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The Fatal "If"

Get the premise wrong and it will all be wrong.

Wrong Reason (3) 

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 1 Corinthians 15.12-14 

A resurrection premise
We had just finished a very cordial dinner in our home, and I asked our visiting theologian for a few moments of conversation before he retired.

Our guest was a well-known and widely respected historian and theologian. He had come at our invitation to deliver a lecture at our church. The day of his arrival, I finished reading his newest book. I was shocked to see that, in that book, our guest denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, explaining it was more of a psychological phenomenon. I, and several other of my colleagues, had read many other of this man’s works before we invited him to speak, and this view had never surfaced in any of them.

After dinner I went right to the point. I read the passage from his book, then asked, “Do I understand correctly that you are saying Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave?” He answered with a chortle, “Well, of course. Dead people do not rise physically to life again.”

How reason works
Sound reason works according to a well-known formula: Given a premise and certain facts, one uses reason to establish evidence on which you work toward a conclusion that follows logically. This “if/then” formula has proven useful in reasoning about a great many matters.

Paul demonstrates this “if/then” protocol of reason in his argument for the resurrection to the Christians in Corinth. Apparently, the influence of the Sadducees – who denied the resurrection before the Lord Jesus – was still operating in Paul’s day. False theologians followed him around wherever he went, seeking to corrupt his pure teaching of the Gospel by one or another form of Jewish or philosophical heresy. In Corinth they had been trying to make the faith of Jesus a purely “this world” matter, saying that there was no resurrection and throwing the churches in Corinth into confusion.

So notice Paul’s response: “If” there is no resurrection, “then” Christ is not raised. “If” Christ is not raised, “then” our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. He goes further: “If” it is true that the dead are not raised, “then” we who have preached the resurrection have been misrepresenting God. For, as he writes in verses 16 and 17, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” And it gets worse: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (v. 19). 

The secularist’s mistake
And that’s approximately where many in the secular world see believers today – except, of course, for the pitying part.

The secular premise is that people do not rise from the dead; thus, to stake your life on such a belief is to be a fool. The reason secularists cannot accept the resurrection of Christ is because of an even more fundamental premise, namely, that there is no spiritual realm, no God or angels, at least, not any that we must contend with or will be held accountable to, whether in this life or the next. They’re happy for the Bible to be a good book, an important book, and even a useful book, as long as you leave out the part about God, spirits, and rising from the dead.

And here is the secular believer’s problem, at precisely the same place of the Jewish heretics of Paul’s day: They have mistaken their fundamental premise for a proven fact.

What do I mean? Well, in a logical formula, “if” is a conditional statement which may or may not be true. We can only arrive at a reliable “then” conclusion after all the evidence has been weighed. “If” we mistake our conditional premise – the “if” component – for an established fact, rather than a premise awaiting proof, “then” we are going to select our facts and evidence accordingly, and thus we will skew the “then” component to support our mistaken premise.

The Sadducees who came to Jesus with their little logic game did not come with an “if/then” formula to be considered. They accepted their fundamental premise as a fact so that they were not saying, “If there is no resurrection...” but “Since there is no resurrection…”, as much as if to say, “Since it’s true and everybody knows that there is no resurrection…” Jesus’ approach was to expose the folly of that fatal “if” by pointing out that they had not considered all the facts that should have gone into their conclusion – namely, the teaching of Scripture.

And we who know that God exists – that there is a spiritual realm, that human beings made in the image of God are spiritual and reasoning creatures, and that a day of resurrection is surely coming – understand that our unbelieving contemporaries have made the fatal logical mistake of taking their premise as a fact before they’ve carefully considered all the relevant evidence in the matter. 

Setting forth the facts
Paul did the same thing at Corinth. The heretics there were saying “In fact, since there is no resurrection from the dead…” to which Paul answered, in verse 20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” He simply reminded his readers that the view of his opponents was mistaken, and they knew it.

Secularism is wrong in its view of spiritual realities, for it takes as an accepted fact what should be regarded merely as a premise, that there is no spiritual realm, no God of any consequence, no angels, and no resurrection. Yet nothing in the secular arsenal of reason, logic, science, philosophy, or hocus-pocus can prove that premise so that it should be regarded as a fact.

Thus, to accept it as a fact, while, at the same time, disregarding abundant evidence to the contrary, is simply wrong reason. A fatal if leads to a mistaken then.

The morning after my conversation with the visiting theologian, I explained to him that he would not be allowed to speak at the church because his views on the resurrection were contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. He understood and thanked me for my frankness and consideration. I gave him his honorarium and put him on a plane for home.

For reflection
1. What’s the difference between a premise and a fact? Give an example.

2. What’s the role of evidence in moving from a premise to a conclusion? What do we mean by evidence? In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, what evidence would you present to support His having risen from the dead?

3. Are Christian facts and evidence different from other facts and evidence? Explain. 

Next steps – Conversation: Have you ever tried to discover the underlying premises behind the worldview of your unbelieving friends? What are some questions you might ask to discover the various premises which underlie their thinking?

T. M. Moore

You can download all the studies in this series, “Let God Be True,” by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.




T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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