It does not take a deep interest in apologetics to discover early on that it is not a homogenous discipline. One can easily go to the nearest book store or online Christian books distributor and purchase four popular books in apologetics and find four starkly differing opinions on methodology, epistemology, or the value of theistic proofs. Some of these differences are so vast and important to various apologists that the systems different famous apologists adhere to may very well be non-compossible. That is to say if a few of the foundational principles of one apologist are in fact right then the entire system of another apologist can be demonstrated as wrong.

These differences are incredibly vast and there are differing opinions concerning the differences. Much literature has been produced on this topic and even more literature has been produced by apologists themselves critiquing the methodologies of other apologists. The issues are not trivial for many of the concerns and contentions of the apologists are rooted in foundational philosophical principles or dogmatic theological holdings. Large books have been written attempting to comprehensively compare the apologetic systems on every level. However, for the purpose of this paper, one aspect of four broad apologetic systems will be discussed.

The issue to be discussed concerning each of the four apologetic systems will be their foundation or what one might refer to as their “spring board.” This paper will follow this basic structure. Taking the four apologetic systems: Fideistic Apologetics, Presupposition Apologetics, Evidential Apologetics, and Classical apologetics, the paper will identify and critique the foundational starting point upon which practitioners of these methods build their apologies. The systems will be dealt with in the aforementioned order. Each system’s apologetic method will be briefly described followed by an analysis of the starting point from which each system originates. After that, the starting point will be critiqued for its efficacy or legitimacy as a foundation for apologetics. Ultimately this paper will conclude that the foundations of Classical Apologetics are the strongest leading to the most effective and comprehensive apologetic method.

Methods Selected

            Before the analysis is started it should be mentioned how these four methods were selected. These four methods are in no way universally recognized as the only apologetic methods. Indeed, the very nature of the subject apologetic systems finds that different scholars find some systems so abhorrent to disqualify them as apologetic systems. These systems were selected primarily for their general acceptance and recognition as systems considered to be apologetic systems. That is to say a presuppositionalist recognizes that an evidentialist considers his own system an apologetic system regardless of whether the presuppositionalist agrees with that system.

These categories or categories with synonymous titles are widely recognized within the literature as four broad yet distinct categories. This makes them advantageous for the goals of this paper. It should also be recognized that there are strata within the systems themselves. As a result all conclusions or descriptions of each system within this paper are researched generalities applicable to the majority of the system described, though acceptations undoubtedly exist. At this point the paper will begin with a description of the fideistic apologetic method.

Fideistic Apologetics

A General Description

            Religious fideism argues that matters of faith and religion are not supported or refuted by way of reason[1]. Religion is simply a matter of faith. At the outset one recognizes how a religious philosophy of this nature is going to have difficulty providing a stable foundation for defending the faith in the traditional apologetic sense. Fideism holds that one must simply believe.

Generally speaking, fideists are coherentists with respect to theory of truth[2]. Epistemology is not necessarily the central subject of this paper but it bears relevance when identifying a system’s apologetic foundation. We now turn to the apologetic system rooted in this religious tradition.

Fideism as an Apologetic System

            Fideists approach apologetics from the position that the truths of faith cannot and should not be argued for or justified rationally. That is to say that the truths of the Christian faith are exclusively arrived at through faith alone. Indeed the word fideism is derived from the Latin word fide which means “faith.” There for fideistic apologetics assigns supreme priority to faith.

Fideists do not deny the existence of reason or even its value in other sciences and discaplines. However, with respect to the truths of Christianity, a fideist emphatically argues that human reason has no place. It is therefore essential to the fideistic apologetic system that some truths of Christianity are outside the prevue of reason and beyond our human capacity to understand rationally.

The Fideistic Spring Board

            The Fideist’s foundation for apologetics, (that is to say on what basis a fideist apologist claims that Christianity is true) is the personal subjective experience. For the fideist apologist Christianity is not a body of fact which requires philosophical or factual support but it is a relationship with God in Christ[3]. A relationship does not require rational defense and in fact it would be inappropriate to address a relationship in that way.

Apologists of other systems regard Fideism as diametrically opposed to apologetics and any fideists would agree. The issue for the fideist is that Christianity’s truth is verified by the individual in the sphere of personal subjective experience. As a result experiencing God transcends philosophical arguments for God’s existence. Experiencing His revelation transcends the historicity of Scripture. Experiencing the relationship with God who is spirit transcends the boundaries of physical sciences. With subjective experience as the bedrock foundation of fideism, philosophy, history, science and any other discipline subordinate to reason can neither affirm nor countermand the truth of Christianity[4]. Now this foundation of subjective experience will be critiqued as a foundation for an apologetic system.

Critique of Fideism’s Foundation

            From the outset, fideism is in opposition to scripture. For, God calls humanity to use its reason with respect to the Christian faith, (Isa. 1:18; Matt. 22:36-37; 1 Pet. 3:15)[5]. God is a rational being and created humanity with rational faculties. Reason is not incapable of addressing issues of faith. In point of fact, it is impossible to avoid reason whether considering the facts of faith or peanut butter and jelly. Rational beings cannot escape their rationality, least of which with respect to issues of such paramount importance as faith.

What about subjective experience as a foundation for apologetics? It is utterly indefensible as a foundation for defending the faith[6]. Primarily subjective experience is unique to the individual. No amount of assurance or testimony about the truth of one’s religious experience should be compelling to another who finds such an experience totally foreign.

Subjective experience independent of reason is a self defeating position[7]. The informed fideist who considers apologetics and evangelism as more than repeatedly saying “Just believe,” must at some point give reason for why reason should not be used in matters of faith. To say that they take it on faith that faith is primary and exclusive is both circular and begs the question against apologists of every other shade. However, to turn and give reason for the inadequacy or inappropriateness of reason in Christian apologetics is self contradictory. The fideist must offer some criteria for when reason is permitted to be used and why it is not permitted to be used concerning facts of the Christian faith. However, such criteria would be built on reason. At this point it is clear that fideism is either viciously circular by validating subjective experience from subjective experience, or it is self contradictory in that it employs reason concerning an issue of faith to demonstrate reason’s inadequacy in the realm of faith.

Subjective experience is indefensible as a foundation for apologetics; fideism is indefensible as an apologetic method; and fideism is indefensible as a religious tradition. There are good reasons to believe God exists, (cosmological, teleological, moral)[8] and that other pillars of Christianity are true, (miracles can and have occurred, Christ died to save us)[9]. There are also propositional Christian truths that experience alone cannot adjudicate. For example, the Trinity, the Incarnation, God’s timelessness, and others are beyond the grasp of experience.

Subjective experience as a foundation for apologetics illegitimately pits personal knowledge against propositional knowledge. It lauds revelation as Gods spoken word for humanity (apparently attested to by personal experience[10]), but fails to account for the propositional truths therein. Various apologists do well to recognize that there are boundaries to human reason, but fideism banishes reason from the realm of faith ironically in opposition to observed public experience (that people do indeed come to faith with the aid of reason) and common sense. Next the foundations for presuppositional apologetics will be stated and critiqued. First there is a brief overview of presuppositionalism as an apologetic system.

Presuppositional Apologetics

A General Description

            Presuppositionalism attempts to defend the truth of the Christian faith from the assumed facticity of the Christian worldview at its start[11]. Presuppositionalism holds that non-Christians also have presuppositions that color their perception of God and the world. There is nothing uniquely presuppositional about this characteristic.

Presuppositional apologetics is rooted in reformed theology. There are actually multiple shades of presuppositionalism within the reformed tradition[12], as well as other methods not necessarily presuppositional that will not be addressed in this paper. Being rooted in reformed theology, presuppositional apologetics places a high emphasis on the noetic effects of sin. This is rooted in the doctrine of total depravity. It is indeed true that human reason has been negatively affected by sin just as the human will or body. However, the extents of those effects are not necessarily as extreme as some presuppositionalists may argue.

The Presuppositional Springboard

            As the name implies presuppositional apologetics finds its foundation in the presupposed facticity of the Christian faith. That includes the existence of a Triune God, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the inerrancy of Scripture. It claims that apart from Christian presuppositions, one can simply not make sense of any human experience, knowledge, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian[13]. In other words, presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue in such a way that validates the relevance of a different set of assumptions.

Presuppositions are indeed present in any system of thought. Geometry presupposes the facticity of arithmetic, and similarly optics presupposes geometry. However, presuppositionalists argue that no knowledge can exist outside the presuppositions of Christianity. The Christian faith being presupposed as the foundation for an apologetic method will now be critiqued.

Critique of Presuppositionalism’s Foundation

            The foundation of presuppositions as grounds for defending the faith is beset with weakness. Primarily presuppositionalism is one giant begged question. No matter how glorified the system may seem in that it manifestly accepts revelation as true it is reducible to a petitio principii fallacy. When the haze of rhetoric is cleared presuppositionalism advocates an apologetic method that runs as follows: 1) Presupposition: God exists 2) Conclusion: God exists (applause). Such reasoning is inexcusably circular. Once again, it must be remembered that this is at the heart of presuppositional apologetics. It is not a system that as its crowning characteristic identifies presuppositions and refutes them. It is a system that advocates the necessity of assuming Christianity’s truth to defend Christianity’s truth.

Additionally, presuppositionalism employs a false analogy to validate the use of Scripture as a presupposition[14]. The presuppositionalist argues that the rationalist presupposes reason, while the empiricist presupposes sense perception; therefore there is no great crime in presupposing the validity of Scripture. However, reason and sense perception are tools for developing a system while presuppositional apologetics’ assumption of the Christian worldview presupposes the tool of revelation with the system of Christian theism[15].

The entirety of the Christian worldview is an inappropriate point of departure in an apologetic system when it is clearly the destination. Any apologetic based on worldview presuppositions can be employed by adherents of any religion. The Christian presuppositionalist encounters a Muslim and says, “You need to presuppose the Christian Triune God and all that is associated with Christianity in order to have knowledge at all. In fact you already are presupposing Christianity in order to understand the world as a Muslim.” The Muslim turns and says, “No my friend, it is you who are presupposing the fact that Allah is God and all that the Quran teaches in order for you to make sense of knowledge.” Then an eavesdropping atheist interjects, “You theists are both missing the fact that each of you are in fact presupposing the reality of materialism in order to be standing here arguing in the first place.”

Any worldview can require that their presuppositions need to be held in order for the world to make sense. Even violently self-contradictory worldviews can maintain that critiques of their presuppositions only seem to refute their worldview because the opponents refuse to presuppose their worldview.

Presuppositionalism manifestly fails as an apologetic system. Presuppositions exist in various religions, sciences, and philosophical systems. However, disciplines like apologetics involved in defending conclusions cannot simply posit said conclusions as presuppositions. Next, the apologetic system of evidentialism will be described and discussed.

Evidential Apologetics

A General Description

            Evidential apologetics is often referred to as historical apologetics[16]. This means it seeks to defend the facts of the Christian faith based on the evidence from history. Not all apologetic methods that employ the use of evidence are properly described as evidential apologetics, as will be seen in the next section. Evidential Apologetics is a unique system in that it seeks to answer all manner of apologetic questions in a general way. That is to say, evidentialist apologists do not address the question of God’s existence as a single question and then proceed to the possibility of miracles, or the support for orthodox bibliology. Evidentialists argue for the entirety of the Christian faith as one question, predominantly with the tools of historical evidence.

Evidence from the Physical sciences is infrequently used in what is properly described as evidential apologetics. For, evidence from the physical sciences is predominantly used by apologists to establish God’s existence before the resurrection and divinity of Christ. Some evidence from the physical sciences is employed in evidentialism, but they are usually used to interpret historical data. For example, medical science may be employed in evidential apologetics to refute apposing theories about the reality of Christ’s death by crucifixion. However, even that scientific evidence is an interpretive historical tool, not independent evidence itself.

The Evidential Spring Board

            Evidential apologetics is based in empiricisms, that is to say sense data. However, empiricism as such is not necessarily the proper foundation of the apologetic method. Rather the foundation is slightly more focused. The bedrock of evidential apologetics is the value of empirical historical facts. These apologists stress the value of observable historical evidence as the platform for demonstrating the truth of Christianity[17]. Generally the evidential apologist sees the resurrection of Christ as the linchpin for Christian apologetics.

The evidentialist is so confident in the objectivity and discernability of observable historical facts, that through them they believe they can defend the entirety of the Christian faith. This includes the existence of God, and the possibility and existence of miracles without first appealing to theistic arguments. Once again, all the tools and techniques used by evidential apologist can be congruent with the methods and approaches of apologists from other systems. The differentiating factor is that evidential apologists find that observable historical facts are so firm an apologetic foundation that apologetics can be a one step process, usually aimed at defending the resurrection of Jesus[18].

As it has been alluded to, the general approach is to start with the historicity of the Bible (specifically the New Testament), and use the miracles of Jesus (especially the resurrection) to make a case for his divinity as the Son of God. In a way the authenticity of the New Testament documents is the evidentialist’s first step, much like theistic arguments may be the first step in other systems. Second, an evidentialist apologist would examine and defend the claims of Christ’s divinity as the Son of the one true theistic God. Finally a defense of miracles is given culminating with the defense of the resurrection. Each stage of the evidentialist’s argument is grounded on historical fact. The Bible is defended as historically factual but each stage may also employ extra biblical historical evidence to build the apologetic case.

Critique of Evidentialism’s Foundation

            It is clear that historical facts are a sound foundation for apologetic arguments of a certain shade at least. For, challenges to the historicity of the Bible and the facticity of historical event therein, necessitate historical evidence for defense. Some apologists from other systems argue that historical facts are not objective and cannot speak for themselves. This may be a legitimate claim but does not necessarily refute the use of historical facts as the foundation for evidential apologetics. The evidential apologist may appeal to prolegomena that history is indeed a possible and advantageous medium for truth and revelation. This reveals that even historical facts are supported by a deeper foundation. Historical facts are still the foundation of evidential apologetics just as geometry is the foundation for optics. However, one can see that the legitimacy of historical facts as factual in the first place may be necessary for the evidential apologist to advance his arguments.

The responsibility for defending history and historical facticity as useful is shared by the apologist and the systematic theologian alike. The fact that historical facts need a philosophical underpinning does not invalidate them as a foundation for evidential apologetics. For if indeed historical facts are vindicated as discernible and a means of reasoning to valid conclusions, then evidential apologetics is appropriately founded on observable historical facts, which finds its legitimacy in another source.

The real objection that threatens evidential apologetics is not a criticism of its foundation but a potential weakness in its subsequent methodology. The evidential apologist may indeed construct a compelling defense rooted firmly on empirical historical data and still fail to persuade the nonbeliever for another reason. That reason is the order of arguments. In the next section classical apologetics will be described and discussed.

Classical Apologetics

A General Description

            Classical apologetics is methodologically distinct from the other apologetic methods in that it employs a two step approach to defending the faith[19]. First, a classical apologist endeavors to defend the existence of a theistic God. This is done on principle not for moral reasons the way a presuppositionalist might defend their methodology. The classical apologists recognizes that the defense of miracles, the Incarnation, and a justification of the existence of evil is greatly simplified if the existence of a powerful, personal, theistic God can be demonstrated. The classical apologist does not expect the nonbeliever to interpret historical facts in such a way that reveals Christ’s divinity if a nonbeliever does not first recognize divinity as a real category. Similarly, a miracle is only possible if a God exists to instantiate one.

Classical apologists do not fault the evidentialist as immoral for begging with arguments for the resurrection as a historical miracle indicating the divinity of Jesus and God’s Son. The classical apologist simply advises the evidentialist to try arguing for God’s existence as a initial step to defending the more specific doctrines of Christianity.

The Classical Springboard

            The Classical method does not necessarily reveal the classical foundation at first glance. For, theistic proofs are not the foundation of classical apologetics. In fact, they are indeed an apologetic themselves indicating a deeper foundation. Subjective experience plays nearly no role in the classical apologists methodology. The classical apologist does presuppose the first principles of logic and the validity of sense data and reason, but this is not like the presuppositional method which requires that one presuppose one’s conclusion to arrive at one’s conclusion. Furthermore, the first principles are actually founded on a deeper platform. That is not to say they are argued for by a deeper argument, for then they would not be first principles. The bedrock foundation of classical apologetics is in fact reality.

Indeed all manner of arguments in classical apologetics are built on logic, reason, empirical evidence from the physical sciences and history, but these are not the foundation of the system. Those tools are recognized as valid and used within the system because they are first observed to be valid in reality. The classical apologist employs the first principles because they are shown to be metaphysical realities of this world (and indeed all possible worlds). Reason is accepted as a legitimate tool for discerning truth and our senses are reliable avenues through which we acquire data, all of these are metaphysical positions.

Unlike the evidentialist who grounds his argument in facts the classical apologists accepts facts as tools because he grounds his apologetic on the reality of being. The apologist arrives at these metaphysical conditions through empirical sense data but recognizes that it is reality that precedes fact. Stated differently it is reality that determines truth. Unlike the fideist who is a coherence truth theorist, the classical apologist is a correspondence truth theorist. God’s existence is described as true not because it coheres to a system of subjective experiences, but because the statement “God exists” corresponds to reality. The first principles are recognized (not to be confused with argued) to be true because they correspond to what is observed in reality.

Critique of the Classical Foundation

            Reality is indeed the basis for all truth. Therefore, apologetics which defends the truth of Christianity should make its ultimate appeal to reality. Indeed the truth of God’s existence rests in whether or not God exists in reality. The inerrancy of the Bible rests on whether the Bible really does not make any false claims. No subjective experience, presupposed worldview, or even observed empirical fact can substantiate reality. It is reality that substantiates truth. Reality is the ultimate apologetic foundation.

Evidentialism’s dependence on historical facts actually presupposes reality. For this reason the method is legitimate. However, it does not directly appeal to reality. For this reason it does not see the benefit to identifying a theistic God as reality before the truth of Christianity. As a result it is inferior to Classical apologetics in method.

Classical apologetics’ two step methodology is a byproduct of its metaphysical foundation. Correspondence to reality is the test for truth, as a result developing a true understanding of reality is the task of the apologist. Demonstrating reality sometimes includes contingency. For example God’s existence and the existence of miracles are both true to reality. However God’s existence is demonstrable through the nature of reality itself, while miracles are ontologically subsequent to the demonstration of God’s existence, His attributes, and the historical evidence that a miracle has indeed occurred. We then conclude miracles are true to reality.


            Apologetic systems differ in numerous ways. They differ in methodology, epistemology, focus, and other ways. Ultimately these differences are rooted in their apologetic foundations. Fideist apologetics is founded on subjective experiences. Presuppositionalism is founded on the presupposed Christian world view. Evidentialism is founded on the primacy of observable historical facts. Each of these foundations have weaknesses to varying degrees. Fideism’s subjective experience in rejection of reason is as indefensible an apologetic foundation and fideism is a religious tradition. Presuppositionalism’s presupposed Christian worldview is invalid as a foundation for apologetics. The Christian worldview is valid, but that validity is arrived at through reason and evidence. Therefore, presuppositionalism is an invalid system. Evidentialism has a valid foundation in observable historical facts, but the validity of history as a vehicle for truth is dependent on a deeper philosophical foundation. Evidentialism produces valuable apologies, but could be more effective based on different principles. Ultimately, classical apologetics grounds its arguments in metaphysical reality. There is no deeper foundation than reality. One could argue that our knowledge of reality is limited. That is indeed true, but the classical apologist holds that anything defended as true is indeed true if and only if it corresponds to reality. For this reason, Classical apologetics has the most valid and sturdy foundation from which the system is built.



Bahnsen, Greg L. Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended. Edited by Joel McDurmon. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2008.

Boa, Kenneth, and Robert M. Bowman. Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005.

Craig, William Lane, Gary R. Habermas, John M. Frame, Kelly James Clark, and Paul D. Feinberg. Five Views of Apologetics. Edited by Stanley N. Gundry and Steven B. Cowen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Dulles, Avery Robert. A History of Apologetics. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.

Geehan, E. R. Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. Nutley, NJ: Prebyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing, 1996.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Tomas Nelson, 1999.

Montgomery, John Warwick. History and Christianity. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers,

Philip Edgcumbe Hughes., ed. Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969.

Thomas, and Timothy S. McDermott. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Notre Dame: Christian Classics, 1991.

White, James Emery. What Is Truth?: A Comparative Study of the Positions of Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Carl F.H. Henry, Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994.




[1]Norman L. Geisler Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 246.


[3]Kenneth Boa, and Robert M. Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005), 409.

[4]Ibid., 410.

[5]All Scripture referenced is taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.

[6]Geisle, B.E.C.A. 246.


[8]Thomas, and Timothy S. McDermott. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation (Notre Dame: Christian Classics, 1991), 12-14.

[9]Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Tomas Nelson, 1999).

[10]James Emery White, What Is Truth?: A Comparative Study of the Positions of Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Carl F.H. Henry, Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 147.

[11]Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, ed. Joel McDurmon (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2008), 4.

[12]Boa, Faith Has its Reasons, 221-257.

[13]Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, 3.

[14]William Lane Craig, et al., Five Views of Apologetics, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Steven B. Cowen (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000),  242.


[16]Geisler, B.E.C.A., 318.

[17]Boa, Faith Has its Reasons, 139-153.

[18]Geisler, B.E.C.A., 319.

[19]Boa, Faith Has its Reasons, 59.

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            Biblical inerrancy is a central doctrine of evangelical Christianity. Without the robust view of special revelation that Christianity maintains, there is nothing that separates it from mere philosophical theism. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18 [1], “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” In this passage Jesus is referring to the Pentateuch or Torah. His claim to come to fulfill the Law is also an explicit reference to its authenticity and integrity. That is to say, Jesus was clearly declaring that the Pentateuch is trustworthy and accurate as it was and has been traditionally believed. However, what if the Pentateuch were believed to be untrustworthy? What if someone did indeed try to “abolish” what Jesus came to fulfill? The theological and historical implications would be tremendous.

In the last two hundred years a theory was developed and gained wide spread popularity, which set out to discredit the traditional understanding and beliefs about the Pentateuch. Among other names, it is widely known as the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis argues that the Pentateuch is not a message of divine revelation from God written by Moses, but a mere ancient literary work written by multiple human authors, compiled by other human editors. Though Jesus validates the integrity of the Pentateuch, the supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis argue that their position concerning the Pentateuch is more objective and scientific. In the face of such abject pretension it is the responsibility of all thinking people to consider the arguments and evidence, and to evaluate the validity of the Documentary Hypothesis as opposed to the traditional position of Mosaic authorship.

This paper will seek to logically critic and evaluate the Documentary Hypothesis, expose its errors, and defend the traditional position of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. To do this, first a brief overview of the history of the Documentary hypothesis will be presented. This will include some of its main developers and supporters. How was it developed, and what were the influences and contexts from which it emerged? Next, the main arguments and claims of the documentary hypothesis will be outlined and explained. Finally, those arguments will be refuted, and an apologetic defense of Mosaic authorship will be presented.

History of the Hypothesis

Origin to Wellhausen

            The origin of the Documentary Hypothesis needs to be seen in its proper historic and philosophical context. It emerged from the school of thought known as Higher Criticism. This school of thought established the methodological and philosophical principles upon which the Documentary Hypothesis was based. Later in the paper it will be clear that the Documentary Hypothesis does follow from the faulty philosophical presuppositions of the higher critical approach to the Biblical text. Some of the principles were already being applied in the middle ages[2]. However, it would not be until the age of Modern Rationalism that these critical theories were systematically applied to the text.

It is widely understood that biblical Higher Criticism began with Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza in 1670 [3]. Spinoza, a Jewish scholar, argues in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch but that it must have come from a latter time in history by Ezra[4]. Spinoza was followed by others such as priest and philosopher Simon of Dieppe who wrote Historical Criticism of the Old Testament. These philosophers used a Rationalist approach to biblical criticism, which laid the foundation for the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis can be said to have developed through three stages.

Jean Astruc is the main character of the first stage. He was a French physician who studied the book of Genesis. It is clear to see the effects of the scientific method and the natural sciences on the methodology of higher criticism. His main contribution to the development of the Documentary Hypothesis was his suspicion of different sources in the book of Genesis. He noticed that at different places in Genesis the name Yahweh is sometimes used for God, while in other places the name Elohim is used. That led him to conclude that Genesis came from two separate source documents: one source using Yahweh (J source) and the other using Elohim (E source).

J. G. Eichhorn developed the theory further. Eichhorn tried to provide more support for Astruc’s format and methodology[5]. Eichhorn observed that certain narratives were repeated which he referred to as “doublets.” Eichhorn declared that the supposed E source was earlier than the J source. At this point the Pentateuch was beginning to be viewed as a compilation of an editor rather than an inspired work of an author[6].

In the second stage of development the theory was advanced in the 1800s by scholars such as Wilhem de Wette, Johan Vatke, and Hermann Hupfeld. Willhem de Wette, influenced by Eichhorn[7], tried to broaden the scope of the argument by examining the cultural and religious history. His research was geared towards understanding the supposed evolution of religion in ancient Israel. He examined Old Testament narrative as a Hebrew mythological expression. He writes:

“The application of the term mythology to certain narratives and opinions in the Bible need excite no surprise. The Jews had their mythology, as well as the Hindus, the Goths, and the Greeks. Symbols and myths are necessarily used, by rude people, to clothe abstract truths. It is evident that ancient Hebrews made use of them as a drapery of religious truth.”[8]

Wilhem de Wette openly thought that the people of Israel in the time of Moses were still primitive and without robust culture[9]. He also declared that Deuteronomy was of later composition than the rest of the Pentateuch. Thus the twofold division was further subdivided to include a third D source. Vatke decided the books of the Pentateuch were actually post-exilic works[10]. Later Hupfeld determined that the E source proposed by Astruc, was actually two separate sources. Karl David Ilgen had also proposed this division[11]. Both scholars notices that the sections that used the name Elohim contained variations in style apparently warranting the hypothesis of an additional source. Because part of the E source had a narrative style like the J source and part of it had a more “priestly” style, pertaining to laws and rituals[12], this source was labeled “P.” Thus the Pentateuch was regarded as an edited compilation of four different sources J, E, D, and P.

In the third stage of the development of the Documentary Hypothesis it was determined that the apparent unity of the Pentateuch was actually an amalgamation of these four supposed sources. The question became, what is their chronological order, that is to say which source was written first, second, third, and fourth? At this point Jullius Wellhausen offered his contributions to the theory.

Wellhausen can be considered the central figure of the Documentary Hypothesis despite the fact that, by his own admission[13], his contributions were in no way substantially original. His central importance is a result of his analysis of the apparent evolution of religion in ancient Israel, and his impressive presentation. First, Wellhausen analyzed the way in which religion developed in ancient Israel to determine the context from which the Biblical texts were written. He determined that the cultural climate necessary for the writing of the Pentateuch was not present in Israel until the post-exilic period.

Second, Wellhausen was an exceptional “publicist[14].” His name is so synonymous with the Documentary Hypothesis because of his organization and methodical delivery. He gave the Documentary Hypothesis a certain consistency in scholarly circles. His great skill in argumentation and presentation elevated the Documentary Hypothesis to the level of working theory. Through Wellhausen the Documentary Hypothesis gained a certain solidity and definitiveness.

Wellhausen’s analysis of the fourfold source debate settled the chronological debate sufficiently to determine the order to be J, E, D, and P[15]. A certain degree of variation and exception have been made after his analysis but all have been made in reference to his basic arrangement. Wellhausen related his chronological order to his assessment of cultural and religious evolution in ancient Israel from the time of David to post-exilic Israel.

At this point it is prudent to note the context in which this standardized form of the Documentary Hypothesis was being developed. It was predominantly developed in the context of German and English Rationalism. Rationalist principles were the standard of all knowledge. It was reminiscent of the rules and standard regulations of the natural sciences and as such very palatable to the scholars of that time. Gleason Archer explains:

“This was the age in which Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was capturing the allegiance of the scholars and scientific world and the theory of development from primitive animism to sophisticated monotheism as set forth by Wellhausen and his followers fitted admirably into Hegelian dialecticism[…] and Darwinian evolutionism[16]”.

The Rationalist revolution was the ideal context to develop the Documentary Hypothesis and for it to be widely disseminated throughout scholarly circles without serious criticism or contention. The next section will trace the development of the Documentary Hypothesis after Wellhausen to the present.

Post-Wellhausen to Contemporary

            After the time of Wellhausen it is difficult to trace a single distinct line of development for the Documentary Hypothesis. This serves to highlight the significance of Wellhausen as well as show the distinction of the time before his contributions from the time after him. With that said it is easy to see that the writings and contributions to the Documentary Hypothesis in the twentieth century are significantly linked to Wellhausen[17], either supporting his work or reacting in opposition to it. Part of what makes the post Wellhausen contributions so hard to trace is how significantly the diversity of critical analysis of the Old Testament has been repeatedly compounded. It could be argued that each contemporary defender of the Documentary Hypothesis is actually working with his own specifically nuanced presuppositions and arrives at his own unique conclusions[18].

Three things have happened to the Documentary Hypothesis after Wellhausen. The first is that it has lost a great deal of momentum. Some have tried to develop alternative explanations for the formation of the Pentateuch, but there have been no substantial changes to the Documentary Hypothesis. Most liberal scholars continue to largely approve of Wellhausen’s conclusions. This contemporary languor could be described as a period of supplementary hypothesis or complementary hypothesis. For this reason scholars like Herman Gunkel tried to step out of this stagnation and explore new questions such as: What form were the Pentateuch’s sources in before they were edited and compiled? The methods used to answer this question are referred to as form criticism[19].

The second thing to happen to the Documentary hypothesis was a near continual fragmentation of the text by independent scholars. Gleason Archer illustrates this occurrence very well with these few examples:

“Otto Eissfeldt in his Hexateuchsynopse (1922) thought he discovered within J a Lay Source (L)- more or less equivalent to Julius Smend’s J1[…] Somewhat similar to L was the new document K (for Kenite). This dealt mostly with certain details in the life of Moses, or described relations between the Israelites and the Kenites. It was discovered By Julius Morgenstern (The Oldest Document of the Hexateuch, 1927)[…] Robert H. Pfeiffer announced in his Introduction to the Old Testament the discovery of a document S (for mount Seir, the most prominent land mark in Edom)[…] Thus we have as a result of the industry of the post-Wellhausians the additional letters K, L, and S, largely drawn off from J or E.”[20]

Early in the twentieth century the sources scholars were going to “discover” seemed to be limitless. The rapid fragmentation of sources appears to be motivated by how trendy source criticism had become and the popularity associated with having identified a new source rather than authentic scholarship.

The third thing to occur to the Documentary hypothesis, somewhat predicated by the first two occurrences, is that it has largely lost its initial clout. Critical research from the second half of the twentieth century to the present has revealed massive holes and shortcomings in the Documentary Hypothesis, such as Wellhausen’s philosophical presuppositions and the presences of misleading answers in the Hypothesis itself[21]. Scholars like William LaSor think that, “It is doubtful that the documentary Hypothesis will survive the critical labors of contemporary scholarship[22].” In recent decades the Documentary Hypothesis has been reassessed to account for the pressure applied by the criticism of conservative scholars. The adjusted conclusions are more and more conservative. These recent higher critics have noticed that the original approach of the Documentary Hypothesis was misleading. As a result the Documentary Hypothesis, such as it is currently, seems to try to keep the historical critical method while applying a more accurate understanding of the Hebrew language, ancient Hebrew customs, and the structure and characteristics of ancient Hebrew literary styles. Anthony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien are examples of Scholars attempting to employ this amended approach.

Up to this point the Documentary hypothesis has simply been outlined as a developing Idea through history. In the next section the arguments and claims of the Documentary hypothesis will be examined in greater detail.

The Arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis

            The main arguments of the documentary hypothesis consist of two central claims and a number of arguments defending those claims. In this section of the paper the two central claims of the Documentary hypothesis will be explained and then the arguments supporting those claims will be outlined.

Two Central Claims of the Documentary Hypothesis

            The first central claim of the Documentary Hypothesis is that the Pentateuch is not a structural unity. That is, it is not a consistent and continuous literary work of a single author despite having been arranged to appear as such. The Pentateuch is not a unified work having been orderly written from its apparent beginning to its apparent end. Rather it is an edited amalgamation of four different sources intentionally combined by an editor. The four sources and traits that determine their distinctions are discussed here in their apparent order of inscription.

First the Yahovist or J source is so named because of its use of the word YHWH for God. It is considered the first of the supposed four documents to have been written. By making use of God’s proper name it is characterized as emphasizing the immanent God, who is personal and intimately related to His people. It is proposed to have been written during the time of the United Kingdom. It apparently places great emphasis on the tribe of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.

The Second is the Elohist or E source. It is so named because of its use of Elohim for God. As such, its supposed subject matter and focus is on a more transcendent God, generally related to His creation. It is considered to have been written second of the four sources during the time of the Divided Kingdom.

The third is the Deuternomist or D source. It is simply named because it basically comprises the book of Deuteronomy. Because it is presumed to be the book of the Law discovered in the Temple during the Kingship of Josiah, it is considered to have been written during this later period in the Divided Kingdom.

The fourth and last supposed major source of the Pentateuch is the Priestly or P source. It was designated this way because its content is predominantly focused on moral laws, retribution, priestly codes, and rituals. It also makes use of Elohim as the name for God and is said to have been written in the post-exilic era.

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, these four sources are the actual origins of what is now known as the Pentateuch. Each source, as has been briefly outlined, is argued to have arisen from a different context, date, and purpose. According to the Documentary Hypothesis none of these documents illustrate the world of the Hebrew people during the time of Moses. Rather, each document reflects a political and social climate from a more advanced stage of social, cultural, and religious evolution of the people of ancient Israel. The supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis argues that their original purpose was to bolster the political agenda of their supposed date. Consider for example, Friedman’s argument that the sources J and E (The first written in Judah and the second written in Israel by his reckoning) make differing political claims regarding Beth-El, which was located on the border between the two kingdoms[23].

One wonders how the documents were combined in their current form. The Documentary Hypothesis claims the portions were not combined in major sections like an anthology but in small woven sections within the same or similar narratives. Umberto Cassuto explains the assumed process of compilation in this way:

“This is how, it is imagined, the editor set about his task: he took two narratives, one, for instance, from source J, and the other from source E, both dealing with the same subject; he begun to copy a few words or a complete sentence or several sentences from the first account, and then he proceeded to copy a few words or a complete verse or several verses from the second; later he left the second document and continued to copy the first, returning subsequently to the second, and so on until the material at his disposal was used up, and both stories had been welded together into a single narrative.”[24]

The second major claim of the Documentary Hypothesis, (as already largely predicated by the first claim) is that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. What we know as the Pentateuch was edited and arranged at a much later date than the time of Moses. The strong denial of Moses as the author raises the question of the identity of the supposed editor. Ezra is widely considered to be the likely candidate because of the concern during his time to identify Israel as God’s People. Freidman makes the case for Ezra as the Editor this way.

“[Ezra] had the backing of the emperor. He had enforcement powers. Even though he was not the high priest, he had enormous authority. And his authority was directly linked to the scroll that he brought to Judah, a scroll that is identified as “the Torah of Moses which Yahweh God of Israel Gave” […] In the entire Bible only two men are known as law givers: Moses and Ezra. Ezra was a priest, a lawgiver, and a scribe. He had access to documents. And the biblical biography of Ezra is explicit about which documents interested him.”[25]

Having heard these two central claims, the next section will explore and develop the arguments used to defend these claims.

The Main Arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis

            Naturally one begins to wonder how the supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis arrive at these claims. What are their arguments that take the Pentateuch, traditionally thought of as a literary unity, and apparently demonstrate it to be a combination of different sources from different time periods? On what grounds do the supporters deny that it is indeed Moses who wrote the Pentateuch? For the sake of simplicity let us consider the arguments to fall into two categories. The first are textual arguments. The second are cultural or religious arguments.

Textual Arguments

            Documentary Hypothesis supporters often employ three textual arguments to support their conclusions. The first is the presence of different names for the same object or person. They argue that this is of primary importance in reference to the use of divine names. When part of the unified narrative uses God’s personal name YHWH and another part of the same unified narrative uses the more general name for divinity Elohim, critical scholars take that as an indication of two sources. The source using YHWH is J source and the source using Elohim is E source.

The most common examples are taken from the creation account in Genesis. Genesis 1:2-2:4 refers to God as Elohim, suggesting it belongs to the E source (and possibly the P source because of its reference to the Sabbath[26]). However, the next passage’s creation account refers to God as YHWH, apparently making it a part of the J source. So these higher critical scholars use the different names to identify different sources. The same kind of argumentation is employed for different names of people, places, and even different verbs that describe the same action. For example, when the term Sinai is used to name the mountain that passage is considered part of the J or P documents, but when the name Horeb is used to refer to the same mountain, that passage is considered a part of E or D documents[27].

The second textual argument commonly used is the parallel narratives argument. Documentary Hypothesis supporters argue that the Pentateuch, and especially Genesis, contains these parallel narratives or “doublets.” The creation accounts in Genesis just mentioned would be a perfect example. Liberal scholars assume these repeated narrative accounts are sufficiently different to indicate their origin from different sources. Freidman combines the parallel narrative argument and the different names argument to attempt to build a cumulative case for the Documentary Hypothesis.

“The mere fact that the different stories in the first books of the Bible call God by different names of course proves nothing in itself.[…] But, as I have said, there was something more suspicious about the way the different names of the deity lined up in the first few books of the Bible. The different names Yahweh and Elohim, seemed to line up consistently in each of the two versions of the same stories in the doublets. If we separate Elohim (E) stories from Yahweh (J) stories, we get a consistent series of clues that the E stories were written by someone concerned with Israel and the J stories were written by someone concerned with Judah.”[28]

Freidman notices the different names in the parallel narratives are consistent. The issue is, for what reason are those names consistently found in their respective narratives? His argument is that the J documents names and narrative associate it with the southern kingdom of Judah and the E documents names and narratives associate it with the northern kingdom of Israel. Latter we will explore other explanations.

The last literary argument is the observable difference of language and style. The presence of the different language and style lead the Supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis to leap to the conclusion that no single author is capable of writing in different literary styles and necessitates the presence multiple source documents as an explanation. Gleason Archer summarizes the argument from different style by saying that J is considered the source of vivid narratives; E has etiologic legends; and P is a formal source document containing genealogies, statistics, laws, rituals, and so on[29]. Campbell and O’Brien explain that a general rule for determining if a passage is from the P source is if it is “boring[30].” With respect to vocabulary it is argued that words are strictly associated with specific document sources and that Moses would not have used those words at all.

Cultural and Religious Arguments

            There are also arguments that focus on apparent cultural or religious evidence. Liberal scholars argue that during the time of Moses the literary skill necessary to produce a work such as the Pentateuch or its supposed source documents were not yet developed. It is largely held by supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis that Israel was a primitive people lacking in literary skill or the formal culture necessary for the traditional view of the Pentateuch to be true. Additionally it is argued that the stage of religious development during the time of Moses would not have been as complex and developed as the rituals, codes, and sacrificial system outlined in the P document.

Wellhausen proposed that the ritual prescriptions and moral laws of the Pentateuch are post-exilic in nature[31]. The complexity of religious tradition in the Pentateuch is apparently too evolutionarily advanced for Moses to have been the author of their inscription. Liberal scholars have taken the Law given by YHWH and reversed it to be a law composed by a post-exilic editor of the source documents, retroactively applied to the God of Israel pseudepigraphicaly through Moses. The aspects of the law such as circumcision and Sabbath are argued to be out of place in the Exodus and more in keeping with Babylonian captivity[32]. The creation accounts in Genesis are declared to be mythological, the narratives of the patriarchs are prejudged to be legends, created by the people of Israel during the divided monarchies and later, then retroactively projected backwards as part of their fanciful origins[33]. Ultimately the evolutionarily explanatory events in the history of ancient Israel are the monarchy, the divided kingdom, and the exile.

We have satisfactorily reviewed and examined the history and central arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis; in the next section we will present an apologetic critique of the Documentary Hypothesis presuppositions and arguments. Then the evidence for Mosaic authorship will be presented.

Refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis and Defense of Mosaic Authorship

            This apologetic refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis will be presented in three parts: first, to expose and critique the presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis; second, to refute its arguments; third, to offer sound arguments for the conservative traditional view supporting Mosaic authorship.

Pulverized Presuppositions

            Behind the objective and scientific facade of the Documentary Hypothesis are some very telling philosophical and thereby methodological presuppositions that determine the conclusions of the Documentary Hypothesis a priori. It could be argued that every hermeneutic method has a certain degree of bias. However, the philosophical presuppositions of higher criticism do not even allow the text to speak for itself. The Documentary Hypothesis is a highly predictable byproduct when European Rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries forces its presuppositions and biased methodology into the biblical texts.

Harrison gives a very helpful summary of the first two presuppositions[34]. The first presupposition is that it is possible and desirable to identify one fundamental principle by which all the subject matter within the field of study can be explained and accounted for. In the Documentary Hypothesis the fundamental principle through which the Pentateuch was assumed to be accounted for and explained is “dialectical evolution.” As developed by Darwin, Hegel, and Comte, dialectical evolution was determined a priori to be the integrative explanatory principle for all questions found in the text: be they cultural, religious, literary, lingual, etc. This is the main short coming of the Documentary Hypothesis’ methodology. Like all a priori fallacies, the Documentary Hypothesis supporters, at the commencement of their study, established as their cause what should have been either determined or refuted as a result of the study. For this reason everything that is produced form this higher critical method comes from this sustained circular reasoning. The higher critical scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries lacked the openness necessary to break their circular reasoning and the ability to allow the traditional conceptions of the Pentateuch to offer supporting or militating evidence against their conclusions.

The second presupposition is similar to the first. It is that humanity and everything that it produces such as literature, culture or religion is understood as moving from primitive to more advanced stages of development. For this reason they assume that the later stages of a culture are more capable of producing a certain quality of literature. This can plainly be seen as a false assumption with any number of counter examples. Consider the Roman Empire, whose terminus was considerably worse with respect to culture and society than its beginning and middle stages.

The third presupposition is an a priori anti-supernaturalism. With this comes the denial of the possibility of any kind of supernatural action, cause, or communication. The a priori denial of supernatural communication is incompatible with the concept of Scripture as divine special revelation. As a result the higher critics try to explain the Pentateuch through exclusively natural causes. The problem with these explanations is that they are exclusive. If a biblical critic is a naturalist, that is a separate argument that needs to be addresses before the hermeneutic, theological, and historic conclusions can even be compared between traditional Christian theists and naturalist higher critics. The naturalist scholar, without argument, declares that natural arguments negate all supernatural ones. This anti-supernatural presupposition is philosophically unsound, unsupported historically, and in opposition to the claims of the biblical texts.

Alexa Suelzer helps develop two further faulty presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis. She explains that Documentary Hypothesis supporters have a general skepticism about the objectivity of history[35]. As a result they address the biblical text with an a priori doubt of its historicity. She goes on to explain how the scholars who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis treat the historical development of the Hebrew people as though they were in complete isolation from their neighboring nations and cultures[36].

Having just identified the faulty philosophical presuppositions, the next section will criticize the Documentary Hypothesis’ supporting arguments. There are not only reasons to discredit their arguments, but there are better explanations for the questions raised by higher criticism.

Annihilated Arguments

The classical application of the Documentary Hypothesis has a faulty understanding of the Hebrew language. The various textual arguments proposed by the Documentary Hypothesis supporters completely erode if their understanding of Hebrew were more accurate. A better understanding of the Hebrew language and Semitic literature gives a better explanation for the different words and names in the text. We have already identified that the Documentary Hypothesis supporters assume the Hebrew people could not write, much less compose such highly intelligent literature. However, this is in direct opposition to the texts claims that Moses was educated in Egypt as royalty and more than likely very literate. However, this again asks the higher critic to set aside their historical skepticism for a moment.

The literary usage of different names is related to the style, purpose and literary genre the author chooses to employ. Conservative and liberal scholars agree that the usage of different names and words is consistent in different parts of the text. The issue is whether this consistency is due to a different source or by intentional literary design. With a greater grasp of Hebrew, it can clearly be seen that the latter is actually the case[37]. The author of the biblical text was intelligent enough to select with discernment the names and words that had the specific meanings and connotations he desired for his purpose[38]. Considering that Hebrew was that authors first language it would not have been very intellectually taxing[39]. If the text is considered as a whole, one can easily discover that there is intelligent and preconceived purpose and design behind the selection of the various names and words therein.

The second faulty aspect to the arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis is that it is frequently incapable of presenting a coherent application of its own criteria and rules to identify source documents. That is to say, in many cases when a rule is applied to identify a passage’s source document, such as a divine name used, it would place it in J, E, D, or P. However, when a different criterion is applied to that same passage, such as verb usage, style, or content, it indicates that it actually belongs to a different source document. Consider this example from Archer.

“For example, of the two words for “female slave,” shiphah was assigned exclusively to J and ’amah to E; in Genesis 33, Driver assigned the passage to J because of its use of shiphah, even though Elohim appears throughout.”[40]

That is neither objective nor scientific. What could be more subjective than when two rules within the same methodological system contradict and the arbiter arbitrarily designates a passage as part of this or that source document? There is no consensus of the proper traits of a given source document, no consensus as to the order of priority concerning identification rules, and no consensus as to which passages are form which source documents.

A third failure of the arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis is that archeological evidence does indeed support that the Pentateuch could have been written during the time of Moses. It can be demonstrated that the religious and cultural development needed was indeed present at the time of Moses[41]. Archeological discoveries have only ever served to corroborate the Pentateuchal narratives. Characters such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the ancient customs like those between Jacob and Laban in Genesis 31-43 are definitely within this historical context. Harrison remarks:

“By the beginning of the second millennium B.C. the names Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, and Joseph were in common usage. Abraham appeared in syllabic form as A-ba-ra-ma, A-ba-am-ra-ma and A-ba-am-ra-am, while Jacob, writen Ya-‘qub-el, was found as a Palestinian palace name by 1740 B.C. The name of Jacob in the form Ya-ah-qu-ub-il occurred on tablets from Tell Chagar Bazar in norther Mesopotamia about 1725 B.C.”[42]

He continues elsewhere:

“The manner in which Laban asserted his rights as a patriarch (Gen 31-41) shows clearly that he referred to Jacob as his legally adopted son, not merely as a son-in-law. Within the next two decades it would appear that natural sons were born to Laban (Gen 31-41), an event that disqualified under Nuzu law the adopted son from receiving and exercising the coveted rights of primogeniture. An attempt to remedy the imbalance may perhaps be seen in the action of Rachel in stealing the household gods (Gen 31:19).”[43]

Archeological discoveries during the nineteenth century have also corroborated the position that the people of Israel were sufficiently culturally qualified in literacy by the fourteenth century B.C. to produce the Pentateuch. The Wellhausian argument that Israel was not sufficiently educated finds no support in archeology. Archer gives this evidence:

“The earliest Hebrew document thus far discovered is the Gezer Calander, written about 952 B.C. (found by Macalister in the 1900s). But since it is obviously a mere schoolboy’s exercise, it demonstrates that the art of writing was so well known and widely practiced in Israel during the tenth century that even the children were being taught this skill in the provinces.”[44]

Writing was perfectly common by the time of the monarchy. This suggests that literacy was developed early enough that the cultural quality necessary for the production of the Pentateuch was definitely present, to say nothing of the fact that in a supernaturalist contexts a transcendent God could have brought about the writing of scripture through any means.

Furthermore, considering Moses’ life and education in Egypt, likely the most developed culture at that time, there is no legitimate reason to call into question his capacity to produce a document like the Pentateuch.

Another flaw in the Wellhausan argument is the presence of an overt self contradiction. Initially he argues that there is evidence of Animism in the Pentateuch. That is indicative of a lower stage of development in Israel’s so called religious evolution. This suggests the source documents come from a comparably early date in Israel’s less developed cultural history. However, he also sees sufficient evidence of higher cultural development that leads him to deny the possibility of it having been written in the time of Moses and places the date for the documents in the exilic period. This is evidence for a later date of the source documents’ inscription. Therefore, it seems he sees evidence in the same document of primitive and highly developed Israelite cultural development. This is simply a blatant contradiction.

A final word in this section needs to be made concerning the arguments of Campbell and O’Brien. They try to account for the apparent problems in the Pentateuch with a new paradigm. They do not find it necessary to divide the text into source documents, so in that way they are a significant departure from the Documentary Hypothesis. However their own conclusions are equally as abhorrent and will be dealt with presently. In their own words:

“Many readers today tend not to look to the Bible for entertainment or diversion. For a long time such readers and users have expected biblical texts to inform them about reality; variants, therefore, had little place. However, for the users in ancient times, who might mediate text to others, variants may have been essential for truth. When more than one story has been told, when more than one view has been held, truth may require that these variants be preserved in some way.”[45]

They advance this theory that the text was not canonical but pre-canonical, not authoritative but pre-authoritative. They additionally hold that the stories were originally short enough to be told by storytellers. Their arguments fail to offer evidence for their conjecture. The biblical texts do not claim or appear to have developed into authority or have become canonical but claim and have internal structural evidence, (such as massive chiastic structures), to have been given and inscriptureated as authoritative in their present united form. The Pentateuch cannot be reasonably conceived as some kind of “choose your own adventure” book. It is what it claims and is evidenced to be: the authoritative truth.

Having refuted the arguments in favor of the Documentary Hypothesis, the next section will present positive evidence in favor of Mosaic authorship as traditionally believed.

Enduring Evidence for Mosaic Authorship

            With all the criticism of the critical method as being biased against the text, it is not surprising that the traditional Mosaic authorship points to the text itself as its first phase of evidence in its argument. The Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament testify that Moses is indeed the author of the Pentateuch. Exodus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 31:9-11 directly reference Moses as author along with other passages. The rest of the Old Testament tradition maintains that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch, for example I Kings 2:3.

The witness of Jesus in the New Testament is a central key to identifying Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. Jesus referenced every book of the Pentateuch as authoritative scripture written by Moses. In John 5:46-47 Jesus reveals not only that He believes the Pentateuch to have been written by Moses but that it is the commonly understood fact among his audience as well. John 3:14 reveals that Jesus not only affirmed the canonicity of the Pentateuch written by Moses but confirmed the historicity of its narrative. A philosophical argument could be legitimately made that if Jesus is God, (demonstrated through theistic proofs and the historicity of the resurrection), and that God cannot err, then Jesus’ testimony to the authority and fact that Moses is the Author of the Pentateuch is actually deductively true over and beyond the overwhelming inductive evidence pointing to the same conclusion.

The text also overwhelmingly presents evidence that the author would have had to have been present and knowledgeable of customs long since forgotten, if the actual inscribing of the texts had taken place during the time of the kings. Walter C. Keiser explains in detail that the entire structure of Deuteronomy is the same structure in which ancient covenants would have been established. Keiser emphatically states that the entire book of Deuteronomy, and not some alleged D source document, is in the form of a Suzerainty Treaty[46]. This kind of treaty was in use in the Hittite Empire from 1400-1200 B.C. For this reason Keiser explains:

“What is remarkable about this outline is that there was a most decisive difference between the second and first millennium treaty forms. Since Deuteronomy follows the Hittite form of the second millennium type, this has enormous implications for the dating of this portion of the Pentateuch and makes the whole Documentary Hypothesis both unnecessary and very much beside the point.”[47]

The text also shows unity in structure. For example the flood narrative of Noah in Genesis 6:10-9:19 is a massive chiastic structure centered on Genesis 8:1 that God remembered Noah. The schools of higher critical though had no idea this kind of structure could be found in the text. As a result no portion of that story can be declared as part of this or that source document because it is literally meaningless unless it is understood as a whole. There is evidence in the texts that show unity of content and composition. As has been argued in multiple places, the narratives of Genesis only make sense when they are viewed as a whole. William Henry Green gives a great example.

“Joseph is named by P among the children of Jacob born in Paddam-aram (35:24), but not another word is said about him until we are suddenly informed that he was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh. How he came to be in Egypt and what led to his elevation there can only be learned from other documents.”[48]

When the text is subdivided into supposed source documents it loses meaning and sense. The history of Joseph is meaningless if a source document jumps from his birth to him being second to Pharaoh in command over Egypt. It is the selling into slavery, the wrongful imprisonment, the dreams, and so on that carry the theological meaning of the story.

The last line of evidence for Mosaic authorship is the unified testimony of unbroken tradition. Tradition did not figure into the evidence of European Rationalism but it is a strong historical testimony to Mosaic authorship. Talmudic Judaism teaches that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and the historians Philo and Josephus do as well.


            The conclusion is simple and obvious. The Documentary Hypothesis’ claims are wrong. There are other objective and scientific explanations that satisfactorily answer the questions raised by higher criticism, and they all support the literary unity of the Pentateuch. The evidence for mosaic authorship is substantial and robust. The arguments given for the Documentary Hypothesis are misleading, erroneous, and based on dramatically biased undefended presuppositions. The most reasonable belief for the origin of the Pentateuch is the conservative traditional belief in mosaic authorship.



Allis, Oswald. The Five Books of Moses. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1977.

Archer, Gleason L., Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.

Campbell, Antony F. and Mark O’Brien. Rethinking the Pentateuch. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

Cassuto, Umberto. The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. New York: Shalem Press, 2006.

De Wette, Wilhelm Martin Leberecht. A Critical and Historical Introduction to the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1850.

Friedman, Richard Eliot. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: Summit Books, 1987.

Green, William Henry. The Unity of the Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979

Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. London: Tyndale Press, 1970.

Keiser, Walter. The Old Testament Documents. Wheaton: IVP, 2001.

LaSor, William Stanford, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.

Spinoza, Benedict. A theologico-Political Treatise. Translated by R. H. M. Elwes, New York: Dover Publications, 1951.

Suelzer, Alexa. The Pentateuch, a Study in salvation History. New York: Herder and Herder, 1964.

Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1965.

Whybray, Norman. Introduction to the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.




[1]All scripture referenced is taken from the NASB.

[2]R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1970), 5-7.

[3]Harrison, Introduction, 10.

[4]Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (New York: Dover Publications, 1951).

[5]Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 84.


[7]Wilhem Martin Leberecht de Wette, A Critical and Historical Introduction to the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Boston, 1850), 31.

[8] Ibid., 23.

[9] Ibid., 32, 51-70.

[10]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 92.

[11]Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch, 14.

[12]Harrison, Introduction, 17.

[13]Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1965), 4.

[14]Archer, A Survey of the Old Testament, 89.

[15]Oswald Allis, The Five Books of Moses (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1977), 187.

[16]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament, 89.

[17]Ibid., 95.

[18]Allis, The Five Books of Moses, 207.

[19]Ibid., 215

[20]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament, 94.

[21]Antony F. Cambel and Mark A. O’Brien, Rethinking the Pentateuch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 2.

[22]William Stanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 12.

[23]Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Summit Books, 1987), 62.

[24]Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch (New York: Shalem Press, 2006), 101.

[25]Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 223.

[26]Ibid., 246.

[27]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 125.

[28]Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 61.

[29]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 129.

[30]Campbell and O’Brien, Rethinking the Pentateuch, 12.

[31]Wellhausen, Prolegomena, 1.

[32]Ibid., 341.

[33]Ibid., 295-318.

[34]Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 506.

[35]Alexa Suelzer, The Pentateuch (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964), 149.


[37]Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis, 21.

[38]Ibid., 59-61.


[40]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 125.

[41]Ibid., 170-182.

[42]Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 106.

[43]Ibid., 110.

[44]Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 172.

[45]Campbell and O’Brien, Rethinking the Pentateuch, 6.

[46]Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents (Wheaton: IVP, 2001), 144.


[48]William Henry Green, The Unity of the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979), 556-557.

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Pastor Nathan Michael Deisem: Ecclesiology



             There has been a great deal written on the subject of multi-ethnicity in the local church in recent years. Most of the focus of those works has been about its practicality, such as its benefits in church growth, or the abstract and specific value of diversity. However, is there any indication that multi-ethnicity in the local church is prescribed by Scripture? There is no dissention over the fact that the Universal Church is to be multi-ethnic, for that is directly commanded by Jesus in no uncertain language in the Great Commission.[1] However, what about the local churches, visible instantiations of the Universal Church; should they be multi-ethnic? Even works that give a chapter or so to this question are predominantly focused on pragmatic, nonessential, non-prescribed, church strategy material. There is a great deal of value in those kinds of discussions, but how much more meaningful would they be if it were discovered whether or not multi-ethnicity in the local church is in fact prescribed by scripture or only permitted by scripture, akin to discussion of what kinds of instruments should be used in worship and the like?

The thesis of this paper is that multi-ethnicity in the local church is indeed prescribed by scripture and therefore mandatory for modern churches. Though this paper will not be able to deal with the subject exhaustively, for such an undertaking would be more suited for a book, it will outline five arguments from scripture that taken together form a case for the requirement that local churches should strive to be multi-ethnic. The first argument is taken from Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and His call for unity within His Church. The second is that certain characteristics of the church in Antioch, as described in the book of Acts, are intended to be observed as patterns to follow, such as their intentional multi-ethnicity. The third argument comes from Ephesians 2:11-22 and Paul’s discussion of the inclusive unity and mystery of the Body of Christ. The fourth argument is the way Paul’s defense to the people while in the custody of the Roman Tribune in Acts 22:22 is abruptly ended by their response to his words. The fifth and final argument tentatively considers the possible application of the statement in Jesus’ model prayer, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” compared to what is revealed to be true of heaven elsewhere in Scripture.

Before the arguments of this paper begins it should be clarified what is meant by “multi-ethnicity.” A significant aspect of multi-ethnicity certainly includes what is commonly referred to today as “race.” However that fails to include all aspects of the issue this paper will cover. For the purposes of this paper and the arguments herein “multi-ethnicity” broadly includes diversity that reaches across nearly all lines of social division such as socio-economic class, skin color, age, profession, nationality, etc.

For the purpose of this paper, “multi-ethnicity” is not a term referring to some ecumenical unity between world religions, for what fellowship does the world have with Christ’s Church? The Church is on mission to evangelize the world and “make disciples of all nations [ἔθνος[2]].” Ethnos, from where we derive the English word “ethnic,” includes a diversity of categories that pose no qualitative or essential difference in the Universal Church[3] and, (should the arguments of this paper prove valid) the local church should strive to include multi-ethnicity across these accidental divisions wherever possible.

The final sections of the paper will include pleas to pastoral leaders of local churches and some concluding remarks. The next section will begin to outline the five arguments for the prescriptive nature of multi-ethnicity in the local church.

Jesus’ Prayer in John 17: A Call for Unity

            For a long time the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17 has been referred to as the “high priestly prayer.” It is the longest of Jesus’ prayers recorded in scripture and concludes the “upper room discourse (John 14-16).” It can be divided into three sections, the first of which Jesus prays for Himself (verses 1-5), second for His disciples (verses 6-19), and finally for all future believers (verses 20-26). It may escape some readers that in this passage Jesus prayed for future believers which would include modern believers as well.

The Theme of Unity

In the first section Jesus recounts His mission and purpose to bring eternal life to all who would believe. In the second section Jesus prays for his disciples and commissions them to carry on His mission. In the final section Jesus prays for His future Church, including all future believers. What is it He prayed for? Three times in three verses He prays for their unity.

“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. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”[4]

The italics emphasis are mine. Students of hermeneutics know that repetition is indicative of emphasis in scripture. Jesus’ central desire in this prayer for future believers is their absolute unity, analogous to the unity between the Father and the Son. However, to what end or purpose does Jesus pray for such unity? The “so that” phrases in the passage make it very easy to identify the purpose of this unity. In verse twenty-one Jesus reveals that this unity will bear evidence that He was sent by God. The Church is supposed to exemplify such unity that it is clear that Jesus and His Gospel are from God. Additionally, in verse twenty-three Jesus reveals that this unity will make it clear to the world that God the Father sent Jesus, His Son, and loves those in the world just as He loves Jesus.

The Observable Evidence of Unity

            In what ways is this unity expressed in the Church? There are theological divisions and subdivisions throughout Christendom. What unity or lack of unity can be observed by the world that would indicate whether Jesus was sent by God and if God loves those in the world? I submit the unity is to be observed in local church gatherings. When the world observes our local gatherings the disunity they may observe is not about location, for indeed “local” churches will gather at different localities. What is significant is that X local church is nearly exclusively made up of congregants of this color, or Y local church is nearly exclusively comprised of this socio-economic class, and Z local church is almost exclusively attended by persons of this age. The unity Christ is praying for is certainly a unity of orthodox doctrine, (otherwise this discussion is not really about the true Church). Rather, insofar as this unity is observable to affect belief in the world concerning the divine nature of Christ’s message and the love God has for the world, that unity is one that reaches across non-essential, accidental divisions. That unity is one of multi-ethnicity.

Taken alone this passage may not serve as much of a proof text. However, this argument is multifaceted and this application of this text is read in light of other texts in Scripture. The next argument concerns the church at Antioch as exhibiting characteristics that should be interpreted as pattern for future local churches.

The Church at Antioch: An Indirectly Prescribed Pattern


            The book of Acts recounts the birth of the Church by the teaching of the Apostles after Christ’s ascension. Luke begins with a restating of the Great Commission in Acts 1:8. The Church is born on Pentecost in Acts 2 in something of a reverse Tower of Babel event, for God had once scattered the nations,[5] but now through the inauguration of the Church He has united the nations through the Spirit. Now on Pentecost the gospel was heard exclusively by Jews and Proselytes, which does not yet satisfy the command to “be [Jesus’] witnesses in…Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  However, Jesus had instructed the Disciples to stay in Jerusalem up until this point.[6]


We observe later that after the stoning of Stephen the persecution of the fledgling, exclusively Jewish Church was of such severity that they were forced to scatter throughout the Roman world. Philip the evangelist is the first mentioned in scripture to preach the Gospel to non-Jews, first to Samaritans and then to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. The inclusion of Samaritans in the Church by the baptism of the Holy Spirit is observed and ratified by the apostles Peter and John.[7] Thereafter in Acts we see the conversion of two more figures, Saul, soon to become Paul the Apostle, and Cornelius the centurion. Including the Ethiopian Eunuch, Luke chose to record the conversions of a son of Ham (the Ethiopian Eunuch), a son of Shem (Saul), and a son of Japheth (Cornelius) in succession. With the reference here to the sons of Noah who repopulated the world in three separate regions after the deluge, the intentional theme of multi-ethnicity is becoming ever more obvious, but does it have any bearing on a local church?


            In Acts 11:19-26 it is observed that Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene (perhaps those who heard the Gospel on the day of Pentecost) began preaching to Greeks in Antioch. In this section the phrase “large numbers” is used three times in six verses. Two times with respect to gentiles being saved and once with respect to those being taught and discipled. The repetition of this phrase indicates its emphasis; the emphasis is on the success or God’s blessing on these multi-ethnic evangelistic and discipleship efforts. Luke concludes this section by revealing that a new descriptive name was given for this new kind of Jesus person. In Antioch Jews and Gentiles were being saved and discipled together. They were united in one universal body but more interestingly they were united even within distinct local bodies. To describe this phenomenon they were called “Christians” (albeit pejoratively).

Through God’s sovereignty Paul’s missionary ministry to the Gentile world is commissioned in Antioch rather than in Jerusalem. His unique blend of Jewish heritage and instruction, as well as Greek education, and Roman citizenship reveal that God had blessed him with an ideal collection of assets to spread the Gospel cross-culturally.

Finally, the most intriguing observation made concerning the church at Antioch is the diversity of its pastoral ministry team. Acts 13:1 reveals the team, “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”[8] For what reason does Luke record the ethnic background of each leader at Antioch. Simeon called Niger was from sub-Saharan West Africa. Lucius of Cyrene was from modern day Libya in North Africa (perhaps one of the original church planters in Antioch mentioned in Acts 11:20). Manean brought up with Herod the tetrarch would have been from Judea, Galilee, or possibly Samaria (for the Herodian dynasty ruled that entire region). He would have certainly been a man of privileged upbringing. This shows the multi-ethnicity of the leadership in the church.

Descriptive Versus Prescriptive

            Some may dismiss this entire section of this paper as an illegitimate argument based on their interpretation that these passages are simply descriptive rather that prescriptive. However, such a dismissal would be tantamount to describing the efforts and specificity with which Luke wrote this scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit as trivialities. In what way can narrative rightly be said to reveal prescriptive force? Prescriptive force can be derived from narrative scripture when a purposeful pattern is reasonably observed. The theme of multi-ethnicity saturates the narrative of Acts and thereby the narrative of the birth of the Church. It is further illustrated here, that the most successful local church was the multi-ethnic church at Antioch, which became the center of the Pauline missionary efforts and thereby the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The case for the biblical mandate of multi-ethnicity in local churches is further built in the next section as a portion of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is discussed.

Ephesians 2:11-22: The Inclusive Unity and Mystery of the Body of Christ.

            Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is a great work in Scripture denoting the proper function of the Church and activity within churches. It is also written to a specific church at a specific location (Ephesus), and was certainly circulated among other churches for the purpose of their edification as well. In Eph. 2:11-22 Paul explains the unity and peace that is found in Christ to the Gentile believers in Ephesus.

Three Sections

            In verses 11-15 Paul focuses on the unity of Christ’s people. The gentiles were once separated from the Jews and thereby certainly separated from their God. However, now through Christ the gentiles are brought into communion with God and the Jewish believers as well.

In verses 16-18 Paul declares that there is a common peace between gentiles and God, between Jews and God, and therefore between Jews and gentiles. Everyone can now be reconciled to God into one Body the Universal Church through faith and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In verses 19-22 Paul explains the ultimate implication is that Jews and gentiles share the benefits of full citizenship in the Body of Christ. Paul reveals in these three subsections his vision for this local church at Ephesus and by way of application his vision for local churches anywhere. They are to be an authentic, visible community, united in faith, coming from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds, which worship together as one body and share a mutual love for one another.

Descriptive Versus Prescriptive

            To dismiss this section as generally descriptive of the Universal Church to the exclusion of its application to the local Ephesian church seems to overlook the occasional nature of epistolary literature. Furthermore, how are the commands in chapters 4 and following supposed to be interpreted, such as the instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33? If those commands are intended to be instantiated at Ephesus and indeed every local body of believers there does not appear to be any reason to relegate the instruction to live in multi-ethnic unity as pertaining exclusively to the Universal Church either. Rather the application applies in both cases. Certainly the Universal Church is multi-ethnic and it should also be so within local churches. Norman Geisler in his third systematic volume explains that one purpose of the local church in relation to the Universal Church is “to be a visible manifestation, an outward expression of the inward character of Christ’s body, manifesting its recognition of His headship and our unity.[9]” If the Universal Church is multi-ethnic, indicative of no qualitative distinction between ethnicities, then the local church should strive to visibly manifest that characteristic through authentic multi-ethnicity faith communities.

Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians was written from prison. Having left Ephesus earlier to go to Jerusalem, he was well aware that it would lead to his incarceration and affliction.[10] The next line of argument clarifies the occasional nature of this previous argument for it involves the circumstances of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.

Paul’s Defense to the People in the Custody of the Tribune: Acts 22:22

            In Acts 21 Paul is in Jerusalem reporting his evangelistic efforts among the gentiles to James and the elders. While there, the Jews stir up a mob of revolt against him with false accusations. The accusations are so diverse and strange that the Roman Tribune who arrests Paul is surprised to find he has not actually arrested an Egyptian wanted for rabble rousing in the wilderness, as he had thought.

Paul is permitted to make a defense for his actions in front of the accusing mob of Jews. Acts 21:40-22:1 explains that they listened very calmly. He recounts his conversions on the road to Damascus, and the events that followed.

In Acts 22:22 the crowd’s patience and calm is broken all at once. They stop listening and start rioting again with a call for Paul’s execution. The passage reveals that up to a very specific point in Paul’s speech the crowd lost their composure. In Acts 22:21 Paul explained to them that while in a trance in the Temple Jesus (Paul’s proposed Messiah) instructed him to go far away to the gentiles.

The Jewish outrage against Paul’s message was not against the Gospel per se, but against the implication that the Jewish Messiah is in any way for the gentiles.  Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem which lead to his near continual incarceration, custody, legal hearings, and defenses thereafter were precipitated by the mob’s outrage against his multi-ethnic cross-cultural ministry. Paul was falsely arrested for the racism of the mob in Jerusalem. They could not abide Paul’s obedient spread of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah and the mystery of the union of Jews and Gentiles into His body, the Church. With this context as a backdrop, Paul’s salient explanation of the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ and the mystery of the Church in Ephesians is made all the more relevant.

The Model Prayer: “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

            This is perhaps the least persuasive argument of the five presented in this paper, for it involves the possible application of passages that are interpretively controversial on other levels. Depending on one’s hermeneutic or doctrinal persuasions the cross referencing of these two passages may or may not seem appropriate. It has been included here as one more possible brick in the philosophically inductive argument being built in this paper.

Matt 6:9-13 is a familiar passage of scripture commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Though, perhaps it would be better described as the model prayer or the disciples’ prayer, for it is how Jesus answered His disciples request to be taught how to pray. In this passage Jesus explains the things that His disciples should pray for. Among those things is a desire for God’s will to be done. This is certainly a good thing to pray for, for indeed God’s will is perfect. Jesus instructed His disciples to pray such that God’s will be done or accomplished here on earth as it is in heaven. Indeed God’s will is accomplished perfectly without deviation in heaven. One question concerning application, meaning how readers can or should respond to this passage today, is what is taking place in heaven so that one can submit to God’s will likewise here on earth?

Throughout scripture there are occasional glimpses of observable activity in heaven. This activity is in accordance with God’s will. In Rev. 7:9-10 reveals an image of heaven where every nation is represented around the throne praising God in one loud united voice. Recognize that an elder reveals to John thereafter that this multitude is from the “Great Tribulation.” There is division among theologians as to what is meant by “the Great Tribulation.” However, as this writer is writing from a pre-tribulational dispensational perspective, flowing from a normative literal hermeneutic, the interpretation of this passage is quite specific and certainly does not pertain directly to any activity in the local church now. However, this portion of the argument for multi-ethnicity is not appealing to the interpretation of this passage but to a possible application of this passage cross referenced with the model prayer in Matt. 6.

If this scene is observed around the throne in heaven and our desire though prayer is for God’s will to likewise be done on earth perhaps the relationship of these two passages implies that multi-ethnic worship is in God’s will, for it is observed in heaven. This is in no way a philosophically deductive argument. Rather it is an appeal to the possible application of these passages and serves as another piece of the philosophically inductive argument being built for the mandate of multi-ethnic worship in the local Church.

Three Pleas to Pastoral Leaders in Local Churches

            I will now make three direct pleas to those in pastoral leadership roles in churches who read this paper. Regardless of how persuasive one may find the arguments in this paper concerning the biblical mandate of multi-ethnicity in the local church, I make these requests in hopes of ending overtly ethnocentric practices in local churches.

Plea for Multi-Ethnic Awareness

I have not observed the average local congregation being lead by overt bigots. However, one seldom stops to consider the subtle implications of how the way one organizes ministries, instantiates programs, or does worship may affect the efficacy of their ministry.

Every choice a governing body in a local church makes might be systematically (albeit unintentionally) prohibitive to people from other ethnicities. The styles of music a church permits may alienate certain age groups or ethnicities. This example works both ways in both categories. Churches with congregants of a certain age may only permit traditional worship and alienate others while parachurch ministries, under the auspice of reaching the young, draw the younger generations away from local church bodies and thereby away from the wisdom of those more mature in the faith needed for their discipleship. That is an issue of multi-ethnicity.

The times different group meetings take place may prohibit people from certain economic situations from being able to attend, such as working single mothers. Certain benevolent ministries may unwittingly dehumanize the recipients of their care by treating them as inferior victims rather than men and women made in the image of God who need His love and grace the same as anyone to whom the church is supposed to be a foretaste.

Plea to be Aware of Affinity Groups

            Church programs and ministries have recently turned to embrace the model of “affinity groups,” such as a bible study for young singles, prayer group for young married. There are so many “youth groups” equipped with their own pastor, budget, sanctuary, and services; they are essentially little pretend churches where the only instruction is, “don’t have sex or do illegal drugs” until the teens have matured enough to no longer annoy the adults.

There is nothing overtly sinful about “affinity ministries” per se, for there are certainly different needs among certain congregants such as young children that may require different activities or methods. However, the misapplication of these models seem to fracture the church over and over until a congregant is simply categorized and placed in a group with people who are exactly like them. In which case, no one can grow or learn anything from anyone because the people with the wisdom and life experience needed for discipleship are all in different affinity groups, and the people who need that wisdom and discipleship from them are in other groups.

Plea to Resist Pragmatic Rebuttal

            My final plea is for pastoral leaders to resist responding to these arguments with pragmatic rebuttal. If these arguments are hermeneutically unsound and multi-ethnicity at the local church level is not prescribed by Scripture, then correct my errors from more valid hermeneutics. However, if these arguments are sound do not let the fact that developing a multi-ethnic church is challenging and that racial, socio-economic, age, and nationality tensions still exist in society today be an excuse. Pray that the Holy Spirit will enable you and bless your obedient efforts. Then rest in the fact that Christ will build His Church.


            It has been argued in this paper that multi-ethnicity in the local church as it pertains to skin color, age, socio-economic status, nationality, etc… is prescribed by Scripture. The argument was made from Jesus’ prayer for unity among future believers in John 17. It also was argued that the intentional multi-ethnicity of the church at Antioch is intended to be functionally prescriptive in the narrative of Acts. Paul’s explanation of the unity of Jews and Gentiles into one Body and the mystery of the Church was also used as evidence insofar as that passage applies to Ephesus as a local body and by way of applications local churches in general. In light of that argument it was revealed that Paul’s incarceration in Jerusalem was a result of his obedience and insistence that God intended the salvation found in the Messiah for the Gentiles as coequal heirs with the Jews. Finally a possible inference of multi-ethnicity on earth in local churches as it was revealed in heaven to John in Revelation. This paper in no way settles the question but should these arguments prove persuasive I pray that church leaders would start to peruse Multi-ethnic diversity in their local contexts and be aware of potentially ethnically exclusive practices in the church.




[1]Matt. 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” All Scripture referenced is taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.

[2] Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Hendrickson Pubblishers, 2007), 168.

[3]Galatians 3:28

[4]John 17:21–23

[5]Genesis 11:5-8

[6]Acts 1:4

[7]Acts 8:14-17

[8] Acts 13:1

[9]Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume Four The Church and Last Things (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), 94.

[10] Acts 20:23

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            True biblical theology is built on the supernatural. Christ’s virgin birth, His ministry filled with miraculous healings, His physical resurrection from the dead, and His bodily ascension into heaven are simply a few of the numerous miracles essential to orthodox Christian doctrine. This is to say nothing of the miracles in the Old Testament or those preformed by the apostles. Such is the magnitude of the possibility of miracle as a precondition to Christian theology, that without it orthodox Christianity would collapse. The apostle Paul put it succinctly in 1 Cor. 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.[1]”

Miracles: The Significance

            Of the possible world views Theism is the only one in which miracles are possible. For example, in an atheistic naturalistic universe there are obviously no miracles. If naturalism is true then nature and natural law are the only explanations for any observed events. In a naturalistic universe there is no supernatural realm from which a miracle could be caused. If there is no supernatural realm then there are no supernatural events and therefore, no miracles.

In a pantheistic universe there is no distinction between the natural and supernatural realm. If the natural and supernatural are indistinguishable then there is no criteria for which an event can be described as a miracle, or every event is miraculous and therefore the term loses all significance.

Deistic universes have no miracles either. For in a deistic world view God exists as the creator of the world but not the sustainer and much less an acting agent. For the deist, God has no power or interest in interfering with the laws of nature. Therefore the laws of nature are inviolable in a deistic universe and are as a result miracles do not or cannot happen.

Panentheistic universes maintain that the physical world is actually God’s body. However, the physical world is governed or run by natural law. In a universe where the god-world is bound by natural law then clearly such a god-world cannot intervene or supersede the natural law and therefore miracles are not possible in a panenetheistic universe.

It is only in theism that miracles are indeed possible. For in a theistic universe there is a natural realm governed by a natural law. However, there is also a supernatural realm. God is supernatural and is the governor and sustainer of the laws of nature and the existence of the natural order itself. Because there is a world governed by natural law, and a God who is different from that world, interested in that world, and sovereign over that world, we have the possibility for miracles.

Miracles: Objections and Refutations

            Miracles are clearly a precondition for evangelical theology in that they are so manifestly present throughout scripture. It is evident that the precondition of miracles is largely dependent upon the precondition of metaphysical theism and therefore objections to theism necessarily imply objection to miracles. However in this paper more direct objections to Miracles themselves will be analyzed and refuted. First will be the famous argument against miracles from “Section X” presented by David Hume in his work An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume’s objection went onto influence many objections against miracles to follow and is therefore an important objection to be able to refute. For this reason the majority of this paper will be spent on Hume’s objections. Following a brief interaction with the objection against miracles that describes scientific law as descriptive will be explained and refuted.

Hume’s Objection to Miracles: Belief Proportioned to the Evidence

Hume exclaims early on in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

“I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument… which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusions, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures.”[2]

This statement illustrates his confidence in his reasoning, but what is it that makes this argument seem to be so absolute to Hume. Based in his epistemology of empiricism Hume begins his attack on miracles.

Hume argues that man has no compelling reason to believe in miracles.[3] Man’s knowledge of miracles derives exclusively from the testimony of others who claim to have seen them. It should be stated presently that this aspect of Hume’s argument presupposes none of his readers have experienced or witnessed a miracle. Since this testimony is received secondhand from the experience of others, it should be treated as less reliable than the rest of human experience.

Belief, Hume asserts, should be proportioned to evidence.[4] In those cases where all evidence points to one particular conclusion, one can be almost certain that that conclusion is correct. For this reason “that which is found to be most usual is always most probable.”[5] However, when there is evidence that supports a conclusion and still other evidence that seems to deny that same conclusion, we can regard that conclusion only with a certain degree of probability or improbability, to the extent the evidence for the conclusion outweighs or is outweighed by the evidence against it. Hume declares that “we determine all disputes that arise…from experience and observation.”[6]

In the case of miracles, our evidence in favor of their existence comes from the testimony of witnesses. This includes the miracles attested to by all religions including those of Christianity which Hume incorrectly regards as being exclusively the testimony of the apostles. This is shown to be patently false within the texts themselves. The evidence against miracles comes from their contrariety to the observed unbreakable laws of nature. Both faith in the testimony of others and our knowledge of the laws of nature are founded in experience. That is to say, human testimony has been found to accurately depict that which has occurred in reality, and the laws of nature have been observed to be constant. Since a miracle, by Hume’s definition, is a violation of the laws of nature, it can only be credible to the extent to which the testimony in its favor is more forceful than the laws of nature that contradict it. Hume states it this way, “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.”[7]

Hume indicates four reasons to believe that there has never been sufficient evidence in support of a miracle making it probable enough for rational persons to believe. First, according to Hume no miracle is supported by the testimony of a sufficient number of trustworthy people to rule out the possibility of falsehood.[8] Though Hume wields this point with great force it is never revealed the quantity that would be enough or the standard of measure for a sufficiently trustworthy person. Second, while it is normal to believe that which most closely accords itself with past experience, the sensations of surprise and wonder often leads people to unreasonable beliefs.[9] This assertion may have a modicum of merit, but is made entirely without additional defense or comment and in no way needs to be accepted as such. Hume continues to press the issue by declaring that there are countless instances of fables of all sorts that are not based in facts, experiences or reasonable inquiry but originate from a desire to believe the unbelievable.[10] Once again no psychological evidence is given for this assertion. Third, Hume remarks that most reports of miraculous events occur amongst barbarous or ignorant people, who may not be sophisticated enough to disbelieve fabricated testimony.[11] Here again Hume asserts a rather incendiary claim without evidence or argument. Even in the absence of evidence no explanation or definition of what indicates that a group of people are barbarous or ignorant is given. Fourth, since every religion claims the veracity of its own miracles as against the miracles of every other religion, the evidence of all other religions opposes the evidence in favor of a miracle in any one particular religion.

Hume asserts that no testimony can ever count even as a probability, let alone a proof, for the existence of miracles. All testimony in favor of miracles is based on experience, and this same experience opposes the other testimony with contrary testimony and also employing the laws of nature as contrary evidence. Hume is playing with the numbers on this point though. Let us grant that the laws of nature are determined by universal experience. If that is the case Hume cannot count uniform experience as evidence against an observed miracle and then count the laws of nature as evidence against the miracle again, for that would be to arbitrarily count the supposedly uniform observed experience against the observed miracle twice.

Note that Hume does not suggest the contrary testimony is contrary concerning the same moment or event but simply all testimony about all things in the entire world are admitted in Hume’s proverbial court as evidence against the claims of the few true miracle observers. Hume would hold that even if God were all-powerful and could contradict the laws of nature, it cannot be indicated that any event or experience was a result of God’s intervention. To Hume, the empiricist, the mind can never determine the cause for a single given event like a miracle or something that seems to be a miracle. Hume states that “all reasoning concerning matters of fact seems to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses.”[12] So Hume further explains that it is “only after the constant conjunction of two objects, heat and flame, for instance… [that] we are determined by custom alone to expect the one from the appearance of the other.”[13] As a result “all inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not reason.”[14]

Hume suggests that all the miracles found in the Bible, or elsewhere, are more likely the fabrications of their authors than a true revelation of the facts and the same can be said of prophecy as can be said of miracles.[15] This is the argument against miracles that Hume expected to live on with the learned for as long as the earth endures.

Here the central force of Hume’s argument has been briefly outlined and commented on. The next section will look more specifically and critically at the specifics of Hume’s argument and reveal the genuinely erroneous aspects of it.


Refuting Hume’s Argument Against Miracles

            Using Norm Geisler’s more abbreviated summary of Hume’s argument[16] this section will deal with discounting the argument more specifically.  First, a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.[17] Second, firm and unalterable experience has established these laws.[18] Third, wise individuals proportion their own beliefs to the strongest evidence.[19] Finally, the proof against miracles is therefore as complete as any argument from experience can possibly be. Geisler also indicates that this argument can essentially be interpreted two ways: a hard strict way and a soft lenient way.[20] The hard way is dealt with first because to effectively refute it is simpler. The Soft way is slightly more difficult and is dealt with second.

Refuting the Hard Interpretation

The hard interpretation of Hume’s argument is illustrated by the following syllogism. First, miracles are by definition violations of the laws of nature. Second, the laws of nature are constantly unalterable and uniform. Therefore, miracles cannot occur. There are certainly times where Hume’s argument in “Of Miracles” seems to suggest this interpretation. However, it was not necessarily the heart of the argument he had in mind. However, the response is rather simple.

If this is truly the argument given it is clearly one which begs the question. One cannot simply define miracles as impossible in order to prove that they are impossible, but that is precisely what is happening if one defines miracle as a violation of that which cannot be violated. One will find that the force of many naturalist arguments against miracles are often bound up in the strangely worded definitions or how a question is framed. However, a theistic supernaturalist can easily circumvent such a challenge by suggesting new definitions or re-framing the question to more accurately reflect the variables of the discussion.

In this case one needs only refuse the definition of miracles as violations of that which is inviolable, and indicate that they are exceptions. The resulting corrected syllogism reads this way. First, miracles are infrequent, divinely caused exceptions by way of temporary suspension of the natural laws. Second, because miracles are infrequent exceptions to the natural laws which are normal or generally observed there, is no reason to deny them in the absence of large quantities of human observation. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that reported miracles may have occurred.

The problem is that the argument made by Hume has a shade that is considerably more subtle and not quite as easy to answer. More Humean and Neo-Humean thinkers will continue to use and expand the softer interpretation of Hume’s argument because it is more in keeping with recent modernists like Richard Dawkins and is even acceptable to Postmodernists relativists. This softer interpretation is addressed next.

Refuting the Soft Interpretation

            Most wielders of Hume’s “Of Miracles” and seemingly Hume himself were less interested in proving that miracles were impossible, indicating that they could not and cannot happen, but actually that miracles are incredible. Incredible doesn’t mean amazing but simply without reasonable credibility. It is the supposed lack of credibility that Hume is trying to emphasize. In this way, he can persuade readers to adopt his disbelief in miracles’ existence, (meaning: believe that a miracle has ever happened), rather miracles’ metaphysical possibility (meaning: believe that a miracle cannot happen).

The softer argument could be formed like this. First a miracle is a rare occurrence. Before we go any further it is clear that this is contrary to what Hume said in “Of Miracles” itself. Hume’s own words indicated that miracles are violations of the laws of nature and that those laws are firm and unalterable. The spirit of these arguments seemed to be more accurately preserved in the hard interpretation. Though that is true, Hume did not indicate or possibly did not intend to indicate that the natural laws were themselves unalterable but simply that they have never (been observed to have) been altered and our observation is in fact what is unalterable.

Second, natural laws are by definition descriptions of regular occurrences. Third, the evidence in support of the regular is always greater than that which is given for the rare. Fourth, wise individuals always allow their beliefs to be governed by the greatest evidence. Therefore, wise individuals never believe a miracle has occurred.

In this interpretation Miracles are not ruled out as being entirely impossible but simply too incredible to believe. According to Hume and Humean proponents the wise do not believe miracles cannot occur but through the evidence never believe miracles have occurred.

Uniform Experience?

            One can see that the gravity of Hume and Humean inspired derivative arguments against miracles are based on his seeming assurance that he understands and is aware that there exists a uniform unaltered human experience. Furthermore, that experience conforms to his naturalistic world view.

However, the indication that Hume is somehow privy to the knowledge that all experience is uniformly naturalistic is begging the question by indicating that Hume knew this in advance and continues to know even now in the absence of sufficient evidence. That is to say, who can know that all experience uniformly confirms naturalism, (which is precisely what Hume is indicating), without first knowing all human experience? This would include all unrecorded experience of the past and all experiences yet to be had in the future. Not all events have been observed and could easily contain circumstances outside the confines of observed natural law.

Now Hume might mean the uniform experience of a single person. This is no improvement for Hume. Even if the experiences of a select individual, let us say Hume himself, uniformly indicate that no miracle has ever happened, then one must give equal credence to a person who does claim to have experienced a miracle. If the uniform experience is that of one individual this opens the door wider to decide whether sufficient evidence exists that a miracle has occurred. C. S. Lewis humorously observed along a very similar line of reasoning that:

“We must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely “uniform experience” against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.”[21]

The only way to actually avoid making a circular argument, when arguing from experience, is to be open to the fact that miracles could possibly have happened.

Lewis goes on to explain in greater detail why humans might want to believe nature is uniform. First, “we are creatures of habit. We expect new situations to resemble old ones.”[22] Hume would not disagree in principle but would find this tendency praiseworthy and rational. Hume says, “The objects, of which we have no experience, resemble those of which we have.”[23]These kinds of expectations can often lead to false conclusions occasionally with humorous anecdotes. For example a cat might pounce toward a squirrel only to crash violently into a sliding glass door. The cat reasoned justly, according to Hume, in that the hundred other times it could see a squirrel so clearly it was unencumbered to attack. The fact that this is the first time there was a sliding glass door in the way is not in the slightest way affected by the fact that the cat’s other successful experiences were to this point uniform.

Second, Lewis notices that “when we plan our actions, we have to leave out of account the theoretical possibility that nature might not behave as usual tomorrow.”[24] People do this for good reason. If indeed nature does behave differently tomorrow there is no way to predict it and nothing to do to prevent it. In short, there is nothing can be done about it. One does not expect or even believe lightning will hit one’s house tomorrow but it very well may. Even if it never has it may. What is habitually put out of mind can soon be forgotten entirely. These two reasons cause a tendency to expect and maybe go so far as to believe in the uniformity of human experience but these are irrational reasons.[25]

Hume Doesn’t Consider the Evidence

            Furthermore, it should be noted that at no time does Hume actually consider the evidence for a miracle of the Bible. One might not expect him to in that as an empiricist the tools of history and abstract philosophy resulting in theology are not disciplines dealing in “matters of fact” by Hume’s reckoning. Hume only adds up the evidence he considers to be against the existence of miracles. For example Hume contends that billions of deaths have occurred repeatedly throughout history while resurrections occur rarely. Rather than consider the evidence of the few reported resurrections Hume simply adds all the many deaths against the few and disregards the latter. This characteristic of disregard based on quantity can easily be illustrated in Hume’s own words, “It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden, because such a kind of death has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.”[26] Here Hume tries to indicate that he is even using the less common but sufficiently likely death of a healthy man to disprove the reality of anyone having ever returned to life from death. This statement is made with wanton disregard to the multiple examples of resurrection in the New Testament.[27] He concludes this section by stating that “it is more probable that all men must die.”

Probability Does Not Equal Evidence

            Hume indicates that probability is evidence. He goes so far as to say a sufficient amount of probability is proof. This is simply not the case. If a person were in Atlantic City gambling at poker and were dealt a Royal Flush in their first five cards, they would be ecstatic. However, if it were Hume, he would know that such an event happens once in 649,739 deals. Since this event comes up against the nearly uniform experience that it doesn’t occur, he would determine that it is more likely that he has misunderstood his hand and probably would fold. Perhaps Hume would be unhappy with this illustration indicating that the probability of a Royal Flush is not outlandish enough to warrant the abject rejection of miracles which he argues. Who then draws the line when it is sufficient to hold that a belief that certain events like miracles will never obtain?

Given that there are indeed a finite number of events to have ever occurred, let us imagine the exact quantity of that number where common knowledge and double it. Now suppose there were two dice that had that many faces. Would someone really not believe it if I told you it rolled Snake Eyes? Maybe since I invented this thought experiment you would not believe because I had something to gain from it occurring. Hume made a similar argument against the credibility of witnesses. What if a computer reported the results? What if a person reported the results but didn’t know the desired result was Snake Eyes? The concept of reputable witness becomes very convoluted while the fact remains that Snake Eyes is no less possible than rolling any other two specific numbers, and two specific numbers will always be rolled.

One does not want this discussion of the philosophical refutation or justification of miracles to become an argument concerning the existence of God and thereby a discussion of metaphysical theism as a precondition for theology, and within “Of Miracles” neither did Hume. For a moment consider the possibility of the existence of a mildly powerful divine being capable of breaking one law of nature, raising people back to life from the dead. If such a thing were possible why would a report of a resurrection, still entirely miraculous, make anyone skeptical at all? It would be no less believable than a person reporting, “Hey look! I intentionally put the dice to snake eyes.”

Wise people do not concern themselves with odds in the presence of facts. Wise people always defer to facts. Sometimes the odds against an event are very high, like being dealt a Royal Flush in poker. Sometimes the evidence for a very unlikely event is even greater, like holding the royal flush in hand before one’s own unencumbered eyes. However, concerning belief in miracles and related beliefs, eternal life is considerably more to lose than a winning hand.

Other Unique Events of the Past

            Furthermore, Hume’s adding evidence to determine veracity and believability without regard for historicity would have to refute all kinds of other unique and unusual events in history that have nothing to do with miracles. There has never been another Ice Age. Maybe Hume did not believe in the Ice Age. There had never been a set of octuplets to all survive after birth before January 2009.[28] Even though many people have probably seen or read about those eight babies in the news paper, far more people have never seen or heard of such a thing throughout the entirety of human experience. Those babies are as real as toothpaste whether human experience accounts for them or not. Very few people have summited Mount Everest by comparison to those who have not. Should one believe there is no summit? There are summits on every mountain, but there are also miraculous reports from every religion and culture. There has never been another Napoleon, another Galileo, another Usain Bolt or another Michael Phelps. If one believes in these people and events then they must admit they do not apply their plan of reason uniformly to all events uniformly.

In the Next section the objection against miracles indicating that natural laws are descriptive will be stated and refuted.

Naturalists’ Objection to Miracles: Natural Laws are Descriptive

            Some seek to undermine the precondition of miracles not by redefining miracle or by inductive logic against a miracle’s likelihood, but by redefining the understanding of natural laws. This objection will be briefly illustrated and refuted. The objection is as follows.

The laws of physics come from observations. We formulate “laws” to describe the observations. We observe regular patterns and attempt to come up with mathematical models that explain the data and predict related phenomena. The accuracy validates the model; it suggests that the model is more likely to represent reality. Explaining anomalous data is unimpressive because mathematical models can usually be adjusted to fit this data.

Descriptions cannot be violated in the strictest sense. For example a cartographer may have made a map of a area and come to discover a waterfall he had not recorded on his map. No one would tell the cartographer that the waterfall violates his map because the map does not prescribe the landscape but simply describes the landscape. The cartographer would be obliged to revise his map to include the newly discovered waterfall and the new description would be more accurate.

Because a miracle is defined as a violation of a natural law then miracles simply don’t happen. For, like maps, physical laws are descriptions and in the presence of new date, the so called miracle, like the waterfall the law is edited and now includes the new event.

Refuting the Naturalists’ Argument Against Miracles

            The refutation of this objection is considerably briefer than Hume’s because this objection makes certain assumptions early on that place the contention in the realm of theistic precondition rather than miraculous precondition. Simply stated, this objection assumes naturalism without argument. This is fine; except that, as an argument, it winds up begging the question against miracles. For, the discussion of the possibility of miracle could alternately be described as the argument for possibility of theistic supernaturalism.

As an argument against miracles, this argument assumes that everything that happens in nature is caused by something in nature without argument. However, the proponent of the possibility of miracles is arguing that some exceptional events like Moses’ staff becoming a serpent or Jesus’ resurrection which happened in nature (meaning the physical world) find their cause in God, beyond nature.

For this reason the argument of the waterfall and the cartographer is prejudicial against miracles because waterfalls are natural and indeed maps describe natural landscapes. However, miracles are supernatural events by definition. You cannot disprove miracles by positing naturalistic assumptions. If this argument were preceded by a compelling argument for naturalism then it would come to bear on the possibility of miracles.

Furthermore, assuming that natural laws are indeed descriptive the descriptions do not necessarily describe cause. In the example of the cartographer, assume the cartographer’s original map was accurate and the waterfall, though natural, was supernaturally created after the completion of the map. Indeed, a revision to the map would more accurately reflect the landscape but would say nothing about the origin of the waterfall. A naturalist can posit a natural law that says when men are beaten and crucified and buried according to these circumstances and conditions they return to life in three days. This “law” so called, would accurately describe what indeed happened to Jesus but would have neither refute or effect in anyway the miraculous cause of Jesus’ resurrection.

Finally, natural laws are considerably more governed then any amount of revision could account for the miracles of the Bible, least of which the resurrection of Jesus. Even if such revision were possible, accurate description does not negate supernatural cause. Therefore in the absence of a sound refutation of theism, this argument is unpersuasive in refuting the possibility of miracles.


            It has been clearly shown that the possibility of miracles is a necessary precondition to Evangelical Theology. Without the possibility of miracles the Bible is devoid of factual reliability and Christian Theology cannot hold true. Additionally, Theism is a precondition to the possibility of miracles, for only in theism are the necessary conditions present in the universe for a miracle to occur. This paper has dealt with two arguments against miracles and shown that they fail to refute the possibility of miracles. Miracles are indeed possible within a theistic worldview and this precondition for Christian theology is satisfied.



Flew, Antony. “Neo-Humean Arguments About the Miraculous.” In In Defense of

Miracles: A Comprehensive case for God’s Action in History. Edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, 45-57. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1997.

Geisler, Norman L. Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: Volume One: Introduction, Bible. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002.

Grudem, Wayne A., Wayne A. Grudem, and Jeff Purswell. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

Habermas, Gary R. “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus.” In In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive case for God’s Action in History. Edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, 262-75. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1997.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Tom L. Beauchamp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lewis, C. S. Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1978.

UPI, “Octuplets Born in Southern California,” United Press International, Inc. December 2, 2002 under “Health News,”



[1]All Scripture referenced is taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted

[2]David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Tom L. Beauchamp (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) sec.10 pt.1, p.2.

[3]Ibid., 10.1.1.

[4]Ibid., 10.1.4.

[5]Ibid., 10.2.16.

[6]Ibid., 10.1.12.

[7]Hume, Enquiry. 10.1.13.

[8]Ibid., 10.2.15.

[9]Ibid., 10.2.16.

[10]Ibid., 10.2.17.

[11]Ibid., 10.2.20.

[12]Ibid., 4.1.41.

[13]Ibid., 5.1.57.


[15]Ibid., 10.2.41.

[16]Geisler, Miracles. 26-7.

[17]Hume, Enquiry. 10.1.12.


[19]Ibid., 10.1.4.

[20] Geisler, Miracles. 27.

[21]C. S. Lewis, Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1978), 102.

[22]Ibid., 104.

[23]Hume, Enquiry. 10.2.16.

[24]Lewis, Miracles. 104.


[26]Hume, Enquiry. 10.1.12.

[27]Jairus’ Daughter (Mark 5), Widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7), Lazarus (John 11), Jesus himself (all four Gospels), Eutychus (acts 20 by Paul), Dorcas (Acts 9 by Peter).

[28]UPI, “Octuplets Born in Southern California,” United Press International, Inc. December 2, 2009. under “Health News,”


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It is a fairly popular opinion that the epistle of James lacks unity. Scholars, and to a greater extent church laity, imply that James has a tendency to ramble or sporadically shift from one thought to another[1]. It is possible that a surface reading could lend the reader to such an impression of James. However, this paper endeavors to show that the epistle of James is not only well organized but also follows an integrative motif explained by James early in the Epistle. The motif is found in Jam. 1:19[2], “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” This passage is the interpretive road map to the rest of the epistle’s message and unified content.

This paper is organized by first discussing some of the relevant background to the epistle of James in order to provide a landscape in which the unified content can be understood. After the background, the main section of the paper will deal in three parts with the three movements of the motif itself. First, James explains the implications being “quick to hear” (1:21-2:26). Second, James elaborates on being “slow to speak” (3:1-18). Finally, James offers instruction on being “slow to anger” (4:1-5:6). Following the main section there will be a discussion of the application of understanding James’ integrative structure in this way. First there will be two personal applications for the individual and then two pastoral applications relevant to the church.

Backdrop of James

In this section of the paper the authorship, date, occasion and theme of James will be briefly discussed. In the absence of this information the structure of James would be rather meaningless. For, structure by nature is arranged with purpose, and that purpose is revealed in the circumstances surrounding the original setting and occasion for the epistle.

Authorship and Date

The traditional position that the author of James is indeed the eldest of Jesus’ brothers born of Mary sired by Joseph is the position most defensible within the biblical text and predominantly held by Christian scholars[3]. The author of the epistle identifies himself as “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Jam. 1:1). There were four men in the New Testament named James[4] of which James the brother of Jesus uniquely possesses the necessary characteristics of having not been martyred at such an early date to preclude his candidacy and to have had such manifest influence in the Jerusalem church to command the attention of his audience, the believing Jews in dispersion.

Though there is some debate in scholarly circles as to the date of James, an early date before the Jerusalem Conference is most defensible[5]. There appears to be a very slight difference between Orthodox Judaism and Christianity, indicating a time before the inclusion of gentiles into the Church in populous numbers. The lack of specific doctrinal discourse indicates a time of fledgling Jewish Christianity before the advent of heresy or doctrinal conflict over circumcision or the like.

Theme and Occasion

The theme of James is stated in Jam. 1:2-4 immediately following the salutation. It reads, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This theme is further developed from verse five through verse eighteen, right before James identifies his organizing strategy for instruction on this theme in verse nineteen. This theme is both self identified by James and is present throughout the entire Epistle.

Finally, the occasion for the epistle is the unsatisfactory conduct among the Jewish Christian congregations[6]. James recognized that his readership was succumbing to materialistic attitudes (4:13-17), wrongful complaints in the midst of suffering (4:11-12; 5:9-10), and a misunderstanding that faith in Christ made holy living and acts of Christian charity unnecessary (2:14-26).

Given the authorship, date, theme and occasion for the epistle of James it is already becoming clear that the content of James is not disjoint. Indeed it is clear that the theme of correct response in the midst of suffering is pervasive throughout the Epistle. However, the epistle is not only unified, but also organized. In the next section it will be argued that James identifies and follows his intentional integrative motif of being quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, laid out in 1:19.

Quick to Hear: James 1:21-26

Some may miss the force of James’ structure early on in that, like his original readers, they may misunderstand the true meaning of “quick to hear.” In Jam. 1:21-25, James explains that to hear is not simply to listen or let sound enter your ears. In verse twenty-two James commands, “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James Goes on to elaborate that true hearing is more than recognition but necessitates obedience, conformity, and action. One cannot say they are listening to God unless they are doing his will.

Furthermore, James goes on to explain in verse twenty-five, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” The NASB accurately captures the flavor of the concept “looking.” The term translated “looks intently” is παρακύπτω

(parakuptō) meaning to stoop low or bend over to inspect and become intimately acquainted[7]. A flighty listener might notice something but a true hearer is a doer and leans closer to inspect God’s word to determine how to conform his ways to God’s commands.

In chapter two, James addresses the issue succinctly. James 2:14-26 is potentially one of the most misinterpreted Scriptures in the Church. However, its apparent confusion is brought to clarity in light of James’ theme and macro strategy. Faith without works is indeed a faith. However, it is a dead faith that produces no physical benefits[8] (2:15-16). One who is content being a flighty listener or a casual glancer at God’s word may notice that faith in Jesus preserves one from hell. However, one who looks intently and recognizes true hearers are doers of God’s word is vindicated in the eyes of men as being obedient to God in faith[9]. The issue in this section is entirely about truly hearing God’s word and how that necessitates doing what God commands.

Slow to Speak: James 3:1-18

Moving on from explaining the actions of one who is truly quick to hear, James continues his practical Christian instruction along the road map of his integrative motif by explaining the implications of being slow to speak. This section is clearly, and somewhat abruptly, demarcated by his first instruction in verse one: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Through this segue James indicates that the adjudication between mere listeners and active hearer is far more pronounced for those who instruct others concerning God’s word.

The issue is further developed in verse two through twelve that the mouth is a dangerous medium through which to teach (3:1). James explains that the tongue, by way of illustration being the source of speech, is a monumentally influential organ, (3:3-6). Words are powerful and have the power to produce monumental effects in comparison to the tongues size, like a small match eventually producing a raging forest fire[10]. In short James 3:1-12 indicates that the tongue is destructive. It is indeed a necessary medium for specific instruction, but again James has already warned that not many should presume to be teachers. The question for the reader at this point is, “How then, are we to communicate?”

The second half of James’ second movement (slow to speak) indicates that wisdom should be taught and expressed through upright charitable living. James says in verse thirteen, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” Through a man’s conduct we determine his wisdom; just as a man’s faith is vindicated in the eyes of other men through his actions[11] so too is his wisdom. The basis that one should be “slow to speak” is rooted in the fact that the tongue is uncontrolled and dangerous. James’ integrative motif is progressive. So, being slow to speak is irrelevant if one is not quick to hear (indicating quick to do) the word of God. For this reason, moral and upright lives are the advisable way to express wisdom.

Slow to Anger: James 4:1-5:6

As discussed, the theme and occasion for the epistle of James was that the Jewish believers had become materialistic in their motivation (4:13-17), grumblers in suffering (4:11-12; 5:9-10), and did not practice Christian charity (2:14-26). Ultimately the recipients of the epistle had been slow to hear and too quick to speak which lead to angry conflict. In James 4:1-6 it is explained that the source of the conflict and anger in the communities are their worldliness and worldly attitudes. In verse six James begins to segue into the solution to the conflict: “But He gives a greater grace Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”

Humility is the cure for conflict, which is rooted in wordiness and the effective source of anger in the community. This is all masterfully organized according to James’ macro strategy. The recipients ought to be quick to listen and do God’s word but are not. As a result, their faith is dead and there is stagnation with respect to good works. The recipients ought to be slow to speak and more interested in letting their lives communicate true wisdom. However, many were in fact quick to speak falsehoods concerning Christian charity, to grumble and complain in the presence of their trials (which were meant to perfect their faith), and to succumb to temptations. James’ final movement is built upon the other two. His readers cannot avoid conflict without first hearing God’s instructions and instantiating them into actions.

Humility is indeed the cure for the conflict but how can it be accomplished in the communities who have not been living according to James’ method in the midst of trials and temptations? James instructs that they must first have a repentant attitude towards God concerning their attitudes and behavior (4:6-10). Next they must forge a charitable attitude towards one another (4:11-12). Finally, they must radically change their outlook concerning materialistic pursuits (4:13-5:6). This third step James also further develops in a two movement micro structure. First, one must surrender the pride of perceived control of the affairs of the future and recognize that God is sovereign over our present and our future, (4:13-17). Finally, James gives an admonition to the wealthy (5:1-6). For, indeed the wealth of this world is temporal but the deeds of every man are permanent, such as dishonest and oppressive business practices (5:4), and self-indulgent life styles (5:5).


In light of this clear integrative motif designed to systematically elaborate the theme of facing trials and temptations with joy for the edification of faith, how can this be applied to the modern Church? In this section four applications from this knowledge of James’ structure will be discussed. The First two will be personal applications for the individual’s study. The second two applications will be pastoral, applicable to congregations.

Two Personal Applications

It is immediately apparent that the confusion surrounding James’ treatise on faith and works is no longer present. Traditions that maintain that James indicates works are a requisite for salvific grace or that works are the test by which men identify authentic faith both completely miss the message James is trying to communicate. At no point are works attributed with having any relevance to meritorious grace leading to salvation or indicative of authentic faith leading to salvation. The discussion is not one of salvation from hell onto eternal life in heaven. Many readers of James are wrought with confusion and even fear given popular opinion concerning James two. If indeed James is talking about salvation from hell then there can be no assurance in salvation whatsoever. However, in light of James’ true message the reader of James can see and be confident that James is concerned with practical moral behavior and its relationship to physical life and death not spiritual salvation or damnation.

It is also applicable to the individual readers to consider how they do or do not model each movement in James’ macro strategy. How quick are we to hear and do what it is God would have us do? To fail to do what we know we ought to is sin (Jam. 4:17). How quickly do we speak out but fail to live lives according to the wisdom we purport to know? How quickly do we find ourselves in conflict and anger because we failed to listen and spoke foolishly? Is our conflict rooted in out lustful passions? No individual can hide behind the semi-popular opinion that James is disorganized or confusing. In light of this clear integrative motif we must examine our lives according to James’ categories and through those categories correctly interpret his instructions.


Two Pastoral Applications

Churches need to be taught that James is clear and organized! Also, that James’ harmony with the rest of the New Testament and the Gospel of Grace is easy because the perceived conflict is based on false presuppositions in popular exegetical opinions. James is a book pastors and congregations are scared of. The structure and meaning of every sections is abundantly clear if a few issues are clarified that otherwise plague the Church. Those who are aware of James’ structure and sound interpretations of his discourse on justification by works need to actively help the Church resist other damaging interpretations and teachings from James that plague the Church.

Additionally, given James’ clarity and organization, pastors and lay teachers should make it a point to teach and preach from James in a systematic way. It has already been stated that James is surrounded by confusion but is actually not very confusing. Informed pastors and teachers in churches could in turn multiply into correctly informed laity through one sermon series or Sunday school series. The present damage being done in the Church as a result of flawed exegesis in James is considerable. James’ structure makes accurate interpretation and teaching from James rather convenient. Given this cost to benefit analysis, it is clear pastors and teachers should be teaching James with accuracy so as to reverse the tide of popular opinion surrounding this epistle.


James’ macro strategy is compellingly organized and remarkably clear. Its perceived lack of clarity is a result of false preconceptions interpreters bring to the text. When it is recognized that the epistle’s theme is facing trials in a manner befitting a follower of Christ and that the method through which this is accomplished is laid out in 1:19. The rest of the epistle is a unified organized treatise on this clearly stated theme a three faze demarcated structure: quick to hear; slow to speak; slow to anger.



Harris, Katharine. “James, Epistle of.” In Varsity’s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: World Publishing, 2004.

Heibert D. Edmond. “Romans.” In The Non-Pauline Epistles and Revelation. Vol. 3 of An Introduction to the New Testament. Waynesboro, GA: Gabriel Publishing, 2003.

Hodges, Zane C. Dead Faith: What is it?. Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1987.

Lange, John Peter. Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Vol. 12. Translated by Philip Schaff. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

Stephens, James D. “The Epistle of James.” In Liberty Bible Commentary: New Testament.

Edited by. Jerry Falwell. Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982.

Tasker, R. V. G. “James, Epistle to.” In The New Bible Dictionary. Edited by. J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Wheaton: Evangel Publishing, 1974.

Ward, Ronald A. “James.” In The New Bible Commentary: Revised. Edited by D. Guthrie and J. Motyer, 1012-1048. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.



[1]D. Edmond Hiebert, “James” in The Non-Pauline Epistles and Revelation (Waynesboro, GA: Gabriel Publishing, 2003), 33.

[2]All Scripture referenced is taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.

[3]Hiebert, 41.

[4]James the son of Zebedee (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 10:35; 13:3; Luke 9:54; Acts 1:13; 12:2), James the son of Alpheus (Matt. 10:3; 27:56; Mark 3:18; 15:40; Luke 6:15; 24:10’ Acts 1:13), James, the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal 1:19), and James the father of Judas not Iscariot.

[5]Hiebert, 53.

[6]Ibid., 51.

[7] Joseph Henry Thayer,  New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Wheaton: Evangel Publishing, 1974) 484.

[8]Zane C. Hodges, Dead Faith: What is it? (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1987) 15.

[9]Ibid., 21.

[10]James D Stephens, “The Epistle of James,” in Liberty Bible Commentary: New Testament. ed. Jerry Falwell (Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982) 725.

[11]Hodges, 15.

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Nathan Michael Deisem

Apologetics: December 05, 2011


            Have you ever been in a particularly spirited theological or apologetic discussion with an atheist or agnostic where he brings up the “hiddenness of God” objection? It may not have surface with that title when your interlocutor breaks into a thought experiment where he posits that, “If God would just open the heavens and send a lightning bolt near my feet right now I would believe…” Then there is a brief pause in the discussion where nothing happens, and the particularly impious opponent stands there looking very snarky and feeling particularly clever. Every time an argument arises in that vein, where an atheist or agnostic suggest God simply need do this or that and they would believe, that is a popular level presentation of the more robust objection to theism called the hiddenness or silence of God.

Stated in a more direct form, the argument and all of its derivatives are essentially stated as follows. If, as Christianity asserts, belief in God is so essential to salvation and ultimate human fulfillment, then one would expect that an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God would provide unambiguous evidence to all peoples for His existence. However, such evidence is not present. Therefore, + is unlikely that the Christian God or similar theistic expressions of God exist.[1] Along with the “problem of evil” this is perhaps the most compelling objection to Christianity and theism. The purpose of this paper is to give a brief description of the hiddenness of God argument and then a reasoned defense against its claims.

The argument of this paper will proceed as follows. First, this paper will explain a little more about the history, nature, and implications of the hiddenness of God argument. Then it will be explained that God is actually less hidden than some opponents to theism make it seem. Then a misconception about the counterfactual effects of increased visibility will be discussed. The paper will go on to explain how God’s essential nature may contribute in part to what is perceived as His so called hiddenness. The next major movement of the argument will discuss how sin and its effects on humanity have a searing effect on man’s awareness of God. Finally, two major theological categories of faith and free moral responsibility necessitate or at least invite a certain degree of divine hiddenness. Through these arguments it will be seen that the hiddenness of God is not as pervasive as is suggested.

There are passive inhibitors in man impinging on his ability to perceive God, and there are active reasons God would chose to somewhat “hide” Himself.  The next section of the paper will discuss the objection of divine hiddenness itself.

The Hiddenness of God: Disambiguation[2]

To show that the example in the introduction is not an inappropriate caricature of the hiddenness of God argument, consider how atheist Norwood Hanson makes this case against the theist as follows in his essay “What I Do Not Believe”:

. . . ‘God exists’ could in principle be established for all factually—it just happens not to be, certainly not for everyone! Suppose, however, that next Tuesday morning, just after breakfast, all of us in this one world are knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear-shattering thunderclap. Snow swirls; leaves drop from the trees; the earth heaves and buckles; buildings topple and towers tumble; the sky is ablaze with an eerie, silvery light. Just then, as all the people of this world look up, the heavens open-the clouds pull apart-revealing an unbelievably immense and radiant-like Zeus figure, towering above us like a hundred Everests. He frowns darkly as lightening plays across the features of his Michelangeloid face. He then points down- at me!-and explains, for every man and child to hear:

‘I have had quite enough of your too-clever logic-chopping and wordwatching in matters of theology. Be assured, N.R. Hanson, that I most certainly do exist.’

. . . Please do not dismiss this as a playful, irreverent Disney-oid contrivance. The conceptual point here is that if such a remarkable event were to occur, I for one should certainly be convinced that God does exist. That matter of fact would have been settled once and for all time. . .That God exists would, through this encounter, have been confirmed for me and for everyone else in a manner every bit as direct as that involved in any non-controversial factual claim.[3]


The Point herein is that God has apparently not produced such a sign or wonder sufficient to elicit universal certitude of His existence.  The implication being that humanity not only lacks compelling evidence that God exists, but that this divine hiddenness actually militates against God’s existence. The Philosopher Nietzsche presents the problem in this way:

A god who is all-knowing and all powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention-could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubities to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over the truth? – But perhaps he is a god of goodness notwithstanding-and merely could express himself more clearly! Did he perhaps lack the intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? So much the worse! For then he was perhaps also in error as to that which he calls his ‘truth’, and is himself not so very far from being the ‘poor deluded devil’! Must he not then endure almost the torments of Hell to have to see his creatures suffer so, and go on suffering even more through all eternity, for the sake of knowledge of him, and not be able to help and counsel them, except in the manner of a deaf and dumb man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to befall on his child or his dog? . . All religions exhibit traces of the fact that they owe their origin to an early, immature intellectuality in man – they all take astonishingly lightly the duty to tell the truth: they as yet know nothing of a Duty of God to be truthful towards mankind and clear in the manner of his communications.[4]


The proverbial rub is that Christian theology maintains that belief is essential to salvation and human fulfillment, but the proposed God of Christianity makes it difficult to believe. In a way this argument is an expression of the problem of evil. Insofar as disbelief is a sin and God is causing the persisting circumstances that inspire disbelief, therefore God is causing sin. In that way certain forms of theodicy which argue against the problem of evil proper are useful in defending against the hiddenness of God. However, a more direct approach for Christian apologists is to reveal that the apparent hiddenness of God either does not exist; exists but is not God’s responsibility; or that it exists with good and valid purpose. The balance of this paper will argue that elements of each of those three rebuttals actually do militate against the hiddenness of God objection such that it is not actually a problem for Christianity. The next section of the paper will explain that God is not as hidden as some objectors suggest.

God: Not As Hidden As You Might Think

            Before this argument is explain the caveat needs to be made that God is in a sense hidden. Pascal said in His Pensees “any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.[5]” Consider the witness of scripture. Job 23:8-9 says, “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.[6]” Consider the words of the psalmist in Psalms 10:1, “Why do you stand afar off, O LORD? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Isaiah states emphatically in Isaiah 45:15 “Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!” There are more scriptures still that explain that God is hidden in a certain way, so this section is not saying that God is not hidden. However the degree and manner in which God is hidden is not the way some objectors suggest.

It is important to recognize that the question of the hiddenness of God and divine silence is as much an emotional objection for some as it is an intellectual objection. When dealing with the hiddenness of God some objectors are not saying, “Where is the evidence that God exists?” They are saying, “Where was God when…?” It is important to identify what kind of objection is being encountered because the answer to the intellectual objection of the hiddenness of God at times will be less then useless and inappropriate when encountering an emotional objection. With that said here is the evidence that God is not quite so hidden.

Not As Hidden As You Think: Special Revelation

            The divine silence argument seems to completely disregard the fact that all theistic religions claim that God has indeed spoken to and through prophets and in other ways. In the case of Christianity, God became a man to speak to us, perform miracles as evidence of His deity, give greater clarity about His will, purpose, and plan in human history. God has not been silent. Consider the categories of His special revelation in order.

The Incarnation: Jesus

            God became man and revealed Himself to all creation in person. Colossians 2:9 says “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” John 1:14 says that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Scripture preserves the history of the God-man’s time spent on earth in His physical body speaking audible words to multitudes upon multitudes of people. Obviously the reliability and facticity of the New Testament Gospels, Acts, and epistles is a debatable subject which is covered at length in literature. The point is that an event has happened with compelling evidence that the so called silence of heaven was shattered in the loudest cacophony conceivable. God himself came to earth as a man. God is not as hidden as one might think.

The question remains, why is God so hidden now? The incarnation was apparent to a small fraction of humanity when you consider the span of human history. However, the incarnation reveals that God has not been completely silent. Proponents of the hiddenness of God have to qualify their argument to explain that God has not revealed himself to every single person to the same degree; though to some it was in a manner every bit as definitive and compelling as their whimsical thought experiments and illustrations request.

The Resounding Witness of Scripture

            Similar to the Incarnation, God has made Himself known through the witness of Scripture. God has spoken to His people through the ministry of prophets who validated their claims through the accuracy of prophetic predictions. The entire purpose of predictive prophecy is to bear evidence to the divine origin of the message. Once it has been validly established every prophecy is more evidence that God is not silent. Christians also maintain that the content of prophecy was accurately preserved in Scripture. In this way the prophecy originally spoken to a discreet group of people is now available and many prophecies remain applicable to all living humanity.

The New Testament writers, whilst also writing with divine inspiration, were independently qualified to give evidence that God is not silent in that they were eyewitnesses to the Incarnation. Their historical record of the events in Jesus’ life and ministry also preserve for all living humanity that God was not silent.

Once again, the accuracy of  biblical documents, the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, and evidence for God’s existence all impact this discussion. However, it is obvious that if Scripture is accurate God has revealed Himself and made that revelation available to all through His preserved words. God is not as hidden as some objectors would argue.

Miracles: The Certificate of Authenticity

            Proponents of the hiddenness of God argument have to prejudicially assume that the miracles recorded in Scripture, (as well as reported by various modern sources at times such as healings, etc…) are false in order to maintain that God is silent. If every atheist, agnostic, and skeptic required a personal miracle akin to the narrative Norwood Hanson described in his essay to believe God exists, why do they not require the same degree of privatized evidence for other claims in science or secular history? Is it not sufficient that a variety of other reliable witnesses attest to some event in circumstances like a criminal trial or even an urgent message delivered personally? The reliable witness of Scripture is delivered by a variety of eyewitnesses and attested to by the silent validation of hundreds of witnesses.[7]

It is still not an established fact within the arguments of this paper that the Bible is the inspired word of God or even a reliable work of history. It is not the intention of this paper to defend the possibility or historicity of miracles. However, if these things have occurred, as many other capable historians, philosophers, and apologists can demonstrate, then it cannot be said that God has been so manifestly hidden or silent.

A large part of the hiddenness of God objection is based on God’s omnipotence and the fact that a privatized proof for every individual would present no challenge to God. That is true. However, the inference that God has not revealed enough of Himself to enough people, or that He ought to reveal Himself more often or in a more obvious ways (whatever that might mean juxtaposed against the Incarnation), is a speculative opinion. It will be argued later that these notions of more obvious are very vague and built on false premises.

Personal Experience

            A person’s private experiences are not special revelation in the sense that they are intended for all people or binding on all peoples like the witness of Scripture and the truth about miracles and the Incarnation that Scripture contains. However, a great deal of emphasis is made in the hiddenness of God argument on the perceptions of individuals and the nature of evidence necessary for each individual to be convinced of God’s existence. That opens the door to arguments from individual’s experiences.

What if, as many claim, people have had these unusual, special, or paranormal experiences leading them to believe that God exists? The skeptic is still likely and permitted to withhold judgment until he has his own experience, but the hiddenness of God argument seems to overlook the people in this very age coming to believe in Jesus through private, individual visions and experiences, many of them from Islam.

There is still a sense in which God is hidden, more so to some than to others. However, this section has demonstrated that the scope and degree of that hiddenness is not as uniform as some proponents suggest even at a personal level. The next section will briefly describe how general revelation weakens the hiddenness of God argument.

Not As Hidden As You Think: General Revelation

            Paul explains in Romans 1:20 that “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” The Psalmist in Psalm 19:1-2 says “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Some may read these passages and think that they are describing some poetic sense of awe and wonder which might be true. However, philosophical and scientific evidence available to every thinking observant person is sufficient to prove that a theistic God necessarily exists. Consider the lines of evidence briefly described here.

Cosmological Evidence

            Well established and documented philosophical and scientific evidence show that the universe began a finite time ago. The heavens in a sense tell scientists that the universe began a finite time in the past from a state of no matter, space, time or energy. It appears that the universe basically came into existence from ontological nothingness. Nature tells us that nothing begets more nothing. There must have been some spaceless, timeless, immaterial thing that had the massive power to bring the universe into existence from nothing. It must have also possessed other faculties resembling those of a mind because it was able to choose to create the universe spontaneously a finite time ago. It is undeniable that is an accurate description of what every theistic religion calls God and through dispassionate logical deduction and plain demonstrable scientific observation that He must exist.

God may not tear open the heavens and throw lightning bolts at atheists, but the fact that lighting still exists in this universe with a the second law of thermodynamics indicates that the universe was created a finite time ago and has not yet reached entropy. The tools evidence and mental faculties of most of humanity are present and sufficient for everyone who would like to know that there is a theistic God. He is not as hidden as people claim.

Now this God is not necessarily Jesus, but the fact that the incarnation, miracles and their preservation in Scripture has already been discussed brings the argument to a question. In light of the special and general evidence literally available to nearly every person on the planet, why do atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, with a nearly childish insistence, require private miraculous experiences to secure their belief? The problem lies in their insistence that God can reveal himself robustly and specifically to every individual, (which is true), but they infer further that God should and would if He existed. The next section of the paper will reveal why that is based on a false premise.

A Misconception about the Effects of Divine Visibility

            Have you ever heard a person after witnessing something amazing exclaim, “I don’t believe it.” Frequently that can be a colloquial way of attributing wonder to the event but it actually illustrates the very real human capacity for self deception. Humans have the ability to suppress beliefs, even very simple true beliefs at will. A college student chooses to disregard the fact that he has a final the following morning for the sake of a party, or a night of video games. It is sufficiently evident to everyone that the test is real and imminent. The professor could take a trip out to the student’s apartment and tell him to put the video game controller down and study, which might even succeed. However, why isn’t the syllabus enough? It is nonsense to think this student has insufficient evidence that he is on his way to failing. The professor is capable of making special effort to make the student study and therefore pass, but the syllabus is enough evidence that a test is on the way. The student is willfully disregarding the consequence.

Compelling evidence does not of necessity bring about belief. Interestingly insufficient evidence does not negate belief in all cases. There is certainly a positive correlation between evidence and belief in many cases, but the two are not coextensive. The idea that greater divine visibility would necessarily lead to greater belief is a non-sequiter. Consider the scoffers in Acts 2:13[8] who were satisfied to dismiss the spontaneous miraculous fluency in a variety of foreign languages as a side effect of intoxication. If a person is obliged to disbelief no amount of evidence will forcibly elicit belief.

Evidence may be a causal condition for many beliefs but it is neither a necessary condition, (for people have beliefs with no evidence), nor a sufficient condition (for people refuse beliefs in light of undeniable evidence). The fact that the current evidence for Christianity has been efficacious in earning the belief of over a billion people, coupled with the fact that increased visibility is not guaranteed to elicit more believers, God is under no compulsion to both exist and provide any more evidence that He exists than has already been generally and specifically revealed.

Proponents of the hiddenness of God objection fall victim to a common error in thinking when considering God’s nature. Many people think they know what it would be like to be omnipotent, and in a sense they might. One would be able to accomplish anything just through the power of will. However, for some reason they also seem to think that they know what it would be like to be omniscient, which is a complete falsehood. People cannot imagine what it would be like to know even a single fact they do not already know because they do not know it. So much the less can they comprehend what it would be like to know everything and how that knowledge would alter what they think is prudent and best. If an atheist was omnipotent he might go around revealing it to every person in a personal undeniable display. However, he cannot know that if he also was omniscient if he would do anything different than what God has done in the world. One can only levy a criticism against the omniscient God’s decisions and methods from a position of finite limited knowledge of the universe. The insistence that God’s current degree of hiddenness is bad and more visibility would be better is predicated on two false premises that increased visibility necessarily leads to more belief and that the accuser knows what they would do if they possessed God’s knowledge.

A Comment on God’s Nature

As a final comment on the concept of hiddenness before moving on to the limitations in man as a perceiver of God, consider God and man’s differing essential natures. Man learns everything through sensory input and logical inference. As a result all of our direct knowledge can only be of sensible objects: what a candy bar taste like; a car crash feels like; or a gas leak smells like etc… The declaration that: if God existed then He would make Himself more visible, overlooks the fact that God is literally invisible. Obviously God could bring about effects that are not Himself as He is, like the apparition of a Zeus-like man in the sky with a thundering voice. But that would fail to accurately represent Him.

God is an infinite, simple, perfect, self-existent being whilst man is a finite, mortal, composed, contingent being. For the finite to achieve beliefs that contain accurate knowledge of the infinite, there will always be aspects of God that are inaccessible to finite man because they are incomprehensible to our finite minds and nature. With that the argument will proceed to explaining how limitations from sin also stunt man’s ability to perceive God which would resemble hiddenness.

The Searing Effects of Sin

Sin effects man in three ways in relation how we perceive God’s hiddenness. The first are the noetic effects of sin, which literally inhibit our minds. Second, sin damages relationship with God. These effects can be both eternal and temporal. Finally sin leads to shame and shame leads to man hiding from God.

The Noetic Effects of Sin

            The doctrine of totally depravity states that sin has tainted every aspect of humanity. It affected the body such that it eventually wears out and dies; it affects will and moral capacity so man can sin throughout life; it also affects the mind. It is difficult to understand how, for as already mentioned it is impossible to know what it would be like to know something not know, but in sin man does not have a perfectly functioning intellect and mind. In the case of God, it is irrelevant for man to have imperfect physical senses because knowledge of God is not directly gained through the senses. However, man knows God as well as he can through what can be seen of creation (His effects), and inferences made in the human mind.

Given that a human’s mind is tainted with sin at birth it is obvious that the evidence that God has revealed will not be perfectly processed. Our minds are not useless though.  True beliefs including God’s existence can be attained. The noetic effects of sin provide an explanation as to why God may seem so hidden. If the print in the pages of a book appears very small and blurry one might get angry with the publisher or the printers. You might even think the printer doesn’t exist and think this book is just time, chance, and nature’s fittest version of a fantasy novel. However, you might think that there is a deficiency in your vision. Upon receiving glasses the print may be clear and the content more accessible.

In the case of God’s existence, which is the first step in theology proper, the metaphoric text is blurry or hidden in part because of the noetic effects of sin on our minds. The prescription to correcting the effects of sin in our minds is regeneration through faith. The proverbial glasses are belief. Is it any wonder that God seams less hidden (though not completely revealed) to believers than to atheists and agnostics?

Sin’s effect on Relationship

            Much like sins immediate effects on Adam and Eve’s relationship with God, sin separates humanity from relationship with God. Sin does not push God away or even cause Him to retreat deeper in hiddenness. That would be contrary to his immutable nature, for God’s relationship to man is always one of cause to effect, never effect to cause. What is actually happening is that sin causes us to drift further from God. The perceived effect is that God is hiding Himself from us, when in fact He is unmoving and we are walking away from Him. It is like the appearance that the sun is of moderate size and travels through the sky by day, when in fact the sun is massive and we are revolving around it. Not all of God’s apparent hiddenness is due to his own nature or the slight degree of intentional “hiding” that will be discussed later. Some of what we perceive as divine hiddenness is just the breakdown of relationship due to our own sin.

Sin Causes Shame

            Finally, sin causes shame. Shame does not affect our minds like sin does directly but it cause us to flee or retreat. Remember Adam and Eve as they became aware of their nakedness after sinning hid from God. God is never “hiding from us” in a literal sense, but there are times in people’s lives where they are literally hiding from Him. The accusation of divine hiddenness, especially in its more emotional formulations, might actually be a projection onto God of one’s own shame and insecurity. Scripture promises that those who seek him find him. [9] His apparent hiddenness is actually because sinful man does not want to be found by God. The issue is never that God is making it difficult to believe in him. As a matter of fact it will be revealed latter that the degree of “hiddenness” he does employ is for our benefit.

Thus far it has been argued that God is indeed less “hidden” than most atheists and agnostics claim. It is necessary that parts of God’s nature will always be hidden to us because we are finite and He is infinite. The idea that more visibility is preferable or necessary is actually based on false premises, and some of the hiddenness perceived in God is actually a direct result of our own sin. In the final sections of the paper it will be explain that God’s hiddenness is a good and prudent thing.

Faith Requires a Certain Degree of Divine Hiddenness

            It is stated clearly in Eph. 2:8-9 that “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith is God’s prescribed method of salvation for mankind. Faith is the way we escape the predicament of sin including its noetic effects on our mental faculties, our shame, our shattered relationship with God, and ultimately our final destination.

People have a tendency to hyper spiritualize faith. Faith is just synonymous with belief. Believe the truth of the Gospel of Jesus and you will be saved, regenerated, begin the process of sanctification, and set off on a wonderful adventure serving God. However, belief requires a very specific set of circumstances. For example, almost every time you sit down in a chair you believe it is going to hold you. However, once sitting and the chair is indeed supporting your weight, as it was designed to do, the belief that the chair will hold you is gone and replaced by the knowledge that the chair is now actually holding you. Even if you are going to sit in a chair you have previously sat in, you still return to a state of belief that it will hold you every time up until you are sitting in it again. God’s hiddenness is like the circumstance of preparing to sit in a chair. However, you are not even allowed to sit in the metaphorical chair of salvation unless you believe it will hold you. Indeed, when it comes to real chairs, very few people sit in chairs they do not expect will hold them, (except in the case of a joke perhaps). The belief required for salvation requires some circumstance where the truth of the Gospel, God’s nature, and salvation etc… (represented by the sturdiness of the chair in the metaphor), is not an experiential certitude.

With that established, the degree of visibility atheists and agnostics suggest an existent theistic God would display would not provide the circumstances where faith could exist; there would only be knowledge. 1 Cor. 13:12-13 says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” What Paul is saying is that faith, though paramount at this point in the history of salvation, will eventually be a thing of the past. There will come a time where the dimness, which is the hiddenness of God that made faith possible, will be over and all the believers and unbelievers alike will have knowledge instead. It appears that the deadline for this faith during this time of mild divine hiddenness is the second coming of Christ, which is a forthcoming event very similar to many atheists’ and agnostics’ imaginary hiddenness solving narratives. The second verse in this passage reveals that the age of faith and hope is wonderful but temporary. God is sufficiently accessible so mankind can  believe with sound reason and confidence that He is who the bible says He is, but He is also sufficiently hidden that the circumstances for the faith necessary to acquire salvation are right.

This argument shows the prudence and the good reason why an all-powerful, all-loving God would chose to stay relatively hidden rather than make his presence and power inescapably known to all humanity. Through this argument, the deductive syllogism: 1) if a theistic God existed he would make his existence clearly and inescapably known to all mankind; 2) No such clear demonstration has been provided for all of mankind; 3) Therefore it is unlikely that such a theistic God exists; this syllogism is disproven because the first premise that a theistic God would do such a thing is false (or at least very doubtful in the case of a Christian God). Given that God has a good reason to remain relatively hidden the hiddenness of God argument no longer caries any weight against Christianity.

Free Moral Acts Require a Certain Degree of Divine Hiddenness

Though the previous explanation is sufficient to explain the reason for God’s hiddenness there is also an argument treated in Michael Murray’s paper “Coercion and the Hiddenness of God,” where Murray explains that the circumstances necessary for free moral actions require a degree of divine hiddenness. His argument is as follows. Free actions require a lack of coercion. Aristotle arrives at that same fact in Nicomachean Ethics. Murray explains that the clear inescapable fact made evident to all of mankind that an infinitely powerful God who is holiness and wrath would make all human actions incompatible with freedom. All morally praiseworthy behavior would be as compulsory, even more so than if a man was constantly holding a gun to your head all day long for your entire life. In our own legal system actions under compulsion, especially compulsion under the threat of physical harm, (we can confidently assume eternal damnation would qualify), are not liable for punishment (or praise). The only way for the freedom God intends humanity to have and utilize to be truly exercised is if the actions humanity takes are done so without compulsion. The undeniable visible presence atheists and agnostics are proposing God reveal would bring about circumstance where every action taken by mankind would be under the immediate compulsion of the known presence of and all powerful, wrathful, holy God. A certain degree of divine hiddenness is necessary for freewill and moral responsibility.


The hiddenness of God objection to God’s existence is as compelling an argument as the problem of evil. It requires a well reasoned academic answer and the ability to recognize when the objector is actually referring to a more emotional distance from God such as during a time of great crisis. Similarly to the problem of evil, the fact that God is hidden (like the fact of the presence of evil) is actually shown to be expected and indeed further evidence for the existence of the God of Christianity.

In this paper it was argued that God is not actually as hidden as some advocates of the objection proclaim. There is sufficiently clear data preserved in scripture as well as readily apparent in nature that a theistic God certainly exists and Jesus is overwhelmingly likely to be Him. It was argued that some of the hiddenness perceived is actually explainable by humanities sinful state. Sin has damaged man’s ability to perceive God and at times properly reason. Sin damages relationship with God and leads to shame which leads to human hiddenness from God. It was then argued that God has two large praiseworthy reasons for remaining somewhat hidden to this point in history, (faith and free moral responsibility). Ultimately there will come a time when the hiddenness necessary to allow for faith will end and all men will have the kind of clear sight the objectors now desire. The urgency now is to spread faith in the God we believe in before that day of obvious divine clarity and knowledge arrives.

Readers should also be reminded that the intellectual response to the hiddenness of God argument is a great tool for apologetics discussion and evangelism. However, bear in mind that the application of the academic response in a situation where a person is suffering from an immediate feeling of abandonment of separation from God could have lasting negative emotional and spiritual consequences for that person. Always remember to seek wisdom and discernment from God while sharing apologetic arguments, for it would be tragic to win a debate and lose your opponent, setting him on a more direct trajectory to eternal separation from God.



Aristotle, and Richard McKeon. Introduction to Aristotle. New York: Modern Library, 1992.

Hanson, Norwood Russell, Stephen Toulmin, and Harry Woolf. What I Do Not Believe, and

Other Essays. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1971. Moser, Paul K. “Divine Hiddenness, Death, and Meaning.” in Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues, Edited by P. Copan and C. Meister Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

Murray, Michael. “Coercion and the Hiddenness of God.” American Philosophical Quarterly 30, no.1 (January 1993): 27-38.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Dawn of Day. New York: Macmillan, 1903.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensees (Thoughts). Boston:, 2010. <;.

Plato, and G. M. A. Grube. Phaedo. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 1977.

Watson, Gary. Free Will. London: Oxford University Press, 1982.



[1]Michael Murray, “Coercion and the Hiddenness of God,” American Philosophical Quarterly 30, no.1 (January 1993): 27.

[2]The format of this subsection as it pertains to the overall argument of the paper is inspired by Michael Murrays paper “Coercion and the Hiddenness of God” in American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

[3]Norwood Russell Hanson, Stephen Toulmin, and Harry Woolf, What I Do Not Believe, and Other Essay  (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1971).

[4]Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The Dawn of Day (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 80.

[5]Pascal, Pensees.

[6]All Scripture referenced is taken from the NASB.

[7]1 Cor. 15:6, “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;” NASB.

[8]Acts 2:13, “But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’”

[9]Deut. 4:29; 1 Chrn 28:9; Jer 29:13; etc…

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