“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)
by Chris L. Verschage
In the first part of this series “Critical Thinking & Faith,” we discussed that most people have a long historical misperception of what biblical faith is. It is NOT –
- merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
- merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; or
- “a Divine Force”
However, in this second part of this series, I would like to build on our previous study by exploring the question, “What is ‘Biblical Faith’?”
Some Basic Principles in Interpretation
Before exploring what “Biblical Faith” is, let’s establish some basic principles of interpretation.
- When examining the Scriptures, we need to keep things in context. To take any verse or passage out of its original context and you open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error. Too many people think that just because it is the Bible, they can take all the rules of how to properly handle a text and “throw them out the window.” But you can’t. The same rules apply.
- When examining any biblical concept, we need to remember that we should always examine the concept first in the Tanakh (or Old Testament), and then in the New Testament. God did not write the New Testament first and then the Tanakh/Old Testament, but the other way around. Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught to read their Bible backwards – New Testament and then Old Testament – which causes interpretational problems and misunderstandings when they get to the Tanakh or Old Testament.
- To understand the basic, foundational meaning of any term, concept, or idea, you need to find where it is first mentioned or used in Scripture. In Hermeneutics, this principle is known as “the Law of First Mention.”
Genesis 15 – It’s First Occurrence
The first occurrence of the word “faith” in its basic root form is in Genesis 15. In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, and He promises to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). Implying, of course, in that promise, is that Abram would have many children. Abram gladly responded to this since he and his wife, Sarai, were childless.
In Genesis 15, it has now been several years, and he and Sarai still do not have any children. It’s clear from the chapter that Abram has come to the point in his life when he has accepted that he is not going to have any children and that his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, is going to inherit everything from him (Genesis 15:2-3). But in spite of this, God then reaffirms His promise to Abram and takes him outside to give him a visual to help build his faith:
And behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels (or body) shall be your heir. And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell (or count) the stars, if you are able to number them: and He said unto him, so shall your seed (descendants) be. (Genesis 15:4-5)
Now let’s think about this logically. If we consider my student’s definition again from the first part of this series that “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it. If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith,” and so if this is true, then why did God take Abram outside to provide him with a visual to build his faith? And what was Abram’s response to this visual that God was providing him?
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6; emphasis mine)
Abram “believed.” His belief was based on the evidence of what He had heard and what He saw, and it was also based on the relationship that He had experienced so far with God. In other words, it was based on various forms of evidence. This same verse is quoted (in full or in part) by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul Paulus; see Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6) and by James (Heb. Ya’acov; see James 2:23). Why is this verse used by both Paul (Rav Sha’ul) and James (Ya’acov)? Because this is the first use of this concept, and as such, it establishes the foundational meaning of the term.
What Does It Mean “Believed”?
In English, the word “believed” means “mental agreement,” but in the Hebrew, the word used here is ‘aman (Strong’s #539), and it means “to trust; to believe.” In fact, in the Greek translation of this verse, it uses the Greek word for “trust,” rather than “believe.” You see “trust” has a cost, but “belief” (or mental agreement) does not. An example of this can be seen in the story of a man who tight-roped his way across Niagra Falls. On the other side, there was a great crowd cheering him on. When he reached the other side, people clapped and cheered. He then asked them,
How many of you believe that I can make it back across to the other side?
Everyone raised their hands. He then asked, “Who would like to get on my back?” No one volunteered. There was no cost to their belief, but there was a great cost to anyone who would trust him to carry them across on his back. The same is true of biblical faith. So one meaning of “faith” is trust.
Faith is not merely mentally accepting the concept of God, but it is trusting God with your life.
Abram was trusting God with his future, the hope that his family line would continue. He was not merely acknowledging the possibility that God could exist, nor was he mentally agreeing with the idea that God does exist. Instead, he was trusting God to come through and keep a specific promise that God had made to him. He was trusting God to bring to pass the promise of children during his lifetime. And those who know the story of Abram (later Abraham) is that he ended up having eight (8) sons.
- Ishmael from Hagar (Genesis 16)
- Isaac from Sarah (Genesis 21), and
- six (6) sons from Keturah: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1-2).
These eight (8) sons Abraham fathered prior to his death. Most people have heard of Ishmael and Isaac; however, there are many people who have not heard about Abraham’s other six (6) sons by Keturah. In Leslie’s (also known as “Tikkunknitter”) blog article “Chayei Sarah: Keturah & Life Beyond Boundaries,” she writes,
My own search for Keturah turns up only bits and pieces. I am intrigued by a referencer to the “Yakult Midrash,” which suggests that each of Abraham’s three wives descended from a son of Noah: Sarah, a daughter of Shem; Hagar, a daughter of Ham; and Keturah, a
daughter of Japheth. How tidily this medieval midrash connects the entire family which
survives the Flood with the entire family of tribes
who people the mideast; how remarkably
generous, how “modern”. I suppose I am not
surprised to find that the approach of this
midrash is similarly employed in the roughly
contemporaneous map of the world contained in
the 15th-century Nuremburg Chronicle, in which Noah’s three sons support the perimeters of the (known) world. (Tikkun Knits: Knitting Together Jewish Thought, Life, and Social Action, November 1, 2007)
Although we do not know much about Keturah and her six (6) sons, we do read several references regarding the descendants of one of her sons, Midian. For example, it was Midianite traders who pulled Joseph out of the pit his brothers had thrown him into, and then these same Midianite traders turned around and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, who then took him into Egypt (Genesis 37:28). Now it is possible to interpret this verse to mean that Joseph was actually sold three different times: once to the Midianites, then to the Ishmaelites, and then to Potiphar the Egyptian, rather than the one time we see in most movies about Joseph’s life. But then after 215 years after Joseph dies, we read in Exodus 3:1 that Moses marries Zipporah, whose father is “a priest of Midian.”
These are only a couple of biblical references to the people of Midian, the descendants of Abraham and Keturah. Did God keep His promise to Abraham during his lifetime? Yes, He did. What does this teach us about “faith”? That faith is not a noun, it’s not a thing that we mentally accept to be true, but it is a verb, an action that you take based on the trust you have in someone. In other words, faith is an action, it is something that you do. This is why James teaches,
What does it profit, my brethren, though a man says he has faith, and has not works? can faith save him?…Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. Yes, a man may say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2: 14, 17, 18, 20, 26)
How can an action be an action when there’s no action? Obviously, it can’t. Also, let’s logically think about this. The Hebrew word ‘aman (trans. “believe”) also means “to trust.” Do we normally place our trust, our confidence, in someone we don’t know anything about? No, of course not. If a total stranger walks up to you and asks you if he can borrow your credit cards, are you going to give them to him? Of course not! However, if a family member or friend you knew extremely well came to you with a need, and you knew from being around them and from the evidence of their life and choices that this person was extremely trustworthy and responsible, would you loan your credit card to them? You are more likely to. Why? Because based on the evidence you saw and knew over several years, you knew that person was trustworthy and, therefore, could be trusted. Based on this, then,
Faith assumes (and is derived from) the existence of evidential proof. And without the existence of evidential proof, there can be no faith.
Have you considered faith in this light before? Is your faith in God based upon evidential proof? What are the promises that you trusting God to accomplish during your lifetime? In considering your level of trust in God, have you ever considered the following: How far are you willing to trust Him? Are you willing to put your life, your future, in His hands? Are you willing to trust Him with all that you own? your finances? What about the lives of your children? Is there a line that you are not willing to cross in your trust of God? And if so, where is that line in your life? These are questions that I believe each of us need to answer for ourselves. And if you are having problems trusting or believing God, perhaps the real problem is that you haven’t seen enough evidence yet.
The Bible – Our Source of Proof?
Did you know that the Bible claims that it is a source of “proof” or “evidence”? In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) writes:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. [emphasis mine]
The word translated “rebuking” in this modern English version is translated as “reproof” in the King James Version. In English, “reproof” literally means “to prove again,” just as “revision” literally means “to see again.” In other words, during the biblical writers, including Paul’s (Rev Sha’ul’s) lives, God proved Himself trustworthy through the situations that they experienced. As we read and study the Scriptures, it “proves again” to us that God is worthy of our complete and total trust in Him by offering us the examples of God’s character and personality, and how He intervened in these people’s lives.
The Greek word that’s used here is elegchos, and it is a legal term, which means,
Conviction, only [used] in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 11:1. It implies not merely the charge on the basis of which one is convicted, but also the manifestation of the truth [or evidence] of that charge. The results to be reaped from that charge and the acknowledgement, (if not outwardly, yet inwardly) of its truth on the part of the accused are referred to as well. (“Lexical Aids to the New Testament” 1712)
In order to convict someone legally in a court of law, there must be evidential proof that’s offered. Without the offering of any evidential proof, there can be no conviction. This means that Paul is telling us here that “All Scripture” – both the Old Testament and the New Testament – provides us with the evidential proof AND the manifestation of that truth seen through the lives of those discussed in the Scriptures to give us the conviction and the assurance to know that God is who He says that He is, and that He is worthy of our complete trust and faith in Him.
Personal Experience is NOT Proof?
There are those who argue that personal experiences are not evidential proof since they are usually biased and subjective. However, this is a position of convenience, rather than one of fact. Personal experience and personal observation are considered in any court room as evidential proof. People have been sent to prison, and even to death row, based on the personal experience and observations of “eye-witnesses.” To argue that personal experience and observation cannot be seen as evidential proof contradicts their use in court room trials for centuries. It’s inconsistent. If it is evidence in the court room, then it should be considered evidence outside the court room.
However, someone always raises the objection that a person’s experience or observation can be wrong, and people have been innocent who were sent to prison. However, that possibility great decreases with the increased amount of eyewitnesses. Biblically, a person should never receive the death sentence UNLESS there’s been at least two or three eyewitnesses to the crime.
If anyone kills a person, the murderer is to be put to death based on the word of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death based on the testimony of one witness. (Numbers 35:30)
The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)
One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
In many cases, if biblical teaching had been followed, there’s a lot of people who would not have been erroneously placed on death row and killed since there was not “two or three witnesses” to the crime. Instead, they should get life in prison, or whatever time period deemed appropriate for that particular crime. This principle was so entrenched into Jewish culture that be the first century, C.E., it became a basic principle for the establishment of any truth or fact. For example, Yeshua/Jesus taught His disciples,
If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother [back]. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses, every fact may be established. (Matthew 18:15-16; emphasis mine)
Did you note Yeshua’s/Jesus’ quote of Deuteronomy 19:15? He based His own teachings on the Torah given by God to Moshe (Moses). A great many of His teachings, in fact, were based on it (see John 5:45-47).
“Faithfulness” – The Other Side of Faith?
In exploring the concept of “faith” then, we discover that “Trust” is only one side of the meaning of “faith.” What many people do not know is that there is another side. The other side is “faithfulness.” Biblical faith not only means “trusting God,” but it also means “being faithful to God.” The Hebrew word ‘emunah, the complete form of the word for “faith,” is built off of the word for “mother” (‘em), and is rooted in intimacy and relationship. The first occurrence of the word ‘emunah is actually found in the book of Exodus. The children of Israel have crossed the Red Sea, and they are about to engage in their first battle as a free people, with the Amalekites. Joshua led the forces, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur oversaw the battle from a nearby hilltop. The Scriptures state,
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. (Exodus 17:11)
Moses could only stand there for so long, holding the rod of God in his hand (Exodus 17:9), but as long as he held the rod up, Israel would prevail. So what happened? Did Israel end up losing? No, Moses got some help.
But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they [Aaron and Hur] took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up [or held up] his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side, and his hands were steady [Heb. ’emunah] until the going down of the sun. (Exodus 17:12)
The Hebrew word ‘emunah is translated here into English as “steady,” it can also be translated as “firmness, steadiness;” “steadfastness” (Isaiah 33:6); and “faithfulness, trust, honesty” (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 12:17; Isaiah 25:1). According to the “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament”:
This word [‘emunah] has as its key idea faithfulness or certainty. It is especially important in expressing God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 33:4; 89:49), a key divine attribute in the OT. (1599)
Faithfulness, trust, honesty, and steadiness are all terms that center around and are foundational to sustaining strong intimacy and relationship. If someone is not faithful, honest, or steadfast in their commitment to the relationship, it will not last. And how many times have we heard of a relationship falling apart because there was no longer any “trust” in the relationship?
Not only is ’emunah rooted in intimacy and relationship, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, it assumes the existence of evidence. How many people will really trust someone they don’t know? The amount of trust is dependent on how trustworthy the person is, or to put it another way, it is based on the amount of evidence they’ve demonstrated to prove that they are, in fact, trustworthy. The same is true of “faithfulness,” “steadfastness,” and “honesty.” We measure all these things based upon the evidence provided. Without evidence, how can these characteristics truly be evaluated or determined?
This is one of the reasons for the Bible as discussed earlier. It provides us with the evidence that God is ’emunah: faithful, steadfast, true, honest, and reliable. In fact, the Hebrew word ’emunah is used to describe God in Deuteronomy 7:9,
Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful [Heb. ’emunah] God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.
A major attribute of God is that He is ’emunah, and He expects it to likewise be a major characteristic of our lives as well:
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith [Heb. ’emunah]. (Habakkuk 2:4; emphasis mine)
Just as ’emunah is a characteristic of God, it should characterize the lives of “the just” as well. We should strive to be His children and disciples, and to imitate Him. This is why God wants us to operate on faith, so we can learn to be imitators of Him. In fact, the latter part of this verse – “the just shall live by faith” – is quoted by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul) in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, as well as by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:38. Interestingly, Martin Luther and others have credited this idea of “the just [living] by faith” to the Apostle Paul, even though, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) himself was, in fact, quoting the Jewish prophet Habakkuk.
Faith in the New Testament
The word translated “faith” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word pistis (#4102 in Strong’s Concordance), and literally means “to persuade” or “to be persuaded.” It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, ‘emunah (#530), and according to the concordance, as we’ve discussed, “This word has as its key idea of faithfulness or certainty.” The term “faithfulness” refers to one’s actions or behavior, and it is easy to see why pistis “being persuaded” then would be seen to be an equivalent term to ’emunah or the idea of “certainty.” In fact, according to the concordance, the Greek word pistis is derived from the Greek word peitho (Strong’s #3982), which means,
to entice or persuade; to seek to persuade or solicit the favor of; to prevail by persuasion; to be persuaded.
So based on this definition, then, in order “to have faith,” one needs to be convinced or persuaded that something is true. How does this happen if one does not have evidence? In fact, when one becomes so “fully persuaded” that it motivates that person into action, then that moment of action is what the Bible calls “faith” (Gk. pistis). Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate this point.
The Roman Centurion
In the Gospels, a Roman Centurion comes to Yeshua/Jesus with a request, a servant of his is deathly ill and he wants Yeshua/Jesus to heal him. It should be remembered that the relationship between the Jews and the Romans were much like Al Qaida and the United States: there were Jewish Zealots trying to kill as many Romans as possible, just as Al Qaida is trying to kill as many from the U.S. as possible. Obviously, then, this Roman Centurion was not going to just stroll up to a group of Jews, unless he had been given guarantees from people he knew and trusted well and could assure him that Yeshua/Jesus was not a Zealot or a possible threat.
However, what amazed Yeshua/Jesus when He volunteered to go to this man’s house to heal his servant was this Centurion’s response (and it is his response we need to pay close attention to as well):
Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but just speak the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:8-10)
Using analysis, let’s take this passage apart to understand his response, how does it illustrate what we’ve been saying about the biblical view of faith, and why did Yeshua/Jesus marvel at his response.
- The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, was “a man under authority.” Due to his position and experience as a Roman Centurion, he understood how authority operated. The power of authority always flowed from the top down. I am sure there were many times as a soldier, he operated under the command of Caesar, even though he never saw Caesar give that command personally. And I am sure there are many soldiers today who have operated under the command given by a general that they never met. In stating this, he was implying his understanding that Yeshua/Jesus was under, or in submission to, the authority of God.
- The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, had authority over something. As a Centurion, he not only operated under the authority of Caesar, but he, himself, had authority over a hundred men, plus slaves and servants. He gives examples of his own experiences of telling people to “come” or to “go,” and they do it without him having to watch them do it. Just as he operates under the authority of Caesar whom he has not seen, he also does not need to see his servant or one of his soldiers doing something to know that it will get done. Why? Because it was often a death sentence if it wasn’t done. By him saying, “But only say the word, and my servant will be healed,” and then him following up with examples his experiences of his own authority over others, he is implying through this that Yeshua/Jesus himself has authority over sickness and disease. What Yeshua/Jesus marvels at is the Centurion’s ability to make the connection between how authority operates and the healing ministry of Yeshua/Jesus since this was a connection that the Jews did not make; since they often needed to see Him come and place His hand on the person for them to believe the person was healed; whereas, this Roman Centurion did not. He just needed the word spoken.
- The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, expressed his authority by speaking. Both the Roman Centurion and Yeshua/Jesus expressed their authority by speaking words. The Centurion expressed this by saying, “I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9). And like him, Yeshua/Jesus also expresses His authority by speaking when He told the Centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you” (Matthew 8:13).
- The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, did not need to see it being done to know that it was done.
In comparing the two, we can see that the Roman Centurion’s faith was based on the evidence of the testimony of those he knew (which is why he went to Yeshua/Jesus) AND upon the evidence of his own personal experiences and observations as a Centurion within the Roman army. Consequently, his faith was based upon two different forms of evidence. Notice also that Yeshua/Jesus does not rebuke or correct him for basing his faith on that evidence, but instead, he praises him for it. With that being the case, how can faith be as my student defined it: “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it. If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.” Apparently, this student, and those who believe this erroneous definition, need to reconsider their definition in the light of what the Bible actually teaches.
A Woman With An Issue
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there is a narrative about a woman who suffered from a twelve-year problem with her menstrual cycles; she kept bleeding. Whether the bleeding was completely ongoing (non-stop) or it stopped for a few days and then restarted, the text does not specify. However, this problem caused her great concern, so naturally, like many women today would do, she sought medical aid:
And the woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any. (Luke 8:43)
Unfortunately, medical science did not have an answer for her. And because of the cultural practices of the time, this problem was not only an obvious health risk, but it kept her from having a relationship with her husband (if she had one), as well as kept her from attending any worship services at the Temple. In essence, it kept her ostracized from both her family, friends, and even from participation in any religious services.
What I want to show by the following text is that the woman came to a logical deduction based on the evidence. And she was so convinced, so fully persuaded, by the evidence that it propelled her to act.
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem (lit. “twisted coil”) of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned around, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Matthew 9:20-22)
I’d like to point out a couple of things regarding this narrative. First of all, it is evident from the text that this woman had either heard Yeshua/Jesus teach and saw him heal (a primary source; personal observation) or she had heard others discuss his teachings and healings (a secondary source). She would not take the time or the energy to seek him out in her weakened condition if one (of both) of the two had not occurred.
Secondly, why did she believe, according to the text, that if she only “touched the hem” (literally “the twisted coil”) that hung on the corners of his clothing that “she would be healed”? On what is she basing this conclusion? She’s actually basing it on something from the Scriptures, a written text:
But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings;…. (Malachi 4:2)
Jewish men wear what is known as a “tallith” or “prayer shawl.” On the four corners of the prayer shawl are twisted coils with five knots (the knots representing the five books of Moses), and the corner where each of these twisted coils (or in Hebrew, tzitzit) are tied is called “the wing.” The text states that when the “Sun of righteousness” shall “arise” (or appear), there would be “healing in his wings” or in the twisted coils that hung from the corners of his prayer shawl. And as the Greek bears out, it is to this specific location on Yeshua’s/Jesus’ garment that she was reaching. Consequently, it can be logically concluded that she was so fully convinced, so fully persuaded by what she saw or experienced (a primary source) or what she was told by friends and family (a secondary source), as well as what the Scriptures taught (a secondary textual source), that Yeshua/Jesus was the promised “Sun of righteousness” (a term for the Messiah) that she went out looking for Him to get healed as she logically concluded from the evidence. And it was this resulting action based upon the given evidence that the Bible calls “faith.”
Faith = Action Based on Persuasive Evidence
I mention these two narratives to reiterate my point that the Bible does not teach that “faith is believing something where there is no evidence,” but what we see from these texts is that faith is being so “fully persuaded” or “so fully convinced” that the conclusion drawn from the available evidence is correct that it motivates us into action. “Belief,” as it is understood in English, as mentioned earlier, is defined as “mental agreement” and does not necessarily include action, but in the Bible, faith that does not include action is invalid or “dead” (Remember James?) So again, “faith” from a biblical perspective is an action that occurs as a result of being “fully persuaded” by the evidence presented.
In fact, one New Testament writer, the Apostle John, argues that his experience that he’s sharing is based on evidence that he was able to verify with his senses:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life;…. (I John 1:1)
John says it is something that he has heard, seen with his eyes, and handled with his hands. So how is this “faith,” as John describes the basis of his testimony, “based on no evidence at all”? Again, it is inconsistent to argue that personal observation and experience is not evidence when it is considered evidence in our American courtrooms. Interestingly, in fact, in the beginning of the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, a Greek medical physician, he makes the following statement:
To whom also he [Jesus] showed himself alive after his passion [crucifixion and burial] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them [his followers] forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3; emphasis added)
What’s interesting about this verse is the phrase “infallible proofs,” which is the English translation of the Greek word tekmerion (#5039). This Greek word means “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof.” So again, if faith is not based on “any evidence,” then why does this Greek physician, who fully understood the idea of medical proof, or what we now call “forensic evidence,” use this term in reference to the Messiah’s bodily resurrection? Or to put it another way, if faith is based on “no evidence,” then why the reason for “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof”?
Consequently, then, faith, as it is presented in the New Testament, is not based on “no reason or no evidence,” but is a logical conclusion drawn from some form(s) of persuasive evidence.
But I don’t Believe the Bible
I have heard some try to argue that since they don’t believe in God or that the Bible is the Word of God, it is not evidence since they don’t accept it. However, their acceptance or rejection of it is not relevant to it being evidence. For example, several years ago I was in a slight mishap in Tennessee during a bad snow storm. The roads were badly iced over, and pulling out of a shopping center after buying some new windshield wipers at only 10 miles per hour, I hit an ice patch and slid into this white car. We got out of our respective cars and expected them. Her bumper was scratched and slighted dented, and her right tail light was broken. We exchanged insurance information and then went our way.
The following year, I was given jury duty in a court trial dealing with a woman who was allegedly hit by a man driving a semi at 50 miles an hour. The woman took the stand and gave her testimony (her experiential evidence), as well as her lawyer offering other corroborating evidence to support her testimony. However, in examining her evidence, I discovered something rather interesting. She was driving the exact same type of car I had accidentally slid into the year before. According to her, the semi driver rammed into her at 50 miles per hour, yet there was absolutely no damage to her rear fender and tail lights. I wondered, How could a semi, going 50 mph, do less damage than I did to a similar car going only 10 mph? I had to conclude from my own experience and observation that she did not have the better argument.
But just because I rejected her testimony does not mean that her testimony was not evidence. It had been given as evidence in a court of law, and it was recorded in a legal document for all to examine and read later. Just because I chose to reject it does not change that fact that it was evidence. In much the same way, the Bible’s testimony regarding God is evidence, and whether one accepts its testimony or not does not change the fact that it is evidence. My only question is, What are you going to do with that evidence? Are you going to honestly consider it, to weigh it, and to evaluate its truths? Or are going to reject it? The choice you make is entirely yours.
The New Testament – A Book of Arguments
Therefore, since one must be “fully persuaded” from the evidence in order for “faith” to occur, the New Testament is full of various forms of argumentation. For example, consider the following types of arguments:
- Narrative Essays. Matthew, Mark and Luke are narrative discourses with an explicit thesis. Matthew’s thesis is found at the beginning of the book, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1); Mark’s, like Matthew’s, is also located at the beginning of the text, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;…” (1:1). Thus, both texts were written for audiences that would accept the intended message (or are “One-Sided Arguments”). If these texts were used in schools or by those who home school, these texts could be used to discuss the role of the thesis and how these particular texts use narration as a means to back up and support the given thesis.
- A Narrative Essay with a Delayed Thesis. The Gospel of John, like Matthew, Mark and Luke, is a narrative discourse but unlike their’s, it has a delayed thesis (found near the end of the book in John 20:31).
But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (NASB)
A delayed thesis implies that the designated audience was, in fact, in opposition to the intended thesis. This is why it is “delayed,” so that by the time the audience hears it, it is too late to shut the argument down since the evidence or support for the argument would have already been presented. In fact, historically, the Gospel of John and the epistle of I John was written in opposition to Gnostic believers and their teachings.
According to the online article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Gnosticism was “a form of utter pessimism [that] bemoan[ed] the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence.”
These Gnostic groups, which predate Christianity by several hundred years (they were problematic for the Jewish community as well), associated itself with Christian thought and terminology and are the ones responsible for many writings that sought to displace the original movement, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel of Judas. These writings served as the basis for the novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code. The Gnostics argued against a bodily resurrection since anything material to them was evil, so how could a holy God appear in a literal human body? Consequently, Yeshua/Jesus only appeared to be human, they taught. This is why the Apostle John makes the following arguments,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
The Gnostics would not have had a problem with this, until John got to verse 14.
And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son of the Father.
This is why we find John continually pairing up the divinity of Messiah with His humanity. John is presenting his argument of the Messiah being both fully God and fully a sensual man who lived, taught, and died in a real, physically material body. This is not an argument that the Gnostics could accept. Consequently, John continues his argument with them in his first epistle:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands (notice the sensual evidence) concerning the Word of life – that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – what we have seen and heard we also declare to you,… (I John 1:1-3a)
From the very beginning here, John is connecting the humanness of Jesus with His divinity as the “Word of Life” and the “eternal life that was with the Father.” He continues these pairings throughout, and then near the end, he also writes,
This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. (I John 4:2-3a)
Imagine the interesting research paper that could be written after examining these Gnostic writings, the movie The Da Vinci Code, as well as John’s two argumentative texts.
- Definition Arguments.
There is a definition argument presented in I Corinthians 13 regarding the nature of love that’s supported with a series of synonym phrases, and another well-known definition argument in Hebrews 11, regarding the essence of faith, that’s supported with a series of narrative examples. Both can be used to illustrate how definitions can be supported and elaborated upon within one’s research or writings.
- Precedent Argument.
In Acts 5:34-40, Gamaliel, a renowned teacher in Judaism, uses a precedent argument to persuade the Sanhedrin (like the Israeli Supreme Court) on how they should approach and handle the arrested followers of the Nazarene. In much the same way, President Bush used a precedent argument to persuade the congress and the American public on the approach that should be taken in response to the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, by Al Qaida terrorists. An interesting activity would be to compare and contrast the two speeches in regard to their audiences, purpose, structure, and effectiveness.
- “Other Forms of Argument”
In addition to these forms of argument, there are other forms of argument that are used in the New Testament that are often not included in argumentative textbooks. For example, one form of argument is called in Hebrew kal v’khomer (“light and heavy”; philosophers call this type of argument a fortiori, “with even greater strength”). This form of argument states that “if X is true of Y, then how much more X must be true of Z (where Z is of greater weight than Y).” Here are some examples:
What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man more than a sheep? Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:11-12)
Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse or barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the fowls? (Luke 12:24)
But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [How] much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through him. (Romans 5:8-9)
As we can see in these examples, the argument presented is signaled by the phrase “how much more.” And sometimes, like in the final example, the word “how” is there by implication.
The point is that there are many different types of arguments used throughout the writing of the New Testament. If, in fact, as my student stated at the beginning of this series, that “faith is believing in something when there is no evidence,” then why are all of these various forms of argumentation being used? It seems apparent that as far as the New Testament writers were concerned, faith indeed is a logical conclusion based on reason and requiring an evidential basis.
Where is the Evidence Today?
What many people today crave is to know that God is real, that He is not something that we, as human beings, have made up or created as Freud taught, to be a “mental crutch.” Unfortunately, for far too many churches, the power of God is no longer there within it. They don’t believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, or in a God that continues to speak to His people prophetically. Instead, they have made God mute and have replaced the power of God with man-made social programs that attempt to draw people into their doors. But a silent God and man-made social programs will not feed the hunger of people. They want to experience the reality of God. They want to know the miraculous, healing, dead raising and demon stomping God that they see and have read about in the Scriptures.
What does the Church need today? It needs to rediscover the God of the Bible. They need to rediscover the awe and wonder of being in the Presence of a Holy God, and they need to experience the majesty of His miraculous power. But until the Church admits the fallacy of replacing the Biblical God with one of their own creation, this will not likely occur.
But what the world, those outside the church? What do they need? Faith? I actually do not believe that the problem with the modern world is that they lack faith since in my opinion, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in creationism. Instead, I believe that they lack the evidence they need to build their faith in God and His Word.
And so I say to the modern Church, it’s time for you to rediscover the God of the Bible and to give the world the evidence they are so hungry for. Because when that day happens, and the world finally sees the evidence of a real miracle-working God at work inside and outside a worshipping, Bible-believing congregation, then congregations around the world will be standing room only with people pressing in to hear the Word of God both in the sanctuary and outside around the building. May that day come quickly. Amen.