"How do we know the Bible is the inspired Word of God? Is it because the Bible claims to be the Word of God? The Koran and the Book of Mormon also make the same claim. What other source can we rely upon to prove the inspiration of the Bible? The answer is simple: Jesus tells us the Bible is God's Word. But is this circular reasoning to use Jesus, whom the Bible speaks of, as evidence that the Bible is the Word of God? Aren't we using the Bible to prove the Bible?"
(from The introduction to "Is the Bible Inspired by God?" radio broadcast of Ligonier Ministries, 10/26/2005)
In the radio broadcact quoted above, the late Dr. John Gerstner explains how the authority of Jesus can be properly invoked to authenticate the Bible as the Word of God with the following four propositions, to which I will add some commentary and evidence that Gerstner was not able to present under the time constraint of the program.
Proposition One: "There was a being called Jesus of Nazareth as a matter of historical fact."
Even nonChristian historians recorded facts concerning the life of Christ. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (born A.D. 37) wrote,
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and (He) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. [from Kitab Al-Unwan Al-Mukallal Bi-Fadail Al-Hikma Al-Mutawwaj Bi-Anwa Al-Falsafa Al-Manduh Bi-Haqaq Al-Marifa]
The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (born circa A.D. 53) in addressing the subject of Christians persecuted by Nero wrote,
Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through Rome also. [Annals XV.44]
[The above quotes are found in Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell.]
Proposition Two: The Gospel accounts offer (at least) basically reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth.
This is clear especially from the Gospel account of Luke, as Luke is writing as a historian
. As a historian, Luke makes record of geographic locations and political events that can be examined through archaelogical examination and Roman governmental records. On the reliability of the geographic and political information presented by Luke, Sir William Ramsay (who is regarded as one of the greatest archaelogists ever to have lived) has written,
Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians. [Quoted in McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands A Verdict. San Bernardino: Here's Life Publishers, Inc, 1979. 71.]
Together with Luke, the other Gospel accounts give similarly verifiable historical information. And there is no reason to suspect that the Gospel writers become any less reliable when relating information about Jesus, especially as their writings on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ are based on direct eyewitness accounts
Proposition Three: The Gospel accounts present persuasive evidence that Jesus is the Son of God.
If the Gospel accounts offer (at least) basically reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth, then we can be certain that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. This is obvious from the record of Jesus' testimony at His trial (Mark 14:61-62
), from the record of Jesus' acceptance of worship as the Son of God from His disciples (Matthew 14:33
), and from the record of Jesus' testimony concerning Himself (John 3:16-18
But how can we know that Jesus' testimony is true?
Again, taking the proposition that the Gospel accounts offer (at least) basically reliable information, we have all the support we need to verify Jesus' claims to deity (and thus ulitimate authority) in the account of His resurrection.
Christianity is not just a religion of ideas, but an account of God's activity in the actual world in which we live. God has created the world that we live in and has impacted the world in concrete historical events. The Gospel writers understood the importance of establishing verifiable truth claims in order to persuade their readers that they were not just trying to spread some new myth that could be equated with other ancient beliefs or new mystery religions. This is why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are so very careful to base their report of the most import events that they record- the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus- on eyewitness testimony.
In the resurrection of Jesus in particular, the Gospel writers appeal heavily to historical evidence to verify that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the grave. They seem especially sensitive to the doubts of their listeners on this point and so they give the names and testimonies of several people who actually saw and spoke with Jesus after He was risen from the dead. These witnesses include Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1-10), Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mark 16:1-8), Joanna (Luke 24:1-11), Cleopas (Luke 24:13-35), as well as the Eleven apostles, as declared by all the Gospel writers. The Apostle Paul also, in his letter to the Corinthian church, which was probably written down before the Gospel accounts were written, mentions that after His resurrection Jesus "appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:6 HCSB). By this statement the Apostle demonstrates that there were many living witnesses to the resurrection at the time he wrote his letter.
Again, one outcome of Jesus' resurrection is that His self-testimony was validated- Jesus is the Son of God (as He testified numerous times) and as the Son of God, He has ultimate authority in whatever pronouncements that He makes.
This is not circular reasoning, but rather a linear, progressive argument: "Proposition Two" is that the Bible is basically reliable; "Proposition Three" is that the Bible offers reliable, convincing proof that Jesus is the Son of God and is therefore Himself authoritative; "Proposition Four" is that on the basis of Jesus' authority, the Bible is supremely reliable as the Word of God.
[This blogpost was originally published on 11/14/05 and re-published on 8/14/13.]
Labels: apologetics, Bible study