A Coin, a Fish, and Critical Thinking

A Coin, a Fish, and Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Skills

Any serious reader of the New Testament will quickly observe many unusual events that seem beyond belief.  A leper healed?  Jesus walking on water?  5,000 fed with five loaves and two fish?  Skeptics pounce on these events as warrant for unbelief, while some Devotees bounce over them with uncritical relief.

But who will think them through carefully, including their implications?

When confronted with the fantastic claims of the New Testament – in particular, the claims about Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Living God – do we employ critical thinking skills, or merely accept/reject such claims uncritically, based on preference and intuition?  Let's take a moment to investigate one "fantastic" NT story ...

A Fish

In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the Galilean city of Capernaum, where they are asked to pay the annual Temple tax (to be sent to Jerusalem) for the upkeep of the Temple area.  This tax was levied upon every 20-year-old (or older) Jewish man, in the amount of two drachmas – about ½ a shekel.   Two drachmas was the economic equivalent of two day's wages for the common man.

Ancient Four Drachma Coin

One exception to the two drachma tax: the priests were exempt from paying it. Jesus used this moment to teach Peter that though leaders (kings, priests etc.) were exempt from taxes, He was willing to pay this tax ... though in truth, He was certainly exempt as the ultimate priest and king.

So, Jesus tells Peter to go fishing, predicting that the first fish he reels in will have a four-drachma coin in its mouth, exactly the amount required to pay the tax for Peter and Jesus.  And, guess what? Matthew 17 records that that is exactly what happened.

Sketch from My Journal

Now let's engage our critical thinking skills. We have two choices: either this story is fabricated/embellished or it is absolutely true.  If it is fabricated, then it is a lie, a falsehood, a contrived story that didn't really happen ... in which case it casts deep suspicion upon the entire New Testament (and entire Bible) as a reputable source for truth.  

On the other hand, if it occurred as written, we have quite a stunning event.  When was the last time you caught a fish with a coin in its mouth?  A coin that was predicted to be there by Someone else?  Yeah, me neither.  That's a glimpse of how incredible this story is.

So, which is it?  Egregious fabrication or stunning truth?

Using critical thinking skills, let me tell you what it is not.

The one thing this story cannot be is ½ true, ½ accurate, ½ dependable, or ½ believable.  It is either all one thing (embellished, false) or all another thing (true and miraculous).  This is decidedly an either/or situation. Either there was a newly caught fish with a coin in its mouth, or there wasn't. And this simple logic (and its implications) are what lazy, non-critical thinkers fail to grasp.

This story (and so many others) in the New Testament demand the reader make a verdict of some sort ... he or she cannot read it and remain forever neutral. If there's no coin, there is no supernatural Jesus. If there is a coin, there is nothing but a supernatural Jesus. There is no "in between."

All this reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said about true Christianity:

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.  The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."

Where I sit, I see the truly impossible among Western Christians: the vast majority hold to a form of Christianity that suggests it is moderately important, the one thing it simply cannot be. The obvious implication is that critical thinking skills are in short supply. And frankly, this confounds me.