You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible!

written by Hiram Diaz

You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible!

A common charge against Christians who appeal to the Bible in order to validate their belief that the Bible is God’s Word is that they are “arguing in circle.” The accusation is common, but is it true? Do Christians “use the Bible to prove the Bible”? This question is necessary to ask in light of the accusation being made against believers in Christ; but there is an even more foundational question to ask before we consider the possibility that we are defending the inspiration of Scripture by arguing fallaciously. The question is this: What does the accusation even mean?  If the Bible is a unity of sixty-six books written by a variety of authors utilizing different genres, symbols, themes, diction, and even syntax,[1]then there is no way to “use the Bible to prove the Bible.” The accusation is, really, meaningless. The Bible attests to its Divine origin intertextually. In other words, the Bible, i.e. the unity of sixty-six books, internally attests to its Divine origin: One text affirms another, and these two affirm yet another, and so on. Christians do the same when they reiterate what the Scriptures say of themselves, employing Scripture in order to prove the Divine origin of Scripture.

Consider the following set of questions and answers.

Q: How do we know that the four Gospels are the Word of God?

Answer:

Major Premise: The Book of Acts identifies the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ as the Word of God.

Minor premise: The four canonical Gospels consist of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Conclusion:  Therefore, the four canonical Gospels are the Word of God.

Q: How do you know that the Book of Acts is the Word of God?

A:

MP: The apostle Paul states that all Scripture is God-breathed, etc.[2]

Mp: He also identifies Luke-Acts as Scripture.

C: Therefore, Luke-Acts is God-breathed, etc.

Q: How do we know that the apostle’s word is the Word of God?

A:

MP: Peter identifies the apostle Paul’s writings as Scripture.

Mp: 1 Timothy is one of Paul’s writings.

C: Therefore, 1 Timothy is Scripture.

Q: How do we know that Peter’s word is the Word of God?

A:

MP: The book of Acts identifies the apostolic exposition of the OT and explication of Christ’s Person and Work as the Word of God.

Mp: Peter’s writing is an apostolic exposition of the OT and explication of Christ’s Person and work.

C: Therefore, Peter’s writing is the Word of God.

There is no circularity in the above series of interconnected syllogisms. The book of Acts attests to the status of the four Gospels. The apostle Paul attests to the status of Luke-Acts. The apostle Peter attests to the status of the writings of Paul. The book of Acts attests to the status of Peter’s writing. This is the exact opposite of circular reasoning.

In fact, the meaningless assertion, “You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible!” commits the fallacy of equivocation. The fallacy of equivocation occurs when an argument uses the same word twice, each time with a different meaning. The accusation that Christians “use the Bible to prove the Bible” asserts the following:

MP: Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

Mp: Christians quote the Bible in order to prove that it is the Word of God.

C: Therefore, Christians use the Bible to prove the Bible is the Word of God.

The argument would be sound if the phrase “the Bible” meant the same thing in both instances, which is not the case. In the major premise, “the Bible” means the accepted canon of sixty-six books forming a unity we call the Word of God; in the minor premise, however, “the Bible” means something like “a portion” of the Bible, or a verse or set of verses taken from the Bible. This subtle difference in meaning is glossed over by the unbeliever and so the charge of circularity only seems to be a valid one, when it really isn’t. Unbeliever’s, then, need to define the terms of their objection/argument to Christians using the Gospel of Matthew, let’s say, to prove that the entire Old Testament is the Word of God seeing as such a proof is not guilty of committing any logical fallacies.

-h.


[1] Dr. G.K. Beale gives some attention to the uniqueness of the syntax of the book of Revelation, for instance, and how it relates to the style and theology presented therein. Desert Springs Church has five sermons on the book of Revelation up for free download here.

[2] Cf. 2 Tim 3:16

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4 thoughts on “You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible!”

  1. I have found that every unbeliever I have encountered that would go this route in a debate. Is only going this route to really avoid the presentation of the gospel. Since we normally start with the law they start arguing all these different side issues to stay away from the major issue of their own guilt before a Holy God. It may be good to answer skeptics on some things but some (or most that I have encountered) atheists have no desire for the truth. Even if you answer this question they will automatically throw up another question. They usually won’t even admit their defeat in the debate on the subject. They just bounce around from one objection to another. I personally think it’s best to avoid these foolish debates. Just my thoughts…

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  2. You make good points, but I wouldn’t avoid this line of argumentation because of something subjective like experience. Not everyone is the same. We seek to do what Paul said he an the others did – destroy argumentation and every lofty thing raised against Christ.

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  3. Of course. I believe that we should give answers but realize when someone is just throwing up objections or when one is sincere. I personally will not argue with someone for hours about these side issues but keep pointing them to the law. One must see their need for a Savior and sometimes it’s very easy to get caught up in arguments. (I must say some debates can be very fun/entertaining) Our charge is to preach the gospel though. I’m not in disagreement with you brother. I have just came across your blog and I have liked what I have seen thus far. I just tend to have little patience with atheists. Grace and Peace!

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    1. Yah, I would agree with you there. Arguments really can go on forever, and you definitely have to decide when to just say, “I’ve said all I can say.”

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