Biblical Justification for Classical Arguments

Since I am Reformed, I have often been criticised for my use of classical apologetics such as Cosmological Arguments on the basis that it has an unbiblical anthropology. The presuppositionalist claims that we shouldn’t grant the ground to the atheist that they can use reason, since reason is grounded in God and depends on God. Under their worldview, there is no God, so there is no justification for why they can use reason.

Further, claims the presuppositionalist, by doing this we allow man to sit in judgement over God. Man gets to weigh the evidence, and then use their reason (for which they depend on God) to judge whether God is God or not, whether God exists or not. But in reality, God is the judge, and we have no authority over Him.

I think there is some merit to this, but I do not think this disqualifies classical arguments. And indeed, I think there is biblical precedent for these arguments and a place for them in apologetic practice.

First and most obviously, we appeal to Romans 1. Here is the section I have in mind (please read the context yourself):

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Why are men without excuse? Because knowledge of God was freely available to them: His eternal power and divine nature are displayed in creation. But they did not approve of having God in their knowledge, so they suppress the truth and their foolish hearts were darkened.

This affirms what cosmological arguments claim: that we can look at the world, and reason about it, and deduce that there is a God. This also applies to fine-tuning arguments. Paul affirms that this kind of reasoning (though not individual arguments, just the kind of reasoning) is valid, and in fact, people are morally guilty for failing to accept the conclusions of this kind of reasoning.

Now the presuppositionalist claims that yes, this is the case. But their foolish hearts were darkened, and they cannot see this any longer, as they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The only thing that can undarken their hearts is God regenerating them, the hearing of the Gospel, and faith in God.

I agree. And I think that no apologetic encounter is complete without the Gospel, and in fact, the proclamation of the Gospel must always be central. Don’t get me wrong, if you walk up to someone, run them through the LCA, and leave, you’ve done them basically no good.

But I don’t think that means that cosmological arguments do no good. Part of the proclamation of the Gospel is that there is a God, there is a Designer and a Judge, and we have failed to live up to His standards. And if we must justify that claim, we will, and we will use cosmological arguments as part of that justification.

And of course, no-one will listen unless God regenerates their heart. But if God does regenerate their heart, as is His prerogative, then cosmological arguments which demonstrate to their mind the truth of God can be an effective part of Gospel witness. And if He doesn’t, then they expose inconsistency. More on that later.

The second main point I want to make is this. The presuppositionalist says that the atheist has no ground for using reason without appealing to God, no reason to believe that reason is reliable apart from God. I want to point out that that is precisely the same way cosmological arguments proceed, but in reverse. The presuppositionalist claims “Reason is reliable only if God exists”, and the classical apologist claims “If reason is reliable, God exists”. These two statements are logically equivalent. For we assume reason and conclude God, so reason entails God. And so when the atheist says they can use reason but have no God, then if the classical arguments are sound, we can say that they are inconsistent.

And notice that no matter which path we take, classical or presuppositional, we must appeal to reason at some point. If we do present a convincing argument that reason is grounded in God, the atheist must use reason to accept the argument. We both assume they are able to reason, even if they don’t have a sufficient ground for it.

Now it is true that discussions cosmological arguments can often get lost in what we might call meaningless minutia, and we lose our focus on God. But I submit that not only is this true for any kind of argument, but also that it isn’t a huge problem. While every conversation we have must have Christ at the centre, not every sentence needs to. Clearly, in negative apologetics, we know this, when we respond to a supposed contradiction in the Old Testament we normally don’t talk much about Christ in that particular subpoint.<

We also see from Paul at Mars Hill that it is valid to in a sense “enter into” someone else’s worldview in order to preach the Gospel. Paul begins his evangelistic and apologetic work at Mars Hill by appealing to a god the Athenians worshipped, the unknown God. He identifies this god with God, claiming that this God created the universe and everything in it. He then quotes parts of some works describing Zeus and attributes them to God. Paul enters into their worldview to make a point, to demonstrate the truth of God inside their worldview. Because of course, we know that any worldview without God is inconsistent. So if we enter their worldview and pretend that it is consistent, we ought to be able to prove God exists. This is what cosmological arguments do: let’s enter into the atheistic worldview, pretend that we can reason, and deduce that God exists.

But as we saw above, the dark-hearted fools who are unregenerate won’t accept it. More often than not, they admit they have no response to the argument, but retreat to “Well sure maybe God exists. But if He does, He is a moral monster and is evil and I would never worship Him.” And this is the appropriate place to quote Romans 9: “And who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”. We affirm, like our concerned presuppositionalist does above, that God is the judge and we are not. We point out their pride and wrong-headedness in sitting in judgement over God.

They pretend their disagreement with God is intellectual, not moral. But we know from our study of Romans 1 that it is indeed moral. Cut away their intellectual pretence, and they are forced to admit the truth. This is where we cut to the heart: man placing Himself above God. And if God grants them a regenerated heart to see this and repent, then they can turn and be saved.

This is why I think cosmological arguments, and other classical arguments, are valuable. Never do they comprise the entirety of our apologetic preaching or methodology, but they are valuable components. Paul affirms their soundness in Romans and applies a similar methodology (to Pagans rather than atheists) at Mars Hill. Not the only valuable arguments, but good ones to have in our bag when the need arises.

The Prophecy of Daniel 9

A strong argument for the truth of the Bible is biblical prophecy. That is, if the Bible contains accurate, specific information about the future, the claims it makes about God are more likely to be true. Whether or not the prophecy actually means God exists may be debatable (maybe it was just time travelling aliens) and that’s a bit beyond what I want to do here. I want to examine one such interesting prophecy, and determine whether it was specific and whether it was fulfilled.

This is a strange kind of argument for me, I spend most of my time on cosmological or teleological or moral arguments. Even historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. However I do think that this is valuable, so bear with me as I give it a go.

This kind of argument often makes people nervous because of the stereotype about prophecy arguments, especially ones that contain the dreaded numbers and dates like this one will. I understand and agree that normally this stereotype is deserved. However, I will make every attempt to perform responsible exegesis and make a rational argument. I ask that you don’t write the argument off immediately, and instead actually evaluate it on its own merits.

The text we will be examining is this one from Daniel 9, starting at verse 24. It is a message that the angel Gabriel brings to Daniel, who is lamenting the state of Israel. Please do read the context yourself. Here is the NASB:

24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

I summarize the prophecy in this way:

Timeline

  • The command to restore Jerusalem is given.
  • Seven sevens pass.
  • Sixty-two sevens pass. The anointed one comes. The city will be rebuilt. Sometime after the sixty-two sevens, the Anointed One will be put to death and have nothing.
  • The people of “the prince to come” will destroy the city and the temple, and desolation will continue until the end.
  • Durin the seventieth seven: “He” will confirm a covenant with many.
  • Halfway through the seventieth seven: “He” will put an end to sacrifice and offering.
  • After (or perhaps at) the seventieth seven: On the wing of abominations, one comes who makes desolate, and he will be destroyed. This probably refers to the people of the “prince to come”.
  • After seventy sevens: Transgression is finished, sin comes to an end, wickedness is atoned for, everlasting righteousness is brought in, prophecy and vision are sealed up, the “Most Holy” is anointed.

 

The “sevens” are groups of seven years, not weeks

We note that the passage literally only says “seven sevens” and “seventy sevens” and “sixty-two sevens”, at no point does it indicate that these are weeks. Now the word for “sevens” and “weeks” in Hebrew is the same, for obvious reasons. Some translators have chosen in this passage to render it as “weeks” instead of “sevens”, but there is no indication in the text that it refers to days.

Similar extra-biblical prophecies also use the “week of years” concept, for example with the Dead Sea Scroll 4Q390 fragment 2.

In light of the 70 years in v2, it seems reasonable that this also refers to a period of years. The context indicates that we should be thinking in years, not in weeks.

 

This prophecy was written far before Jesus came

While I am a Christian and I hold to the traditional position that the entire book was written by Daniel at around 600 BCE, I will deliberately make my argument weaker here. I will assume that it was written far later than that. I will assume that the most critical and the most sceptical scholars are right. Again, I don’t actually think they are, but I will assume this because I don’t want to bother refuting them here, I don’t need to. The latest date they give for the book is 164 BCE[1]. This is still over a century earlier than Jesus would come.

 

The starting date of the seven and sixty-two sevens is 457 BCE

This is when the order goes out from Artaxerxes 1. This is a decree given to Ezra, this is also recorded in scripture that was written before Christ. The exact date of the decree is given in the book of Ezra, but we will just consider the year (rather than month and date) because I don’t want to mess around with complicated Jewish leap year rules, and because there is probably some measure of approximation going on anyway.

 

The seven and sixty-two sevens come to an end at 27 CE

We start with -457, and we add (69)x(7) years, and then we add one because there is no year 0. It’s not obvious what is supposed to happen after the first set of sevens, that is, after 49 years. It may be divided for reasons of numerology (7 is of course a very symbolic number in Hebrew thought) or it may indicate when the completion of the restoration of Jerusalem will occur. Or perhaps something else that I haven’t thought of, or that history in general is unaware of.

 

This indicates that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in the passage

One of the things the prophecy predicts is the anointing of the “Most Holy”. The translators add the word “place” as they argue that it is implied since the “most holy” normally refers to the temple. (But this isn’t actually true, it refers to the temple sometimes but not even the majority of the time). But given that Jesus is the most holy, and that Jesus compares His body to the temple in several places, I think we can reasonably say that this is actually fulfilled in Jesus.

Historians think Jesus’ baptism occurred between 27 and 29. We are certainly in that range. Jesus’ baptism is an extremely significant event recorded in all Gospels, marking the start of His public ministry. This is when Jesus appeared in history.

Then halfway through the last week, there is desolation, and the Messiah is cut ofg. This puts Jesus’ death 3.5 years (probably approximate, but we will use this figure) after 27, which is 30.5.

Historians believe Jesus was crucified between 30 and 36 CE. We are again in that range.

And of course, Christians claim that Jesus’ death brings an end to sin and wickedness by atoning for it, and marks the end of the age of prophecy as Jesus gives God’s fullest and final revelation. See Hebrews 1. We also believe that Jesus instituted the New Covenant through His death and resurrection and that in doing so Jesus put a stop to the offerings and sacrifices at the temple. All of these things are specifically mentioned in the prophecy.

The events in Jesus’ life occur at the correct time, and they do the correct things. The most holy is anointed, sin is atoned for, the Messiah is cut off, a covenant is affirmed, sacrifice is brought to an end, and prophecy is brought to an end.

 

Who is the prince who is to come?

There are several options here. It seems clear that what he does is destroy the temple (see the similar language in chapter 11). This occurred in 70 AD, some time after the full 70 sevens of the prophecy are complete.

So the “prince” may refer to a particular Roman leader, perhaps the emperor at the time Vespatian. More likely is Titus who was the Roman commander at the siege of Jerusalem who would later become emperor. Or it may indeed be Satan. I leave this undetermined. I don’t know if we have enough information to determine who it is. There is evidence elsewhere in Daniel, but I will refrain from discussing it here. It doesn’t matter for the point I want to make.

 

The critical/skeptical interpretation fails

Many, many possible interpretations of this passage have been given by sceptical scholars. I won’t go through all of them in depth, but I will give some broad criticism. The most likely one is that the Messiah spoken of isn’t the Jewish Messiah spoken of elsewhere, but an anointed leader of the Jewish people. Most commonly, Onias III. He died outside Jerusalem in 171/0 BCE. If we take the latest possible date for Daniel, it was written around 164, around 6 years after his death, and so the skeptic argues that the author knew about this, and backdated a prophecy referring to it.

This doesn’t seem to work, however, as the timing doesn’t match up. There is no “word” that goes out 483 or 490 years before Onias’ death. So the skeptic arbitrarily picks a date earlier than this (often 606 BCE, when Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy comes to an end), and says that the author of Daniel intended to use this as a starting point made a miscalculation in his dates. You can find examples of this in Montgomery (p393) and Porteous (p134). Alternatively, they try to fit it by allowing the sevens to overlap or have gaps between them. They’ve got a theory, and they want to fit the evidence to it, rather than letting the evidence inform their theory.

Apart from this, it is not clear how Onias III is supposed to have accomplished the goals set out at the start of the prophecy. He did not bring an end to wickedness and institute eternal righteousness.

Further, there was no destruction of the temple or of Jerusalem here. Yes, they were besieged and damaged, but not destroyed.

This methodology fails. The skeptic here rules out genuine prophecy a priori, and so has to look for a figure that fits this assumption. But no good candidates exist. And if we don’t rule out prophecy a priori, and we allow it to be possible (without even assuming that it happens), then we find a figure that clearly fits: Christ. We should start where the prophecy starts: at the word going out. We should look for that as the indication of the person that the passage is intending to talk about.

 

This prophecy is evidence for the supernatural origin of the Bible

I think that we can reasonably confidently say that if Daniel could accurately know precise details of the far future, this indicates that something supernatural was going on. I would be interested to see how the skeptic could agree that Daniel knew this, centuries before it happened, but didn’t do so supernaturally.

 

Further Reading

 

 

 

 

Saturday Links 11/8/18

My Sermons

Some people have asked me to post recordings of sermons that I have preached at my local church. Despite being a young man, I have been given the privilege of preaching at a Sunday morning gathering four times. Here they are, in reverse chronological order.

 

 

 

A Bad Response to the Problem of Evil

In thinking about the post yesterday I remembered a particularly bad response to the problem of evil that I often see Christians deploy. The atheist claims that if evil exists, then the God of Christianity cannot. And the Christian responds by saying something like “As an atheist, you can’t even know what evil is, since you need God in order for moral facts to be true. So without God, there’s no evil. And since you do not believe in God, you cannot believe in evil, so you cannot formulate a problem of evil.”

I think that this is a very poor response, because I think it misunderstands what the problem of evil accomplishes. It is a reductio ad absurdum argument.

If this is a new term for you, then I will give you another example of such an argument. Here we will prove that there is no largest integer. We will do this by first assuming that there is such an integer.

  1. Suppose N is the largest integer
  2. For all integers K, K+1 is larger than K
  3. Therefore N+1 is larger than N
  4. Therefore N is not the largest integer
  5. Therefore there is no largest integer

 

Now, do I have to believe that there is a largest integer in order to make this argument? Premise 1 says that there is a largest integer, so surely I believe that. But obviously I do not. Similarly, the atheist makes an argument like this:

  1. Suppose God exists
  2. Since God exists, suppose that evil exists
    ….
  3. Therefore God does not exist.

 

Does the atheist have to believe premises 1 and 2 for the argument to work? No, of course not. The argument is essentially the atheist deliberately taking on the Christian assumptions, like God and evil (and they might even take our definition of evil) in order to show that these assumptions are false, just like premise 1 “N is the largest integer” is false.

So even if the atheist doesn’t know what evil is, even if the atheist is a moral antirealist who claims that there is no good and evil, they can still validly use this argument. Now obviously I think the argument fails, for reasons I gave yesterday, but the objection in question here is not a good one.

Some Christians think that this objection is the one given by God in Job. The Christian reads God’s monologue at the end of Job and hears God saying “Who are you to question me, I am the Lord, I know good and evil, I have the right to do whatever I want. You do not sit in judgment over me, I sit in judgement over you.”

And that’s right, that is what God is saying. But the right interpretation is not that we have no conception of evil by which we can argue. The right interpretation is that we are too small to understand God’s reasons for doing what He does. And certainly far too small to claim that God has no such reasons. I think the response given to us by God in Job is not the argument “You can’t talk about evil if you don’t know what God is”, I think it is “You don’t know all the reasons I have for what I do”. So in other words, I think God’s response is best charactarized by the use of higher order goods, which might be mysterious to us, in order to explain lower order evils. God does have reasons.

But there is another problem here I think. I agree that the atheist does not have a full grounding for evil, since as I’ve said before, moral facts (and all other kinds of facts) are grounded in God. And I do agree that the naturalist, materialist, physicalist worldview is less well equipped to ground moral facts than a theistic worldview. But put aside for the moment the fact that the atheist doesn’t need to believe in evil to use the problem of evil. But I think in general, atheists do indeed know what is good and what is evil.

Consider Romans 2: Paul claims that the gentiles, those who do not believe in God, know what is good and evil because their conscience testisifes to them. And Paul uses this as an argument that the gentiles are guilty of sin: their conscience told them what is right and what is wrong, and they knowingly did what is wrong. Atheists are not without a God-given conscience, so we are not unjustified in saying that atheists in general do know what is good and what is evil. Not as well as the believer perhaps, and they might not know why certain things are good or evil. But most of them not only believe that evil exists, they are usually right about what evil is. They don’t have God to ground it, but it’s not clear why grounding is necessary for them to deploy a problem of evil argument.

So while I do think the problem of evil argument fails, I think “The atheist doesn’t know what evil is because they don’t believe in God” is quite a bad objection to it.

A summary of scriptural support for the Trinity

Defence of the Trinity

I regularly get criticism that the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures, but instead is invented by men. I have decided to write this as a summary of the biblical evidence for the orthodox position on the Trinity. That is, that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are equally God, three persons of one divine being/substance. Eternal, indivisible, and unchanging. I won’t lay out exactly what this means, or the full implications,  that is for other people to do. But I will provide the evidence for it.

Part 1: The Father is God

This will be the easiest section. Unitarians, those who deny the Trinity, believe that only the Father is God. But I will include it for the sake of completeness.

Here is a single, sufficient piece of evidence: Jesus calls the Father God.

John 10:27: Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”

If the Father is Jesus’ God, then the Father is God.

Part 2: Jesus is God

This will be the first contentious section. The most obvious part of scripture to talk about here is John 1:1-3. Now the Word here is Jesus. John 1:14 is pretty clear about that. So what does John 1:1-3 say?

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

Jesus was not only with God, but He was God. Some translators note that there is an article in the first mention of God and none in the second. A more literal, word-for-word reading is this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the word was God”. So the Word is not “the God”. But Trinitarians accept that the God that the Word was with is the Father, and the Word is not the Father. But the Word is the God Himself, even if He isn’t the Father. He was God.

He also is the creator. How many thing exist that are uncreated? Only one: God. God is the creator of all that exists apart from Himself. But in v3, we see that the Word is the creator of everything that was created. So the Word Himself must be uncreated. That is, He is God.

We will also look at the end of John.

John 20:27-29 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Thomas recognises that Jesus is God. In the Old Testament, what happens when someone calls an angel “Lord”? The angel rebukes them, and tells them to worship God alone. But what does Jesus do? He encourages people to believe the same thing as Thomas. That He is God.

Consider:

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:

Jesus is the God and Saviour. No way around it, Jesus is God. Some might say He’s simply “a god”, rather than “God”, that He’s a lesser deity to YHWH the creator. But we know that Christians are forbidden from worshipping anything other than YHWH the creator, the almighty God. And yet we are told to worship Jesus. So Jesus is YHWH. Which he claims in John 8:58. Remember that YHWH means “I am”. When Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I Am”, He is calling Himself YHWH. He could have said “I was”, but He chose His words carefully to carry this meaning. The audience understood this, they picked up stones to stone Him.

As The Gospel Coalition has helpfully summarised:

Jesus has honour that is only to be given to God. Christians may only worship God alone (Deut. 6:13; Matt 4:9-10), and yet they are  to worship Jesus (Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev 1:17).  Jesus has the same attributes as God: eternal (John 1:1-3; 8:58), all-powerful (Matt. 28:18), all-knowing (John 21:17), and loving (Rom 8:35-39). Jesus has the name above every name, (Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus is called God (John 20:28), Lord (Acts 1:24), the King of kings (Rev 19:16), Saviour (Luke 2:11), and the First and the Last (Rev 1:7-8). These titles belong to God alone. Jesus is said to be the creator (John 1:3), the sustainer of all things (Heb. 1:2-3), He is sovereign over the forces of nature (Matt. 8:2327), the one who forgives sins (Matt 9:1-8), and even the one who gives life (John 1:4; 5:21). In fact it could be said that everything that God does for us, Jesus does for us.  Jesus sits on God’s throne (Rev. 3:21), ruling over all things (Rev 5:13). This is nothing short of claiming to be equal with God (John 10:27-33). Jesus is the judge of all history, of the entire world, of each person – to Him every knee will bow

Jesus is almighty God, the creator, equal in divinity with the Father.

Psalm 102 praises the “Lord” quite a lot. The Lord sits and rules in heaven, the Lord will restore Zion, the Lord laid the foundations of the Earth, the Lord endures forever and never changes. I don’t see any reason to say that the Psalmist is talking about a different being here than they normally are when they use the word “Lord”. But Hebrews 1 takes this Psalm as being about the Son, the Son is the Lord, as much as the Father is. The Son is God as much as the Father is.

Part 3: The Spirit is God

Some people don’t even believe that the Spirit is a real person, but instead is just a manifestation of the Father’s action, or something like that. So here we will show that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.

We see the Spirit being given attributes that only God has. This will demonstrate that the Spirit is divine Himself. The Spirit creates (Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30), the Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), the Spirit is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7–8) and omniscient (1 Corinthians 2:10). Who is the eternal, omnipresent, omniscient creator? God alone.

The Spirit is a person distinct from the Father, as He is sent by the Father (John 14:26). The Spirit is distinct from the Son, as the Son calls the Spirit a “He”, a different entity to the Son. (John 14:27).

The Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5. In v3, Peter says that Ananias has lied to the Spirit. Then in v4, he says that he has lied to God. Clearly the Spirit is God. A similar interchange is used in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:19. In 3, we are temples of God. In 6, we are temples of the Spirit. So the Spirit is God.

The Spirit is not just God, but YHWH, the almighty creator. In Hebrews 3:7–11, it is the Spirit who says “Israel tried and tested me…”. But who did Israel try and test? It was YHWH, their God. In Hebrews 10:15–17, it is the Spirit who makes a covenant with Israel. But who made a covenant with Israel? It was YHWH. So the Spirit is fully YHWH. Just as Jesus is, and just as the Father is.

Part 4: There are only three

Some have asked why there are three rather than four (or more or less). Some theologians such as Aquinas have attempted to articulate precisely why it is that God exists as a Trinity in terms of theology and philosophy. I will not attempt to do this, that’s beyond me. Instead, here’s the evidence that God is only and precisely three persons.

We see in many places all three mentioned together, with no others. Here are some examples of the three together:

  • 1 Corinthians 12:4–6
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • 1 Peter 1:2
  • Matthew 28:19
  • Matthew 3:16
  • Matthew 12:28
  • Luke 3:22
  • John 14:26
  • John 15:26
  • Acts 2:33
  • Romans 1:4
  • Romans 8:9
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11
  • Galatians 4:6
  • Ephesians 1:17
  • Ephesians 2:18
  • Ephesians 2:22
  • Hebrews 9:14
  • Acts 10:38
  • Acts 1:4

Now I won’t exegete each of these, I leave that to you. But you can see that the three members of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, appear together all throughout the New Testament. And when they appear, they do so alone. There is none another among them, and so there is no other member of the Godhead. There are precisely three.

Do Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29 teach that faith must be without evidence?

There are two commonly cited verses used to justify Fideism (faith is belief without or against evidence). These are Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29.

Hebrews first, let’s look at some parts of the rest of the chapter. I recommend reading through the whole chapter (and indeed the whole book) to understand the context of Hebrews 11:1.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

Did Noah believe without evidence? Not really, God literally spoke to him, he heard the voice of God. What was it that he had faith in? He had faith in the promises of God, that what God said would happen would happen. And it did, God did flood the world. In other words, Noah trusted God.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Did Abraham believe without evidence? No, God spoke to him and made promises to him. Abraham trusted in God’s promises, trusted that God would do what He said. And He did. This was his faith.

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.

What was Sarah’s faith? Considering God faithful when He made a promise. Again, faith is trusting in the promises of God.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Why is this faith? Because they trusted the promises of God, that God would keep them safe and deliver them to the promised land.

The chapter gives many more examples, and in vs 13-16 makes it clear that faith is trusting in the promises of God. Specifically, the promise of eternal life. That we will come to live in our own promised land, taken out of where we were, like Abraham and Moses.

So faith is not being confident in something we have no evidence for. Faith is trusting in the promises of God, trusting that God will do what He says He will do.

What then is it that we hope for that we do not see, as per verse 1? It is eternal life. Abraham, when he trusted God, hoped for the new land he was going to be given. He didn’t see it, but he hoped for it and was assured of it, because God promised it to him. The same is true of Moses. The same is true of Sarah and her child. But it is not reasonable to say that none of these people had evidence, they all had direct conversations with God, where He promised these things. A promise from God is strong evidence.

What then of Jesus’ words? “Blessed are those that have not seen, and believe”? It doesn’t clearly say that believing with no evidence = blessed, like many claim. In fact it seems that the meaning is quite different. The verse is a resurrection appearance of Jesus. In every other resurrection appearance, Jesus is commanding the disciples to go and tell others.

This starts in 20:17, where Jesus commands Mary to tell the other disciples.

Then in 20:21 in another appearance, where Jesus sends the disciples out.

Then 20:29, the passage we are discussing.

Then all of chapter 21, in which the net full of fish that the disciple catch represents them being made “fishers of men” as Matthew calls it, it represents the fruits of their evangelism.

Every other resurrection appearance in John has a focus on evangelism, and spreading the Gospel that they know to other people.

So when Jesus tells the disciples “Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believed”, it seems reasonable to expect this to follow the same pattern. It seems more reasonable to interpret this as “There will be others who have not seen me, who are not of us now, who will come to believe and be blessed”, or something along those lines. It’s reminding the disciples that they are not the only people that God has planned to receive.

Furthermore, Jesus desiring belief without evidence is contradicted by John 14:11, where Jesus expects His disciples to believe He is one with God because of the miracles that Jesus has performed. He expects the miracles to be evidence for this belief. If Jesus wanted belief without evidence why would He say this?

So the commonly cited verses do not support Fideism, and there is scriptural evidence against it.

Further reading: