Recently, an atheist commented on a post on Cerebral Faith’s Facebook page asking me why I quoted The Bible so much on my blog. He told me that I should first prove that The Bible is true, that it really is the Word Of God, before I started quoting it otherwise I’d be reasoning in a circle. Other Atheists have said the same thing to me. For example, when I tweeted a link to my blog post “Why Is It A Sin To Not Worship God?” an atheist tweeted me complaining that it presupposed that The Bible is true.
These atheists simply misunderstand what I’m doing here. The way they talk, you’d think that that they believe that every single blog post I write is directed at them, that every post is supposed to be trying to prove that God exists and that The Bible is true. While it’s true that many of the posts I write on this site are written towards that end, not all of them are. Some of them are directed at people who already believe that The Bible is true. For example, all of the blog posts in the “Christian Life Issues Library” are aimed only at Christians. Since Christians already believe that The Bible is the Word Of God, clearly there’s no need for me to prove that The Bible is true before they can accept what it says. Other posts are directed at heretics such as the Jehova’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, Christadelphians, etc. These groups claim to believe that The Bible is true. So since these people believe that The Bible is true, I don’t need to prove that The Bible is true before I can refute their false beliefs. I can just quote straight from scripture to make my point.
Other posts are aimed at Atheists and I do quote The Bible in them, such as in “The Problem Of Evil & Suffering (revisited)”, “The Doctrine Of Hell & Objections To It”, or in my post “Why Is It A Sin To Not Worship God?” or “Is God Evil For Ordering The Destruction Of Nations In The Old Testament?”. BUT… The atheists who make the arguments I address in those articles, themselves presuppose that The Bible is true. The atheists who argue against the existence of God from the presence of suffering in the world presuppose that The Bible is true since they appeal to passages of scripture which teach that God is all loving and all powerful, followed by the argument that a God with those two attributes couldn’t allow any suffering to occur. Or take those who argue that God is evil for sending people to Hell, or who argue that God is evil for destroying Noah’s contemporaries or the Canaanites. These atheists are themselves presupposing that The Bible is true.
The reason is that arguments like that from the existence of suffering, or the argument from Hell, are attempting to show incoherency within Christianity. Whenever you’re trying to show that a worldview or belief is incoherent, you have to assume it’s true for the sake of the argument. I do this with atheism when I give The Argument From Reason or The Moral Argument.
So if the atheist can appeal to The Bible to argue against The Bible, why can’t I appeal to The Bible in order to refute their arguments? Now, if we’re arguing over whether Christianity is true, I’m not going to whip out my Bible and start quoting from it. That would obviously be circular reasoning. It wouldn’t prove anything. But if we’re arguing over whether Christianity is internally consistent or coherent, then yes, I will certainly quote from scripture, since the question in that case isn’t whether it’s true, but whether the system is internally coherent. It would not be circular reasoning in that instance since the atheist and I aren’t debating over its truth, but its consistency.
You can see an example of this in my debate with Counter Apologist over whether God could be justified in sending people to Hell. The two Atheists, myself and my partner Keith Francis are all presupposing the truth of the Christian worldview in the arguments we make. I quote scripture a lot in that debate.
Now, some of you might object that I do appeal to scripture sometimes in trying to make the case for Christianity’s truth. When I argue for Jesus’ resurrection, I appeal to the New Testament documents to establish Christ’s empty tomb and postmortem appearances, don’t I?
While it’s true that I appeal to The New Testament whenever I argue for the divine self understanding of Jesus and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. However, in this case, I’m NOT quoting from The Bible to prove The Bible, but rather I take the documents of the New Testament and I apply the “criteria of authenticity” to them to see what data we can confidently say is historical material. This is methodology that historians apply to secular sources. For example, if you had a letter written by George Washington and George reported that on October 5th during a ride out to the countryside, he had a bad case of diarrhea, soiled his underwear, had to discard the underwear and ride the rest of way commando. We could argue that because this is an embarrassing detail for anyone to admit, it’s therefore very likely to be true. It’s highly unlikely that President Washington would make up an embarrassing detail about himself out of thin air. Now, there is no such letter written by Washington (this is just an illustration), but if there were, that’s the conclusion we would reach. In this case, we would be applying the historical principle of embarrassment to the letter. This principle says that if a writer mentions something about himself or a friend that is embarrassing, or if he admits to something that hurts an argument he’s trying to make, then it’s very likely to be historical. People make up lies to make themselves look good, or to bolster their case, or to get themselves out of trouble. People don’t make up lies to make themselves look bad, or to hurt their case, or to get themselves into trouble.
Others of the criteria of authenticitiy are the principle of multiple attestation, the principle of enemy attestation, the principle of early attestation, the principle of dissimilarity, and historical fit. Multiple Attestation says that if you find an event mentioned in two or more independent historical sources, then it’s more likely to be true than if it were mentioned in lesser sources. The more and more independent documents something is mentioned in. the more and more likely it is to be true. Since the more and more people report of something, the less and less likely it is that all of these different people made up the same thing.
In the same way, I apply these various criteria to The New Testament documents when I argue for the truth of Christ’s resurrection. I argue that Jesus’ empty tomb, and various postmortem appearances are historical facts based on these “criteria of authenticity”. For example, the empty tomb narrative is likely to be historical because all 4 gospels report women going to the tomb. Given the fact that women were second class citizens back in ancient Greco-Roman society, and the fact that extra biblical sources of that time period say that their testimony was worthless and wasn’t even admissible in a court of law, it’s highly unlikely that if the gospel writers were making up the resurrection narratives, they would include women as the primary witnesses. That would be to insert words into the mouths of people who would not be believed! So on the basis of the principle of embarrassment, it’s very likely that the empty tomb narrative recorded in the gospels is true. Jesus’ tomb really was empty and it was first discovered by His women followers that first Easter morning.
As you can see, when I and other apologists argue for the resurrection of Jesus, while we do indeed appeal to biblical documents, we’re not “quoting from The Bible to prove The Bible” or saying “The Bible says it! I Believe it! That settles it!” No. We’re merely treating the New Testament documents just as we would any secular document.
When one applies the historical tests of authenticity, you can affirm certain things as fact. These things include (1) Jesus’ death by crucifixion, (2) Jesus’ tomb was empty the following Sunday morning, (3) Jesus’ disciples strongly believed they saw Him alive shortly after His death, (4) James, the brother of Jesus and hardened skeptic of Christianity, converted on the basis of what he perceived as the risen Jesus appearing to him, and (4) the church persecutor Saul Of Tarsus converted to Christianity on the basis of what he perceived as an appearance of the risen Christ.
If you want to know how these principles or criteria of authenticity can establish the 5 facts listed above, go read my blog post titled “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” in my blog post“The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1”, I go into detail how the principles of authenticity show the 5 aforementioned facts to be true. After you read that, if you’re curious to know why I think that only The Resurrection Hypothesis can explain those 5 facts, read “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 2”
I hope my atheist and other non-Christian readers can understand now why I quote The Bible a lot in my articles. For one thing, not all of my articles are aimed towards the goal of proving Christianity is true. Some are written exclusively towards Christians, and others are aimed at refuting heresies, the adherents of which claim to accept The Bible as a true book. When I do use The Bible in arguing against atheistic arguments, its in those cases when the atheists themselves presuppose that Christianity and The Bible are true in order to make their case.
Finally, the one time I do use The Bible to make a case for Christianity, I’m not quoting The Bible to prove The Bible, but rather I'm applying standard historical methodology to The New Testament documents to see what we can affirm as true. This procedure is used all the time when examining secular documents.