Refuting Mythicist Appeals to Justin Martyr
It is frequently claimed by modern mythicists that denial of the historicity of Jesus is not a product of modern skepticism but was present even as early as the 2nd century. One example frequently appealed to is the Jew named Trypho, whose debate with the Christian apologist Justin Martyr is recorded in the ‘Dialogue with Trypho. (See for example Dorothy Murdock, Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ Revealed, (Kempton: Adventures Limited Press, 2004), 204)
Chapter 8 of the Dialogue consists of Trypho’s rebuttal to Justin as follows:
“If, then, you are willing to listen to me (for I have already considered you a friend), first be circumcised, then observe what ordinances have been enacted with respect to the Sabbath, and the feasts, and the new moons of God; and, in a word, do all things which have been written in the law: and then perhaps you shall obtain mercy from God. But Christ - if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere - is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."
It is claimed that this passage represents early mythicism, in that Trypho denies the existence of Jesus. But it should be clear from the get-go that this is far from conclusive evidence. First, even if we were to concede to this claim, it does nothing more than show that one Jewish mythicist existed in the mid-2nd century. This has no bearing on whether or not Jesus actually existed. Just because someone believed it does not invalidate the historical Jesus nor does it add to the plausibility of the mythicist position.
Second, it is evident that Trypho is discussing the “Christ” in this passage as a concept. Trypho, as implied by what he goes on to say, does not believe that the Christ has been born yet, and if he has, the individual who is the Christ does not know that he is the Christ until he is anointed by Elijah. Trypho is most likely simply saying that Christ has not made himself known to the Jews yet, and is not necessarily talking about the historical figure of Jesus.
And third, most significantly, the identity of Trypho throws a major wrench in this argument. Scholars such as Amos Hulen have affirmed that Trypho was nothing more than a literary invention of Justin created in order for the apologist to lay out his arguments (‘The ‘Dialogues with the Jews’ as Sources for the Early Jewish Argument Against Christianity’ Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 51, (1932), 63). This view has been affirmed more recently by Larry Heyler, who says that “Most scholars accept that Trypho is a fictional character created to suit Justin’s literary purpose” (Larry Heyler, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Studies, (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 493).
So even if it can be gleaned that Trypho was a mythicist, Trypho was himself probably an invented character. Instead of investigating Trypho as a real person, then, scholars rather investigate whether Justin transmits accurate allegations made by Jews against Christians. But they are very divided on this matter: L. W. Barnard (‘The Old Testament and Judaism in the Writings of Justin Martyr’, Vetus Testamentum Vol. 14 (1964), 406) and P. Sigal (‘An Inquiry into Aspects of Judaism in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho’, Abr-Nahrain Vol. 18 (1978-79), 75) affirm that Justin fairly accurately represents Jewish anti-Christian polemics in the second century. However, Graham Stanton (‘Aspects of Early Christian-Jewish Polemic and Apologetic’, New Testament Studies Vol. 31, Issue 3 (1985), 377-92) argues that Justin only knew some genuine allegations made by Jews against Christianity, and Robert Wilde affirms that Justin only knew about Jews and Judaism from the Septuagint (Robert Wilde, The Treatment of the Jews in the Greek Christian Writers, (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1949), 104). So we cannot say with any certainty that the words of Trypho in the Dialogue reflect actual Jewish polemics from the 2nd century or were nothing more than rhetorical punching bags set up by Justin for him to levy his arguments against.
But assuming that Trypho is a real person and that he does represent the polemics of 2nd century Judaism against Christianity, what does he actually believe about the historicity of Jesus? The above quote is just one statement made by Trypho in a book that is 142 chapters long. Mythicists fail to take into account everything else that Trypho says concerning Jesus. Here are just a few statements where Trypho unequivocally affirms the historicity of Jesus:
Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 10:
“…you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God.”
“These and such like Scriptures, sir, compel us to wait for Him who, as Son of man, receives from the Ancient of days the everlasting kingdom. But this so-called Christ of yours was dishonourable and inglorious, so much so that the last curse contained in the law of God fell on him, for he was crucified.”
“Sir, it were good for us if we obeyed our teachers, who laid down a law that we should have no intercourse with any of you, and that we should not have even any communication with you on these questions. For you utter many blasphemies, in that you seek to persuade us that this crucified man was with Moses and Aaron, and spoke to them in the pillar of the cloud; then that he became man, was crucified, and ascended up to heaven, and comes again to earth, and ought to be worshipped.”
“But if some, even now, wish to live in the observance of the institutions given by Moses, and yet believe in this Jesus who was crucified, recognizing Him to be the Christ of God, and that it is given to Him to be absolute Judge of all, and that His is the everlasting kingdom, can they also be saved?”
The first quotation we gave from Chapter 8 would appear to make Trypho seem like some kind of mythicist. But in these chapters, he unmistakably affirms the earthly, physical nature of Jesus. His statements concerning Jesus largely deal with the notion of God becoming man, getting crucified, and the defying the messianic expectations. He does not deny the crucifixion as an event, rather the theological idea that God could become a man and then be crucified by his own creation.
Trypho also appears to contradict himself frequently during his dialogue, thus lending credence to the idea that Justin invented him for rhetorical purposes. In Chapter 72 he states:
“The Scripture has not, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,' and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower…”
This passage could be construed as reading like Trypho believed the Christians stole from pagan myths, but reading the rest of the passage shows this to not be the case:
“And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather [should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ, [it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.”
Trypho merely finds it distasteful that the narrative of Jesus, in his mind, was somewhat similar to the stories of pagan gods. He instead suggests that Justin and the Christians should rather say that Jesus was “born man of men.”
Trypho therefore affirms that:
- Jesus was born
- Jesus died by crucifixion
- His crucifixion was a result of him supposedly violating the “law of God”
- The Christians believed in a bodily resurrection, ascension, and eventual return of Jesus to the earth which he had walked
Again, even if after all of this we were to grant that Trypho both existed and was a mythicist, this is only the attitude of one individual. There is no evidence from any other early anti-Christian polemicists (e.g., Porphyry or Celsus) that there was any doubt concerning the historicity of Jesus during this time. There were attacks on the writings about Jesus, for sure, but the existence of the man himself was evidently not questioned.
Unfortunately, the appeals to Justin Martyr for mythicist evidence do not stop at Trypho. Other mythicists have frequently cited Justin’s First Apology Chapter 21 where Justin says “…we [Christians] propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”
The mythicists once again fail to understand Justin Martyr himself. He was raised in a pagan home and was taught pagan philosophy before his conversion to Christianity. Do you really think that he would have converted if he thought that Christianity was just another mystery religion? Would he go out of his way in Chapter 23 of his Apology to affirm the exclusive truthfulness of his new religion if he believed it was influenced by other myths? This is highly unlikely. Rather, his writings reveal an attempt to set up a positive dichotomy between the ideas of the pagans and the Christians.
As Richard Plantinga says, “Justin was forced by his conversion to Christianity to seek connection between his pagan, philosophical past and his Christian, theological present. This biographical quest would come to expression as he sought to mediate between the worlds of Greek and Christian thought” (Richard Plantinga, ‘God So Loved the World: Theological Reflections on Religious Plurality in the History of Christianity’, in David Baker (ed.), Biblical Faith and Other Religions: An Evangelical Assessment, (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2004), 108).
The context of the passage in the Apology reveals the reason why Justin appeals to narratives about other gods to defend the gospel narratives. In chapter 21, Justin gives the parallels that he sees between Christianity and the mystery religions. What is avoided by the mythicists is what follows. At the end of chapter 21, he points out the differences between the Christian God and the gods of the mystery religions, saying that Jupiter:
“…was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions.” Justin draws an explicit distinction between his God and their gods.
He goes on to say in chapter 24:
“…though we say things similar to what the Greeks say, we only are hated on account of the name of Christ, and though we do no wrong, are put to death as sinners; other men in other places worshipping trees and rivers, and mice and cats and crocodiles, and many irrational animals. Nor are the same animals esteemed by all; but in one place one is worshipped, and another in another, so that all are profane in the judgment of one another, on account of their not worshipping the same objects. And this is the sole accusation you bring against us, that we do not reverence the same gods as you do…”
And also in chapter 26:
“…because after Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours.”
It is very clear was Justin is doing here. The Christians were under persecution and Justin wished to show the hypocrisy of the Romans in their selectiveness on who they dispensed punishments. The Christians were persecuted for their perceived “strange” religious practices, but other pagans and magicians, who worshipped gods that were licentious, lustful, and murderous, were lauded and celebrated.
Even if after this clarification we were to admit that Justin was simply asserting that his religion was the same as pagan religions, as mythicists claim, why should we believe him? It is quite interesting that mythicists appeal to Justin for their evidence, but will no doubt discard his statements that are of value to modern Christian apologetics, such as his testimonies that the Gospels were written by the apostles. The selective usage of Justin’s writings to further the mythicist position, whilst simultaneously ignoring others that would invalidate their positions elsewhere, shows the inconsistency and dishonesty of this argument.
J. Gresham Machen’s observation puts it well: "We should never forget that the appeal of Justin Martyr and Origen... to the pagan stories of divine begetting is an argumentum ad hominem. ‘You hold,’ Justin and Origen say to their pagan opponents, ‘that the virgin birth of Christ is unbelievable; well, is it any more unbelievable than the stories you yourselves believe?’" (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 330)
The appeals to Justin for mythicist evidence are gross misrepresentations of his work. Thus we have no reason to believe that mythicism was an early idea nor that early Christians consciously believed that their religion was stealing aspects of pagan religions.
Justin Martyr Works: https://www.amazon.com/Writings-Justin-Martyr/dp/1933993464
Early on the blog, I wrote an article called “top 5 arguments atheists should stop using” to show why common atheist arguments don’t stand to reason. In this article, I will be helping my fellow Christians in demonstrating why certain arguments made from my side should no longer be invoked, because there are better arguments they can use. This is the top 5 arguments Christians should stop using.
5) Evolution is just a theory
4) The Bible says so
3) You don’t know God doesn’t exist
2) Just look around you
1) Just have faith
5) Often, I hear Christians say “well evolution is just a theory” in response evolutionary biology, usually invoked as an argument either against creationism or God’s existence. What this response means is that, since modern biological evolution is a theory, we don’t need to give any thought to it since its only a theory. The problem with this line of reasoning is its misunderstanding of what a theory is. Theories are not just unsupported ideas or speculations that scientists use to come to conclusions. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Not simply “guesses”. Whether or not you embrace the theory of biological evolution, it is not a good response to just say “well its only a theory”. Gravity is also a theory and nobody disputes it.
4) Sometimes when a Christian is trying to convince someone of their position, they will just invoke the bible outright as an authority that they should accept. The line of thought here is “since the bible is true the skeptic should also believe it’s true and respect what it says about life”. But all this does is force your position onto someone who isn’t in the slightest convinced by it. The skeptic will rightly accuse the Christian of circular reasoning and dismiss what they say unless further support is given (usually). I too believe the Bible is true and everyone should accept what it says, but I don’t start with the conclusion that the Bible is true to prove that the Bible is true, that is just question begging. Other times, the Christian may not have any good arguments so they will just assume that believing the Bible is true will be enough for the other person to consider it. There are a multitude of good arguments out there that will establish the Bible as true, but this is not the way to go about it.
3) I think that the proposition “you don’t know that God doesn’t exist” is the most commonly used bad argument on this list. I will say, however, that this line of reasoning is not always wrong. I only want Christians to shy away from this as an early dismissal. For example, if a Christian is in a conversation with an Atheist and the Atheist claims that God doesn’t exist, the Christian should not dismiss the statement early on with “well you can’t prove that”. The failure here is that nothing productive follows from this statement and assumes that proof is deciding factor. The Atheist and Christian alike cannot with 100% certainty demonstrate the inexistence or existence of God the same way someone would prove something in mathematics. Furthermore, this is often a shutdown response when a Christian has no other support to back their affirmation. If the Atheist claims that God does not exist, simply ask what reasons they have for being certain of such a proposition and carry on the dialogue.
2) When I hear my fellow Christians passionately trying to prove that God exists to a skeptic, I often hear “well just look around you!” as apart of their evidence. I am glad that they see nature as a case for God’s existence, but this simply won’t cut it. I remember as a younger believer, I always disliked this argument because I knew full well that those who stand by evolution or don’t believe in God hardly see this as viable evidence for God’s existence. Botany and Biology can all be explained naturalistically which is what the prevailing theory of evolution outlines. Most skeptics aren’t ready to embrace a design hypothesis because of this. Fortunately, there’s a whole area of study called natural theology which makes conclusions about God’s existence on the basis of the natural phenomena.
1) This last argument on this list must be the worst argument the Christian can use. “Just have faith” is almost entirely invoked when the Christian has been backed into a corner or has no justification for their claims so they simply say, “well you should just have faith”. First, this is not the right way faith should be used. Faith should not be used in isolation, we should speak of faith as in faith in something. I have faith that my textbooks will contain correct information. Faith is trust or assurance of something, and in the case of God, its Hebrews 11:1: “ Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”Furthermore, simply saying “you should just have faith that God exists” just sounds like a leap in the dark which is what skeptics continually accuse theists of. This does not represent Christianity in serious light and as Christians its our duty to provide a justification for why we believe in what we believe.
Previously, I went through the purpose of apologetics and why we are to engage in it. In this article, I will be going over the brief history of apologetics and its influence on the Christian world.
There is some debate as to when Christ followers first started to defend the faith. Conventionally, we begin with the apostles and more specifically, Paul. As I outlined in my purpose of apologetics video, we get the command to defend our faith from the writings of 1 Peter 3:15. Even Jesus Christ defended his deity by appealing to the supernatural. Paul in the year A.D. 36 was converted to the faith and in the year A.D. 49 Paul began his mission while reasoning wherever he went. He reasoned with the Jews, Pagans, Philosophers (specifically the stoics), and Gentiles. He maintained this until the day he was arrested and martyred. Paul addressed the apologetic issues of his day using rhetoric and teachings of Christ. Paul is one of the earliest examples of apologetics being used to further the gospel and for the defense of Christ.
After the apostolic age had passed, the early church formed and thrived, preserving the teachings of the apostles and Christ. The early church were facing dangers and threats from the Roman governments and unbelievers to not practice such a religion. This included Pagan and Gnostic practices that had infiltrated the culture of that time. This is when philosophy became an extremely useful tool to countering the oppositions towards Christianity. The Christians of the early church were involved in politics and debates with non-believers. Justin Martyr was extremely influential during this era. Justin Martyr was formally a Platonist and an advocate for Stoicism. Martyr was converted in 132 A.D. and ultimately became a Philosopher and apologist for the Christian faith. Martyr wrote his work called “Apologies” that were broken into two parts and his “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew”. Martyr argued for the philosophical truth of Christianity and defended the scriptures authority. This is fascinating given that the canon of scripture had not be completed yet. He was executed in Rome for not worshiping other idols giving him the name “Martyr” by which we still refer.
After the life of Justin Martyr we are met with the third century. During this era, philosophical thought and rhetoric was in its prime and Christianity was at the center of its criticisms. Among the Alexandrians was someone named Origen. Origen was at the forefront of defending Christianity towards the arguments of that day. This included defending Christ’s deity and the historicity of Christ. Famous writings by Origen were called “Contra Celsus” where Origen formed a reply to a prominent Greek Philosopher and his arguments.
In the mid-3rd and 4th century lived influential Philosopher, Theologian, and Apologist Augustine (also known as St. Augustine of Hippo). Augustine was a Roman African monk who converted to Christianity and spent his life writing and defending the faith. His early works had a major impact on the people of his time and today. Augustine contended with the Pagans and Heretics in his philosophical works. Augustine believed in sinful state of man and taught that the Holy spirit must move in us to be saved. He wrote extensively on God’s nature and the importance of man’s relationship with God. He referred to these things as “unseen truths” that must be obtained through faith and not just rationality. Augustine’s most famous works are: The City of God and Confessions. These two works are the masterpieces that earn him his relevance. Augustine later died on August 28th, 430 AD alone writing his lasts works in solitude.
Fast forward to the middle ages where we meet Anselm. Anselm (also known as Anselm of Aosta) was one of most important Christian thinkers of the entire 11th century. He was a philosopher, monk, and theologian (specifically of the Catholic Church). Anselm wrote about the nature of faith, the existence of God, the nature of God, and the doctrine of the Atonement. Anselm was drawn to the intellectual ability of the monk Lanfranc. Anselm attached himself to Lanfranc’s abbey and later taught in the abbey school. Anselm’s most notable works were: Monologion, Proslogion, and Why God Became Man?. Another major of Anselm’s was the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. This later was worked upon and updated by Protestant Philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Today, Anselm is well known for his Proslogion proof for the existence of God, but his thought was widespread in the Middle Ages, and still today in areas of scholarship.
Very much like Anselm, Thomas Aquinas was also revered a Saint by the Catholic church in the middle ages. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican Philosopher and theologian. He is ranked as the most influential medieval thinkers of scholasticism. Scholasticism was a system of theology and philosophy that used Aristotelian logic with the teachings of the early church to formulate a school of thought. At the time, this was the dominating school of thought within the European universities. Thomas Aquinas tried to reconcile man’s natural knowledge and God’s revelation to show they are not in conflict. This was the faith vs reason debate in the middle ages. Aquinas presented 5 ways we can prove God’s existence. Aquinas’ most notable works are: Summa Contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and more. Aquinas died on March 7th, 1274.
In the 15th century, the reformation did wonders for apologetics by way Martin Luther and John Calvin. I will give them this honorable mention because so much of our theology today is based on the work of these two men. However, I will be focusing on Blaise Pascal. Pascal lived during the 16th century and only lived to be the age of 39. Pascal was a French Mathematician, Philosopher, Theologian, and Scientist. The foundation of probability theory, the early calculator, conic sections theorems, and many other innovations are contributed to Pascal. Apart from being a scientist, Pascal was quite the theologian and philosopher. This is where we get the ever so famous “Pascals wager” from. Pascals most notable works were Pensees and Les Provinciales. These works included his apologies and 18 letters in defense of the Jesuits.
We are now met with the 19th century where we start to see apologetics begin to thrive. During this era, the main forces were Humanism, Darwinism, scientific advances, and the development of archaeology and historical methods. Because we are going over the brief history of apologetics, I will only mention the major influences during this era due to the fact there are so many apologists we can mention. During this century, the enlightenment had influenced modern thinking putting Christianity on trial demanding the invocation of apologetics to respond to worship of human reason. This is primarily a response to Immanuel Kant and David Hume and their work against the supernatural. Major contenders such as William Paley, Charles Hodge, and B.B Warfield responded to their claims. William Paley worked upon matters concerning natural theology and an evidentialist approach to Christianity compiled together called A View of the Evidences of Christianity and Natural Theology. This was a key point in time since Darwinism had come onto the scene undermining any type of supernatural design hypothesis via evolution. Paley also wrote on the reliability of the New Testament and classical versions of the teleological argument. Charles Hodge held a position at Princeton and was revered as the most famous Calvinist theologian there. He wrote Systematic Theology and What is Darwinism? Which determined the position of the seminary until he died. B.B Warfield was one of the last professors at Princeton before it got reorganized. Warfield continued Hodges apologetic approach and argued against false liberal Christianity. This is covered in his book Apologetics.
So far, we have briefly covered the important centuries regarding Christian apologetics in history. Now, we will continue to the present and mention several of the main forces that are governing the thinking of apologetics today. Apologists such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, J.P. Moreland, Francis Schaeffer, Alvin Plantinga, and many more to mention have been strong forces in the intellectualism of Christianity and forming a well-rounded apologetic for many to follow. Some argue that we live in a postmodern world and secular society has embraced it with open arms. Topics of truth, existence, ethics, etc have shifted along with these apparent changes. Christian apologetics has always had a seat at the table of intellectualism and will continue to do so for the years to come.
History of Apologetics Book: https://www.amazon.com/History-Apologetics-Robert-Cardinal-Dulles/dp/0898709334
5.Science and religion contradict
4.Who created God
3.You were raised that way
2.Religion is the source of the world’s problems
1.Jesus never existed
The number of those who claim to non-religious or atheist is ever increasing. We live in a time where anti-religious objections (specifically toward Christianity) have been frequently proposed. Naturally, not all objections have been sound ones. In this article, I will be going through some of these objections that I label the top 5 arguments atheists should stop using.
Number 5: "science and religion contradict"
This is a very common misconception I often hear made by skeptics and atheists when it comes scientific evidence. This is the issue that religion cannot be reconciled or be consistent with science. However, the contrary is true. Starting from my position as a Christian, this is not the case. Apologists such as John Lennox give a very well rounded and concise position concerning this falsehood. For example, the existence of a jet engine is explained by what? The parts that make it and the laws of internal combustion, or the engineer? It would be bizarre to suggest that both these explanations conflict with one another. Rather, they complement each other and give a coherent picture as to “why the jet engine.” Those who subscribe to a faith and believe in God, view him as the causal agent behind what makes up our physical world. Just as a programmer is the cause behind the code in a computer program. I also hear people say, "I don't believe in god, I believe in science", so are they suggesting because I'm a Christian I reject the theory of gravity? Or the laws of thermodynamics, and so on? This simply is not the case with religious belief.
Number 4: "Who created God?"
God's existence has always been in debate among theists and atheists, but this tends to be a common objection. This question is usually posed as a type of conversation stopper, rather than with sincerity. This just shows a lack in philosophical understanding of who God is. God, according to his properties, is not a created being, this question would assume that we are proposing created a God. God can be defined by the following: immaterial, timeless, spaceless, changeless, infinitely powerful, eternal, personal, unconditioned, and endowed with freedom of the will, or ontologically speaking, the highest conceivable being. With God outlined correctly, we no longer have any reason to assume God needs to be created, unless we want to be guilty of making a category error. Since God is a metaphysical being, God can also be viewed as an abstract concept just like abstract objects in philosophy. Mathematics, numbers, shapes, etc. exist entirely on their own with no external explanation but become very axiomatic like the laws of logic. Often, this is a response towards cosmological arguments. This fails due do to not properly understanding what the premises convey. Only things that begin to exist require causes, this follows logically that God would not need a cause due to his divine property of being eternal and timeless.
Number 3: "You were raised that way"
When skeptics try to undermine the validity of a person's testimony, this is usually the objection that is raised. While yes, many theists were born into environments where religion is practiced, this does not logically follow that anyone's sole belief in God is only grounded in the fact that they were introduced to it where they were born. This would make the objector guilty of the genetic fallacy. The logical form: The origin of the claim is presented. Therefore, the claim is true/false. Even if the sole reason for a belief in God was due to the brain washing of a specific person, this does not in any way disprove their belief. If God truly exists, then the brainwashed individual has arrived at the correct conclusion. Using myself as an example, I was raised into a religious home, but affirmed my faith through facts and evidence, even though I was born and raised to already believe it. Santa clause, the tooth fairy, and many other myths are usually abandoned at adolescence, but a belief in God holds true for millions at any age, giving us good reason to assume that theistic belief is much more than one’s origin.
Number 2: “Religion is the source of the world’s problems”
This position is usually taken by those who are anti-theists and see religious belief as hazardous. A claim that is typically stated is that all major wars were religiously motivated ones and the gruesome atrocities committed in humanity can be ascribed to religion. While yes, certain inhumane actions were rationalized by religious belief, it does not logically follow that inhumane actions can be traced to just that. I can easily look to the history of the 20th century and demonstrate the data. We have enough non-religious ideologies being pushed at the time leading to the death of millions. We have: Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kai-Shek, Vladimir Lenin, Hideki Tojo, Pol Pot, and on I can go. All together coming to a grand total of 122,064,000 lives lost. That’s almost 130 million lives lost by the hands of non-religious peoples. Professor R.J Rummel writes in his book "Death by Government" that, "Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners." In the light of this evidence, we can correctly conclude that religion cannot be the only responsible source for humanities atrocities and problems.
Number 1: “Jesus never existed”
The reason this is deemed as the worst argument on this list is because of its historically dishonest and scholarly inaccurate position. To claim Jesus of Nazareth never existed would be to deny historical consensus on the subject. It’s a scholarly debate whether Jesus rose from the dead, but to deny his existence is not scholarly. Josephus and Tacitus are often invoked on the matter writing about Jesus of Nazareth in their text. They were two ancient historians and scholars who affirmed the life of Jesus in their written accounts. Here is a link to the full discourse of listing sources: https://beliefmap.org/jesus-existed
Even non-believing New-Testament scholars such as Bart Ehrman attack this radical view that Jesus of Nazareth didn't exist. The bottom line is that only minority groups hold to this view of Jesus not existing and are seen by professional and academic circles as being dishonest in their work.
Tim runs Invoking Theism: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcXdCHoaSy0kNSv-KwjiSqQ
As a veteran believer, I’m going to give you my take on apologetics through my own personal experience. The story starts when I was young, real young. I accepted Jesus as a child. To the best of my memory, I was probably about three years old. I was presented with the gospel message in my before-bed Bible story time with my parents, I believed, and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins. Obviously, I had not gone through levels of evidence or thoroughly weighed out the arguments of the leading apologists of the day. I accepted the testimony of someone I trusted. It was definitely a case of childlike faith (Matt 18:2-4).
However, that childlike faith was challenged along the way as I encountered the history of life as it was presented in my science classes. As a sciency kind of kid, I was forced to walk solely by faith for several years. I didn’t have answers to the assertions of the atheistic scientific community. I remember the confidence and strength I felt as I learned the evidence and counter-arguments to the nagging claims that had left me speechless in the past. I knew the tables had been turned in my favor and I would not be left speechless again. Perhaps the best part was that I felt like my faith had been vindicated and therefore strengthened for the future, knowing that even though it may not look like it for a time, God always turns out to be right in the end!
When considering apologetics, one thing that needs to be established is that faith does not need evidence. We know this because by definition,”… faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Apologetics is an attempt to make the conviction seen. We take the evidence, analyze it, put it into a logical argument and connect all the dots. In this sense, are we weakening faith with our work? I believe in some instances, this may be the case. We all need to keep this in mind when presenting our arguments. Not everyone needs this evidence because they have the gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9). Even though they have not seen (the evidence and arguments), they believe. These people have a special blessing (Jn 20:29) and we should not discount their lack of interest or look at them as ignorant Christians. In reality, these people are probably way ahead of us. They are walking by faith while we are relying on sight.
In most cases, though, I believe apologetic arguments strengthen faith. For those who have questions, we are providing the boost to faith necessary to keep them spiritually alive. Even Jesus provided this boost to Thomas when his faith was failing. He did this by giving him more evidence to the resurrection (A lot more!). This idea is further strengthened by scripture in Ephesians 4:7-16 which talks about “equipping of the saints for the work of service” so that “we are no longer… tossed here and there by…deceitful scheming”. If you have a bent toward apologetics, it could very well be a gift from Jesus (vv. 7-8), and it is to be used “in love” (v.15), “for the equipping of the saints”(v.12) so they “are no longer… tossed… by waves”(v.14). Through this work, we are “building up the body of Christ” (v.12) and giving that boost to faith keeping our brothers and sisters from spiritual peril. The apologist supports the work of the evangelist and also equips the pastor and the encourager who strengthen those who are falling into doubt.
Apologetic arguments are also used to carry out the instruction in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. They are used for “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God”. The world throws these “speculations” and “lofty things” (v.5) at Christians on a regular basis. They are the challenges to our “knowledge of God” (v.5) which we receive from scripture. If they take root, they give rise to doubts, which can pull the believer down and prevent the unbeliever from coming to faith. When we use apologetic arguments we are engaging in spiritual warfare by “destroying speculations” and taking thoughts “captive”. These arguments can be the “weapons of our warfare” and “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses”. I believe “divinely powerful” refers to how the Holy Spirit uses the truth of the arguments to bring powerful conviction to people (Jn 16:13). It is exciting to think about the Holy Spirit working through you to destroy the devil’s “fortress” in someone’s life so that they can move on with their relationship with the Lord in peace.
As I said earlier, I remember not having a defense against the assertions of the atheistic scientific community. When we do not have an answer, sometimes people want to make us look stupid, but in those moments, we are being “persecuted” for our faith and have a reward in heaven (Matt 5:10-12). If you have ever felt that way, think about the reward and be careful how you act when the shoe is on the other foot and your antagonist doesn’t have an answer. As you learn more and more apologetic arguments, the shoe will be on the other foot most of the time. Your graciousness in these situations will do more than all the arguments in world in getting them to come to faith.
Many times I have been strengthened by the work of apologists. I am thankful for those who have labored to bring the truth to me. Let me now encourage you to continue on your mission destroying the enemy’s fortresses and equipping the saints so that the body of Christ will be built up with the truth you have been given.