07 Apr 2013

Why Do Some Christians Look to the Bible So Much?

Religious 39 Comments

Gene Callahan wants to know:

I ran across the passage quoted below while researching job opportunities, as a pledge that faculty of a certain college must take before they can be employed there:

“The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.”

To my knowledge, the Bible itself never talks about the Bible at all. Therefore it is certainly not something you find in the Bible that your beliefs should be based solely on the Bible. I also don’t think anywhere in the Bible it says the entire Bible is uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit (since the Bible never mentions “the Bible”!). I am also not aware of any passages where the Bible says it itself is inerrant.

It’s funny, the sermon in church today touched on this very topic. I think my pastors would endorse the statement Gene finds odd (though I don’t know if they would all feel comfortable with a college insisting on a pledge from all faculty like that). So here are some examples from the Bible where it shows the importance of Scripture:

1) My personal favorite (which we didn’t discuss today): When Jesus is tempted by the Devil, literally the entire showdown centers around both of them quoting Scripture at each other. Furthermore, Jesus defends Himself by quoting entirely from Deuteronomy, which is the epitome of a boring, apparently arbitrary list of regulations laid down by God. I can barely get through that book when I read the Bible. But as I told my son the other day, it’s a good thing the young Jesus studied better than I did, because that’s what He needed to resist the snares of the Devil.

2) In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus has the rich man (condemned to hell) ask at the end if Abraham can send the beggar Lazarus (also dead) back as a sign to his still-living brothers, so they can repent and avoid the rich man’s fate. But Abraham tells him, “‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'” My pastor cited this to show that God intended the Scripture to convince people of His plan, not the Resurrection. In other words, the point of Jesus rising from the dead wasn’t to convince skeptics.

3) In the famous story of two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus joins them but they don’t recognize Him. They are sad, discussing how their leader (Jesus) had just been crucified, even though they had thought He was the Messiah. Jesus calls them foolish for not trusting in God, and then cites the things written in Scripture about the Christ as what they should have trusted. (This was the point in today’s sermon.) In other words, Jesus didn’t say, “You saw Him perform miracles, including raising people from the dead. Why are you doubting the reports of the women who say the tomb is empty and angels proclaimed that Jesus is alive?” No, Jesus wanted to know why they doubted the written word of God, which clearly told what would happen to the Messiah (i.e. He would be mocked, killed, and return).

Incidentally, I know there are going to be all kinds of objections to the above, most notably: “Your premise is that the Bible is the inspired word of God. But isn’t that kinda what we’re arguing about?”

No, it isn’t, not vis-a-vis Gene’s post. He concluded with this:

No text interprets itself: Any Biblical interpretation will be part of a tradition of Biblical interpretation, just as any constitutional interpretation will be part of a tradition of constitutional interpretation. Rationalism in religion is just as much an error as rationalism in politics.

The above is a non sequitur. Even people who think the Bible is the literal, inspired word of God, with no errors at inception, can disagree over what God meant when He said such-and-such. But there are plenty of other Christians who don’t think the Bible is the inspired word of God. And, there are even Christians who think it is the inspired word of God, but that the human authors added their own idiosyncrasies and so it’s all a big metaphor for how much God loves us. But it’s not a history or science book! (these people say).

So it’s true that if you think the stuff I quoted above is just a story akin to tales about Hercules, fine, I agree I would need to look outside the Bible to make you take its contents seriously. But Gene seems to be saying that nowhere does the Bible suggest that the way to know God’s nature is to read other parts of the Bible, and I don’t think that is correct.

39 Responses to “Why Do Some Christians Look to the Bible So Much?”

  1. Gene Callahan says:

    “But Gene seems to be saying that nowhere does the Bible suggest that the way to know God’s nature is to read other parts of the Bible…”

    No, no, no. Yes, the Bible has quotes that show the Bible thinks the Bible is important.

    But the claims I quoted are much, much more specific than that, and THOSE (very specific) claims are not in the Bible. And yet one of those (non-Biblical) claims is that the Bible is the SOLE source of our beliefs!

    • Futurity says:

      This is the quote a from typical Statement of Faith from many Christian organizations.

      This is really disturbing because you actually provided the whole quote which states that “It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.”. The key is here on “matters which it speaks”.
      It is clear that beliefs in “The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments” refers to beliefs that actually are contained in the Bible.
      This is also supported by the fact that those core beliefs are subsequently enumerated.
      Like here: http://www.everystudent.com/menus/statement.html

      Typical example saying that scripture is inspired is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
      “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

  2. Gene Callahan says:

    In fact, now that I think about it, the situation is much worse than that: the Bible actually contains many stories that show the Bible is not the SOLE source of our beliefs. Moses saw a burning bush, not a scriptural passage! The Apostles saw the miracles of Jesus, not scriptural passages. Mary was visited by an angel, not a scriptural passage.

    If we take the Bible seriously, it flat out contradicts the idea that it is the SOLE source of our beliefs.

  3. Scott Angell says:

    I think that if you haven’t read ‘Rationalism in Politics’ by Michael Oakeshott, you can’t really know what Gene means.

    If you did, you probably wouldn’t be so quick to disagree with it. Rationalism is a ‘bad attitude’ more than anything else. It’s the kind of thing you hate — the idea that one can and should plan everything rationally, rather than admit (humbly) that some things are beyond his ken or even ability to communicate, so that they might better be left to custom, tradition, and the kinds of spontaneous order that allow people to get along and live without killing eachother and tyrannizing over one another with their arrogant, unbending, ‘perfect’ systems of abstract ideas.

    A rationalist would think leaving human welfare to such arrangements ignorant and archaic, a throwback to a time when people were benighted and believed in things like religion and witchcraft, so of course they couldn’t plan things — they were barely distinguishable from animals. It is a bent towards reality which has no room for mystery, romance, the spiritual, etc. — the existence of any kind of knowledge which cannot be expressed literally and rationally.

    You know, the kind of attitude you generally rail against here. In my opinion, this attitude applied to Christianity tends to produce Pharisaical attitudes — “I’ve got it all figured out — obviously, it’s all right here, and it’s all so very logical! Just follow my system of rules, and you will be righteous in the eyes of God. Oh, and go ahead and pat yourself on the back for your spiritual purity. You deserve it so much more than those other sinners and sects who have got it all wrong.”

    They want the logical system of rules so they can conform to them rather than grow as people, and they conveniently fail to notice that their ‘message’ goes completely against Jesus’ teachings about the role of the Law and the corrupting tendencies of legalism.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Yes, Bob, what Scott says.

    • knoxharrington says:

      Great post Scott. The Oakeshottian distinction between nomocratic and teleocratic orders is one that everyone should keep in mind. I’m an atheist and am really disappointed that many, if not most, atheists deride Christianity for being teleocratic and then fall into a rank humanism that is worse than anything Christianity doles out. A little humility all around and an acknowledgment that no one has all the answers would benefit humanity greatly.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Growth requires adherence to logic.

      Rationalism doesn’t imply zero mistakes.

      Rationalism applied in politics leads to an abolition of politics.

      Oakeshott argued that the rationalist, in awarding theory primacy over practice, has gotten things exactly backwards: The theoretical understanding of some activity is always the child of practical know-how, and never its parent.

      Except Oakenshott has rationalism wrong. Rationalism does not assert that all knowledge is derived a priori.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Sorry, I forgot to quote Callahan:

        “Oakeshott argued that the rationalist, in awarding theory primacy over practice, has gotten things exactly backwards: The theoretical understanding of some activity is always the child of practical know-how, and never its parent.” – Callahan, Michael Oakeshott on Rationalism in Politics.

        • Ken B says:

          “Sorry, I forgot to quote Callahan”

          I expect those words have never been uttered before, nor will ever again.


          • Major_Freedom says:

            I don’t get it.

  4. Gene Callahan says:

    Oh, and it won’t do at all to say, “Well, sure, that was a time of revelation, but that is over, and now we must rely solely on scripture,” because the Bible sure as heck never says “You people in 2013 won’t have revelations anymore”: That would be *yet another* belief that is not in the Bible! Adding more beliefs not in the Bible certainly will not help this case.

  5. Mike K says:


    This is a doctrine that has been disputed for ages past and will be debated for ages to come. There are hundreds of books written on this topic and it will not be settled in a blog post. No matter what side you are on (if in fact, you are on a side at all), I think it would be best if we all would dig a little deeper into the matter, and not rely on the “gotcha” verses that have already been addressed by each side.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Mike, I did not put out any “gotcha” verses. What I noted was that I found a document that claims the SOLE basis of these folks beliefs is the Bible, but that contains a number of beliefs (including that one!) that are not themselves in the bible. It is as if someone had said “I never speak.”

      Either their claims are self-contradictory or not. I don’t see what “digging deeper” has to do with it.

      • Mike K says:

        The comment wasn’t solely intended for you. The way you use “to my knowledge” and “I also don’t think anywhere in the Bible it says…” will leave you open to those who think finding a certain “gotcha” verse will completely overturn your claims. That’s all I was trying to say. No offense meant.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Mike, the Westminster Confession makes the same point I am making: ‘Sola scriptura is a doctrine that is not, in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 “expressly set down in scripture”.’

      Therefore, if you think scripture is the sole basis of valid Christian belief, you really ought not to believe in sola scriptura!

  6. Chase Hampton says:

    Gene, would you have a problem with this statement?

    “[The Bible is] God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks”

    I’m not asking if you agree with the above statement. I’m merely attempting to determine if the only part you had a problem with was the beginning, which said “The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible.”

    • Gene Callahan says:

      No, Chase, I have no problem with that statement. It is not in Scripture anywhere of which I am aware, but it doesn’t claim that all valid beliefs come from scripture!

  7. Christopher says:

    The bible, as we know it today, was canonized 400 years after Jesus died. What Jesus referred to in those passages is not what some Christian toady mean by sola scriptura.

  8. Jonathon Hunt says:

    Luckily for Catholics, this apparent paradox is resolved once you take into account their emphasis on the role of tradition for the faith. +1 for Catholics?

    • drigan says:


      *grins* I was totally reading this, thinking “hello guys, there’s an obvious solution to this: just accept Apostolic succession and you’re all set!”

      I’m a big fan of 2 Peter 1:20:
      “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation,”

      So not only can scripture be difficult to interpret, it *explicitly* says that individuals don’t have the authority to interpret it . . . or at least that’s my interpretation. 😉

  9. Sam Geoghegan says:


    Bob, I always thought figures such as yourself and Tom Woods should advance an argument against the new atheists. Here’s Dawkins tearing it up in 2013.
    While agnostic on God myself, I think some of his criticisms leveled at the Catholic church bear some consideration, especially on contraception and pedophilia. Not sure about his delivery.
    This might be Tom’s department more than yours.
    I don’t really like Dawkins because he attacks easy targets like creationists, inter alia. But seeing that you might be one yourself, it wouldn’t hurt to defend your position 😉

    • Z says:

      Dawkins is not a first rate atheist intellectual. There are certainly many atheists who are, but they offer nuanced though still very critical evaluations of the various religions, and they also don’t turn a blind eye to the deficiencies in the secular humanist alternative that Dawkins and other espouse. But what they have to say is not as glamorous and doesn’t make for good drama, so they are ignored.

      • Z says:

        I’m also pretty much agnostic by the way.

      • Ken B says:

        I was surprised by how disappointing The God Delusion was. Dawkins is, in biology and evolution, one of my heroes. But in religion he seems completely over the top and blind to the ways relgion can and does help people.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          The God Delusion is more pop culture polemic, than science oriented.

          The Greatest Show on Earth was really good.

          • Sam Geoghegan says:

            Any book designed to sell millions ususally is.

            (Does that include the bible?)

          • Ken B says:

            I agree. I have liked every book by Dawkins except TGD.

  10. Roberto Severino says:
  11. Major_Freedom says:

    This argumentative technique Callahan is using (not saying I disagree or agree with it), is the same technique he used a while back to reject the conclusion of a logical syllogism. For example, consider:

    1. If A, then B
    2. A.
    3. Thus B.

    Callahan is saying that one can potentially agree with the first two statements, but not be obligated to accept the concluding 3rd statement. For, he argues, there is a hidden, implicit premise that is being taken for granted here. Namely, the statement “If one agrees with the first two statements, then one must agree with the concluding statement.”

    So the new (apparently corrected) syllogism would become:

    1. If A, then B
    2. A.
    3. If one accepts 1 and 2, then one must accept 4.
    4. Thus B.

    But wait a minute. The same criticism applies. There is now a new hidden, implicit premise, this time “If one accepts 1., and 2., and 3., then one must accept 4.”

    And so on, ad infinitum.

    I think he is saying the same thing applies to any allegedly self-contained piece of literature, such as the Bible. The Bible is akin the first two or three premises, and the concluding statements of the form “Your beliefs should only be based on the Bible” do not necessarily follow from the Bible itself.


    Argumentative technique is from Lewis Carrol’s “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles”:


    • Christopher says:

      I don’t get this. Assume the bible said something like “tradition is the most important basis of Christian believe”, would it be a false syllogism to say that sola scriptura contradicts itself?

  12. Major_Freedom says:

    I think I may not have the right syllogisms above. I don’t think

    1. If A, then B
    2. A.
    3. Thus B

    Is the right form of argument for this issue.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      This comment is relating to another that is “awaiting moderation.”

  13. Ken B says:

    Nowhere in the Bible are those 66 books referred to or defined. The compass of the Bible, the set of canonical books, was decided by believers over a period of time and not solidified (mostly, some groups vary a bit) until about 370 AD. Anyone who cites the 66 as the sole source then needs to explain why those 66 and no others, why 2nd Timothy but not the Gospel of Thomas, why Revelations of John but not Reveleations of Peter, and why not 65 or 67. They cannot rely on the 66 themselves to do that. That undercuts their claim to rely on scripture alone.

    • Christopher says:

      Exactly. Sola scriptua would only make sense if
      (a) the bible said so
      (b) the bible gave us a definition of itself.

  14. Doug says:

    As an Evangelical Christian, I’m with Gene on this one. Many evangelical scholars are working on ways to explain the nature of the Scriptures without resorting to the typical explanations of what “inspiration” or “inerrancy” means.

    Browse the Patheos blog of Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) you will find many articles explaining Pete’s work on this issue. He also links to relevant authors dealing with the problems and contradictions in the Old Testament and New Testament (how did Judas die?), not from a “they aren’t really contradictions” sort of viewpoint, but from a “maybe we should rethink what it means to view the Scripture as authoritative” sort of way.

  15. joeftansey says:

    The lack of Oxford comma in the pledge is prima facie evidence against its veracity.

    No joke.

  16. Tom says:

    “…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” – 1 Tim 3:15

    The Christian Bible came from the early Church, not the other way around. Sola scriptura is not scriptural.

  17. John Fairfull says:

    Scripture clearly isn’t the only revelation of God, and no one thinks that. Read Romans 1:20. John 1 says that God provides “light to every man that comes into the world.” This light can’t be the Bible because not every man reads the Bible. I believe this is the light of intellect, or conscience. It’s the law of God in the universe that every man can understand. This is also a revelation of God. All of these things are known as general revelation. Love itself is a revelation of God.

    What’s important about Scripture is that it’s the only means of salvation in the here and now, and the Bible does make that claim over and over again (1 Corinthians 1:21, Romans 10). It is the only source of special revelation. You can look at the stars at night and know for sure that God exists, but this is never going to give you a personal relationship with God. If you don’t think Scripture is the means of salvation…what is? Your own knowledge or opinion? A vision? An epiphany? Being a good person? If the Bible matters at all, none of these concepts are Scriptural.

    As to inerrancy, it comes down to the type of God you have. The Bible claims to contain the verbal words of God in many places. The ten commandments were said to be written on stone tablets by the hand of God, and the Hebrews claimed to possess those tablets. Moses was a guy who claimed to stand on a mountain with God on two separate occasions. The Bible makes prophecies about the Christ that the New Testament claims to validate. The writers of the New Testament claim over and over that their Jesus stories are “according to the Scriptures,” (the Old Testament). The reason why Biblical inerrancy is important is because a God who bothers to stand on a mountain with a guy and write his law down with His own finger should be able to ensure that His Word is preserved. If he bothered to do it at all, why not do it right? If the disciples got a simple thing like the death of Judas wrong, why should we believe Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? If the Bible is not “faithful in a few things,” how can it be “lord over many?”

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