Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Many Convincing Proofs": The Signs of The Resurrection

  Throughout this series on Reformed Epistemology, I have aimed to present Dr. Plantinga’s presentation of RE in a fair manner. Though I am imperfect, and could easily misrepresent others due to the depravity of man and the Fall, I have aimed to represent RE accurately. I pray that my labor has resulted in blessing, for both those who agree with me and those who disagree.

One of the weaknesses of RE (in my estimation) is that the system claims that one need neither evidence nor argument to be deemed rational for theistic belief. I have pointed out that this argument aims to preserve the truth of Christianity while eliminating the dependence of the truth on evidence; what really happens, though, is that, by severing evidence and argument from truth, one allows that which is irrational to be true (since evidence nor argument is needed for something to be true). This does not seem right. The truth is always confirmed by the evidence...but to allow Christians to be rational in their faith (though there is no evidence) is to make Christians appear “illogical” in their faith. If Christianity is true (and I believe it is), Paul does not lie when he states that God’s invisible attributes (His eternal power and Godhead) have been displayed in “the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:18-20). Since God has revealed Himself, the truth and the evidence will always corroborate, not oppose, each other.

In today’s post, I will cover Jesus’ work post-resurrection: that is, His signs He gave His followers to demonstrate that He had really risen from the dead. The purpose of this post is to examine the numerous proofs Jesus gave...and thereby display our Lord’s willingness to provide tangible proof of His resurrection (despite the truth of the claims He made). Our Lord did not “risk” the truth of His claims; He simply confirmed the truth of them.

To begin this post, let’s look at Luke’s words about Jesus in his prologue to the book of Acts:

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3, NASB).

When most people read about the life of Christ, they turn to the gospels; but how many people turn to Acts 1 when reading of the life of Christ? Very few. And in the Acts prologue lies some very useful information we would not have without it. First, notice that Luke’s gospel was nothing more than “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). It was not all Jesus did and taught...rather, the work of Christ in the gospels was only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And why? Because the Spirit would continue the work of Christ. As Jesus Himself said, “but when He, the Spirit of truth, come, He will guide you into all truth...He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14). In other words, the Spirit would take what Jesus taught and teach it to believers.

Acts 1:3 tells us that it is to the apostles that He showed Himself to have risen from the dead. The Greek word for “convincing,” tekmerion, refers to “that from which something is surely and plainly known on indubitable evidence, a proof” ( The word tekmerion is only used once in the New Testament. What Luke says here is that Jesus provided indisputable evidence of His resurrection to the disciples, such that they found it too hard to disbelieve.

In today’s post, I desire to investigate some of the proof Jesus’ provided to make the case that He had risen from the dead. One such proof is found in John 20, where Jesus first appears to the disciples after His resurrection:

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut were the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20, NASB).

What is significant about this moment in John’s chapter is that the text tells us the disciples secluded themselves “for fear of the Jews.” Since they had been with Jesus, they feared what the Jews would do to them. If the Jews crucified Jesus, and the disciples had been with Him, then the disciples feared the Jews would crucify them, perhaps.

And it is in the midst of this fear that Jesus comes to them to show that He had risen. What does He show them when He comes? “both His hands and His side.” He showed His hands because He had nail scars in them from the cross; He showed His side because He had been pierced in His side and they saw both blood and water streaming down. And the moment they see these physical proofs, they “rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” In other words, seeing these physical proofs, the disciples knew that it was Jesus standing among them.

Doubting Thomas (as he is always infamously known) was not with them; but when he returned to the disciples’ company, the disciples told him that they had seen Jesus, to which he responded negatively (see John 20:25). Eight days later, Jesus reappears to the disciples (this time, Thomas is among them), and says the same thing He said to the disciples (minus Thomas) the first time. Knowing Thomas’s statement (“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”, Jn. 20:26), Jesus tells 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” (Jn. 20:27).

Why does Jesus allow Thomas to feel the places where there were scars? Because without it, Thomas refused to believe. Jesus’ words to Thomas in verse 29 have been used to make the case that faith is more important than evidence:

“No doubt there is more than one point here [John 20:29]; a central point, surely, is that those who have been given faith are indeed blessed. Their faith is a gift requiring joyful thanksgiving, not a moral lapse requiring shamefaced repentance. One who has faith, therefore, is (or may very well be) justified according to the model” (Dr. Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pages 254-255).

True, faith is not a “moral lapse”...but faith is a moral lapse if it does not involve reasoning and evidence. Faith in and of itself is not a moral lapse...but blind faith is. And Jesus did not ask the disciples to have blind evidence. Remember, He showed His scars to the disciples (minus Thomas) in John 20:20). He said what He did to Thomas because Thomas required absolute evidence. For Thomas, he needed more evidence than the other disciples in order to believe. Jesus’ point to Thomas was that those who need absolute evidence will never find what they seek. Rather, one must believe that the evidence that is presented is true, even thought it may be only a small portion. Even when the evidence is presented, one must have faith and accept what is presented as true. If one requires absolute proof of the truth, then one will never find it. Luke, of course, calls the evidence Jesus presented as “convincing” because it could not be disputed. If I saw someone who died, now appeared to be alive from the dead, and had nail scars in His hands and feet and piercing in His side to prove He was the one who had died, I would believe, too!

No one on earth is placed in a state where they are told to believe in the absence of evidence. Though Jesus is in heaven today, and though we did not live in the time of the disciples, we still have substantial evidence today that testifies to the resurrection of Jesus...including the testimony of the disciples themselves in the Scriptures. And if something happened today, like a shooting or a robbery or a hurricane event, to find out what happened we would talk to those who experienced it...and unless we discovered the witnesses were really liars, we would assume it to be true. Unfortunately, we live in a world where lots of people lie for personal reasons...but then, we have the evidence. The tangible, physical evidence will point us to the truth. If someone says he was shot (for example), but shot himself, all we need to do is get forensics experts on the case. The evidence doesn’t lie. It didn’t lie for the disciples in the face of Jesus, and it does not lie today. I will talk more about the “many convincing proofs” in my next post. Stay tuned...

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