Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jesus Argued Reductio Ad Absurdum

I recently had the pleasure of attending an apologetics conference with a friend of mine who is an atheist.  One of the speakers, J. Warner Wallace, pointed out that Jesus was an astute thinker that valued evidence and went on to  provided an example.  This took my atheist friend by surprise and he seemed to appreciate the fact that Jesus was an intelligent person who valued facts and evidence.  This is something that is evident when one begins reading the Gospels; however, the church has not done enough to cultivate this view of Jesus.  As followers of Christ, we are often quick to point out how loving He is or how humble He is, but most of us do not think of Him as the smartest man who ever lived, as the late Dallas Willard contented.  

In their book The Apologetics of Jesus authors Norman Geisler and Patrick Zukeran demonstrate that Jesus was a master logician and very adept with making arguments.  For example, they point out an example of Jesus arguing reductio ad absurdum in the gospels:

"Reductio ad absurdum (reduction of absurdity) is an argument that demonstrates that if something is supposed to be true but it leads to a contradiction or absurdity, then it cannot be true.  It works this way: The argument begins with the premises your opponent holds.  Then you reveal how this leads to a contradiction, and thus your opponent's view is reduced to absurdity.  This is a powerful way to reveal the false nature of a view, for if we can show that it leads to a contradiction, then it cannot be true.

Matthew 12:22-28.  Jesus uses the reductio ad absurdum argument to respond to the Pharisees' accusation that he is exorcising demons by the power of Satan.  Jesus demonstrates that their premise leads to a contradiction: "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How then can his kingdom stand?  And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?" (vv. 25-27)

Jesus begins with the Pharisees' premise that he drives out demons by the power of Satan.  He points out that if he is empowered by Satan to drive out demons, Satan is casting out his own servants.  This would mean Satan is divided against himself, and any kingdom, city, or household that develops internal strife will destroy itself.  Jesus goes on to point out that there are contemporary Jewish exorcists who also cast out demons.  If they believe these men cast out demons by the power of God, why do they not believe that Jesus does so by the power of God?...Thus, Jesus uses the reductio ad absurdum argument to show that the claim that his authority to cast out demons is from Satan creates a contradictory and absurd conclusion." [1]

Further, in his excellent article, Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist, thinker Doug Groothuis points out another example in the gospels of Jesus arguing reductio ad absurdum:

"Consider Jesus’ apologetic use of reductio ad absurdum in defending His identity as the Messiah.
Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” The reply was, “The son of David.” Jesus responded, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” By quoting Psalm 110:1, Jesus appealed to a source that the Pharisees accepted. He concluded with the question: “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” which, as Matthew recorded, silenced the audience (see Matt. 22:41–46). The argument can be stated 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 (Matt. 1:1), and Jesus accepted the title without objection (Matt. 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." [2]

Jesus was very comfortable with using logic and sound arguments; therefore, so we His followers should be.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnotes:
1. The Apologetics of Jesus by Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran, p. 75-76.
2. Doug Groothuis, Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist, see here.

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