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,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.
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.