Historical evidence and good argument in coming to Christian faith: With special reference to the Jew

Peter Williams, in his “New Evidence for the Gospels being based on Eyewitness Accounts,” presents very good evidence of the historical accuracy of the Gospels. Uplifting to the believer. The thing, the Christian thing, though, is this: no matter how good the arguments are for Christianity, these do not play any significant role in coming to faith. What I’d like to write about here is not about Peter Williams’ presentation but about the role of historical evidence and argument in coming to faith.

To come to faith is to come from darkness/death to light/life. The Holy Spirit (the Helper) is the One who makes this possible. Many Christians will say that they came to faith through argument (Jews say it all the time). Impossible. God uses these arguments – “hearing of the word” is a better description – as the means. We read in Romans 10: [14] How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [16] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” [17] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Paul then asks whether his fellow Jews have heard: [18] But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” [19] But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (My italics). [20] Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” [21] But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Paul the Apostle says it well, but, supernaturally, he would: “…the church of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:25; Colossians 1:25b-29 ESV).

I would think that Moses was aware that there was a mystery but wasn’t sure what it was. The majority of Jews, as with the majority of Gentiles, have never had a clue, and still don’t, because as Paul says, the mystery is only revealed to the “saints” (not in the Roman Catholic sense), that is, to those God elects to reveal it. That is why, no Christian has a right to boast, because he/she did absolutely NOTHING to be raised to life (obviously, because the dead can’t do anything), and out of the darkness of his evil inclination (yetzer hara). According to Ephesians 2:1-10, conversion is the raising of a sinner from the dead. My “did absolutely nothing” will not only clash with the Jewish view but also with the majority “Messianic Jewish” view, and with William Lane Craig (whom I quote below).

With regard to the Holy Spirit’s role, we read in John 16: 7…I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. Jews, like any one else, will only come if the Father draws them; and if they are drawn, they will be raised up on the last day. John 6: [41] So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” [42] They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” [43] Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. [44] No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:41-44 ESV).

William Lane Craig distinguishes between the “magisterial” and “ministerial” use of reason: “The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding. A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit’s witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief.” (See Cloudofwitnesses).

Jews are often at a greater disadvantage than Gentiles – far more “magisterial,” because they are generally so much cleverer and wiser than Gentiles. This is one of the reasons why many Gentiles fawn over Jews: “They’re so blessed,” they ooh and aah. I wonder how much of this cleverness and wisdom is a curse, a judgment. Please don’t call me anti-semitic. I’m merely telling the Jew, as I would tell anyone else, that without the Christ (Messiah), he remains in his sins and is lost – Jewish soul and all. Here is a passage from Luke 24 that combines the role of the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ command to preach to the whole “world” (that is, all classes and ethnic groups) but to start first at Jerusalem, that is, to begin with the Jew. [Jesus Appears to His Disciples]

[36] As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” [37] But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. [38] And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? [39] See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [40] And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. [41] And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” [42] They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [43] and he took it and ate before them. [44] Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” [45] Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, [46] and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, [47] and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [48] You are witnesses of these things. [49] And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:36-49 ESV).

I repeat what Moses said “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (Deut 32:21: “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation). Now, Christian, I ask you: what have you got that will provoke the Jew – the most talented and cleverest race on the planet – to jealousy! You’re more likely to get gobbled up for breakfast.

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