Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 1)

If you've been following this blog for a while, you might remember my brief discussion of the Christian idea of revelation. I'll not rehash what I said there, but I will add briefly the distinction between "general" and "special" revelation.

The difference is fairly obvious. General revelation deals with the aspects of God's nature that can be inferred from the world, or from other sources common to humanity, apart from any direct information (revelation) from God. Up to now, all of the posts in this 'Arguments for God' series have dealt with general revelation.

Special revelation is the more specific type of revelation I was talking about in the earlier post linked above. It goes beyond general revelation in both scope and detail, although it should not contradict it.

As mentioned in that other post, Christianity is one of several 'revealed' religions, meaning we understand our specific knowledge of and beliefs about God to have been given to us by Him directly. The following will be a very brief sketch of why we believe this.

It all revolves around this guy named Jesus who lived roughly two thousand years ago. He began His ministry, which lasted only about three years, somewhere around AD 30.*  Jewish by birth, He accepted the authority of the Hebrew scriptures and yet interpreted them in radically new ways. This combined with His highly unusual statements about Himself and His unique relationship to the Jewish God eventually made enough people angry enough to get Him killed. While He was alive, however, He caused quite a ruckus everywhere He went. The blind saw. The lame walked. The hungry were fed, the poor helped, the dead raised, the empty filled.

More important even than all this, this man predicted His own death on several occasions and said that afterward, He would live again. Naturally, His followers had a difficult time with this...until it happened. In the New Testament, we have assembled numerous, independent eyewitness and second-hand accounts of people who knew Jesus while He was alive, saw Him die, and then saw/spoke with/touched Him after He was resurrected. Naturally, a genuine, predicted resurrection tends to validate one's teaching about such things as God and death. Such was the birth of Christianity.

Now before you say it, yes I realize that this is a bit of a fantastic story. Yes, I realize that saying a guy died and then got up seems crazy. I really do. And yet I believe it happened. And in affirming this, I stand on a long tradition of sincere, reasonable, honest people, many of them among the most brilliant minds in history. The least the skeptic could do is give us the benefit of the doubt and listen to our reasons for believing such a tale. We do have reasons.

Next time, we'll dive into them.

* Or 'CE' if you're into the somewhat politically correct time delineations being used these days. However, the dates themselves are still based on the life of Christ, and since it is after all Him we are talking about, I say we go old-school and use 'AD.'


  1. Do you think the arguments from special revelation are as strong as those arguments for the existence of God? I've always thought that they were a little less convincing, though they gain some extra credence if you argue for God's existence first.

  2. Good question. I'm inclined to think that persuasiveness of a given argument is somewhat relative. For example, I happen to find the ontological argument thoroughly convincing. Likewise, some version of the cosmological seems obvious to me. However, there are many very intelligent people (Christians included) who understand these arguments as well as I do and yet remain unconvinced. That said, I'm not sure how I would rank evidences such as the resurrection, transmission of the Scripture, prophecy, miracles, etc. on the 'persuasiveness scale.' Personally, I find the resurrection to be perhaps the most compelling argument that I know for the Christian God. It also does the most work, as far as the knowledge of God that it reveals. I also think that the average non-philosopher would most likely find some such historical argument more convincing as well (this has been my experience, at least). But on the whole, I wouldn't say that I find this argument MUCH more compelling than, say, the near-truism that the universe did not create itself. I think the best way to look at the various argument types may be as a sort of 'cumulative case,' as it has been called, letting each inform and strengthen the others. I would not necessarily agree with the classical view that God's existence must be established prior to the claims of special revelation, however. For many (though certainly not all), miracle can serve as evidence for God's existence.

  3. Good points. I also find the ontological/cosmological arguments the most convincing. The argument from revelation I've always felt was less convincing, but you are right, it can serve in a cumulative case very well... and I do think it can serve as independent evidence. Have you read the argument from mircales by Timothy McGrew/Lydia McGrew in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology? Good read.

  4. Unfortunately, I have been so far unable to procure a copy of the Blackwell Companion. I have wanted it since it came out but the cost has prevented me. But it will be mine. :)