Desiring God by John Piper
DOES GOD EXIST?
Whole books have been written on why the Bible is trustworthy.1 But for the
sake of our own sense of integrity, we ought to review in a brief space why we bank our hope on the message of this book. I hope I can steer a course in this appendix between unsupported dogmatism on the one hand and apologetic overkill on the other.
Let’s start at the most basic level of religious faith. I believe in God. There
may be social and family reasons for how I got to be this way, just as there are social and family reasons for why you are the way you are. But when I try to be reasonable and test my inherited belief in God, I cannot escape His reality.
Suppose I try to go back a million billion trillion years to imagine the nature of original reality. What was it like? What I see is the stunning fact that,
1. For example, B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (London: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1959); F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1943); J. Norval Geldenhuys, Supreme Authority (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1953); J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (London: InterVarsity, 1958); Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1957); J. B. Phillips, The Ring of Truth (New York: Macmillan, 1967); John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (London: Tyndale, 1972); James Boice, ed., The Foundation of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1978); D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1983); Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1987). Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992).
on the far side of reality so to speak, there was a fifty-fifty possibility that
original reality was a Person rather than a gas. Just think of it. Since whatever originally was has always existed, there are absolutely no causes that could have disposed that original reality to be a gas rather than a person. Every reasonable person must admit that, from the far side of past eternity, it was, you might say, a toss-up. Maybe some undefined stuff would exist—or maybe a Person!
Admitting the reasonable possibility that ultimate reality could be personal
has a way of freeing you to consider subsequent evidence more openly. My own inescapable inference from the order of the universe and the existence of human personhood and the universal sense of conscience (moral self-judgment) and the universal judicial sentiment (judgment of others who dishonor us)—my own inference from all this is that Ultimate Reality is not impersonal, but is indeed a Person. I simply find it impossible to believe that the human drama of the centuries, with its quest for meaning and beauty and truth, has no deeper root than molecular mutations.
MANY RELIGIONS, MANY GODS
So when I consider where enduring happiness is to be found, I am driven to
search for it in relation to God—the personal Creator of all things. Nothing
seems more reasonable to me than that lasting happiness will never be found by a person who ignores or opposes his Creator. I am constantly astonished at people who say they believe in God but live as though happiness were to be found by giving Him 2 percent of their attention. Surely the end of the ages will reveal this to be absurd.
But once we begin to seek our happiness in relation to God, we are confronted with many different claims and religions. Why should we bank our hope on the claim that the Christian Bible is a true revelation of God? My basic answer is that Jesus Christ—the center and sum of the Bible—has won my confidence by His authenticity and love and power. I see His authenticity and love in the record of His word and deeds, and I see His power especially in His resurrection from the dead.
LISTENING TO THE WITNESSES TO CHRIST
You need not believe the Bible is infallible to discover that it presents a historical Person of incomparable qualities. On the contrary, the reasonable way to approach the Bible for the first time is to listen openly and honestly to its various witnesses to Christ, to see if these witnesses and this person authenticate themselves. If they do, the things they and Christ say about the Bible itself will take on new authority, and you may well end up accepting the whole Bible (as I do!) as God’s inspired, infallible Word. But you don’t need to start there.
THE INCOMPARABLE CHRIST
Let me try to illustrate what I mean by the self-authenticating message of Christ and His witnesses. The biblical accounts present Jesus as a man of incomparable love for God and man. He became angry when God was dishonored by irreligion (Mark 11:15–17) and when man was destroyed by religion (Mark 3:4–5). He taught us to be poor in spirit, meek, hungry for righteousness, pure in heart, merciful, and peaceable (Matthew 5:3–9). He urged us to honor God from the heart (Matthew 15:8) and to put away all hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). And He practiced what He preached. His life was summed up as “doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38).
He took time for little children and blessed them (Mark 10:13–16). He
crossed social barriers to help women (John 4), foreigners (Mark 7:24–30), lepers (Luke 17:11–19), harlots (Luke 7:36–50), tax collectors (Matthew 9:9–13), and beggars (Mark 10:46–52). He washed disciples’ feet like a slave and taught them to serve rather than be served (John 13:1–17). Even when He was exhausted, His heart went out in compassion to the pressing crowds (Mark 6:31–34). Even when His own disciples were fickle and ready to deny Him and forsake Him, He wanted to be with them (Luke 22:15), and He prayed for them (Luke 22:32). He said His life was a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and as He was being executed at age thirty-three, He prayed for the forgiveness of His murderers (Luke 23:34).
Not only is Jesus portrayed as full of love for God and man; He is also presented as utterly truthful and authentic. He did not act on His own authority to
gain worldly praise. He directed men to His Father in heaven: “The one who
speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18). He does not have the spirit of an egomaniac or a charlatan. He seems utterly at peace with Himself and God. He is authentic.
This is evident in the way He saw through people’s sham (Matthew 22:18).
He was so pure and so perceptive that He could not be tripped up or cornered in debate (Matthew 22:15–22). He was amazingly unsentimental in His demands, even toward those for whom He had a special affection (Mark 10:21). He never softened the message of righteousness to increase His following or curry favor. Even His opponents were stunned by His indifference to human praise: “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God” (Mark 12:14). He never had to back down from a claim and could be convicted of no wrong (John 8:46). He was meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29).
But what made all this so amazing was the unobtrusive yet unmistakable
authority that rang through all He did and said. The officers of the Pharisees
speak for all of us when they say, “No man ever spoke like this man!” (John
7:46). There was something unmistakably different about Him: “He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29).
His claims were not the open declaration of worldly power that the Jews
expected from the Messiah. But they were unmistakable nonetheless. Though no one understood it at the time, there was no doubt that He had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19; Matthew 26:61). They thought it was an absurd claim that He would singlehandedly rebuild an edifice that had been forty-six years in the making. But He was claiming in His typically veiled way that He would rise from the dead—and by His own power.
In His last debate with the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41–45), Jesus silenced
them with this question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is
he?” They answered, “The son of David.” In response, Jesus quoted David from Psalm 110:1: “The LORD said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Then, with only slightly veiled authority, Jesus
asked, “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” In other words, for those who have eyes to see, the son of David—and far more than the son—is here.
“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and
condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41–42). This kind of veiled claim runs through all Jesus said and did.
Besides that, He commanded evil spirits and they obeyed Him (Mark
1:27). He issued forgiveness for sins (Mark 2:5). He summoned people to leave all and follow Him to have eternal life and treasure in heaven (Mark 10:17–22; Luke 14:26–33). And He made the astonishing claim that “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32–33).
AM I ARGUING IN A CIRCLE?
Perhaps someone will say that I am arguing in a circle. Am I not assuming the reliability of the biblical portrait of Jesus, even as I argue for it? Not exactly. The portrait I have sketched is not isolated to one writer, nor (as critical scholars would say) to any particular layer of the tradition. No matter how far back you go through a critical study of the Gospels, you never find a Jesus of history substantially different than the one described here. In other words, you don’t have to assume the accounts are reliable. You can assume they are not if you wish. But the more rigorously you analyze them with a fair historical procedure, the more you realize there is no point between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Gospels where this unequaled man was created by human artifice.
In other words, I am not starting with the assumption that the Gospels are
inspired or infallible. I am trying to show that a certain portrait of Jesus is common to all the witnesses and goes back as far as historical criticism can go.
HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR JESUS?
How is this concert and this antiquity to be explained? Did some unknown
creative genius take an ordinary man, Jesus, and invent His deeds of power and
His words of love and authority and authenticity, then present this invented
Jesus to a church with such deceptive power that many people were willing from the outset to die for this fictional Christ? Further, must we believe that all the Gospel writers swallowed the invention—and in the space of several decades while many who knew the real Jesus were still living? Is that a more reasonable or well-founded guess than the plain assertion that a real man, Jesus Christ, did in fact say and do the sorts of things the biblical witnesses said He did?
You must decide for yourself. To my mind, an unknown inventor of this
Jesus is more incredible than the possibility of Jesus’ reality. So for me the question becomes: “How do we account for a man who leaves a legacy like this?”
I cannot morally reckon Him among the poor deluded souls who suffer
from pathological delusions of grandeur. Nor can I reckon Him among the
great con men of history, a deceiver who planned and orchestrated a worldwide
movement of mission on the basis of a hoax. Instead, I am constrained to
acknowledge His truth. Both my mind and my heart find themselves drawn to
yield allegiance to this man. He has won my confidence.
THE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’ RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD
Alongside this line of evidence we should put the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.2 If He did not rise, but followed the way of all flesh, the extraordinary implications of His Word and life come to nothing. But if He overcame death, His claims and His character are vindicated. And His teaching concerning the Bible becomes our standard. Without going into detail, I will mention six things that undergird my confidence in the resurrection of Jesus.
1. Jesus bore witness to His own coming resurrection.
Two separate witnesses testify in two different ways to Jesus’ statement during His lifetime that if His enemies destroyed the temple, He would build it
2. For an excellent, popular-level book dealing with the evidence for the resurrection, see William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and Stock, reprint 2001). See also Craig’s chapters on the resurrection in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, ed. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996) and Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994).
again in three days (John 2:19; Mark 14:58; cf. Matthew 26:61). Jesus also spoke elusively of the “sign of Jonah”—three days in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39-40; 16:4). Therefore, the credibility of Jesus points to the reality of the resurrection to come. And He hinted at it again in Matthew 21:42 (RSV): “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”
2. The tomb was empty on Easter. There are four possible ways to account
His foes stole the body. If they did (and they never claimed to have done so), they surely would have produced the body to stop the successful spread of the Christian faith in the very city where the crucifixion occurred. But they could not produce it.
His friend stole it. This was an early rumor (Matthew 28:11–15). Is it
probable? Could they have overcome the guards at the tomb? More important, would they have begun to preach with such authority that Jesus was raised, knowing He was not? Would they have risked their lives and accepted beatings for something they knew was a fraud?
Jesus was not dead, but only unconscious when they laid Him in the tomb. He awoke, removed the stone, overcame the soldiers, and vanished from history after meetings with His disciples, during which He convinced them He was risen from the dead. Even the foes of Jesus did not try this line. He was obviously dead. The stone could not be moved by one man from within who had just spent six hours nailed to a cross and been stabbed in the side by a spear.
God raised Jesus from the dead. This is what He said would happen. It is
what the disciples said did happen.
But as long a there is a remote possibility of explaining the resurrection naturalistically, modern people say we should not jump to a supernatural explanation. Is this reasonable? I don’t think so. Of course, we don’t want to be gullible. But neither do we want to reject the truth just because it’s strange. We need to be aware that our commitments at this point are much affected by our preferences— either for the state of affairs that would arise from truth of the resurrection,
or for the state of affairs that would arise from the falsehood of the resurrection. If the message of Jesus has opened you to the reality of God and the need
for forgiveness, for example, then anti-supernatural dogma might lose its power over your mind. Could it be that this openness is not prejudice for the resurrection, but freedom from prejudice against it?
3. The disciples were almost immediately transformed from men who were
hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21; John 20:19) into men
who were confident and bold witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 2:24; 3:15;
4:2). Their explanation was that they had seen the risen Christ and had been
authorized to be His witnesses (Acts 2:32). The most popular competing explanation is that their confidence was owing to hallucinations. There are numerous problems with such a notion:
For one, hallucinations are generally private things, but Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive.” They were available to query.
Furthermore, the disciples were not gullible, but level-headed skeptics both
before and after the resurrection (Mark 9:32; Luke 24:11; John 20:8–9, 25).
Moreover, is the deep and noble teaching of those who witnessed the risen
Christ the stuff of which hallucinations are made? What about Paul’s great letter to the Romans?
4. The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian
church supports the truth of the resurrection claim. The church spread on the power of the testimony that Jesus was raised from the dead and that God had thus made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The Lordship of Christ over all nations is based on His victory over death. This is the message that spread all over the world. Its power to cross cultures and create one new people of God was strong testimony of its truth.
5. The apostle Paul’s conversion supports the truth of the resurrection. He
argues to a partially unsympathetic audience in Galatians 1:11–17 that his
gospel comes from the living Jesus Christ. His argument is that before his
Damascus road experience, he was utterly opposed to the Christian faith. But now, to everyone’s astonishment, he is risking his life for the gospel. His explanation: The risen Jesus appeared to him and authorized him to spearhead the Gentile mission (Acts 26:15–18). Can we credit such a testimony?
This leads to my last argument for the resurrection.
6. The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or
deceivers. How do you decide whether to believe a person’s testimony? The
decision to give credence to a person’s testimony is not the same as completing a mathematical equation. The certainty is of a different kind, yet can be just as firm. (I trust my wife’s testimony that she is faithful.)
When a witness is dead, we can base our judgment of him only on the content of his writings and the testimonies of others about him. How do Peter and John and Matthew and Paul stack up?
In my judgment (and at this point we can live authentically only by our
own judgment—Luke 12:57), these men’s writings do not read like the works
of gullible, easily deceived, or deceiving men. Their insights into human
nature are profound. Their personal commitment is sober and carefully stated. Their teachings are coherent and do not look like the invention of unstable men. The moral and spiritual standard is high. And the life of these men, as it comes through their writings, is totally devoted to the truth and to the honor of God.
JESUS IS THE TRUE REVELATION OF GOD
These, then, are some (not all!) of the evidences that undergird my confidence in Jesus as the true revelation of God. Before I try to explain how this leads me to credit the whole Bible as God’s Word, let me give a personal admonition.
Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of
the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of the Christianity
should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian’s philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case.
Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do
not make the same demand upon themselves. Secular skepticism is assumed to be reasonable because it is widespread, not because it is well argued. We should
simply insist that the controversy be conducted with fairness. If the Christian must produce proof, so must others.
Now, if Jesus has won our confidence by His authentic love and His power
over death, then His view of things will be our standard. What was His view of the Old Testament?
WHAT WAS JESUS’ VIEW OF THE OLD TESTAMENT?
First of all, was the Old Testament He prized made up of the same books as the Old Testament that Protestants prize today? Or did it include others (like the Old Testament Apocrypha3)? In other words, was Jesus’ Bible the Hebrew Old Testament, limited to the thirty-nine books of the Protestant Old Testament, or was his Bible more like the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) which includes an extra fifteen books? Norman Anderson, in his inspiring book God’s Word for God’s World, states my answer and the support for it so well that I would like to simply quote him:
So we must now consider the reciprocal witness that Jesus bore to the
Bible—primarily, of course, to the Old Testament, as the only part of
the Scriptures which was then in existence. That the books He had in
mind spanned the whole “Hebrew Bible” is, I think, clear from two
New Testament references: first, from His allusion, in Luke 24:44. to
“the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” since this was tantamount
to referring to the threefold structure of the Jewish Scriptures as
the “Law,” the “Prophets” and the “Writings” (in which the Psalms
held pride of place); and , secondly, from His allusion to “all the righteous
blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous
Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berachiah,” since the blood of
Abel is mentioned early in Genesis (4:8), the first book in the Hebrew
3. The Apocrypha is a group of ancient books written during the time between the Old and New Testaments. They are included in Catholic editions of the Old Testament, but Protestants have generally rejected them as part of the authoritative inspired canon of Scripture. For the texts, see Bruce Metzger, ed., The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha of the Old Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).
Bible, and that of Zechariah towards the end of 2 Chronicles (24:21),
the last book in the Jewish Scriptures.4
If, then, Jesus’ Bible was the same Old Testament we Protestants use today,
the question now becomes, “How did He regard it?”
1. In quoting Psalm 110:1, He said that David spoke by the Holy
Spirit: “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared…”
(Mark 12:36, RSV).
2. In His controversy with the Pharisees concerning their interpretation
of the Old Testament, He contrasted the tradition of the
elders and the commandment of God found in Scripture. “You
have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to
establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9).
3. When He answered the Pharisees concerning the problem of
divorce, He referred to Genesis 2:24 as something “said” by God,
though these are words of the biblical narrator and not a direct
quote of God: “He who created them from the beginning made
them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his
father and his mother’” (Matthew 19:4–5).
4. He makes an explicit statement concerning infallibility in John
10:35: “Scripture cannot be broken.”
5. An implicit claim for the inerrancy of the Old Testament is made
Matthew 22:29: “Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because
you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’” Knowing
the Scriptures keeps one from erring.
6. Repeatedly Jesus treats the Old Testament as an authority that
must be fulfilled. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the
Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill
them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
4. Norman Anderson, God’s Word for God’s World (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981), 112. The Jewish Scriptures include all our Old Testament but in a different order.
not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”
(Matthew 5:17–18; cf. Matthew 26:54, 56; Luke 16:17).
7. Jesus rebuked the two disciples on the Emmaus road for being
“foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets
have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).
8. Jesus Himself used the Old Testament as authoritative weapon
against the temptations of Satan: “But he answered, ‘It is written…’” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
The diversity of this witness and its spread over all the Gospel material
show that the Lord Jesus regarded the Old Testament as a trustworthy, authoritative, unerring guide in our quest for enduring happiness. Therefore, we who submit to the authority of Christ will also want to submit to the authority of the book He esteemed so highly.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Now what about the New Testament? It would be possible to develop a long
historical argument for the inspiration and infallibility of books of the New
Testament, but that would expand this appendix beyond appropriate bounds.5 So I will give pointers that can undergird our confidence in the New Testament as being equally authoritative and reliable as the Old.
My confidence in the New Testament as God’s Word rests on a group of
1. Jesus chose twelve apostles to be His authoritative representatives
in founding the church. At the end of His life, He promised them,
“The Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and bring to your
remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; 16:13).
2. The apostle Paul, whose stunning conversion from a life of murdering
Christians to making Christians, demands special explanation.
5. For pursuing such a study, I recommend Daniel Fuller, Easter Faith and History (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Eerdmans, 1965) and John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (London: Tyndale, 1972).
He says he (and the other apostles) were commissioned by the risen
Christ to preach “in words not taught by human wisdom but taught
by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13). In other words, Christ’s prediction
in John 14:26 was being fulfilled through this inspiration.
3. Peter confirms this in 2 Peter 3:16, putting Paul’s writings in the
same category with the inspired Old Testament writings (2 Peter
4. All the New Testament writings come from those earliest days of
promised special revelation and were written by the apostles and
their close associates.
5. The message of these books has the “ring of truth.”6 It makes sense
out of so much reality. The message of God’s holiness and our
guilt, on the one hand, and of Christ’s death and resurrection as
our only hope, on the other hand—this message fits the reality we
see and the hope we long for and don’t see.
6. Finally, as the Catechism says, “The Bible evidences itself to be
God’s Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, the unity of its
parts and its power to convert sinners and edify saints.”7
6. After translating the Gospels into “racy modern English,” J. B. Philips wrote the following in The Ring of Truth (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967), 57–8:
I felt, and feel, without any shadow of doubt that close contact with the text of the Gospels builds up in the heart and mind a character of awe-inspiring stature and quality. I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths but I did not find the slightest flavor of myth here. There is no hysteria, no careful working for effect and no attempt at collusion. These are not embroidered tales: the material is cut to the bone. One sensed again and again that understatement which we have been taught to think is more “British” than Oriental. There is an almost childlike candor and simplicity, and the total effect is tremendous. No man could ever have invented such a character as Jesus. No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay behind them.
7. The Baptist Catechism, commonly called Keach’s Catechism, rev. and ed. by Paul Jewett (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1952), 16.