Belief Is Fortified by Reason
By Jack Hoehn
- Are you quite sure that George W. Bush was once president of the USA?
- Can you still remember when Lance Armstrong won his 7th or 6th or 5th Tour de France bicycle race?
- Are you uncertain if Tiger Woods ever won the British Open?
- Do you know that there was a real football player called Jerry Rice and what position he played?
- Who is Kelly Clarkston and what first made her famous?
I’m just seeing if you can remember with clarity and some degree of certainty what happened during your lifetime, say 10 or more years ago. If I told you George W. Bush wasn’t the US president, or Lance Armstrong never won a bike race, or Tiger Woods never won a golf tournament, but this was all just propaganda by an advertising agency, could you believe me? Would you have any reason to doubt my claims? Would there be much problem in disputing some false or fictional story I made up claiming it happened 10 or 11 years ago as serious history during your lifetime? I don’t think so. We believe because we know something ourselves to be true, or we have enough credible witnesses to these events that we do not doubt the truth of certain statements.
History and Belief
So it is all the more amazing that when Saul of Tarsus becomes Saint Paul within 10 years of the events, no serious challenge to his proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was made on the basis of historical inaccuracy.
That there was a Jesus of Nazareth, and a Pontius Pilate, and a crucifixion were not really questionable agenda items. And the criticism that this Jesus was “just a wandering Galilean prophet whose followers later made up divine myths about his death and resurrection long after his unfortunate end” can be easily challenged with just a little chronology.
- Jesus’ crucifixion – AD 30-33
- Saul’s conversion – AD 33-36
- First New Testament book – AD 50-53
The very first written Christian book we have copies of was not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but it was I Thessalonians written by Paul from Corinth about AD 50. In this first Christian document written within 20 years of the events, you find no cautious, partial, suggestive “might be” postulations about the event, but a fully matured proclamation of events still quite testable by living people’s memories.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, NIV -“You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God
and to wait for his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead—Jesus…”
1 Thessalonians 4:14, NIV – “We believe that Jesus died and rose again,
and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus all those who have fallen asleep in him.”
1 Thessalonians 5:10, NIV “He died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep,
we may live together with him.”
A non-believer (Tom Bissell) writes: “This is a frankly astounding thing to declare about someone who had died less than twenty years before… If Paul’s own testimony is accurate, he understood Jesus, a little over a decade after Jesus’s death, as the single-named entity ‘Christ,’ ‘the Son of God,’ and as one who ‘died and rose again’… Paul had already been all over Greece and Macedonia preaching this Jesus, and he included in his preaching an ominous promise that ‘the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,’ which Paul believed would happen relatively soon. Where Paul picked up these ideas remains an open question—perhaps the open question.”
Those who exclude the possibility of divinity of course remain puzzled. Those of us who are not restrained from that wonderful possibility will undoubtedly see great evidence that what Paul taught was not something he concocted, but something he had learned was in fact true, and worth living for and, if necessary, dying for.
As Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith!” “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” And then he begins to call his living witnesses as evidentiary support: “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After then he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all to me also.”
Closed or Open Science?
The circular reasoning that starts by saying that there is no extra-sensory reality (no gods, no angels, no creator, no design in the world) must deny the possibility of “singularities” that have no other good explanation. Instead of considering that there might be unique events outside of the usual and not explainable with strict materialism, they argue away the many evidences for the resurrection. And they do this not because there is not both remarkable and persuasive evidence for the resurrection, but because they refuse to consider that it even could have happened!
The Wikipedia article on Historicity of Jesus lists some of the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth that has made both believers and skeptics admit that such a man surely existed. They summarize: “While scholars have criticized Jesus scholarship for religious bias and lack of methodological soundness with very few exceptions, such critics generally do support the historicity of Jesus, and reject the Christ myth theory that Jesus never existed.”
The evidence we have reviewed above confirms that belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection was not a late doctrine made up years later by scheming monks, but appears full-blown within a decade or two of the events, well within the memory of those being evangelized. Things that had happened 10 years or less before were still current in the memories of the first hearers as things that happened 10 years ago are in your memories today.
Tom Bissell, quoted above, was raised a Roman Catholic and then left his church and belief in what he had been taught. But Bissell has retained not only interest but also rather clear insights into the faith he left behind. He rightly sees, “to be considered a Christian by most Christians you must accept that Jesus was the Messiah; that he rose from the dead; that he was, at the same time, both man and God, and that his death has immense cosmic significance.”
He also lists what he considers historically ascertainable about the man. “Safe assumptions to make about the historical Jesus include his baptism by John, his large popular following, his reputation for miracle performance, his wont to speak parabolically, his preaching of a coming kingdom, his belief that he was somehow an envoy or prophet of God, and his familiarity with at least some Jewish scriptures. It also seems reasonable to assume that at some point in his career, Jesus attracted the notice of the Temple and Roman authorities and was condemned to death…”
Now this is considerable skeptical support for a lot of the Jesus story we have had handed down to us through the Gospels. And he even admits that “the Jesus story, as a story, can be understood in a few ways. One way is to accept that it all happened…” Now there is a novel thought for the searcher: A good deal of the story can be authenticated even by disbelievers, so perhaps it might all or mostly be true?
The Laws of the Universe?
Skeptics, on the other hand, who have decided on other grounds that there is no God, and if there were he wouldn’t plan his salvation plan that way, because “this necessitates an additional acceptance that the known laws of the universe were put on hold during a brief period in first-century Palestine and the only people who noticed it were Christians.”
But Christians by the thousands and now millions have recognized it. What real reason can you give, except bias, that rules out singularities?
One-in-a-million events happen. And if there is a law-giver, suspension of the “laws” he created or a unique application of those laws, is only impossible if you start your reasoning by ruling out the possibility of the Creator of those laws.
As Peter Hitchens reminds us, as a young atheist, “I likewise thought…that ‘science’ had fully explained the motions of the planets, the law of gravity, and the mysteries of time. Anything that had not yet been explained would no doubt soon be discovered. There were no mysteries. Because we could observe gravity in action, we somehow knew what it was. Nobody then mentioned that its operation, especially in empty space, simply cannot be explained… The use of the majestic word ‘laws’ curiously turned the mind away from speculation about whose laws they might conceivably be or why they might have been made.”
The New Testament is not a pretty story book; its different books are not linked by narrative or writing style or literary succulence, in Greek or translations. But they are linked by all giving witness; they are testimony. The New Testament is a legal document; it is a series of witnesses who are testifying before the court of the world reasonable proof for the one unique singularity in the history of the universe.
For example John starts his gospel with these words: “There appeared a man named John….He came as a witness to testify to the light, that all might become believers through him.” And he ends his gospel with: “It is this same disciple who attests to what has here been written. It is in fact he who wrote it, and we know that his testimony is true.”
Jesus is said to have required this: “…there he was standing among them. Startled and terrified, they thought they were seeing a ghost… ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what is written: that the Messiah is to suffer death and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that in his name repentance bringing forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations. Begin from Jerusalem; it is you who are the witnesses to it all.’ ”
And we have already quoted above the extensive list of witnesses to the resurrected Christ that St. Paul presented to the Corinthians.
As Yorham Hazony argues: “Notice that this framework for understanding the New Testament is essentially juridic in character—that is, it relies on metaphors drawn from a court of law. Listen to these cadences: He came as a witness. He attests what has been here written. We know that his testimony is true. You will bear witness for me. I handed on to you the facts. We turn out to be lying witnesses…Even the very names given the Christian scriptures come from this same metaphor: The term testament derives from the Latin testari, which means ‘to serve as a witness’; and which scholars have associated with the Latin tres, three, and stare, to stand—that is from witnesses standing as a third party in litigation.” Or as Hebrew scripture taught: “A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.“
Fear of Science?
There are believers who fear exposing their beloved Bibles to science and reason. They have a religious house build of very slender and narrow Bible cards that can be easily destroyed if one favorite card is pulled out or placed into a different position. So they fear that if you accept a scientific chronology for the age of the earth, based on the evidence of the many different “clocks” we find in nature, you somehow can’t believe in the reality of a Noah and a flood that was as wide as Noah’s world (or a far as a dove could fly in one day looking for an olive branch). Or if you suggest God created a body for Jesus using natural mechanisms to accomplish his will that we can observe, you do away with the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Faith Strengthened by Reason
On the other hand, acceptance that scientific study can help us understand the Bible, and that the Bible can help us understand science, is by no means a destruction in the belief of other singularities besides the six creation-events presented in Genesis. Close study shows that belief in the life (including the fact of his birth from a virgin, which is not a technical impossibility for modern breeders and geneticists) of Jesus, the attested-to death and burial of Jesus, and the thoroughly witnessed resurrection on the third day, is by no means a “leap in the dark” or an anti-scientific fantasy.
It just requires a recognition that visible, testable nature is only a part of the total reality of life. That there can be other dimensions, other realities, multiverses that we can think about and study the evidence for. Reason becomes a way we use to evaluate the testimony/witness of scripture, and to come to a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence. Science can then expand faith, and faith becomes a partner with science opening scientists to a deepening understanding of life made possible by a reasonable faith. As Greg Boyd taught, “Faith must go beyond reason, but never against reason.”
The believer who listens to science, and the scientist who listens to faith may have little problem in believing exactly as Bissell suggested, that there was indeed a brief time in first-century Palestine when all the known laws of the universe were not just put on hold but actually reversed. This is neither contrary to sound doctrine nor the open scientific mind.
And that evidence-based understanding makes all the difference in the world.
 Tom Bissell, Apostles: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve (New York: Random House – Pantheon Books, 2016), 267.
 1 Corinthians 15:13-14, New International Version (NIV).
 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NIV.
 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, NIV.
 Tom Bissell, Apostles: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, p. 265.
 Tom Bissell, Apostles: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, pp. 270-271.
 Tom Bissell, Apostles: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, p. 271.
 Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 47.
 John 1:6, 7.
 John 21:24.
 Luke 24:36, 37, 46-48.
 Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 49-51.
 Deuteronomy 19:15.
 See Jack Hoehn, Atoday.org, 5 part series on Natural Clocks:
 See Jack Hoehn, Atoday.org: https://atoday.org/does-noah-s-flood-explain-everything/
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