Classical Apologetics 2 – A Better Approach

In my last instalment, I interacted with and critiqued a number of classical arguments for the existence of God. Within this piece, I intend to put forward an argument for God’s existence rooted in history and revelation, instead of metaphysical speculation.

The Gods

Once upon a time, there were the gods. Practically every ancient near eastern culture had their gods. The Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, each of them had a pantheon of gods which they offered sacrifices to. What’s more, each nation recognised the gods of the other nations and sometimes made sacrifices to each other’s gods. When one nation conquered another, it was viewed as the gods of one nation defeating the gods of the other.

Pretty much everyone seems to have agreed that the gods existed, intervened in history, performed miracles and so on. Even within the Israelite religion (in which Yahweh alone was to be worshipped), there was still a recognition that other gods existed. For instance, the first commandment of Yahweh reads “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Not “there are no other gods”, but “worship me and not the other gods”.[1]

Now, it’s certainly possible that all of these nations were deluded and that none of their gods existed. But this seems extremely unlikely. It’s far more straightforward to believe that the gods existed than that they didn’t. The alternative would involve such an extreme scepticism towards human understanding that nobody could ever trust any of their basic cognitive faculties, even down to the present day.

The God-Slayer

It was into this world that Jesus of Nazareth entered. And what did he do? He drove out the old gods. He would wander into a city, identify those who were possessed by demons and tell the demons to leave. In one infamous story, he drove several thousand demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs only for the pigs to be sent into the sea to drown (Mark 5:1-20).

Jesus’s repeated conflicts with the religious leaders of his day ultimately led to his crucifixion. But, as it turned out, this was part of the plan all along. By subjecting himself to death Jesus was able to declare victory over the gods of death. In his resurrection from the dead, Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms:

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)

The disciples of Jesus claimed that in rising from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven to reign over all things. They believed that he had now been enthroned over all things and called everyone on earth to submit to his rule by being baptised and living in accordance with his commandments (see Matthew 28:18-20). They claimed that he poured out his Spirit upon all who submitted to him, enabling them to also have power over the old gods.

The New World

The historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ is strong. Many of the earliest disciples of Jesus claimed to have seen him and spoken with him after his resurrection. They continued to teach this and refused to renounce it, even in the face of violent persecution and martyrdom. They were ready for death, since they claimed to have encountered the risen Christ and believed that there would be a resurrection for them too.

The early Christians were sometimes called “atheists”, since they refused to worship other gods. And even today, the main places where atheism and agnosticism seem to have had a home (aside from under Communist regimes) is within cultures with a historical legacy of Christianity. This would have been virtually unthinkable in the old world, since essentially everyone recognised and worshipped the gods. But the new order appears to have swept away all of the old gods (or at least stripped them of their power).

The early Christians’ refusal to worship the gods was viewed as a threat to the social order. Because of this, they were often heavily persecuted. Despite such intense persecution, the early Christian movement continued to grow and spread until it became the official religion of the Roman Empire several hundred years later. Even today, at a time in which Christianity is in decline in the Western world, it’s flourishing across Africa and Asia.

Conclusion

Considering all of the evidence, Christianity seems to be the best explanation for the way the world is today. It seems to fit best with what we know from history. And of course, the central question revolves around the person Jesus of Nazareth.

By contrast with a “metaphysical” argument for God’s existence, this account is much more directly historical and evidential. It doesn’t merely attempt to prove that some form of generic “God substance” exists, but specifically seeks to demonstrate that the God revealed in Jesus Christ exists. The character of this God is not then deduced from abstract principles but from historical revelation.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)


[1] In one incident recorded in 2 Kings 3:27, a Moabite god breaks out in wrath against the Israelites in response to the king of Moab’s child sacrifice. There are actually a number of instances of other gods exerting their power in the Hebrew scriptures. See for instance Genesis 6:1-2 and Psalm 82.

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