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This is a continuation from the previous question, "Why is the Bible a foundation of theological evidence?"

But this time I'd like the question to focus on the issue of what looks like a circular argument, which was an issue that was raised but looks like it needed further discussion.

So the issue is: it is said that the Bible is authoritative because the Bible says so. But who is to say that the Bible is right in saying so?

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closed as not constructive by dancek, Sven, Andrew, warren, El'endia Starman Sep 30 '11 at 16:35

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I've never heard anyone say they believe the Bible because the Bible tells them to. Does someone? For me, the reason for giving authority the Bible is 1) God has personally shown me that he is and that he reveals himself in the Bible, and 2) the content of the Bible makes a lot of sense. –  dancek Sep 30 '11 at 10:30
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This sounds like a straw man to me, so I don't think it's constructive. I'm voting to close. –  dancek Sep 30 '11 at 10:32
    
@dancek: This is quite frequently asserted by non-Christians. I do think it's a straw-man issue, but might it not still be valuable to demonstrate that with some answers? –  Caleb Sep 30 '11 at 10:37
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@Caleb sure. There just are an awful lot of potential straw man arguments against Christianity, and I'd rather consider them bad questions as such rather than allow them all because we allowed one. –  dancek Sep 30 '11 at 10:39
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I don't think you can resolve that question. Christianity is based on the bible and we have no other books or scripture that describe the supernatural nature of Jesus or his miracles. One might argue about historical evidence of his resurrection but there are a lot of easier explanations than God being involed. I know a lot won't agree with me, but there is no other authority evidence for it than in the bible, thats why you need faith. –  Sven Sep 30 '11 at 11:04
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is circular in a sense, but all philosophical starting points are. I would contend that authority begets authority, and our philosophical foundations appeal to an authoritative source of truth and knowledge, whether we realize it or not.

In order to be the authoritative source of all things true, however, something either needs to authoritatively declare itself as the authority of all things true (If all things known are known via X; then that knowledge must also come from X…but this is circular) or a higher authority must identify it as the source of all things true. The latter scenario, though, simply moves the bump in the rug (as it were), because then the onus shifts to that higher authority to then go through the same motions that the previous one did (i.e. either {circularly} establish itself as the authority of all things true, or establish its credentials…by ultimately appealing to a {circularly} affirmed higher authority). Ultimately, we do have to start with some sort of tautological starting point, but the key is to be willing to honestly evaluate the consistency of our starting points and judge the aseity of our ultimate authority (can that authority stand on its own?).

To take a simple, and all too common (pun not intended), example, many people -- whether they fully realize it or not -- ultimately appeal to their understanding of "common sense" as their authoritative source of knowledge and reality. The problem is that -- aside from being a very subjective starting point -- "Common sense" doesn't definitively identify itself as the starting point of all things knowable and known. In fact, I would say "common sense" actually says that "common sense" is limited in its grasp of objective reality because it's so intrinsically dependent on personal interpretation and sensory stimuli. If common sense tells us there's a reality beyond that which we perceive and understand intuitively, on the one hand, then it's absolutely inconsistent to then appeal to common sense as our ultimate source of understanding.

So, while someone's free to appeal to their "Common sense" superficially, they're left lacking when it comes to establishing the basis for doing so in deeper philosophical contexts, because "Common Sense" is not a clear authority (even by its own right) of reality and there is no clear higher authority that grants it such authority by proxy.

A better (though, perhaps more controversial) example might be "science" Empirical science is a wonderful means of learning about the world around us, and it's an important discipline to nurture in order to refine our understanding of the physical realm, but some people appeal to it as final authority. The problem is that science itself doesn't stake such a claim, so if someone comes to that conclusion, it's based on something contra-science, which makes that philosophy immediately inconsistent (since it supposedly relies ultimately on scientific revelation).

Another example might be the "Flying Spaghetti Monster," Which as I understand it is a pretty good attempt at a reductio ad absurdum against the whole appeal to dogma, but the problem is that (assuming, for a moment, it's not meant tongue in cheek) the FSM never establishes himself as a final authority (AFAIK), so in order to appeal to him in good faith, one must still appeal to a higher authority which then inherits the onus of establishing itself as authority....otherwise, as a joke, it's kind of cute, but as a legitimate counter-offer, it doesn't really solve the problem it's so intent on identifying. (it's sometimes easier to mock people providing answers, it seems than to offer substantial answers on one's own)

That being said, the Christian Bible is never going to be irrefutably proven as a final authority, because, I think, it's philosophically impossible to do so, but I think it does satisfy this in some significant ways: It appeals to itself as the word of God who is identified as a God of revelation who does not lie.

Philosophically, it establishes that God is the source of creation who then grants man a portion of rationality (by creating him in His image). He then communicates to man through His word (revelation). These pieces together provide an objective framework against which we can justify deductive reasoning (which requires communicable true knowledge and a means of applying that knowledge to reach sound conclusions -- e.g. it presupposes a rational mind, and it presupposes rationality as a transcendent quality) as well as a basis for a healthy understanding of inductive empiricism (which presupposes a transcendent rule of order but acknowledges that our observations are influenced by imperfect sensory interpretations). It also accounts for an objective and qualitatively measurable morality (by contending that morality not "owned" by societies, but rather by the Author of all things, we actually are in a position to judge certain societal standards as lacking), it establishes consequences for man's transgression from the law of the Lawgiver, and provides the means of reconciliation, and does so on God's (not man’s) terms (e.g. the wages of sin is death; all have sinned; Jesus -- who knew no sin -- died for the sins of others that they may live)

I'm not sure that it's provable beyond that, and all of those premises require a bit of faith to accept. BUT, I think it does provide a very solid, objective foundation (and I would say uniquely so) for a consistent philosophical/moral framework. When the philosophical-reductionist conclusion is pointed out that it’s ultimately circular, I think we can accept that and challenge other frameworks to the same standard to see if they don't, indeed, have the same philosophical limitations (and I would say even more so).


tl;dr version:


The Bible asserts itself as God's word and also establishes God as authoritative, which does seem to beg the question a bit. To the Christian, It reveals His role as Creator and Redeemer and defines Him as the source of all things knowable and known; it reveals His plan for man and gives man an objective standard by which to orient his life. We all have to start somewhere philosophically, and as Christians, we think that this is a pretty good place to start. When the question is raised, I would challenge someone to offer a contrary philosophy that provides a more comprehensive “solution” without falling into the same "traps" they see of circular presuppositions… I don’t think it can be done.

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it is said that the Bible is authoritative because the Bible says so.

I have yet to hear this from a Christian. Does not seem like anything a apologist would say. Can you quote someone who says this because I suspect this is a strawman of the arguments that Christian make.

I think it would be better to say that the basis for the authority of the new testament is that the New Testament was written for the most part by people who knew Jesus. They where his first followers. His Apostles.

So if you want to go against the teachings of the bible regarding Jesus you would need to have 1st century Judean author who knew Jesus personally and attests to things in contradiction with the bible.

I do not think such a testimony exist. You have the Gnostic gospels written three-and-a-half centuries after Christ or the Quran that was written six centuries after Christ, but the New Testament stands alone among the world religion's holy books as being the only one that had intimate personal knowledge of who Jesus was.

The New Testament is rife with eye witness accounts of Jesus. Jesus even made post mortem appearances to almost 500 people as 1 Corinthians 15v6 tells us.

This is a common misconception that unbelievers have of Christians that we are all taking religion on some sort of blind faith. As you investigate the ancient evidences for Jesus's resurrection you come to realize that Jesus interacted with the world in a very real way and we can prove that using nothing more than general historical analysis.

We as Christian are very lucky in that way

I could say more, but I'd leave it there

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Followers of Jesus who believed him don't have the authority to be evidence of his supernatural nature and thus God. I and many other sources agree that Jesus lived, but that fact is again no evidence for God. –  Sven Sep 30 '11 at 10:49
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I have heard Biblical support given for the authority and accuracy of the Bible on several occasions (e.g. John 10:35, Matthew 22:29), . This is equivalent logically to saying "the Bible is authoritative because the Bible says so". I have not heard this from people trained in apologetics, at least not as the main part of the argument (it's brought up as a point of consistency, perhaps). –  Rex Kerr Sep 30 '11 at 14:52
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I have also heard the Bible used exclusively to answer the question of whether the Bible is authoritative many times. –  DJClayworth Sep 30 '11 at 20:51
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I don't think it's quite accurate to say that the argument is circular. There are actually many ways to approach the issue of whether the Bible is authoritative as it claims to be.

One way to do this would be to realize that the Bible text itself is not the only thing vouching for it's veracity. People through the ages have done the same. If any of those people have themselves done so with authority, we can point to them instead of to the text itself.

The best example of this is Jesus himself. Apart from the Bible itself there is historical evidence for his life, death and resurrection. We know without having to look at the Bible at all that a man named Jesus from Galilee lived, was crucified, and then appeared to many people after that. We also know from non Biblical sources that he claimed to be God in the flesh. Non Christian historians corroborate this story. His miracles and in particular his resurrection and ascension testify to him being who he claimed to be.

Now this Jesus also read the OT Scriptures and quoted them as authoritative. If Jesus was God in the flesh as he demonstrated himself to be, taking his word for it that the OT as compiled at the time was a reliable account of God's words to men, it's pretty safe to take them as such ourselves. He didn't start debates about the validity of some of the redaction that had happened through the centuries or write a new set of books, he quoted the books verbatim saying "as it is written....".

This can be extended to the NT because the NT is a record of Jesus words (in which he testifies that the OT account is about himself) and then the apostles that he authorized to teach in his name and who's teachings are consistent with his own. The testimony of the NT is simply that of the OT being fulfilled in the person of Christ.

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Can you add some sources? What books other than the bible do describe the miracles, resurrection, ascension and other supernatural things? –  Sven Sep 30 '11 at 9:08
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@sven why do you look at the Bible like that? The Bible was constructed to be the complete deposit of revelation. If there were other scriptural sources, they would be in the Bible! –  Peter Turner Sep 30 '11 at 16:43
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