bookmark_borderJesus on Faith – Part 3

Jesus talks about “faith” in Matthew Chapter 6 and also in Matthew Chapter 16 (Mat. 6:25-33 and  16:5-12).  In both of these passages, Jesus tells his followers that they have “little faith”, and then Jesus puts forward an ARGUMENT or REASONS in order to INCREASE the FAITH of his followers.  
But this makes no sense if we interpret these passages using the definition of “faith” proposed by Bertrand Russell: firm belief for which one has no evidence.  And this makes no sense if we interpret these passages using the definition of “faith” proposed by A. C. Grayling: belief held in the face of contrary evidence.  Given these definitions, providing a GOOD ARGUMENT or GOOD REASONS for a belief will make it very difficult or impossible for someone to have “faith”.
Jesus presumably believed that the REASONS he gave to his followers were GOOD REASONS and GOOD ARGUMENTS, but Jesus gave REASONS to his followers in order to increase their faith, not to make faith very difficult or impossible for them.   Therefore, we can conclude that Jesus did NOT understand the word “faith” to mean what Russell or Grayling says it means.
Another way to get at Jesus’ understanding of “faith” (or the understanding of “faith” held by the authors of the Gospels) is to consider what Jesus  says about “doubt”.   Doubt is obviously something that contrasts with faith, but we can clearly see that Jesus saw these as opposite or contrasting concepts.  Consider, for example, the Gospel story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water:
28 Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 
29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 
30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little FAITH, why did you DOUBT?”
Matthew 14:28-31  New American Standard Bible [EMPHASIS Added]
Here, as in the previously considered passages from Matthew, Jesus says that one of his followers, Peter, has “little faith”, and immediately asks Peter “why did you doubt?”.  Clearly, Jesus thinks that “doubt” has a very close connection with having “little faith”.  So, increasing faith implies decreasing doubt, and increasing doubt implies decreasing faith, in Jesus’ view.
While Jesus often spoke about having “faith” in God, the Christian religion is focused on having “faith” in Jesus, and in particular having “faith” in the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  In other words, one of the primary objects of Christian faith is the alleged resurrection of Jesus.
An important Gospel passage concerning “doubt” about the resurrection of Jesus occurs in Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke.  Thus, consideration of this Chapter might shed light on the concept of “faith” as it relates to the resurrection of Jesus, one of the primary objects of faith in the Christian religion:
36 While they were telling these things, He [Jesus] Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 
37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 
38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do DOUBTS arise in your hearts? 
39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 
40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 
Luke 24:36-40  New American Standard Bible [EMPHASIS Added]
https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?qs_version=NASB&quicksearch=doubt&begin=47&end=73
In this passage, Jesus does not say that his disciples are “of little faith”.  However, he did say something very similar in verse 38: “Why are you troubled, and why do DOUBTS arise in your hearts?”  So, Jesus might just as well have said: “Why are you troubled, and why do you have so little FAITH in your hearts?”.  Thus, in this passage, Jesus is talking about FAITH, or the lack of FAITH in his disciples.
Jesus’ disciples are presented here as lacking FAITH in the resurrection of Jesus.  They saw someone who looked like Jesus, but believed that Jesus was dead, so they inferred that they were merely seeing a spirit or ghost.  They DOUBTED the claim that God had miraculously raised Jesus’ dead body back to life.  In other words, they were lacking in FAITH in the resurrection of Jesus.
How does Jesus respond to this lack of FAITH in his physical resurrection?  Jesus responds by providing EVIDENCE in support of the claim that his dead body was brought back to life:
39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 
40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 
This EVIDENCE provided by Jesus can be stated in terms of REASONS or an ARGUMENT:
1. You can see my hands and my feet (i.e. that they look like solid flesh).
2. You can feel my hands and my feet (i.e. that they feel like solid flesh).
Therefore:
3.  I am made of flesh and bones, and I am not a spirit or ghost.
Thus, as in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew, and in Chapter 16 of Matthew, we see in Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke that Jesus’ response to a lack of FAITH in his disciples is to provide EVIDENCE or REASONS or ARGUMENTS to his disciples in support of the belief that they are having trouble accepting or firmly believing.
So, in this very important and central Gospel passage, one that relates to FAITH in a key Christian doctrine, we see Jesus providing what he takes to be GOOD REASONS or GOOD ARGUMENTS for the belief in question.  This is completely contrary to what we would expect given the definition of “faith” proposed by Russell, and given the definition of “faith” proposed by Grayling.
As a skeptic and an atheist, I do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  I also do not believe that Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter Sunday.  My view is that the story about Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on Easter Sunday is fiction not history.  Thus, I don’t believe that Jesus said the words attributed to him in that story, nor did Jesus actually show his hands and his feet to his disciples, in my view.  But this does NOT undermine my point about Jesus’ understanding of the word “faith”.
The real point is not about the actual historical Jesus (if there was such a person).  The real point is about the understanding of “faith” held by the authors of the Gospels, and put into the mouth of Jesus by those authors,  and the understanding of “faith” held by the hundreds of millions of Christian believers who read those Gospels, most of whom DO think that the events of Luke Chapter 24, and Matthew Chapters 6 and 16, are factual and historical.
In other words, sincere and devout Christians who believe that the Gospels provide historical accounts about the words and actions of Jesus, read and study the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, and they are influenced by the conception of “faith” that is put into the mouth of Jesus, and into the actions of Jesus, by the authors of the Gospels.  Thus,  because the understanding of “faith” in the Gospels does NOT fit with the definition of “faith” proposed by Russell, and does NOT fit with the definition of “faith” proposed by Grayling, we ought to be very cautious and skeptical about the claim that sincere and devout Christians understand the word “faith” in accordance with the definitions proposed by Russell and Grayling.