Last week we looked at the use of logic in apologetics. We have a reasonable faith and so therefore it should be understood using logic and reason. Just in case you are still not convinced I thought it would be fun to look at how Jesus, the most brilliant thinker in history, used logical arguments to refute His critics and establish the truth of His views. If Jesus used these methods, and we are followers of His, then logically we should do the same.
Jesus’ use of persuasive arguments demonstrates that He was both a philosopher and an apologist who rationally defended His worldview in discussions with some of the best thinkers of His day. This intellectual approach does not detract from His divine authority but enhances it. Jesus’ high estimation of rationality and His own application of arguments indicates that Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith as opponents frequently portray.
Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Word translated here in Greek is Logos and it is from this word that the word logic derives.
As an apologist for God’s truth, He defended the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as His own teachings and actions.
Presenting Jesus as a worthy thinker can be a powerful apologetic tool to unbelievers who wrongly assume that Christian belief is a matter of blind faith or irrational belief.
Jesus didn’t use logic to win arguments, but so that his listeners would understand and gain insight. It wasn’t about scoring intellectual points, as many of the so-called intellectuals didn’t ‘get it’ and yet everyday people and even children did.
We see in the gospels a number of occasions where the religious authorities tried to trap Jesus and we are then treated to a masterful demonstration of Jesus defeating their arguments through logic. For example in Matthew 22:23-38
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, hoping through their questions for Jesus to change His mind and admit that the resurrection was absurd. They tried to corner Him to admit that either there was no resurrection or that heaven allowed for monogamous marriages.
Jesus, using logic, showed they were basing their arguments on false premises. He then skilfully used their own beliefs to show them why they were wrong.
This is quite a common device used by opponents to Christianity. Their arguments will appear logical but will be based on false or misleading statements and premises.
Jesus was fond of using logical arguments which are called ‘a fortiori’ (Latin: “from the stronger”) The basic form of this argument is as follows
1. The truth of idea A is accepted.
2. Support for the truth of idea B (which is relevantly similar to idea A) is even stronger than that of idea A.
3. Therefore, if the truth of idea A must be accepted, then so must the truth of idea B.
Consider Jesus’ argument against the Pharisees concerning the rightness of His performing a healing miracle on the Sabbath:
Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21–24)
Jesus’ argument can be laid out simply:
1. The Pharisees endorse circumcision, even when it is done on the Sabbath, the day of rest from work. This does not violate the Sabbath laws, because it is an act of goodness.
2. Healing the whole person is even more important and beneficial than circumcision, which affects only one aspect of the male.
3. Therefore, if circumcision on the Sabbath is not a violation of the Sabbath, neither is Jesus’ healing of a person on the Sabbath.
Jesus’ concluding comment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment,” was a rebuke to their illogical inconsistency while applying their own moral and religious principles.
Jesus argued in a similar form in several other conversations regarding the meaning of the Sabbath. In Luke 13 after He healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler became indignant and said, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus reminded him that one may lawfully untie one’s ox or donkey on the Sabbath and lead it to water. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
Jesus’ argument looks like this:
1. The Jews lawfully release animals from their confinement on the Sabbath out of concern for the animals’ well-being.
2. A woman’s well-being (deliverance from a chronic, debilitating illness) is far more important than watering an animal.
3. Therefore, if watering an animal on the Sabbath is not a Sabbath violation, then Jesus’ healing of the woman on the Sabbath is not a violation of the Sabbath.
Luke recorded that Jesus “As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.” (Luke 13:17).
A wise apologist will make good and repeated use of ‘a fortiori’ arguments. Here is an example from comparative religion: Many reject the Gospels because they are ancient documents that are supposedly historically unreliable. Many of these same people, however, trust ancient Buddhist and other Eastern religious documents, which have far fewer manuscripts
Jesus would often appeal to strong evidence to back up His teachings. When John the Baptist sent word from prison asking if Jesus really was the Messiah, Jesus answered him
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (John 11:4-6)
Jesus’ logic was as such:
1. If one does certain kinds of actions (according to the scriptures), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.
Let’s look at one more logical tool Jesus used in His arguments. He used a common tool used by Philosophers and other debaters called ‘reductio ad absurdum’ arguments. The term means “reduction to absurdity.” When used successfully, powerfully refutes an illogical position
Let’s see how Jesus used this argument in Matthew 22:41-46
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Jesus’ argument can be laid out as follows:
1. If the Christ is merely the human descendent of David, David could not have called him “Lord.”
2. David did call the Christ “Lord” in Psalm 110:1.
3. To believe Christ was David’s Lord and merely his human descendent (who could not be his Lord) is absurd.
4. Christ, therefore, is not merely the human descendent of David.
Jesus’ point was not to deny the Christ’s ancestral connection to David, since Jesus Himself is called “the Son of David” in the Gospels (Matthew 1:1), and Jesus accepted the title without objection (Matthew 20:30–31). Jesus rather showed that the Christ is not merely the Son of David. Christ is also Lord and was so at the time of David. By using this reductio ad absurdum argument, Jesus expanded His audience’s understanding of who the Christ is and that He himself is the Christ.
Jesus employed another reductio ad absurdum when the Pharisees accused Him of driving demons out by Satan himself in Matthew 12:22-32. In reply to them He said:
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? (Matthew 12:25–27)
Let’s look at Jesus’ logic step by step:
1. If Satan were divided against himself, his kingdom would be ruined.
2. Satan’s kingdom, however, is not ruined (since demonic activity continues). To think otherwise is absurd.
3. Therefore, (a) Satan does not drive out Satan.
4. Therefore, (b) Jesus cannot free people from Satan by satanic power.
A bit of a longer blog today but I hope you have found it useful. Hopefully you will start to see how arguments are broken down into a set of statements and analysing these statements will show you where the errors occur (if any) Next time we will continue our look at apologetics and we will see some more examples of logic.