concerning the guards at the tomb. Apart from the debate over whether or not the tomb was guarded, it can still be shown that the apostles were not liars. The apostles claimed that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, and, they were willing to suffer and die for for their testimony. It is clearly against human nature for men to die for what they know to be a hoax.

Death by martyrdom is probably a more accurate way to determine if someone is telling the truth than even modern lie-detector tests. William Lane Craig describes the horrible sufferings that the first generation Christians endured for their faith:

One of the most popular arguments against this theory is the obvious sincerity of the disciples as attested by their suffering and death . . . Writing seventy years after Jesus’ death, Tacitus narrates Nero’s persecution about thirty years after Christ, how the Christians were clothed with the skins of wild beasts and thrown to the dogs, how others were smeared with pitch and used as human torches to illuminate the night while Nero rode about Rome in the dress of a charioteer, viewing the spectacle. The testimonies of Suetonius and Juvenal confirm the fact that within thirty-one years after Jesus’ death, Christians were dying for their faith. From the writings of Pliny the Younger, Martial, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, it is clear that believers were voluntarily submitting to torture and death rather than renounce their religion. This suffering is abundantly attested in Christian writings as well.11

Fox’s Book of Martyrs lists the deaths of eight of the twelve original apostles. James (John’s brother) was put to death with the sword by order of Herod Agrippa I. The apostle Philip was crucified. Matthew (who wrote one of the Gospels) was beaten to death with an axe-shaped weapon. Andrew (Peter’s brother) was crucified on an X—shaped cross. Peter (author of two epistles) was crucified upside down by order of Nero. Bartholomew was crucified. Thomas was killed when a spear was thrust through him. Simon the Zealot was crucified.12

Fox’s Book of Martyrs also discusses the deaths of other New Testament authors. James (a half-brother of Christ and author of the epistle bearing his name) was beaten and stoned to death. Jude (another half-brother of Jesus and author of the epistle bearing his name) was crucified. Mark (author of the Gospel bearing his name) was dragged to pieces in Alexandria. Paul (who wrote thirteen or fourteen epistles) was beheaded in Rome. Luke (who wrote the Gospel named after him and Acts) was hanged on an olive tree.13

The apostles claimed to have seen Christ risen from the dead. They were willing to suffer and die for this claim. It is against human nature for one to die for what one knows to be a lie. Therefore, the apostles did not steal the body. They were not lying. They were sincere. They believed that they had really seen the resurrected Lord. Hence, they were either sincere but deceived, or they were telling the truth.

THE APOSTLES WERE NOT DECEIVED

Most of today’s New Testament scholars recognize that the apostles were sincere in their belief that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Therefore, in an attempt to explain away the resurrection, some of these scholars accept one of several theories devised to explain how the apostles were decieved into thinking they had seen the risen Lord. It is interesting to note that these theories have all been refuted by other skeptics.14

The swoon theory suggests that Christ never actually died on the cross. Instead, He only passed out but was mistaken for dead. Christ then, according to this view, revived in the tomb. When He visited the apostles, they mistakenly proclaimed Him as risen from the dead.15 The swoon theory is easily refuted. The apostle John recorded in his Gospel strong evidence for Christ’s death on the cross:

The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water (John 19:31-34).

Death by crucifixion was a horrible ordeal. To prolong the sufferings of the crucified person, a wooden block was placed under the feet to give him leverage to straighten up in order to breathe. When the Jewish authorities wanted to quicken the deaths of the victims so that they would not be on the cross during their feast days, they would have the Roman soldiers break the legs of the crucified victims. Being unable to straighten up in order to breathe, the victim would quickly die.16

In Christ’s case, the Roman soldier saw that He was already dead. Still, being a good soldier who was conscientious about his job, he confirmed his view that Christ was dead by thrusting his spear into Christ’s side. In this way, if the soldier was mistaken and Christ was actually alive, the spear wound would be fatal. The soldier, an expert in mortal combat, was surely trained in how to deliver a death blow to an enemy. Therefore, if Christ had been alive, the piercing of His side would have certainly killed Him.

Another detail in this passage provides evidence that Christ did in fact die. The apostle John reported a flow of “blood and water” coming from Christ’s side as a result of the spear wound. Today, medical science has shown that this phenomenon proves that Christ was dead prior to the spear wound.17 The flow of “blood and water” could only occur if the wound was inflicted upon a corpse. It should also be noted that this medical knowledge was unknown in John’s day. Therefore, he had no knowledge that his reporting of this detail was irrefutable proof of death. Hence, he could not have fabricated this event in an attempt to prove Christ’s death.18

The evidence, therefore, clearly indicates that Jesus died on the cross. Still, even if He did survive the cross, imminent death would follow due to His injuries from the scourging and crucifixion. Furthermore, even if He survived these injuries, there is no way in His battered condition He would have been able to convince His disciples that He had conquered death for all mankind.19 The evidence declares that Jesus did die.

Some skeptics have proposed the wrong tomb theory. This view holds that everyone went to the wrong tomb and thus proclaimed Christ as risen.20 However, this theory also has many problems. It offers no explanation for the apostles’ claim to have seen the risen Christ on several occasions, and the apostles’ willingness to die for their testimony. Also, the Jewish religious authorities would have searched every tomb in the Jerusalem area in an attempt to produce the rotting corpse of Christ. They had both the means and the desire to do so. Had they produced the corpse, Christianity would have been dealt a death blow while still in its infancy. The fact that the Jews did not produce the corpse of Christ is itself evidence of the empty tomb.21 Again, any claim that the disciples stole the body offers no explanation as to how they could have been willing to die for what they knew to be a hoax.

Other skeptics have proposed the hallucination theory. This theory states that the apostles did not really see the resurrected Christ; instead, they only hallucinated and thought they saw the risen Lord.22 However, psychologists say that hallucinations occur inside a person’s mind. It is therefore impossible for two people—not to mention 500—to have had the same hallucination at the same time. Since many of the reported appearances of the risen Christ were to groups of people, the hallucination theory fails to explain the resurrection accounts.23

Another attempt to explain away the resurrection is the hypnotic theory. This highly speculative view suggests that the witnesses of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were all hypnotized. They did not actually see the risen Lord. Today, modern hypnotists deny this possibility.24 Christian scholar Gary Habermas sums up the failure of skeptics to explain away the resurrection of Christ:

One interesting illustration of this failure of the naturalistic theories is that they were disproven by the nineteenth-century older liberals themselves, by whom these views were popularized. These scholars refuted each other’s theories, leaving no viable naturalistic hypotheses. For instance, Albert Schweitzer dismissed Reimaru’s fraud theory and listed no proponents of this view since 1768. David Strauss delivered the historical death blow to the swoon theory held by Karl Venturini, Heinrich Paulus, and others. On the other hand, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Paulus pointed out errors in Strauss’s hallucination theory. The major decimation of the hallucination theory, however, came at the hands of Theodor Keim. Otto Pfleiderer was critical of the legendary or mythological theory, even admitting that it did not explain Jesus’ resurrection. By these critiques such scholars pointed out that each of these theories was disproven by the historical facts.25

CONCLUSION: THE APOSTLES WERE TELLING THE TRUTH

The failure of these theories shows that the apostles told the truth. Jesus did rise from the dead. Four facts of history add further support to the case for the resurrection of Christ from the dead. First, the apostles, who were devout Jews, changed the sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday in honor of the Lord’s resurrection. Only a miracle such as the resurrection (which occurred on a Sunday) would lead them to change their sacred day of rest (a fifteen-hundred-year-old religious tradition).26 Second, the Jewish religious leaders during the time of Christ remained silent as far as written records are concerned. Accusing the apostles of stealing the body was a failure. The punishment for Roman guards sleeping on post was death.27 Thus, it is unlikely that well-trained Roman guards would allow a small group of Galilean fishermen to overpower them. The Jewish religious leaders, seeing the failure of their alternative explanation of the resurrection, chose not to record it in writing. The silence of the Jews provides strong evidence for the fact of the empty tomb. The Jewish religious leaders had every reason to refute the resurrection. They did not; therefore, it is safe to conclude that they could not. Third, despite the fact that the resurrection was being proclaimed right in Jerusalem (near the tomb of Christ), the new church grew rapidly. All that had to be done to disprove Christianity (which was the intention of the Jewish religious leaders) was to produce the rotting corpse of Christ. Yet, the church grew rapidly. The only explanation for this is that no one could refute the apostolic testimony to the resurrection of Christ.28 Last, the conversion of both James and the apostle Paul can only be adequately understood as a direct consequence of the resurrection.29 James was one of the half-brothers of Jesus. He was very skeptical about His brother’s claim to be the Jewish Messiah (John 7:1-5). Anything short of seeing His brother risen from the dead would fail to explain his dramatic conversion and subsequent rise to leadership in the early church (1 Corinthians 15:7; Acts 15:13-21; Galatians 1:18-19; 2:9). Paul was originally a Pharisee and apparently the leading enemy of the church (Philippians 3:4-6; Acts 8:1-3). If one rejects the post-resurrection appearance of Christ to him on the road to Damascus, then the reason for his conversion is a mystery (Acts 9:1-9).

The evidence for Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming. The empty tomb stands as a monument to Christ’s victory over death, a monument that, though attacked throughout the ages, remains standing and unmoved. The empty tomb is not a silent witness: the echoing of the angel’s voice can still be heard coming from it, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying” (Matthew 28:6).

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, 51.

2 Let God Be True (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1946), 43.

3 Ibid., 272.

4 Murray Harris, Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmanns, 1985), 126.

5 Norman L. Geisler, In Defense of the Resurrection (Charlotte: Quest Publications, 1991), 8-13.

6 Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1987), 58.

7 Ibid., 95.

8 Martin Kingdom of the Cults, 86.

9 Craig, 197.

10 Ibid., 179-180.

11 Ibid., 175-176.

12 John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Springdale: Whitaker House, 1981), 6-13.

13 Ibid.

14 Habermas and Flew, 20-21.

15 Habermas, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus, 54-58.

16 Kenneth E. Stevenson and Gary R. Habermas, Verdict on the Shroud (Wayne: Banbury Books, 1981), 178-179.

17 Ibid., 184.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 McDowell, 255.

21 Ibid.

22 Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus, 26-28.

23 McDowell, 249.

24 Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, 94.

25 Habermas and Flew, 20-21.

26 Ibid., 22.

27 McDowell, 242.

28 Craig,178, 190.

29 Ibid., 195-196.

Old Testament Reliability

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

This chapter will argue that the Old Testament is a compilation of reliable historical writings. The divine authorship of the Old and New Testaments will not be argued for until chapter twenty-eight. The goal of this chapter is to show that the Old Testament is not a book of religious myths. It records historically accurate data; therefore, it should be considered historically reliable.

Since the data concerning Old Testament reliability is so extensive, this chapter will necessarily be selective. Evidence will be provided for only eight (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Isaiah, and Daniel) of the thirty-nine Old Testament books. However, since liberal scholars attack the reliability of these eight books more aggressively than the other Old Testament books, a strong case for the reliability of these eight books will go a long way to proving the reliability of the entire Old Testament. Most of the information in this chapter is derived from Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.2

THE OLD TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS

The Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew and Aramaic.3 It consists of thirty-nine separate books written at different times and places between 2000BC and 400BC.4 The three main extant Old Testament manuscripts are the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Septuagint.5

The Masoretic Text is currently considered the standard Hebrew text.6 It dates back to about 1010AD.7 It contains the entire Old Testament.8 Despite its late date, it is considered the purest Hebrew text. No recent manuscript finds have brought suspicion to the Masoretic text.9 Due to the strict copying techniques of the Masoretes, they have preserved a Hebrew text which essentially duplicates the authoritative texts of Christ’s time.10

The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to approximately 150-100BC.11 The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest extant Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.12 These scrolls were found in 1947 in various caves along the northwest coast of the Dead Sea.13 The Dead Sea Scrolls contain fragments from every Old Testament book except Esther.14

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.15 The Septuagint dates from 250-150BC.16 When the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Septuagint are compared, there is essential agreement between them. The few areas of disagreement do not effect the doctrines contained in the Old Testament; the disagreements are mainly copyist errors and variations in spelling.17

LOWER, HIGHER, AND FORM CRITICISM

Lower criticism is the science of discovering the original text on the basis of imperfect copies.18 This can only be done by comparing the existing copies of the passage in question. Lower criticism is essential in the task of producing accurate translations of the Old (and New) Testaments.

Higher criticism, on the other hand, deals with ascertaining the authorship, date, and integrity of each biblical book.19 Higher criticism has been abused by liberal scholars who refuse to accept the evidence for the traditional Jewish and Christian view concerning the authorship, date, and integrity of the books of the Bible. This is due, in part, to the common antisupernaturalistic bias held by liberal scholars.20 This bias rejects the possibility of revelation from God, predictive prophecies, and miracles.

Form criticism seeks to find the oral traditions that supposedly lie behind the written documents.21 This view is highly subjective; it is often dependent upon the imagination of the scholar.

THE DOCUMENTARY HYPOTHESIS

The documentary hypothesis is the theory that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was a compilation of different written documents composed by different authors at different places and at different times.22 The traditional view of Moses being the author of the Pentateuch around 1450BC is rejected. The documentary hypothesis holds to much later dates for the writing of the Pentateuch.23

Before the eighteenth century, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was not questioned. However, the rise of deism (the belief in a non-miracle working God) led to a more skeptical approach to the Bible.24 The process which led to the documentary hypothesis began in 1753 with the speculation of a French physician named Jean Astruc.25 He was puzzled by the fact that God was called “Elohim” in the first chapter of Genesis, while He was primarily referred to as “Jehovah” (or Yahweh) in the second chapter.26 He concluded that these different names for God pointed to different written sources. The sources became known as “Elohim” and “Jehovah.”27

In the 1780’s, Johann Gottfried Eichorn applied the distinction between the J (Jehovah) document and the E (Elohim) document throughout most of the Pentateuch.28 In 1806, Wilhelm M. L. DeWette introduced the view that the entire Pentateuch was written no earlier than the reign of King David (around 1000BC).29 DeWette also reasoned that the book of Deuteronomy (which later became known as the “D” document) was written at the start of King Josiah’s reformation to unify the worship of the Jews in 621BC.30

In 1853, Hermann Hupfeld divided the E document into E1 and E2. The E1 document later became known as “P” (the priestly code).31 In 1869, Abraham Kuener put the four supposed documents in what later became the standard JEDP order.32

In 1878, Julius Wellhausen supported this JEDP order with the evolutionary view of religion. This view teaches that man’s first religion was animism (the belief that everything in nature has a life force or soul). Animism evolved into polytheism (the belief in many gods). Polytheism led to monalatry (the worshiping one god as supreme over all other gods). Finally, in the evolutionary view of religion, monalatry gave rise to monotheism (the belief in one God).33

The gradual development of the documentary hypothesis was completed in Wellhausen’s thought. According to Wellhausen, the J document was written in 850BC, while the E document was produced in 750BC. Deuteronomy was composed during King Josiah’s reform in 621BC. The Priestly code was considered to be written in various stages between 570BC and 530BC.34 This was a great departure from the traditional view which, as stated above, held that Moses was the author of all five books (around 1450BC).

REFUTATION OF THE DOCUMENTARY HYPOTHESIS

The documentary hypothesis is no longer as popular as it once was. Twentieth century scholarship has repudiated this view. Still, rather than returning to the traditional view of Mosaic authorship, twentieth century scholars have tended towards even more speculation. Several more documents have been suggested.35

Any evidence for the unity of the Pentateuch is explained away by asserting that a hypothetical editor supposedly put several documents together.36 It can be said of liberal scholars that they will not allow any evidence to falsify their subjective reasonings. They speculate that two creation accounts (Genesis 1; 2) must mean two different written sources. By doing this, they reject the abundant evidence showing that ancient Semitic writers often utilized a style which made use of repetition in their literature. Somehow, twentieth century liberal scholars assume they can scientifically reconstruct the text thousands of years after it was written. They even believe their speculations should hold more weight than the traditional view of the Jews who were themselves much closer to the original documents.37

The modern liberal scholars are guilty of circular reasoning. In their attempt to prove that the Bible is merely a human book, they assume that revelation from God is impossible.38 In spite of the fact that much of ancient pagan history has been shown to be unreliable, liberal scholars assume that these pagan historical writings are always right when they differ from the biblical account39 Meanwhile, again and again the Bible has been proven to be historically reliable.40 Another weak assumption is their view that the Hebrews could use only one name for God. History reveals that ancient empires such as Babylon, Ugarit, Egypt, and Greece all had several names for their primary deity.41 Therefore, there is no justification for speculating the existence of different authors and multiple documents merely because a different name for God (Elohim or Jehovah) is being used.

The evolutionary assumption that the Hebrew religion had evolved into monotheism is also called into question. Israel, after all, was the only nation among its ancient neighbors to have a true monotheistic faith. Israel is the exception rather than the rule. Even if one could prove that the religions of Israel’s neighbors evolved towards monotheism, Israel’s history is that of a nation that began with monotheism.42

Modern liberal scholars are notorious for taking passages out of context in order to “prove” that the Bible contains contradictions. Whenever a conservative scholar produces a possible reconciliation of the passages in question, the solution is automatically rejected by liberal scholarship.43 Apparently, because of the common liberal bias against anything supernatural, liberal scholars will accept no argument for the traditional view of the Pentateuch.

In short, the documentary hypothesis and its updated versions do not stand on a solid foundation. They are based upon an unjustified bias against the supernatural; they also resort to fanciful speculation. The concept of the JEDP documents was created by the imaginations of liberal scholars. There is no evidence whatsoever that these documents ever existed. This is not to say that Moses did not draw upon information from written sources which predated him, but, if this was the case, objective evidence must be produced for verification. Uncontrolled subjective speculation is not true scholarship; it is the antithesis of scholarship.

EVIDENCES FOR THE MOSAIC AUTHORSHIP OF THE PENTATEUCH

Merely pointing out the inadequacies of the documentary hypothesis does not prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch around 1450BC. Therefore, positive evidences for Mosaic authorship must be presented.

First, the entire Pentateuch displays a unity of arrangement. Even the documentarians concede this point by inventing a hypothetical editor to explain the unity of the Pentateuch.44 This unity of arrangement strongly implies that the Pentateuch had only one author.

Second, both the Old and New Testaments call Moses the author of the Pentateuch (Joshua 8:31; 1 Kings 2:3; Daniel 9:11; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:28; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 3:22; Romans 10:5). Even the Pentateuch itself declares Moses to be its author (Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9).45

Third, eyewitness details in the Pentateuch indicate the author was a participant in the events he was describing. The author at times is so precise in his details that he lists the exact number of fountains (twelve) and palm trees (seventy) in Exodus 15:27.46 The author even describes the appearance and taste of the manna from heaven for future generations (Numbers 11:7-8).47 These precise details make it unlikely that the author was other than an eyewitness of the events he recorded.

Fourth, the author of the Pentateuch was well acquainted with the geography and language of Egypt. He was familiar with Egyptian names and uses Egyptian figures of speech. There is a greater percentage of Egyptian words in the Pentateuch than in the rest of the Bible. This seems to indicate that the author had lived in Egypt and was most likely educated there as well. Moses was born, raised, and educated in Egypt. It is also interesting to note that the author does not attempt to explain these uniquely Egyptian factors. This probably indicates that his original readers were also familiar with the Egyptian culture, and, this is exactly the case with the Israelites that Moses led out of Egypt.48

Fifth, the author of the Pentateuch, although familiar with Egypt, shows himself to be unfamiliar with the land of Canaan.49 This is consistent with Moses. After leaving Egypt, he wandered through the wilderness of Sinai, but did not enter Canaan (the promised land). The author of the Pentateuch, though he describes with great detail the geography and vegetation of Egypt and Sinai, treats the land of Canaan as a place virtually uknown to him or his people.50 Therefore, the traditional view of Mosaic authorship is much more plausible than the documentary hypothesis.

Sixth, the setting of Exodus through Numbers is that of a desert atmosphere point of view.51 Even the laws concerning sanitation apply to a desert lifestyle (Deuteronomy 23:12-13).52 This would not be the case if the author or authors lived an agricultural lifestyle in their own land for nearly a thousand years (which is what the documentary hypothesis teaches).53 Even the tabernacle (a portable tent that was the Jewish place of worship) implies a nomadic lifestyle of the worshipers.54

Seventh, Moses was qualified to be the author of the Pentateuch. He was educated in Egypt, grew up there, and spent much of his later life in the Sinai desert (Acts 7:22).55

Eighth, the customs recorded in the Pentateuch were genuine second millennium BC customs.56 This would not be expected if the Pentateuch was written much later. This point is even stronger when it is realized that many of these customs were not continued on into the first millennium BC. Some of these ancient customs were the legal bearing of children through maidservants, the legality of oral deathbed wills, the possessing of household idols in order to claim inheritence rights, and the way real estate transactions were practiced.57

Ninth, the Ras Shamra literature dates back to approximately 1400BC.58 Therefore, writing existed during Moses’ time. Hence, it cannot be argued that written languages had not developed to the degree of the Pentateuch at such an early date, which is what the documentary hypothesis teaches.

Tenth, archaeological finds have confirmed much of the history and customs reported in the Pentateuch, whereas no archaeological find has refuted the history recorded in the Bible.59 Examples of this are the excavations of the cities of Bethel, Schechem, and Ur.60 Archaeology has shown that these cities were inhabited as early as 2,000BC (the time of Abraham).61 This had been denied by liberal scholars until archaeology proved them wrong and the Pentateuch right. The Hittite Legal Code, which dates back to about 1300BC, is another example. It was discovered by archaeologists between 1906 and 1912. It confirms the ancient procedure used by Abraham and several Hittites while engaging in a real estate transaction in Genesis 23.62 Another example of archaeological confirmation of the historical reliability of the Pentateuch deals with the use of camels. Genesis records that Abraham owned camels. However, since no nonbiblical references to domesticated camels had been found, liberal scholars assumed the Pentateuch had to have been written at a much later date. However, since 1950, several archaeological findings have shown that the domestication of camels in the middle east occurred as early as 2,000BC.63

Eleventh, all the biblical evidence shows that the Jewish Faith was originally monotheistic, and that it later became idolatrous and polytheistic.64 This runs counter to the evolutionary view of religion. In fact, there is no historical evidence that any nation’s religion ever “evolved” into a genuine monotheistic faith. A true monotheistic faith is unique to the Jewish religion and its offshoots (Christianity, Islam, and their offshoots).65

Twelfth, liberal objections that the religious customs, writings, and legal code of the Jews were too advanced for the traditional fifteenth century BC date of composition have been shown to be unwarranted. Recent studies of ancient religions show that “primitive” peoples had technical sacrificial language.66 Also, the Code of Hammurabi (1800BC) is a legal code which is very similar in its sophistication to the Law of Moses.67 The census lists found in the ancient Semitic world (Mari, Ugarit, and Alalakh) between 2000 and 1500BC have much in common with the census lists found in the Book of Numbers.68 Finally, Deuteronomy follows the same basic format as the Hittite suzerainty treaties (latter half of the second millennium BC), a treaty agreed upon by a king and his people.69 Therefore, the Pentateuch appears to be a fifteenth century BC document, and not a much later writing.

Thirteenth, ancient legends of creation and the worldwide flood are universal among primitive peoples. These legends appear to perversions of the true biblical account.70 An example of this would be a comparison of the ancient Babylonian flood account (the Gilgames Epic) and the Genesis flood account. Whereas the boat in the Babylonian account would never float due to its dimensions, the ark’s dimensions as listed in Genesis describe a vessel that would be virtually impossible to capsize.71

Fourteenth, the Jews accepted the Law as Mosaic during King Josiah’s reform in 621BC. It is therefore hard to believe that a large portion of the Pentateuch had just been written. The Jews of that day could not have been so naive. It seems more likely that they had good reasons to believe the documents they had were copies of the ancient writings of Moses and not recent creations.72

Fifteenth, Moses had a good reason for using different names for the one true God. He used different names for God when dealing with different contexts. He referred to God as “Elohim” when discussing His act of creation or His infinite power. Moses seems to have called God “Jehovah” (Yahweh) when speaking of God in terms of His covenant relationship with His elect.73 It is therefore unreasonable to assume that the utilization of various names for God requires more than one author. In fact, compound names such as Yahweh-Elohim are often used to refer to God. Yahweh-Elohim occurs eleven times in the second chapter of Genesis. It is ludicrous to assume that one compound name for God is the work of two authors writing at different times.74

Finally, Moses also had good reasons for varying his diction and style. Good authors commonly vary their text to prevent monotony; Moses would have done the same.75 Moses would also have to vary his style due to the wide range of his subject material (genealogies, biographies, historical accounts, religious instruction, moral legislation, etc.).76 The varying of the diction and style of the Pentateuch is therefore no evidence for multiple authors. Even parallel accounts (such as the two creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2) were common by one author in ancient Semetic literature; it was often used as a type of poetic style.77

When all the above factors are taken together, the conclusion becomes obvious. There are extremely good reasons for accepting the traditional view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch between 1450 and 1410BC. There is absolutely no evidence for multiple authors of the Pentateuch (other than the case of Moses’ obituary in Deuteronomy 34 which was probably penned by Joshua). Though Moses did apparently refer to written documents which predate him (especially while compiling Genesis), all the evidence favors the early traditional date for the Pentateuch, and not the later dates given by liberal scholars. The evidence points to Mosaic authorship. The liberal view is therefore based upon a bias against the supernatural; it is not based upon a scholarly consideration of the evidence.

JOSHUA AND THE CONQUEST OF THE PROMISED LAND

Liberal scholars of the twentieth century have denied the reliability of the biblical account of the conquest of the promised land found in the Book of Joshua. However, in 1887AD the Tell el-Amarna tablets were found. They consisted of ancient writings on clay tablets.78 These tablets contain correspondence between Canaanite kings and the Egyptian Pharoah during a troublesome time. The Canaanite kings were requesting assistance from the Pharoah due to constant invasions by nomadic peoples called the “Habiru.” Many scholars believe that the Habiru invaders, or at least many of them, were in fact the Hebrews of Joshua’s army.79 Many of the reports in the Tell el-Amarna tablets confirm specific details as related in Joshua’s account of the conquest.80

Any descrepencies between the tablets and Joshua’s account can be explained by the fact that though all Jews were Hebrews (referred to as Habiru in the tablets), not all Hebrews were Jews. For Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was himself a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13). Therefore, the Jews were probably not the only Hebrews invading the land of Canaan during the life of Joshua.81

In short, the evidence seems to indicate that there is enough agreement between the Tell el-Amarna tablets and the Book of Joshua to conclude that these tablets provide ancient secular confirmation for the Israelite conquest of the promised land (Canaan).82 The strength of this conclusion is in no way lessened by the fact that the Habiru invaders of the tablets cannot in every case be equated with Joshua’s army.

THE BOOK OF ISAIAH

Liberal scholars have rejected the traditional view that Isaiah wrote the Book of Isaiah between 740 and 680BC. In an attempt to explain away the supernatural fulfillment of predictive prophecies, these scholars have concluded that there were actually two authors who wrote Isaiah. This is called the “Deutero-Isaiah Theory.”83 They argue that one author wrote the first thirty-nine chapters, while a different author wrote the last twenty-seven chapters.84 The second author is assumed to have lived in Babylon after the Babylonian Empire had taken the Jews captive in 586BC. If the book is merely a human book (as liberal scholars claim), then, since the last twenty-seven chapters speak of the Babylonian captivity, it must be dated after that event occurred.

Several things can be noted to refute the Deutero-Isaiah theory. First, the entire book of Isaiah exhibits a similar writing style. In fact, conservative scholars have located over forty sentences or phrases that exist in both halves of Isaiah.85 One would not expect this if there were more than one author. Second, the author is familiar with the Palestine area; he is not familiar with Babylon.86 However, if the second half of Isaiah was written by a Jew living in Babylon, this would not be the case. Third, Jesus apparently believed that Isaiah wrote both halves of the Book of Isaiah. In one New Testament passage, He quoted from both Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6 and referred to Isaiah as the author of both (John 12:37-41).87 Fourth, a prediction of the Medo-Persian overthrow of the Babylonian Empire is mentioned in the first half of Isaiah (Isaiah 13:17-19). This Medo-Persian conquest occurred in 538BC. Even liberal scholars admit that this section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonian captivity (586BC).88 If the author could predict the future in the first thirty-nine chapters, he could certainly do the same in the last twenty-seven chapters.

There is no good reason to reject the traditional date and authorship of Isaiah; only a bias against the supernatural will cause a scholar to reject the traditional view despite the evidence in its favor. Isaiah chapter 53 is a case in point. It is probably Isaiah’s most famous prophecy. In this chapter, Isaiah predicts that the Jewish Messiah would suffer for the iniquities of His people. Since this did not occur until 30AD, there is no way for scholars to date any portion of the Book of Isaiah this late.89 Therefore, no matter how late Isaiah is dated, the fulfillment of predictive prohecies must be admitted. Hence, the liberal bias against the supernatural is without justification.

THE BOOK OF DANIEL

The traditional view concerning the Book of Daniel is that Daniel wrote it between 590 and 530BC.90 Daniel lived under both the Babylonian and the Medo-Persian rule over Judah.

The liberal view teaches that the Book of Daniel was written around 165BC to encourage the Jews in Palestine to resist the evil ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.91 This is due to the fact that Daniel predicts the reign of this vile man. And, as mentioned throughout this chapter, liberal scholars reject the fulfillment of predictive prophecies. Their world view forces them to date the Book of Daniel after the events occurred. Hence, they assume the late date.92

There is much evidence for the traditional date of Daniel. First, Daniel uses early Aramaic which is consistent with the sixth century BC date of composition, rather than a second century BC date.93 Second, the three Greek words found in Daniel do not prove a late date (the Greeks did not takeover the Palestine area until 330BC). The three Greek words are names of musical instruments, which could easily have been known and used in Palestine and Babylon long before the Greeks conquered those regions.94

Third, Daniel’s theology, contrary to liberal speculation, was not too advanced for such an early date as the sixth century BC. His teaching concerning angels, the end-time resurrection, and the Kingdom of God can also be found in other Old Testament books which predate the sixth century BC.95

Fourth, there is strong archaeological confirmation of some of the historical characters found in the Book of Daniel. King Belshazzar was thought to be unhistorical by liberal critics. Secular history records Nabonidus as the last king of the Babylonian Empire. However, later discoveries of cuneiform tablets revealed that Nabonidus shared his reign with his son Belshazzar.96 Liberal scholars also rejected the historicity of Darius the Mede, but recent scholarship has identified Darius the Mede with an ancient govenor of Babylon named Gubaru. It has also been shown that Darius was probably not a personal name; rather, it was a title of royalty (such as Caesar was for the Romans).97

Fifth, several of Daniel’s predictions were fulfilled after 165BC.98 Therefore, there is no reason to date the Book of Daniel around that time. Daniel’s prophecies of the four world kingdoms (Daniel 2, 7) predicted that the Medo-Persians would overthrow the Babylonians (this occurred in 538BC). Daniel foretold the Greek conquest of the Medo-Persian Empire (330BC). But, Daniel also prophesied the Roman conquest of Palestine, which occurred in 63BC. This is obviously much later than even the most liberal dating of Daniel (165BC). Hence, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that Daniel contains predictive prophecies that have been fulfilled.99

Some of Daniel’s most amazing prophecies are Messianic. Daniel predicted that the Messiah would be executed 483 years after the order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was issued (Daniel 9:24-27). This would place the death of the Jewish Messiah at about 30AD.100 Daniel also stated that the death of the Messiah would be followed by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (which occurred in 70AD).101

No matter how one tries, there is no way to remove the supernatural elements from the Book of Daniel. Even if a person accepts the liberal dating of the book of Daniel (165BC), it is still evident that Daniel predicted the future. He predicted future events that did not occur until after 165BC. Therefore, there is no reason to attempt to date Daniel after the events he predicts, for even the late date for the composition of Daniel must admit the fulfillment of predictive prophecies. Since even the liberal 165BC date would have to admit major fulfillments of prophecies, the evidence supports the traditional date (590-530BC) for the Book of Daniel.

CONCLUSION

The Old Testament has been shown to be historically reliable. Many times archaeology has confirmed the Old testament account. Not once has an archaeological find refuted the history recorded in the Bible.102 The only reason to reject the historical reliability of the Old Testament is an a priori bias against the possibility of God revealing Himself through propositional form, and, as has been shown, this bias is unwarranted.

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler, Apologetics, 285-377.

2 Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), entire book.

3 Ibid., 15.

4 Ibid., 19.

5 Ibid., 37-45.

6 Ibid., 44.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., 42.

10 Ibid., 66.

11 Ibid., 38.

12 McDowell, 57-58.

13 Archer, 37.

14 Tenney, ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 206.

15 Archer, 45.

16 Ibid.

17 McDowell, 58.

18 Archer, 55.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 109-110.

21 Ibid., 97-98.

22 Ibid., 83-84.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 83.

25 Ibid., 84.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 85.

31 Ibid., 87-88.

32 Ibid., 89.

33 Ibid., 89-90, 148-150.

34 Ibid., 91-92.

35 Ibid., 94.

36 Ibid., 110.

37 Ibid., 112.

38 Ibid., 109.

39 Ibid., 110-111.

40 Ibid., 111.

41 Ibid., 110.

42 Ibid., 111.

43 Ibid., 111-112.

44 Ibid., 121-122.

45 Ibid., 113-114.

46 Ibid., 115.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid., 115-119.

49 Ibid., 119-120.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid., 120.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., 114-115, 122-123.

56 Ibid., 120.

57 Ibid., 164.

58 Ibid., 170, 172.

59 Ibid., 170-182.

60 Ibid., 173-174.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid., 176-177.

63 Ibid., 177.

64 Ibid., 147-169.

65 Ibid., 149.

66 Ibid., 179.

67 Ibid., 177.

68 Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Nashville: The Southwestern Company, 1962), 115.

69 Archer, 259-260.

70 John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 129-133.

71 Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 181.

72 Archer, 259-268.

73 Ibid., 124-129.

74 Ibid., 126.

75 Ibid., 130.

76 Ibid., 129.

77 Ibid., 132-135, 138.

78 Ibid., 271.

79 Ibid., 276.

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid., 277.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid., 336-338.

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid., 352.

86 Ibid., 357.

87 Ibid., 356.

88 Ibid., 357.

89 Ibid., 355.

90 Ibid., 387.

91 Ibid., 388.

92 Ibid.

93 Ibid., 398-401.

94 Ibid., 395.

95 Ibid., 403.

96 Ibid., 390-392.

97 Ibid., 393-394.

98 Ibid., 403-408.

99 Ibid., 407.

100 Ibid., 409.

101 Ibid.

102 Ibid., 171.

New Testament Reliability

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Establishing the reliability of the New Testament is vital to Christian apologetics. Christianity is a religion with deep historical roots. For example, if Jesus did not rise from the dead (an historical event), then the Christian Faith cannot save (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). If He did not die on the cross for the sins of mankind (an historical event), then Christianity offers no hope (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). Proving the New Testament can be trusted will go a long way to establishing Christianity as the one true faith.

This chapter will attempt to show that the New Testament accounts were written by eyewitnesses who knew Christ, or persons who knew the eyewitnesses. Evidence will be provided to show that the accounts of Christ’s bodily resurrection and His claims to deity were not legends invented decades after Christ’s death; rather, they were eyewitness accounts. This chapter will not deal with defending the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God; that topic will be examined in chapter twenty-eight. The purpose of this chapter is to merely show that the New Testament documents are historically reliable.

MANUSCRIPT EVIDENCE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Many historical scholars believe that one cannot know the true Jesus of history since no one no has the original writings of those who knew Him. Only copies of the originals are in existence today. Ironically, these historical scholars will often quote from Plato, as well as other ancient writers, as if they can know with certainty what Plato originally wrote. This clearly unveils a double standard. Ancient secular writings can be trusted based on late copies, but the New Testament cannot be trusted since the original manuscripts are missing.

The New Testament is by far the most reliable ancient writing in existence today. There exist today over 24,000 copies (5,000 of them in the original Greek language) of the New Testament (either in whole or in part).1 This should be compared with the fact that only 7 copies presently exist of Plato’s Tetralogies.2 Homer’s Iliad is in second place behind the New Testament among ancient writings with just 643 copies.3

The earliest copy of Plato’s Tetralogies is dated about 1,200 years after Plato supposedly wrote the original.4 Compare this with the earliest extant copy of the New Testament: the John Ryland’s Papyri. It contains a portion of John 18. This fragment is dated at about 125AD, only 25 years after the original is thought to have been written.5 In fact, there is possibly an even earlier New Testament fragment that was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The fragment is called 7Q5; it is dated earlier than 70AD. Though there is heated debate about this manuscript, it has been argued that it is a part of Mark 6:52-53.6 Again, Homer’s Iliad takes second place among ancient writings, second only to the New Testament. The earliest copy of any portion of Homer’s Iliad is dated about 500 years after the original writing.7

When the contents of the extant manuscripts of the New Testament are compared, there appears to be 99.5% agreement. There is total agreement in the doctrines taught; the corruptions are mainly grammatical.8 Homer’s Iliad once again takes second place behind the New Testament among ancient documents. Homer’s Iliad has a 95% accuracy when its copies are compared.9 Since there are so few remaining copies of Plator’s writings, agreement between these copies is not considered a factor (they are probably all copies of the same copy).10

TABLE 8

Comparison of 3 Ancient Writings

Ancient Writing Agreement

Extant Copies

Earliest Extant Copy

Agreement Between Copies

Homer’s Iliad 643 500 years after original 95%
Plato’s Tetralogies 7 1,200 years after original
New Testament over 24,000 25 years after original 99.5%

In short, historical scholars can consider the extant New Testament manuscripts to be reliable and accurate representations of what the authors originally wrote. Since the New Testament is by far the most accurately copied ancient writing, to question its authenticity is to call into question all of ancient literature.

ANCIENT NEW TESTAMENT COPIES

The following manuscripts are some of the better known copies of the New Testament. The John Rylands Papyri is the oldest undisputed fragment of the New Testament still in existence. It is dated between 125 and 130AD. It contains a portion of John 18.11 The Bodmer Papyrus II contains most of John’s Gospel and dates between 150 and 200AD.12 The Chester Beatty Papyri includes major portions of the New Testament; it is dated around 200AD.13 Codex Vaticanus contains nearly the entire Bible and is dated between 325 and 350AD.14 Codex Sinaiticus contains nearly all of the New Testament and approximately half of the Old Testament. It is dated at about 350AD.15 Codex Alexandrinus encompasses almost the entire Bible and was copied around 400AD.16 Codex Ephraemi represents every New Testament book except for 2 John and 2 Thessalonians. Ephraemi is dated in the 400’s AD.17 Codex Bezae has the Gospels and Acts as its contents and is dated after 450AD.18

TABLE 9

ANCIENT NEW TESTAMENT COPIES

Manuscripts

Content

Date

John Rylands Papyri portion of John 18 125-130AD
Bodmer Papyrus II most of John’s Gospel 150-200AD
Chester Beatty Papyri major portions of N. T. 200AD
Codex Vaticanus almost entire Bible 325-350AD
Codex Sinaiticus all of N. T. & half of O. T. 350AD
Codex Alexandrinus almost entire Bible 400AD
Codex Ephraemi most of N. T. 400’s AD
Codex Bezae the Gospels & Acts 450AD

The very early dates of these manuscripts provide strong evidence that the current New Testament is one and the same with the original writings of the apostles. There is no logical reason to doubt the reliability of these manuscripts.

THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS: ANOTHER SOURCE OF N. T. RELIABILITY

The New Testament manuscripts are not the only evidence for the reliability of the New Testament. Another source of evidence is found in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The apostolic fathers were leaders in the early church who knew the apostles and their doctrine.19 Most of their writings were produced between 95 and 150AD.20

Liberal scholars have attempted to find the so-called true Jesus of history. It was their goal to find a non-supernatural Jesus who never claimed to be God. These scholars believe that Christ’s claim to be God and Savior, and His miraculous life (especially His bodily resurrection from the dead) are merely legends. The true Jesus of history was a great teacher; still, He was merely a man.21 Therefore, if it can be shown that early church leaders, who personally knew the apostles, taught that the miraculous aspects of Christ’s life actually occurred and that Jesus did in fact make the bold claims recorded in the New Testament, then the legend hypothesis fails. Historians recognize that legends take centuries to develop.22 A legend is a ficticious story that, through the passage of time, many people come to accept as historically accurate. A legend can begin to develop only if the eyewitnesses and those who knew the eyewitnesses are already dead. Otherwise, the eyewitnesses or those who knew them would refute the legend. Therefore, a legend has its beginning a generation or two after the event or person in question has passed. However, before a legend receives wide acceptance, several centuries are needed, for there is still a remembrance of the person or event due to information passed on orally from generation to generation. After several centuries, new generations arise without the sufficient knowledge of the person or event necessary to refute the legend. If a written record compiled by eyewitnesses is passed on to future generations, legends can be easily refuted.

One apostolic father, Clement, was the Bishop of Rome. He wrote his letter to the Corinthians in 95AD. The following is a brief quote from this letter:

Let us fear the Lord Jesus (Christ), whose blood was given for us.23 The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent from God.24 He made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit, when He raised Him from the dead.25

It is important to note that Clement of Rome referred to Jesus as “the Lord.” This is an obvious reference to Christ’s deity, for he uses the Greek word “Kurios” with the definite article26 (Christ was the Lord, not a Lord). Clement also spoke of Christ’s blood as being shed for us, indicating a belief in Christ’s saving work. He declared that the apostles received the Gospel directly from Jesus. Clement also spoke of God raising Jesus from the dead. If any of these statements were opposed to the doctrines of the apostles, the Apostle John, who was still alive at the time, would have openly confronted this first century bishop. However, he did not. Therefore, the writings of Clement of Rome provide strong confirmation of the original message of the Apostles. Contrary to the wishful thinking of skeptics, the teachings of the first century church are exactly what one finds in the New Testament.

The apostolic father, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote his letters between 110 and 115AD. During that time, he was traveling from Antioch to Rome to be martyred.27 Ignatius openly wrote about the deity of Christ. He referred to Jesus as “Jesus Christ our God,” “God in man,” and “Jesus Christ the God.”28 Ignatius stated that “there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son.”29 Besides ascribing deity to Christ, Ignatius also wrote of salvation in Christ and expressed belief in Christ’s virgin birth, crucifixion, and resurrection:

Christ Jesus our Savior . . .30

Jesus Christ, who dies for us, that believing on His death ye might escape death.31

He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin.32

Be ye deaf therefore, when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was born of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him . . .33

The writings of Ignatius show that only fifteen years after the death of the Apostle John, the central doctrines of the New Testament were already being taught. It is infinitesimal that the New Testament manuscripts, referenced by Ignatius, could have been corrupted in such a short amount of time. It is also important to remember that Clement of Rome taught the same doctrines while the Apostle John was still alive.

Another apostolic father Polycarp (70-156AD) was the Bishop of Smyrna. He was a personal pupil of the Apostle John.34 Had any of the other apostolic fathers perverted the teachings of the apostles, Polycarp would have set the record straight. However, Polycarp’s teachings are essentially the same as that of Clement of Rome and Ignatius. Of all the apostolic fathers, Polycarp knew better than any the content of the original apostles’ message. Liberal scholars display tremendous arrogance when they assume that they have more insight into the original apostolic message than Polycarp. Polycarp studied under the Apostle John (85-95AD?); contemporary scholars live nearly 2,000 years later. In his letter to the Philippians, Polycarp wrote:

. . . Jesus Christ who took our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him.35

For they loved not the present world, but Him that died for our sakes and was raised by God for us.36

. . . who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father that raised Him from the dead.37

Another student of the Apostle John was Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis. Papias was born between 60 and 70AD and died between 130 and 140AD.38 Papias wrote that he did not accept the words of any self-proclaimed teacher. Instead, he would talk to others who, like himself, had known at least one of the original apostles. In this way, Papias could discover the teachings of Christ from the sources closest to Christ Himself, rather than rely on hearsay testimony.39

Papias wrote of his discussions with persons who spoke with with apostles such as Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, or Matthew.40 Papias stated that Mark received the information for his Gospel from the Apostle Peter himself. Papias also related that Matthew originally recorded his gospel in Hebrew, but that it was later translated into Greek to reach a wider audience.41

The testimony of the first century and early second century church should be considered extremely reliable. For their teachings many of them were martyred. Since people will only die for what they truly believe, it is reasonable to conclude that the early church sincerely believed thay were protecting the true apostolic faith from possible perversions. If they had tampered with the teachings of the apostles, they certainly would not have died for their counterfeit views.

The following conclusions can now be drawn: First, the apostolic fathers form an unbroken chain from the apostles to their day. Second, people who personally knew the apostles accepted the leadership of the apostolic fathers. Third, the apostolic fathers taught essentially the same thing as the New Testament. Fourth, the apostolic fathers and their followers were willing to die for the teachings passed down to them from the apostles themselves. Therefore, our New Testament accurately represents the teachings of the apostles. This includes such key doctrines as the deity of Christ, His substitutionary death, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and salvation through Him alone.

ANCIENT SECULAR WRITINGS: ANOTHER WITNESS

Besides references to Christ in Christian literature which dates back to the first and second centuries AD, there are also ancient secular writings which refer to Christ from that same time period. The significance of these non-Christian writings is that, though the secular authors themselves did not believe the early church’s message, they stated the content of what the early church actually taught.

In 52AD, Thallus recorded a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world. In this work, he covered the time period from the Trojan War (mid 1200’s BC) to his day (52AD). Though no manuscripts of Thallus’ work are known to currently exist, Julius Africanus (writing in 221AD) referred to Thallus’ work. Africanus stated that Thallus attempted to explain away the darkness that covered the land when Christ was crucified. Thallus attributed this darkness to an eclipse of the sun.42 This reveals that about twenty years after the death of Christ, non-believers were still trying to give explanations for the miraculous events of Christ’s life.

In 115AD, a Roman historian named Cornelius Tacitus wrote about the great fire of Rome which occurred during Nero’s reign. Tacitus reported that Nero blamed the fire on a group of people called Christians, and he tortured them for it. Tacitus stated that the Christians had been named after their founder “Christus.” Tacitus said that Christus had been executed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius (14-37AD). Tacitus related that the “superstition” of the Christians had been stopped for a short time, but then once again broke out, spreading from Judaea all the way to Rome. He said that multitudes of Christians (based on their own confessions to be followers of Christ) were thrown to wild dogs, crucified, or burned to death. Tacitus added that their persecutions were not really for the good of the public; their deaths merely satisfied the cruelty of Nero himself.43

These statements by Tacitus are consistent with the New Testament records. Even Tacitus’ report of the stopping of the “superstition” and then its breaking out again appears to be his attempt to explain how the death of Christ stifled the spreading of the gospel, but then the Christian message was once again preached, this time spreading more rapidly. This is perfectly consistent with the New Testament record. The New Testament reports that Christ’s disciples went into hiding during His arrest and death. After Jesus rose from the dead (three days after the crucifixion), He filled His disciples with the Holy Spirit (about fifty days after the crucifixion), and they fearlessly proclaimed the gospel throughout the Roman Empire (Acts 1 and 2).

Suetonius was the chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian who reigned over Rome from 117 to 138AD. Suetonius refers to the riots that occurred in the Jewish community in Rome in 49AD due to the instigation of “Chrestus.” Chrestus is apparently a variant spelling of Christ. Suetonius refers to these Jews being expelled from the city.44 Seutonius also reports that following the great fire of Rome, Christians were punished. He refers to their religious beliefs as “new and mischievous.”45

Pliny the Younger, another ancient secular writer, provides evidence for early Christianity. He was a Roman governor in Asia Minor. His work dates back to 112AD. He states that Christians assembled on a set day, sangs hymns to Christ as to a god, vowed not to partake in wicked deeds, and shared “ordinary” food.46 This shows that by 112AD, it was already common knowledge that Christians worshiped Christ, sang hymns to Him, lived moral lives, assembled regularly, and partook of common food (probably a reference to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper).

The Roman Emperor Trajan also wrote in 112AD. He gave guidelines for the persecution of Christians. He stated that if a person denies he is a Christian and proves it by worshiping the Roman gods, he must be pardoned for his repentance.47

The Roman Emperor Hadrian reigned from 117 to 138AD. He wrote that Christians should only be punished if there was clear evidence against them. Mere accusations were not enough to condemn a supposed Christian.48 The significance of these passages found in the writings of Trajan and Hadrian is that it confirms the fact that early Christians were sincere enough about their beliefs to die for them.

The Talmud is the written form of the oral traditions of the ancient Jewish Rabbis. A Talmud passage dating back to between 70 and 200AD refers to Jesus as one who “practiced sorcery” and led Israel astray. This passage states that Jesus (spelled Yeshu) was hanged (the common Jewish term for crucifixion) on the night before the Passover feast.49 This is a very significant passage, for it reveals that even the enemies of Christ admitted there were supernatural aspects of Christ’s life by describing Him as one who “practiced sorcery.” This source also confirms that Jesus was crucified around the time of the Passover feast.

Another anti-Christian document was the Toledoth Jesu, which dates back to the fifth century AD, but reflects a much earlier Jewish tradition. In this document, the Jewish leaders are said to have paraded the rotting corpse of Christ through the streets of Jerusalem.50 This obviously did not occur. The earliest preaching of the gospel took place in Jerusalem. Therefore, parading the rotting corpse of Christ through the streets of Jerusalem would have crushed the Christian faith in its embryonic stage. However, some of the other non-Christian authors mentioned above stated that Christianity spread rapidly during the first few decades after Christ’s death. The preaching of Christ’s resurrection would not have been persuasive if His rotting corpse had been publicly displayed.

It is also interesting to note that the Jewish religious leaders waited quite a long before putting a refutation of the resurrection into print. Certainly, it would have served their best interests to disprove Christ’s resurrection. But as far as written documents are concerned, the first century Jewish authorities were silent regarding the resurrection of Jesus.

Lucian was a Greek satirist of the second century. He wrote that Christians worshipped a wise man who had been crucified, lived by His laws, and believed themselves to be immortal.51 Thus, this ancient secular source confirms the New Testament message by reporting the fact that Jesus was worshipped by His earliest followers.

Probably the most interesting of all ancient non-Christian references to the life of Christ is found in the writings of the Jewish historian named Joephus. Joephus was born in 37 or 38AD and died in 97AD. At nineteen, he became a Pharisee (a Jewish religious leader and teacher).52 The following passage is found in his writings:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named after him, are not extinct at this day.53

Since Josephus was a Jew and not a Christian, many scholars deny that this passage was originally written by him. These scholars believe this text was corrupted by Christians. Gary Habermas, chairman of the the philosophy department at Liberty University, dealt with this problem in the following manner:

There are good indications that the majority of the text is genuine. There is no textual evidence against it, and, conversely, there is very good manuscript evidence for this statement about Jesus, thus making it difficult to ignore. Additionally, leading scholars on the works of Josephus have testified that this portion is written in the style of this Jewish historian. Thus we conclude that there are good reasons for accepting this version of Josephus’ statement about Jesus, with modifications of questionable words. In fact, it is possible that these modifications can even be accurately ascertained. In 1972, Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem released the results of a study on an Arabic manuscript containing Josephus’ statement about Jesus. It includes a different and briefer rendering of the entire passage, including changes in the key words listed above. . .54

Habermas goes on to relate the Arabic version of this debated passage. In this version, Jesus is described as being a wise and virtuous man who had many followers from different nations. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, but his disciples reported that, three days later, He appeared to them alive. Josephus added that Jesus may have been the Messiah whom the prophets had predicted would come.55

It is highly unlikely that both readings of this controversial passage are corrupt. One of these two readings probably represents the original text. The other reading would then be a copy that was tampered with by either a Christian or a non-Christian. Whatever the case may be, even the skeptic should have no problem accepting the Arabic reading. Still, even if only this reading is accepted, it is enough. For it is a first century testimony from a non-Christian historian that declares that those who knew Jesus personally claimed that He had appeared to them alive three days after His death by crucifixion under Pilate.

Several things can be learned from this brief survey of ancient non-Christian writings concerning the life of Christ. First, His earliest followers worshipped Him as God. The doctrine of Christ’s deity is therefore not a legend or myth developed many years after Christ’s death (as was the case with Buddha). Second, they claimed to have seen Him alive three days after His death. Third, Christ’s earliest followers faced persecution and martyrdom for their refusal to deny His deity and resurrection. Therefore, the deity and resurrection of Christ were not legends added to the text centuries after its original composition. Instead, these teachings were the focus of the teaching of Christ’s earliest followers. They claimed to be eyewitnesses of Christ’s miraculous life and were willing to die horrible deaths for their testimonies. Therefore, they were reliable witnesses of who the true Jesus of history was and what He taught.

ANCIENT CREEDS FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

The writings of both the apostolic fathers and ancient non-Christian authors declare that the earliest Christians did in fact teach that Jesus is God and that He rose from the dead. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is stronger than that of any other ancient writing. Another piece of evidence for the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is the ancient creeds found in the New Testament itself.

Most scholars, whether liberal or conservative, date Paul’s epistles before the Gospels were put into written form.56 Just as the teachings of the Jewish Rabbis had originally been passed on orally, it appears that the Gospel was first spread in the form of oral creeds and hymns.57 J. P. Moreland states that Paul’s epistles contain many of these pre-Pauline creeds and hymns, that they were originally spoken in the Aramaic tongue (the Hebrew language of Christ’s day), and that most scholars date these creeds and hymns between 33AD and 48AD.58 Since Paul’s writings are dated in the 50’s AD or 60’s AD by most scholars, the creeds he recorded in his letters point to an oral tradition which predates his writings. Most scholars will at least admit that these ancient creeds originated before 50AD.59

Excerpts from some of these ancient creeds found in the letters of Paul are as follows:

. . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9).

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

And He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17).

These ancient creeds clearly prove that the first generation Christians believed that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead, that He is God, and that salvation comes through Him.60 The followers of Buddha attributed deity to the founder of their religion centuries after his death.61 However, the earliest followers of Christ, those who knew Him personally, considered Him to be God.62 It is almost universally recognized that these creeds were formulated before 50AD. Therefore, they represent the Gospel in its original form.

The belief in Christ’s deity and resurrection is not based on later corruptions of the New Testament text as liberal scholars believe. The doctrines of Christ’s deity and resurrection are not legends that took centuries to develop. These doctrines were held by the first generation church, those who knew Jesus personally. The gospel message found in the New Testament is the same message proclaimed by the apostles themselves.

Less than twenty years after Christ’s death, hymns were already being sung in Christian churches attributing deity to Christ. The apostles were still alive and had the authority to supress the idea of Christ’s deity if it was a heresy, but, they did not. All the available evidence indicates that they not only condoned it, but that it was their own teaching. Therefore, liberal scholars such as John Hick have no justification for their claims that the deity of Christ was a legend that developed near the end of the first century AD.63 The historical evidence indicates that the Christian church always believed in Christ’s deity. Therefore, to deny that Christ claimed to be God is to call the apostles liars.

Nearly 2,000 years after the death of Christ a forum of liberal scholars called the “Jesus Seminar” has been meeting since 1985. These scholars vote to decide which biblical passages they believe Jesus actually said.64 This is ironic since the evidence shows that Christianity proclaimed Christ’s deity and resurrection from its inception. The early church accepted the deity of Christ. The early church was willing to suffer horrible persecution for this belief. Sincere eyewitness testimony should not be ignored.

THE OPINIONS OF THE EXPERTS

The testimonies of some of the world’s leading experts can be called upon to further verify the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. Dr. John A. T. Robinson, one of England’s leading New Testament critics, came to the conclusion that the entire New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.65

Sir William Ramsey was one of the world’s greatest archaeologists. His thorough investigation into Luke’s Book of Acts led him to the conclusion that Acts was a mid-first century document that was historically reliable.66

William F. Albright is one of the world’s foremost biblical archaeologists. He states that there is no evidential basis for dating any New Testament book after 80AD.67

Sir Frederic Kenyon was one of the world’s leading experts on ancient manuscripts. His research led him to conclude that the New Testament is essentially the same as when it was originally written.68

Millar Burrows, the great archaeologist from Yale, stated that there is no doubt that archaeological research has strengthened confidence in the historical reliability of the Bible. Burrows also stated that the skepticism of liberal scholars is based on their prejudice against the supernatural, rather than on the evidence itself.69

F. F. Bruce, New Testament scholar from Manchester University in England, stated that if the New Testament writings had been secular works, no scholar would question their authenticity. Bruce believes that the evidence for the New Testament outweighs the evidence for many classical works which have never been doubted.70

Bruce Metzger is a famous textual critic from Princeton. He has stated that the New Testament has more evidence in its favor than any other writings from ancient Greek or Latin literature.71

It is clear that the evidence favors the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament. Scholars who do not allow their bias against the supernatural to influence their conclusions have recognized this fact. Scholars who reject the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts do so because they chose to go against the overwhelming evidence. However, such a rejection is not true scholarship; it is an a priori assumption.

CONCLUSION

Evidence from the existing New Testament manuscripts, from the writings of the apostolic fathers, from the works of ancient secular authors, from the ancient creeds and hymns found in the New Testament, and from the opinions of the world’s leading experts have been examined. All this evidence leads to the conclusion that the existing New Testament manuscripts are reliable and authentic testimony of what the apostles wrote. A person is free to deny this conclusion, but to do so is to go against all the available evidence.

The key point is that the original apostles taught that Jesus rose from the dead, and that He claimed to be God incarnate and the Savior of the world.

ENDNOTES

1 McDowell, 42-43.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 43.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Corduan, 192.

7 McDowell, 43.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 46.

12 Ibid., 46-47.

13 Ibid., 47.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 47-48.

16 Ibid., 48.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Cairns, 73.

20 Ibid.

21 Gary R. Habermas, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 42.

22 Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, He Walked Among Us (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, 1988), 130.

23 Lightfoot and Harmer, 67.

24 Ibid., 75.

25 Ibid., 68.

26 Ibid., 17.

27 Ibid., 97.

28 Ibid., 137, 139, 149, 150, 156.

29 Ibid., 144.

30 Ibid., 137.

31 Ibid., 147.

32 Ibid., 156.

33 Ibid., 148.

34 Cairns, 74.

35 Lightfoot and Harmer, 180.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid., 181.

38 Ibid., 514.

39 Ibid., 527-528.

40 Ibid., 528.

41 Ibid., 529.

42 Habermas, 93.

43 Ibid., 87-88.

44 Ibid., 90.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid., 94.

47 Ibid., 96.

48 Ibid., 97.

49 Ibid., 98.

50 Ibid., 99-100.

51 Ibid., 100.

52 Ibid., 90.

53 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus William Whiston, trans. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 480.

54 Habermas, 91.

55 Ibid., 91-92.

56 McDowell and Wilson, 168-170.

57 Ibid., 170.

58 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 148-149.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid., 149.

61 Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), 307-308.

62 Moreland, 149.

63 John Hick, The Center of Christianity (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1978), 27-29.

64 J. P. Moreland and Michael J. Wilkins, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 2-3.

65 McDowell, Evidence, 63.

66 Roy Abraham Varghese, ed. The Intellectuals Speak Out About God (Dallas: Lewis and Stanley Publishers, 1984), 267-268.

67 Ibid., 267.

68 Ibid., 274.

69 McDowell, Evidence, 66.

70 Varghese, 274.

71 Ibid., 205.

Transformed Lives

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Alone, the testimony of transformed lives does not provide an adequate defense of the gospel. For there are those who claim that another religion has changed their lives for the better. Therefore, it is better to argue for Christianity through other means first, and then use testimonial apologetics to strengthen one’s case.

Still, there are people who do not need intellectual arguments to come to Christ. Instead, they are more likely to come to Christ through hearing how Jesus has changed another person’s life for the better. They long to have their lives changed as well, and they find through another person’s testimony that Christ can do this for them.

In this chapter, the evidence of how Jesus Christ changes lives will be examined. If Jesus is truly alive today, then He is still in the business of changing lives. In the next chapter, divine intervention (the other aspect of testimonial apologetics) will be discussed.

When using evidence from changed lives, three things should be noted. First, there must be thorough transformation. The changes in the life of the person using testimonial apologetics must be so thorough that it could not have been produced through human will power alone. If a person quit smoking cigarettes due to accepting Christ, this is not enough. Many non-Christians have given up smoking without conversion. Evidence from other areas of the Christian’s life must be shared as well.

Second, there must be genuine transformation. Often, a person’s testimony is later discovered to be filled with lies and exaggerations. This can only push people further away from Christ.

Third, there must be permanent transformation. Too often new converts are called upon to publicly share their testimonies. Then, a short time later, these supposed converts are once again practicing their old lifestyles. A sufficient amount of time is needed to assure others that the changes are of a permanent nature.

BIBLICAL SUPPORT

The Bible supports the practice of testimonial apologetics. First, it teaches that Jesus changes the lifestyles of those He saves. James tells us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Thus, true saving faith will produce good works in the life of a believer. After listing many sins of the unrighteous, the apostle Paul states, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul also taught that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus declared that “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Second, the Bible records the apostle Paul sharing his testimony on two separate occasions to provide evidence for the truth of Christianity (Acts 22:1-21; 26:1-23). Therefore, testimonial apologetics should not be ignored when discussing ways to defend the faith. Still, it must be remembered that it is not the only way to provide evidence for the faith.

The remainder of this chapter will provide several brief examples of lives that had been transformed by Jesus Christ. First, the lives of two apostles will be discussed. Then the lives of other Christians will also be examined.

THE APOSTLE PETER

This Jewish fisherman had sat under the teachings of Jesus for over three years. Still, when Christ was arrested, he became fearful and three times denied knowing Christ (Matthew 26:69-75).

After Jesus rose from the dead, Peter confessed his love for Jesus three times (John 21:15-17). Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower Peter and the other apostles (Acts 1:8-9). The Holy Spirit came upon Peter, the apostles, and the rest of the church ten days later (Acts 2:1-4). Filled with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Peter boldly proclaimed Christ’s salvation message despite opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. No longer was he overcome with fear. Three thousand people accepted Christ as their Savior due to Peter’s first message (Acts 2:14-42).

The courage that Peter had in that day due to the transforming work of Christ continued to be evident throughout his life. This

apostle suffered great persecution for the Christian faith (Acts 4:1-3; 5:40-42). Eventually, Peter was martyred for preaching the gospel. He was crucified (possibly upside down). 1

THE APOSTLE PAUL

Paul was schooled in the Old Testament from his youth. At a young age he became a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader specializing in teaching the Old Testament (Philippians 3:4-6). His greatest desire was to serve the God of Israel. However, he mistook Jesus of Nazareth for an impostor and a false messiah. Therefore, he dedicated his energies to persecuting the church which he thought to be heretical.

When Paul was on the road to Damascus (attempting to persecute more Christians), he encountered the risen Christ. Falling to the ground and blinded by the light of Christ’s glory, he realized that Jesus was who He claimed to be . . . the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world. Christ then commissioned Paul to be the apostle to the gentiles (Acts 9:1-22; 22:3-16; 26:9-18).

From that day forth, Paul, who had previously led the persecution against the church, became the greatest missionary of the early church. Despite the horrible persecution he was to suffer, he managed to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire. He was stoned, scourged, shipwrecked, beaten, and mocked (2 Corinthians 11:24-33). But nothing could deter him from his mission. His life was totally devoted to the one he had met on the road to Damascus.

This persecutor of the church had been transformed into one of the church’s greatest assets. He loved his Messiah and faithfully served Him until death. He was beheaded for sharing the gospel sometime after 65AD. 2

AUGUSTINE

Saint Augustine (354-430AD) spent his early life seeking to find fulfillment in sexual immorality. Finding no true joy there, he accepted the Manichean teaching (matter is evil and co-eternal with God), but later found this inadequate. He then began to despair. How could evil exist if all that God created is good? He doubted that he would ever find ultimate truth. All during this time, his Christian mother prayed for his salvation. 3

Eventually, he was exposed to the teachings of Ambrose, a Christian philosopher. Ambrose taught that evil exists only as a corruption or perversion of God’s perfect creation. 4 This and other teachings of Ambrose answered much of the philosophical doubt that Augustine had in regards to the Christian Faith. In 386AD, while in a garden meditating on his spiritual thirst for God, Augustine heard a neighbor’s voice stating, “Take up and read.” Augustine, taking this to be a sign from God, opened his Bible to Romans 13:13-14 and began to read. This passage commands one to depart from sexual immorality and to appropriate the work of Jesus Christ to one’s life. Augustine immediately broke off his immoral relationship with a woman and became a Christian. 5

Augustine became one of the greatest scholars of church history. His many writings are still widely read by Catholics and Protestants alike. This great thinker’s quest for truth led him to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. His life of sexual immorality was replaced by a life of holiness.

JOHN NEWTON

John Newton (1725-1807) sought lustful pleasures throughout his early life. He was also a man of extreme violence and was a ruthless slave-trader. However, this man who victimized men and women himself became a victim. His life collapsed as he himself was sold into slavery. In the midst of his despair he called out to Jesus for salvation. Once saved, his life was totally transformed. After his conversion, he was ordained to the ministry.

Today, we do not remember John Newton as one of the vilest men who ever lived. Instead, we remember him as the man who penned the words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” 6

NICKY CRUZ

Nicky Cruz grew up on the streets of New York. He was the leader of a gang called the Mau Maus. His life was filled with violence. He trusted in his own strength to solve his problems. But when a persistent preacher proclaimed the gospel message in his presence, the heart of this street warrior began to melt. He accepted Christ as his Savior, and his life has never been the same.

Now he speaks publicly throughout America, leading many city youths to faith in Christ. Because of Cruz’s testimony, hundreds of youths have been directed off the path of destruction that he once traveled. 7

CHUCK COLSON

Chuck Colson was one of the most powerful men in America. He was one of the top political figures in the country. He worked directly under the leadership of President Richard Nixon. But the Watergate Scandal brought down the kingdom Chuck Colson had built. Soon, he was just another inmate in just another prison. However, this man was set free from the spiritual imprisonment of his soul. As he read a book written by the Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, he came to know Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Chuck Colson no longer seeks power over other men. Currently, he not only spreads the gospel, but also leads the fight for prison reform throughout the world. 8

FRANK MORISON

Frank Morison was a journalist who set out to disprove Christ’s resurrection. He proceeded to research the historical evidence in great detail. But, having examined the evidence, the skeptic was alarmed with his own conclusion: Christ had actually risen from the dead! Though reluctant at first, he decided to accept the evidence. He accepted Christ as his Savior and is now a defender of the gospel he once tried to destroy. 9

CONCLUSION

These are just a few examples of how Jesus Christ has transformed lives throughout history. Many others could be given. These testimonies speak loudly of Christ’s ability to make good come out of the worst of situations. Jesus is alive, He saves, and He is still in the business of changing lives.

Paul E. Little speaks of the transforming power of Christ:

The late Harry Ironside was preaching, some years ago, when a heckler shouted, “Atheism has done more for the world than Christianity!” “Very well,” said Ironside, “tomorrow night you bring a hundred men whose lives have been changed for the better by atheism, and I’ll bring a hundred who have been transformed by Christ.” Needless to say, his heckler friend did not appear the next night.10

Although many people claim that only ignorant people become Christians, this is not the case. People from different walks of life have become Christians. They have had different levels of education. Some have been poor; some have been rich. Some were successful; others were failures. Some Christian apologists have even suggested that there is more evidence for atheists fitting into a tightly defined group than there is for Christians. 11 Many leading atheists throughout history have had either absent or passive fathers. 12 It can be argued that atheists deny God’s existence because of their desire to kill the father image. 13

It seems that a merely psychological explanation for a conversion to Christianity is unacceptable. The transformed lives of Christians who have come from many different backgrounds provide strong confirmation for the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

ENDNOTES

1 Carsten P. Thiede, Simon Peter (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 190.

2 F. F. Bruce, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 450.

3 Cairns, 146.

4 Dowley, 206-207.

5 Cairns, 146.

6 Ibid., 396.

7 Nicky Cruz, Run Baby Run (Plainfield: Logos Books, 1968), entire book.

8 Shirl Short, “Exclusive Interview with Chuck Colson.” Moody Monthly (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, Feb., 1976).

9 Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (London: Faber and Faber, 1958), entire book.

10 Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1967), 145-146.

11 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 229.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.