Saturday, July 14, 2012

Responding to Jonathan Pearce on Divine Inspiration

When talking to unbelievers about the Bible, it can be difficult to convince them that the Bible should be taken as authoritatively.  They reason that you can't use the Bible as testimony in favor of itself because its "circular". The problem is that many unbelievers attempt to use the Bible to disprove the Bible due to it's content  or some imagined contradiction. And when an objection is raised that the Bible does not say what they say it does, they cry "Circular reasoning!"  Wrong of course, but Jonathan Pearce has issued a challenge that puts the disagreement into perspective.

I challenge you to prove to me how the bible is divinely inspired without appealing to the bible at all.

I would say that there are six really good pieces of evidence pointing to a divine hand behind God. There are several Bible passages that tell us that the Bible is true. People like Pearce reject that  because the Bible can't be it's own witness. Before we go through these six strands of evidence, let's look at how Jesus answered this charge when it was used on him.

13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:13-20
Ultimately, God backs up the Bible because it came from God. All the following evidence points to this.

A. Uniqueness

The Bible isn't a single book, it is a collection of 66 books, over 40 authors, written on three continents, over 1500 years. It's telling a single story and a nonconflicting message. There is no way all the authors could have known each other or talked to one another to get the story together.  Not everyone agrees that the Bible does not conflict internally or with external evidence, but they are wrong. If you think the Bible contains contradictions you are making a positive assertion that you have to demonstrate is true. People who assert that there are contradictions in the Bible, they have the burden of proof.

B. Best Attestation

Honest scholars - believers and unbelievers - admit that when it comes to being the earliest ancient text copied, widely distributed, and translated, nothing comes closer than the Bible. I think Dr Daniel Wallace put it best.

"The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations by patristic writers. In comparison with the average ancient Greek author, the New Testament copies are well over a thousand times more plentiful. If the average-sized manuscript were two and one-half inches thick, all the copies of the works of an average Greek author would stack up four feet high, while the copies of the New Testament would stack up to over a mile high! This is indeed an embarrassment of riches."

Dan Wallace 


Does this mean that the entire text is true? Nope. The text is not true because of this evidence, but if it were not true it would mean that the Bible would most likely be wrong.  This does not just include the copies text itself being well-attested but also the content of the text. For example a scholar so liberal that he thinks that Jesus was not buried or physically resurrected named Dr. John Dominic Crossan. He says:

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea and, appointed by the emperor Tiberius, he ruled from 26 to 36 C.E. He and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas collaborated not wisely but too well and they were both eventually removed from office by their Roman masters. Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? - Dr John Dominic Crossan  Source
Another example. A lot of people don't realize it that the first three centuries of Christianity have a few examples of Jesus being discussed by non-Christians and Christians after of the cannonical Bible ends.How is it that no other piece of literature from the time of the New Testament has been so well preserved, given that we know some people did their best to destroy it?

Here is a good link that lists over two hundred such citations: Historical Jesus - Two Centuries Worth of Citations

C. Fulfilled Prophecy

One big reason I believe the Bible is reliable is that it contains fulfilled prophecy. By this I mean that it makes predictions about historical events and those event have either come true or haven't happened yet. There is not a single prophecy that has fallen to the ground unfulfilled.  For example God gave the Prophet Daniel a prophecy predicting the fall of the Babylonia Empire and the rise of the Persian Empire before it happened. He also predicted the rise of the Greek Empire and Alexander the Great and how it was split up after his death. And He predicted the Roman Empire.. Some have tried to circumvent this by attempting to date Daniel as late as possible so that the Daniel who was taken from Jerusalem in the 580s BC could not have written it. I think it's a pathetic attempt to deny the miracle so that they can believe that the Bible is not true. There is plenty of evidence to conclude that the Book of Daniel is reliable. There are many such prophecies that can be studied and discussed.

I do not have enough time to really discuss all the examples, but I would like to point out that we see a lot of prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament - about his person, origins, and mission. These things are either fulfilled in the New Testament or will be fulfilled in the future by Jesus. Because of the prophecies that have already been fulfilled I see no reason to not believe that the unfulfilled ones won't be completed.

There are well over 100 prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. The chances that one person could have fulfilled just eight of them in a single lifetime has been calculated to be one in one hundred million billion. Want an image? Think of covering the whole state of Texas with silver dollar coins to a depth of two feet. Mark one of them. Mix them up. And then have a blindfolded person pick that coin. The odds are just the same a one person fulfilling eight of them. Now let's make it really interesting. What are the odds of fulfilling 48 of them? Mathematician Peter W. Stoner computed the probability to be one in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. My favorite objection  that is often raised that Jesus had read the prophecies and purposely and methodically fulfilled them like he had a "to-do list". Does this make sense? Kinda. I mean we know that Jesus was conscious of what he was doing and he even said that he did somethings to fulfill scriptures. Fair enough.  Of course that means he orchestrated being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, to be descended from King David, being born in Bethlehem, and the time in which he born? Oh and his mother would be a virgin?! Okay.  Fine by me. He'd have to be God or something to have done that.(See Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ page 183,184  ).

D.  Archaeology

As near as I can find archaeology confirms the Bible. Many of the people, places,and things found in the scripture have been confirmed or now has evidence pointing to them. Here are a few examples.

1. Pilate. There was a time that people thought Pontius Pilate was made up - that was until the 1960s when an inscription on limestone (from the first century) was discovered in what had been Caesarea in Israel.

Line Two: (PON) TIUS

The  Translation: "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea."

The Gospels tells us that Pilate existed and who he was, but now have lots of evidence that it make no sense to doubt that Pilate exists. Source

2. Also the High Priest,  Caiaphas, that presided over Jesus' trial has often been labeled a fabrication by skeptics because there seemed to be no mention of him outside the Bible. After a few years, Jews would rebury their dead relatives in limestone boxes now called ossuaries. A two thousand year-old ossuary was recovered bearing an inscription in Aramaic (the language of the region) : "Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiapha, priest of Ma’azya from Beit Imri." This was the bone box of Caiaphas' granddaughter. Evidence for Caiaphas' existence outside of the Bible. source

3. John 5 tells us that in the city of Jerusalem there had been a pool called Bethesda surrounded by five colonnade. Up until the 19th century, a lot of people thought it was a myth, but then it was found.

This archaeological discovery proved beyond a doubt that the description of this pool in the Gospel of John was not the creation of the Evangelist. It reflected an accurate and detailed knowledge of the site. The Gospel speaks of (a) the name of the pool as Bethesda; (b) its location near the Sheep Gate; (c) the fact that it has five porticos; with rushing water. All these details are corroborated through literary and archaeological evidence affirming the historical accuracy of the Johannine account.[23]

It can't be underscored how important this is. People had used the concept that pool was mythical as a reason to conclude that the writer of John had no idea what he was talking about. Oops.  Source

Yes, the Bible being correct about somethings that can be confirmed in archaeology does not mean that everything is correct - is the object you will get. However, if we can find absolutely no evidence confirming Biblical content we'd be justified to chuck the Bible. You the Book of Mormon. However we have much more solid ground regarding the Bible.

E. Undesigned Coincidences 

There are two things to consider here. One is that the Gospels each having different details is a good thing. They interlock and shed light on each other by providing corroborating details that can't be explained by the writers of the Gospels getting together and working it out this way. I'm going to just provide a single example now but there are many others. John only tells us about Mary Magdalene going to the tomb Easter morning. But when she finds the tomb open and tells Peter and the other disciple that the tomb is empty we find something interesting:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”- John 20:1,2

Who's "we"? Well, we know from Matthew, Mark, and Luke that Mary Magdalene was not alone when she went to the tomb early Easter morning. She had other women with her. Although, John spotlights only Mary Magdalene, he does not say that only Mary Magdalene was the only woman at the tomb. For further information look up the work of Dr Tim McGrew because there are many, many other examples. Here is a place to start looking up more information: link.

F.  Evidence of Intimate knowledge of the Time and Place

Peter J Williams does a lecture where he explains how the Gospel writers get things correct that only people who have knowledge of first century Palestine correct. These are details that you can't just make up. For example, the percentage of popular people names in the Gospels with respect to the total names of persons in the Jewish population of the first century matches what you would expect given the data that has been collected about the names of people in the population during that time. For example, you would expect that a great number of men who lived during the time of the New Testament was named "Yeshua" and "John" and "Simon", but not many Thaddeus. The percentage of people in the Bible named John and Yeshua and Mary match what you would expect from studying population data from that time. But you find no such  in correspondence in other Jewish population centers in places like Alexandria, Egypt.

Here is one of Dr Peter J Williams' lectures to understand this point better.

Lecture with Dr. Peter Williams from Lanier Theological Library on Vimeo.

G.  Geography.

I like the fact that the Bible is grounded in reality. It didn't take place once upon a time, a long, long time ago  in a land far, far away. That's how the Greek myths and other myths are placed - no real historical time or place that you can touch or feel. The Bible is different. The Bible talks about real people who actually existed and real places and describe real events that we know took place. The counter I run into most often against this point is that getting a lot of incidental details correct doesn't mean the whole Bible is true. Objectors can't have it both ways. Had the Bible contained such incidental errors it would be enough to reject it. As a matter of fact sometimes accusations are made that things like geography are indeed wrong in the Bible, but upon closer examination this never bears out. It makes no sense to reject the Bible based on the error of incidental details. Does not hold because it does not make incidental mistakes on geography - neither in the Old Testament of the New Testament. It's a good test, because a person who had never been to the places or experienced the things the writers say they did would not be able to get such things right. It is interesting how objectors are quick to use such things to try to reject scripture but then deny the incidental details if they support Biblical reliability.

Here is a link to such an example. link

Mark 5:1-2
They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him,

Matt 8:
When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way.

Luke 8:26,27
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons;

Unbelievers think that there is a contradiction between Mark and Luke over against Matthew. Did Jesus go to the city of Gerasa or to the city of Gadara? Neither. The texts say the incident of the demoniacs being healed happened away from a city but in a region that contained both cities. Matthew referred to the area by it's capital and most important city, while Mark and Luke used the city closest to where the action really took place - near a cliff, near a cemetery, and near lake. No contradiction at all!


I have presented 6 reasons why I think we can conclude that the Bible is reliable but also why it's different than any other book. It's not the pure products of human minds. It's purity transcends the writers. Our faith is based on the inerrancy of the Bible. If any part of it is false, why should you believe any part of it? I find that giving up Biblical inerrancy is the first real step to apostasy. This is not saying that you should believe that Bible is true despite evidence that it has errors. I'm saying that the Bible doesn't have those contradictions. There is not a single contradiction or objection against the Bible that has not already been raised and dealt with. The thing to remember is that we don't need to now everything. and God has not chosen to reveal everything to us. God has revealed to us everything we need through God's word - The Bible.

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  1. Your 6 reasons amount to BS.

  2. written on three continents

    Another way to think about this is that the books were all written within a 2500 mile diameter. Three continents sure sounds more impressive though.

    It's this sort of dishonesty that undermines Marcus' apologetics.

  3. Three Continents - Asia, Europe, and Africa.

    The dishonesty is yours, Ryan Anderson.

    As for the anonymous comment, I think you should watch the video.

  4. Literally everything you say, from the dates the bible was written, to prophecy fulfillment (I have written on that), to archaeology etc etc is contestable and contested by mainstream scholars today. You may be comfortable sitting in a house of cards, but i certainly wouldn't be.

    Oh, and interesting how your map doesn't include Gesara (Gesarenes) which is a further 30 miles southeast, a large part of the initial problem. The position of gergesa is only a guess as according to Christians who use the bible to suppose its existence (based on Origen who recognised the contradiction / error - see the work of Clapp on this)!

  5. Three Continents - Asia, Europe, and Africa.

    No duh. I guess another way you could put it would be that they were written within a land area less than half the size of the US.

    That doesn't sound as impressive though?

  6. Apparently Jonathan, the only way to be clear when talking about numbers of people or things with Marcus, you must include the word "only" if you really mean the specific number that you state.


  7. As another poster replied to his ridiculous point: ""because neither Mark or Luke says that there was only one man there"

    isn't it kind of ridiculous for the authour of mark to say,

    immediately only one man from the tombs with only one unclean spirit met him


    i thought the word AN does the job in informing readers how many there were and there was only one.

    Mark 5:1-2They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him,"

  8. Let me tell you what is ridiculous: Ryan Anderson bristled on the idea that the Bible was written on three continents because the area in question is smaller than the United States but forgets that we are talking over a time period of over 1000 years. We are talking about about differences in culture and many other things that would make wild differences in the Bible and those things are absent.

    And @Pearce
    I did provide an answer and you seem too prideful to listen. Neither Mark or Luke tells us that there was only one man. It tells us that there was a man. Omitting the the other man is not a lie or contradiction.

  9. Literally everything you say, from the dates the bible was written, to prophecy fulfillment (I have written on that),

    Yeah, I've read some of your articles about many different things and I'm not impressed in the slightest. I'm not sure If I've read anything you've written on these things, but what I have seen was pretty bad. I'm not expecting better.

    to archaeology etc etc is contestable and contested by mainstream scholars today. You may be comfortable sitting in a house of cards, but i certainly wouldn't be.

    If you mean that there are mainstream scholars who disagree with me and some who agree with me, then you are right. However, we've got real physical evidence that agrees with what the Bible says and in order to deny it you have to be willing to jump through all kinds of hoops. If you are willing to jump through those that is your right. If you don't want to live in a house of cards then you should submit to God right away and be saved.

  10. Ryan Anderson bristled on the idea that the Bible was written on three continents

    No, I am aware it's technically written on three continents, but I am also aware of what your motivations are for stating it like that. You are an apologist, and not an honest one. You go for effect.

  11. Too prideful to accept!


    You have to redefine the usage of language to accept your answer, and then fail to provide any such sensible usage which is not a false analogy.

    Man, you are incredible.

  12. @Ryan Anderson

    And just how I am I being dishonest? You agree it's three continents. That is all I said. You are the one one trying to frontload it with innuendo. Each writer brought different cultural and temporal baggage. That is all the comment is meant to convey.

    @Jonathan Pearce

    No one is redefining least I am not. I don't think you know what "contradiction" means and you seem to think that first readers of the 1st,2nd, and early centuries would have looked at this the way you do. How can you expect to understand what they said by ignoring their cultural viewpoint or context? The pride is yours. The hubris is yours. Do you ever get tired of your own failure?

  13. Marcus, you’ve established a pattern of throwing out sound bites in the hopes of killing discourse so your point can stand unmolested.  And while it’s true that to understand the Gospels, you must understand 1st C. Judaism, and to understand that, you must understand 1st C. Roman Palestine (and Judaism in general), and to understand that, you must understand the Roman Empire. 
    I have no doubt that your understanding of any of these things is less than superficial, however, no understanding at all is necessary to understand how numbers are used conversationally in Koine. 
    If you disagree, explain in detail why you think cultural and social factors affected how 1st century Greeks and Jews understood numbers in a way no one else ever has. 
    Just saying that because we don’t understand the “cultural viewpoint and context” it means the “cultural viewpoint and context” makes a difference on how the Pig Daemon verses should be read simply doesn’t cut it.  (hint: we do understand, and they don’t have anything to do with it).

  14. This is quote funny. You accuse me of something that you do in the very same paragraph.

    "I don't think you know what "contradiction" means and you seem to think that first readers of the 1st,2nd, and early centuries would have looked at this the way you do."

    Not only do you special plead language, but you claim I don't realise that early Christians read things in a different way without supplying any evidence that they do. I could simply change your accusation of me to this and send it right back!

    "you seem to think that first readers of the 1st,2nd, and early centuries wouldn't have looked at this the way you do."

    baseless. Danth's Law again in calling my comments a failsure. I simply am flabergasted that you could actually believe this. The burden of proof is on you. It is one you to show:

    1) that language can be used in this way and make sense in the manner presented
    2) that early Christians would have read that differently and understood it.

    You don't seem to understand that your claims would render the use of numeric language in everyday conversation utterly meaningless and confusing. You can't see the wood for the trees. C'mon, just be honest.

  15. And Ryan is dead on the money. You position is quite ridiculous, and merely asserting otherwise is not good enough.

    I suggest you try using numbers tomorrow, but every time you use a number, imagine that you do ACTUALLY mean a number higher than the number you used, without any qualifying language.

    It has naff all to do with how 1st C people read texts. It is an understanding of number.

  16. Yes, Let's do try to be honest. Both of you assume that the number of the demoniacs Jesus healed is my weakest position in this particular interaction, having abandoned the other failed attempts at attacking this post. What you have failed to understand is that this point is your ultimate failure. What we see in Matthew, Mark, Luke is exactly what we would expect if the traditional understanding authorship is correct.

    1. Matthew was written by one of the original 12 apostles who would have known there were two. Mark and Luke were not eyewitnesses but reported on what people who were there. Mark is said to have got his info from Peter. His and Luke's account both fit what you would expect: Details about the one who was most prominent - the one who wanted to leave with Jesus.
    2. Ancient writers would not count this a factual contradiction. Again neither Mark or Luke tells us that there was only one man.
    3. Matthew referred to the capital of the region because he was writing primarily to Jews and did not see a need to be more specific to the location. It's imposing a western modern mindset if you want to accuse the writers of being wrong or dishonest.
    4. Given that this was Jesus reaching out to Gentiles in a region of Gentiles, it forces out the fact that Harry McCall is wrong about Jesus hating Gentiles. Thank you!
    5.I can't believe you don't see this (I shouldn't be surprised but I am):
    1) that language can be used in this way and make sense in the manner presented

    Neither Mark nor Luke say that there was only one man. If you think that there was only one man you are making an assumption.

    2) that early Christians would have read that differently and understood it.

    I'm not saying that if all you had was Mark or Luke you would know that there were two. Who is saying that? Yes, there have been generations of folks who lived and died not knowing that there were two gentiles healed that day. So what? Not all Christians had all four Gospels available to them simultaneously. I doubt that those who did said "This isn't God we have contradiction". We have no contradiction because neither Mark or Luke was concerned about the the other man. The point being made wan't to tell us about the men but what Jesus did and what Jesus can do...even for the both of you. Your mistake: you think that that Mark and Luke should have told us about the other man, but why? That's a huge assumption. They didn't try to hide anything. Think about it this way: a contradiction with Matthew would have been if Mark or Luke had written that there was only one.

  17. Oh and isn't it cute when Atheists try to back each other up?!!! SOOO CUTE!!! Just adds to the fail. But still cute.

  18. Well said Marcus.

  19. Well, your entire argument hinges on Matthean priority and Matthew actually being the author, and it still makes no sense for Luke or Mark to talk the way they did.

    I'm a dumber man for previously witnessing you argue for Matthean priority (YOu canot prove Mathaiw didnt write it furst!!!11!), so enjoy your delusion.

    This particular willful delusion should be clear to even the worst, but alas, it's not to you.

    Also, re: Gerasenes, don't mistake loss of interest for abandonment and failure.

  20. Ha! on the place - it is a clear contradiction. Only, again, you are blind to it. Your arguments for both these points are terrible. Truly bad.

    As mentioned before, even Origen noticed the contradiction and he had supposedly visited there as an early Christian, so he posited a third option. As Clapp points out, there are many problems with this option. However, it is undeniable that a person with a much better grasp and idea of the geography than you still thought there was a contradiction, and that neither of the options presented made sense.

    And you think you'c 'won' that point? Get over yourself.

  21. If you were writing to Jews, would you be more likely or less likely to just the name the capital of a Gentile region? That's what Matthew did. Origen was centuries after the even. He's far more likely to be wrong than Matthew, Mark, or Luke.