Simon Greenleaf on the Rules of Evidence and the Christian Religion

Simon Greenleaf died on this date, October 6, in 1853. He was an American jurist who wrote an influential three-volume Treatise on the Law of Evidence.

Greenleaf believed that lawyers have a responsibility to evaluate the evidences of the Christian religion using the standards of evidence demanded in their professional lives. Accordingly, Greenleaf detailed the results of his own investigation in an 1846 work titled An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice. With an Account of the Trial of Jesus., he set forth the following basic principles for governing any responsible investigation:

In examining the evidences of the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice and open to conviction. There should be a readiness, on our part, to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us, and to submit, without reserve or objection, to all the teachings of this religion, if it be found to be of divine origin. (p. 21)

Here, in brief, is the conclusion Greenleaf reached regarding the testimony of the gospel writers concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

The great truths which the apostles declared, were, that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from sin, and faith in him, could men hope for salvation. This doctrine they asserted with one voice everywhere, not only under the greatest discouragements, but in the face of the most appalling terrors that can be presented to the mind of man. Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world. The laws of every country were against the teachings of his disciples. The interests and passion of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them. Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. . . . They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency. It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certain as they knew any other fact. (p. 53; italics added)

Suppose it were possible that Jesus’ disciples could have persisted in their public claims concerning Jesus and his resurrection even if Jesus had not risen. What seems most unlikely is that they would have persisted in this if they did not believe with grave conviction that Jesus had indeed risen. And this fact of their belief surely demands some plausible explanation, given their readiness to endure such persecution.

Greenleaf’s book still makes for stimulating reading. Its arguments deserve the attention of sincere inquirers today.

An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists is in the public domain. It can be read online here.

Good Quote—Josh McDowell

“Having convictions can be defined as being so thoroughly convinced that Christ and His Word are both objectively true and relationally meaningful that you act on your beliefs regardless of the consequences.”

Josh McDowell’s birthday today

St. Ephraem—Syrian Apologist of the Fourth Century?

Students of the life and work of Ephraem the Syriac agree that he died on this date in 373 A.D. He wrote hymns, poems, sermons, and biblical commentary. His style and the tenor of his theology was a blend of the mystical and the intellectually staid.

In Theandros, the online journal of Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, Mary C. Sheridan recounts his huge significance for the Syriac church. Her essay is interesting both for its insight into the life and work of Ephraem and for its discussion of the historical context of his activity.

In my series of posts on Christianity and its tradition of apologetics (see links below), I’ve introduced lesser-known figures and highlighted their contributions. I’m pleased to add this brief post about St. Ephraem (ca. 306-373). In his case, we find a fascinating reflection on apologetic themes in ancient poetry. I don’t know much about his work. But Mary Sheridan includes in her article a sample of his poetry where he acknowledges the value of nature as a source of revelation and places it in relation to Scripture as revelation. The medium of poetry may here be specially valuable for showing how natural theology draws men and women into contact with special revelation.

Ephraem considered both nature and Scripture the “twin sources of revelation.”

Once Nature and Scripture had cleaned the land
–they sowed in it new commandments
in the land of the heart, so that it might bear fruit,
praise for the Lord of Nature
glory for the Lord of Scripture.

He called Nature, the Old Testament, and the New Testament three lyres used in singing the Word of God. He says:

The Word of the Most High came down
      and clothed himself in
a weak body with two hands.
He took up and balanced two lyres,
one in his right hand and one in his left.
A third he put in front of him,
to be a witness for the other two;
for it was the middle lyre corroborating
that their Lord was singing to their accompaniment.

I encourage you to visit Sheridan’s page for more about St. Ephraem.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation

On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

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The Weight of Glory—C. S. Lewis Speaks to “Ordinary” People

Peter Kreeft has called it C. S. Lewis’s “golden sermon.” Walter Hooper places it first in an otherwise chronologically-ordered series of addresses by C. S. Lewis, saying that “The Weight of Glory” is “so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place.” This is high praise. And the sermon rises to the high expectations created by such praise.Book Cover-CSLewis-Weight of Glory The sermon was preached June 8, 1941 and published a few months later in the 43rd volume of the journal Theology. Because today’s date is June 8, it’s fitting to recall some cherished lines from this oration that centers on the Christian conception of love and its relation to heaven’s future rewards:

. . . if we consider the unblushing nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. . . . We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis means that we settle for the satisfaction of desires that seem grand to us from the limited perspective of our current lives. Heaven’s rewards outstrip whatever else we could possibly imagine. Some criticize the Christian religion for its mercenary appeal to heavenly rewards as an incentive to Christian conversion and Christian living. But Lewis sorts out this confusion with a comparison to do with marriage. Some men marry for money; others for love. In the first instance, the act is unquestionably mercenary. Not so when a “real lover” enters into marriage. Some rewards are proper to the acts that bring them to fruition. Acting for the sake of our heavenly reward is like this. It is, in fact, the paradigm case of this. There is also this difference. When the saints’ reward is received, it will not be viewed as the effect of a bribe. It will, rather, be experienced “as the very consummation of their discipleship.” In the meantime, when the reward is an expected rather than a lived experience, disciples cannot yet know the fulfillment of the desire natural to it. We can only approximate what it is like to live in possession of our future reward if we obey the revealed will of our Lord. This, I believe, is what the New Testament means by “the obedience of faith.” The faith is rooted in a promise, already the present experience of saints past, and the obedience is a consequence of that faith, an act we perform in the here and now.

. . . longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.

Lewis can write with uncanny clarity when he wants to. And he can write with mystifying creativity when it best serves his purpose.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

Does Lewis mean that our highest finite aspirations—even when these are absurd, shortsighted, or inimical to the fear of God—are signs of a deeper desire we deny or believe does not exist, namely, a desire for God? In this context we come to a wonderfully disturbing paragraph:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter.

What a description of our common experience. Lewis draws out, through his close attention to the facts of our inner life, what we scarcely know to be there. When it is described with such care and accuracy, we finally recognize it. It is a kind of discovery of our true self. What do we do with this new self-awareness? Action of some kind must be proper to this realization. But what action, exactly? And how do we know that we’re not fooling ourselves when we think this very real desire latches onto what really will satisfy? Aren’t we accustomed to the disappointment of our longings? Why should it be any different with this yearning that defines our very selves? Lewis argues from the reality of this desire to the reality of the thing desired. It is a specimen of apologetics that does not feel like an argument. It is, in other words, the best sort of apologetic there is. Some paragraphs further into his message, Lewis contemplates the “idea of glory.”

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means fame, or it means luminosity.

How simple is that? And yet, how true? Fame. A “competitive passion” among those who desire to be better known than other people. Lewis does not say that they desire to be better than other people. No, they want to be better known. This is a kind of glory. This is wickedness. What about luminosity? It is ridiculous. “Who wishes to become a kind of living light bulb?” Lewis’s exploration of the Christian ideal of glory brings together a conception of fame and the absence of vanity. For the details, you must read the sermon for yourself. But here is a morsel to whet your appetite:

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being ‘noticed’ by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know God, but that they will be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3).

To quote one of my seminary profs, Howard Hendricks, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” Toward the end of his sermon, Lewis circles back round to the idea of reward and the kind of reward the disciple of Jesus can look forward to.

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.

Today, the 8th of July 2015, is indeed a Monday! But the seeming dreariness of the weekly recycling of things we do and crave and pursue is overcome with hope. And what seems so routine and ordinary is ignited with purpose.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

We do not construct a world of “everlasting splendors” by thinking positive thoughts. It is there before us, ready to behold, if we have eyes to see.

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Great Dates in the Apologetics Calendar—June 8

June 8 is unusual for the many dates bearing some relation to Christian apologetics.

1686 – Humphrey Prideaux graduated with D.D. from Christ Church, Oxford (installed as Dean of Norwich on this date in 1702)

1809 – Death of Thomas Paine, antagonist against Christianity and author of The Age of Reason (published in three installments: 1794, 1795, 1807)

1810 – Death of William Finch, whose 1797 Bampton lectureship was titled “The Objections of Infidel Historians and other writers against Christianity” (eight sermons)

1889 – Death of Christian metaphysical poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, famous for “Pied Beauty” (written in 1877, and published in 1918) and “God’s Grandeur” (also composed in 1877); also the sonnet “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I conted”

1894 – Birth of Wilbur M. Smith, author of the thick volume of Christian evidences called Therefore Stand

1903 – Birth of G. C. Berkouwer, theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition, whose many books include The Providence of God (1952) and General Revelation (1955)

1941 – C. S. Lewis preached his sermon “The Weight of Glory”

1954 – Death of Kenneth Escott Kirk, bishop of Oxford who wrote in defense of Christian moral philosophy

2007 – Death of Richard Rorty, postmodernist critic of religion

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W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) – How We Got Our Bible

Born in 1861, W. H. Griffith Thomas died on this date in 1924. His greatest and most sophisticated work is his book The Principles of Theology, a commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. But one short and reader-friendly book that should interest students of Christian apologetics is How We Got Our Bible. (Note: The full text of this book is available online here.) Here are some themes discussed in this fine little book:W. H. Griffith Thomas The Canonicity of the Bible On the question of which books are to be recognized as divinely inspired and constitutive of God’s written revelation, Thomas writes:

The answer is that it is quite easy to prove that our Bible is the same as the church has had through the centuries. We start with the printed Bibles of today and it is obviously easy to show that they correspond with the printed Bibles of the sixteenth century, or the time when printing was invented. From these we can go back through the English and Latin versions until we reach to the great manuscripts of the fourth century as represented by the three outstanding codices known as the Codex Sinaiticus (in Petrograd), the Codex Vaticanus (in Rome), and the Codex Alexandrinus (in the British Museum). Then we can go back still farther and compare the use of Scripture in the writings of the Fathers of the third century, and from these work back to the second century when versions in several languages are found. From this it is but a short step to the time of the apostles and the actual composition of the New Testament writings. There is no reasonable doubt that we possess today what has always been regarded as the Scriptures of the Christian church. (15-16)

As to the Old Testament,

The proof . . . can be shown along similar lines. Our Old Testament is identical with the Bible of the Jews at the present time. This is the translation of Hebrew manuscripts dating from several centuries past, and the fact of the Jews always having used the same Bible as they do today is a proof that all through the ages the Christian Church has not been mistaken in its inclusion of the Old Testament in its Bible. An additional evidence of great value is the fact that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek about two centuries before Christ, and this translation is essentially the same as the Hebrew text from which we get our Old Testament. (16)

Details of this proposal are elaborated in chapter 2, where Thomas states that “the basis of our acceptance of the New Testament is what is called in technical language ‘Apostolicity’; because the books came either from Apostolic authors, or through Apostolic sanction. Our view of the Old Testament corresponds to this” (23). The Inspiration of the Bible Thomas first approaches questions about the grounds for belief in the inspiration of Scripture in a natural but often neglected way. He reasons that the fundamental question is whether the Bible has divine authority. If there is good reason to think so, then we can ask how its authority was ensured. And the answer to that is given in the doctrine of inspiration. So his discussion begins with an argument for the need for a religious authority in the conduct of our lives and for the authority of the Bible as the answer to this need. He then expounds on the doctrine of biblical inspiration in chapters 9 and 10. But his stress is on the first point.

At the outset, two things should be said: (1) If we accept the Authority of Scripture we really need not trouble about any particular theory of Inspiration, but (2) if we seek to know as fully as we can what Inspiration means we should confine ourselves strictly to facts, since Inspiration when properly understood is not a theory, but a fact. It is something we accept, whether we can explain it or not. (86)

The facts considered in the development of a theory of inspiration are those that are presented in the Scriptures themselves, as these witness to their own nature and production. Thomas rehearses the familiar data of specific passages on this question. Judaism and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity

In the Old Testament emphasis is rightly placed on the unity of the Godhead as against the ‘gods many’ of heathenism. But in the New Testament there is the additional revelation of the Trinity, which is not only not contradictory of the Unity, but is based on it and developed out of it. Every one knows that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity never had the slightest connection with polytheism, but grew out of Jewish monotheism. It is significant that with all the Jewish objections to Christianity in Paul’s time, no trace can be found of any opposition to his doctrine of a distinction between the Deity of the Father and the Deity of the Son, which was the germ of the fully-developed doctrine of the Trinity. (79-80)

He then adds:

The explanation of this was that the Jewish believers, having been led by experience into an acceptance of Christ as a divine Redeemer (and thereby to a distinction in the Deity) found in their Old Testament anticipatory hints of the Trinity. They realized that the unity of the Godhead was compound not simple, as the Hebrew words for ‘one’ clearly indicate (Deut. 6:4; Exod. 26:6-11; Ezek. 37:16-19). (80)

Here we see sensitivity to a problem that would later arise with contact between Christianity and Islam. Whereas the Hebrew doctrine of God propounded in the Old Testament is not explicitly revealed as a Trinity, what is said of God there is (1) compatible with the Christian doctrine, and (2) revealed in anticipation of more to come. Faith and Reason For all of his emphasis on the requirement of faith and the authority of the Bible, Thomas is no fideist.

The Bible is supreme over reason. It is the light of reason and of human thought. Revelation, because it comes from God, cannot possibly dishonor reason, which also is from God. Reason is the judge of our need of revelation. It examines the claims of revelation; but once those claims are accepted, reason takes a subordinate place, and revelation is supreme. Reason examines, tests, sifts, inquires, but the moment it has become convinced that this or that comes from God, then, like Joshua of old, it says: ‘What saith my Lord unto his servant?’ So, though revelation is supreme over reason, reason examines the credentials of revelation and then submits to them. Since Christ is our Authority, what we need is the rational conviction that the Bible is the best form in which his Word reaches us, and then we submit to it, and it becomes supreme over our reason and life. (38-39)

There is always the theme of practical concern in this book about How We Got Our Bible. is not a technical treatise. It is quite intentionally written for easy accessibility. In his conclusion to chapter 10, on the inspiration of the Bible, W. H. Griffith Thomas warns against an overly-intellectualized approach to the questions he treats.

A great number of our problems are theoretical. They come from places where people spin theories absolutely remote from human life. But if we go out into the world and tell a man of the Lord Jesus Christ, and get that man to ask, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we shall very soon get verification of the Word of God; and when we have that, we shall not need much, if any, further testimony to its inspiration. (105)

He means that commendation of the faith, when it issues in persuasion on the basis of good evidence, produces confidence in the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God.

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