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1 John 1:1-3 by Robert Dean
Series:1st John (2000)
Duration:1 hr 9 mins 3 secs

Interpretation; Empirical Evidence; 1 John 1:1-3

 

What we want to address now is the emphasis in the relative clauses. The emphasis here is on the empirical evidence of them humanity of Jesus Christ. The four verbs here emphasize the physical reality of our Lord Jesus Christ and the historical witness or evidence that the apostles heard. It was "what we heard, we heard Him teach, we heard Him answer questions, we heard Him around the table in conversations, we heard Him respond in situations; we heard Him, we were witnesses of what came out of His mouth—not just the doctrine but everything. Second, "what we have seen with our eyes." This is from the verb horao [o(raw] which means to perceive, and it means not only did we see it physically with our eyes but we perceived its significance. We saw Jesus perform miracles: He gave sight to the blind; He healed the lame. There were the miracles that were prophesied by Isaiah and the other prophets, and when we saw what He did with our eyes we understood its significance, that He was Immanuel as Isaiah had prophesied—He was "with us." What "we beheld" shifts to another verb of observation, the verb theaomai [qeaomai]. These two verbs are linked together, "what we observed and our hands handled." John is using every sense verb he can in order to emphasise that the totality of Jesus' life was manifested to us and there is no possible way that this was just an illusion, that He was not true humanity; He was true humanity.

The question then comes up: what exactly is the role of empirical data in Christianity? Does this prove Christianity? So often when we are witnessing to somebody who is not a believer the question comes up: How do you know that the Bible is true? The problem is that it immediately that puts us on the defensive, or we let that put us on the defensive, and so what we try to do at that point is find some common ground with the unbeliever that we can appeal to as verification of biblical truth. Therein lies the trap we can fall into. We have let them walk us into a box and shut the door, and now we are in their room and no longer operating on divine viewpoint. As soon as we let them set the agenda by asking the question, How do you know it is true? we are in the trap. Its best to ignore the question. If we do address it we have to do it from the right perspective. What happens as a believer is that if we walk into the trap in conversation while witnessing to somebody and try to prove it according to their standard of proof we have legitimized their standard of proof. Their standard of proof is based on human viewpoint assumptions about knowledge, and wee can't prove divine viewpoint truth according to human viewpoint foundations.

So what is the role in Scripture of evidence? The Bible does not say that we believe despite our thinking. There is a conflict going on here. The conflict is that the believer is operating on a divine viewpoint concept of reality, or should be. The unbeliever is operating on a human viewpoint concept of reality and in one sense they are talking two different languages. What happens when you come along and say you are going to try and communicate on the basis of his assumptions you blow it. When you try to prove it what you have done is the same thing as trying to answer the question: Have you stopped beating your wife yet? However you answer that question you are wrong because by answering it you have legitimized the question. A lot of times an unbeliever operating on human viewpoint assumptions about life is asking an invalid question. He thinks it is valid because of his frame of reference but it is not. So we have to learn a little bit about how to witness and the kinds of strategies that we use, and we can see these from some examples in Scripture. The average person today somehow gets the ideas that religious knowledge is something different and yet when we look at the Scripture the Scripture says that we know things by means of faith; we know them just as certainly as if we had demonstrated it empirically in the laboratory. In fact we think knowledge based on revelation is more certain than empirical knowledge from the laboratory, simply because the source is more certain. But the Scriptures do not teach us that somehow you have to put your mind in neutral in order to be a Christian. What we see in Scripture is continually an emphasis that while history and empirical information doesn't prove Scripture it validates, confirms what we believe. We do not believe in a vacuum, it is not something subjective. Jesus didn't just appear as a sort of mental apparition to the disciples after the resurrection, there was a physical manifestation.

The Bible operates on the presupposition that there is objective and that it is knowable and verifiable. In Acts 1:3 we are told that Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection by many convincing proofs. In other words, He demonstrated to them the validity and the reality of the resurrection. He demonstrated through empirical observation that He had been raised physically and bodily from the grave. 1 Corinthians 15:4-8 talks about the witnesses to the resurrection: that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, and after that He appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now. 2 Peter 1:16-18 NASB "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased'— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain." So the Scripture again and again emphasizes that there is empirical data but it is not that it proves the Scripture, because that would imply that if the Scripture is true and the Word of God that there is some kind of standard to which it is accountable. It is the standard of truth.

We have to understand a few things related to how people think and how we come to know anything. The question is, how do we know truth? There are two basic systems of truth, of learning, of knowing things. There are autonomous systems of perceptions that have been developed in the history of human thought. In contrast to that we have the divine viewpoint as expressed in the revelation of God in Scripture. The first system of human knowledge is called rationalism. Rationalism technically refers to a system of thinking that starts from first principles that are inherently obvious to the mind. In the ancient world that was exemplified through the thought system of Platonism. Remember that Platonism is the background to Gnosticism. There is a connection there and we see that wherever there is a rise of rationalism there are going to be elements of Gnosticism present. Rationalism starts of with the idea that man has certain innate ideas that are present in his thinking. Descartes is the classic example from modern history. He used the principle of skepticism: how do I know that anything really exists? On the basis of a rigorous use of logic and reason he started developing a whole philosophical system to explain the ultimate nature of reality and to understand and answer the basic questions of life. So rationalism starts with innate ideas within the mind and it uses a method of independent use of logic and reason, but ultimately faith is in man's ability to think correctly. That is his assumption, the hidden assumption. Ultimately faith is in human reasoning ability to be able to solve the problems and answer the questions. Then there is empiricism. Technically it starts with sense data, it is building knowledge on the basis of what we perceive with the senses. Rationalism starts from inside the mind; empiricism is from the outside. It starts from sense perception and external experience which comes into the mind and it is the foundation of the scientific method, but ultimately it, too, has faith in human ability. It comes up with the assumption that man does have the ability, with no assistance from a divine being, to answer the problems and come up with accurate, true knowledge. Again, the method is the same as rationalism, it is the independent use of logic and reason. Then the third basic system of knowledge is mysticism—rationalism gone to seed. Rationalism and empiricism in history always produce skepticism in the culture they dominate because ultimately they can't really answer the questions or tell us with certainty whether God exists, whether Scripture is true, whether we have any meaning in life, and so man can't live that way. Man can't live apart from knowing the answers to those questions: well, if I can't prove them logically and they are illogical then I just have to assume they are true even though they are not true. That leads to subjectivism and irrationalism. It is the idea that it is not rational to believe there is a God, therefore it is irrational. That is their conclusion. That leads to mysticism, and mysticism starts in the thinking. The starting point is that there are inner private, intuitive experiences that are true: that I just know it! It was so real, so powerful, such an overwhelming experience that I just know it is true. Once again, what is the object of faith? The object is human ability. The method, though, instead of the independent use of logic and reason is still operating independent of any objective verifiable revelation. It is non-logical though and non-rational and non-verifiable. Always the swing in history is from rationalism to empiricism to skepticism. Skepticism always leads to mysticism and subjectivity and an emphasis on emotion.

In contrast to all of that we have revelation. As Christians we believe that God has spoken objectively in human history. It is not subjective. He has revealed His will and Word to us and that is our starting point. Our assumption is that what the Bible says is true and accurate, and it informs us about things that we don't know otherwise.

The problem with logic and reason is that it is the independent use of logic and reason versus the dependent use of logic and reason. The starting point has to shift. For most Christians the starting point never changes, and if you don't change your starting point there is not renovation of thought. This is why certain types of Christianity today are so popular; you don't have to think. You can sit there ad be the same emotional, subjective person you were as an unbeliever and you don't have to think about anything, you don't have to challenge what is going on in your mind. As a believer we have to challenge our thinking. We3 renovate the mind, we change the thinking, according to Romans 12:2. We start with the objective revelation of God and we evaluated all thought rationally, all experience, all inner intuitive insights, by an objective standard: the Word of God. We don't judge the Word by our reason, by experience, or by intuitive insight. So we use logic and reason but the starting point changes. The starting point is the Word of God because the Word of God informs us of what we don't know.

That is what Jesus is getting at when we look at His interchange with Nicodemus. John 3:2 NASB "this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that You have come from God {as} a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him'." So he has seen the empirical data. [3] "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God'." Jesus goes to the heart of the issue which is regeneration. You are not really going to know truth unless you are saved. That ties in with 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 that the natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned. And if we are not operating on divine viewpoint no matter how close the picture in our mind of reality is it is not there because human viewpoint is always going to skew our perception and interpretation of reality. It is going to distort it; it is going to put it out of focus. We can only get to a true and accurate understanding of reality if our starting point is the Word of God. If you are an unbeliever you can't do it. This is why Nicodemus can only get a partial picture because he is still an unbeliever. Nicodemus can't even understand what born again is.

John 3:5 NASB "Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God'." He is talking about the fact that there has to be a complete spiritual rebirth. [6] "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" Then Jesus gives an interesting illustration based on wind. [8] "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." What Jesus is doing here is making a very subtle shift. He has quit talking about regeneration and now is talking about the fact that until Nicodemus changes his basic assumptions about he interprets reality he is not even going to understand the gospel. He has to redo his thinking. The wind is an empirical phenomenon but you can't predict it, it is totally random and variable and so it stresses the limits of human knowledge. What He is pointing out to Nicodemus is the finitude of human knowledge: that human knowledge can only go so far. Rationalism can only go so far and empiricism can only go so far. Beyond that there is guessing, speculation.

Nicodemus is beginning to catch the point. John 3:9 NASB "Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can these things be?' [10] Jesus answered and said to him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? [11] Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. [12] If I told you earthly things [inside the box of rationalism and empiricism that are verifiable] and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things [outside the box]? [13] No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man'." In other words, the only way you are going to know what is outside the limitations of human knowledge is if God who is outside comes inside through incarnation and reveals what is in your realm of speculation. The fact is that God has spoken. So Jesus points out in this interchange the limits of man's ability to know things.

This is a reference to several passages in the Old Testament. For example, Proverbs 30:3, 4 NASB "Neither have I learned wisdom, Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know!" There the writer of Proverbs is emphasising the fact that the only way we can know what goes on beyond the physical realm, what goes on beyond the empirical and rationally provable realm is if it is delivered to us through means of revelation.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 NASB "For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it." God makes things clear. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals it and the Holy Spirit who teaches us. So the starting point is not human reason and John is not starting off 1 John by saying that we prove it was true because we saw it. It is the objective revelation of the Word of God.

If we are communicating the gospel to a believer we have to make sure we make the gospel clear. The Scriptures emphasise that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. We have to stick to the gospel and not get side-tracked. But every now and then people raise legitimate questions. They wonder about certain things. The reason we go to empiricism, to evidence of Christianity, is confirmation, not proof. If a system is true it will be confirmed by corollary data. If the Scripture is what it claims to be, the Word of God, then that means that there are prophecies and they will come to be true. That is why in the Old Testament God would reveal to the prophets certain information, and a prophet had to be 100 per cent correct. But you couldn't verify everything a prophet said because some of it wasn't going to be fulfilled for centuries. So in almost every prophecy that contained elements that wouldn't be fulfilled for centuries there was also a prophecy that would be fulfilled in the near or immediate future that would confirm or validate the remainder of the prophecy. So God always confirmed whatever He did with something that was objective and verifiable. That is confirmation.

The reason an unbeliever rejects the gospel isn't because it doesn't make sense, it isn't because they don't understand it, it isn't because you haven't presented the best argument; it is because they don't want to believe it. When we come to a passage like 1 John 1 the emphasis is that there is historical confirmation of thew validity of what we believe and we can know it with certainty. So it is the content of this message that is what is proclaimed in verse 3, and the purpose is for fellowship, fellowship with the apostles. The apostles are in fellowship with God. If anyone is in fellowship with the apostles they are also in fellowship with God. That is the point that he is making.