What People Believe About Jesus, the Bible, Heaven & Hell
Hundreds of millions believe Jesus is the Son of God; then again, hundreds of millions do not. Sadly, many are unsure about what they believe.
A Gallup poll found that 84% of respondents in the United States believe that Jesus is the Son of God.[i]What is shocking is that most of those who believe Jesus to be the Son of God, don’t completely buy into the truth of the very source that proclaims it – the Bible!
A Baylor University study found that of those who considered themselves to be either mainstream Protestants or Catholics, astoundingly less than 12% believe the Bible to be literally true, yet somehow they still believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That suggests a lot of uncertainty.[ii]If the Bible is the only source that claims Jesus to be the Son of God, then with what certainty is the basis of their beliefs if they don’t accept the truth of the Bible?
From the opposite side of the spectrum, the same uncertainty exists. Pollster George Barna once found that half of all people claiming to be Atheists or Agnostics believe that “every person has a soul, that heaven and hell exist and that there is life after death.” And, of those who said that they believe in a Heaven and Hell, a scant 14% said that it is only a symbolic place.[iii]How is it possible to believe in Heaven and Hell, but not believe that there is a God who determines where a soul will spend eternity in either place?
Consistently with the theme of uncertainty, the Baylor study found that 99% of those with no religious affiliation do not believe the Bible to be literal, yet 17% of them believe the Bible to be more than just legendary tales. Why would they hold open the possibility that the Bible contains certain truths?
It is a conundrum. Neither the believers nor the detractors have an absolute single piece of evidence that proves that Jesus is or is not the Son of God. Still, there can be no in-between… he either is or he was not. If Jesus was the Son of God 2000 years ago, he still is now, but there is no easy answer based on a single piece of evidence. What’s the answer?
A person looking for a quick and easy answer will be sorely disappointed – it is not that simple, but the answers can be found. The information is vast and deep, ancient and new, ultimately leaving each person to weigh its believability.
Professor Peter W. Stoner, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy and later Professor Emeritus at Pasadena City College during the 1950s published a book entitled Science Speaks.[iv]He calculated the probability of only 8 out of the some 48 Messiah prophecies covering predictions from his birth to his death that could be fulfilled by any one person from the time of the prophecies to the present day. Conservatively, the result was 1 chance in 1017 (1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000).
By comparison, the uniqueness odds of a DNA code matching to a single individual is 1 in 1015 even though there are not even close to being that many humans who have ever lived on this planet over the ages.[v] In spite of the incredible improbability that one person could ever fulfill even a fourth of all the messianic prophecies attributed to the circumstances of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, these astounding odds alone will sway very few people to conclude that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
Why? Probably because it is our nature to casually make many of our daily decisions without having all, even none of the facts. We quickly assess which traffic route is faster without checking a traffic report; take a chance on not getting a speeding ticket with no idea where the police are running radar; selecting a product based on habit or advertising; ordering a menu item that looks most appealing while having not tasted it; picking a movie based on the trailer but not checking viewer reviews; betting on the weather lacking a weather forecast; etc.
Evaluating the odds of whether or not Jesus is the Son of God, for most people, is no different. It is often a decision based only on tradition, assumptions, experiences, or bits and pieces of things we have heard and seen – a conclusion drawn without at least making a modest effort to look into it in more detail. There is a lot of variables to consider – what are the prophecies; how specific are they, are they legitimate; can a potential prophecy fulfillment be confirmed or is it merely a coincidence; not to mention the things that seem to defy logic and science? Looking at just one piece of the puzzle does not reveal the whole picture.
Look at today’s news where a video of a minute or less of an incident leads to an initial snap conclusion, but after more evidence is brought to light, the video evidence takes on a completely different context – the snap conclusion may have been wrong. Likewise in a courtroom trial, one piece of evidence also does not tell the whole story. Much goes into the ultimate decision to be made by a judge or jury after weighing all the many pieces of evidence. In a circumstantial case, one without any direct evidence or proof, the jury must be able to link a series of indirect evidence in order to draw a single conclusion.
In a court room setting, a verdict is derived, in part, by weighing the alternatives – is there another reasonable explanation; what is the probability it was someone else; moreover, what are the chances that all the circumstantial evidence is just one big coincidence?[vi]
Doctrine of Chances, a U.S. Federal legal concept, says the probability that recurrence of events with the same or similar circumstances pointing to a specific individual is not merely an accident. The greater the number of similar occurrences pointing to that central figure, the stronger the probability that they occurred by design, not by chance.
What is the improbability of mere chance that the confluence of events and circumstances at a single point in history surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth coincided with the Hebrew legacy of the many messianic prophecies, events, and circumstances over the previous 2000 years? Was it all nothing more than a big coincidence…or was it by divine design?
[i] Gallup, George H. Jr. “Who Is Jesus?” Gallup. 24 Dec. 2002. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/7471/who-jesus.aspx> >
[ii] American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US. Baylor University. Sept. 2006. “Table 2: Religious Beliefs and Practices by Religious Tradition.” Page 14. <http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/33304.pdf>
[iii] “Most in U.S. believe they are heaven-bound, study says.” Austin American Statesman. 1 Nov. 2003. Newspaper edition.
[iv] Stoner, Peter W. and Newman, Robert C. Science Speaks. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute. 1958. Online Edition 2005. Chapter 3, #8. <http://sciencespeaks.dstoner.net/>
[v] Trautman, Dave, “Probabilities Associated with DNA Profiling.” The Citadel Mathematics and Computer Science publication website. <http://www.mathcs.citadel.edu/trautmand/stuff/dnapapers/little.htm>. “DNA Fingerprint.” World of Forensic Science. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448300188.html>
[vi] The Free Dictionary by Farlex. 2014. Legal Dictionary. “Circumstantial Evidence.” <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dictionary.htm>