I am one of three Jim Wallace’s in my family. My father and son bear the same name, and all three of us are police officers. I often say that we are the “George Foreman’s” of law enforcement; we’re not very creative when it comes to names. If someone asked you, therefore, “Do you trust Jim Wallace as a police officer?” the first thing you’d have to determine is, “To which officer Jim Wallace are you referring?” In order to answer the second question, you’d have to examine the nature of the Jim you are trying to identify. Are you talking about the Jim who worked in Patrol? All three of us did that. Are you talking about the Jim who crashed his police vehicle? All three of us did that. Are you talking about the Jim who served on SWAT? Now you’ve started to limit the field slightly (only two of us have served in that capacity so far). Are you talking about the Jim who worked undercover as a surveillance officer? Now you’ve identified only one of us: me. It turns out that my identity is tied to my descriptive characteristics; my nature matters. While I am similar to the other Jim Wallace’s in my family, the more you examine the details, the more dissimilar I become. My identity is more than my name; it is the collection of my unique characteristics and features.
Jesus is Not Jesus If You Change His Nature
In a similar way, if you were to ask my Mormon friends and family, “Do you trust Jesus as your Savior?” the first thing you’d have to determine is, “To which Jesus are you referring?” In order to answer the second question, you’ll have to once again examine the nature of the Jesus you are trying to identify. The Mormon Jesus can be described in the following way:
Jesus was first “procreated” as a spirit child of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, then later conceived in an act of physical sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary. He is the spirit brother of Satan, and is rather common in terms of His nature (in that he is one of many gods who share the same nature). Jesus was once sinful and flawed but earned His salvation through good works, eventually being exalted into godhood (like other obedient Mormons have been and will be). He is not a member of the triune Godhead but is instead a separate god from God the Father.
This description is quite different from the Jesus of Christianity:
Jesus is the uncreated, unique God of the universe, the Second Person of the triune Godhead. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit who supernaturally “overshadowed” Mary (she, therefore, remained a true virgin). Jesus was (and is) eternally perfect and sinless; for this reason, He’s never needed to earn His salvation.
The Mormon Jesus and the Christian Jesus Are Two Different Beings
While Mormons and Christians may refer to Jesus by name, they are clearly describing two different beings. Jesus’ identity is more than His name; it is the collection of His unique characteristics and features. In many ways, I am far more similar to the other Jim Wallace’s in my family than the Mormon Jesus is to the historic, orthodox Jesus of Christianity. When we ask our Mormon friends and family members, “Do you trust Jesus as your Savior?” they will most certainly answer in the affirmative. But the more important question is the second one we’ve been examining: “To which Jesus are you referring?” In answering this second question, it’s quickly apparent we are talking about two different beings. The earliest prophets of Mormonism (Joseph Smith and Brigham Young) understood the differences between the Mormon Jesus and the Christian Christ. Neither Smith nor Young had any interest in being identified as Christians; they rejected Christianity as a corrupt theistic system that needed restoration and saw Mormonism as the true restoration of the faith, including its redefinition of Jesus. While modern Mormons may want to identify themselves as Christians, the Jesus that Mormons trust as their savior is not the same Jesus trusted by Christians. Mormons are not Christians because the Mormon Jesus is not the Christian Christ. That’s why our team is here in Salt Lake City this week, talking about the differences between the Mormonism and Christianity and hoping to introduce Mormons to the Jesus of the Bible.Christian Christ, Christian Jesus, Jesus, Mormon Jesus, Mormonism, Mormonism And Christianity
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evolution, existence of God, morality, reason, the argument from morality
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“Oh, I believe in God,” my friend said. “But not the kind of God you’re thinking about. God is just an energy force, like in Star Wars maybe, the stuff that holds the universe together or that powers it. But God’s not a person. The Bible’s just primitive man’s attempt to make sense of this force. Like imagining that Thor throwing thunderbolts is the reason we hear thunder.”
Interesting position, I thought. I wondered how much effort he had spent on developing it, and how satisfying he found it. I decided to try and find out.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I prompted. “Are we talking about God as in the creator of the universe? Or are we talking about some natural property of the universe, like gravity or light?”
“No,” he said. “I mean that the universe was created by this power source and we were created eventually by the universe. I just reject the idea that God is a person that wants to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t think, at least not like us, and he doesn’t give a hoot about us. He – or rather ‘it’ – just is.”
This was progress. If the “force” were an element of the universe, then my friend would still need to explain where the universe came from. But we were getting more focused: this force was what brought it all into being.
“So, would you agree that the men you’re talking about – the primitive ones who were trying to make sense of things – had minds that utilized reason?”
“Of course,” he answered, not yet seeing the point. “They just weren’t very good about using reason, I guess I’d say.”
“Well,” I asked, “does this ‘force’ have a mind that uses reason? Could this force, if it didn’t have a mind, create something – even primitive men with limited reasoning – that was nonetheless greater than itself? I mean, even poor or primitive reasoning is better than no reasoning at all, right?”
He was beginning to see the problem. He thought at first that I would try to defend the Bible and its “superstitious” positions. “I’m not sure,” he began. “Probably not.”
“So, you’re picturing some form of evolution, right? The ‘force’ gets more complex as time passes, adding more stuff to itself. Is that how you’re picturing it?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty close,” he said. But this, of course, did not solve his problem.
“Then, is it your view that this ‘force’ eventually developed a mind? That our minds stem from this mind in some way?”
“I don’t know,” he responded, getting a bit short. “I haven’t thought about it all that much.” He was beginning to see the difficulty in his view. Did this “force” now have a mind, having along the way evolved one, or did it create a form of life possessing qualities it did not itself have? Neither option was appealing.
“Fair enough,” I said. “But you do agree, don’t you, that this force you’re thinking of probably couldn’t create something – minds and reason and thoughts – that it did not itself already have?”
“I guess,” he conceded.
I shifted gears. “Do you believe in morality?”
“Of course,” he said. “What do I look like to you?”
“Right,” I chuckled, “it was a rhetorical question. Without getting too technical, would you agree that morality involves the recognition that there are things we should or ought to do when we’d rather do something else?”
He furrowed his brows. “I guess that’s one definition. There are probably others.”
“Such as…?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know for sure. I haven’t really thought about it that much. It’s, well, you’re mostly right. There are things we can and cannot do, and a bunch of stuff in the middle that isn’t either right or wrong but merely a matter of preference. So, we probably don’t agree on the specifics. All I know is that I don’t need some God in the sky telling me how I should act. I mean, the Bible is ridiculously outdated.”
“I’m not trying to defend the Bible at this point,” I reminded him. He wanted to get back to where he was more comfortable, attacking the antiquated rules of the Bible. “I want to see whether we agree on some basic things first. You seem to be saying that morality exists, and that while there are many points of disagreement, there are at least a few things – maybe things like rape and murder – that we know we shouldn’t do. Would that be fair?”
He grudgingly agreed.
“Okay. So, that sounds to me like a message. It sounds to me like someone, or something at the very least, is communicating with me; telling me something about how I should act.”
“I don’t follow,” he said, but I suspected that he did more than he was letting on.
“Well, think back to when you were a child. Your parents told you some things that you should or should not do, right? And if you did something wrong, you probably got punished, right?”
“So, your parents were communicating with you, right? Giving you instructions about how to behave, giving you a glimpse of the rulebook they expected you to live by.”
“Well, your parents had minds, and they were using those minds to send you a message about some expectations they had. And, you know from your experience that they attached a consequence to your not following their expectations. Right?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that every message must have some intelligent source behind it? I mean,” he paused to think for a minute, “When it’s snowing outside, I don’t imagine that nature is telling me to put on a jacket. These are things that are just part of how we think.”
“But there’s a difference there, isn’t there? When it’s snowing, putting a jacket on is your response to your environment. It’s not really a moral thing. It’s more of the middle ground you talked about earlier. I’m not ‘bad’ if I choose to not wear one, just foolish maybe. I’m talking about those things where we conclude that doing something is ‘bad’ or ‘evil’”?
“What’s your point?” I could see he was losing interest.
“My point is that only other minds can send messages. Intelligence must lie behind a message. If I see alphabet cereal spread randomly on the table, I might see the word ‘cat’ or ‘ox’ spelled out, but the only message there would be one that I might imagine. But if the words spelled out ‘Went to the store, I’ll be home in an hour,’ I would be wise to conclude that someone is trying to tell me something. So, if we both recognize that someone, or something, is telling me not to murder my fellow human beings, it is similarly wise for me to conclude that I’m dealing with a person. At the very least, I’m dealing with an intelligence that is seeking to communicate with me.”
“But those are just social constructs. You don’t need God to know it’s wrong to rape or murder. We evolved those rules so that we could live peaceably together.”
“Oh, so if society changed back to, say, the time of the Romans, where society’s view was one more consistent with nature, you know, a survival of the fittest type approach, would that change your view?”
“Well, you say that these are just social constructs we are following. So, if society’s Caesar orders gladiator fights and tells one man to murder another, or if he rapes a woman, exercises his ‘privilege’ even though he knows she is not consenting, would society’s approval of that make those behaviors moral?”
“No, that’s different…,” his answer trailed off.
“Is it? It sounds to me like you are judging that scenario using some objective rules you recognize as binding on everyone, and that you realize that even Caesars can’t change those rules. You wouldn’t accept that as moral, would you? So, the question I’ll leave you with is pretty simple: how does this ‘force’ you imagine not, in reality, sound an awful lot like the God of the Bible? Yes, he’s all powerful and outside of nature, like your ‘force,’ but he’s also personal, has a mind, and uses that mind to communicate with us, his creation?”
He said he’ll think on it. I hope he does. But for now, at least, there was nothing more to add.
Posted by Al Serratoatheism, god's nature, mind, morality, reas
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I’ve been reviewing a cold-case for a local agency this week, examining the evidence they’ve collected to help them determine if they’ve got enough to file the case with the District Attorney. We’re using an approach that I’ve described in my book, called “Abductive Reasoning”; a process that also has application for those of us who examine the evidence of Scripture. This local cold-case, like all my cases, relies on a cumulative collection of circumstantial evidences. Convincing circumstantial cases emerge when a large number of facts are most reasonably explained by the same common cause. If a particular suspect can account for all the evidence in the case, that suspect is the most reasonable candidate. In this particular local case, there just wasn’t enough evidence. I called the I/O (investigating officer) and told him the bad news: The case needed a “tipping point”.
How “Tipping Points” Impact Criminal Cases
The problem with some circumstantial cases lies in the alternate explanations that could be offered for each piece. Let’s say a suspect behaves in a certain way the day after the murder. I have to ask myself: Is that behavior most reasonably explained by his guilt? Could it also be explained in some other way? What if he made a statement to someone on the day of the murder; did he say something that can only be reasonably interpreted as an indicator of his guilt or is there another way to reasonably interpret the statement? The local case I examined suffered from the problem of multiple interpretations. Each and every piece of evidence could be reasonably explained as consistent with the suspect’s guilt or just a reasonably explained by some other cause. As I made a comprehensive list of all the evidence, I found that none of the facts were without a reasonable alternative explanation. While the detectives interpreted the evidence to demonstrate the suspect’s guilt, a member of the jury could just as rationally conclude that some alternate explanation was reasonable. The case lacked a clear, irrefutable piece of evidence to act as the “tipping point” to guide us in how we ought to interpret the rest of the facts.
“Tipping point” evidences help us understand which interpretive direction we ought to travel. If, for example, our suspect later told a friend, “I feel terrible about what I did to that girl. I can’t sleep at night, I feel like I have her blood on my hands. I didn’t think I was capable of killing anyone,” this one piece of evidence would guide us in interpreting other elements of the case that are less clear. It’s hard to envision another way to interpret that statement other than as an admission of guilt. Given that confession, we can now return to the other less certain pieces of evidence and see how they fold into the larger case. Everything makes sense now, because we have a “tipping point” statement from the suspect that helps us interpret everything else.
How “Tipping Points” Impact Biblical Interpretations
Something very similar occurs when we examine the Bible in an effort to make a case for a particular doctrine or theological truth. We begin by collecting all the evidence in the case; the verses that address the issue under investigation. Some of these versions will have more than one reasonable interpretation. How will we know which interpretation is correct? Begin by looking for “tipping points”. Is there a verse that can only be reasonably explained in one particular direction? If so, you’ve located a “tipping point” verse. This piece of scriptural evidence can then guide you as you return to the less certain verses. It’s fair now to interpret these verses in a manner that is consistent with the “tipping point”. If someone challenges your interpretation of those verses, you can simply return to the “tipping point” verse to make your case. This is the same approach we take in circumstantial homicide cases. It’s a reasonable approach in the court room and it’s a reasonable approach in Biblical interpretation.
I’m less aggressive about a homicide case when I lack an evidential “tipping point”. Rather than argue belligerently with the District Attorney in an effort to get him to file the case, I recognize the liabilities and alternative explanations. Sometimes I have a “tipping point” and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I present the case aggressively with confidence; when I don’t, I present the case modestly with qualification. Even though (in the latter situation) I might still think I have the right suspect, I can respect the fact that the DA might not agree. We are still brothers in this cause; we’ve known each other for years and have become good friends. I’m not going to get upset and pound my chest about a case that lacks a “tipping point”. In a similar way, I’m not going to divide from my Christian brothers and sisters over theological inferences that lack an irrefutable scriptural “tipping point”. If my conclusions are built on verses that can be reasonably interpreted in more than one way, I am willing to show charity to those with whom I disagree. We’re still brothers and sisters in the same cause; we all want to possess a reasonable faith. I’m not going to get upset and pound my chest about a position that lacks a “tipping point”.Biblical interpretation, Circumstantial Evidence, evidence, Interpretations, reasonable faith, Reasonableness, The Evidence
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When the recent Kermit Gosnell trial came to an end, the death penalty debate once again captured the attention of the nation. Gosnell was sentenced to several life terms in prison and avoided execution; but the trial caused many Christians to re-examine what they believe about the use of deadly force. Gosnell’s case was unique in that it compelled many of us to examine and compare our beliefs related to the proper justification required to end someone’s life. How can we oppose abortion (on the grounds that it is murder), yet support the death penalty for Gosnell? It’s time for us to revisit what we believe about deadly force.
Over the past 16 years, as I’ve become more vocal about my identity as a Christian, several of my fellow police officers have come to me with questions about the use of deadly force, particularly after they’ve been involved in a shooting. As cops, we are often required to use our weapons; we always know it’s a possibility, but it’s usually not until we’ve used deadly force that we seriously confront what we believe on the matter. I think there is ample Biblical warrant to support the justified use of deadly force. The question is, of course, when is this use of force justified?
Proper Justifications for Deadly Force
This is the heart of the issue when it comes to distinguishing the difference between abortion and the death penalty. Scripture repeatedly offers two Biblical justifications for the use of deadly force: homicides committed in self-defense (Exodus 22:2) and homicides committed when trying to protect the life of an innocent third party (Exodus 2:11-12 and Genesis 14:14-16). These two Biblical exceptions are still represented in our country in the Penal Codes of each state related to “justifiable homicide”. Both justifications share one common feature: We are warranted in using deadly force when someone is trying to take the life of an innocent (either your own innocent life or another). When a “killing” is motivated by this proper justification, it is not “murder”; when it is not properly justified, it is. Murder, not killing, is condemned by God.
Is the Death Penalty an Act of Murder?
As Christians, we are not contradictory when we support the death penalty yet oppose abortion. Yes, both actions will end the life of a human being. But while the death penalty ends the life of a convicted murderer, abortion ends the life of an innocent baby. It is immoral for us to fail to see the difference between these two categories of humans. When I proclaim, “I am opposed to abortion”, what I am really saying is, “I am opposed to the unjustified killing of innocent human beings.” This is the difference between taking the life of a fetal human and taking the life of a convicted killer. If I believed convicted murderers were innocent human beings, I would be opposed to taking their lives as well.
The Bible affirms the distinction between innocent humans and guilty murderers. While the Old Testament protects the life of blameless human beings as described in the passages I’ve referenced (Exodus 22:2, Exodus 2:11-12 and Genesis 14:14-16), it also recognizes guilty murderers are in an entirely different category (as seen clearly in Numbers 35:30-31 and Genesis 9:6). Innocent humans are worthy of protection, guilty murderers deserve execution. In addition, the New Testament authors affirmed the justified use of deadly force by those who were in authority. Paul recognized the fact that government had the authority to use deadly force as it “bears the sword” (Romans 13:1, 3-4), and Paul did not deny the government’s authority to execute him if it found that he had done evil (Acts 25:9-11). When the government acts to end the life of a convicted killer, it is not committing an act of murder; it is instead performing a justified execution.
Understanding Those Who Hold a Position of Pacifism
I understand those who are still wrestling with their position related to the death penalty. Many Christians look at Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-41) as a prohibition against the use of any force at all. While we may not all agree with that position, we ought to understand (and be sympathetic to) its genesis. But as Christians who properly distinguish between innocent fetal humans and convicted murderers, it is possible for us to be both “pro-life” and “pro-death penalty”.Abortion, Death Penalty, Death Penalty Debate, Innocent Life, Kermit Gosnell, murder, Oppose, The Death Penalty
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Skeptics have written quite a bit about the allegedly “irreconcilable” differences between the genealogies of Jesus recorded in the gospels of Matthew (Matthew 1) and Luke (Luke 3:23-38). The genealogies appear to be quite different, especially as each author traces the lineage from King David down to Jesus. While I also recognize the differences here, I am familiar enough with witness statements to understand why this may be the case. I often review reports from cold-cases that were written by detectives who have long since died. As they described the statements that were originally offered to them by a witness, they often appear to have documented conflicting statements from witnesses who should have seen the same thing. Years later, all I have are the written reports of the deceased detectives and apparent contradictions. Once I get the chance to interview the witness for myself, the issues begin to find resolution. I’ve learned to ask each witness not only what they saw, but how the detective originally interviewed them. This is an important second question, because it often solves an apparent contradiction in the original reports. It turns out that what the detective was trying to accomplish in the interview often shapes what he finally recorded on paper. In addition, if I have access to other archived reports from the detective who conducted the interview, I may learn something about his approach to report writing that will help me understand why he wrote a report in a particular way. If I hope to address a jury and explain an apparent contradiction between witnesses as recorded by the original detective, I’m going to have to learn about the contributing factors that motivated the documentation in the first place. What was the detective’s objective when he wrote the report? What was of interest to him? What was he trying to accomplish?
In a similar way, we need to understand what might have been motivating Matthew and Luke as they recorded their genealogies of Jesus. In this regard, I think the scholarship that precedes me has done an excellent job of uncovering two reason contributing factors that might explain the differences:
Minor Reasonable Contributing Factor:
Some theologians and scholars have noted that one of the authors may simply have been more interested in including members of Jesus’ “legal” lineage who are related to him through “levirate marriage”. Back in these days, if a man passed away without any sons, the man’s brother would marry the widow to produce a son who could carry on the original man’s name. The son could then be listed under the genealogy of his natural father or his legal father. This might explain why Joseph is listed as the son of Heli in Luke but the son of Jacob in Matthew. While this may explain some of the differences between genealogies, there are too many variances to trust this minor contributing factor as a comprehensive explanation.
Major Reasonable Contributing Factor:
A more likely contributing factor, in my view, is the difference in the initial objectives of each author. Matthew appears to be writing to a Jewish audience. As a result, he begins his genealogy with characters familiar to Jews of the time (folks like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and places the genealogy at the start of his narrative. He quickly tries to connect Jesus to the overarching Jewish history leading up to the New Testament era. Luke, on the other hand, seems to be more interested in a broader audience that includes gentiles. His narrative begins by addressing Theophilus and he quickly connects the story of Jesus to the “days of Herod”. Luke doesn’t even present the genealogy until after he first introduces Mary and the virgin conception of Jesus. For this reason, it is quite likely that Luke may be tracing the genealogy of Jesus through Mary rather than Joseph. This would explain why Luke traces Jesus back through David’s son Nathan (if he is in the line of Mary), while Matthew traces Jesus back through David’s son Solomon (in an effort to track the line of Joseph).
When I examine a cold-case file and see an apparent contradiction penned by a detective without any attempt to resolve the differences between accounts, I have to remind myself that the detective who recorded the statements certainly must have recognized the differences. Why didn’t he try to resolve them at the time of the original investigation? Why didn’t he at least acknowledge the apparent inconsistencies? As it turns out, it’s usually because he understood the different objectives he possessed when conducting the interviews in the first place. To him, there was no apparent contradiction. In a similar way, I think it’s fair for us to ask the same thing of Matthew and Luke. It appears that the earliest students of the gospel authors (Ignatius, Polycarp and Clement) had access to Matthew and Luke as concurrent accounts. They all quote, reference or allude to passages in both gospels. Certainly they must have noticed the apparent contradictions. Why weren’t the differences altered to harmonize the accounts? It may simply be that, like the original detectives in my cold-cases, they understood the original objectives of the authors better than we do today. Once you understand the contributing factors that motivate authors, it’s far easier to understand the unique differences in their texts.apologetics, Biblical reliability, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, evidence, genealogies of Jesus, gospel eyewitnesses, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of Matthew, New Testament, witness corroboration, witness reliability
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belief in God be nothing more than a social or biological phenomenon? This was the question posed by the skeptic. His point was obvious: if he could provide an explanation as to why people began to believe, or why people choose to believe, he would be one step closer to proving that there is no need for God.
Or would he?
When a question is framed in the way the skeptic phrased it, the anticipated answer is “yes.” After all, anything is possible, so why could this not also be a possibility?
The true answer to the challenge requires that one assess the lines of evidence in support of, and the lines of evidence opposed to, the proposition “God exists.” If the evidence against God’s existence is strong, then it would make sense to look for an explanation of where this persistent belief finds its roots. After all, it seems pretty obvious that most people from just about every culture on Earth in every period of history have developed and practiced religious beliefs. But if the evidence for God’s existence is great – an easy conclusion to reach when one considers the dozen or more proofs for the existence of a supernatural Creator – then then likelihood that atheism is true diminishes to the point that holding such a view becomes irrational. So, in fact, I think the correct answer to the challenge is “no.” It is not reasonable to conclude that religion is simply a useful social or biological trait; it is reasonable to conclude that people believe in God because they rightly conclude he must exist, and they then set about trying to learn what they can about him.
On closer examination, the question is actually an example of the genetic fallacy at work. The genetic fallacy seeks to explain the source of a belief – i.e. to explain why it is false or mistaken – before showing that it is false. It has persuasive power because it seeks to “make sense” of something. A example would be if I were to say that of course the teacher gave me an F on this paper because it’s no secret that she doesn’t like me. First, one would need to prove that the paper did not deserve an F before an explanation becomes necessary. If I got every question on the test wrong, that would be the reason for the F, regardless of the teacher’s feelings. If, by contrast, I could show that my paper was actually correct, that the F was wrong, only then would seeking an explanation for why the teacher gave me the F make sense.
If skeptics proved that God did not exist, seeking to find out why He persists as an idea in all people’s mind – and the object of belief for the vast majority of all who have lived – would be relevant. Without that proof, the question seeks to explain why religious people are wrong, without first establishing that they are wrong.
Taking the argument at face value, for a moment, I don’t think it has much explanatory power, in any case. Under this view, mankind is the product of random forces that did not have humanity in mind. As time passes, some men, who just happen to acquire intelligence for reasons no one can explain, realize that religion confers a benefit to its adherents that other views do not confer. With the passage of time, believers would increase in numbers as they continue to receive a benefit that would then be passed on to later generations. But consider the problems with this view: first, not all religions are the same. Some command peace and cooperative living while others command war. How could diametrically opposed views explain man’s intuitive grasp of the creator? Second, whatever value living cooperatively has, there is no reason man could not have developed that approach without invoking a deity. It’s just common sense to see this. Finally, why would I believe that all religion confers an advantage? I don’t see that today, so I’m not sure why early man would have. Men prayed but did not receive what they asked for; others invoked God to win a battle or to bring rain with no effect. Religion is in fact quite counter-intuitive in some ways. We can continue to believe despite realizing that there is no necessary immediate benefit that will come from adopting a religious worldview. One need look no further than Jesus, who lay down his life for others because of the faith system he professed. How would that confer an evolutionary advantage?
The better explanation is that human intelligence is God-ordained and that our recognition that there is a God is a function of the intelligence with which we have been endowed. The skeptic should make his case first, before trying to come up with a reason why believers are mistaken.
Posted by Al Serrato
atheism, evolution, genetic fallacy, logical proofs, skeptic, Theism
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I’ve written about how we, as Christians, ought to respond to the claim that Jesus is simply a fictional re-creation of prior “dying-and-rising” god mythologies. The first step in assessing the evidence requires us to closely examine attributes of the mythological character offered in comparison to Jesus. It turns out that pre-Christian mythologies are far less similar to the story of Jesus than critics claim. When I first began to examine all the alleged similarities, I found that one pre-Christian deity seemed to be most similar to Jesus. When “Jesus Mythers” begin to make their case, they inevitably offer Mithras as their case in point. For this reason, I think it’s fair to examine Mithras in an effort to understand how skeptics construct their arguments related to Jesus and ancient mythologies.
There are two distinct (and non-continuous) traditions related to Mithras, one coming out of the areas of India and Iran, centuries prior to the birth of Jesus, and another developed in Roman times concurrent with the Christian era. Many experts have struggled to try to connect these as one continuous tradition, and in so doing, have distorted or misinterpreted the basic elements of the tradition and mythology. There is no surviving Mithraic scripture; most of what is known about Mithras comes from statues and murals that have no captions, or from the writings of ancient Christians who described Mithraic rituals many years after the arrival of Jesus. The vast majority of scholarly work on this mythological character is pure speculation. Given that foundation, let’s take a look at some of the alleged similarities between Mithras and Jesus:
Claim: Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Truth: Mithras was actually born out of solid rock, leaving a cave. He was not born of a virgin (unless you consider the rock mountain to have been a virgin). His birth was celebrated on December 25th, but both Mithras worshippers and the earliest Christians borrowed this celebration from earlier winter solstice celebrations. The earliest version of the Mithras narrative that includes shepherds appears one hundred years after the appearance of the New Testament; it is far more likely Mithraism borrowed the shepherds from Christianity than the other way around.
Claim: Mithras was considered a great traveling teacher and master
Truth: There is nothing in the Mithras tradition that indicates he was a teacher of any kind, but he could have been considered a master of sorts. But why would we expect any deity to be anything less than a great teacher and master?
Claim: Mithras had 12 companions or disciples
Truth: There is no evidence for any of this in the traditions of Iran or Rome. It is possible that the idea that Mithras had 12 disciples came from a mural in which Mithras is surrounded by twelve signs and personages of the Zodiac (two of whom are the moon and the sun), but even this imagery is post-Christian.
Claim: Mithras promised his followers immortality
Truth: While there is little evidence for this, it is certainly reasonable to think that Mithras did offer immortality, although this is not uncommon for any god of mythology.
Claim: Mithras performed miracles
Truth: This claim is true, but what mythological god didn’t perform miracles?
Claim: Mithras sacrificed himself for world peace
Truth: There is little or no evidence that any of this is true. The closest Mithraic narrative is a story in which Mithras killed a threatening bull in a heroic deed.
Claim: Mithras was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again, and Mithras was celebrated each year at the time of His resurrection (later to become Easter)
Truth: There is nothing in the Mithras tradition that indicates he ever even died, let alone was buried or resurrected. Tertullian, the ancient Christian Case Maker, did write about Mithraic believers re-enacting resurrection scenes, but he wrote about this occurring well after New Testament times. This again appears to be another example of Mithras followers borrowing from Christianity (in the Roman version of the Mithraic religion).
Claim: Mithras was called “the Good Shepherd”, and was identified with both the Lamb and the Lion
Truth: There is no evidence that Mithras was ever called “the Good Shepherd” or identified with a lamb, but Since Mithras was a sun-god, there was an association with Leo (the House of the Sun in Babylonian astrology), so one might say that he was associated with a Lion. But once again, all of this evidence is post New Testament, and cannot, therefore, have been borrowed by Christianity.
Claim: Mithras was considered to be the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
Truth: Based on the researched, historic record of the Mithraic tradition, none of these terms have ever been applied to Mithras deity with the exception of “mediator”. But this term was used in a way that was very different from the way that it is used in the Christian tradition. Mithras was not the mediator between God and man but the mediator between the good and evil gods of Zoroaster.
Claim: Mithras celebrated Sunday as His sacred day (also known as the “Lord’s Day,”)
Truth: This tradition of celebrating Sunday is only true of the later Roman Mithras followers; it is a tradition that dates to post-Christian times. Once again, it is more likely to have been borrowed from Christianity than the other way around.
It is reasonable that ancient people groups, thinking about the world around them and the existence of God, would assign certain characteristics to God (more on that next week), and it’s also reasonable that many of these groups might begin to imagine God with some measure of accuracy. But when you take the time to investigate the initial claims of those who say Jesus is similar to some ancient mythological god, you’ll quickly discover that those pre-Christian deities aren’t much like Jesus after all.
For more information related to Mithras:
The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World) by David Ulansey (Oxford University Press, 1989), Mithras, the Secret God by M. J. Vermaseren (Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1963), and Mithraic Studies (Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies – 2 Volumes) edited by John R Hinnells (Manchester University Press, 1975).
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I’ve written about pre-Jesus mythologies and why they fail to prove Jesus is a myth. I originally investigated the issue in an effort to respond to what’s been written or produced in the past 10 years to popularize the notion that Jesus never existed. Movies like Zeitgeist: The Movie and The God Who Wasn’t There attempted to convince a generation of skeptics Jesus was simply a mythological creation of the past, shaped and modeled after the mythological gods who preceded Him. Even though Bart Ehrman (the prominent skeptic and Biblical scholar) has concluded that Jesus actually existed, many of his fellow skeptics continue to argue against this conclusion. In an effort to make the case that Jesus is simply a re-creation of prior deities, many “Jesus Mythers” have referenced similarities between the real Christ and His imaginary predecessors. While these similarities are always dramatically overstated (more on that in tomorrow’s post), I think it is fair to first address why there might be any similarities at all between Jesus and the ancient mythologies to which He is often compared.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that there may be some broad similarities between Jesus and the “deities” imagined prior to His arrival. I think it is reasonable to envision something that later becomes a reality (even if only in part), and there are good examples from history to illustrate this. A man named Morgan Robertson, for example, once wrote about a British ocean liner that was approximately 800 feet long, weighed over 60,000 tons, and could carry about 3,000 passengers. The ship had a top cruising speed of 24 knots, three propellers, and about 20 lifeboats. This ocean liner hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage in the month of April, tearing an opening in the starboard side, forward portion of the ship, and sank along with about 2,000 passengers. Recognize the ship? Let me give you another clue: The ship’s name was spelled T-I-T-A-N… If I stopped right there, I bet you would recognize this ship as the Titanic, right? If so, you would be wrong. While the description is eerily similar to the Titanic, the ship Robertson described is the “Titan” and it is a fictional vessel from his book, The Wreck of the Titan (also called, Futility), published by Buccaneer Books (Cutchogue, New York) in 1898. This book was written fourteen years before the Titanic disaster took place, and several years before construction was even begun on the Titanic. Morgan wasn’t the only one who seemed to be able to envision the future; in the 1880’s, the well-known English journalist, W. T. Stead also wrote an account of a sinking ocean liner in the mid-Atlantic, and by 1882 had added the detail that an iceberg would be the cause of the disaster. Even these authors weren’t alone in their vision of the future. Many prospective passengers of the Titanic cancelled their tickets at the last minute, citing premonitions the ship would suffer a similar fate.
How were all these folks able to so accurately foresee the fate of the Titanic? How could Robertson describe the Titanic so accurately? Well, it is quite possible that these men and women had a prophetic gift of sorts (after all, even atheists will concede that some among us are at least more intuitive than others), but it is also reasonable that they simply observed the world around them, thought about the possibilities, examined the history of shipbuilding leading up to the era, and accurately imagined what the Titanic might someday become. Now, let’s fast-forward one thousand years and imagine we are examining the historic truth of the Titanic. If we discovered Robertson’s story of the Titan, do you think we would find ourselves saying, “Hey, that story about the Titanic is a lie, it was just a re-creation of a prior piece of fiction called the Titan!” I hope not. I hope, instead, that we would evaluate the evidence related to the existence of the Titanic, read the eyewitness accounts, study the impact the event had on history, and then make a decision about the event. I would hope that a prior piece of fiction would not stop our search for the truth.
As it turns out, the similarities between the Titan and the Titanic are far greater than the similarities between any pre-Christian mythological god and the real Jesus described on the pages of the Bible. It doesn’t surprise me that the ancients would dream and yearn for a better understanding of the God of the universe. If God has placed his moral truth in our heart (Romans 2:14-15), and hinted at his existence with the wonder of the created world around us (Romans 1:18-19), it is reasonable men and women would think, imagine and dream about the nature of God (even before He was revealed in the Bible). I would expect these mythologies to bear a resemblance to the reality of God once He is revealed to us, just as the Titan resembled the Titanic.apologetics, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, Is Jesus a myth, Jesus mythers, Jesus mythologies, pre-Christian deities
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As someone who hopes to share what I believe about Jesus by “making a case” (using an “apologetic” approach to the evidence), I’ve come to appreciate the role that leadership plays in the process. We’ll never lead anyone to the truth unless we learn how to become good leaders, and leaders possess three important attributes many of us fail to consider when thinking about how we share what we believe with our friends and family:
Leaders have vision. It’s a necessity; you can’t call yourself a leader if you don’t have a vision about where you are trying to go. Leaders have a destination in mind and a plan on how to get there. People who possess this combination (destination and plan) invariably draw others into their journey. When you engage your friends and family in an effort to share what you believe about Jesus, do you have a plan for your conversations? Do you have a realistic goal in mind and a modest plan that will get you there? Sometimes we spend years with our unbelieving loved ones without any intentional evangelistic strategy. Don’t be surprised to end up where you started if you don’t have a firm idea of where you’d like to go and how you’d like to get there. Start to envision a plan for reach those you love.
Leaders understand their audience. They “throw the ball” so that others can “catch it”. Leaders need to be out front, but you can’t lead folks through the woods if you’re too far ahead of them on the trail; we need to stay close enough to be seen on the path. In a similar way, we need to think about proximity when we are sharing evidences as Christian Case Makers. Remember, while you and I may have examined all the evidence and mastered the arguments, most of our non-believing friends haven’t yet started to investigate some of these claims. We’re not talking to folks with Ph.D.’s in philosophy or cosmology. If we’re going to provide evidence from the cosmological argument, for example, we’ve got to remember to “stay close” to our audience. Keep it simple; keep it real. Think about proximity.
Leaders are transparent. They’re not afraid to show people who they really are. When we get the chance to “see behind the veil” of someone leading us, we begin to acknowledge their humanity and see ourselves in them. That’s encouraging because we start to think, “She (or he) is just like me. If she (or he) can understand this, I can understand it too.” Transparency helps leaders encourage their followers to start the journey. If you’re a Christian Case Maker, it’s easy to get caught up in the knowledge you’ve attained from all the apologetics resources you’ve devoured over the years. As a result, it’s hard for some of us to admit that we might not have all the answers. If that’s you, knock it off. The more you are willing to admit you’re just like everyone else, doing your best to sift through the evidence and still learning along the way, the more likely you are to reach those who are examining the evidence for the very first time. Remember who you really are and share your limits with others. You’re transparency will be appreciated.
Most of us acknowledge the happy burden of the Great Commission; we want to share the Gospel with our friends and family and lead them to Christ. But few of us have thought about the leadership characteristics that might be required for us to be successful. We can be a lot more fruitful in our efforts to share the truth if we can learn to approach the effort with a vision and a plan, tailor our message for the audience we are trying to reach, and share our weaknesses and uncertainties along the way.
To comment on this and other Cold-Case Christianity blog posts, visit our comment page!apologetics, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, contextualization, evangelism, humility, Leadership, the Great Commission, vision
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Not long ago, my teenage son and I settled down to watch the miniseries “The Pacific.” It’s a gripping production of war in the Pacific in World War 2, following the lives of several young Marines. We’re both history buffs, and with the magic of Hollywood, it was not difficult to imagine that we were viewing the actual events.
We talked about what life would be like for those young fighters. But what really got my attention was a scene in which one Marine is holding a Bible and the other, seeing him, asks with a sarcastic smile whether he is a believer. I always tune in to these TV portrayals of apologetics and this one turned out to be a good opportunity to examine a type of challenge that many Christian apologists will face.
The scene unfolds with the questioner asking the other Marine to confirm that God created everything, including the Japanese soldiers that are trying to kill him. The believer’s response – “free will, what we choose to do” – wasn’t bad. But since he’s God, the questioner persists, he knows what we are going to do before we do it. “Predestination” is the believer’s unexplained response. The questioner then springs the apparent trap: “So the whole game is fixed while we’re down here, for what, his entertainment? That makes us chumps or God’s a sadist and either way I got no use for him.”
No answer to this challenge is offered. Instead, a question is asked: “So, what do you believe in?” The questioner answers quickly: “ammunition.” This of course draws a laugh. He ends with the request that the other Marine ask God to sink a few transports so he can get out of there and go home.”
Great dialogue, from a theatrical standpoint, but it left the issue hanging unresolved. I was debating whether to weigh in when I saw my son looking over at me with a growing smirk. “Well?” was all he said. When he paused the video, I knew he wanted – needed – an answer.
“Don’t start with an answer,” I told him. “Take a closer look at the challenge. What’s wrong with it?” That helped, I think. His eyes lit up and he said, “He’s offering only two alternatives.”
“That’s right,” I responded. “Presenting two loaded options like that prevents a meaningful discussion. It’s like the question, ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ Either a yes or no answer constitutes an admission. The presence of evil in the world – the moral evil brought on whenever a state of war exists – does not mean that we are either chumps or that God’s a sadist. Many other options are available for the thinking person.”
I reminded my son that not every challenge is actually asking for a persuasive response. Here, the questioner isn’t really saying he doesn’t “believe” in God. He’s really indicting God, telling the listener that he is angry at a God that would allow great suffering to occur. This is often the case when dealing with “committed” atheists. Their arguments oftentimes reflect more about the anger and confusion they feel when assessing a fallen world, than about the question whether a personal and loving God actually exists.
I suggested to my son that the questioner may not have been ready for an actual answer. Trying to force an answer on him, or trying to “win” the argument, would be counterproductive. What he needed, perhaps, was someone to listen, to sympathize and to let him know that the questions he asks are legitimate ones, that the pain he feels is real, and perhaps most importantly, that knowing the truth doesn’t take the pain or confusion away. Answers are there, of course, intellectually satisfying answers that can help put things in perspective, even if they don’t eliminate the emotional turmoil that accompany so much of what we call “life.” But the answers have to wait until he’s ready to actually engage the question. Perhaps the best we can do in such a situation, then, is to answer with a question of our own: “Are you really interested in hearing an answer to the challenge you pose, or are you just letting me know what you think of God?”
And then letting them know that when they are ready, you have an answer that might just make a little more sense than they’re willing to admit….
Posted by Al Serratoapologetics, atheism, false dichotomy, free will, predestination, The Pacific
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As a Christian, I’m often at odds with the culture around me. As our society embraces a growing number of unbiblical behaviors and attitudes, I find myself becoming more and more vocal in my opposition. I’m not alone; many other conservative Christians are also taking a stand for what the Bible teaches, particularly when it comes to moral behavior. Maybe that’s why I seem to hear Matthew 7:1 tossed around so frequently by those who want Christians to quiet down:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”
Whenever we, as Christians, speak out against something in the culture, one of two labels is immediately employed in an effort to silence us: we are either branded “intolerant” or “judgmental”. To make matters worse, the second label is often attached to the teaching of Jesus Himself. Are we Christians defying the words of our Master when we speak against the behaviors, attitudes or worldviews affirmed by others? Did Jesus command us to be silently non-judgmental?
This selective use of scripture by the opposition is perhaps the finest example of what we at Stand to Reason are addressing when we caution people to “never read a Bible verse.” Matthew 7:1, when read in isolation from the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to command a form of silent acceptance and tolerance advocated by the culture, but a closer examination of the verse reveals Jesus’ true intent. If Jesus was advocating some form of quiet tolerance, how do we explain the following statements?
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (verse 6)
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (verses 13 and 14)
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (verse 15)
“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 will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (verses 21, 22 and 23)
Wow, Jesus seems vocally judgmental in these passages. Some people are dogs and swine, unworthy of our efforts. Some people are wrong about the path they choose. Some people are false prophets. Some people are true disciples and some are not. Jesus sure seems comfortable making judgmental statements about people in these passages. How could Jesus say such things when he began this part of the sermon by saying, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”? Maybe we should revisit the first verses of Matthew 7:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
It turns out that Jesus is not prohibiting vocal discernment in these passages, but is cautioning against a certain kind of unbecoming behavior: hypocritical judgmentalism. We are called to live differently so that we can effectively identify and address unbiblical behavior in our culture. I cannot be a practicing thief and effectively caution against thievery. I cannot be an active adulterer and effectively advocate monogamy. I’m going to have to “first” stop and assess my own behavior (take out my own “log”) before I can “then” caution others about their behavior (help them take the “speck” out of their eye). This is a “first / then” commandment. Both sides of the directive are important; Jesus is commanding two equally critical actions. First, we must change our behavior; become people of God who are above reproach. Second, we must actively engage others about their behavior. Some ideas are good and some are bad. Some prophets are true and some are false. Some people are right, some people are wrong. We are called to make statements about such things after we eliminate hypocrisy in these areas of our own lives. We, as Christians, are called to (1) live righteously, and (2) speak out about unrighteousness. We are less likely to do this, however, if we allow folks misquote Jesus in an effort to silence us.apologetics, Bible verses, case making, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, interpreting the Bible, intolerance, judging others, judgment, judgmentalism, speaking out as a Christian, tolerance
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In previous posts, I dialogued with a skeptic regarding what to make of the existence of innate desires? I took the position that such desires are reflective of the existence of God, as the only sufficient explanation. But the skeptic tried to turn this on its head, saying:
And yes, it’s natural to want to go on enjoying life forever. But how is that proof for God’s existence? I would say that it’s almost the opposite: it demonstrates that people will want to believe in Heaven, and also in justice, after we die. Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps your belief in God is not entirely unbiased, but is driven by a desire to not die forever? If you ask me, the desire to live forever should make one suspicious of belief in God, because it shows how powerful a motivation it provides to believe.
This challenge misses the point of my post: If innate desires correspond to real things, such as food or drink for our basic desires to nourish ourselves, then the innate desire for perfection must also correspond to a real “thing.” But this “thing,” in order to qualify as perfect, must look, well, pretty much like God does. The challenge to this view has some surface appeal, but the thinking behind it is a bit sloppy: the “opposite” the skeptic refers to would be proof, using the argument from innate desires, that God actually does not exist. But the argument provides no such proof at all. It is, indeed, an example of the genetic fallacy at work, as it tries to “explain” why theists are wrong – they are looking for comfort – before actually proving that they are mistaken (about the existence of an eternal, personal being). The fact that we may be engaging in “wishful thinking” is not proof of anything in the universe; it simply says something about, well, the way we are thinking. It may indeed be correct – we may simply be imagining all this – but it doesn’t add anything to our knowledge about whether God is out there somewhere or not.
But let’s take an even closer look at what is being said. In short, the challenge is that because life is finite and brief, people “naturally” wish for it to be eternal. Being unable, or at least unwilling, to countenance the idea of oblivion, we latch onto whatever theory will give us comfort. But why, exactly, should this be so? If it fact the “natural order” of things was to live briefly and die, why not just resign ourselves to it? After all, we’ve had countless millennia of “evolution” to get used to it. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that we in fact do this (accept the inevitability of change) in many other arenas of our lives. For example, while my teen years were fun and exciting (at least at times), I never harbored the desire to have them last forever. So too my preschool or grammar school years, or the years in which my children were young. I savored those times, and the memories, precisely because I knew that they were fleeting. As we grow older, and face the twilight years with their inevitable mental and physical decline, we don’t seek to “hold on” at all costs.
Indeed, as we reflect on this, it seems built in to us to want to experience that next stage, but to also value the continuity of identity that is part of the movement of time. We still want to be “us,” but we want that experience to actually improve as time moves on, in ways that we often could not envision or imagine while younger. And we want to be able to put to use in that next stage all the knowledge and wisdom we have already accumulated. In short, we want things to keep getting better and better, despite knowing that what awaits us in this physical world is more like a cliff or a brick wall, while we play the role of a train hurtling towards it.
No, the reality is that most of us – whether Christian or not – have this sense that our lives, and our choices, have actual meaning. We memorialize so much in photos and videos because we think it matters in some lasting way, and even through this we seek to cement for the future just how precious the continued – and continuing – present is to us. We have within us a desire we just can’t seem to shake that is calling us “home” to something that is lasting and wonderful and good.
Standing alone, this isn’t one of the most powerful “proofs” that God is there. But as part of an overall worldview, it makes up part of the cumulative case for which “God is” provides the most explanatory power. It is a beacon within us, beckoning us to examine more closely what is tugging at us from inside.
Posted by Al Serratogenetic fallacy, innate desires, proof of God's existence, skepticism
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There are many reasons why Christians choose to step out and make a case for what they believe, and their motivations will ultimately determine the shape and content of their message. Over the years, I’ve been motivated by different desires and goals, depending on my ministry setting. As a youth pastor, I was intensely interested in what I have termed “Preemptive” Case Making in an effort to prepare students for the university setting. I spent years working with young people, addressing their doubts and responding to the common secular objections they would face in college. As I’ve gotten a little older (and even though I still enjoy preparing young Christians for the university environment), I am more interested in “Evangelistic” Case Making; I want to use the evidence to share the Gospel with a lost world. I recognize that I’m not an academic; I’m not a philosopher or a scholar. I’m just a guy who works with evidence every day and discovered something wonderful that I want to share with others. My motivation now shapes my message as a Case Maker, and I bet this is true for you as well:
Our Motives Help Us Select Our Audience
When I wrote Cold-Case Christianity, I had an audience firmly in mind. I wanted this book to be read by folks who were largely unfamiliar with Christian Case Making. Believe it or not, the percentage of people in (or out of) the Church who know anything about Christian “apologetics” is incredibly small. In fact, the number of people who are even interested in an evidential faith is still incredibly small! As I speak around the country, I am consistently amazed at how many Christians are unfamiliar with the evidence and how many non-believers are surprised to encounter a Christian evidentialist. I was delighted when other Christian Case Makers found the book useful and wrote kind reviews, but I am even more pleased when folks who are completely unfamiliar with Case Making discover the book. These folks are the audience I am after. Let your interest and motivation help you choose the audience you are trying to reach. If you’re a “Preemptive” Case Maker, you ought to be serving in youth ministry somewhere. If you’re a “Defensive” Case Maker, you ought to be ministering to those groups who are straying from the truth or are being challenged by false teaching.
Our Motives Help Us Shape Our Argument
Once I had my audience in mind, I made sure I wrote in a way that would “reach” them. When I first started, I found myself writing at a level that was simply too “factual”, “academic” and “linear”. My wife, Susie, reviewed the first chapter and declared it to be frustratingly detailed and utterly boring (as my best friend, she had no problem letting me know). I took a break and completely rethought my approach. Susie is intensely interested in Christianity, but she is not a natural evidentialist. As a result, she is not inclined toward case making at all. She was a perfect representative of the audience I was trying to reach. So, I began writing anew, with Susie in mind. I shared more about my casework, provided more examples from my investigations and became more focused in my description of the evidence for Christianity. I focused on brevity and clarity and limited my vocabulary to terms that were easily accessible. In essence, I wrote as though I was trying to reach a jury rather than a panel of expert witnesses. My motivation began to shape my message.
Our Motives Help Us Screen Our Areas of Concern
While I am interested in many divergent issues as a Christian Case Maker, I’ve chosen to limit my scope as a reflection of my primary desire to share the Gospel. As Case Makers, each of us needs to remember who we are (and who we are not), and we need to remind ourselves of our objectives on a daily basis. I’m a detective who wants to share the Gospel. That’s who I am and that’s what I want to do. Could I spend more time speaking out about social issues? Absolutely. Could I spend more time talking about the false nature of cults and errant distortions of the Christian message? Of course. Could I try to defend my position on non-essential issues more often? Sure. But those aren’t my primary areas of concern. I have a sense of urgency that is motivating me these days, and for this reason I choose to “stay in my lane”. My motives are dictating my areas of concern and my points of engagement.
When you begin to examine what motivates you as a Christian Case Maker, you’ll start to become more focused about your message and more careful about selecting your opportunities. God has called each of us to use our passions and talents to make a difference. Your gifts are different than mine, and all of us are needed to form this team that God has assembled to reach the lost and change the world. Examine your motives, apply your gifts, craft your message. Let’s make wise choices as we step out to make a case for what we believe.apologetics, case making, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, evangelism, motive, reaching the lost, sharing the Gospel, spreparing to make a defense
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In one chapter of my book, I take the time to examine the motivations that typically drive people to commit murder. There are only three, and once you understand these motives, the search for a killer is much more focused and purposeful. In a similar way, those of us who identify ourselves as Christian Case Makers are typically driven by a limited number of motivations, and once we understand what is stirring us to action in the first place, we can be more focused and purposeful in our efforts to make the case for the Christian Worldview. I’ve been thinking this week about the different reasons that motivate people to engage in Christian case making:
“Assuasive” Case Making
Some of us examine the evidence simply because we are wrestling with doubt. Many fine Christian case makers began their journey in an effort to assuage their personal fears and concerns. Assurance is often the consequence of evidential certainty, and the search for certainty can be a compelling and worthy motivation for case makers.
“Preemptive” Case Making
Some of us recognize the challenge facing our young people as they enter a hostile university setting. This challenge can be a great motivator as we seek to prepare our students to respond to common objections. Some of us are, therefore, driven to “inoculate” fellow Christians with the truth in an effort to preempt the influence of the cultural onslaught.
“Defensive” Case Making
Many of us also recognize the danger facing Christianity from within. In an effort to guard Christians from false teaching and the spiritual “fads” that threaten Christian orthodoxy, many of us have taken up the responsibility of guarding the truth. Counter-cult ministries are particularly focused on this commendable goal of Christian case making.
“Conceited” Case Making
We must also admit, however, that many of us engage in case making discussions (both in person and on-line) in an effort to show the world how smart we are or how well we can handle ourselves in difficult conversations. I’ll admit that there have been times when I was more motivated by arrogance than altruism; the sound of my own voice was more important than the truth of my words.
“Evangelistic” Case Making
Finally, some of us are animated to share the Gospel message with as many people as possible. In the context of this ambition, Christian case making is simply a means to an end. Sometimes we find ourselves having to sort through the evidence on our way to the Good News, and when this is helpful, we are more than willing to make the case for why the Gospel is true.
As a Christian Case Maker, I can honestly say that my efforts have been motivated by all these reasons at one time or another. If you’re someone who is interested in the Christian evidences, I bet this is true for you as well. All of these motives (with the exception of “Conceited” Case Making) are legitimate, appropriate and commendable. As I get older, however, I’ve discovered that I am more interested in evangelism than ever before. Maybe it’s because I sense the urgency in my own life and in the lives of my aging friends and family members. In any case, I’ve decided to allow my primary motive (my growing desire to use my platform to share the Gospel) to shape the way I make the case for Christianity (more on that later). Once we understand why we are engaged in this effort, we can be more focused and purposeful about how we make the case for the Christian Worldview.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold-Case Christianityapologetics, case making, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, counter cult, evangelism, inoculation theory, motive, preparing to make a defense, self-assurance, training
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You don’t have to read much of my book to realize I’m an evidentialist. The title usually gives it away. As a result, my inbox is filled with email from people who want to convince me that true faith is independent of evidence. Many of them point to the well-known passage in John chapter 20 where Thomas expresses his doubt that Jesus has been resurrected. When Jesus presented Himself to Thomas, He made an important statement that is occasionally offered as an affirmation of some form of “blind faith”:
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been [f]shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29)
Without any other context to understand what Jesus believed about the relationship between evidence and faith, this single sentence (“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”) does sound like an endorsement of faith independent of evidential support. But context changes everything. Like other declarations offered by Jesus, this statement has to be reconciled with everything else Jesus said and did before we can truly understand what He believed about the role of evidence.
As it turns out, the Apostle John wrote more about Jesus’ evidential approach than any other Gospel author. According to John, Jesus repeatedly offered the evidence of His miracles to verify his identity and told His observers that this evidence was sufficient:
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)
“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
“…the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about Me,
that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36)
John frequently described Jesus as someone who offered the evidence of his miraculous power to demonstrate His Deity. In fact, the passage describing Thomas’ doubt is also an affirmation of an evidential faith, if it is read in its entirety:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:25-31)
John makes an important statement right after the line that is typically offered to “demonstrate” Jesus’ alleged affirmation of a non-evidential faith: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples…” What? Blessed are those who did not see and yet believed, therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples? Do you see the contradiction here? Why would Jesus continue to provide evidence if those who believe without evidence are supposed to be blessed? The answer is found, once again, in the Gospel of John. In Jesus’ famous prayer to the Father, he prayed for unity and He carefully included those of us who would become Christians long after Jesus ascended into Heaven:
“I do not ask on behalf of these (the disciples) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
Jesus is talking here about all the people (like you and me) who will believe in Jesus not because of what we will see with our own eyes but because of what the disciples saw and recorded as eyewitnesses (“their word”). Yes, Thomas was blessed to believe on the basis of what he saw, but how much more blessed are those who will someday believe, not on the basis of what they will see, but on the basis of what the disciples saw and faithfully recorded. Jesus understood the value of evidence and continually provided “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:2-3) to His followers so they could record their observations and change the world with their testimony. Jesus commended this process; His words to Thomas were not an affirmation of “blind faith”.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold-Case Christianityapologetics, blind faith, Christian Case Making, Christian worldview, evidence, evidential faith, faith and reason, Gospel of John, proof, reasonable faith
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My last post, on the existence of innate desires, argued that God was the best explanation for why such desires exist. A skeptic disagreed, claiming:
Yes, we have innate desires. So do bacteria. Strangely enough, our innate desires seem to mostly be connected to surviving and reproducing, exactly what evolution would lead us to expect. Sure, we humans also have more complex desires, but these can be seen as extensions of our basic desires and elaborations upon them, even if we don’t understand them perfectly.
Now, of course, this skeptic does not speak for all skeptics. But the general response is one I’ve seen repeatedly in discussing these types of issues with committed non-believers. The response is worth examining for two reasons: to see where the flaw in the analysis lies, but more importantly, to see just how implausible an atheistic worldview is.
Even without an advanced biology degree, it is apparent that bacteria do not have “desires,” as desires are mental conceptions. They involve thoughts and ideas. They require imagination; the ability to picture an outcome and the steps necessary to achieve it. They involve an assessment of whether the object of the desire is worth the trouble involved in attaining it. At most, bacteria may respond to chemical changes in their environment, in a manner which allows them to continue living. They may move along a nutrient gradient, in response to some internal programming that seeks to perpetuate life, but they are not engaging in thinking. Moreover, evolution operates only on biological systems. Before evolution can begin to provide an explanation as to why certain desires may be passed on, one must in the first place explain the existence of the source of desires – the brain that generates or grounds in some fashion the mind. Bacteria don’t have a brain; consequently, evolution cannot be an explanation for the mystery we seek to untangle.
The skeptic may respond that some desires don’t require abstract thought imagination. The desire for food or drink, for instance. True, many lower animals have basic desires, which they experience as instincts, but none of these animals can conceptualize in the way human beings do. A dog remains satisfied with whatever may be in his vicinity that is edible. He does not conjure up better ways to mix or prepare food to satisfy his palate. Moreover, no lower animals ever form ideas of duty, honor or sacrifice. They may live and hunt in pacts, but these actions remain mere instincts. Consider how a human being differs: yes, he too may have the instinct to run from danger, but he also has the capacity to sacrifice himself for the love of another, or to respond to concepts of honor and duty in charging into, rather than away from, danger. And, most interestingly of all, he has a third aspect of his mind that appears to be separate and apart from the two competing forces, a part of the mind or self that is arbitrating and deciding which urge to follow. The one who runs gets labeled a coward, perhaps, while the one who stays is a hero. These labels further reflect that abstract thought is qualitatively different than what lower animals do. These are differences in kind, not simply in degree. Yes, the chef and the dog both desire to eat, but only the chef is operating in the world of conceptions, imagination and ideas. The dog may run to save his master, but he is not weighing and balancing which approach is nobler.
Finally, evolution has another startling mystery, if the skeptic’s view is correct. Assuming that human thought is only the last step in a progression, does it not seem odd that human beings would be the only living creatures to possess the capacity for abstract thought? After all, human beings are much more recent in appearance than monkeys or apes, or any of our four-legged friends. All of these life forms have brains, and these brains have been “evolving” for much longer than ours. These brains are very similar in many respects to ours, considering their size, location, function etc. Yet, none of these other creatures have ever held an abstract thought. Shouldn’t there be the occasional monkey or tiger whose brain just happened to evolve the ability to imagine or speak? Shouldn’t the natural world be full of all kinds of intermediate forms, beings whose ability for abstract thought ranges from minimally to largely present? These lower forms had so much more time than us, after all, and yet all humans have something by nature that all non humans don’t possess. Not an easy fact to make sense of, if all evolution needs is long periods of time to work its magic.
The flaw in the analysis, then, is to make explanatory use a mechanism that operates only on fully developed things – here, the human brain and its innate desires – and explain them as extrapolations of other more primitive things. Evolution, in this approach, becomes a “just so” story, “explaining” everything that presently exists without actually explaining anything at all.
The fact that biological evolution cannot explain the “evolution” of thought is one of the things that should make the skeptic, well, doubt his skepticism.
Posted by Al Serratoevolution, explanatory power, skepticism
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I’ve posted dozens of videos on YouTube, but none have had the viewership or impact that a recent Dove soap commercial has had. “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” has been viewed by millions of people in just a few short weeks. The commercial taps into a common concern that all of us have related to our self-image and desire to be physically attractive in the eyes of others. I couldn’t help but be interested in the concept of the commercial. A forensic artist from San Jose Police Department is commissioned to make two facial sketches of a select number of female subjects. The artist never gets to see what these women look like, but works only from descriptions he is given. The first description is provided by the subject herself. Sitting behind a curtain, the woman provides details related to her appearance; the shape of her chin, the size of the nose or forehead. The artist then creates the first sketch.
A second sketch is next drawn from a description of the same subject, this time offered by one of the other women in the study. The subjects were asked to get to know one another as they were waiting to be drawn so that each could offer a description of the other. When he is done, the artist shows the two sketches to each subject; one sketch done from the subject’s description of herself, the other from the description offered by a stranger. The first sketches are uniformly less “attractive” than the second. Each of the subjects, as they are viewing the drawings, reflects on how sad or unattractive the self-descriptions are compared to the descriptions offered by strangers. Their observations are interesting:
“I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children. It impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
“We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right and we should spend more time appreciating the things that we do like.”
I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the commercial and virtually everyone I’ve shown it to feels the same way. From the initial concept, to the videography, to the music, to the pacing and the production quality, this short video is nothing less than powerful. But if we’re not careful, I think we can miss the point altogether. The video ends with a single sentence set against a white background:
You are more beautiful than you think
Who among us, as a parent of a young girl, would not want them to know this statement is true? I have two daughters. I want them to be “grateful of their natural beauty”. I do believe this “impacts the choices and the friends that they make, the jobs they apply for, and how they will treat their children.” But I reject the cultural notion that “natural beauty” is a matter of physical appearance, and you ought to reject this too. Even if my daughters learn to “appreciate the things they do like” about themselves, we all know there will always be someone who is more physically attractive than we are. If our self-value is dependent on what we believe about our appearance, we are destined to run into people we will consider more valuable (based on their “greater” beauty). If we embrace physical beauty as a measure of value, our aging mortality will eventually destroy our self-image. As an old guy, I’ve come to experience this first-hand.
Yes, “you are more beautiful than you think,” but it’s not because some stranger thinks so. It’s not even based on your physical appearance in the first place. You and I are more beautiful than we think because we are the children of God, created in his image. Each of us is valuable and beautiful to God who “sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
So in the end, the Dove commercial does not bring a message of hope, but a message of despair. The most it can offer is, “Don’t worry; you’re not quite as ugly as you think you are!” But in the end, your value is still attached to your appearance; in this case your appearance as judged by strangers. Wouldn’t it be great if your beauty and value were not simply a matter of opinion (yours or anyone else’s)? Wouldn’t it be amazing if beauty was grounded not in the fleeting, subjective opinions of malleable culture but in the objective, transcendent, immutable nature of God? Well here’s the good news: your beauty is rooted in the nature of the God who created you in His image. You might think you are ugly, and others might even think you are ugly. But your beauty is not determined by your appearance. It never was. God does not make junk, and you are in his image. You matter. You are beautiful. Think about that for a moment, because it “impacts everything” and “couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold-Case ChristianityBeauty, commercials, Dove soap, Image of God, objective truth, self-image, self-worth, subjective opinion, worldview
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Everyone has a worldview; all of us experience and interpret the world through a collection of beliefs that guide our understanding. As an atheist, I accounted for my experiences through the lens of naturalism. I believed everything I experienced and observed could be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. I never thought deeply about the inconsistencies in my view of the world, or the fact that my naturalism failed to explain three characteristics of my daily experience:
If naturalism is true, some form of physicalism or materialism must rule the day. The “problem of mind” (as philosophers and researchers commonly describe it) is only a “problem” because the material limitations of naturalism strain to account for immaterial consciousness. Naturalism can explain the existence of the brain, but little more. Our “minds” are an illusion created by the physical processes that are occurring in our material brains. But if this is the case, our thoughts are merely the result of a series of physical causes (and resulting effects). You might believe you are thinking freely about what you just read, but in reality your “thoughts” are simply the consequences of neural “dominoes” falling, one against the next. In a world of strict causal physicalism, free will (and freely reasoned thoughts) are simply an illusion.
If naturalism is true, morality is nothing more than a matter of opinion. All of us, as humans, have simply come to embrace those cultural or personal mores that best promote the survival of the species. There is no transcendent, objective moral truth. Instead, cultures merely embrace the values and moral principles that “work” for them and have resulted in the flourishing of their particular people group. If this is the case, one group of evolved humans has no business trying to tell another evolved group what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective. After all, each group has successfully arrived at their particular level of development by embracing their own accepted moral standards. Arguments over which moral truths provide for greater human flourishing are simply subjective disagreements; there is no transcendent, objective standard that can adjudicate such disagreements from a naturalistic perspective.
If naturalism is true, life’s meaning and purpose are simply in the eye of the beholder. If your son tells you that he thinks meaning is found in playing video games ten hours a day, there is little you can offer as an objective rebuttal. After all, if there is no transcendent author of life, each of us gets to write our own script. While you may believe your son has missed the point of his existence and has forfeited the opportunity to experience life fully, you really don’t have any objective authority upon which to ground an alternative. As a naturalist, you are inventing your own meaning as well; purpose and significance (from a purely naturalistic perspective) are nothing more than opinion and personal preference.
As an atheist, I chose to cling to naturalism, in spite of the fact that I lived each day as though I was capable of using my mind to make moral choices based on more than my own opinion. In addition, I sought meaning and purpose beyond my own hedonistic preferences, as though meaning was to be discovered, rather than created. I called myself a naturalist while embracing three characteristics of reality that simply cannot be explained by naturalism. As a Christian, I’m now able to acknowledge the “grounding” for these features of reality. My philosophical worldview is consistent with my practical experience of the world.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold-Case Christianityapologetics, Christian worldview, meaning of life, mind, morality, naturalism, purpose of life., Theism, worldview
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When investigating the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, I was immediately interested in John’s description of the blood and water that came from Jesus’ side when one of the soldiers pierced Him with a spear (John 19:34). I wondered how John, the ancient peasant fisherman, would have known about any of the physical conditions that could account for the appearance of water (pleural or pericardial effusion, for example; two conditions that result from heart failure). This observation is consistent with the death of Jesus on the cross and seems to reflect John’s desire to accurately record the things he saw related to the Crucifixion. John placed the observation in his account without any attempt to clarify or explain his comment. He simply appears to be describing the events as he saw them. But is it possible that John was trying to make a theological point rather than merely recording history? It’s remarkable that many early Church leaders and theologians believed this to be the case.
Tertullian (in On Baptism XVI), Augustine (in Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John), Cyril (in Catechetical Letters), and Jerome (in A Commentary on the Apostle’s Creed 23), all suggest that John is either referring to the baptism of Jesus, water regeneration, or the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Many seem to point to 1 John 5:5-8:
Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
These early theologians are trying to make sense of John’s words here in 1 John. Does this passage necessitate a metaphorical understanding of John’s account of the crucifixion in John 19:34? Did John include the description of water coming from Jesus’ side to make a theological point related to the triune witness of God (or the role of baptism), or did it really happen? I lean toward the latter.
It’s interesting to note that all the early thinkers in the church felt the need to better explain the water that emerged from Jesus’ side. Why? These theologians wanted to account for something unexpected and potentially unreasonable, and that’s precisely my point. None of these ancient thinkers knew anything about the fatal anatomical conditions that would account for the presence of water, so they sought to assign theological implications to the observation. Perhaps God supernaturally provided the water to make the points they were advocating. I think there are three possibilities here. First, John may simply have been reporting what he saw at the cross, without any intention of spiritualizing this observation for us. If this is the case, the passage in 1 John 5:5-8 is not an attempt to explain John’s observations of the crucifixion at all. Another possibility is that John observed the water come from Jesus’ body and then used this observation to make a theological point that was also true. If this is the case, John’s passage in 1 John is the fruit of this effort. A final possibility is that John simply included the information in the gospel record to make a theological point, even though it didn’t happen that way. If this is the case, John’s account in the Gospel is not historically accurate, but simply an effort to lay the groundwork for the theological point he wanted to make later in 1 John.
I think there are several good reasons to believe the first explanation is the most reasonable, but I can certainly understand why some scholars think the second explanation is also worthy. John ends his gospel by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). He seems to be assuring his readers that he is recording true eyewitness observations. It just so happens that pleural or pericardial effusion would account for the water John described and are also an evidential indicator that Jesus died on the cross (consistent with John’s description of events). In addition, John’s later statements in 1 John are not clear. John could have taken the time here to “connect the dots” for us and tie his statements in 1 John to his observations in John 19:34. After all, the early Church theologians (when writing about this topic) had no problem making direct statements about this connection. Why wouldn’t John do so as well? Finally, the ambiguous meaning of John’s statement in 1 John has resulted in a variety of interpretations from theologians over the years. Note that the ancient thinkers did not agree precisely with their interpretations of this passage. If John intended to make a theological point, rather than a simple observation about history, his point is somewhat obscure.
It is quite reasonable to believe that John spent many years trying to understand what he saw at the cross. It was certainly a highly emotional experience, and John’s lack of anatomical or medical expertise resulted in many unanswered questions related to the water. It also seems reasonable that John might make powerful theological points based on his observations. But even if this is true, John’s statements in 1 John have no bearing or impact on the historicity of his initial observations in John 19:34. John merely appears to be interpreting what he saw. In writing his Gospel, John’s was simply “testifying to these things… and we know that his testimony is true”.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold-Case Christianitycrucifixion of Jesus, death of Jesus, Gospel of John, Historicity of Jesus, testimony of the Apostle John, water from Jesus’ side
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