Kenji Goto: Faithful Witness

by on February 3, 2015 in Life & Ministry 3

Packer-Kenji-Goto-1200I like ideas, and (as you might have gathered if you have read this blog at all) find them fascinating and motivating. But the most significant changes in my life have usually come not because of ideas, but because of the examples of others. When I find a notion concretely expressed in the life and practice of another person, that’s when I can see how it could change my life.

And this last week I have been incredibly moved by the example ofKenji Goto. Goto studied at Hosei, a private university in Tokyo, after which he worked for a media production company. in 1996 he set up his own business, Independent Press, and it was the following year that he became a Christian. His faith appears to have shaped not just his personal life, but also his approach to his work. He never liked to be described as a war correspondent; although he often faced great danger, venturing into war zones that other reporters refused to enter, he did so to report not on the fighting, but on those who were vulnerable and suffering, particularly children. He reported on the blood diamonds and child soldiers in Sierra Leone, on the victims of the atrocities in Rwanda, on victims of AIDS in Estonia, and the plight of children (especially girls) in Afghanistan. As well as producing video material for broadcast in Japan, he also published five books.

Henry Tricks, a reporter for The Economist, knew Goto when he was based in Tokyo, and wrote him a moving tribute prior to his execution:

It is hard to reconcile the soft-spoken, gentle man, who once paled in a bowling alley because the sound of the balls reminded him of bombs dropping on Iraq, with the image of a hardened war correspondent. But he covers wars with a difference. Instead of focusing on who is winning or losing, he tells the stories of ordinary people, especially children, who are forced to endure conflict and the horrors surrounding them. It is their resilience that inspires him, he says. When you ask how he reaches the dangerous places he reports from, he says he follows the footsteps of normal people getting on with their lives. They show him the way.

Yet it wasn’t just his professional commitment which impressed people—it was also his personal manner, his care and his warmth.

“I want to cuddle with the people. That’s the best way to express my approach,” Goto, 47, said about his work. “By cuddling with them, I can talk with the people. I can hear their views — their pain and their hopes.”

He told the stories of children suffering violence, hunger and nightmares…In a testament to his charm and integrity, people responded with an outpouring of support to try to win his release…Those who knew Goto said he was a gentle and honest man.

It was this mixture of professional commitment, personal courage, and warm humanity which led him to Syria and his captivity. He wanted, first, to document the suffering of the people of Syria, to motivate the wider world to support them. Before he went there, hemade a short video in which he talks about the danger he will face there.

If anything happens to me, do not blame the people of Syria. They have already suffered for three years.

But he was particularly motivated by the plight of a fellow Japanese Haruna Yukawa. Yukawa appeared to be a troubled loner, who wanted to set up business as a military contractor, but was clearly out of his depth.

“He was hapless and didn’t know what he was doing. He needed someone with experience to help him,” Goto, 47, told Reuters in Tokyo in August.

Kenji-Goto--_3180964cWhen Yukawa was abducted, Goto felt obliged to do what he could to get him out of trouble. He thought that he would be treated differently from Western correspondents, in the light of Japan’s pacifist commitment which meant they had stayed out of the military conflict. But he was again realistic about the dangers he faced.

“I need to go there at least once and see my fixers and ask them what the current situation is. I need to talk to them face to face. I think that’s necessary,” Goto said, referring to locals who work freelance for foreign correspondents, setting up meetings and helping with the language.

“I have seen horrible places and have risked my life, but I know that somehow God will always save me,” he said in a May article for the Japanese publication Christian Today. But he told the same publication that he never risked anything dangerous, citing a passage in the Bible, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

It is hard to make sense of this tragedy in the light of Goto’s faith. But it is clear that he had no hesitation in ‘laying down his life for that of his friend’ (John 10. ) Goto joins a short but illustrious list ofnotable Japanese Christians.

Sadly, part of the legacy of Goto’s death could be to increase Japanese militarism. Christians in Japan are a small minority, consisting of only 1% of the population, and they universally support the current pacifist stance. According to Atsuyoshi Fujiwara, a professor of theology at Seigakuin University and founding pastor at Covenant of Grace Church in Tokyo:

Christians are strongly against the Abe regime as being militarily oriented and nationalistic. When you think about the opinions of Christians in Japan, you can almost assume that they are generally more anti-nationalistic, more non-violence-oriented than the public. Christians should be peace-making, yet we need to be wise as serpents and give alternatives to the Abe regime.

And yet, in contrast to this, he leaves a powerful personal legacy amongst all who knew him personally and professionally. His wife Rinko made this statement:

My family and I are devastated by the news of Kenji’s death. He was not just my loving husband and father to our two beautiful children, but a son, brother and friend to many around the world…. I remain extremely proud of my husband who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria? It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war.

In the book of Revelation, uniquely in the New Testament, Jesus is described as the ‘faithful and true witness’ (Rev 1.5, 3.14), and this is embedded in the text by repeating his name 14 times, the product of 7 (meaning ‘complete’) and 2 (signifying ‘witness’ fromDeut 17.6). The word ‘saints’ (lit ‘holy [ones]) also occurs 14 times; we are to follow Jesus’ example in being faithful witnesses, even to the point of ‘not loving our lives so much as to shrink from death’ (Rev 12.11). In exactly this sense, Kenji Goto has been, in life and death, a true witness, a martus after his Lord’s example.

And whatever legacy he leaves us, the last word on his life will be the one he hears from the Lord Jesus himself when he meets him face to face: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ (Matt 25.21)

In the Beginning was Monotheism

Modern researchers want to reconstruct human history as humans first were animistic, then this developed into totemism. Eventually polytheism arose and that was supplanted with monotheism. This approach relies solely upon artifacts discovered and rejects any kind of “revelation.” The lingering question remains whether determining comprehensive beliefs from archaeology is even possible. Artifacts and reconstructions have their place as one part of the puzzle but this piece of the whole needs additional support.

The European discovery of America provided an instance where a developed culture supplanted a more primitive one. American aboriginal beliefs seem to indicate an original monotheism instead of the accepted scheme that belief started from the diffuse and terminated in the one (monotheism). Here is a post by Peter Leithart who reviews authors who challenge the accepted status quo.

Winfried Corduan’s In the Beginning God is largely an effort to rehabilitate the reputation and theory of Catholic linguist Wilhelm Schmidt, whose 12-volume Der Ursprung der Gottesidee (1912-54) argued that monotheism was the original form of religious belief.

As Corduan describes it, the “narrative behind the method” assumes that peoples migrate, that they take their cultures with them, and thus that cultural forms diffuse, penetrate, and mix. By a sophisticated set of criteria, Schmidt attempted to explain the evident similarities among religions against the background of this story-line. His conclusion was that the most “primitive” form of religion was not totemism, animism, or polytheism; it was monotheism.

Of the North American Indians specifically, Schmidt claims: “In their oldest pure forms they know neither totemism nor mother-right; they do not practice agriculture, but acquire their food by hunting, fishing, and collecting wild vegetables. Their simple social constitution is founded on the natural family, and their little village communities exhibit rudimentary chieftainship. Not, it is precisely among these three oldest primitive peoples of North America that we find a clear and firmly established belief in a High God, a belief which . . . is of quite a particular character by virtue of the high importance attributed to the idea of creation. . . . Quite a number of them have reached the highest summit of the idea of creation, denied even to Aristotle, viz. the belief in creatio ex nihilo, only by the will of the all-powerful Creator” (quoted, 199).

Schmidt took the biblical record of early man seriously, and found that it cohered with the ethnographic and linguistic data. As Corduan puts it, “Schmidt did not think one could do justice to the similarity and universality of the monotheism of the least developed people groups by positing nothing more than ancient people brooding over the mystery of Dasein. . . . his ethnographic conclusions entailed that the monotheism of the Primitive tribes must have been due, at least in part, to the fact that God revealed Himself to them” (221, 223). To quote Schmidt himself, “It is God Himself Who taught humans what to believe about Him, how to venerate Him, and how they should obey the expression of His will” (223).

Corduan is particularly incisive in showing why Schmidt’s arguments have been marginalized. Few plow through all 11,000 pages of Der Ursprung. Some dismiss Schmidt because he believed in revelation. Some unfairly characterize him as a rationalist or claim (as Eliade does) that Schmidt reduces the complexity of religion and ignores man’s encounter with the sacred.

What is most interesting about the dismissal of Schmidt is that most theorists offer no alternative account of the origin of religion. Some have concluded that we can no longer trace the origins of religion into the mists of the distant past. Apparently, they would rather give up the quest than consider the possibility that God had something to do with the origins of the worship of God.

New Papyrii Discovery Timeline

First-century Mark: A Timeline

Are you braced for the impact of the Green Scholars Initiative’s work on newly discovered New Testament papyri?  The most famous (or infamous) of these papyri is a fragment from the Gospel of Mark which has been assigned a production-date in the first century – but there are several important papyri among the documents which are scheduled to be published – hopefully – within a year.  Maybe two.  Or three.  In the meantime, here’s a timeline of events leading up to this eventual important event.

  • Late 1970’s-1990’s – Jaakko Frösén (Philology professor at theUniversity of Helsinki) develops methods to extract literary papyri from cartonnage.  A video of his conservation-technique is accessible at .  (You may need an up-to-date version of RealPlayer to watch the video.) .

A papyrus fragment, from Dr. Kraft’s report

Kraft’s report, Studies in the (Mis)uses of Papyrus Cartonnage, and Recovery/Conservation of Its Layers, shows that readable papyri are being extracted from cartonnage, as shown by the example at .

  • March 30, 2010 – Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green discusses the Green Collection and the plans for a Museum of the Bible, at .  (At the time of the interview, Dallas was the planned location of the Museum of the Bible, but that has changed; it is being constructed in Washington, D.C.)  Codex Climaci Rescriptus, previously housed at Westminster College, Cambridge, is among the items in the collection.
Scott Carroll
Codex Climaci Rescriptus (0250)
  • May 19, 2011 – CBN reports (at ) about Scott Carroll, the rapid growth of the Green Collection, and plans for the Museum of the Bible.  The reporter states that the Green Collection already contains over 30,000 items.  Several collection-items are in view in the report, including a Dead Seas Scroll fragment, an illustrated Ethiopic codex, and Papyrus 37.  At about 2:55, pages of the Codex Climaci Rescriptus are featured.  Dr. Carroll describes it as the fifth-oldest near complete Bible in the world.  He also claims, “The handwriting betrays that it actually was copied from something in the 100’s.”
  • Summer 2011 – Baylor Magazine describes (at ) “an unconventional research project” in which exterior mummy-coverings were “dissolved” and in which “More than 150 papyri texts” were extracted.  The report mentions that the Green Collection “provided the items for the study.”  The report names Scott Carroll as the “principal investigator” of the research; specialists involved in the research include David Kyle Jeffrey and Jeffrey Fish.
  • Fall 2011 – In a newsletter of Baylor University,Scott Carroll’s work on manuscript-extraction from mummy cartonnage is described: .  Jeff Fish was interviewed for the report:  “One day I received a call on the phone from Dr. Scott Carroll, who told me about a vast new collection of unedited papyri. . . . I have since found that Byron Johnson, director of Baylor’s Institute for the Study of Religion, was instrumental in getting Baylor involved with the Green Scholars Initiative.”
  • November 27, 2011 – Scott Carroll, known to be acquiring artifacts and manuscripts for the rapidly growing Green Collection, states on Twitter:  “Finished exhibit and lectures in West Africa with over 21,000 registered.  Now in Istanbul looking at a collection of unpublished papyri.”  Later the same day:  “My eyes feasted on classical texts, royal decrees, and Biblical and Gnostic texts; nearly 1,000 papyri hidden in this private treasure-trove.”
  • December 1, 2011 – Scott Carroll states on Twitter:  “For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-call John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more.”  [The John Rylands Papyrus to which he refers is P52.]  On Facebook, Carroll states:  “For over 100 years the earliest-known text of the NT has been the so-called John Rylands papyrus.  That is about to change with a sensational discover[y] I made yesterday.  Stay tuned for the update.”
  • February 1, 2012 – Daniel Wallace mentions the existence of “a fragment from Mark’s Gospel that is from the first century” during a debate with Bart Ehrman about the reliability of the New Testament text.  The debate is online at (uploaded to YouTube on February 13, 2012).  One hour and 13 minutes into the debate, Dr. Wallace mentions the existence of the first-century fragment of Mark:

“In the last few months several very early fragments of the New Testament have been discovered.  These will be published by an international scholarly publishing house in a book one year from now. . . .  Among the finds was also a fragment of Luke that is from the early second century. . . .  The oldest manuscript of the New Testament is now a fragment from Mark’s Gospel that is from the first century. . . . How accurate is the dating?  Well, my source is a papyrologist who worked on this manuscript – a man whose reputation is unimpeachable.  Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet.  His reputation is on the line with this dating, and he knows it, but he is certain that this manuscript was from the first century.”

  • February 15, 2012 – Ben Witherington III (New Testament professor at Asbury), after a lecture by Scott Carroll at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – Charlotte, writes at his blog (at ), “The brief lecture by Scott Carroll at GCTS Charlotte last Friday night highlighted some of the most exciting aspects of the Green Collection. It is possible that a very early copy of the Gospel of Mark in Greek, possibly the very earliest is a part of this collection. An epigrapher from Oxford has already prepared to say that it is a first century copy!”  (Witherington also notes, “Sadly it does not include Mark 16.”)

[It so happens that Dirk Obbink is a papyrologist who works at Oxford.  He has been working with Jerry Pattengale (who is currently the Green Scholars Initiative’s Executive Director of Education) as General Editor for the Brill Papyrus Series, in which, it is hoped, the first-century papyrus fragment will be published, along with the other early manuscripts Scott Carroll has described.]

Daniel Wallace

February 24, 2012 – Hugh Hewitt’s interview of Daniel Wallace is published at .  Near the beginning of the interview, Wallace states:  “First of all, there is a fragment of Mark, and it’s a very small fragment, not too many verses, but it’s definitely from Mark.  And the most amazing thing about this is that it’s from the first century.  We don’t have any other New Testament manuscripts that are written within the same century that the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament were written in.  This is the first. And it’s dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers, whose name I’m not allowed to reveal yet.”

Asked for an “absolute last date” when the newly discovered fragments will be published, Wallace states, “I have been told that a book should be out, a multi-author book, should be out early next year.  Now publishers sometimes take longer.  Scholars sometimes take longer.  So I’m not going to bet anything on that. But I’m pretty darned confident 2013 is going to be the year all of this is going to be published.”

  • March 22, 2012 – Daniel Wallace posts the following at his blog (at ):  “At my debate with Bart Ehrman (1 Feb 2012, held at UNC Chapel Hill) over whether we can recover the wording of the New Testament autographs, I made the announcement that a probable first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel had been recently discovered. I noted that a world-class paleographer had dated this manuscript and that he was pretty darn sure that it belonged to the first century. All the details will be coming out in a multi-author book published by E. J. Brill sometime in 2013.”  And, “When the fragment is published along with six other early New Testament papyri (all from around the second century), the scholarly vetting will do its due diligence.”
  • April 6, 2012 – Bart Ehrman, at , expresses some frustration about the secrecy surrounding the first-century papyrus fragment of  first-century papyrus of Mark:  “I don’t understand why there is so much secrecy about this “manuscript.” Why NOT tell us where it was found, who found it, how extensive it is, who has examined it, what his grounds for dating it were, whether his views have been independently corroborated?”

August 13, 2013 – Updates are made to the Bibliographical Test Update (which is accessible at ).  Items are added to the list of Coptic New Testament manuscripts and Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Recto:  Mt. 6:33 Verso:  Mt. 7:4

Photos of some fragments are included; however, even though “The photos have been purposely obscured to protect copying of manuscripts before their publication,” some of them have a modicum of usefulness, such as a photo of a Coptic fragment containing text from Matthew 6:33 and 7:4.  Another photo that shows a Coptic fragment with text from First John 2:21.

Beginning on page 23 of the Bibliographical Test Update, there is a report of the contents of non-Biblical papyri from the second century B.C., extracted from a mummy-mask that is not the same mask that was featured in McDowell’s video.

Text:  First John 2:21
(from the Bibl. Test Update)

September 6, 2013 – A presentation given by Scott Carroll at the University of the Nations is uploaded to YouTube (at – 2013  UofN WS: S11 Dr. Scott Carroll).  In the course of this video, Carroll describes the process that was used to extract literary papyri from mummy cartonnage.  Things get interesting about 23 minutes into the video.  (At 25:04, bottles of Palmolive are visible in the background as a mummy-mask is being prepared for deconstruction in a sink.  This appears to be the same extraction-method that was presented by McDowell.)  Carroll makes the following statements:
Min. 28:  Carroll announces his discovery of the earliest known text of Romans, lost works of Sappho, and “tons of Homer.”

Min. 29:  Carroll describes the multi-spectral imaging technology that is being used to read the underwriting of Codex Cimaci Rescriptus.  Other subjects are also covered, such as the use of lasers to recover text by measuring the microscopic imprint of the stylus where no ink has survived on the page.

Min. 33:  Carroll mentions that a text of Euripides has been recovered.

Min. 36:  Carroll mentions that he has (there in the room) the earliest text of Exodus 24.

Min. 37:  Carroll states that texts from “many of the Old Testament books,” have been discovered, “with New Testament books,” – “including a first-century text of the Gospel of Mark.  That will be the earliest text of the New Testament.”

Min. 38:  Carroll states, “We’re looking now at a text of Mark that dates between 70 and 110.  And there’s even something more important than that, that I’ve not even told David Hamilton.  And I’m not going to.”

Min. 39:  Carroll displays a Powerpoint-graphic with a list of manuscripts, including:

  1. Gospel of Mt c. 140
  2. Mt 6 mid-2c
  3. Gospel of Mark late 1c-early 2c
  4.  Gospel of Luke mid-2c
  5. Gospel of Luke mid-to-late 2c
  6. John 8 early-3c
  7. Early 4c fragment of John 3 in Coptic
  8. Acts 19 in Coptic
  9. Romans early-3c.

The next slide includes:

  1. Romans 14 early 4c papyrus in Coptic
  2. I Corinthians 9 mid-2c
  3. Codex quire of 2 Corinthians and Galatians 4c in Coptic
  4. Ephesians 4 Coptic
  5. Hebrews 9 early-3c
  6. Hebrews 11 mid-2c (the earliest text of Hebrews)
  7. 2 Timothy 3 papyrus (only surviving evidence for the epistle)

In the course of describing these items and others, Carroll mentions the existence of an ancient fragment that is a portion of Matthew 27-28 and “The earliest text in the world of Luke 16,” “the earliest text of Timothy,” a manuscript containing Second Corinthians chapter 6 through Galatians 3 (which would necessarily be several pages long), “The earliest text in the world of Genesis 17,” and “The earliest text of Second Kings 9.”  Referring to a text of First Samuel, Carroll states, “This text came from a mummy mask,” and says that it was found along with a fragment of the Iliad.

Min. 51:  Carroll refers to a fragment of Matthew 12 which will be the second-earliest New Testament manuscript when it is published, to a fragment of Matthew and Luke “dating to around 150,” to the earliest surviving manuscript of Luke 2, “dating to around 140,” and to a fragment of Luke 12, “dating to before 200.”

Other items mentioned in Carroll’s description of the newly discovered manuscripts:  “The earliest text of Acts 19,” the “earliest text of Romans, found in a mummy mask,” “earliest of Romans 14,” and the “earliest copy of any of Paul’s writings – First Corinthians 9.”  He seems to say that last-mentioned item (a manuscript of First Corinthians 9) was produced in 140 to 160, and was found in a box.  [Therefore we ought to keep in mind that some of the new finds are not from mummy cartonnage!]

  • March 24, 2014– Josh McDowell, in a lecture (online at ) given at Gracespring Bible Church, describes an experience at the Discover the Evidence seminar (which took place Dec. 5-6, 2013) at which a mummy-mask was deconstructed to obtain literary papyri that were among its component-parts.
Josh McDowell

Beginning in the 26th minute of the video, the deconstruction of the mummy-mask is clearly shown:  it is submerged in a sink at specific temperature-levels, a gentle detergent (Palmolive) is applied, the material is massaged, and then the layers of papyri are gently separated.  This results in the destruction of the artwork on the surface of the mask.  In the 28th minute of the video, McDowell mentions that “three classical scholars” were involved in the identification of texts derived via this method of papyrus-extraction.  (Footage of the mask-deconstruction and papyrus-extraction is at .)

The Discover the Evidence seminar is described at .  The webpage includes detailed bios of Scott Carroll (Ph.D., Miami University, Ohio) and Josh McDowell (M.Div., Talbot Theological Seminary).

  • May 5, 2014 – Tommy Wasserman, at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, using information from Brice C. Jones, posts photos of some of the manuscripts featured in Josh McDowell’s video.  One of the photos is of a fragment containing First Corinthians 10:1-6.  Peter Head (who currently is a scholar involved in the Green Scholars Initiative, according to the list at  ) refers to McDowell’s “outlandish claims” and describes the process of papyri-extraction as “slapdash” and “deplorable.”  Wasserman (who is alsocurrently a scholar involved in the Green Scholars initiative) concurs, briefly stating, “Slapdash is the word.”
  • May 15, 2014 – Jerry Pattengale, in a video at , describes the work of the Green Scholars Initiative, as well as plans for the opening of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
  • September 13, 2014 – Dorothy King compares Josh McDowell to the Taliban in a blog-post at , stating, “If islamic fundamentalists destroy cultural property to propagate religious propaganda – whether it’s the Taliban or ISIS – we’re metaphorically up in arms.  Why do we treat Christian fundamentalists differently? Why do we make allowances for the Green Collection scholars destroying ancient Egyptian mummies?  If this ain’t religious discrimination, I don’t know what is.”

  • November 7, 2014 – Michael Holmes, the compiler of the SBL-GNT, becomes the Executive Director of the Green Scholars Initiative.
  • December 5, 2014 – Scott Carroll appears in a chapel-service at Dallas Theological Seminary (where Dan Wallace is a professor), online at , beginning at about 23 minutes into the video.  His title, in a caption in the video, is “Director, Manuscript Research Group, Grand Haven, MI.”
  • January 9, 2015 – Dirk Obbink releases information on newly discovered texts of Sappho, including a statement that these particular fragments were not obtained from mummy cartonnage.  In his report (which includes photos) at , Obbink refers to the material as “industrial papyri,” and offers a guess that it existed as a book-binding.  [However, I note that his basis for this is that “none of the fragments showed any trace of gesso or paint prior to dissolving or after.”  It seems to me that this does not preclude an origin in mummy cartonnage; it only implies that the fragments were not from its outer layer or layers.]  He mentions that his fellow-researchers included Simon Burris and Jeffrey Fish.  [These may be the “three classical scholars” alluded to by Josh McDowell in his 2013 lecture.]

Scheduled for 2017:  the opening of the Museum of the Bible.  The museum has a website at .  Passages, a traveling exhibit featuring items from the Green Collection, continues to draw public attention to the collection.  The current director of the museum’s collections is David Trobisch.  Dr. Trobisch is currently listed online as a Fellow of the Center for Inquiry at ; interestingly, the stated mission of the CFI, as stated at http://www.centerforinquiry.netabout , is “to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanistic values.”  [This seems very different from the candid Christian commitment that has been expressed by Dr. Carroll.  It also seems diametrically opposed to the priorities of the Green family.]


That about covers it.  We are still awaiting the publication of the first-century papyrus of the Gospel of Mark; I expect that it will be published by Dirk Obbink (perhaps along with Jeffrey Fish) in late 2015 or 2016, and that it will turn out to be a small fragment with text from Mark chapter one.  It is very possible that some of the other fragments to be published in the same series, which is expected to be prohibitively expensive, will turn out to make a much more significant text-critical contribution than the Mark fragment.  (Note to the GSI and Brill:  affordable digital copies would be a nice compensation for making everyone wait so long!)

Question Authority, Question Everything

Christopher Cone:

Epistemology’s First Task: Identifying the Source of Authority

In any worldview there is a necessary first step of establishing the source of authority. Simply put, our first step is a step of faith in determining who or what we will trust in order to answer the questions of life. This is the first task of epistemology. For Hume that source of authority is human experience through the lens of the senses. Hume trusts the sensory abilities as the only trustworthy means of determining truth. Descartes, on the other hand, argues that the senses are less than reliable, and truth must be gathered through a process of reason guided by his method. For Descartes the human apparatus of reason can be harnessed in such a way as to lead us to truth. Nietszche’s model is less reliant on either the senses or reason, and instead trusts the self as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Plato sees limitations of both experience and reason, and considers enlightened learning a better way to come to a true knowledge of reality. His divided line theory provides a model seemingly advantageous to the philosopher in arriving at truth.

targetThese first steps of faith suggested by Plato, Descartes, Hume, and Nietzsche have been broadly received, as they ground prominent worldviews. However, they do not account for the inherent limitations of learning, reason, experience, and perspective (the latter in Nietzsche’s case). Consequently, while they each are broadly explanatory, they are not, in my estimation, satisfactorily explanatory in the quest for truth.

The Bible, on the other hand, makes sweeping claims regarding the source of authority. Solomonic epistemology, for example, is grounded on the premise that competing epistemic groundings are vanity (e.g., Ecc 1:1). The pursuit of wisdom and learning, while certainly having practical value, is ultimately futility and striving after wind (Ecc 2:12-17; 7:23-29) and even leads to grief and pain (Ecc 1:12-18). The stimulation of the senses, though temporally rewarding, is vanity, striving after wind, and unprofitable (Ecc 2:1-11). The pursuit of self is inherently limited (Ecc 3:11), cannot aid in what comes after this earthly life (Ecc 6:10-12), and ultimately is characterized more by evil and insanity (Ecc 9:3) than wellbeing and certainty.

Solomon prescribes each of these terrestrial pursuits insofar as they have value, but only if the interlocutor is first willing to acknowledge that these pursuits are not ends in themselves. He advocates pursuing wisdom and learning, but only with the understanding that God will bring every resulting act to judgment (Ecc 12:9-13). Solomon advises the use of reason for its benefits (Ecc 10:10), but acknowledges that its use is limited in comparison to the certainties God possesses (Ecc 11:5). Solomon encourages the stimulation of the senses, but only insofar as they are used in the context of remembering the Creator, because those senses will become increasingly ineffective until ultimately they are silenced in death (Ecc 12:1-8). Finally, Solomon advocates following the impulses of the heart (the self), but only with the admission that God will judge the follower for those pursuits (Ecc 11:9-10).

Solomon answers each epistemological model with the same alternative: a beyond-the-sun worldview provides certainty, whereas an under-the-sun worldview provides none. Simply put, under the sun we do not know the activity of God who makes all things (Ecc 11:5). Consequently, for us to have a worldview grounded in certainty, it must be premised on an acknowledgement of the Creator. Solomon pronounces that records of truth – wisdom and delightful words – are given by one Shepherd (Ecc 12:9-11), and in so stating reveals that God’s word is the answer to the epistemological first inquiry regarding what is the source of authority. Elsewhere, Solomon recognizes that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), the beginning of wisdom, and that the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9:10).

Solomon writes so that his readers will know wisdom and instruction and have discernment (Prov 1:1), to instruct them in the fear of the Lord as the source of strong confidence and refuge (Prov 14:26). Consequently he prescribes that humanity must fear God (Ecc 3:14, 5:7, 12:13). And what is the authoritative source from whence we discover the fear of the Lord? Solomon answers this all-important question directly: “Then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Prov 2: 5-6). God’s word, according to Solomon, is the source of authority whereby we can have certainty.

– See more at: