5/27/2007

The Linear Argument Showing the Bible to be God’s Word

Time after time an opponent of Christianity accuses us of circular reasoning. The statement we are accused of making goes like this: The Bible claims to be God’s Word so it is God’s Word. That is “begging the question,” where the conclusion is true only if the premise is true. However, the actual argument put forth by Christians is linear and logical. In bullet point form, it goes like this:

· The Bible is good history (The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell).

· We can trust what the Bible says about Jesus because it is based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4, 2 Peter 1:16). These eyewitnesses were willing to die for their faith.

· Jesus claimed to be God. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus did not correct him (John 20:26-31).

· Jesus worked miracles and proved Himself to be God (John 14: 9-11).

· Jesus affirmed the truth of God’s Word. He said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He said, in prayer to God, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

· Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to help the apostles remember and truthfully relate the events in the Bible (John 16:13-15).

· We have a Bible we can trust. It gives us God’s truth and equips us for faith and service (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The basic tenor of this argument is taken from two sources, When Skeptics Ask by Norman Geisler and Reason to Believe by R. C. Sproul.

As R. C. Sproul pointed out in a recent lecture, if we have established that the Bible is God’s Word, every other issue becomes a matter of “exegesis,” deciding what the Bible says on the issue at hand.

I would love to see your comments on the general approach, the specific points, or the things I have undoubtedly left out.

5 comments:

Transplanted Lawyer said...

You asked for comments. Mine are lengthy and offered in a spirit of dialogue -- I don't think we'll change each other's minds but the discussion may profit us and those who may happen to read what is written. I assume that you are proposing that the Bible is literally true rather than figuratively true -- because a figurative truth is both useless as a historical fact and subject to inevitably errant human interpretation -- and then we are faced with the problem of determining which interpretation is correct and which is false.

Respectfully, I dispute two of your premises here. First, you propose that the Bible is good history. It might be a good story and a powerful means of conveying the social traditions of its authors, but for good history, we must look elsewhere.

Many events described in the Bible lack any support or corroboration in other historical records or in archaeological evidence. The Egyptians were meticulous record-keepers, and no reference to the Exodus in Egyptian documents has ever been found. The Romans were also meticulous record-keepers, particularly concerning matters of law and punishment, and there is no Roman record of the crucifixion of Jesus. Doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen, but the absence of such records, especially in the face of a plethora of records of other, similar events, at least shifts the burden to the Biblical apologist to explain why these events have not been recorded.

The observational powers of Biblical authors are highly suspect, too – the Bible tells us that pi is 3. (2 Chronicles 4:2). It is not; 3 does not equal 3.14. You might protest that the Bible was not intended to be a geometry text, which is certainly true. But this does demonstrate that the Bible is not a true and unerring document – and if the authors of 2 Chronicles missed their basic math, well-known in the Hellenic world, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they got some other things wrong, too.

Second, you propose that the Bible is written by eyewitnesses. This is both demonstrably untrue and something of a misdirection – even if it were written by eyewitnesses, that is not an indicator of its reliability.

It’s demonstrably untrue because the Bible recounts events for which the only eyewitnesses would have been God or other supernatural entities. The Genesis account of creation, for example, tells the reader of events that happened before any humans existed. Now, you might protest that God told someone what had happened, and that person wrote it down. If so, that makes the story hearsay and not an eyewitness account. It also proves that the Bible we read today is incomplete, because nowhere in the Bible is God depicted as having described the creation to anyone. Who was the eyewitness to the dialogue between Satan and God that sets up the story of Job? Maybe it really happened, but if so, what we’re reading is hearsay, not an eyewitness account.

Second, even if the Bible were written by eyewitnesses, that does not mean that the eyewitnesses are telling us what happened. That’s not to suggest that they lied (necessarily) but at minimum, they got things wrong. Unless you’re a flat-earther or are going to imply some astonishing acts of cosmological alteration as an undocumented miracle, you have to concede that the sun did not stop revolving around the earth during the Battle of Jericho. Perhaps you want to say that the earth miraculously stopped revolving around its axis and so the bronze age scribes who recorded the event described what they saw, but that’s not what the text of the Bible says, which makes this purported eyewitness account inaccurate.

More to the point, the Gospels have some inconsistencies – who tried Jesus, for instance? Was it the entire Sanhedrin or just the High Priest and his crony? Was Jesus arrested on the day of the Passover Seder or the day before? The Gospel of John is at variance with the other three gospels on those points. At least one of the varying accounts must be inaccurate.

I don’t dispute that the Bible contains powerful and eloquent moral teachings. But I do deny its literal truth and I would no more consider the Bible to be an accurate historical document than I would the Odyssey or the Aeneid.

Finally, if proving the Bible is literally true renders all else exegesis, then what happens should the Bible be demonstrated to be not literally true? What about issues upon which the Bible is silent, like wiretapping or endangered species?

J. K. Jones said...

You raise some interesting topics. Thanks for taking the time to research them.

“…a figurative truth is both useless as a historical fact and subject to inevitably errant human interpretation…”

It sounds like we agree that truth is knowable and communicable. That is good logic. If we deny with words truth is knowable and communicable we have to know that truth is knowable and communicable. At least now we can agree or disagree on something.

“The Egyptians were meticulous record-keepers, and no reference to the Exodus in Egyptian documents has ever been found.”

Would the fact that the events surrounding the exodus embarrassed the Egyptians have anything to do with this?

“The Romans were also meticulous record-keepers, particularly concerning matters of law and punishment, and there is no Roman record of the crucifixion of Jesus. Doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen, but the absence of such records, especially in the face of a plethora of records of other, similar events, at least shifts the burden to the Biblical apologist to explain why these events have not been recorded.”

Do you really think that the Romans kept a record of every person they crucified?

Also, there are several references to Jesus in the secular histories of the time. “These writers include Josephus a Jewish Historian, (37-100 AD), Thallus a Samaritan (52 AD), Tacitus (52 AD), Pliny the Younger (112 AD) the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor and others” (http://www.truthnet.org/Apologetics/8/).
This link might also help: http://www.4truth.net/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=hiKXLbPNLrF&b=784399&ct=1740233

“… the Bible tells us that pi is 3. (2 Chronicles 4:2). It is not; 3 does not equal 3.14. You might protest that the Bible was not intended to be a geometry text, which is certainly true…”

Assuming your calculations are correct, the last time I checked, 3.14 rounds to 3. Just how accurately do measurements have to be recorded to tell someone how to build something? Bronze is cast. The measures would have been inexact anyway.

“…you propose that the Bible is written by eyewitnesses. This is both demonstrably untrue and something of a misdirection…”

The New Testament is based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. My reference is to the accounts of the life of Christ. If I have an historically reliable account of His life, the argument works. Christ, who was God in human person, can then tell us if the accounts of things not witnessed by humans are true.

“… you have to concede that the sun did not stop revolving around the earth during the Battle of Jericho. Perhaps you want to say that the earth miraculously stopped revolving around its axis...”

Why do I have to concede that the sun did not stop in the sky? God, who exists, can do anything He wants with his creation. He brought it into being; He maintains it.

“…the Gospels have some inconsistencies…”

I am not going to refute every supposed inconsistency you find in the Bible. This has been done by Christians elsewhere. Please see the following links:

http://www.johnankerberg.org/Articles/archives-td.htm

(Look for links Norman Geisler’s articles on “Alleged Errors in The Bible …” and “Alleged Errors in Luke”)

http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Bible-Difficulties-G-Archer/dp/0310435706

http://www.amazon.com/When-Skeptics-Ask-Norman-Geisler/dp/0801011418

“…I would no more consider the Bible to be an accurate historical document than I would the Odyssey or the Aeneid.”

The Bible’s historical evidence is much better than the books you mention. See http://www.truthnet.org/Apologetics/8/

Look for the table.

“… proving the Bible is literally true renders all else exegesis, then … What about issues upon which the Bible is silent, like wiretapping or endangered species?”

There are moral issues that are difficult to address. I would contend that these issues can be decided within the framework of the Bible’s ethics when, and if, they are important to man’s moral choices. I subscribe to the “greater good” form of ethics expressed by Norman Geisler and others.

How does your moral performance stack up to the clearly stated requirements of the Bible? Have you ever told a lie to someone who deserved the truth? Have you ever stolen anything, including intellectual information? Have you always honored your parents in your choices? Have you always held the lives of other people in such high regard that you never did anything to endanger them, including speeding on the highway or other safety-related issues? Have you ever overwhelmingly desired anything that belonged to your neighbor, including lustful looks at another’s spouse or an unmarried woman?

I have violated all of the ethical standards mentioned in the questions above. I do not “look down my nose” at anyone.

I have good reasons to believe what I believe. I am convinced that God came to earth in human form in the Person of Jesus Christ. That Christ lived a perfect life. That He died a death He didn’t deserve on the cross on behalf of all who truly believe. I am convinced that He arose from the grave and lives today at God’s right hand.

His death pays for the sins of those who believe what He taught about how to live their lives and trust Him (John 3:12, 16). He offers this payment for sin and credit for His righteousness as a free gift to all who would come to Him in repentance and faith (Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

He will return to the earth to pronounce judgment on myself and all of those who have sinned. How would you fare in that judgment? This is really the most relevant topic for discussion. Christ offers to extend His free gift to you and to all who would come in repentance and faith.

Transplanted Lawyer said...

I'll leave the last word on the accuracy of the Bible exchange to you (this is your blog, after all) and the evaluation of that exchange to your readers. But I recognize and thank you for the good intentions and concern behind your exhortation that I adopt the Christian faith and live a moral life.

Like you and I'm sure like just about anyone else who might read these remarks, I have had moral failings in my past. None of us are perfect. I try to learn from my mistakes so that I can do better in the future, as I am sure you do too.

You asked what I would say for myself at the Day of Judgment. Should you be right and I be wrong about the theological structure of the universe, I will be able to say that I did my best to act morally, and that I sought to make amends for the mistakes I made.

The difference between us is that I try and do better because I view moral behavior as a good unto itself. Your remarks suggest that you behave morally out of fear of punishment or hope for a reward dispensed by God at the end of days. Perhaps your motives are actually more complex than this (I should hope so!) but that's not what you wrote.

Should you analyze all of your motives for behaving morally, I suspect you will find that what God brings to the table is the threat of judgment and the promise of reward at the End of Days. Every other reason for moral behavior other than God-as-Santa-Claus would operate as forcefully in an atheistic universe as in a theistic one.

J. K. Jones said...

Sir, you misunderstand the most important aspect of my faith: the gospel. Insofar as I can tell by your writings, you have rejected the Christian message in part because you misunderstand it. I believe you are not the kind of person who would like to reject Christianity based on a misunderstanding. Please take the time to read this comment carefully.

The gospel is the fact that God offers eternal life as a free gift. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As a gift, eternal life is not earned or deserved. I will return to this idea latter.

The law requires perfection. Jesus Himself said, “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” The fact that both of us admit imperfection means that we have fallen short of this ideal. This leaves us under condemnation. No one obeys the law perfectly or obeys the law with perfect motives: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The old prayer of confession in the Anglican Church reads, “We have sinned against [God] in thought, word and deed. By the things we have done and the things we have left undone.”

This leaves us inadequately prepared for the judgment in and of ourselves. We cannot rely on our own righteousness or morality because we are not perfect.

The idea comes into sharper focus when we understand what the Bible says about God. God is holy, or separate from sin. God is also just, that is, He is the perfect judge who must punish the sins of His creatures. The Old Testament reads, “... yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” God also loves: “God is love.” And since He loves us, He does not want to punish us.

In human terms, this leaves God with a problem. On the one hand, He loves us and does not want to punish us. One the other hand, He is just and must punish sin. God solved this “problem” in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is, in a manner of speaking, God who came to earth as a man. As a man, Christ was able to follow the requirements of perfect morality. He was able to live a perfect life, always doing what is moral from a perfect love of morality.

He also was able to take our sins upon Himself. He took credit for the things we have done wrong. He suffered a death He did not deserve as a substitute for us. He suffered the wrath of God for our sins. As Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all … it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and he has put him to grief.” As Paul wrote, “For [God] made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

God has made it possible for us to take credit for the perfect life morality requires. God has made it possible for Christ to take credit for our sins and suffer infinitely in His soul for them. We do this by faith.

Faith does not just understand the facts of the law's requirements (what you might call morality)and the gospel. It does not just believe that these facts are true. It is a confident trust that what Christ did He did for us. It is a resting in Him as the foundation of our morality. It trusts what He said about how to live our lives and what He said about having eternal life.

This is what the Bible means when it says, “Believe on [not just in, but on] the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” It is what Christians mean when they say that they accept the free gift of eternal life from Christ.

Why then do we do good works? If eternal life is a free gift, why should we strive to be moral? One answer for this is that we are grateful for the gift we have received. The old Heidelberg Catechism has three main parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. That is the general pattern of a Christian’s life.

There are other pure motives such as doing good because it is good in and of itself, doing good out of love for God, and even doing good out of what is in it for us. The last one does sound counter-intuitive.

God made us to live a moral life, and we should not be surprised that moral living gives us joy. This joy is at a profound level that can even motivate us to give our lives over to suffering and death on Christ’s behalf. The idea is not that our happiness is the greatest good; it is that God’s glory is what we are made for. Living for His glory gives us joy. (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2006/1797_We_Want_You_to_Be_a_Christian_Hedonist/)

The gospel frees us from having to search our motives, which are often impure, and live for the God who made us. We do not have to agonize over them because Christ died for impure motives as well as impure thoughts, words, and deeds.

We do not always perform good works out of desire to avoid punishment. We know we cannot do well enough to avoid just wrath from a holy God on our own.

You can find a summary of many of these ideas at http://www.menorah.org/eetract.html

I pray God’s richest blessings on you, blessings that will lead to repentance and faith. I have enjoyed our brief exchange, and I hope it continues. I am looking up some more information on three of the objections you have offered. It is the first time I have heard some of them, and I must do some research.

I would also like to ask you an honest question: what is the basis for determining what moral behavior is in an atheistic worldview? I’m not trying to be cute, I’d really like to know

J. K. Jones said...

To respond further as promised:

“The Egyptians were meticulous record-keepers, and no reference to the Exodus in Egyptian documents has ever been found.”

That depends. Some now argue that the Hebrew calendar should be used to date the Egyptian one. It seems the Egyptians may have the dates of the Pharos wrong, along with including some extra names. Two people named Velikovsky and Courville claim that 600 years must be inserted into that chronology. (Baker Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Geisler, Norman L. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999, p. 51)

Maybe the history of the ancient world is not as fixed as scholars have believed in the past. Many things change in the world of history and archaeology as we learn new facts from new discoveries. This re-dating opens up some previously unnoticed findings.

There are some interesting references. “A very old papyrus written by an Egyptian priest names Ipuwer, though various interpretations have been given to it, tells of … a series of plagues match very well with the record of Moses’ plagues in Exodus 7-12. It speaks of the river turning to blood (cf. 7:20), crops consumed (9:25), fire (vv.23-24), and darkness (10:22). The final plague, which killed Pharaoh’s son, is referred to also…” (When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Geisler, Norman L. and Ron Brooks, England: Victor Books, 1989, p. 192).

“The monolith of el-Arish tells a similar story of darkness and suffering in the land in the days of King Thom. It also relates how the Pharaoh “went out to battle against the friends of Apopi (the god of darkness),” though the army never returned: “His majesty leapt into the so-called Place of the Whirlpool.” The place of the incident is Pi-Kharoti, which may be equivalent to Pi-hahiroth, where the Israelites camped by the sea (Ex. 14:9).” (Ibid. p. 192-193)

Depending on which dating scheme you use, archaeologists found “a stela … in a shrine connected with the Great Sphinx at Gizeh, which recorded a dream appearance” that hints at a Pharaoh who lost his son. (New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Archer, Gleason L. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982, p. 115.)

Even if there are no references that have been found yet, all you have is an argument from silence. There may have been records that have been lost to history. Your reference to the Romans’ records is a similar argument.

“The observational powers of Biblical authors are highly suspect, too – the Bible tells us that pi is 3. (2 Chronicles 4:2). It is not; 3 does not equal 3.14.”

Actually, pi does not equal 3.14. It equals 3.1415926535897932384626433832, and even that is rounded. Really, we know this number out to about 10 billion decimal points today. You have rounded your answer as the Bible did.

There is another interesting bit of research:
“If the rod used to mark out a length of five cubits (approximately ninety inches) for the radius were used to measure the inside circumference of the same bowl-shaped vessel here described, then it would take exactly six of those five-cubit measures to complete the circumference…try it and see.” (New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Archer, Gleason L. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982, p. 199.)


“Was Jesus arrested on the day of the Passover Seder or the day before?”

I assume that you are referring to the date of the last supper and using this to fix the date of Christ’s arrest. If this is not the case, please let me know. I turn to a recent study Bible:

“Calvin understood Preparation Day to be the day before Passover, and argued that the Jews according to some traditions combined the Passover with the weekly Sabbath … Then Matt. 27:62 would refer to the Preparation Day observed by the Jewish leadership.” (New Geneva Study Bible, Luder Whitlock, Executive Director, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995, p. 1550.)

I have often found John Calvin both aware of possible contradictions in the Bible and positing reasonable explanations. His commentaries are legend.

“… who tried Jesus, for instance? Was it the entire Sanhedrin or just the High Priest and his crony?...”

There were two trials of Jesus by the Jews before Christ was sent to the Romans. One informal before Annas in John 18:13-24 and one formal before Caiaphas and the Sandhedrin. (Matthew 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-65, and Luke 22:54). (A Harmony of the Gospels, Thomas, Robert L. and Stanley N. Gundry, Cambridge: Harper and Row, 1978, p. 226-227)



Please do not take this nonprofessional’s understanding of the issues to be the final authority. I have tried to supply opinions from experts in these areas. The possible explanations given are not the only possibilities. Even the experts may discover new facts from archaeology or other sciences that help to reconcile the issues in new ways.

It is also worth noting that exact, academic-style quotes were not expected in the times in which the New Testament was written. The events described and recorded were put down in the normally expected manner in the time they were written. Craig Blomberg spoke at length on issues like this in an interview with Lee Strobel (The Case For Christ, Strobel, Lee, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan: 1998, pp. 46-48.)

My own typical objection to the Bible’s trustworthiness has been due to a preconceived idea that the Bible cannot be right. This assumption leads to conclusions based on conjecture and further assumptions. I have made assumptions like this many times.

People tend to assume the Bible is wrong when it talks of miracles because, after all, miracles are highly improbable and cannot possibly be true. If God’s existence has been established, and I believe it has, then miracles are possible for Him to do. (You might check out some of the posts I have on Richard Dawkins.) Miracles serve to establish God’s messengers because they are abnormal and improbable.

People assume that the original manuscripts of the Bible are not an infallible record because no book can be infallible. They do not allow for a God who could miraculously inspire the words that human authors write. Again, when a God who has all power to do with His creation as He wishes exists, then a miracle is possible.

There are some interesting possibilities for why a person would make these assumptions. It revolves around suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, as all of us are prone to do at times in our lives. (See the book at http://www.amazon.com/Theres-God-Why-There-Atheists/dp/0842315659)

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