Reason and Revelation

Jerry C. Ray
Irving, Texas

It is vitally important to understand the proper relationship between reason and revelation. The skeptics, in ridiculing Christianity as a religion of faith, define faith as "believing in some- thing you know is not so." But this is incorrect. The Bible is a book of evidence. It was written by men who knew Christ, who saw him work miracles, and who beheld him after his resurrection, and by contemporaries of these eyewitnesses.

The skeptic's mistake lies in his misunderstanding of the proper role of reason. Reason does not determine the plausibility or lack of plausibility of the evidence. Reason's function is to judge the merits of the evidence and determine their worth. The skeptic says, "I do not believe Jesus arose from the dead. It doesn't seem reasonable, because I've never seen or heard of any such thing happening in my lifetime." Thus reason is misused, and one's own personal experience becomes the standard. Let me illustrate this point:

1. Does it seem reasonable that the Egyptians three thousand years ago, without the benefits of modern science, research, and knowledge, could embalm bodies so that remains are extant now? Yet, such is the case.

2. Does it seem reasonable, or possible that man unaided by modern machinery and architectural knowledge, could have built the gigantic pyramids of Egypt?

3. Or had you lived a hundred years ago, would you have believed that one-day man would fly in machines heavier than air? Or that human voices could be transmitted through the air for hundreds of miles by means of radio? Or that images could be transmitted across the United States, and now even to Europe by something called television?

4. Even the courts of law recognize this truth: "The law cannot permit clear and unimpeachable evidence to be set aside on the basis that it does not coincide with the lack of experience of the objector." (Rimmer, The New Testament and the Laws of Evidence, p. 111.)

Perhaps you remember the supposedly true story of the man's reply to the charge that his views were "incredible": "Mr. Chairman, I cannot allow my opponent's ignorance, however vast, to offset my knowledge, however limited." And who hasn't heard the joke about the lawyer whose client was accused of stealing chickens. To offset the opposition's star witness who had seen the defendant steal the chickens, the lawyer produced one hundred witnesses who had not seen him steal the chickens!

I trust that this will cause you to see that "reason" is not the final court of appeal. The function of reason is not to determine the plausibility or lack of plausibility, but to examine the evidence. Belief, then, is the result of honest examination of the evidence, which evidence is sufficiently strong to merit acceptance. Unbelief is the result of the weakness of the evidence, or of a failure to honestly examine the same. But evidence cannot be set aside because it does not coincide with our idea of what is "reasonable." Christians are perfectly willing to let the Bible be examined upon this basis as would be the case in a court of law inquiring into the authenticity and veracity of any ancient document.

"How Do I Know?"

The skeptic might reply that it is just the Bible's word against his as to whether the things written are so. (This is the attitude manifested today by many who say, "How do I know these things happened? How do I know that John or Peter or Matthew didn't just make up these things?")

But it is not just the skeptic's word against the Bible because the Bible has the weight of over 1900 years on its side. This book was written by men who were contemporaries of Christ and this book was published abroad during the time and among the people who could examine the writings and the men and certainly could have discredited the book if it were not true. The very fact that the book was in circulation during the time when there were many eyewitnesses to the events recorded is of the greatest amount of weight in favor of its reliability.

As brother James D. Bales (Miracles or Mirages, pp. 29-30) has pointed out, there are actually some lines of proof that are stronger today than they were in the days of the first converts: 1. The argument from the spread of Christianity under the conditions and by the means by which it was propagated; 2. The argument from the influence of Christ as testified to by about 2000 years of history and experience; 3. The argument from the fulfillment of certain prophecies and statements, which were not fulfilled as completely and definitely in their day as in ours (Examples. John 8:12, Jesus is the light and life of the world; the great apostasy of the church; prophecies spoken by Christ); 4. The argument from the fact that after 2000 years of thought and action, no one has been able to surpass the teaching and life of Jesus Christ.

So to the person who says the New Testament writers made up these things concerning Christ, I say, "Where is your proof. You say it is so, you must have a reason and proof for such statements. Prove it." As stated in law, "When documents purporting to come from antiquity and bearing upon their face no evident marks of forgery, are found in the proper repository, the law considers such documents to be authentic and genuine, and the burden of proof to the contrary devolves upon the objector." (Rimmer, p. 19.)

Now, upon what basis can this skeptic prove his case and overthrow the Bible. 1. He can bring forth new evidence that proves the falsity of the Bible. This has not been done. To the contrary, all new evidence produced by archaeology has only further proved the reliability of the Biblical record. All alleged discrepancies between the Bible and the Sciences, which have been settled by further evidence, have been settled in favor of the Bible.

2. He can discredit the witnesses (the writers of the Bible.) The weight of the testimony of the witnesses depends upon (1) their honesty, (2) their ability, or competence, (3) their number and consistency of their testimony, (4) the conformity of their testimony with experience, and (5) the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.

There is not a man living who can produce proof that discredits the Bible or the witnesses (Writers of the Bible.) Until such time as such proof is forthcoming, the burden of proof lies squarely upon the person who assumes, without proof, that the Bible is not correct.

Now back to our original line of study. The only point at which the skeptic can even begin to make a case would be on "(4) the conformity of their testimony with experience." But, as Rimmer puts it, "if seven men testified they had seen a lion in the back alleys of a city, their word would carry more weight in court than that of seven hundred men who testified that they had not seen one! All the writers of the New Testament record the fact that they had seen miracles performed by God Almighty when He walked the earth in the days of His flesh." (p. 111.)

Christian, let no one destroy your faith in God's Word.

Preaching the Truth in Love

Much is said about preaching the truth in love, and so it should be preached. But, in love of what? The preacher should so love the truth that he will not sacrifice any of it nor pervert it; and he should so love people that he will not withhold from them even an unpleasant truth. He that does either of these things loves neither the TRUTH nor the PEOPLE -- R. L. Whiteside.

Truth Magazine VII: 1, pp. 17-18
October 1962