In my last post, I spent some time showing the biblical examples of how Jesus operated as an evidentialist in his ministry. He never called people to blind faith, but gave good reasons to believe he is who he said he was: the Messiah and the son of God. This time, I’d like to examine some more Bible passages in which Jesus interacted with questioners and demonstrated the sharpness of his mind and the logic and philosophy with which he answered them. Much of this material is paraphrased from Douglas Groothuis’ book On Jesus.
Jesus the Philosopher and Logician
To begin with, let’s look at Matthew 12:22-28 in which Jesus is challenged by Pharisees upon driving out a demon from and healing a blind and mute man:
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
In this passage, Jesus uses the philosophical tool called reductio ad absurdum, sometimes colloquially referred to as “taking the roof off.” A point of view is taken seriously for the sake of argument and then shown how, taken to its logical conclusion, produces something ridiculous. When this happens, it is a signal that there is a problem with one or more of the argument’s supporting premises.
Another example of Jesus’ sophisticated ability to apply logic is in Mark 2:5-12. This is the account of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic who was lowered in through the roof by his friends.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus,perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Let me lay out the deductive argument that Jesus makes here:
- If Jesus can perform miracles, then His claim to be the Son of God who can forgive sins is true.
- Jesus can perform miracles (healing of the paralyzed man)
- Therefore, Jesus is the Son of God who can forgive sins.
Finally, let’s read the account below from Luke 20:27-40 in which the Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus concerning marriage relationships of believers in the afterlife:
There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
There are actually two philosophically very interesting things going on. In the first part, the Sadducees are trying to show that Jesus has committed a logical fallacy (or error in thinking) by applying reductio ad absurdum to Jesus’ teachings, saying that their hypothetical but potentially real situation would create a ridiculous situation in the afterlife. However, Jesus responds by showing the Sadducees understanding of His teachings is flawed. Jesus exposes their argument as being itself fallacious, being a false dichotomy, which is when two options are presented as the entire selection of options available, when there are actually one or more additional options not mentioned.
So we should be able to see from this post and the last that Jesus had a well-developed mind and expected His followers not to be dumb, blind sheep, but to follow Him because of the strength of evidence and in his living example of a sharp thinker.
Next time, I’ll show you how the apostle Paul modeled for us the use of reason, philosophy, and apologetics in his evangelistic work.
Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!
(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)