Persuasion and Proving
The apostle Paul not only reasoned and explained in his teaching of the gospel, he offered proof. Acts 17:2-3 says that “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” He reasoned, explained, and proved as part of the process of persuasion. The text then says in verse 4, “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” Not everyone was persuaded, however, and this helps demonstrate the relationship between proof and persuasion.
To prove something is to establish it as true and provide the evidence that leads others to understand and accept that truth. People do not always accept the evidence or are convinced that something is true, and in that sense they do not think the case has been proved. Persuasion seeks to bridge the gap so that the evidence given will be sufficient to convince people to accept and believe what is being argued. While proof is more objective because it is dealing with evidence, persuasion is more subjective because it requires personal minds to accept and believe that evidence. Just because evidence and proof has been presented does not mean that everyone will accept it. Proof and persuasion, then, are not identical.
Christians ought to know that simply making claims is not sufficient evidence of truth. Anyone can claim anything, and no one should expect that just because a claim is made that the others must accept that without evidence. While the world often misunderstands faith as believing in spite of or without evidence, Christians know that true faith still must be built on the evidence provided. God does not want people to be gullible. Christians, therefore, seek to make the case for Christ, persuading, explaining, and proving that Jesus is the Savior needed by all.
How was Paul offering proof that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead? In this case, the proof was found in the Scriptures that the listeners claimed to believe. This was not a scientific case, but a Scriptural case that assumed that everyone hearing accepted the same Scriptures as authoritative. For those who believe, the scriptural case ought to be sufficient.
Not even Jesus in the flesh persuaded everyone of the truth of His identity, though he offered significant and irrefutable proof. Several encounters that Jesus had with His opponents demonstrate this. For example, Jesus offered a series of proofs in John 5, including the testimony of Scripture. He chastised the unbelieving Jews who claimed faith in what Scripture taught (vv. 39-40): “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Time and again Jesus offered proof for His identity only to be rejected. For some, all the proof in the world will not persuade them. Why? Because they had already decided that they would not accept Jesus. This ties back in to the problem of presuppositions that, unless checked and understood, will predetermine the outcome of what one believes.
In the case of Christians trying to persuade unbelievers, the issue to be grappled with is the fact while the Bible offers the most significant proof for the resurrection of Jesus, the unbelievers do not believe that the Bible is true. How, then, can the case be made?
This is where the importance of distinguishing between the case for inspiration and the case for history comes into play. While Christians accept Scripture as inspired and coming from God, Scripture also is a book that records historical events. In talking with an unbeliever, the stress simply needs to be on the historical record first. After all, people cannot understand what the resurrection means until they first know that it actually happened. When Luke began his gospel account, he stressed the truth of what happened relied on eyewitness testimony to make the case (Luke 1:1-4). In dealing with an unbeliever, the issue of inspiration need not be the stumbling block. The first thing to grapple with is the basic question of what really happened. For that, the historical record speaks.
The proof being offered for the resurrection is not scientific proof, but historical proof. The question at issue is simply whether or not, after Jesus died, He was seen alive again. That’s an historical question, and the record shows that it happened. That does not mean that people will be persuaded by this record. Many are not. Persuasion, again, seeks to bridge that gap between the offering of the proof and the mind that is trying to make sense of that evidence. Just presenting facts alone may not persuade, so now the question goes to why someone ought to accept those facts. What are the stumbling blocks present in the mind of those who are not so persuaded? Why is there a disconnect between the evidence and the acceptance? These are questions that require further exploration, but the bottom line is, once again, that people have presupposition about reality that they bring to the table. Knowing this up front is very important.