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

The Charge

A common charge against Christians who appeal to the Bible in order to prove 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 not only declares that it is God’s Word, it affirms another which in turn attests to its Divine origin, 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. There is nothing fallacious about this method, as I’ll show.

Consider the following set of questions and answers.

1. Question: 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.

2. 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: Paul identifies Luke-Acts as Scripture.

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

3. 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.

4.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 set of 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, and so on…

The Logical Fallacy Hidden Within the Charge

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:

Major Premise: Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

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

Conclusion: 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 one of the books of the Bible, or a verse or set of verses taken from different books of 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. Unbelievers, then, need to define the terms of their objection to/arguments against 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 in no way guilty of committing the fallacy of circular reasoning.

-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

About Hiram Diaz

Hiram Diaz has written 18 post in this blog.

Hiram Diaz is a New York native currently residing in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children. His interests are philosophy and presuppositional & exegetical apologetics. He maintains Involuted Speculations, a blog about pretty much anything that pops into his head and can't find its way out until it's written down.

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

  1. c says:

    what *******! I don’t believe this! don’t go trying to prove anything to us anyway seeing as god apparently didn’t save us cause if he saved us we’d believe..and you are the chosen few cause of the mercy of him that created you lovely believers ..don’t bother with us and please leave us alone and stop ramming it in our faces that you are saved because I couldn’t believe what you do if I wanted to and Ive tried. So thanks for convincing me god doesn’t love me, you can stop now. And yes you are trying to prove the unprovable with the bible. thanks

    • Dave says:

      I fail to see how something is being “rammed in your face” when you clearly would have had to come here to read this information. What you may be feeling is conviction from the Lord. That is a good thing. Repent and put your trust in Christ and let Him save your eternal soul.

      To the writer of this post, thank you very much for the insight.

  2. James Southington says:

    ok… YOU CANNOT QUOTE THE BIBLE AS OBJECTIVE PROOF THAT THE BIBLE IS TELLING THE TRUTH.

    that would be like you, asking me “evolution is hogwash and prove it is true” and so i grab my college textbook and claim that the textbook itself is proof that what it says is true. surely you would find fault in that “logic” if i attempted it.

    and that “fallacy of equivocation” part only applies to the phrasing YOU used to state the problem. in my above all caps statement my use of the bible is the same in both instances. your rephrasing of my question creates the fallacy.

    and anyone with sense at all reading the statement can see that the fallacy regarding it lies not in its wording. the statement itself points out a major logical flaw.

    i am NOT explicitly claiming that god is not real. i AM however stating as matter of fact that one cannot quote a document as proof of that documents authenticity, regardless of what document it might happen to be. that would be like a wikipedia page listing itself as its only cited source; the in formation contained may very well be accurate, but that does not justify the logic of it referencing itself. in any event, without seperate sources the accuracy cannot be verified which makes accuracy a moot point.

  3. Caleb Neff says:

    More Mistakes Which Cannot be Overlooked.

    c says: “And yes you are trying to prove the unprovable with the bible.”
    O_o
    We actually can prove it. Hiram Diaz implicitly assumes that we can know that one piece of the Bible is the word of God, and then affirms shows from that piece that the other books are God-breathed. But how do we know that one of the books is God-breathed? Surely that’s not provable! I propose using the Minimal Facts Argument to show that Jesus has risen from the dead as a starting point. Because the entire Bible centers on this one event, we know the Bible is good theology, even if we are not Original Inerantists (though I am).

    James Southington says: “and that “fallacy of equivocation” part only applies to the phrasing YOU used to state the problem. in my above all caps statement my use of the bible is the same in both instances. your rephrasing of my question creates the fallacy.”
    Are you using “The Bible” to mean “The Collective Word Of God”, “One Part Versus Another Part Of The Canon”, or “The Exact Same Part Of The Canon”? Options #1 and #3 are obviously fallacious, but what about Option #2? Mr. Diaz used #2, and if we can prove that his starting point is God-breathed, his argument holds. Since I don’t know how to prove his first premise, you can either ask him, or use my method.
    James Southington says: “i am NOT explicitly claiming that god is not real. i AM however stating as matter of fact that one cannot quote a document as proof of that documents authenticity, regardless of what document it might happen to be. that would be like a wikipedia page listing itself as its only cited source; the in formation contained may very well be accurate, but that does not justify the logic of it referencing itself. in any event, without seperate sources the accuracy cannot be verified which makes accuracy a moot point.”
    Mr. Diaz is not necessarily going as you accuse him! He assumes his first premise, which can be proved, in theory. My method does not prove his first premise, it is a short-cut.

    Concluding Remarks.
    Allow me to present this syllogism:

    1: If Jesus resurrected, the Bible is true.
    2: (Minimal Facts Argument)
    3: (From 2) Jesus has risen.
    4: (From 1,3) The Bible is true.

    We are not required to assume the Bible is historically accurate on anything other than the Resurrection. Because the entire theological system of the Bible hinges on this one event, we can know that the Bible is true, based on this one event.

  4. Kooswillem says:

    The writer states “the Bible is the Word of God” as many Christian do and belief. Then the statement (or charge) can be rewritten as: “You Can’t Use the Word of God to Prove the Word of God!”.

    This statement is exactly as valid without the assumed double meaning.

    The writer furthermore is “arguing in circle” (shouldn’t this be “arguing in a circle” or “in circles”?) when trying to proof he’s not.
    If the bible is the word of God then the questions and ‘proof’ can be rewritten as:

    1. “How do we know that part of the Word of God (the four Gospels) are the Word of God?”.

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

    Minor Premise: Part of the Word of God (The four canonical Gospels) consist of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.

    Conclusion: This part of the Word of God (The four canonical Gospels)are the Word of God.

    2. How do you know that part of the Word of God (the Book of Acts ) is the Word of God?
    Answer:
    Major Premise: The apostle Paul states that all of the Word of God (Scripture) is God-breathed, etc.[2]
    Minor Premise: Paul identifies Luke-Acts as the Word of God (Scripture).
    Conclusion: Luke-Acts is God-breathed, etc.

    3. How do we know that the apostle’s word is the Word of God?
    Answer:
    Major Premise: Peter identifies the apostle Paul’s writings as the Word of God (Scripture).
    Minor Premise: 1 Timothy is one of Paul’s writings.
    Conclusion: 1 Timothy is the Word of God (Scripture).

    4. How do we know that Peter’s word is the Word of God?
    Answer:
    Major Premise: Part of the Word of God (The book of Acts) identifies the apostolic exposition of another part of the Word of God (the OT and explication of Christ’s Person and Work) as the Word of God.
    Minor Premise: Peter’s writing is an apostolic exposition of another part of the Word of God (the OT and explication of Christ’s Person and work).
    Conclusion:
    Peter’s writing is the Word of God.

    As you can see for yourself (I really hope I don’t have to point this out any further) when you re-read the questions, answers, premises and conclusions with “Scripture”, “OT” ,”the Bible” and parts of the bible replaced with “the Word of God” according to Christian belief this is :arguing in circle”.

    In this argument the Word of God is used to proof that it is the Word of God.

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