Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday with Wesley: Disciplines, the Spirit, and Scripture

I am currently taking a class on Spiritual Formation. Some of the texts used in the class are Willard's Spirit of the Disciplines (SD) and Foster's Celebration of the Disciplines (CD).

In CD Foster says that the "great writers of the devotional life" range from "St. Augustine to St. Francis, from John Calvin to John Wesley, from Teresa of Avila to Juliana of Norwich". Other writers that heavily influence him include Thomas Merton and John of the Cross. This blog entry on Foster does a good job of outlining some of the background of Foster and his reliance on Merton and the contemplative disciplines.

The contemplative disciplines that Foster describes in CD are meditation, solitude, and silence. They are all closely aligned as noted in the footnote on page 32:
Two topics that closely impinge upon meditation will be discussed under the Discipline of solitude: the creative use of silence and the concept developeed by St. John of the Cross that he graphically calls "the dark night of the soul."
Foster asserts that spiritual formation requires the practice of silence and contemplative prayer (CD page 15):
If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture, including our religious culture, we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation beckon us to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit. Though it may sound strange to modern ears, we should without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of the contemplative prayer.
In an interview of Foster recorded in an article in Christianity Today he cites solitude as a foundational discipline:
Evangelicals, among others, have been reading your book for 30 years. What is the discipline that you think we need to be exploring more at this point?

Solitude. It is the most foundational of the disciplines of abstinence, the via negativa. The evangelical passion for engagement with the world is good. But as Thomas à Kempis says, the only person who's safe to travel is the person who's free to stay at home. And Pascal said that we would solve the world's problems if we just learned to sit in our room alone. Solitude is essential for right engagement. ...
Willard in SD seems to agree with the importance of solitude (page 101):
Solitude is the most radical of the disciplines for life in the spirit. ... It is solitude and solitude alone that opens the possibility of a radical relationship to God that can withstand all external events up to and beyond death.
Where do these disciplines (meditation, solitude, and silence) that comprise contemplative prayer come from - they are rooted in the disciplines of the Quakers (CD page 22):
Historically, no group has stressed the need to enter into the listening silences more than the Quakers...
What is the recreating, listening silence? It is also called the "inner light". The blog entry here explores the history of this Quaker belief and its ties to Foster. It states that the:
[Inner Light can be] defined in a variety of ways, since Quakerism is very individualistic and non-creedal, but it refers to a divine presence and guidance in every man. There is an emphasis on being still and silent and passive in order to receive guidance from the inner light.
Is this what Foster is teaching? In a separate book,Prayer, Finding the Hearts True Home (page 158,159),
[Contemplative Prayer] is more an experience of the heart than of the head. But this stress upon the feelings disturbs us. We have been trained through out our lives to distrust our feelings, and the very idea that we could gain some knowledge of truth and reality by way of the feelings seems ludicrous.

We must not, however, be too quick to judge. In the first place the witnesses who encourage us are vast and reputable. Second they are dealing with something far deeper than mere emotions. In using the language of feeling, contemplatives are referring to a deep experienced sense of God - a kind of inner hearing, if you will.
What is the goal of Contemplative Prayer? To this question the old writers answer with one voice: union with God.
One of the "devotional masters" cited is John Wesley. John Wesley was certainly noted for his practice of the spiritual disciplines. Here was his list from Sermon 16
In the following discourse, I propose to examine at large, whether there are any means of grace.

By "means of grace" I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.

I use this expression, means of grace, because I know none better; and because it has been generally used in the Christian church for many ages; -- in particular by our own Church, which directs us to bless God both for the means of grace, and hope of glory; and teaches us, that a sacrament is "an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."

The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon); and receiving the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men.
Wesley advocates prayer and meditation on Scripture, however, he must not be confused as supporting or practicing the disciplines of listening silence. Wesley was very critical of this practice.

In "A Letter to a Person Lately Joined with the People Called Quaker", Wesley outlines the differences between Christianity and Quakerism. Early in the letter he focuses on the importance of Scripture over guidance from the Spirit. He starts by quoting a Quaker source (italics added to differentiate) and then responding.
" 2. It is by the Spirit alone that the true knowledge of God hath been, is, and can be, revealed. And these revelations, which are absolutely necessary for the building up of true faith, neither do, nor can, ever contradict right reason or the testimony of the Scriptures."

Thus far there is no difference between Quakerism and Christianity.

"Yet these revelations are not to be subjected to the examination of the Scriptures as to a touchstone."

Here there is a difference. The Scriptures are the touchstone whereby Christians examine all, real or supposed, revelations. In all cases they appeal "to the law and to the testimony," and try every spirit thereby.

"3. From these revelations of the Spirit of God to the saints, have proceeded the Scriptures of truth."

In this there is no difference between Quakerism and Christianity.

" Yet the Scriptures are not the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners. Nevertheless, they are a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit. By him the saints are led into all truth. Therefore, the Spirit is the first and principal leader."

If by these words, " The Scriptures are not the principal ground of truth and knowledge, nor the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners," be only meant, that " the Spirit is our first and principal leader;" here is no difference between Quakerism and Christianity.

But there is great impropriety of expression. For, though the Spirit is our principal leader, yet he is not our rule at all; the Scriptures are the rule whereby he leads us into all truth. Therefore, only talk good English; call the Spirit our guide, which signifies an intelligent being, and the Scriptures our rule, which signifies something used by an intelligent being, and all is plain and clear.
Later Wesley directly addresses the discipline of silence:
" Silence is a principal part of God's worship; that is, men's sitting silent together, ceasing from all outwards, from their own words and actings, in the natural will and comprehension, and feeling after the inward seed of life."

In this there is a manifest difference between Quakerism and Christianity. This is will-worship, if there be any such thing under heaven. For there is neither command nor example for it in Scripture.
What was the importance of the disciplines Wesley listed? Are they required for God's grace to be given? In Sermon 16, Wesley goes on to say:
We know that there is no inherent power in the words that are spoken in prayer, in the letter of Scripture read, the sound thereof heard, or the bread and wine received in the Lord’s Supper; but that it is God alone who is the Giver of every good gift, the Author of all grace; that the whole power is of him, whereby, through any of these, there is any blessing conveyed to our soul. We know, likewise, that he is able to give the same grace, though there were no means on the face of the earth. In this sense, we may affirm, that, with regard to God, there is no such thing as means; seeing he is equally able to work whatsoever pleaseth him, by any, or by none at all.
Contrast that with Foster & Willard's belief in solitude as foundational. Wesley goes on to point out what really matters:
We allow farther, that the use of all means whatever will never atone for one sin; that it is the blood of Christ alone, whereby any sinner can be reconciled to God; there being no other propitiation for our sins, no other fountain for sin and uncleanness. Every believer in Christ is deeply convinced that there is no merit but in Him; that there is no merit in any of his own works; not in uttering the prayer, or searching the Scripture, or hearing the word of God, or eating of that bread and drinking of that cup.
Settle this in your heart, that the opus operatum, the mere work done, profiteth nothing; that there is no power to save, but in the Spirit of God, no merit, but in the blood of Christ; that, consequently, even what God ordains, conveys no grace to the soul, if you trust not in Him alone. On the other hand, he that does truly trust in Him, cannot fall short of the grace of God, even though he were cut off from every outward ordinance, though he were shut up in the centre of the earth.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Canonization: a case study in First Corinthians (Part II)

In our last post we looked at Paul's visit in Corinth that preceded his letters to the church that he founded in that city around 50/51 AD. Paul came as an apostle/prophet to share the good news, but before he was accepted he had to pass the TEST.
  • Testifying about Jesus.
  • Eyewitness to the risen Christ.
  • Signs and wonders confirmed his testimony.
  • Traits of Christ characterized his life.
But what does that have to do with the canon? That is what we will explore in this post.

Eventually Paul had to leave Corinth. After recharging in Antioch, Paul kept his promise (Acts 18:21) and returned to Ephesus where he would minister for 3 years (Acts 20:31) while performing many miracles (Acts 19:11) based on the account of Acts. From this city he would eventually write the epistle we know as First Corinthians around 54 AD (1 Cor 16:8). This letter was in response to divisions, sin in the church, and a letter with questions that was sent to him by that church (1 Cor 7:1).
Step back for a moment and imagine living in the 1st century in Corinth around 54 AD. You have recently placed your trust in Jesus based on the teachings of an apostle named Paul who came to your city just a few years ago. His message coupled with the signs he performed and the character he demonstrated while living in your city helped establish the body of believers that make up the church you attend.

Now the young church is struggling with various issues. In addition more teachers seem to be coming and going though your town. These teachers bring new ideas about Jesus but their message does not quite line up with the teachings of the apostle Paul and they are incapable of supporting their message with the dramatic signs and wonders either. However some of their teachings are still creeping into the church. The elders of the church decide to write a letter to Paul and ask him to clarify some doctrinal issues.

After some amount of time the courier arrives back in town. He is a known companion of the apostle Paul and he brings some news on how the missionary work is proceeding in Ephesus and gives the elders a letter. When you meet for church on Sunday the letter is read to the church body. Is it authentic?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians who would have had to accept the letter as authentic or reject it as a fraud. Could a fraudulent letter written just a few years after Paul's visit have been accepted if the claims in the letter were false? The intended audience could easily verify that Paul had been there (1 Cor 2:1-2), claimed to see Jesus risen (1 Cor 9:1, 15:8), and performed signs and wonders (1 Cor 2:4-5). Paul encouraged other churches to be on the lookout for false letters (1 Thess 5:21; 2 Thess 2:2), would he not have warned the Corinthians to do the same thing. He even gave them the test - compare the new teaching with what he taught when he was there in person (2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:6-8). The recipients of the letter would be able to verify whether the contents of the letter contradicted the teachings of Paul that were given while he was there in person. Paul even signed the letter knowing that they would recognize his handwriting (1 Cor 16:21). If any of these claims were false the letter would have been rejected not kept, studied, and circulated.

But the evidence shows that this letter, like many others was circulated (Col 4:16). This circulation process would have been slow going in the first century. Starting with Corinth then likely Athens and on to other Greek cities. Then further north into Macedonia. By 90 AD we know it made its way to Rome where Clement demonstrates that he has a copy of the letter using it to deal with another set of problems in Corinth.
Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you.
Here Clement writing to the Corinthian church uses Paul's letter to back up his appeal to restore deposed elders. At this time many people would still be alive that could verify Paul's visit as well as the acceptance of the original letter. Clearly Clement was aware of this and was relying on this fact. He makes an appeal to the church based on their acceptance of the letter. His appeal would make no sense if the church had rejected the letter.

By 180 AD (likely much earlier, especially if Paul left a copy in Ephesus when he wrote it) the letter was circulating and accepted in Asia Minor. Irenaues certainly knew of the letter as well as Clement's use of it.
Ad Haer Book III Chapter 3
[Clement], as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels.
Irenaues started this book describing the end of the apostolic era with the death of the apostles and the focus on the writings they left behind.
Ad Haer Book III Chapter 1
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
This quotation from Irenaues preserves the understanding of the early church regarding the process of transmitting the gospel and God’s revelation to us - first by the public teaching of the apostles and now through their writings, which are the Scriptures.

By 180-200 the Pauline letters are known to have been collected and circulated all the way to Egypt based on the finding of the papyri known as P46 in Cairo. In addition the earliest known list of the NT - the Muratorian Fragment dated around 170 AD - also contains the Corinthian letters.

This process of circulation and acceptance in the churches for the letter to the Corinthians was true for all the writings/letters of the NT as well as other writings some solid but uninspired and others that were false. The Holy Spirit having confirmed His messengers to the church and inspired their writings would rely on the local churches to confirm these writings that were later sent to them. Augustine affirms that it was the testimony of these local churches that was used to discover the authentic and inspired books. It is this research that was affirmed at the local synods of Hippo and Carthage in the 4th century.
On Christian Doctrine Book II Chapter 8
…Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of [universal] churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the [universal] churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.
The process of collecting the writings of the apostles was not without debate. It was fallible man that researched how the Holy Spirit worked through the churches and whether the writings were accepted to resolve debate over the NT canon. We have to trust the fallible work of the church in collecting these works into a single canon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Canonization: a case study in First Corinthians (Part I)

Seems that the issue of canon is a major theme in the the blog-o-sphere with another discussion going on here, here, and here.

These discussions all focus on the question "how do we know which books belong in the canon"? There are two important points I want to make regarding the canon before looking at the process and how I can accept a fallible list of infallible books. First is that God determines the canon by inspiring the author of the books. Second is that man is left to discover which books are inspired and therefore part of the canon. The question then is did the Holy Spirit aid this process and to what degree can we infer infallibility of the discovery phase. I provided some difficulties regarding the infallibility of the list here and here.

So how did God determine which books/letters were inspired? He chose and enabled a prophet/apostle to speak and later write what He revealed. The history of the transmission of the OT and NT demonstrates that God speaks through prophets and apostles giving them a message that is clear, confirmable, and unmistakably from Him. These prophets/apostles in turn deliver this message - Thus says the LORD - verbally to others. These messages are often confirmed with near-term prophetic fulfillment and/or signs and wonders. Sometimes the prophets recorded their messages in writing (Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 36:2) and other times they did not (Elijah). These verbally transmitted messages could be tested and accepted or rejected by the original audience based on criteria set out by the LORD (Deut 18:15-21). Once the audience was able to confirm the prophet/apostle as authentic, the future writings could also be confirmed. This is the basic process that was used to discover the inspired texts and correctly add them to the canon.

We will look at this process using the letter First Corinthians. As we look at this letter as a case study it is helpful to keep in mind that the church was not founded on apostolic writings but the oral teaching of the apostles (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15). A casual reading of the book of Acts confirms this as does that fact that the church existed for over 10 years before any NT book was written and over 60 years before all the NT books were written.

Before the letter was ever written Paul first visited Corinth after leaving Athens. He remained in the city for 18 months. While he was there Paul taught and testified that Jesus was the Christ (1 Cor 15:1-4; Acts 18:1-11). This would likely have been around 50-51 AD. The message Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians regarding Jesus was confirmed in the power of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:1-5). This demonstration is described in more detail in a later letter as the signs and wonders consistent with being an apostle (2 Cor 12:12). This is an essential part of the process where the Holy Spirit is confirming the apostle and the message are from God. This should not be under-estimated as even Jesus was affirmed through signs and wonders (Acts 2:22; John 3:2).

Think about what this would have been like. You are a Gentile living in the 1st century in Greece and you are out at the market when you see the posting – a new philosopher is in town and will be talking tonight at an assembly hall - for free. You decide to check it out. When you get there the teacher, Paul gets up and opens up the OT to the Book of Isaiah and starts reading from the passage on the Suffering Servant. He then starts teaching that the Servant that Isaiah was talking about has already come in the person of Jesus who is the Messiah – God’s Anointed One – and He has suffered and died on a cross as the one true sacrifice for sins that is once and for all – and has been raised from the dead.

As he is talking your child leans over with an inquisitive looks and whispers – “Hey Dad, Dad… are we gonna stone this nut after class”. As class indeed winds up and the families start heading out of the hall – some sizing up the stones and rocks that are nearby, they are approached by a common sight… Bob the beggar. Bob is a regular outside the hall, a young man who can not walk, and for years waits for those coming out of class to take pity on him and give him some money or food.

As the teacher – Paul – comes out the main doors into the crowd he reaches out to Bob and heals him in the name of Jesus – the same One whom he had just finished teaching on. Bob immediately jumps up, thanks him and runs down the street in joy. The crowd stunned, drop their stones. Your child leans over with a look of awe and whispers – “Hey Dad, Dad… Did you see that? Hasn’t Bob been lame for the last several years after that big accident? How did he do that?”. The next week the hall is packed as many come to hear from this new teacher Paul.

That is the picture painted of Paul's ministry in Corinth. In addition to his preaching and signs, Paul also claimed to have seen Jesus raised from the dead (1 Cor 9:1, 15:8; Acts 1:21-22) and used his life style to confirm his message (2 Cor 1:12;Matt 7:15-16).

Before there were letters written to Corinth there was a visit to the city by a man named Paul. In Part II, we will examine how this visit leads to the writing and later acceptance of the epistle we call First Corinthians.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What's in your Canon?

There has been a lot of activity in the blogosphere regarding the canon of Scripture in the last few days. Two recent posts here and here from the Parchment and Pen blog and another here from the iMonk. In fact the first post from P&P has been going since Jan. 24th and still has an ongoing discussion in the comment section. This is an area of interest for me and so I have been trying to follow all 3 posts.

The discussion is interesting because the primary source (called special revelation) of information about God that we have today is the Scriptures. It is here that we learn Who He is, what He promises, and what His redemptive plan is. Certainly the Scriptures must be understood for what they are - God's way of preserving revealed truth that gives us the wisdom necessary for salvation (2 Tim 3:15). Jesus, Himself reminds us that they point to Him who is the source of eternal life.
You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39)
The Scriptures are also useful for equipping believers for good works (1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The question then becomes what writings constitute the Scriptures? There are many different views on the canon and many different questions arise as to how the church identified the books that are inspired and passed that information to us today.
The main questions seem to be:
  • which books are inspired and belong in the canon?
  • which version of the text was inspired and belongs in the canon?
  • is the canon closed?
  • are the answers to the first three questions fallible (capable of being wrong) or infallible (incapable of being wrong)?
  • who has the authority to determine/answer the first three questions?
As the topics raised by these questions are investigated we find many assumptions and a priori theological commitments rise to the surface. The area with the most tension usually revolves around who has the authority to answer our questions and to what level of certainty.

The Roman Catholic position asserts that we can have an infallible canon because the Church has apostolic authority that has been passed on to the Magisterium. This authority includes the ability to teach and interpret infallibly. Since the Church has this ability and has given us the canon of the OT and NT at the Council of Trent then we know for sure which books are Scripture with infallible certainty.

The Protestant position relies on the sufficiency of Scripture. It acknowledges the authority of leaders in the church but does not accept the doctrine that leaders have the ability to teach and interpret infallibly. However the predominant view regarding the canon of Scriptures (that I am aware of) is that the Holy Spirit working in the early church helped guide the body of Christ in choosing the books of Scripture with infallible certainty.

I have not been able to do much research regarding the Eastern Orthodox canon and how it is established. I have not found any council post the Great Schism that might have codified the Scriptures or whether the canon is considered fallible or infallible. Feel free to suggest good books or links that might help me understand this better.

All three major Christian branches have shared history in the early church debates over the Scriptures that occurred from first through fourth centuries. The debates, at least for the NT are largely settled in the local synods/councils in Hippo and Carthage where the 27 books of the NT were affirmed and where there is agreement between all. The major differences between the major branches appear in the OT canon. These differences include the books that are included as well as whether the Hebrew Masoretic Text or the Greek text of the Septuagint is to be used.

What's in Your Bible? Find out at

As a Protestant (who grew up Catholic) I accept what is probably a minority view - that the canon of Scripture is a "fallible list of infallible books". This is based on the following two observations. The first is that the transmission of the books of Scripture can be demonstrated to have been fallible. There were debates in the early church over whether a small number of books should be included in our NT (2/3 John, 2 Peter, James, Jude, Revelation) and some of them were not (1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabus, Didache). These debates showed that various churches had different books in their canon for the first 400 years of the existence of the church.

The second is we don't have a manuscript that would be considered inspired (and therefore infallible) that lists the books of Scripture and I don't accept the infallible authority of the church (Magisterium). Therefore the list of books in the canon are a product of the early church that can be studied and affirmed (another post on that later) but is a fallible product produced by fallible man.

I do accept that the Holy Spirit through the church played a role in the preservation of both the text and books that were inspired. However (focusing on the NT) if the Holy Spirit did illuminate the church infallibly regarding the compilation of the NT canon then did He do this only in regards to the NT books? All the early lists that contain the NT (27 books) – Athanasius 39th Festal letter, Council Hippo/Carthage also contain the OT with the Apocrypha. It would seem that we (Protestants) would have to accept that set of books too based on this fact. Or we must be very selective in determining how the Holy Spirit illuminated the early church regarding the selection of one canon (NT) and not the other (OT).

Then we have to ask: how do we know that the 27 book list is the right list? Maybe the Holy Spirit was right in guiding the church in producing one of the other (and earlier lists) like the Muratorian Fragment which does not include several books in the NT that we do today.

I accept the canon we have today is correct based on history and thank the Holy Spirit for preserving God's Word for us, while acknowledging that the process contained the possibility of error. It is encouraging for me to know that the early church was careful to test the books before accepting them and that gives me confidence that these were the words God wrote through His apostles to let us know He loves us and offers us forgiveness in Jesus.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Faith and Signs. a lesson from the Cross in Mark

What is faith? Many define faith as "blind trust" or irrational beliefs:
[Faith] means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. ... The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry. Blind faith can justify anything. (Dawkins, the Selfish Gene, 198)
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence (Dawkins)
Is faith really blind? Does faith require us to give up rational thinking? I don't think this is the case. I believe that the Scriptures encourage us to investigate facts and provide reasons for our faith (1 Pet 3:15). The problem is most people will not trust God no matter how much evidence they are given. Consider two responses to Jesus on the cross in the Gospel of Mark.

After a mock trial in which no criminal charges or corroborating witnesses could be found and no wrong could be named (14:55-63; 15:12-14) Jesus was charged with being the King of the Jews. He was crucified Friday morning at around 9am. After 3 hours on the cross darkness came in the middle of the day and 3 hours after that, at 3 pm Jesus died. On that day there were several different groups of individuals that witnessed the event and responded. We will look at two groups - the crowd and the centurion.

The crowd (Mark 15:29-37)
The religious leaders, the crowd, and the thieves are all witnesses to Jesus' crucifixion. As Jesus hung on the cross they came and spit on him, mocked him, and ridiculed Him. They challenged Jesus to prove that He was the Messiah.

• (15:30,32) Come down from the cross!
• (15:31) Save yourself!
• (15:36) Let’s see if Elijah will save Him!

This group were asking for more evidence so that they could "see and believe" (Mk 15:32). They were not going to accept blind faith, they wanted proof! However their a priori convictions (the Messiah would come as King and reunite Israel) and their derisive attitude demonstrate that they were not making an honest inquiry. In fact this group had already been given many signs. The religious leaders had seen Jesus' miracles (Mk 2:1-3:6) and rejecting them declaring they were from Satan (Mk 3:22). The crowd had also witnessed many signs including many healings, exorcisms, and the feeding of 5000 (Mk 6:33-34). Refusing to believe "even in the teeth of evidence" they demanded even more signs (Mk 8:11-13).

The centurion (Mark 15:39)
The antagonists were hostile and demanded proof from Jesus.  The centurion however started off that Friday just doing his job. He had to oversee the scourging and crucifixion of three people that day. It was his responsibility to make sure that all three condemned men actually died (Mk 15:44-45). Jesus was just another convict that had to die. But that was not how the day ended.
Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
The centurion did not demand signs but he did observe what God chose to reveal that day, evaluated the evidence, and accepted that as testimony that Jesus was the Son of God.

What did the centurion see that convinced him?
As a Roman soldier he would not have much background in the teaching of the Scriptures. He may or may not have heard of Jesus' ministry and miracles and he probably witnessed Jesus' trial. We can say with certainly that he saw the darkness in the middle of the day and would have heard all of the things that Jesus did and said while on the cross – though Mark records almost none.

All these likely contributed to his faith that day. But the text says that what convinced Him as he stood in front of Jesus was how Jesus died. Most crucified victims took long hours and days to die on the cross (that is why the thieves legs had to be broken and Pilate is surprised how quickly Jesus died) but there must have been something else that was different in how Jesus died. Something besides His quick death that caught the attention of a man who had witnessed many deaths on the cross. He had heard the curses and insults that men in pain screamed at him and contrasted that with Jesus looking over at him and saying "I forgive you". He saw men struggle to breathe and hold on to life until they collapsed. But that day he saw Jesus give His life. He realized that when Jesus died it was His giving not the cross taking His life.

What ever convinced the centurion that day, he left that day convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. Would that have been enough evidence for you? While we are told walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we must remember that God does not expect blind faith but honest seekers that investigate the evidence that God does provide and think it through. That is what the centurion did that day.