You Can’t Use the Bible to Evidence the Bible? Introduction

I have heard this statement many times. It can come from Christians or non-Christians, but mainly I hear it from unbelievers: the idea that the Bible is inadmissible as evidence for itself. If I were trying to use the Bible to prove the validity of the Bible (from the perspective of many outsiders), this is considered circular reasoning. This statement is not only incorrect, but it also completely misunderstands its own argument. Ironically, it makes the exact circular assumptions that it accuses believers of.

Three Reasons this is Stupid

1. The Bible is Not One Book

When discussing proving or substantiating the truths of the Gospel message, it’s crucial to approach it as historians, not solely as religious observers. The common argument inaccurately positions Christians as claiming the Bible is true simply because it says so. However, the Bible is not a singular book. The term Bible itself isn’t even found within these texts. Rather, the Bible is a compilation of works created over a thousand years by numerous authors, some connected, others not. The Protestant Bible contains sixty-six books in total.

Focusing on the New Testament, we delve into the core narrative of Christianity, highlighting the incarnation of Christ, his identity, and his deeds. Arguing that one can’t validate the New Testament using its own texts is misinformed and lacks critical reflection. Notably, the term New Testament and its list of books are not mentioned within these texts. The New Testament is a label for a collection of writings that narrate and interpret Jesus Christ’s advent. It comprises twenty-seven books.

From a historian’s perspective, asserting that the Bible cannot be used to validate itself is highly misguided. Does this mean we cannot use the insights from the book of Matthew to understand Mark, or correlate Galatians with the Acts? On the contrary, such cross-referencing is essential. These twenty-seven documents, all from a similar era and narrating corresponding stories, are vital for mutual validation. To disregard this intertextuality is to abandon historical analysis.

2. One Must Assume the Inspiration of the Bible to Argue It Can’t Prove Itself

Consider this: when someone asserts, “You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible,” they may not realize they’re inadvertently drawing from a Christian perspective. What are they borrowing? The concept of a fundamental unity or single authorship within Scripture. To claim the Bible cannot validate itself implies an underlying assumption of its inspired nature. Without this presumption, there’s no logical basis to treat the biblical canon as a unified whole. Particularly for a non-Christian viewpoint, the Bible should be regarded as sixty-six distinct ancient documents, each standing on its own merit. To argue that they collectively stand or fall together suggests an assumed unified authorship. Thus, the argument becomes paradoxical: the statement “You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible” inadvertently endorses the unified, inspired nature of the Bible it seeks to dispute.

3. The Unparalleled Testimony of the New Testament in Ancient History

Most events in ancient history are lucky to have even one contemporary witness. However, the New Testament, comprising twenty-seven ancient documents, stands out for its unparalleled testimonial breadth. The multiple contemporary attestations regarding the story of Jesus, whether eyewitness accounts or not, are unmatched. Compared to the documentation for other ancient events and figures, the New Testament’s extensive narrative is exceptional.

Moreover, these twenty-seven documents were all written within sixty to seventy years of the events they describe. Expanding the scope to include extrabiblical sources adds even more depth. Dozens of accounts from early church fathers and ancient historians like Tacitus and Josephus contribute to an unparalleled rich tradition of documentation. Disregarding their testimonies because of their beliefs would be akin to dismissing the moon landing’s validity solely based on the beliefs of its witnesses.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the story of Christ is supported by a wealth of independent documentation. Each piece contributes to and validates the others. To ignore this in the name of objectivity is to eschew historical analysis in favor of religious dogmatism. Therefore, using the Bible to prove the Bible, in this context, is not just a theological assertion but a necessary historical method.

Updated 1/24


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    34 replies to "“You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible” . . . And Other Stupid Statements"

    • Dave Moser

      Another way to put point #2 is that the skeptic’s job is to disprove the authenticity of 66 individual ancient documents.

    • James-the-lesser

      All knowledge is circular, what matters is where the journey begins and where it ends.

    • Clint Roberts

      James is right, everyone’s body of beliefs must rest finally upon something foundational that has nothing beneath it for support. The nature of a foundation is just that. You don’t have a foundation to support your foundation.

      I’ve always like the way the author of Hebrews wrote about how God “swore by himself” because, after all, there was nobody higher by whom God could swear. When it comes to both epistemology and authority, the proverbial buck must stop somewhere.

    • Oh the battle of the “via moderna” as over against the old way, “via antiqua”! Even Aquinas said he represented the latter. Note, that along the way Luther called Occam (William of Occam) his “beloved master”. And though later Luther felt he had to repudiate much of what he learned from the Occamists, he surely proved decisive in shaping Luther’s thought. One was the conviction that unaided human reason is incapable of arriving at a sure knowledge of God. The methods and approach of philosophy, though valid in their own sphere, possess no value or relevance when applied to that which can be apprehended only through revelation. Here Occam’s critique of Aristotelian presuppositions necessarily threw Luther and faith back on biblical revelation for its basis. And yet, later, it was Augustine that Melanchthon said Luther came to know almost to his memory! “If the authority of the divine Scripture is undermined, faith itself will become undermined, and once faith is shaken, love will abate.” (Augustine) And so from Augustine, Luther came to that place of the Christological centre, in his own hermeneutics, but also to that place he, Luther, related to the Holy Scripture to personal existence, but as ‘In Christ’.

      “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” (Heb. 13: 8)

    • James-the-lesser

      Yes, there is comfort in thinking God’s thoughts after Him. 🙂

    • Sam

      Well said, though I’d take out the ad hominem title “stupid” I know you’re not really attacking a person and you’re trying to say that the argument is stupid, but that word is almost never taken that way.

      Also, typo in the last sentence, “sense” not “since.”

    • bethyada

      Agree with the article

      And all of these come within sixty to seventy years after the events

      This may read like the books were written between 90 and 100 whereas I take it you mean all the books were written before c. 90–100.

      I would say they were all written between 40 and 70 (though I realise most would view John writing a little later than this)

    • JPT

      If it’s the word of God, intent on edifying his precious creations, why would it need any explanation or correction?

    • Grayson Pope

      YES! I had this happen just the other day.

      Someone asked the question of where do you start to examine the basic foundations of the Christian faith. I said the Bible. They said, “what if you don’t believe the Bible?”

      Sigh…

    • Jonathan

      I find the landing-on-the-moon comparison completely misguided.

      There was nothing inherently “miraculous” about that, and there are tangible evidences, it doesn’t just rely on the testimony of a few.

      On the other hand, the gospels rely on testimonies and nothing more, yet the fact described are extraordinary, and would thus require extraordinary evidences (i.e. more than mere testimonies).

      In short, the moon-conspirationists are not analogous to gospel-skeptics.

      We should defend the fact that it is not necessarily irrational to believe the gospels by faith rather than saying to unbelievers that the gospel accounts are “bulletproof evidences”, cause quite evidently they are not.

    • […] You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible…and Other Stupid Statements […]

    • Karl Vaters

      Great post! As I was reading it, it occurred to me that by the same faulty reasoning, virtually every school paper and doctoral thesis ever written could be disqualified from being valid because “you can’t use one book in the university library to prove the validity of another book in the university library.”

    • Gary

      All true, Michael, but unconvincing to those who have been led to believe the Bible is in fact the work of a shady cabal of early Church fathers who, like writers of a fine mystery, purposely and carefully linked clues in some narratives to seeming solutions in others. While the facts you relate are reassuring to the struggling Christian, trust in the Bible, as in Christ, is a matter of “faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”

    • […] “YOU CAN’T USE THE BIBLE TO PROVE THE BIBLE” . . . AND OTHER STUPID STATEMENTS […]

    • […] 1) “You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible” . . . And Other Stupid Statements […]

    • Derek

      Jonathan,

      “There was nothing inherently “miraculous” about that, and there are tangible evidences, it doesn’t just rely on the testimony of a few.”

      Say what? I wasn’t there. My parents say they saw it on tv, but they weren’t there either.

      “On the other hand, the gospels rely on testimonies and nothing more,”

      The testimony of God. That is not “mere.”

      “yet the fact described are extraordinary, and would thus require extraordinary evidences (i.e. more than mere testimonies).”

      This canard has been shown to be hollow so many times. Why are you still using it?

      http://dovetheology.com/apologetics/extraordinaryclaims/

    • […] “You Can’t Use The Bible To Prove The Bible” . . . And Other Stupid Statements – Found this to be very concise and accurate. […]

    • Caleb Smith

      Jonathan,
      I must dispute your claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. General relativity is an extraordinary claim, and it was validated by decimal points.

    • Jonathan

      Hi Caleb,

      I hear what you say but you are misunderstanding what we mean by “extraordinary claims”.

      We are not talking about scientific theories or claims about the nature of reality, the objects in mind here are strictly limited to Events or Historical Facts.

      Simply restated, we mean that:

      A historical claim which contradicts all the laws of nature requires more than the type of evidences usually accepted as sufficient for everyday cases (e.g. logical deduction, testimonies, conjectures, etc.).

      I don’t think it’s far-fetched, if it wasn’t for God-related events, no one would even dispute that.

      General relativity didn’t “contradict” the laws of nature per se, it challenged some basic assumptions about reality itself, thus this is not comparable with the resurrection (a mere historical event). The point in the resurrection is not that people can come back to life in normal circumstances, is it?

      The point of all this isn’t even that we should ask for more substantial evidences, it’s that given the nature of the claim, they can’t really exist.

    • Sam Ronicker

      Just wanted to let you know, I shared your blog with my Theology class, this is week 2, Bibliology and the topic of has been about biblical claims of inerrancy/inspiration etc.

    • Robert

      The argument “you can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible” is normally given in a different context. Normally it arises when a skeptic asks, “How can I know the Bible is reliable?” and a Christian will answer something like, “because in 2 Timothy, it says all Scripture is god-breathed….” and so on. What the skeptic is actually saying is, “You cannot prove the Bible is true based on its own claims of inspiration.”

    • […] “You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible”…and other stupid statements […]

    • Chad Craig

      Robert–you are right. These “stupid” statements of the “skeptic” are placed in the wrong argument. No wonder they seem stupid. No scholar would make any of these arguments, as is imagined.

    • chairman bill

      Who put together the books that make up the bible? To what purpose? Which texts did they leave out? Why?

      The idea that because some believers put together a collection of texts, that supported their beliefs, in an attempt to convince others of their beliefs, that collection is somehow different from a single text, is nonsensical. It is equivalent to Stalin editing Trotsky out of all the official photographs of the Russian Revolution and subsequent politics.

      The bible cannot be used as evidence for the truth of the bible. That isn’t stupid, that is an inconvenient fact.

    • Wayne

      What does “prove the Bible” mean?

    • Michael,

      If one were to look at this with a historian’s eye, to say we cannot use the Bible to prove or evidence the Bible is about the most misguided thing one could possibly say. What does that mean? Are you saying that we cannot use the testimony that the book of Matthew gives to evidence Mark? Or that one cannot attempt to piece together Galatians with the Book of Acts? Of course you can. In fact, you must.

      Here I believe, unfortunately, that you are confusing the meaning of seminarians with that of non-believers, as Robert and Chad have already pointed out in the thread, and as hinted at Wayne’s recent question “What does ‘prove the Bible’ mean?”

      The aim of non believers in making this claim is not to show that ancient literature cannot be understood in light of similar literature from that same time period. When an atheists says you can’t “prove” the Bible by the Bible, [s]he doesn’t mean this in regard to evidence that could justify a certain interpretation of similar literature, but in regards to its evidence as a proof that what Christians believe about reality (not just literature interpretation) is actually true. The establishment of the intention of an author is not the same as the establishment of the accuracy of that author. Just because a Christian’s interpretation of the message of some part of the Bible is historically and canonically informed or credible does not make that author’s intended message actually true. I’m sure you would agree with this point, but to construe your critique in this post as if it addresses both the atheists contention and the Christian insiders contention, is misleading.

      NOTE: It is important, and ironic in light of your series of posts, that your misconstrual of the non-beleiver’s argument hurts the credibility of Christians in the eyes of precisely those people (for whom I would imagine you believe it might count most). Christians so often distort the arguments of non-believers for a quick apologetic jab. I discuss the importance of ensuring one has correctly interpreted and understood a particular counter position before one takes a critique of it public in places like books or blogs in my post here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/pb2e5cn

      Your thoughts?

      T h e o • p h i l o g u e

    • Larry

      To use what you assume to be true to prove what you assume is called circular reasoning.

    • gary

      You don’t need a PhD to know the Bible is false.

      “Instead of reading scholarly responses to (Bart) Ehrman as recommended, he (Gary) renounced faith. …The pastors at Gary’s former church were concerned as he sparred with capable disciples of Ehrman that he had not yet come to an understanding of Lutheranism. His formation as a Lutheran required time and inculturation. So, yes, in this sense I failed to form him as a disciple of Jesus and for that I am sorry.” —my former orthodox Lutheran pastor

      My former pastor is not alone in his assessment that my lack of knowledge is the source of my problem. Many a Lutheran pastor and layperson has accused me of not fully understanding Lutheran doctrine and teachings as the cause of my loss of faith and deconversion from Christianity. What’s fascinating is that many an evangelical pastor and layperson has accused me of not understanding “true Christian” (evangelical) doctrine and teaching as the cause of my deconversion. Both groups have given me long lists of apologists (from their respective denominational flavor of Christianity only, of course) to educate me in the truths of Holy Scripture (as they read and understand it).

      But here’s the thing: I don’t need to understand the nuances of the Doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration, the Real Presence, Predestination, or Justification by Faith Alone, to know that the Bible is a book of nonsense. All I need is a high school education and a functioning brain.

      Here are the cornerstone beliefs of orthodox Christianity:

      1. The first human was created by an ancient middle-eastern god blowing air into a pile of dirt.

      2. Death, disease, and all the pain and suffering in the world are the result of the first humans eating an ancient middle-eastern god’s fruit.

      3. This same ancient middle eastern god soon had pity on humans for inflicting horrific suffering and death upon them for eating his fruit, so he decided to send himself to earth, in the form of a human being, to sacrifice himself, to appease the righteous anger of…himself.

      4. This ancient middle-eastern god sent himself to earth in the form of a human being by having his ghost impregnate a young Jewish virgin, giving birth to…himself….as a divine god/man.

      5. This divine god/man grew up to then preach the news of eternal redemption and forgiveness for ancestral forbidden-fruit-eating; “good news” meant for all the people of earth…by going to one desolate, sparsely populated, backwater corner of the globe where he taught in riddles that not even his closest followers could understand.

      6. Even upon his death his closest followers had no clue what he was talking about. This god/man left no written instructions regarding what he required of mankind, only his confusing, often contradictory oral riddles. However, he allegedly left the job of written instructions to four anonymous writers, three of whom plagiarized the first, and, one bipolar, vision-prone, Jewish rabbi, who concocted contradictory wild tales of resurrections and ascensions into outer space.

      Dear friend: You do NOT need to read the books of Christian apologists, theologians, and pastors to determine if these assertions of ancient, middle eastern facts are true. No. All you have to do is use your brain. And what does your brain tell you: It is all superstitious nonsense.

      NO ONE in the 21st century with a high school education should believe these ancient tall tales.

    • KENNETH GRAY

      Hello,

      The argument that the Bible can’t prove the Bible comes up when you realize that all Scripture is God breathed. Inspired by God. The problem is assuming that the different parts like Luke, Mark ,John, or any of the others are separate books instead of chapters in the same book. I have always been told to memorize “chapter and verse” in the Bible. Chapter not “book and verse”. When you look at the Bible as one book with 66 chapters, all inspired by the same author (God), then you have grounds for the presumption that the Bible can’t prove itself. One source only. The human beings that wrote God’s word could be said to have just transcribed what God told them. That doesn’t make these people the actual author. Is it Luke’s word or God’s word? Is it Matthew’s word or God’s word? Assuming that the Bible is 66 separate books, with 66 different authors, takes God out of the equation. It makes the presumption that God’s word is actually the word of men not God. Thanks

      God bless you, through the Holy Spirit, in Jesus holy name, Amen.

    • Bibliophile

      I think the problem here is that the Bible is assumed by some Christian apologists – especially protestants – to be a history text: it is not. It is a book of theology.

      Seems to me like this post is one, long category error.

    • Bibliophile

      There appears to be an underlying presumption of empiricism involved in the definition of evidence used here – both by the author and commentators – as being limited to the experimental or laboratorian evidence; but which seems to arbitrarily exclude reasoned or rational evidence from the domain of true science… Another example of Enlightenment ideology influencing worldview and warping philosophical thought in a dualistic frame…

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