Atheists often accuse Christians of trying to use the Bible to prove the Bible. The image of a stereotypical preacher is evoked preaching to the congregation that we know the Bible to be God’s Word, because it says so!
But is this really the argument that intellectual Christian apologists make, or is there more to reality than this cartoon illustration?
No doubt anyone can cherry-pick those on the “other side” of any debate in order to justify a straw-man. I am sure there are preachers out there who have said many different things, just as leading Atheists, like Richard Dawkins have said some incredibly nonsensical things. But were these Atheists to hear the arguments of Ravi Zacharias or Dr. Jason Lisle for themselves, rather than only the arguments they heard from Ned Flanders or their Aunt Betty or stories they heard from other Atheists, they would know that the case for the Christian Faith is far more substantive than “The Bible is God’s Word, because it says so!”
In building the case for the Christian Faith, Christians will often cite Biblical passages to sustain their argument, and rightly so! I’ve seen the Atheist then want to shut down the conversation by accusing the Christian of circular reasoning. But is using the Bible to build a case for the Bible necessarily circular? The answer is no.
Here’s why. If we want to establish the truthfulness of any claimed piece of historical writing, we must first know what that piece of historical writing actually says. We need to know the claims that are being made in the first place to even begin to investigate whether or not these claims are valid or true.
In the case of the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon, all three claim to be from God, and to be infallible. The Diary of Anne Frank, from what I understand, makes no such claim. While all of these books claim to be accounts of literal history in the physical world, the later only claims to be the account of one teenage girl, not the infallible Word of God.
Harry Potter, on the other hand, openly acknowledges itself to be a work of fiction. As with any good fiction, it contains messages which the author views as being truthful, and reflective of the human spirit, but it does not claim to be either history, or holy.
Analyzing Historical Claims
The Bible makes many claims about history which can be tested and verified. Despite the wishful thinking of so-called “Liberal Christians” the Bible is not completely open to interpretation, and the accounts it contains claim to be written records of actual historical events.
The Bible also contains works of poetry, such as the Psalms, and works of wisdom, such as the Proverbs, along with prophetic literature, however it specifies that the Gospels, the Exodus, Genesis, the Book of Acts, etc. are all works of literal history.
Just as with any book that claims to be written history, regardless of it’s spiritual significance or lack of spiritual significance, we have to know what is actually said in the book in order to verify or dispute its claims. This means actually opening the Bible, and reading what it says.
One of the most obvious examples of a historical claim in the Bible is the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Often Atheists try to claim that Jesus did not exist and was made up long after the time he supposedly existed. Sometimes Atheists even claim that Jesus was copied from Pagan mythology.
The problem with these claims is that virtually no scholar on Earth takes them seriously, including those who are hostile to Christianity. While there may be 2 or 3 historians today who doubt the existence of Jesus (and who get a lot of attention for doing so) there are no scholars who believe the claims that Jesus was copied from Horus etc.
“He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God
The Bible has also made a number of other historical claims that have been verified. The Hittites, for example, were once dismissed by skeptics as being pure myth made up by the Hebrew authors. For a long time there was no evidence that the Hittite culture ever existed, and skeptics used this to mock the Bible. But absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
In the late 1800’s the Irish missionary William Wright rediscovered the Hittite culture. Other discoveries were made before those of Wright, however Wright was the key figure in connecting archaeology to the Hittite culture of the Bible.
We can compare the claims of the Bible to the claims of Mormon holy books, which have, for all intents and purposes, been proven to be false.
In order to avoid getting too far off into the weeds, I digress for now. The key point being made here is that in order to establish the validity of the Bible we have to actually know what the Bible says. This is why not only is opening the Bible to look at what it says not necessarily circular reasoning, one cannot establish the validity of the Good Book’s historical claims, until one takes the time to open it and read it for themselves.
The Bible and Harry Potter
Often Atheists mock the idea of believing the Bible, saying that it is on the same level as believing Harry Potter.
So what’s the difference?
Harry Potter, as mentioned before, never claims to be the Word of God, and never even claims to be history.
Furthermore, no archaeological or scientific discoveries have been made on the basis of reading Harry Potter.
The first question to ask in evaluating whether a book is Holy, or whether it is history, is whether the book claims to be holy or if it claims to be history. In other words, what does the book claim about itself?
So if we are deciding whether to base our Faith on the Bible, the Koran, Harry Potter, or any other book in the world, we can rightly dismiss Harry Potter out of hand, since it openly tells us that it is a fantasy novel. The fallacy of equating Harry Potter with the Bible is so plainly obvious that any intellectually honest child could readily see it.
Obviously a claim to historicity itself is not sufficient to prove historicity. Just because a book claims to be history does not make it so. But this is a necessary first qualification. A book that does not even claim to be history (such as Harry Potter) is not even worth consideration as an historical book.
Of course, most Internet Atheists aren’t interested in reality or facts, but only in airing their own opinion.
Science and Prophesy
Many accuse the Bible of being inaccurate in regard to science. As I covered in a previous article, the claims that Christians in the Middle Ages persecuted scientists and believed the Earth to be flat aren’t really based on historical fact. Christians in the Middle Ages knew that the Earth was round. The entire idea that Christians in this time period believed the Earth to be flat is an urban myth, invented by a lawyer in the 19th Century who was angry at the Church for not accepting Darwinism.
In other words, no, Christians in the Middle Ages did not widely believe that the Earth was flat — and no historian in the World thinks that they did.
While some of these stories of persecution, like the popular conception of Galileo, may contain a few trace elements of what actually happened, they are by and large works of fiction.
Atheists and so-called “Christians” often accuse the Bible of being scientifically inaccurate. However, when their claims are examined carefully, they completely fall apart.
While it is true that the Bible uses poetic language in some areas, whenever the Bible deals with scientific issues, such as medical hygiene, or the shape of the Earth, the Bible is always 100% accurate.
But the key here, as with the claims of history, is to open the Bible and find out what it actually says.
After all, isn’t it dishonest to accuse the Bible of being scientifically inaccurate, if one has never actually read the Bible?
Just as a brief example of scientific foreknowledge: In the Bible, God promised Abraham to make his descendants like the grains of sand on the beach, or like the stars in the heavens. Keep in mind that this was written in a time when secular Astronomers thought there were only a few thousand stars in the Universe. We now know the stars are countless, just as the Bible said!
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,” Genesis 22:17 ESV
In regard to prophesy, the Book of Daniel prophesied the exact time when the Messiah would come, laying out a timeline several centuries in the future from the time when it was written.
I’ve had loved ones object that the Bible’s prophesies are vague and could be interpreted any which way, just like a fortune cookie or an astrology horoscope, but clearly, in the case of Daniel, this is not a valid objection.
Daniel speaks of time periods of seventy weeks and sixty-two weeks. The word translates as either “weeks” or “sevens.” Most scholars understand Daniel to be speaking of 7-year increments. A “week” is a week-of-years, analogous to our “decades.”
Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.” Dan. 9:24–27, NKJV
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) explains:
“There are many good reasons to use this text in an apologetic case for Jesus as the Messiah. First, though it is difficult to demonstrate the exact time of the decree for the start date or the exact date of Christ’s crucifixion, Daniel definitely predicts an event that would take place extremely close to Christ’s life.”
Read the whole CARM article here: Does Daniel 9:24–27 predict the coming of Jesus?
I plan to write some follow up articles on the Bible and Science, and the Bible and Prophesy, but a complete explanation of these topics is well beyond the scope of this article.
Proving the Bible?
Ultimately, I do not believe that it is correct to say that we can “prove” the Bible with science or history.
As someone with a scientific background, it’s obvious that part of the nature of science is that it is fallible. Scientific ideas come and go everyday, “proven facts” are later proven wrong. This is part of why I love science. Similar statements could be made about the interpretation of history.
This means that there would be a fallacy in trying to measure a purportedly infallible, unchanging standard, against a fallible, changing standard.
At risk of seeming to contradict myself, there are a few things that can be said with clarity. The Bible claims that the Hittites existed, and we now know for historical fact that this is true. It’s unlikely that the evidence for the Hittite Empire or the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth will one day turn out to be massive hoaxes placed here by aliens to fool archaeologists.
The same can be said about the shape of the Earth. The Bible teaches that the Earth is a sphere, and it teaches that the Earth hangs on nothing. Other holy books have taught that the Earth is a flat world resting on the back of a turtle or being carried by a giant. Despite the fervor on the Internet, the Earth is not flat, or on the back of a turtle. When the Bible spoke on these issues, it spoke with accuracy.
Why won’t skeptics listen to the facts?
The problem with convincing skeptics and atheists is not with the facts. It’s a problem with the human heart. People want to suppress the Truth of God, and deny that He exists. Yet God has made Himself so obvious through Creation that human beings are without excuse. In Romans 1, we see a society that rejects God, and God gives them over to sin, including the celebration of homosexual behavior. Yet it says in Romans 1 that we are without excuse to deny God because of the evidence of Creation.
Yet despite the fact that God has revealed Himself and left men without excuse, people still choose to reject Him.
As someone with a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and Molecular Bioscience, it amazes me that anyone can go through 4 years of biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics, and not at least suspect the hand of a Creator. God Truly has made Himself obvious to all who will choose to see!
Convincing the Skeptic?
The problem is that many people just do not want to see the Truth.
I was once friends with an Atheist on Facebook who insisted that Jesus was copied from Pagan gods such as the Egyptian god Horus. He would even claim that Jesus was copied from the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. I talked with him for maybe a year and a half about this. I even contacted an Egyptology department at a major university for him, and explained to him that no scholar on Earth takes these ideas seriously. The claims that Horus had 12 disciples, was baptized by some guy named Anup the Baptizer, and rose from the dead have no basis in Egyptian mythology or history. In other words it was made-up nonsense swirling around on the Interwebs. After explaining to him that no Egyptologist believes this nonsense, his response was that PhD = “Piled high and deep.”
No amount of facts were going to convince this guy, and eventually I unfriended him and stopped wasting my time.
“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” Proverbs 29:9
As for Jesus being copied from Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of the wind, this particular deity wasn’t even invented until about 1000 years after the time of Christ, and no Christian in the World had ever heard of Quetzalcoatl until at least the 16th Century.
Yet this guy would “refute” articles written by PhD historians from mainstream universities with memes that he made himself on his computer.
I wish I could go into more detail about the claim that Jesus was copied from Pagan myths, but this would be beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say, this guy was lost in wild Internet conspiracy theories, and even scholars from the greatest universities in the World, and irrefutable facts were nothing to him. He wanted to believe that Jesus was a myth, and nothing would convince him otherwise.
The Role of The Christian Apologist
Apologetics is still a powerful tool to the Christian witness, but we have to understand that skeptics are often not willing to see what is right in front of them. We also have to understand that it is not our job to convince them or to convert them.
So what is our job? Our job as Christians is to “set the table.” In Proverbs 9, Wisdom sets her table and calls from the rooftops inviting all who are willing to come in and eat. Our job is to help Wisdom to set her table and provide for those who are hungry who choose to come in to eat.
We can call out to the people, as Wisdom herself does, as well we should, but we cannot make them come in to eat.
The passage then goes on in contrast:
He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
Reprove a wise man and he will love you (v. 7–8).
It can be very frustrating that we cannot argue someone to coming in to eat. They will walk by, mocking, saying there is no food on the table without even looking inside the house.
Spiritually speaking, a non-Christian is a walking corpse. Even more so the false Christian. We cannot convince a corpse to come in and enjoy a steak, no matter how wonderful that steak may be. Why? The reason is that he is dead.
Yet somehow God uses the foolishness of preaching to bring us to Himself.
The good news here is that there are those who will come in to hear Wisdom, and to eat at her table. Millions of these will choose to hear the Gospel, and to accept it. That’s why we cannot throw our pearls before swine (pardon the mixed metaphors). It may not be time for this person to come to Christ yet. The Holy Spirit may have not yet called him or her. That corpse has to be given some life from God to even come out of the grave to come inside and enjoy the table with Wisdom. Without the Holy Spirit, even putting a steak in a corpses mouth will do nothing. With a walking corpse, they will merely lash back at the one who gave them the Truth.
There is nothing wrong with opening the Bible to show that the Bible is valid. In fact, trying to argue about the Bible without opening it is foolishness. The Skeptic might insist that we first prove that God exists, but there is no reason to let them set the rules. We know that God is real from the Creation of the World, and we are without excuse to deny that.
Furthermore, whenever the Bible touches on matters of science, history, archaeology, or prophesy, it is always accurate. Skeptics might mock the Bible, as they did with claims about the Hittites, but the Skeptics consistently turn out to be wrong while the Bible is consistently vindicated.
Ultimately it is not possible to “prove” anything to a corpse. The unbeliever will not be convinced by facts or logic. God has to melt their hearts enough, to begin to change their hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, before they will even be willing to come to Christ or to hear what’s True. But that doesn’t mean that we are wrong to call out into the streets, because while there will be those who pass us by, and while Christians and non-Christians alike will mock our efforts, there are still countless souls who will come in to eat, like the grains of sand on the seashore or like the stars in the heavens.
Thank you for reading!
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