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During His preaching ministry, Jesus described the nature of God. But before doing so, did He have to lay a foundation and convince people that God exists? Or had oral tradition and the Old Testament already convinced most people that God exists?

Reason I ask:

  • Christians typically credit Saint Thomas Aquinas' 'Quinque viae' as the best arguments for the existence of God.
  • But I assume that most of Jesus' contemporary followers must have already believed in "a god", because if they didn't then Jesus would have needed to spend a good deal of His effort persuading the masses that "a god" (that is any god) exists, as opposed to "the God" that He existed as in the Holy Trinity.
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Isn't the obvious answer to this going to be Aristotle? –  Peter Turner Jun 3 at 3:52
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Or Moses before Pharoah? Or God himself speaking to Abraham? If you're asking about formal apologetics the question should be more explicit. –  curiousdannii Jun 3 at 4:11
    
@PeterTurner: Although some knowledge of Aristotle's logical works was known to western Europe, it wasn't until the Latin translations of the 12th century that the works of Aristotle and his Arabic commentators became widely available. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotelianism –  Jim G. Jun 3 at 11:54
    
@JimG. The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Neoplatonism does quite a bit of name-dropping. I think your question's title differs from your question's body quite a bit. Do you care about the first 1200 years of Christendom or only the immediate pre-Incarnation (100 BC to 1 AD) history? –  Peter Turner Jun 3 at 12:33
    
@PeterTurner: For the purpose of this question, I care more about the pre-Incarnation period. –  Jim G. Jun 3 at 13:57

3 Answers 3

Jesus' contemporary followers not only believed in "a god", they had a common understanding of the existence and nature of God, because his mission was to the people of Israel (cf. Jesus answer to the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:14: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel"). This is not to assert that all of Jesus' followers came from the House of Israel, but before the writings of Paul, we have little evidence of any who were not. With the common understandings, they did not need an explanation of the existence, or nature of God.

If, on the other hand, Jesus had been sent to the Gentiles--the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, &c.--he would have had to expend considerably more time teaching about the nature--though not the existence--of God. Note, though, that in the ancient world, atheism was rather unknown. Most everyone seems to have believed in at least one god, though there was not much consensus about much more than the existence of a god.

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@brasshat. I like your answer (+1) but maybe you can remove the part after 'if ...'. It distracts. –  gideon marx Jun 3 at 7:54
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@gideon, I think the bit after the "if" adds to the completeness of the answer. –  brasshat Jun 3 at 8:39

The most generic Christian answer to this is quite simple: God did.

No human—neither Aquinas nor any other philosopher or theologian—"laid the foundation for the existence of God". God has always existed and the impetus for revealing this truth to men has always been on him. This he has done in spades.

  • Adam, the first man, walked and talked with God in a very tangible sense even before his wife Eve was created (see Genesis 2). Adam had no question about the existence of God or miss-understanding that he was God's creation.

  • Throughout the Old Testament we see a God who was repeatedly in contact with his creation making himself known as creator and sovereign God.

    Hebrews 1:1 (ESV)
    1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

  • The Bible is blatantly forward on the issue of the existence of God being clear to all men through general revelation without the help of philosophers or theologians.

    Romans 1:20 (ESV)
    20  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

This is not to devalue the contributions of Aquinas and others in helping fallible humans to get over themselves, out of the nonsensical funk we work ourselves up into and remind us of immanent truth. There is a time and a place for that. But your question mistakes the nature of their activity. Man did not create God, nor does he "lay a foundation for his existence". God is. And according to Christianity it is incumbent on all men to decide whether they will obey or disobey him.

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I am not sure you represent a general Christian approach in your answer. It seems to represent the Islamic approach to religion. Christianity (and Judaism) relies on humans like the Apostle Paul to lay a foundation for the existence of God. Without humans there would be no 'original sin', no popes and no 'trinity'. –  gideon marx Jun 6 at 10:47

John 10:24-33 (NIV)

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus did not come to make some apologetic works to proof the existence of God. Jesus came to prove that He is God and to prove the power of God to the people.

Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14:9, NIV)

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