Even though most Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, very few can give an articulate answer for how Christians know this to be true. We believe it, but we are not sure why we believe it.
Of course, the average non-Christian critic out there is quick to pounce on this problem. “Christians have no reliable basis for knowing whether the Bible is God’s Word,” they might say. “You Christians can believe it if you want to, but you have no grounds for believing it. You are believing it without a reason.”
In order to address precisely this issue, I gave a lecture this past Spring at The Gospel Coalition National Conference entitled, “How Do We Know the Bible is God’s Word: Recovering the Doctrine of a Self-Authenticating Scripture.”
This lecture was designed to explain one way (and, arguably, the primary way) that believers know that the Bible is God’s Word, namely from the attributes and characteristics present in the Bible itself. Put simply, I argue (along with many others throughout church history) that the Bible bears evidence within itself of its own divine origins.
This is what we mean when we say that the Bible is self-authenticating.
Such a claim raises a number of questions in people’s minds: What exactly are these attributes present in Scripture? If they are really there, then why don’t more people acknowledge them? Isn’t this sort of claim just a form of subjectivism? And, has anyone else in church history taken this approach?
If you share these questions, then I encourage you to download my TGC lecture here. Update: And here is the handout: TGC Self Authenticating Handout.
I’ve listened to R. C. Sproul’s book, Defending Your Faith, and I have the same book on Kindle. He says this argument, the Scriptures are self-authenticating, is circular reasoning. I plan to listen to your lecture, but is there anything you might share in response to R. C. Sproul? Thanks.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Ray. Actually, R.C. doesn’t say that a self-authenticating Scripture is circular (because it isn’t). In fact, R.C. advocates precisely this approach in a number of places. I think you may be confusing presuppositional apologetics with a self-authenticating Scripture. Sproul is against the former but for the latter. As for whether presuppositional apologetics is circular, there is often a misunderstanding of different types of circularity. There certainly is a tight circularity that can be fallacious. However, presuppositionalists have argued that their type of circularity is not fallacious precisely because it is dealing with establishing ultimate epistemological authorities. And when it comes to such authorities, how could you defend them without using them? If you didn’t use them in your defense, then they wouldn’t, in fact, be ultimate. See further discussions in the writing of modern philosophers like William Alston.
Kevin J says
I appreciated the lecture. If I could attempt a friendly correction, the Washington Post article has Joshua Bell playing in the metro at 7:51 AM for 43 minutes, receiving $32.17, with 1,097 people passing by, one of which did recognize him.
Text version? Or do we buy your book for that? 🙂
Stephen Fournier says
Great lecture. Is the outline available online somewhere?
Hello Dr. Kruger,
I appreciated your lecture. I am wondering though, if you might be able to elaborate on your response to the accusation of subjectivism in the doctrine of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. I do not claim to be an expert on Mormonism, but couldn’t a Mormon also claim that the “burning in the bosom” is something that awakened them to the supposed truth of the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine of the Covenants, etc.? In doing so, wouldn’t this be also an enlightening to an objective reality or a recognition of real, objective qualities? It strikes me that a variety of religions might claim similar things about their own books or doctrines. For example, what if a Muslim were to say that Allah enlightened him to the qualities demonstrating the truth of the Qur’an, or a Buddhist said that he was enlightened to see similar objective qualities in the Sutras? In short, I am wondering if you can elaborate on how it can be said that a subjective experience can enlighten someone to the truth or reality of something, the belief of which is not then based on that subjective experience.
If you wouldn’t mind helping me out I would appreciate it! Thank you!
Scott Tsao says
Professor Kruger: It will be great if you could post a link to the handout that was mentioned in your talk. I believe your outline will help us grasp and articulate the main sets of argument quite succinctly.
Michael Kruger says
I just added a link to the handout at the end of the original post.
Scott Tsao says
Thanks very much. Now I need to listen to your talk again with this handout at hand. And it will be quite a treat, I am sure!
Thank you for posting the outline. I’m still a bit confused, I admit. Perhaps you might be able to recommend some works for further reading.
I’m just not quite understanding the argument about subjectivism. I understand that the self-attesting nature and the testimony of the Holy Spirit avoids the hard subjectivism of those other views. However, our belief in the objective qualities of Scripture is ultimately the result of the subjective experience of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. When asked by what force or power we were convinced of the truth of Scripture, we need to say, biblically, that it is ultimately a result of the subjective influence of the Spirit, don’t we? For example, if an unbeliever were to ask me, “Why do you believe in these objective qualities of Scripture?” I could give many reasons and arguments, but I would need to respond that it was ultimately because of the work of the Spirit in my soul. How do I then show him (and assure myself) that this is not ultimately a form of subjectivism?
Michael Kruger says
Thanks for the questions. I refer you to the lengthier discussions in my book Canon Revisited (chapt 3 in particular), and the many others who have discussed this idea in the history of the church (Calvin, Owen, etc). I would imagine that few regard these historical figures as committed to subjectivism. Also, as far as whether the Spirit’s work can be regarded as subjectivism, this is dealt with at length by Alvin Plantinga in his Warrant trilogy (especially Warranted Christian Belief). Although Plantinga is dealing with belief in God being prompted by the Spirit (rather than belief in canon), the same principles apply.
OK. Thank you! I will look into Plantinga on this issue. Actually, I’m reading your book at the moment, and I’m currently on…chapter 3. Thanks again, Dr. Kruger.