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How Do We Know?

Are you sure you're believing in what you should?

The Explanation (12)

14This Word, this Light and Life, became a Man
and lived among us. We have known Him; we
have seen His glory, glory like the Son
of God the Father, full of grace and truth.

      - John 1.14

It’s fair to ask how we can make such a large claim concerning Jesus – that He was God become a Man Who lived, died, and rose again from the dead in order to accomplish the salvation of the world.

On the one hand, I suppose anyone could make such a claim about himself or anyone else. What’s to stop us?

Nothing, of course. But making a claim like this and making that claim credible, well, that’s something else. For nearly 2,000 years, people from every walk of life and every culture and place have believed the claims Jesus made and that were made about Him by those who knew Him. How can we know that these claims are reliable?

Let’s explore that question a bit.


First, we have to ask, Where do these claims occur? Where can I go to view or study them for myself?

The obvious answer is, the New Testament. More specifically, the first four books of the New Testament, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As John insists in the prologue to his gospel, which we have been considering, he “knew” Jesus. John was one of twelve men chosen by Jesus to share in His life and ministry. For three years or so John and the other disciples followed Jesus around, observing His life, helping with His work, and listening to His teaching. They were friends of Jesus, and this was both a good and a not so good thing in their day.

It was good that John was a friend of Jesus because he was able to remember many things about Him and to write them down in a concise account of Jesus’ earthly life. We do not have the original manuscript which John wrote; however, copies of John’s gospel, or fragments of it, are available, dating from shortly after John’s death, somewhere toward the end of the first century AD.

In fact, with respect to the entire New Testament, which echoes and elaborates the claims John and the other gospel writers make about Jesus, more manuscript  evidence exists, and from closer to the actual dates of events and of the writing of the first manuscripts, than for any other books of any writers from antiquity. No one doubts the writings of Aristotle, or Caesar’s account of his wars in Gaul. But the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is vastly more solid and reliable than anything extant for these, or any other ancient writers.

Why is this so? Because the people who first received the books of the New Testament, including the gospel according to John, found them to be so meaningful, reliable, helpful, valuable, and true that they made thousands of copies and circulated them among the various Christian communities of the Roman world. In the days before mass printing, when everything had to be copied by hand, this was no mean achievement. Those early copies – thousands of them – have been discovered, analyzed, compared, and edited into what we know today as the New Testament. Here we have a reliable record of the testimony of those who knew Jesus concerning what He claimed about Himself, and what He did in order to back up those claims. We might not agree with their report, but it’s pretty difficult to conclude, given all the manuscript evidence, that what they report was merely a fabrication and not a record of historical events and claims.

On the other hand, being a friend of Jesus was not such a good thing. For the same people who hated Jesus and ultimately put Him to death also hated His disciples, and inflicted persecution and torment on them from early on in Christian history.

For John to write about Jesus and His claims, to insist that he was a friend and companion of Jesus, and fairly to refuse to recant what he’d seen and heard, was to risk incurring the wrath of powers religious and civil. The same was true of all followers of Jesus for the first 300 years of the Christian movement.

But, as John and Peter reported on one occasion when they were being threatened for preaching about Jesus, they could not deny what they’d seen and heard and knew to be true. John, the first disciples, and all those who followed Jesus based on the words of John and others, were passing along factual, historical information they had experienced as true and life-changing.

The experience of many
As have countless millions of others since John’s day. Being a Christian basically entails coming to the realization that Jesus is the Explanation of everything, and I’m not. I spent the first 19 years of my life thinking I could figure it all out, make my life make sense, and, you know, be somebody.

I didn’t find that approach to life very satisfying or successful. Something in me longed for realities and prospects more permanent, true, significant, and lasting than what I could concoct from within my own brain.

That’s been the case for men and women throughout the world for the past two millennia, and continues to be true today. Thoughtful, intelligent, successful men and women, as well as many who are uneducated, unsophisticated, and otherwise unremarkable, have come to realize that what John reports in his gospel is true: Jesus is Who He claims to be; He did what John reports; and He is alive today, calling men and women everywhere to turn from their puny schemes and unsatisfying lifestyles and to find in Him the Explanation of everything.

Jesus, John tells us, was full of grace and truth. In His grace He confronts and invites us, and by His truth He embraces and transforms us. If it were not so, why would so many people continue to find it to be just as John said?

In the end, faith
Ultimately, of course, believing in Jesus for forgiveness, salvation, and the gift of eternal life is a matter of faith.

Just like everything else in your life.

By faith you go to work each day, believing there’s still a desk with your name on it and people there who will recognize that your are the one who goes with that desk.


By faith you take your meals, confident – based on you experience and that of many others – that no one has poisoned your food.

By faith you sit down to your computer, fully expecting it to do whatever you command, even though you may not understand all the mysteries of things going on within your computer beyond your sight.

By faith you drive on the right side of the road, believing everybody else will play by the same rules, because those rules work and are therefore right.

And by faith you look to something or someone to make sense of your life, to point you in the direction of the good life, to counsel or direct you concerning how you ought to live, and to fill your life with meaning and joy.

Even if that something or someone is just you.

I ask you to consider whether that person or thing which, at present, you currently believe in for the explanation of your life can stand up to being compared with Him Who is full of grace and truth, and Whom so many have found to be the Explanation of all things.

Whatever you do, you will believe. You will act in faith, just as you live by faith every day.

Faith is not the issue. The object of your faith – this is what matters.

Let’s try this: What are you presently believing in to make your life make sense? To help you gain the “good life”? How do you know this is a reliable and sure object of your faith? What if it isn’t? Do you ever feel like you need something more than the “good life” as you presently are seeking it? I invite you to write me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to talk about these questions.

T. M. Moore

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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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