There’s a logical fallacy (a common and often-undetected mistake in thinking) called the Appeal to False Authority, of which we’re all guilty at times.
“Nine out of ten dentists recommend this broom.” O…kay, but why should I let nine tooth doctors dictate my sweepin’ habits?
It happens when there’s someone we trust for issues relating to one topic, then we allow that trust to slip over to issues relating to a whole different topic, regardless of our source’s credentials on the new topic. And since we do this ourselves, we should also be pretty good about sniffing it out in the arguments of others.
So I figured I would just come right out and tell you the authority to whom I appeal when it comes to virtually every topic, so you don’t have to guess, and so that you can check my logic for any fallacy: I follow Jesus of Nazareth. My convictions on every hot-button issue, either discussed on this platform or in my personal conversations with others, are a result of what I understand to have been his convictions while on earth two millennia ago and his convictions now, on his throne in heaven this present day — if we’re to trust the Christian scriptures.
That the Christian scriptures are trustworthy has been demonstrated by plenty of textual critics and history scholars (in places like here, here and here), and I do plan to summarize their main points on Medium sometime in the future. But follow me and assume for a moment that it’s true that the writings of Jesus’ followers are historically accurate and reliable.
That means Jesus of Nazareth returned from the dead — and more than that, did so after predicting that he would. He claimed to be the Son of God and the prophesied Jewish Messiah, who was to be the Savior of the whole world. In fact, if the Bible is trustworthy (and the evidence overwhelmingly supports this), Jesus’ life, death and resurrection actually fulfilled countless prophecies foretold about him centuries before his life.
For one pretty vivid example, just read Isaiah 53, and you’ll think you’re reading a poetic retelling of Jesus’ crucifixion… even though when it was written crucifixion didn’t even exist yet, let alone Jesus of Nazareth. An excerpt:
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed..
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities…
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
What I’m getting at is that if the Bible is true, then Jesus is completely unique and extraordinary, God’s representation of himself to mankind, whose teaching is worthy of deep contemplation and commitment, and whose commands are worthy of absolute obedience. In essence, Jesus simply must be treated as Lord and King.
So, there you have it: I consider Jesus to be my Sovereign source of truth and rule. I bend my knee to his decrees and conform my worldview to his. This seems reasonable, does it not? What I mean is, if what I’ve been convinced of about Jesus is true, it makes sense to treat him as sovereign, the highest authority.
That means you should expect me to align everything in my life to his life and teachings, even if they run counter to the culture and time in which I find myself. If I hold a view that was the view Jesus held, and it is controversial today, then culture’s beef is with Jesus; I’m just doing as I’m told by a God-man who demonstrated himself to be the very Author of life itself. Wouldn’t you?
Being the Author of life means Jesus knows every square inch of the planet; he knows the number of hairs on your head; he knows absolute truth, and the facts and nuances of every situation. He knows whether abortion is the right choice or the wrong choice in any particular circumstance; he knows whether same-sex marriage is beneficial; he has a solid stance for or against the death penalty; he knows whether life on earth evolved from single cells; he knows whether restrictive gun legislation is the best answer to gun violence; he knows whether identity politics will help or hurt our country; and he knows how illegal immigration should be handled. All contentious, yet all completely understood by Jesus, and in various ways addressed by him in scripture.
Now here’s something we don’t necessarily consider: the Bible may not have record of Jesus’ spoken words from his earthly ministry about every topic — for example, he never clearly condemned slavery or rape, it is sometimes pointed out; and obviously he never spoke out against specific modern crimes like pirating movies). But we do know he was a devout Jewish man who trusted and quoted the writings of what we call the Old Testament, which provides us more Jesus-approved teachings beyond what was written down by his contemporaries as spoken from his own lips. Besides, if Jesus is divine as the scriptures teach (I would argue this is a defensible claim) then he is God, and the Bible refers to itself as entirely God-breathed (inspired), meaning Jesus as part of the Trinitarian God is the author of the whole Bible, not just the words spoken by him in the flesh as recorded in the New Testament.
Plus, there’s a principle with which we’re all familiar about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, which helps us understand what Jesus might say about issues that didn’t exist in the first century. By illustration, the letter of the law says a certain stretch of highway has a speed limit of 65mph; but the spirit of the law tells us to go about that speed while keeping up with the flow of traffic. When Old Testament writ said that adultery was illegal, Jesus revealed the spirit of the law by telling his hearers that even looking lustfully at a person who is not your spouse is the equivalent of committing adultery in your heart. Yikes. But take that to the bank; we can know that Jesus would condemn porn, even though the internet and magazines didn’t exist yet.
On the flip side, what are the Appeals to Authority made by culture? Our friends? The loudest voices in the room? Social justice organizations? Talking heads in the media? Government? As an example that is timely, let’s consider what a trusted voice in the science community said about abortion:
Bill Nye, my generation’s favorite Science Guy, was celebrated for a Big Think video in which he “Debunks Anti-Abortion Logic With Science.” But do Bill’s credentials make him a trustworthy source on this topic? Take a look. Last I checked, reproductive biology wasn’t nested under Mechanical Engineering; yet that’s the field in which he got his bachelors.. and nothing else. This does not mean he is wrong. He has the capability of being completely right on this subject. It simply means in the marketplace of ideas, Bill’s opinion on abortion ought to be equally weighted with any other eloquent thinker out there (and that’s being generous; Bill’s wording choices in the video are cringeworthy). And as it turns out, his science on the topic is actually wrong, factually. Here’s an article (from an admittedly right-leaning site, but facts are facts) debunking his debunk, making use of biology textbook citations, something Nye does not do in his presentation.
So look friends, I may be wrong about a lot of things, many of which are sensitive enough to stir up strife at just the mention of them in polite company. And it’s possible I could be misinterpreting Jesus’ view on one of the less clear viewpoints I’ve sought to gain from scripture, though I’ve done enough homework to be confident that’s not the case. If I’m found to be wrong, I hope to be corrected, because I love truth. I love it.
I may be wrong; but one thing I am not is inconsistent. You can count on me to always look to Jesus as my greatest authority, my greatest source of information, guidance, wisdom, and morality. I will never knowingly hold a view contrary to his, and I’ll do my best to leave unsettled any issues on which I do not think we can gain a clear perspective on Jesus’ take.
Important note: This does not mean that I use Jesus and his teachings anytime I argue a point. I don’t do this because I know not everybody believes the Bible and considers Jesus’ words to be infallible truth. More often, you’ll find me using a combination of logic, philosophy, and readily available fact-based evidence. For example, my stance on abortion is not a product of a “the Bible says so, end of story” mentality; instead, I rationally defend my position without ever quoting a verse. But my position is entirely consistent with the one that scripture convinces me would be Jesus’ conviction on the issue.
So if you take issue with the position I hold on some hot-button issue, you will ultimately have to take it up with him. I blame Jesus for every conviction in my heart, so find the fault in him. Test him; poke at his arguments and look for holes; beat him up when you disagree. He won’t back down, and he’s made sure we who trust him can rest in that confidence. For he said to his followers just before returning from whence he came,
Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.