In the last post I talked about how today we would discuss more how TSSI functions in the Christian church.
In that post, I also said that the purpose of Christ’s miracles was God loving His people and revealing to us this strong love in a particular way which had been prophesied in the Old Testament. Futher, I noted that TSSI (that is the “testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum” or internal testimony of the Holy Spirit) cannot really be understood properly unless it is seen as “playing out” throughout the history of God’s people, in a back-and-forth interplay between God’s written word and the fulfillment of that word.
Therefore, when the highly respected N.T. scholar N.T. Wright says “When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh’… scripture itself points… away from itself” (Wright, Scripture, 24, quoted on 136 of Peter Nafzger’s These Are Written), he is at once right and wrong. He is right because the good news is not so much that God has given us His written word, but that He has given us the incarnate Word – and that the Holy Spirit gives us the incarnate Word through the written word. He is wrong, because it is not only Scripture that does in fact point to itself (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11), but the incarnate Word that points us back to the written word and its prophecy (see Luke 7:18-23 in particular but also all throughout the New Testament – see many of the citations from part II)!
As Kevin DeYoung puts it in his new book: “Jesus may have seen himself as the focal point of Scripture, but never as a judge of it. The only Jesus who stands above Scripture is the Jesus of our own invention. . . . It is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did.” (105)
And after the incarnate Word has indeed been found there in the written word where He was prophesied, He tells His disciples (recorded in the New Testament) that He will bring all things to their remembrance (John 14) and guide them into all truth (John 16). Hence Christians have historically held up the Scriptures as being the greatest fulfillment of that promise,* that gift which has safeguarded those words of Christ’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit – that again, truthfully point to Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, the One who lived and died and was raised “in accordance with the Scriptures”. As a matter of fact, passages like those from 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:4 (see it in context here) indicate that the miracles the Apostles performed in Christ’s name were specifically added to testify to the saving doctrine Christ had revealed to them – something they even explicitly mention the Holy Spirit guided them to write down on at least a couple occasions** (see Acts 15 and Rev 2:8, 2:12,18 ; 3:1,7,14 ; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5 ; elsewhere this is certainly implied, given the authority with which the biblical authors write).
In any case, back to the focus of this series: are the Scriptures self-authenticating? And is Jesus’ bodily resurrection the validation of His teachings? Certainly for those who were mature believers, Christ’s words and claims – recorded in the Scriptures – rang true in their hearts. For those who had the word of God deeply hidden in their hearts, there was indeed a recognition – albeit not a perfect one – of the Truth incarnate and the truths He spoke. And as has been explained above, part and parcel of their recognizing Him and continuing to recognize Him was that He fulfilled the prophecies about the One who was to come (we see this early on and as things progress among believers like Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Anna, Simeon, Nathan and the other disciples).
None of this is to say that those who believed in Jesus while He was on earth were fully aware of all of these things leading up to His death, but again, the more mature among them certainly had begun to understand this, and what Jesus talked about in Luke 24 would not have been totally unfamiliar to them. Likewise, the signs the Apostles performed, done in part to show themselves as true Apostles, would have been “icing on the cake” for such as these. Truly, from the days the words of Genesis 3:15 were spoken up to that and this day, the sheep have been hearing the ever-merciful Good Shepherd’s voice – and the Deceiver does not snatch them away.
The fact is that this all comes back to the words mentioned above from Deuteronomy 13: those mature in the faith readily recognized the divine message, both understood as His person and His words, vis a vis imposter messages. Even if an “angel of light” performs would have performed the greatest of miracles to support the errors they bring, faithful stalwarts would not be moved! (Gal. 1, Deut 13) In other words, these mature believers were (and are) only interested in the “many infallible proofs” spoken of in Acts 1:3 (see also Acts 2:22, 32-36, 13:34 ; I John 1 ; and I Cor. 15) that Jesus did because they knew that He, His actions and His words were clearly in line with the Word and words of God that they knew. They fulfilled the O.T. prophecies about Him and further bolstered and witnessed to the O.T.-confirming message He brought – even as they did not establish His message among His people.***
Therefore, contra Habermas (see part I), when it comes to the perspectives of human beings, Jesus’ resurrection was ideally not the validation, or proof, of Jesus’ teachings for believers **** – those who had kept His Word in its truth and purity – even as, when it basically comes to those outside of the Church (Gentiles, pagans, and those associating with the church in name only) it may be proof in just this way. . Why do I say “may”? We recall that Jesus said that “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)***** It is after all “a wicked generation that demands a sign” – even as believers “walk by faith and not by sight”, here the signs were and are abundant for those with eyes to see!
So what the Scriptures say, we see in our own experiences with unbelievers: they do not feel it has been proved to them****** (and I must say, beaten down by rationalism and empiricism, the church has often retreated from a full-throated proclamation of this firm, reliable, and secure historical message).
But, at this point, notice what I italicized above: “when it comes to the perspectives of human beings”. There is another perspective we need to consider (those who saw my recent reflection on the new CPH apologetics book will have some idea where I am going with this).
Here are some critical questions that I submit need asking:
- is there anything like TSSI for anyone who is an unbeliever – for those not a part of the Church?
- Is there in fact a TSSI for the unbeliever that does not fail, whether we specifically talk about the proof provided in Christ’s resurrection or not?
Stay tuned – it has to do with ultimately letting God Himself speak to this matter. (part IV here now)
* For Luther, it would seem that the book of James (and some others) “earned his distrust”. That said, I think that we really do need to take into consideration the context in which Luther was operating, where his theological opponents were really misusing those books. Later Lutherans were able to see these as also being Christ-centered and Spirit-inspired. In any case, Lutherans like Martin Chemnitz were right to highlight the reality of “Antilegomena” in the church – and to insist that these books should not be able to help determine doctrine without the help of other books (at the very least out of sensitivity towards believers who while holding orthodox beliefs were nevertheless unable to fully embrace such books as being Scriptural).
** Ideas of infallibility particularly come into play here when we talk about “putting it into writing”. Robert Preus, explicating John Gerhard talks about how this idea of infallibility in the Church can go beyond the Scriptures as well: “in a sense it is true that the Church is infallible and the judge in spiritual matters, inasmuch as its faith is and must be grounded in Christ, but it is quite another thing to claim that a Church council or a Roman bishop cannot error”. (122, Preus, Inspiration of Scripture)
As God guides in this our day (see here for more on how Lutherans often fall down here as well), He will never do so at the expense of what He has clearly said to us in the Word. We do not shy away from this. The word is truth, and truth brings joy. The truth sets us free.
*** Luther said that Peter, Paul, and John were men, indeed, but “the speech of the apostles was commanded by God and confirmed and proved with great miracles.” (19, 620). As a friend puts it: “… miracles, as corroboration or authentication of the doer’s claims, induce a person to believe (see the comments in John about believing the signs), but that faith is attached to the doer and his truth claims that were previously communicated, and known to the eye-witnesses of the miracles, in the form of words.”
**** “The validation” no, but “the vindication” yes. Kurt Marquart, evaluating the work of a Roman Catholic theologian discussing justification: Kueng’s reference to God’s self-vindication suggests especially I Tim. 3:15: “He was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit. . .” What can it mean that Our Lord was “justified”? Since He had no sins of His own, but had, as Lamb of God, died a criminal’s death for the sins of the world, He, and therefore that world in Him, was “justified” or “vindicated” by His holy Resurrection. Compare the very similar contrasts in I Peter 3:18: put to death/flesh—made alive/spirit. (see here)
***** They may have listened to, but did not hear and obey God in either the OT or in the NT. As Jesus said, they were children of their father, the devil. Blind and veiled, they created a false interpretation that overlaid the truth. The signs, downplayed, explained away, or otherwise suppressed, are seen as being insignificant to them. They suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and thereby, in their persons, did not feel (and then think) that this was proof that Jesus was the Son of God – even if at some level, they suspected that it was. This is why we can say that ultimately, they do know that Jesus is the truth, even as they know that God exists (Rom 1). Of course they attributed Jesus’ divine power to the devil. This means that they could even create a “false theology of the cross” (Jesus’ power and corresponding success at this moment was not evidence!) to justify their unbelief.
***** It is noteworthy that “proof” (to establish Jesus Christ as the “nemesis” of the Greek gods as the 17th century Jena study Bible [produced by John Gerhard’s university with him as a contributor] put it! – I’d make that “nemesis” to the gods of all nations!) does not even seem to be the main purpose of the resurrection. What were the main purposes of the resurrection of Christ? While the Small Catechism, in response to question 145, says that the resurrection proves that Christ is the Son of God (according to his human nature as well), it also says that it shows that His doctrine is truth, that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice (fulfillment of the Day of Atonement), and that all believers will rise to eternal life (the absolution angle). Further, because of the resurrection Jesus acts as our High Priest before God. Also, the resurrection is for all men in that we are all meant to participate in the firstfruits of the resurrection. The resurrection, like the cross, saves, although here the focus might be on defeating death (the grave does not hold Him who is life, and we participate in this through Christ, as we are given immortality in communion with Him) as well as the devil (Satan wins, but wait….). (insights from a 2010 Concordia Journal article from David Maxwell).
Bringing this matter back to the focus of this series, I add this quote from Martin Noland (email to author, used with permission): “The resurrection of Christ was, admittedly, first a witness to his innocence, and thus his justification before the world, both believers and unbelievers, as well as Satan and demons, that Jesus was the Father’s “beloved Son.” But because it witnessed to that truth, it also lends credence to Jesus’ doctrine and his mission. I would say that “Jesus resurrection was a validation or proof of Jesus’ teaching, for believers and unbelievers, just as his other miracles and fulfillment of OT prophecy also were.”
To which I responded: “I want to say that my main point is that many of the believers already knew He was the Messiah and that He was innocent – or at least, in light of Luke 24, there is indeed a sense in which they really should have known it!”
Image credits: Jesus and scroll: http://www.testimoniesofheavenandhell.com/Pictures-Of-Jesus/2013/04/06/jesus-teaching-scroll-synagogue-picture/ ; Apostles and miracles: http://www.motherteresa.org/st_paul/StPaul_greatest_Missionary.html