Digging Into The Past with FERRELL JENKINS
Temple Terrace, Fla.
A Defense of Scriptural Authentication
(This article on Scriptural Self-authentication was written for one of my classes in "Christian Evidences" at Florida College last spring. Gary Henry is now studying in the upper division of the Bible department at Florida College.-FJ)
When one argues for the unique authority and inspiration of the Bible he often starts from the premise that the Bible, throughout its pages, assumes itself to be a direct message from God, to man. The attempt is then made to verify that assumption or claim by surveying the evidence found within the Bible. But we must question the wisdom of appealing to the Bible's own testimony to support its claim to be God's Word. "Is it not a most outrageous form of question-begging to make the Bible itself the first and final arbiter in its own case? Are we not guilty of presupposing the very thing which we are asked to substantiate?" (G. W. Bromiley, "The Authority of Scripture," The New Bible Commentary, p. 15) To many, the quoting of Scripture to support Scripture would seem to be arguing in a logically inconclusive circle. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the value and place of scriptural self-authentication in the defense of the divine nature of the Bible. Four main arguments will be presented in favor of the Bible's right to vindicate itself.
Necessity of the Bible's Self-Witness
That the Bible does lay serious claim to a divine origin, status, and authority is irrefutable. It states in no uncertain terms that it is a message from God. It declares that its ultimate author is the Holy Spirit. Therefore we might, first of all, notice that if the Bible did not assert itself to be authoritative revelation no one would have any reason to believe that it is. Furthermore, we could not even be asked or required to hold such a belief. The possibility obviously is that the Bible might claim to be revelation without being it, but equally evident is the fact that it could not be revelation without claiming to be such. Though the mere assertion is not an argument for a divine nature, the absence of such an assertion would certainly be an argument against it (John H. Gerstner, Reasons for Faith, p. 70). So the Bible, in its bold claim to be the Word of God, directly challenges us to faith or to unbelief. We may not ignore that challenge.
What About Other Claims in the Bible?
Suppose an individual knows a thing which, not only no one else knows, but no one else can find out independently. The only possible way anyone could know the thing would be for that person to impart that knowledge to someone else. However, if that someone refused to believe what the person affirmed about himself - that he was honorable, for example - how could they ever be sure that he was reliable concerning the fact which could not be known except through that individual? In a similar way, man is dependent upon God's revelation for all things of a spiritual nature. What justification then can we have for accepting Biblical testimony on doctrinal and moral matters, which is, beyond our power to confirm, if we cannot equally rely completely on what the Bible teaches concerning its inspiration and authority? (Alan M. Stibbs, "The Witness of Scripture to Its Inspiration," Revelation and the Bible, p. 108) Thus our second argument is developed.
Proper Method of Investigation
In the third place, a document's claim about itself has somewhat of a presumption in its favor. That presumption is not proof of the claim, but in the absence of proof to the contrary, the claim stands good. Evidence to disprove the claim may be internal, external, or both. But the proper approach in validating the claim would seem to be initially to assume the claim to be genuine, and then search the internal structure for evidence pro and con, always allowing the preponderance of evidence to decide the matter. The decision, however, is not considered final until the internal evidence is considered in connection with the external.
For instance, if events mentioned in the document either transpired after the author's death, or were otherwise incapable of being known to him, or if language is used which came into use only after the supposed author died, one may fairly assume the claim to authenticity disproved. On the other hand, if no such evidence is found, the presumption likely will be considered valid, especially if evidence in support of the claim is found (J. W. McGarvey, Evidences of Christianity, pp. 112-13.) We should, therefore, consider the Bible to be what it says it is and search its internal evidence for contradictions with known external fact. Only in this way is the Bible innocent until proven guilty!
God, the Supreme Authority
Fourth, it is clear that in any realm of discussion the supreme authority must be self-authenticating. Man authenticates his claims by appealing to a higher or otherwise admittedly reliable source. But God has no such higher source of verification. All science and natural law hinge upon a set of self-evident truths, called postulates, which are accepted and not proven. All else in the system is built upon them. If we move into the spiritual realm we see that, if we agree to have an ultimate authority, by the very nature of the case that ultimate authority must be self-authenticating since there is no higher appeal for verification. (Stibbs, op. cit. pp. 108-9)
Thus four principal contentions have been made to justify scriptural self-authentication: (1) that the Bible could not be, and could not be known, to be, the revelation of God if it did not make that assertion; (2) that one could not rightly turn to the Bible for testimony on doctrinal or moral matters unless he could accept also its testimony to itself ; (3) that the Bible's claim to authority must be examined and then accepted in lieu of contradicting external evidence; and, finally, (4) that in any sphere the supreme authority necessarily is self-authenticating. These contentions are by no means the only ones available, but should serve as a convincing demonstration that the Bible has an undeniable right to verify itself.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 11, pp. 8-9