JJ likes the material on faithalone.org. He has sent in an interesting question about mental assent:
I really appreciate your website and content very much. I live in Houston, TX. Have you written/published anything on Matthew 28:12–15? The guards (and presumably the Chief Priests) knew the facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection were true, yet they tried to suppress the truth. Is this an example of mental assent of facts without personally trusting in those facts for themselves individually? They were certainly persuaded Jesus was resurrected.
I appreciate your response very much.
First, did the Roman soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb believe that He rose bodily from the dead? I do not know because Scripture does not tell us. There were probably sixteen soldiers who guarded the tomb in shifts. Some suggest that these were temple guards. Or a combination. In any case, only some of the sixteen or more soldiers/temple guards would have been on duty when the angel came and rolled away the stone.
Matthew 28:11 says, “some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.” Some likely refers to the four who were on duty at the time the empty tomb became known.
They took money, agreeing to say that the disciples came and stole the body as they slept.
Did they believe that lie? Probably not. They presumably were all awake during the entire watch. That would be a crime punishable by death. (Though compare Acts 12:5-11 for an example when the Lord rendered Roman guards unable to observe what was happening with Peter.)
However, Matt 28:4 says that after an angel rolled away the stone, “the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” When they saw the angel, either before or after he rolled away the stone, they passed out (or became catatonic).
But even if they were awake and aware at the time the angel rolled away the stone, that does not prove that they believed that Jesus rose from the dead. We don’t have any way of knowing what they believed beyond what Scripture says.
Second, assuming they did believe that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, was that “simply mental assent,” or was it “trusting in those facts for themselves individually”?
If there is a difference between mental assent and trusting in something for yourself, then trusting is different than believing. JJ says that they “were certainly persuaded.” Persuasion is a synonym for belief.
I find the switch from belief to trust to be confusing at best and misleading at worst.
What would trusting Jesus’ resurrection for yourself mean?
I am not sure what JJ means when he speaks of a person who trusts it as true for himself.
Let’s say you believe that Barack Obama was President from Jan 2009 to Jan 2017. Could you believe that and yet not trust that for yourself? I don’t know because I don’t see how you trust for yourself that Obama was President for eight years.
I believe that is true. I trust that is true for me personally. That does not mean that I believe that he was a good, or a bad, President. It does not mean that I believe one way or the other whether his presidency was good or bad for me personally. All it means is that I am convinced that he was President during that time.
Let’s say you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. Could you believe that and yet not trust that? Again, I do not understand.
Third, to believe something is to be convinced it is true. All belief is mental assent to a proposition. Belief is never some sort of additional step beyond being convinced. If it is, then John 3:16 is not true. Whoever believes in Him, according to this way of thinking, does not have everlasting life. Instead, it is whoever trusts in Him for himself, whatever that means.
Fourth, there is no promise in the Bible that if someone believes that Jesus rose bodily from the dead then he has everlasting life.i The promise is that if anyone believes in Jesus for everlasting life that can never be lost, then he has that imperishable life (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25-26; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-9).
Belief that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead should lead to believing in Him for everlasting life. But that is not automatic. Most people in Christianity believe in His death and resurrection, but do not believe that simply by faith in Him, they have salvation that can never be lost.
I do hope all of the sixteen guards and the chief priests believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life. But I lack any proof from Scripture that they did.
i For a discussion of Rom 10:9, which some think teaches that, see Zane C. Hodges, Romans, pp. 298-99 and see this 2018 blog by me.