Tearing Down the Temple

Reactions to reading the book of Romans

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

On skeptiscism II: Test the spirits

As believers, we are understandably timid about expressing doubts, perhaps because of the story of Thomas the Apostle, doubting Thomas (John 20:26-29). In the account, Jesus states that belief without having seen Him is “happier” than belief based on sight. This is, perhaps, the origin of the notion of “blind faith.” But note that Jesus does not condemn Thomas; in fact He satisfies Thomas’ doubts. Doubt, I think, is not the same as denial in God’s lexicon. Doubt is a tool that can be used to reveal truth. It does not always do so; sometimes doubt sinks into denial. But doubt and denial are distinguishable states of belief.

The formulation of doubts is critical for the testing of evidence. St. John writes, “Test the spirits.” (1 John 4:1) Clearly, the formation of hypothesis, the testing of the hypothesis, and, based on the outcome, the subsequent acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis originates in Greek philosophy (in the Hellenized world). But it was not foreign to the New Testament’s way of thinking at all, nor to the Old Testament, for that matter, e.g., Elijah at Mt. Carmel. It was certainly not believed to be a heathen or atheistic pattern of thought, in and of itself, given that Paul reasons this way often in his letters.

Not all doubts function this way, but some do. This doubt did: had I never doubted the Isaiah text, I would never have bothered to look into the Dead Sea Scrolls and F. F. Bruce’s book (see the post "On skepticism"). I have since verified Bruce’s conclusions in a number of other texts, e.g., Frank Moore Cross, Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York: 1961. (There is a great mountain of material available on the Dead Sea scrolls, little of it of any interest to the casual reader. The most interesting aspects of it, to me, are those having to do with the Old Testament Scriptures and the conclusion that they have been preserved with remarkable accuracy. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls moved the autograph baseline for the Hebrew Scriptures back almost 1000 years. Nevertheless, what we have received through the Masorete recension is almost identical to what the Qumran communities preserved 200 years before Christ.) Only those scholars who clearly have an ax to grind diverge from the main body of opinion, and to diverge seems to require a significant distortion of the evidence as it presently appears, so far as I am able to understand it.

The relief from doubts that I encountered here had another significance. My doubts had been seeded by a deliberate, baseless contrivance. This convinced me that Christ had enemies; not just the heathens or parties that had different opinions, but active enemies who were, throughout time, trying to subvert Him and conceal or distort the truth about Him, namely, those entities Paul calls “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12) against which believers strive. Since that time, I have had numerous opportunities to observe the malice and vituperation that is heaped on Jesus by respectable leaders and thinkers in high places, and so I am far less astounded than I was then. Still, it is bone-chilling to hear and see people publicly denounce Jesus and His ideas. Such unbelief unquestionably has spiritual origins.


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