When we look at the claims of the apostles recorded throughout the New Testament, they appear to follow this same approach. Rather than appealing to their own feelings or internal experiences, they continually pointed to that which they heard with their ears, saw with their eyes, and touched with their hands (1Jn 1:1, 3). In Acts 2:22, Peter says this: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.” In verse 36 he went on to say that we can know “for certain” Jesus is the promised Messiah, not because God will reveal this to each of us through some kind of personal encounter, but because Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection were seen by numerous eyewitnesses, and also happened to be foreseen by the Hebrew prophets of old.
In 1835, just a few years after the initial release of The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith published a supplemental volume called Doctrine & Covenants in which he claimed to have received the following revelation from God:
Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things; did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?… Behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right, I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you: therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings…
This, of course, is the origin of the popular Mormon doctrine of the “burning in the bosom.” As a result of this verse, most of the Mormon missionaries who’ve arrived at my doorstep over the decades have encouraged me to pray to God, asking him to confirm the truth of The Book of Mormon by means of an internal experience of this kind.
What’s fascinating is that last year when I conducted a poll of nearly a hundred Christians at a variety of different events here in the St. Louis area, the majority of those I interviewed ended up describing faith as a kind of subjective feeling or experience. When I discussed this topic on Episode 4, “Is Faith a Feeling,” I mentioned the fact that in my own study of this issue, I wasn’t able to find a single occurrence of the word “feeling” anywhere near the word “faith” in most English Bible translations. Even when I searched for different versions of the verb “to feel,” and substituted alternatives for the word “faith” (such as “faithful,” “belief,” “believer,” etc.), I still couldn’t find a single passage in which “faith” and “feelings” were within 200 words of each other.
On episode 28 of The Humble Skeptic podcast, I discuss the relationship between “faith and experience,” and in preparation for that program, I decided to run a search for any appearance of the word “experience” within 200 words of “faith.” Only one verse appeared across a variety of English Bible translations, namely, 1Peter 5:9. Beginning at verse 8 this passage reads as follows: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (ESV).