Category Archives: Critical Thinking & the Bible

Does God Oppose the Celebration of Christmas?

DOES GOD OPPOSE THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS?  This may sound like a strange question to ask, but especially over the last couple of years, it has become much more significant to my wife and I.   For many people, Christmas represents family, love, a celebration with friends, partying, giving to others, and for Christians, the birth of Jesus Christ; after all, they say, He’s “The Reason for the Season.” So some may wonder, why would God be opposed to any of these things, especially the birth of His own Son?  But the hard truth is that God is, in fact, opposed to people connecting Him to the celebration of Christmas because of the pagan idolatrous origins of Christmas, as well as the celebration of it as Christ’s [Messiah’s] birthday, which is a lie and a deception, it also violates His Word, and it profanes the holiness of God.

CHRISTMAS – A DECEPTION?

First of all, before getting into the heart of the Christmas deception, here are two clear errors that churches teach about the birth of Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] that are not biblically true: the arrival of the wise men and the time of His birth.

The Arrival of the Wise Men

For example, Christians often teach that the wise men came to the manger to view the baby Jesus.  According to the Scriptures, the wise men did not even come to the manger, but to a house:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And when they were come into THE HOUSE, they saw THE YOUNG CHILD with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. (Matthew 2:10-12)

Notice that it was not in “a manger” they saw Christ [Messiah], but in “the house,” and He was not “an infant” but “a young child.”

Herod’s Inquiry & Killing of the Infants

Another proof that Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] was not an infant, but probably a toddler by the time the wise men saw Him is the conversation that Herod has with the wise men.  Once Herod had discovered where Messiah [Christ] was to be born [in Bethlehem], he privately called the wise men to speak with him:

Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. (Matthew 2:7)

Then once Herod discovered later that the wise men had not come back to report to him where they had found the Messiah, he then became extremely angry and sent his troops to kill all the children that were two years or younger:

Then Herod when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent forth, and killed all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, FROM TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER, ACCORDING TO THE TIME WHICH HE HAD DILIGENTLY INQUIRED OF THE WISE MEN.  (Matthew 2:16; Emphasis Mine)

If Jesus [Yeshua] had been an infant when the wise men came to see Him, Herod would have only had the soldiers kill all the newborn babies, but that is not what he did.  He specifically told them to kill all those “TWO YEARS AND UNDER,” based on the time given to him by the wise men.  This means that the wise men had told Herod that they had been traveling about 1 1/2 to 2 years, and therefore, the reasoning for Herod specifying the age of “two years and under.”

Mary’s Temple Sacrifices

Another proof that the wise men did not see Jesus at his birth is the animal sacrifice that Mary offered at the Temple.  According to Luke 2,

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.  (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2: 22-24)

How long, according to the Scriptures, was Mary to wait for her days of “purification” to be completed?  According to Leviticus 12:4, Mary would have had to have waited for 33 days before she could enter the Temple and offer her animal sacrifice to the Lord.  And a few verses later in the book of Leviticus, we read the following:

And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting [Temple in Mary’s time], a one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.  Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood.  This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.  But if SHE CANNOT AFFORD A LAMB, then she shall take TWO TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.  (Leviticus 12:6-8)

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary brought “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” which is the sacrifice a woman would bring who COULD NOT AFFORD a lamb.  Now if the wise men had, in fact, arrived during the time of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth and given Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, then she would have presented a lamb for her sacrifice, as opposed to the sacrifice of a poor woman who could not afford the lamb.

So Why Do People Teach that the Wise Men Did Come to His Birth?

During the Middle Ages when the population could not read or write, there needed to be a way to tell the story of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth in a way that the people could see and understand.  According to historians, the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 A.D.  In Rachel Nuwer’s article “The First Nativity Scene was Created in 1223,” for the Smithsonian.com website, she writes,

The only historical account we have of Francis’ nativity scene comes from The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who was born five years before Francis’ death.

According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say “Jesus.”) Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.

Within a couple of centuries, nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe. We don’t know if people actually played Mary and Joseph during Francis’ time, or whether they just imagined those figures’ presence. We do know that later scenes began incorporating dioramas and life actors, and the cast of characters gradually expanded beyond Mary, Joseph and sweet baby Jesus, to sometimes include an entire village. (December 14, 2012)

The Date of Christ’s [Messiah’s] Birth

Although many people argue that there is no way for certain to know the date of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth, there are clues given in the Scriptures to figure it out.  Although there are many articles out there that argue one method or another for calculating the time of His birth, I would like to offer a simplistic approach.  According to researchers and traditional Christian teaching, based upon examining the Gospels and the feasts discussed in them, Christians state that Jesus [Yeshua] was 33 1/2 years old when He was crucified.

So let’s just take that information and use some logic here.  If Jesus [Yeshua] died when He was 33 1/2 years old, or 33 years 6 months, then He would have had His 33rd birthday 6 months before His death.  However, there’s no way you can get 6 months between December and March, the month of Passover that year.  However, if you count back 6 months from the month of March, you will arrive at the month of September.  This would mean that Jesus [Yeshua] was born in the Fall, not in the Winter.   This also supports my own personal opinion, based on the clues in Scripture, that Jesus [Yeshua] was born during the feast of Tabernacles (5 days after Yom Kippur on our calendars].

Some people argue that it would’ve had to have been in the Spring because the shepherds were out with the sheep, which normally happens in the Spring.  However, these were not regular shepherds.  These were shepherds who worked for King Herod, and they were raising sheep owned by him for the purpose of them being offered up as a sacrifice.  Since Herod was highly despised, it is not far-fetched to believe that some may try to kill his flocks, if left unattended, so that he would not be able to worship God in the Temple.  Thereby, bringing God’s wrath down upon him.  That being the case, I believe, particularly around the Fall feasts when sacrifices were expected to be given that Herod would have had shepherds out with the sheep every night during this time.

THE PAGAN ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS

Now let’s get to the heart of the Christmas deception.  Originally, what we call the “Christmas Season” was known as two Roman pagan idolatrous feasts: the “Roman Saturnalia” and “Sol Invictus.”

There are many credible sources that demonstrate that the origin and roots of Christmas are derived from the Roman Saturnalia, such as the decorating of the tree, the exchanging of gifts, singing songs from house to house, eating baked goods [such as cookies] shaped like people, feasting, merrymaking, partying, and getting drunk.  In fact, the roots of the Christmas Tree go back even further than the Roman Saturnalia.  For example, in Jeremiah 10, God states through the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dimayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain [empty, worthless]: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs to be borne [or carried], because they cannot go.  Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:2-5)

Although people may not view the “Christmas Tree” as an actual god anymore, that does not deny the fact that its roots go back into ancient pagan idol worship.

Examples of sources to consult about the pagan origins and connections of Christmas are many.  For example, one could read the article “Saturnalia” at History.com, or the article “Is Christmas related to Saturnalia” at the Christian website, gotquestions.org, or even an older Christian source, Ralph Woodrow’s Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern (1966) in his chapter on “The Winter Festival.”  And these are just a few of the sources that are out there.  In fact, according to the Christian source on gotquestions.com, during the time of the Roman empire, “the word Saturnalia became synonymous with immorality and carousing” (“Is Christmas related”).

The Christmas holiday also finds its roots in the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) that celebrated the renewing of the Sun King [i.e., the sun god], Mithra, on December 25, and was linked to the winter solstice (“Is Christmas related”).

PAGAN FEASTS IN THE CHURCH?

During the time of the 4th century, A.D., there were large groups of people leaving the church to celebrate these pagan festivals to these other gods and goddesses.  In response, the Roman Catholic Church decided the best way to keep these people in the church was to create a “Christian alternative,” a mass for Christ – “Christ-mass” or “Christmas” – to these pagan festivals, much like modern churches are doing with Halloween.  In fact, the earliest mention of December 25 commemorating the birth of Christ is 354 A.D.  Obviously, then, “Christmas” did not originate with Christ or with the writings of His early disciples, and in contrast to Christian belief, Jesus is NOT “The Reason for the Season.”

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church did eliminate some of the practices of the Saturnalia before bringing it into the church, such as people getting drunk, chasing women, going around naked as they sung songs from house to house, etc.  In addition, they changed December 25 from the renewing or birthday of the sun-god to the birthday of the Son of God, and then “Christianized” the reasoning for the other pagan-related activities, such as connecting the giving of gifts to the gifts given by the wise men.  This is likewise confirmed by the Christian site, gotquestions.com:

The early motive for celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was the same that inspires modern churches to hold “Fall Festivals” or “Bible Costume Pasties” on October 31.  That is, to provide a spiritually positive alternative to what they perceive as a pagan celebration.  (“Is Christmas Related”)

Although this conservative Christian website readily acknowledges the pagan roots and connections of Christmas, it goes on to say,

So, Christians readily and comfortably acknowledge that the date, traditions, and long-term history of Christmas are connected to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus.  Yet, like a family celebrating a Bible Costume Party on October 31, it’s the people celebrating who decide what the celebration means.  (“Is Christmas related”)

Every pastor that I have personally spoken with about the pagan roots and connections of Christmas (as well as Lent, Easter, and obviously Halloween), they have taken the same position:  The origins of the holiday does not matter; all that matters is what is in the heart of the individual.

THE BIBLE IS NOT THE STANDARD OF WHAT WE DO?

Of course, this raises an important question: What is the basis and standard for what we do?  Is it the Bible, or is the secular world right and Truth is only relative, so that there isn’t any absolute standard of right and wrong.  It seems when it is convenient for Christians, they will say that the Bible is their only standard of faith and conduct, but when that same Bible contradicts and challenges what they are going, then it’s up to the individual.

CHRISTMAS – A VIOLATION OF SCRIPTURE?

But I question their position for a number of reasons.  First of all, I question it because the creation of “Christian alternatives” to pagan feasts is, in fact,  a violation of Scripture.  In Deuteronomy 12, God says,

When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, wherever you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; take heed to yourself that you be not snared [trapped] by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?  even so will I do likewise.  You shall not do so unto the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which He hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.  What thing so ever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.  (Deuteronomy 12: 29-32)

This is not merely a passage forbidding child sacrifice; instead, the sacrifice of children is one example of pagan practices that He is addressing.  There are two basic principles here that are being taught within this passage:

  • Do NOT use the customs, traditions, practices, forms of worship, etc., that other nations use with their pagan gods, and use them with the LORD; and
  • Whatever God has commanded in His Word, that is what we are to do.  We are not to add to it, nor are we to subtract from it.

However, most churches get around this prohibition by teaching that the Law of God ended at the cross; therefore, this prohibition, they say, is no longer valid or relevant to them.  The other possible common response is that the Law of God is only for Israel, and it does not apply to the church, so again, this prohibition is seen as not valid or relevant to them.

“DOES THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS?”

Another explanation offered for churches participating in these “Christian alternatives” is that by the church offering these alternatives, unsaved people come to church who normally would not and, therefore, have the opportunity to hear the gospel and get saved.  This sounds feasible and good, until you realize that “in the name of salvation,” Christians are disobeying God and His Word.

But the sad truth is that beginning back in the 4th century, A.D., and even today, people have not stopped to even ask God what He thinks about these man-made “Christian alternatives” to these pagan feasts and the church connecting His name to them.  The church has merely assumed that as long as people get saved, then God is okay with it and it is good to do.  But is this the way that God thinks and feels?

CHRISTMAS – A PROFANING OF GOD’S HOLINESS?

Even after reading this, some may argue that this is all just my opinion on the matter since no one actually knows what God really feels about these “Christian alternatives” that Christianity has brought into the church.  However, that is not so.  God has spoken to my wife, Karen, and He has also spoken to me in different ways reconfirming the fact that God is not only deeply offended by these pagan celebrations being brought into the church, but He also says that they profane His holiness.  The following is what God has spoken about this “holidays” by His Spirit:

I do not want My people dabbling in the things which I have said were unclean and unholy.  How can I, a holy God, be among the things that are unholy?  My people, you are profaning My name and causing Me to want to take you and remove you from My Holy Presence.  I cannot, and will not, I say, keep dwelling among a people who do not covet the same holy things that I covet.

Yes, I have in My commandments which I gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai, which says to not covet what is not yours, says God Almighty.  These wicked holidays that you are claiming to be yours are detestable in My eyes, says God Almighty.  How can you not see this in the Word of God that I have given you as a manual to understand the very heart of Me, says God.  I do not wish for any one of My children to have anything to do with the things of this world.  I will go farther than this, I can’t continue in a relationship with you because you are grieving the Holy Spirit that has come to be your Helper and to be your Guide.

Don’t profane My name and say you are trying to take something bad and turn it into something good for the sake of the church.  This is not true, says God.  You are doing it because you don’t care about hurting Me, says God.  If you cared about Me, you would see that I detest all the things you’re trying to push Me into.  I do not accept what you have done, and I don’t want anything more to be involved or put My name to that which is unholy and unacceptable to what My Word teaches. (“God Says: ‘My People Are Profaning My Name'”)

It seems clear that God does NOT endorse these “Christian alternatives” of pagan feasts and practices.  They offend Him to the point where He feels like spitting His people out in disgust.  The church needs to repent and to stop celebrating these pagan feasts.  I believe the question must be asked, “Why are we celebrating these ‘Christian alternatives’ to these pagan feasts and practices — Christmas, Lent, Easter, and more recently, Halloween – when God Himself has designed and given to us 7 feasts (and I personally would add Purim and Hanukkah)?  Why do we insist on setting aside what God Himself has given to us to celebrate feasts and practices whose origins and roots are pagan?  We need to repent, turn away from our sins, and begin walking in holiness and obedience to God and to His Word.

Works Cited

“Is Christmas related to Saturnalia?”  gotquestions.org.  Got Questions Ministries. 2017.  Web.  <http://www.gotquestions.org/Christmas-Saturnalia.html>

Nuwer, Rachel.  “The First Nativity Scene Was Created in 1223.”  Smithsonian.com.  Dec. 14, 2012.  Web.  <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-first-nativity-scene-was-created-in-1223-161485505>

“Saturnalia.” History.com.  n.d.  Web.  <http://www.history.com/topics/Saurnalia>

Verschage, Karen.  “God Says: ‘My People Are Profaning My Name.”  Karensshofar. wordpress.com.  June 19, 2016.  Web.  <http://karensshofar.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/god-says-my-people-are-profaning-my-name>

Woodrow, Ralph.  Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern.  Riverside, CA.: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1978.  Print.
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Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 2): What is “Biblical Faith”?

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.

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Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 1): What “Biblical Faith” is NOT

[The picture above is a scene from the movie Jesus of Nazareth (1977) where Jesus (played by Robert Powell) is telling the Roman Centurion (played by Ernest Borgnine) that his servant is healed as he believed.]

by Chris L. Verschage

NOT Opposites?

Critical thinking, logic, reason and faith are not opposites.  This may surprise many people.  There is a dominant misconception that to have faith in God is to deny critical thinking, logic and reason.  And from the writings of many philosophers, we see this misconception perpetuated.  For example,

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. (Voltaire)

Faith: not wanting to know what is true. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason. (Benjamin Franklin)

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. (Bertrand Russell)

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. (Richard Dawkins)

Many will argue that these men, including Richard Dawkins, are great geniuses, and they are experts in their fields of study, but not when it comes to understanding biblical faith.  As we will see in this study, these quotes demonstrate a poor perception of faith as it is presented and discussed within the Bible.  But not do only philosophers, scientists, and the general public have a poor concept of biblical faith, but the unfortunate truth is that many Christians past and present have also been equally mistaken about it as well.  For example, there are many churches that have placed on their signs in their front yard, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”  One would like to think that Christians, at least, would have a clear concept of biblical faith, but the evidence, unfortunately, does not support that conclusion.  To illustrate this further, I’d like to use an experience I had in one of my college classes.

A Disturbing Discussion

I had just responded to student’s statement when a huge gasp was heard across the room.  You would’ve thought that I had just committed a heinous sin in front of everyone, rather than just question a belief statement made by a student in one of my English Composition courses. I wanted to know upon what evidence she was basing her statement.

“You can’t question her beliefs,”   I was told by several students.

“Why not?” I asked.  “Why can’t I question them?”  The look on their faces told me that they thought I had apparently lost my mind, because certainly someone of my age should know better than to do something like this.

One of the students responded, “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.”   The rest of the class then nodded in agreement.

One can easily see that this student is perpetuating the historical misperception of biblical faith.  When I pressed the issue further to see where they had learned this definition of “faith,” many of them said, “At church.”  I was surprised.  Why?  Because this is not the view of faith taught by the Bible.  Consequently, then, there are churches today teaching their own definition of faith, rather than how the Bible defines and uses the term.  So in this article, I want to build on our discussion of critical thinking (see What is “Critical Thinking”? And Can We Do THAT In Church?”by examining the relationship between critical thinking and faith.  But before we can do that, we need to have a clear idea of what biblical faith is, so I’m going to define it by negation, first telling what it is not (here in part 1) and then what it is (part 2).

What “Biblical Faith” is NOT

Biblical faith is not what the world or American culture says that it is, it is not “blind” nor is it a “blind leap in the dark,” nor is it based on the absence of critical thinking, logic or reason.  In fact, it is the opposite of how it is usually described in American culture in both the Hebrew and the Greek.  So let’s begin this study by defining what biblical faith is NOT.

Biblical Faith is NOT merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements.

This might be the first step towards biblical faith, but this is not what the Bible means by the word “faith.”  For example, James writes, “You believe that God is one; You do well: the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19, NASB).

I’ve heard people say, “Well, I believe there is a God,” and think that is all that is needed to get them into heaven, but James writes here that “the demons also believe.” You see, merely acknowledging that there is a God is not enough.  Satan and every demon under his authority believe that there’s a God, and they’re still going to Hell.  People think Hell is where Satan rules, but that’s not true.  The Bible calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), as well as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  Satan does not want to go to Hell any more than anyone else does; he just wants to make sure he takes as many people with him as he can.  In fact, I’ll go one step further, Satan and his demons don’t just believe there’s a God, they know for certain that there’s a God because they’re continually seeking to mess up what He does.  So, no, mental acknowledgment is not enough.

Biblical Faith is NOT merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works.

There are people who think that biblical faith is all about calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and then doing good works; however, in His renowned sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount,”  Yeshua/Jesus makes it quite clear to the crowd following Him that there is more to faith in Him than 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.  Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?  and in Your name have cast out demons?  And in Your name done many wonderful [miraculous] works?  And then I will profess [say] to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.  (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)

I remember the first time I realized what Yeshua/Jesus is saying here, and it shook me up because I knew that up until that point, I had been one of these people that He is addressing in this scene.  And if not for His love and grace, and the Spirit who revealed the truth of this passage to me, I would have been standing there among them in the future.  What I learned from this passage is that Yeshua/Jesus is pointing out the following important truths to the crowd:

Merely calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” is not enough to get you into the Kingdom; He must actually be your Lord.  To call Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” is where your journey with Him begins, it is not the full extent of what it means to have “faith” in Him.  To call Him “Lord” is to say that He’s your “Master” or “Owner.”  But you must not just say it, you must live in submission to His Lordship or “Ownership.”  This is what it means to give your life to Him, you are giving Him the control and ownership of your life.  It is no longer your life, but His.  For example, I am shocked when I hear a Christian say,

It’s my life, I’ll do what I want with it.

When Christians utter such statements, it is clear that they have no clue what it means to call Yeshua/Jesus “Lord.”  To call Him “Lord,” means, for example, if He asks you to speak to someone, you do it, or if He asks you to give someone money or something you own to help them out, you do it, or if He asks you to give up your job, your home, and all that you own to follow Him into another country, like He did my wife and I, you do it.  Even if He asks you to sacrifice your life as a martyr for His glory, you do it.  Once you have made Him the Lord of your life, it is no longer your life, but His.  You are now the steward (manager) of your life, but He is the owner.  We can see this idea repeated in different ways in the New Testament:

Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who  is in you, whom you have from God?  YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN, for you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20; emphasis mine)

You were bought at a price;… (I Corinthians 7:23)

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even DENYING THE MASTER WHO BOUGHT THEM, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.  Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3; emphasis mine)

In all three of these references, we can see the same repeated idea: we have been bought with a price and, therefore, if we have made Yeshua/Jesus the Lord of our lives, we do not own ourselves any longer, but we now belong to God and to the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.  Consequently, we cannot live any way that we choose, but we must die to self daily, sanctify ourselves in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, and we must live in a way that’s pleasing to God and in accordance with His Word.

I am crucified with Christ [Messiah]; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ [Messiah] lives in me, and the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:2)

Obviously, if “I am crucified with Christ [or Messiah],” then this life no longer belongs to me; in fact, Paul writes, “yet not I, but Christ [Messiah] lives in me.”  My life, Paul is saying here, is no longer mine.  I don’t own it anymore.  I don’t have the right to determine what happens to it.  It has a new owner, Messiah.  It now belongs to Him. I now go or do where He wants me to go or do.   In fact, in Luke 6:46, Yeshua/Jesus even asks, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  If Yeshua/Jesus is your “Lord” (Master/Owner), then submission and obedience to His authority in your life should be clearly evident.  In fact, Yeshua/Jesus is the supreme model of one who lays down His life (His wants, needs, interests) to follow God’s plan for His life:

When you [the religious leaders] have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am He [the Messiah], and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father has taught Me, I speak these things.  And He that sent Me is with Me; the Father has not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him. (John 8:28-29)

Just as Yeshua/Jesus laid down His life, we are to lay down our lives daily, and just as He always did what was pleasing to His Father, we are to live our lives seeking to please Yeshua/Jesus and His Father in everything that we do.  To be His disciples means to live and imitate Him in how we live our own lives.  (NOTE: the use of “man,” “he,” and “him” are used in the generic sense.)

If any man will come after Me [or be My disciple], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

He that has My commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves Me; and he that loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21)

If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He who loves Me not keeps not My sayings: and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me. (John 14:23-24)

As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you.  Remain [or continue] in My love.  If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.  I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

Notice, there is much more to salvation than simply saying “Yeshua” (or “Jesus is My Lord.”  There is an expected lifestyle standard that Yeshua/Jesus expects of all those that claim to be His disciples.  He expects His disciples to lovingly obey His teachings, not just to call Him “Lord” once or twice a week and then go off and live life the way that person wants without any regard to Yeshua/Jesus at all.

Some may say, “This is just your opinion.”  However, it is not.  The Lord has spoken to us through my wife, and He has made His view extremely clear:

Trust Me, says God, and know that all things will work out for Good to those who seek Me, My Torah, and has My words, says God Almighty, because My words, My Torah, are One and the same.  You take away My Torah, My Holy Scriptures, you have taken Me away.  You cannot pick and choose what you want to believe.  All of My words are yes and amen.  Not one of them is better than the next.  They all, I say, have an importance to them.  I say, Do not take anything from the beginning or the middle away, it is all valid and important for you today, My children.  The Old Testament is just as valid as the Newer Testament.

How can a people who say they have read My Word from beginning to end, say with all honesty, that they can believe all this hogwash that people have told them concerning My words.  How stupid.  Even a baby can understand better than all of you “more learned and sophisticated ones” that think you have Me and My Father all figured out.  You blaspheme My Holy Name every time you tell My children who are seeking Me and My Father lies about Me, God, changing My plans after My death and resurrection, NOT SO. (“Torah & the Spirit: What God Wants for His Children”)

What is the lie?  That some part (usually “God’s law”) or even the whole Old Testament is no longer valid for believers today.  Yeshua/Jesus did not die to do away with the law of God, but the law of sin and death.  Consequently, the teaching that God’s law ended at the cross is a horrendous error and deception that Christianity has perpetuated throughout the centuries.  God’s law was never given to “save” us, but to provide God’s expected standard of how “saved people” should live their lives.  Did you also note that in John 15:9-11, Yeshua/Jesus Himself teaches that the way we stay in His love is by our loving obedience to His commands (or teachings), yet I have never heard one minister ever teach this.    You see, Yeshua/ Jesus is our example.  Just as He remained in His Father’s love through His loving obedience to His Father, so we will remain in Messiah’s love by our loving obedience to all that He taught.

  • Doing miraculous things for God is not enough to get you into the kingdom.  Secondly, Yeshua/Jesus also notes in His teaching, known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” that these same people who are calling Him “Lord”  are prophesying, casting out demons, and doing many miraculous works in His name, and yet He still says to them, “depart from Me, you workers of iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).  The problem is not what they are doing, it is that they don’t have a relationship with Yeshua/Jesus, or as He says, “I never knew you.”  It’s not that He didn’t know about them, the word “knew” here is in reference to an intimate relationship.  There wasn’t one between Him and these people.  And what’s mind-boggling to me is that even though they do not have an intimate relationship with Yeshua/Jesus, they are still able to do these things.  And in the Greek, this is even more mind-boggling.

Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied [declared truths through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit] in thy name [or delegated power and authority]?  and in thy name [delegated power and authority] cast out devils?  And in thy name [delegated power and authority] done many wonderful works?  (Matthew 7:22, explanations mine)

Notice these people are doing these things through His delegated power and authority and even through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and yet, they really do not have an ongoing intimate relationship with Him.  They may have started out well, but then somewhere along the line, that relationship was lost.

And what we need to realize is that God may choose to use someone who does not have a good relationship with Him in order to bless His people who are there in the congregation or to bring others into an intimate relationship with Him.  The person’s ability to prophesy, cast out devils, and do other miraculous acts is not evidence that this person has a good relationship with God himself (or herself).  There have been several modern examples of ministers who God used to minister to others, even though the minister himself (or herself) was living in sin.  Of course, the problem here is that most people make the false assumption that when they see these miraculous things happen, it automatically proves that this person is in a good relationship with God.  Obviously, then, these things are not evidence in of themselves.  Instead, when these things happen, what we should understand by them is that they are proof or evidence for the existence of God and His continuing rule and reign, and for His continuing mercy and grace to heal and deliver people today.

Biblical Faith is NOT “a Divine Force”

When I first heard this taught, it reminded me of the movie Star Wars, and the line, “May the force be with you.”   Obviously, those who teach this are confusing “faith” with the Holy Spirit.  It is not “faith” that makes things happen, but the Spirit of God; when we have faith in God, God then responds to our faith.  Let me give an example from the Gospels.  In Matthew 12, Yeshua/Jesus has just healed a blind and mute man by casting out a blind and mute spirit (or demon), something that the sages and Pharisees taught that only the Messiah could do when He came.

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.  And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? (Matthew 12:22-23)

The crowds had been listening to the sages and Pharisees in their teaching of the Scriptures.  They saw the miracle and remembered the teachings they had received in the synagogue, and they came to the logical conclusion based on those teachings that Yeshua/Jesus must be the long-awaited promised Messiah, “the son of David.”  However, rather than the religious leaders maintaining their own teaching and admitting that Yeshua/Jesus had, in fact, fulfilled this Messianic expectation, they accused Him of healing by the power of “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils (or demons):”

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow does not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils [demons].  (Matthew 12:24)

Their response was completely illogical since it violated what they themselves had long taught.  However, their hatred of Yeshua/Jesus and His teachings completely blinded them to the truth and their use of logic and reason.  Now am I saying that all Jews are filled with hatred and are blind to Yeshua/Jesus?  No, I am not.  We must remember that Yeshua/Jesus Himself is a Jew, His family is Jewish, His early disciples were Jewish, the Apostle Paul is Jewish, and those from the crowds that believed in Him were Jewish.  We must also remember that there are many Jews today who have put their faith and trust in Yeshua/Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.  It is also important to remember that the Jews are God’s covenant people, and just like in the first century, C.E., there are those that have believed, and there are those that have not.

However, in Yeshua’s/Jesus’ response to their irrational accusation, He uses logic and reason to demonstrate the truth of what had just happened:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city and house divided against itself shall not stand.  And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?  And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children [disciples] cast them out?  therefore they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.  (Matthew 12:25-28; emphasis mine)

Notice the Scriptures make it clear that it was not by “the force of faith” that Yeshua/Jesus cast out this blind and mute devil (spirit), but “by the Spirit of God.”  Yeshua/Jesus had faith in God His Father to deliver the man (John 5:19-20; John 10:25, 32, 37; John 14:10-11), His faith was there in the situation, but His faith was not some “force,” like you hear some evangelists and ministers teach today, that delivered the man from the blind and mute demon, but it was “the Spirit of God” that cast it out (Acts 10:38).  God responded to Yeshua’s/Jesus’ faith and by His Spirit, He drove out the demonic spirit and brought healing to the man.  And the same is true when people are healed today.  Our faith is not some “force” that heals and delivers us, or makes things miraculously happen, but it is God responding to our faith in Him, and it is He who heals and delivers and performs the miraculous.

So What Faith is NOT

In conclusion, then, we can see that —

  • Biblical Faith is NOT merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
  • Biblical Faith is NOT merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; and
  • Biblical Faith is not “a Divine Force”

So if these are not accurate descriptions of biblical faith, what is it?  In the next part of this two-part series, we will explore what faith is, according to the Bible.  Some may be surprised to discover that God does make use of critical thinking and logical reasoning.  The difference, of course, is that it is His logic and reasoning, as opposed to humanity’s.  For as the Scriptures teach,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Although we will never understand God completely, this does not mean we cannot grasp at least some of His use of logic and reasoning evident within the Scriptures (as we will see in part 2 of this series).

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What’s “Critical Thinking”? And Can We Do THAT in Church?

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”  (Proverbs 19:2)

 by Chris L. Verschage

A Beginning Question

What is “Critical Thinking”?  This is a question I ask near the beginning of every English Composition class I teach.  And every semester, I discover that people have an incomplete view (or an erroneous view) of what “critical thinking” is.  And the thing that I find most surprising is the belief among many Americans that “critical thinking” and biblical faith are mutually exclusive.  This misguided idea has been around for quite a while since it was even expressed by Benjamin Franklin, who said, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” Although Mr. Franklin was extremely intelligent about some things, this apparently did not include biblical faith.  This common misconception is, unfortunately, becoming the accepted view of the mainstream, even those who have grown up in many churches.

Two Examples

For example, recently, while I was in-between classes, I happened to speak with two students on two different occasions in the area outside my office next to the pop machines.  On one occasion, I spoke to a female student who told me that her church taught against them asking questions.   Consequently, she was surprised when I was willing to answer questions that she had regarding the Scriptures.   On another occasion, I spoke to a student who was an ex-Catholic and had left the church, because, he said, they refused to let him ask questions regarding God or the Scriptures growing up.  And so, as a result, he saw the church as a “brainwashing institution” that he wanted nothing to do with.

Asking questions is the beginning step to critical thinking, and it’s one of the main ways that we learn.  And by preventing people from engaging in this normal cognitive function, it results in people getting hurt, and in them leaving the church and God, which is what happened to this second student.  He ended up leaving the faith and becoming an angry atheist.   Although during our conversation, he continued to try and show me how intellectually superior he was to Christians, I believe his resultant atheism was motivated more from him seeking revenge against those who had emotionally hurt him at the church he had been attending than in his rationalistic rejection of God.   And unfortunately, there are many more examples of people who have been hurt by some church for its “anti-critical thinking” position.

However, to be fair in our discussion, it should be noted that not all churches teach against the use of critical thinking.  There are many good pastors in America and elsewhere that encourage their congregants to engage in critical thinking and to ask questions as they go through a particular study and/or during their own private studies.

 A Common Misconception

A prominent common misconception among many people, including college students, is that Critical thinking is doubting everything.   They believe by going around doubting everything, it indicates they have a free, independent mind.  But this view of critical thinking is a logical fallacy that I point out to my students when I teach.   Doubting everything doesn’t make someone any more a critical thinker than someone who believes everything.   A critical thinker is someone who is willing to examine all sides of an issue or idea and to objectively weigh the evidence presented.   Those who believe everything don’t take the time to objectively examine and weigh the evidence since they accept it all, but those who doubt everything also don’t objectively examine and weigh the evidence since they doubt everything; consequently, both extremes fail to engage in critical thinking.

 What is “Critical Thinking”?

So then what is “critical thinking”?  Many people hear the word “critical,” and they automatically think that it means being “negative” or “judgmental,” but instead, critical thinking, in its most basic sense, is “thinking about thinking.”

It’s thinking about why we do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think.  It’s also thinking about why others do, say, or think what they do, including thinking about what we read, asking questions about it, and analyzing the text.  For example, in reading the Bible, we might ask the questions:   “What is the Bible?” “Why is it broken down into two ‘Testaments’? What is a ‘Testament’?” “What does it mean to call God or Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) ‘Lord’?” “What is a ‘Messiah’ (‘Christ’)?  Was that Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/ Jesus’) last name or did it mean something?” These are just a few of the thousands of questions that people may ask as they begin to study the Scriptures.

But critical thinking does not just involve asking questions.  That’s where it begins. It also involves the ability to analyze; to examine the relationship between ideas; to examine the causes and the effects of what people think, say, or do; to properly interpret a text using the rules of interpretation (called Hermeneutics); to do further research; to synthesize material from a variety of sources; and to evaluate those sources and the information provided.  These are many of the ideas and the techniques I teach to my college students every semester.  But instead of critical thinking moving people away from God and the Bible, as some erroneously believe, it can also be used to help give people a more in-depth knowledge of the Scriptures, greater faith, and a more intimate relationship with God. The two keys, though, is (1) in teaching people what critical thinking actually is, instead of what many people think that it is; and (2) in teaching people how to use it to help our understanding of what we are reading or listening to, instead of misusing it as a cover for one’s own doubts, fears, or past hurts.

The Bible – A Place for Critical Thinking

There are many people who are surprised at the idea that God created the Scriptures to be a place where our critical thinking could be practiced, tested, and even strengthened, rather than a place where critical thinking is set aside.  God desires to engage us spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically and even socially.   God is not interested in us being robots who just follow commands, but He wants to engage us, to dialogue with us, which is part of His desire to build a relationship with us.

However, too many Christians and churches have reduced their understanding of God and the Bible to just a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” or to a “list of beliefs” that people are “to simply accept without questioning,”  preventing them from learning how to move into the depths and riches of biblical study that God has intended for us to discover in order for Him to bless us.

For example, in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas went to Berea and taught in the synagogue there, it says,

Now these [Jewish and non-Jewish individuals] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. (17:11)

The Jewish and non-Jewish men and women who attended this synagogue were receptive to the Gospel message proclaimed by Paul and Silas, but they also did not just accept it simply because two great evangelists came to town, named Paul and Silas, and taught this message, but they searched and examined “the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.”  In other words, they not only listened to the message, but they analyzed it, broke it down into its various parts, and then sought proof [evidence] from the Scriptures that what they were teaching was in agreement with what they saw taught throughout the Tanakh (i.e., Old Testament).  And what was the result of their analysis and research into the evidence of the Scriptures:

Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:12)

The implication of the text is that if the Gospel message had contradicted the Tanakh (Old Testament) Scriptures (which they were examining), then they would have rejected the message, but since many of them believed, then we can logically conclude that the Gospel message, as it was proclaimed by Paul and Silas, was in agreement with what the Tanakh (Old Testament) teaches.

 A Divine Command

Not only do we see examples of individuals engaging in critical thinking, but we are even commanded to use our thinking skills and abilities, including critical thinking, in expressing our love for God.  For example, in Mark 12:29-31, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus)  responds to a scribe’s question:  “What is the foremost (or greatest or most important) commandment of all?”  His response was the following:

Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, and with all your strength, and the second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.  [emphasis added]

In this command, we are commanded to love God “with all [of our] mind.”  How are we to do this, if we are not allowed to use our mind in the study of His Word, in prayer, or in His service?   The sad reality is that although there are ministers who encourage critical thinking in the study of the Scriptures, there are many ministers who deny their congregants the opportunity to worship and honor God with their minds by not allowing them to use their mind, to ask questions, or in other words, to use their critical thinking skills.   However, based on what I see taught with in the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, I firmly believe that God wants us to use our minds in the study of His word, in prayer, in fasting, in serving Him, and in serving others.

Critical Thinking vs. “the Carnal Mind”

So let’s examine a passage to give an example of how critical thinking can be used to deepen our knowledge of Scripture.  In Romans 8, Paul discusses what he calls “the carnal mind.”  Now there are many people who erroneously believe that critical thinking is a synonym for “the carnal mind.”  However, Critical Thinking involves a systematic approach to analyzing, breaking something down, and examining the issues, viewpoints, ideas, and behaviors of whatever it is we are examining; whereas, the “carnal mind” deals, not with a systematic approach, but with the condition of one’s heart.  The “carnal mind” does not deal with how we think, or the techniques we use when we think, but what we set our thoughts upon.  To be “carnally minded” means that we have set our minds to thinking and focusing on the things of “the flesh” – those desires and wants we have that run contrary to God and His Word – rather than the “things of the Spirit,” or those things that are in agreement with God and His Word.   For example, in Romans 8, Paul writes,

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)

So let’s deepen this discussion by using some critical thinking by inferring what it means to be “spiritually minded.”  An inference is a logical conclusion we draw based upon what we know about what we do not know.  In this instance, we want to use what we know (what Paul says about being “carnally minded”) and use it to infer – or draw logical conclusions from the text – about what we do not know (what it means to be “spiritually minded”).  We can do this by setting up a table like the following:

Carnally Minded

Spiritually Minded

It is death. It is life and peace.
It is enmity (or in opposition) against God. It is in agreement or union with God.
It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. It is subject to the law of God, and indeed, it can’t do anything else.

Consequently, when we realize that Paul establishes these two positions as being diametrically opposed to one another, then we can logically deduct what it means to be “spiritually minded” by formulating the opposite of what Paul says about being “carnally minded.”

And if we look at what we have inferred from the text, then it raises a rather interesting question about what much of today’s Christianity teaches.  Many teach that we cannot be subject (or obedient) to the law of God, but from our chart, this is only true if we are “carnally minded.”  If we are “spiritually minded,” on the other hand, then we will be “subject (or obedient) to the law of God.”  Consequently, this seems to suggest that much of Christianity today is operating on a mindset that’s “carnally minded,” rather than “spiritually minded.”

A Major Shortcoming

So, indeed, one of the major shortcomings I find in many ministries is that they do not encourage people to engage in critical thinking when it comes to things not only taught by the dominant American culture, but also when it comes to teachings they hear in church and to what they read in the Scriptures.  Maybe, it’s because they don’t want people coming to the same conclusions as we did above since that would raise many interesting questions that some ministers may not want to address.  Critical thinking is not an innate skill, but it’s a skill that must be taught and repeatedly practiced.

Is God Threatened?

There are those who have embraced the erroneous idea that God is somehow threatened if people ask questions, express doubts, or express their criticisms.   God is not up there in heaven nervous about the fact that someone asked a question, nor is He angry at us because we are having trouble grasping a concept in Scripture.   God desires to engage our hearts and our minds, which means He wants to engage our critical thinking, our reasoning, and our rationale.  God is no way threatened by our use of logic and reasoning, and He most certainly is not threatened nor offended if we come to Him, with our questions, our confusions, our pains and hurts, and even our anger and frustration.  In fact, God has even invited us to reason with Him, “Come,” God says, “let us reason together,…” (Isaiah 1:10).

 Job — An Example

Job had been put to the extreme test of devotion.  He had lost His wealth, His seven children, and even His health, all so the adversary, Satan, could try and prove him disloyal to God.   However, in spite of it all, Job stood firm in His faith in God, but Job did have his questions after all of this.  He wanted an explanation since he felt he had been unjustly treated.   In Job 31, Job asserts his integrity, and in 31:35, he makes the following proclamation:

Oh that I had one to hear me!   Behold, here is my signature;  Let the Almighty answer me!   And the indictment which my adversary has written.  (NASB)

Job here not only proclaims to his three “friends” his innocence, but he calls upon God to show him his supposed wrong doing.   Job 32 begins with this statement:

Then these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.  (New American Standard Bible, Job 32:1)

I’ve heard many ministers come down on Job because the Bible says that “he was righteous in his own eyes.”  However, I believe this is a superficial reading of the text and they criticize him unjustly.  This statement is merely noting that Job did not believe he had committed any wrong-doing to deserve these series of calamities that he had experienced. And according to the book of Job, he hadn’t done anything wrong.  In fact, these calamities came on him because Satan was trying to get him to reject God.  But instead of rejecting God, Job held firm in his faith.

Therefore, the text is not saying, as these same ministers have tried to argue,  that Job was “self-righteous.”  Instead, Job was experiencing the same confused emotions that many of us would go through after experiencing some major trauma in our lives.  In fact, Job was wondering if God had somehow lost sight or control of his life and circumstance.  Many people, like Job, who have undergone a bad experience, or even a traumatic experience, have wondered, “Where was God through all of this?  How could He be in control of my life and something like this happen to me?”  So rather than saying that Job was “self-righteous,” it indicates how truly human Job was considering the recent events that had occurred in his life.

However, at the end of the book of Job, God does come, but He doesn’t sit down with Job and provide Him with an explanation, as we would’ve liked to have seen; instead, since Job challenged God, God returns and challenges Job:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?  Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”  (Job 38:1-3)

Then beginning in Job 38:4 through to the end of chapter 39, God shoots question after question at Job wanting his response in regard to his knowledge of how everything around him in the heavens and the earth had been created and formed.

I have heard many ministers explain this exchange as God putting Job “in his place,” and rebuking him for thinking that he was sinless.   I disagree.  I don’t believe that is what is happening at all.   Job is a middle-eastern man from a middle-eastern culture, and in that region, it is common to have people respond to a question with a question.  And therefore, God in this exchange was, in all reality, responding to Job’s most urgent concerns.

In fact, I was listening to Dwight A. Pryor, the President and founder of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, a man and teacher I greatly admire, and he was talking about a time when he was in Texas, and he saw an ice cream truck going down the street, so he went up to buy an ice cream from the guy driving the truck.  When the man started speaking, he noticed he had an Israeli accent, and he asked him, “Are you, by chance, from Israel?”  The man nodded, and he asked him, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  The man smiled and agreed.  Dwight asked him, “Why is it that Israelis answer a question with a question?”

The man thought for a few minutes, and then shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not?”

In the Gospels, we find another example of this sophisticated form of question dialogue as a means of exchanging information.  At the age of twelve, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) and His parents had gone down to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and instead of going back with them, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), without their knowledge, stayed behind in Jerusalem.   After three frantic days of looking for Him, they finally found Him involved in a discussion with the teachers of the law (Heb. Torah), exchanging question for question:

And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.  (Luke 2:46-47)

Notice, He was “asking them questions” and they were “amazed at His understanding and answers.”  The questions He asked were, in fact, His “answers.” This form of dialogue of exchanging question for question was a very sophisticated form of rabbinic dialogue that  Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) was engaged in at only twelve years of age.  However, in like manner, I believe God in the book of Job is answering Job’s questions the same way, in the form of questions.   Rather than rebuking Job for his questions, God is majestically reaffirming to Job, and to all of us, that in spite of appearances, He is still on the throne, and He is still in control.   Job asked for an intellectual exchange — to reason with God — and God did not rebuke him for wanting to reason with Him, but wonderfully and majestically responded.

Obviously, if God felt that it was wrong for us to use our human reason with Him, He would not invite us to use it with Him.  As I mentioned earlier in Isaiah 1:10, God says, “Come, let us reason together….”   We must remember that it was God who gave us the ability to think, to analyze, to compare and contrast, to weigh ideas and consider, and to synthesize information and to evaluate it.   Why would God give our minds these abilities and skills, if He did not intend for us to use them?

 Why the Parables  — Another Example?

Another biblical example of God desiring us to use our minds, our critical thinking skills, can be found in Matthew 13.  In this passage, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) tells the crowd the parable of the Sower:

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears,  let him hear.”  (Matthew 13:3b-9)

After telling the crowd this parable, the disciples came to Him privately and asked Him the question:  “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) responded to their question by saying that God had not granted them the privilege of receiving the mysteries concerning His kingdom.  When I read that, it bothered me.

To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,

You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;  (Matthew 13:11-14, NASB)

I wondered, “Why?  Why would God not want all of us to know and understand His mysteries, to understand Him?  Why would He hide that information from people?”  I just don’t get it, I thought.  But then as I read His answer, I was surprised by it: “because their minds were dull:”

15 For the heart of this people has become dull,

With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return (or repent),
And I would heal them

16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:15-16, NASB)

In this statement, the Greek word translated “heart” is kardia (Strong’s #2588), which literally means “heart,” and it is from this same Greek word, we get the word Cardiac, like in a “cardiac arrest” which deals with the heart.  But this word can also refer to one’s mind, or one’s “thoughts and feelings” (“Greek Dictionary of the New Testament”).  The Greek word kardia corresponds to the Hebrew word Lev, which also means “heart” and “mind.”  And since the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is a Jew, speaking to His Jewish disciples, it’s unlikely He would have been carrying on this discussion with them in Greek, but in Hebrew.

Consequently, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is saying that the “heart” (or mind) of this people has become “dull.”  They’ve stopped thinking about the Scriptures, about what they mean and their importance to their lives; instead, they’ve become completely reliant on someone else to tell them what to think and believe.  Therefore, since they’re not wanting to engage God mentally, God is honoring that desire by not challenging them at all.  And as a result,

with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes; and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return (or repent), and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

By them not seeking to engage God through prayer and the study of His Word, they had, in fact, closed their minds and hearts to Him, which resulted in them not being healed or even saved.  After explaining this, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) builds on this with his explanation of the parable of the sower.

In this parable what I find interesting is that there is only one sower and one seed.  Most Christian ministries today would have four different sowers with four different seeds to meet the needs of each of the four different grounds.  But Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) in His parable only has one sower and one seed for the four different types of ground.

In His explanation of the first ground, the ground beside the road that was barren, He says,

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heartThis is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (Matthew 13:18-19)

The Greek word translated “understand” is the word Sunieami (Strongs #4920), which means “to put together, i.e., (mentally) to comprehend; by impl. to consider, understand, be wise.”  In other words, while the Word is being taught, if someone does not understand (or comprehend) it, then the evil one is right there removing “the seed” from “the ground” or life of the individual.  If you contrast the barren ground (ground #1) with the fruitful ground (ground #4), you discover that the difference between the two is understanding:

And on the one whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundred-fold, some sixty, and some thirty. (Matthew 13:23)

Notice that it’s only individuals who have received the Word and understood it who ended up bearing fruit for the kingdom.   So  this indicates a process: (1) we must hear it, then (2) we must understand it before (3) we can properly apply it.   And it is only after we’ve applied it, that we will experience the blessings of God.   Hearing it alone is not enough, nor is hearing and understanding it enough.  Instead, we must hear it, understand it, and apply it, and only then will we experience God’s promised blessings.  For James says,  that if we only hear the word without doing it, we only end up deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).

Belief is Not Enough

Consequently, then, simply telling people to just “believe what the Word says,” even if they don’t understand it, only opens the door for the Adversary to come in and remove the Word from their heart and lives, resulting in their lives being “barren” and unfruitful for God.  But what many people don’t realize is that people who hear the Word, understand it, and even believe what it says, but they don’t take the time or effort to apply it to their lives, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) says their lives will still remain “barren” and unfruitful for God.

On the other hand, those people who do hear it, understand what’s being taught, believe it,  and then apply it to their lives,Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) teaches that they will produce an abundance of fruit for God’s kingdom, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-19).    It should likewise be noted that “understanding” here means more than mere “mental acceptance.”  It requires the allowance of people to read a text, analyze it, ask questions, consider options, and then to formulate a conclusion.  In other words, it involves “critical thinking.”

What about those who aren’t so smart?

Does this mean that only those who are intelligent enough to think deeply will be blessed by God?   I am not saying that; rather, I do believe that if we want to walk in the blessings of God and His Word, we do need to invest our time and effort in not only reading the Bible but also in understanding it.   It’s important that we remember that we, as believers, are not all at the same level of understanding.  However, as long as we are sincerely seeking God, reading His Word, spending time in His Presence, and we are trusting Him to show us how to apply His Word in our day-to-day lives, and we follow through by obeying what He teaches us to do, then He will bless us for our obedience.

Conclusion

God is looking for a people who heartfully and sincerely want to spend time with Him and to serve Him.   This is often reflected in the amount of time we spend in His Presence and in studying His Word.  We need to understand that there is a big difference between someone reading a passage and just seeing it as something to check off for the day, and someone who truly desires to spend time in the Word of God, struggling with the reading or even seeking to understand it as thoroughly as possible, so that they then can ask God to show them how to apply it to their life.

Finally, we need to remember that critical thinking is not the enemy of the believer. Critical thinking is a systematic approach that we can use to study the Word, analyze it, and come to a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what it teaches us about God and His Kingdom.  Rather than telling people to “simply believe,” we need ministers and teachers to instruct people on how to use critical thinking effectively within our churches.  I believe one of the reasons there are kids who grow up in church and then leave the faith when they get to college is because colleges are teaching them to use critical thinking, but they use it to show why the Bible cannot be true.  We need to teach our kids the same critical thinking skills, but use those skills to show our kids why the Bible is true, and in so doing, we will better prepare our kids with the techniques and evidence they will need to face an unbelieving world.  It is our choice.  Someone is going to teach our kids critical thinking skills.  Don’t you think it should be us?

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