Well-meaning Christians argue that using evidence and reason doesn’t bring people to faith. We’re just supposed to preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit do his job. Paul is the model missionary, and he said that preaching Christ with eloquent speech would empty the cross of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
On the surface, arguments like this sound right. People do need the aid of the Holy Spirit to come to Christ. Plus, faith does come by hearing the word of Christ. (John 16:7-9, Romans 10:17) But if we look closer at Paul’s teaching and life, we will see that Paul absolutely relied on logic, reason, argumentation, and evidence to defend the truth of the gospel.
For example, Paul told the Philippians that he was “appointed for the defense of the Gospel”. (Philippians 1:16) In his letters he appealed to fulfilled prophecy and eyewitnesses to the resurrection as evidence. (Romans 1:3-4, 15:12, 16:25-26, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) He also invoked God’s creation as evidence. (Romans 1:20) Paul even said that one qualification for ministers is that they would be able to defend the faith. (Titus 1:9, 2 Timothy 2:24-26)
So contrary to some Christian’s beliefs, Paul’s faith was an evidential faith. To prove this, we can look no farther than the book of Acts.
Here are 7 examples from Acts that demonstrate the evidential faith of Paul.
1. Acts 9:22 (Amplified Classic)
“But Saul increased all the more in strength and continued to confound and put to confusion the Jews who lived in Damascus by comparing and examining evidence and proving that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah).”
Right after Paul’s conversion, Paul threw the Jews in his Damascus for a loop by being so difficult to refute. The verse here presents Paul arguing like a lawyer. He was able to examine evidence, compare that evidence and find what best explains the facts to prove that Jesus was the Christ.
As a devout Pharisee, Paul knew the Scriptures and was able to demonstrate to the Jews that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah.
2. Acts 17:2-4 New International Version (NIV)
“As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days, he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.”
Here we see that Paul’s custom was to go into the local synagogues wherever he traveled and reason with them from the Scriptures. He’d provoke people to think, evaluate things and form judgments through the process of logic.
Some Christians have even put on the marquees on their church that reason is the greatest enemy that faith has. Paul would strongly disagree. He saw a large number of converts – including Greeks come to Jesus by sharing evidence for the resurrection and how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.
3. Acts 19:8-10 New International Version (NIV)
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”
This puts to bed that pious platitude that you can’t argue someone into the kingdom of God. Paul didn’t believe that. He used argument and persuasion regarding the kingdom of God for three straight months in Ephesus. He formed a church there and wrote a rather famous letter to that church, so he must have had results.
Notice that after Paul left the synagogue, he set up shop in a public lecture hall. These lecture halls were a place where thinkers of the day could share their ideas. Notice that these were daily discussions, so Paul must have been doing more than preaching. Paul was having Q and A sessions with outsiders for three straight years until the whole city heard the word of God.
So if Paul is our model missionary, then we see that evangelism should happen in the public square. Evangelism should also be happening where scholarly ideas are being shared. Our faith should also be open to questions, so we had better be prepared to meet objections and be willing to work with people for a long period of time.
How many churches are doing this type of outreach?
These verses also fly in the face of those who teach that Paul flopped in Athens and changed his approach with the Corinthians. Some use 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 as evidence that Paul gave up on using evidence and arguments, but we see that he still kept it up when he came to Ephesus. And he didn’t stop there either, as we’ll see.
4. Acts 26:22-26 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
“To this very day, I have had help from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing other than what the prophets and Moses said would take place— that the Messiah must suffer, and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.”
As he was saying these things in his defense, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad.”
But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. For the king knows about these matters, and I can speak boldly to him. I am convinced that none of these things has escaped his notice since this was not done in a corner.”
When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, he said he would testify before kings. (Acts 9:15) Here he is before Festus, and Paul said he was happy to make his defense (Acts 26:2); the word defense here is apologia, which is where we get the word apologetics.
Notice that Paul was appealing to public facts that Festus was well aware of. They hadn’t escaped his notice. He’d heard about the miracles, the crucifixion, the empty tomb and this new rag-tag band of Christians. So Paul boldly proclaimed the resurrection as a rock solid fact. He also said these things happened to fulfill prophecy.
When Festus said that Paul was a little cuckoo, Paul confronted Festus a dilemma – he could see that Paul was sincere. After all, he was there because he was arrested. And he wasn’t crazy, because this these were matters that the king knew about, so there’s
Jesus also told Paul he’d testify to the Jews and the Gentiles, so it’s to these two people groups that we now turn.
5. Acts 13:15-39 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
“After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”
Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites, and you who fear God, listen! The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, made the people prosper during their stay in the land of Egypt and led them out of it with a mighty arm. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness; and after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. This all took about 450 years. After this, he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. After removing him, he raised up David as their king and testified about him:’ I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’
“From this man’s descendants, as he promised, God brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus. Before his coming to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Now as John was completing his mission, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the one. But one is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’
“Brothers and sisters, children of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, it is to us that the word of this salvation has been sent. Since the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him or the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled their words by condemning him. Though they found no grounds for the death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out all that had been written about him, they took him down from the tree and put him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and he appeared for many days to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm:
You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
As to his raising him from the dead, never to return to decay, he has spoken in this way, I will give you the holy and sure promises of David. Therefore he also says in another passage, You will not let your Holy One see decay. For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed, but the one God raised up did not decay. Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you. Everyone who believes is justified through him from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses.”
I had to quote this passage at length because it’s a brilliant form of argumentation. And this is the longest speech we have from Paul on record. Here’s Paul at a synagogue, preaching to an audience of Jews and Gentile proselytes.
Notice that in the first part of his sermon he discusses Israel’s history running from Abraham to David. From the start, Paul shows his purpose isn’t to undermine the Jewish religion. Instead, Paul sets the stage for the gospel as the culmination of their history.
After shortly reviewing Israel’s history, he talks about recent facts. He talks about John the Baptist and his mission as the Messiah’s forerunner. He speaks about how Pilate ordered Jesus to be killed. Paul then gets into the resurrection appearances and eyewitness testimony.
From there we get a glimpse of how Paul utilizes the argument from prophecy. He quotes the Psalms and uses logic from Psalm 16:10 in particular. If God’s Holy One should not see decay, then surely David couldn’t be talking about himself – he was talking about the Messiah, who would be descended from David and would resurrect.
After showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, then and only then does he share the gospel – that Jesus died and was raised for the forgiveness of sins. Wow.
So how did Paul speak to a Gentile audience who knew nothing of the God of Israel? Thankfully we have a record of that too.
6.Acts 17:22-34 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
“Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.
“Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” So Paul left their presence. However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”
Notice here that Paul doesn’t quote Scripture to them. Instead, Paul reasons from the evidence of general revelation. Paul claims that there’s a powerful creator God who works in our daily affairs. To back this up, Paul actually quotes two of their own thinkers. The first quote is from Epimenides of Crete, and the second is from Aratus’ poem Phaenomena.
As we saw with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in Acts 13, Paul works to build some common ground. He was no dummy about the culture around him. He knew about the thinkers of his time.
Paul doesn’t stop with the existence of a Creator. He transitions straight to the gospel. Paul argues that if God made everything and transcends everything, he doesn’t live in man-made temples. Therefore they needed to repent from idol worship. Paul then preaches that God set a man who will judge the world – Jesus – and that he proved it by raising him from the dead.
There’s a valuable lesson here. We don’t want to make generic theists with our apologetic. As Christian case-makers we need to have arguments for the existence of God. But we need to be quick to move to the resurrection as proof that Jesus is the divine judge.
7. Acts 28:23 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
“After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets.”
And here’s how Acts ends. Paul pulled all-day and all-night shifts, trying to persuade people about the truth of Jesus through the Old Testament. In summary, we find from Paul’s writings and especially from Acts is Paul used evidence and arguments for the truth of Christianity, arguing for:
- The existence of God.
- The resurrection.
- The fulfillment of messianic prophecy.
- His own personal testimony.
This is not to mention his own miracles that served as evidence. (Acts 14:7-9, 19:11-12, 28:8, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Romans 15:19) But Paul didn’t perform those miracles at will, they either happens in response to faith or as the Spirit willed.
Let’s learn from the model of Paul. We should be prepared to share evidence for the existence of God and the resurrection. We need to learn the argument from prophecy, something that’s too often neglected these days. We should know something about the philosophies and worldviews around us and learn how to use them to build common ground. We need to be able to adapt to our audience so that we can be all things to all men in order that some might be saved. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Paul said we’re to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) Jesus knew how to argue for the truth. The teachers of the law tried to trap Jesus with questions about taxes, the nature of the resurrection, and what the greatest commandment was. Jesus was able to rebut all of these things and then challenged their notions of the identity of the Messiah. In response to all this, the KJV says that “the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37)
They were happy to see someone be able to go toe-to-toe with the religious intellectuals of their day and make their objections look foolish. If we want to turn the world upside-down like Paul we need to be about to present the evidence for the truth of the gospel as he did.
Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.