I have heard this statement many times. It can come from Christians or non-Christians, but mainly I hear it from unbelievers this 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 circular reasoning. This statement is not only wrong, but completely misunderstands its own argument; ironically, it makes the exact circular assumptions that it accuses believers of.

1. The “Bible” is not one book

When we are talking about “proving” or evidencing the truths of the Gospel message, we have to put our historian hats on (not our religious hats). The argument is meant to place Christians in this rather odd situation where they sound like they are saying the Bible is true because it says it is true. But the Bible is not one book. In fact, the term “Bible” is not in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of works that spans over a thousand years, written by dozens of authors, some who are connected, some who are not. All together there are sixty-six books in the Protestant Bible.

When we are talking about the claims of the “New Testament,” we are talking about the story of Christianity, the very foundation and apex of Christianity as it deals with the incarnation of Christ, who he was, and what he did. But even then, to say one can’t prove the New Testament with the New Testament is quite ill-informed and unreflective. The designation “New Testament” (along with its list of books) is not even in the New Testament. Like with the whole Bible, it is just a name given to a certain related corpus of writings that speaks about the story and implications of the advent of Jesus Christ. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament.

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. These twenty-seven documents, all written around the same time, all telling similar stories, must be used to prove or evidence each other. If not, the historian is not being a historian, but something entirely different.

2. One must assume the inspiration of the Bible to say the Bible can’t prove the Bible

You see, if a person says, “You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible,” he probably doesn’t realize he is borrowing a bit from the Christian worldview in order to even make such an assertion. What is being borrowed? The idea of the basic unity of Scripture or the single-authorship of the Bible. The only way to say the Bible can’t prove the Bible is to presume the inspiration of Scripture. Otherwise, there is no reason to link the canon of Scripture together in such a way. For the non-Christian especially, the Bible should be seen as sixty-six ancient documents, all of which stand or fall on their own. In order to make them stand or fall together, one must assume a single authorship of some sort. At that point, the argument becomes self-defeating, as the very statement (“You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible”) proves the Bible!

3. Most events of ancient history have no more than one contemporary witness (if that many)

The twenty-seven ancient documents called the New Testament are unparalleled in ancient history as far as their testimony. The contemporary multiple attestations for the story of Jesus (eyewitness or not) are without equal. Look to the sources we have for other ancient historical events and people, and you will find that they have nowhere near the amount of documented writings discussing the central claims.

Yet when it comes to the claims about Christ, we are talking about twenty-seven documents in the New Testament alone! And all of these come within sixty to seventy years after the events. And if you expand the data beyond just Scripture and allow extrabiblical sources to be considered, then we are talking about dozens and dozens more from early church fathers (whose testimonies cannot be ignored simply because they believed; what if we did that with the seemingly miraculous landing on the moon? “All those who do not believe it happened, step up to the evidence table!” Uh, no.) and from ancient historians such as Tacitus and Josephus.

In the end, the story of Christ has plenty of independent documentation, all of must prove or evidence the rest. So in this sense, we must use the Bible to prove the Bible or else we are not being historians, but religious zealots, fighting to keep hold of our unbelief through stupid statements.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. 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. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    30 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?”


    • 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.”


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

    • Derek


      “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?


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

    • Caleb Smith

      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.



      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.

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