Is Faith Contrary to Empirical Support?

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The apostles possessed more empirical supports for their faith than we can ever hope to possess, and certainly their spiritual “report cards” did not suffer for the fact.

Is faith antithetical to possessing (or seeking) empirical or rational supports for what we believe? If we may (with qualification) speak of believing as a sort of knowing, then does the Bible construe faith-knowing and rational knowing as mutually exclusive?[1] Contrary to what is taught in some circles, true faith is not at all antithetical to empirical or rational supports. In fact, the apostles possessed more empirical supports for their faith than we can ever hope to possess, and certainly their spiritual “report cards” did not suffer for the fact.

If we pay mind to rational arguments for God, or use archaeology as an aid to faith, are we undercutting the proper role of faith? Some, indeed many, would say that we are. As they construe the New Testament, true faith in God must keep its distance from anything even remotely empirical. For them, faith only works by leaps—in fact, it is a leap, so that having faith in God is definitionally to make a leap of faith. The longer the leap, they seem to imply, the purer one’s faith. But this, I contend, is a wrong understanding of what the Bible means by “faith,” and it can really mess up our theology if we take it on board.

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  • [1] On the relation of believing to knowing, see Daniel Patte, Paul’s Faith and the Power of the Gospel: A Structural Introduction to the Pauline Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 10-11. Patte relates faith to knowing by exploring how “convictions” relate to “ideas”.

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  • Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier is the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio (scheduled to open in Fall 2008). Jack earned his doctorate in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he wrote a dissertation…
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