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The title of this article may surprise two very different groups of people.
First, the title may surprise unbelievers who have a “comfort zone” of thinking that Christianity has hardly anything to do with truth, as if there could never be evidence in favor of Christianity. Sometimes unbelievers will agree that Christianity can help people feel good and cope with the problems of this life, but to call Christian theology “true” rather than merely a “feel-good” religion—no, the unbeliever will have none of that.
Second, the title may surprise some believers who worry that appeals to evidence risk sidestepping the means of grace. Does “evidentialist apologetics” mean that the conversion of the sinner to saving faith could be accomplished by human reason weighing evidence rather than by the work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament? If so, then “Christian apologetics” is not Christian at all, for it runs contrary to the Third Article!
But what if there is a way to relate evidence to Christianity? To the unbeliever, this article will show that the historic Christian faith is supported by evidence. To the believer, this article will show that emphasizing such evidence need not detract from, but rather points toward, implies, and confirms the Gospel. Properly conducted, apologetics does not reduce faith to mere intellectual assent; properly understood, evangelism includes the presentation of evidence rather than avoiding evidence.
The Book of Acts records that whenever the apostles proclaimed the Gospel, they presented evidence in service to the Gospel. Evidence came in three forms: eyewitness accounts that Jesus had risen from the grave, miraculous signs that confirmed the authenticity of their preaching, and textual evidence from the Hebrew Scriptures that pointed to Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of messianic prophecies. All three kinds of evidence were components of, not alternatives to, the proclamation of the Gospel.
“You Shall Be Witnesses”
Shortly before His ascension, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles, adding: “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Greek term translated “witnesses” really means “eyewitnesses,” referring to people who can testify in court on the basis of firsthand experience. The apostles saw Jesus live. They saw Him die. They saw Him alive again after the resurrection.
When the Eleven selected Matthias to replace Judas as a twelfth apostle, they did so because Matthias had personally seen every event in Christ’s ministry from the baptism of John until the ascension. Therefore, Matthias was qualified to “become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Again, the Greek language emphasizes that Matthias had personally observed what he was about to proclaim.
The apostles emphasized the eyewitness caliber of their Gospel proclamation throughout the Book of Acts (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41; 13:31). What was true of the Twelve also became true of Paul, to whom Christ personally appeared on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:15; 26:16). In the epistles, too, the apostles emphasized that they had personally seen and heard what they preached and wrote about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 1:16-19; 1 John 1:1-3).
“Confirming … through Accompanying Signs”
Anyone can preach, but miracles serve as one way to distinguish true preachers from false preachers. In Egypt, God revealed that Moses was a true prophet and the magicians of pharaoh had a false message. Nine chapters (Exodus 4–12) enumerate the miracles performed by Moses and Aaron and demonstrate how feeble the magic of the Egyptians was by comparison. The point? The God of the Hebrews is the only true God.
If any doubt should remain, God performed the greatest miracle of the Old Testament—the parting of the sea (Exodus 14). Forty years later and 300 hundred miles away, Rahab of Jericho recounted this evidence and drew the correct conclusion: “the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11).
In the New Testament, Jesus confirmed His divinity by the evidence of His miracles. As Jesus said to John’s disciples when they asked whether He was the Messiah: “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised” (Luke 7:22, fulfilling Isaiah 35:4–6). Similarly, after Christ ascended to heaven, the Apostles “went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20).
“Reasoned … from the Scriptures”
The evidence for Christianity that was provided by eyewitness testimony and miracles did not stand alone. Always the proclamation of the early church pointed back to the Hebrew Scriptures, which in turn pointed forward to Jesus.
Consider the first mission trip to Thessalonica: Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead (Acts 17:2–3; cf. 18:4, 19). Paul’s “custom” when evangelizing involved “reasoning” and “demonstrating” based on the Hebrew Scriptures.
To proclaim the Gospel is to make this argument: the Old Testament said the Messiah would live for you, die for you, and rise back from the grave for you to accomplish your salvation, and Jesus of Nazareth has fulfilled precisely those prophecies. Therefore, Jesus is your Savior! Logic and evidence, when embedded within the very Word of God, serve as the Holy Spirit’s own tools for creating and strengthening faith. Mysticism departs from facts, but saving faith orients the facts around trust in Christ.
Presenting Evidence Today
When our children memorize each Christmas that Jesus was born in the days of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1), they are preserving the longstanding apostolic proclamation that Jesus is not make-believe, but historical. We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16). The risen Jesus “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present” (1 Corinthians 15:6).
The Bible repeatedly points beyond itself to tangible historical realities. Archaeologists have identified inscriptions that refer by name to over fifty people mentioned in the Old Testament. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus mentioned by name over twenty-five persons found in the New Testament. The books of Luke and Acts include over eighty historically verifiable references to persons, places, and specific terminology that tether the text to the real world.
To be clear, evidence does not of itself create or strengthen faith, but it can expose the folly of unbelief and open up conversations leading back to the Scriptures. The Scriptures, in turn, point to Christ. The Red Sea crossing not only demonstrated that the Lord is the only real God, but also served as a prophecy by type of the coming Messiah. The 500-plus witnesses to the resurrection not only substantiated a fact of history, but also drew attention to the Gospel message that salvation comes through Christ’s death and resurrection. This very Gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Critical scholars may continue to seek ways to doubt the evidence, but for what other religion can we even have this kind of discussion? What other religion, first, claims to be so historical and, second, can point to so many items beyond its sacred text that align with its sacred text?
Christianity is unparalleled in the annals of history. Why else would this be so except for the most obvious reason? What Christianity proclaims about Jesus Christ is true.
Dr. Ryan MacPherson