First, it is important to refute the not only sad but bad misconception that the Christian faith is ‘blind’. So, what is faith, Christian faith? The Biblical definition of faith is trust. And one can only trust someone if there is sufficient evidence to support the trust. In the original Greek Biblical manuscripts, the word pistis was used and in the later translations the Latin word fides. What exactly do these words mean and why is evidence so vital in Christian faith?
Pistis means trust and trust alone, in God and in His promises. Pistis literally means trust. Pistis (ˈpɪstɪs/ (Πίστις) in early Greek was the personification of good faith, of trust and reliability. And trust according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something. And in the Bible, of God. (which is impossible really if there is no evidence!) The word used in the Bible translation is the Latin word fides which means believe, confidence, loyalty, word of honor, truth, authenticity.
Thus, the Biblical word faith, the words pistis and fides, encompass all of the following: it is the trust of someone when there is sufficient evidence to support it, it is the reliability, the assured reliance on the character, on the ability, on the strength and truth of a person. It is the belief in, the confidence in, the loyalty and the word of honor, and authenticity, of the person in question, of God.
The earliest Christians understood pistis/fides as a relationship of trust and faithfulness between God and human beings, which also shaped relationships between human beings. Christians are unique in putting trust at the heart of their relationship with God and Christ. Biblical faith is embodied in a person, a Person with absolute and perfect integrity and faithfulness.
The definition of faith is, according to The Oxford Dictionary ‘A complete trust or confidence in someone or something.’ ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) ‘Do not see’ does not imply ‘blind’, that would be a gross misunderstanding of this passage and misconception of the Christian faith. Christian faith is based on evidence, the evidence in what we ‘see’ as we believe the person of God, followed by the actual seeing what He promised and be further evidence for future trust. The rest of the chapter Hebrews 11, gives a long list of people who believed God, had faith in Him, believed His promises but did not see it initially but then saw it fulfilled, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. In verse 12 the writer asks, ‘How much more do I need to say?’ and he carries on, Gideon Samson, David and more. This is the foundation of the Jewish religion and Christianity. The evidence that God fulfills His promises. That we will always see through trusting Him what we do not yet see as we trust His character, His integrity.
“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” Saint Augustine many centuries ago. In other words that what you believe, based on the character of God, you will see fulfilled. In this life and the hereafter.
According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary: ‘blind faith is an unreasonable trust in somebody/something’s ability.’ The Oxford Dictionary second meaning of faith is: ‘a strong belief in the doctrines of a religion based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.’ This is neither fides nor pistis. It is everything but what Christian faith is about. ‘Blind faith’ is baseless, without evidence, mere religious beliefs i.e., Muslim faith, Buddhism, Hinduism. Christian faith is a relationship with a Person that one trusts, based, and build on experience as evidence.
What is the evidence given for Christianity – for faith, to trust God?
- Biblical evidence: Christ’s evidence – the miracles: Luke 7, John 20, the Resurrection, historical evidence e.g., in Hebrews 11 – as has been discussed. Supported by accurate reliable documentation.
- Personal evidence – radically changed lives; The experience of the reality of a personal love relationship with God – the delight of knowing Him. To Know and Love God vs Being Religious
My own radically changed life. See Tertius Venter Interview ‘The radical change that took place in my heart was not from a rational decision but in response to an overwhelming Love that became rational’
(and multitudes of other Christians through the ages)
Former atheist Lee Strobel – see below
These radical changes have their foundations in and supported by historical, archeological, cosmological, philosophical, and moral evidence added to the evidence of rational argumentation with the coherence of the Bible, history, life, and the reality experienced in this world (unlike any world religion) See my YouTube Channel : A Time to Think
- The Biblical evidence. Christ continuously gave evidence in the miracles He did. And In Luke 7: 20-22 we read ‘When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to You to ask, ‘Are You the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” 22 … He replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’ John 20: 30-31 ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.’ The ultimate evidence, the resurrection, for His divinity. See Facts about the Resurrection. The apostles’ evidence for what they believed and said was the miracles people saw in their lives, the explosive growth of the church. See The Reliability of the Biblical Account of the Life of Jesus. Christians to this day experience God’s presence, faithfulness to His promises, signs, wonders and miracles in their lives as evidence for the living Christ in their lives.
Every time one would encounter the word ‘faith’ in the Christian Bible it can be replaced with the words ‘absolute trust in the Person of God’.
‘Faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence’ John Lennox, professor of mathematics, Oxford University, and Fellow in mathematics and science philosophy, Green Templeton College.
- From a convinced atheist to a committed Christian, Lee Strobel, an award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and best-selling author of more than twenty books describes in his book The Journey of Lee Strobel, as a journalist and a lawyer by nature, his investigation of Christianity:
As an atheist, he thought that the idea of an all-knowing, almighty, all-present, all-loving God was an absurd idea. God was created by men to help man cope in this hopeless world. He had a skeptical mindset, in the newsroom where he worked, he always wanted two sources of information before publication.
He realized that he had no moral compass for life and lived a self-destructive and self-absorbed life. He lived for himself and became a drunk with doubtful moral behavior. He had no real understanding of right and wrong. Bertrand Russell, atheist, ‘If there is no God, there is no universal right and wrong’ He would destroy someone who got in his way, and it did not bother him. He felt enraged over his inability to find the ‘elusive’ happiness in life.
Then his wife became a Christian. She was an agnostic and was befriended by Christians and she came to know Christ. Strobel’s response was ‘Don’t give money to the church, that’s all they want’ ‘Don’t ask me to go with you, I’m too smart for that’ Then he noticed the changes in his wife’s life, she became winsome and attractive, and he wanted to know what was behind that. He decided to go to church with her. The pastor blew his misconceptions about Christianity. ‘All fall short to God’s standard. Does God feel far?’ Sure, he thought. ‘That can all change through Christ in a personal relationship with Him’ He was touched by the words but remained an atheist, a skeptic.
Strobel decided to investigate the credibility of Christianity and realized that if he would find it to be true, it would have huge implications for his life. But the truth was important. Was Christianity fact or fiction?
He decided to take his journalism and legal training and systematically investigate the credibility of Christianity.
He had eight important questions that he investigated over a 1 year and 9-month period.
- How many witnesses were there?
- Who wrote the Gospel accounts?
- Are the gospel accounts historical records?
- Is the idea of Christ as a deity just a legend?
- How can we trust the oral tradition to pass the facts?
- Would the disciples die for something they knew to be false?
- Did Jesus fulfill Old Testament prophecies?
- Did Jesus rise from the dead?
- “The number of witnesses that were there” – this is always the first question in journalism. He discovered that there were many witnesses to the events of the New Testament and some eyewitnesses took the time to record their experiences, gave good historical evidence of their experiences with Jesus. John, Matthew, Mark, James, Paul and Luke.
- “Who wrote the Gospel accounts?” He discovered that there was good historical evidence that the gospel accounts were actually written by the names they bear. He realized that the authors took pains to record only what they knew to be true. Luke was a first-century investigative reporter. See Luke 1:1-4. He investigated the events, spoke to many witnesses and wrote the accounts down in order. Peter said that they didn’t make up the stories, they were eyewitnesses. John wrote about what they had heard and seen and touched with their hands.
- “Are the gospel accounts historical records?” Strobel used his training from Yale to take a set of documents and apply legal tests of evidence to determine the credibility. He wasn’t ready to accept the writings as the inspired word of God but had to admit they were ancient historical records.
- “Is the idea of Christ as a deity just a legend?” He wondered if the oral transmission of the New Testament was distorted by legend and wishful thinking. Were the gospels written 60 to 100 years later and did they bear resemblance to the real Jesus? He soon realized that very early on Jesus was presented as divine. Matthew, Mark and Luke were written within 50 years of Jesus’s life. Paul’s letters within 16 to 20 years of Jesus’s life. Paul and Peter preserved early creeds which predate Paul’s writings, creeds that affirm Jesus in very exalted terms. Phil 2:6, Col 1:15, I Peter 3:22. I Cor 15:3- 7 is the creed of the early church that affirms the core of Christianity. This creed is dated by scholars as early as 2-5 years after Jesus’ life. Elements of the creed include eyewitnesses and testimony. Therefore, the references to the deity of Jesus were not developed by legends many years later. A.N. Sherman White (classical historian from Oxford): says that the development of legend takes more than 2 generations to wipe out the solid core of historical truth. Craig Blomberg: when you look at creeds and the early preaching in Acts, you see that within the first 2 years after Jesus’ death: a. significant numbers of Jesus’ followers formed a doctrine of the atonement b. they were convinced Jesus had risen from the dead c. they associated Jesus with God d. they believed they found support for these is the Old Testament. The German Historian in 1844 challenged any historian in history to find any case of legend growing up that quickly and wiping out a solid core of the historical proof
- “How can we trust the oral tradition to pass the facts?” Strobel realized the significance of the fact that the followers of Jesus were going around telling people about Jesus in the same time frame in which he lived. F.F. Bruce: “If there was any tendency by disciples to depart from material facts in any way, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would serve as a corrective.” How could Christianity take root in the very city where Jesus died and rose again? If the disciples were saying false things about Him, then the movement would have ended. In the historical record, the followers appealed to common knowledge that their audience had about Jesus: Peter’s message in Acts 2: “You know what He did and that He rose. You are all eyewitnesses!” Their response: they didn’t deny Peter; 3,000 people said to Peter, “What do we do? We know we put Messiah to death.” Then those 3,000 believed that day and the Church was born in Jerusalem.
- “Would the disciples die for something they knew to be false?” The disciples must really have believed because they were willing to die in support of the belief that Jesus really was the Son of God, who died on our behalf, and proved it by rising from the dead. But that’s not evidence: people all throughout history have been willing to die for religious beliefs. The DIFFERENCE: people will die for religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they are true, but never if they know they’re false. The apostles didn’t just believe the resurrection to be true; they knew it for a fact. They knew the truth and were willing to die for it.
- “Did Jesus fulfill Old Testament prophecies?” Five dozen prophecies were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Lewis Lapides, a Jewish scholar read Isaiah 53 and came to the conclusion that that is a picture of Jesus of Nazareth. He wondered if it was a forgery but then saw that the Jewish version of Isaiah 53 read exactly the same as the version used by Christians. He confirmed that Isaiah 53 was indeed about Jesus of Nazareth; became a Christian and the president of a network of 15 messianic congregations. Could anyone have fulfilled the prophecies? Was it easy? Peter Stoner of Westmont had 600 students try to come up with the odds that any human could fulfill just 8 of the prophecies (which was a very conservative consensus). The odds? One chance in a hundred million billion. What about fulfilling 48 prophecies? Luke 24:44—Jesus said that all written by the prophets must be fulfilled
- “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Strobel realized he was not the first one trained in law to take evidence for the resurrection and investigate it. Sir Lionel Luckhoo, a most successful lawyer in history, a defense attorney who won 245 murder trials consecutively, was an atheist and took his monumental knowledge, skill and beliefs and investigated the resurrection for years, from legal tests of evidence. “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt” – Lionel Luckhoo. ‘Jesus died by crucifixion, was stabbed in the heart. Pronounced dead by experts. Placed in a sealed & guarded tomb. On Easter Sunday morning the body was gone. People proclaimed to their death they saw Jesus alive. The earliest writing says 500 people saw him at once. Jewish leaders wanted him dead, the Roman government wanted him to stay dead. The disciples weren’t going to take the body and then knowingly, willingly die for the lie – people don’t do that.’
Archaeology. Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts (acts of the apostle and the early church) corroborates incidental details in his writings that are confirmed by archaeology. Why would he be careless about Jesus?
Lee Strobel’s investigations lasted 1 year 9 months and he wrote out on a legal pad all the evidence he gathered. He stated that against the huge avalanche of evidence it took more faith to maintain his atheism, he couldn’t. He was trained in journalism and law to respond to evidence and was convinced. He read John 1:12 ‘to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.’
Based on evidence his life was revolutionized. His 5-year-old daughter saw the changes in her daddy’s life – “I want God to do for me what He’s done for Daddy”