Approach to Genesis >>back home

(i) Can Scripture be used to prove Scripture?

It is sometimes urged that the appeal to Scripture to prove Scripture (even the appeal to the pronouncements of Jesus to do so) is invalid, since it begs the question; it is reasoning in a circle. That this need not be a conclusive objection can be illustrated by reference to a parallel problem: how can we satisfy ourselves of the validity of our physical senses as sources of reliable information? At least sometimes, on the face of it, they seem to prove unreliable (witness mirages, ventriloquism and referred pain). If we attempt an answer to this problem it will almost certainly be found that it involves the same sort of apparent question‑begging as in the case of Scripture. Thus we may reply that we believe our eyes are not deceiving us because we can also touch the object we see: further, other people can see and touch it. But this is plainly to assume for our sense of touch (or for other people's) the sort of validity we wish to establish for our sense of sight. The same is true of the use of our reasoning faculty 1. In the last analysis the fact is that by reason of our creaturely status we cannot have final conclusive proof. Ultimately we have to take some position as 'given'., and start from there. The situation is presented firmly and poignantly in Eccles.3.11 (JB): "...though God has permitted man to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end."  We shall be wise to accept this, and to ask only what is the most reasonable position from which to start. We must decide for ourselves: but the Bible puts it in unequivocally plain language: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111.10; Prov.1.7; 9.10; cf. Job 28.20‑28; Prov.15.33). I append here a remark of Wolfgang Weidlich, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stuttgart 2:

"On the most favourable level every thought has a quasi‑circular character, since on the one hand it must assume at least its own validity, but on the other hand, at this basic level, no genuinely independent means of verification can be found outside this thought" (cf. John 14.11).

(ii) A Testimony

      One of the most scholarly modern writers on the biblical doctrine of Creation is Claus Westermann, Professor Old Testament at Heidelberg. The following extracts from his CREATION 3 show what a considerable change has come over critical scholarship since Gunkel 4 wrote in his famous essay of 1895, "it can be taken as assured that, ultimately, Genesis 1 is of Babylonian origin":

"It is both remarkable and undeniable that the passages dealing with Creation and primeval time which at the high point of the Enlightenment had been dismissed as utterly outmoded, have found a hearing once more in the second phase of the technological age. When the astronauts read out the story of Creation from the first chapter of the Bible before setting off for the moon, this was neither emotion nor enthusiasm. Rather, the words of the Creation narrative were suited to the event. In this spirit they were read, in this spirit they were heard by thousands. The achievements of science and technology in the first phase of the technological age gave rise to arguments for questioning the belief in Creation. An achievement in this same area in the second phase provides the occasion for the recitation of the Creation story . . The attacks of the Enlightenment, with its glorification of the natural sciences and its ridicule of the nursery tales of the biblical‑ecclesiastical tradition, have now run their course, and the emotion has evaporated."

Prof Westermann goes on to point out the unexpected universality of many elements of the biblical creation narrative, such as the formation of man from mud, clay, or dust, and the life‑giving breath in Sumerian and Babylonian myths: the first offence, fratricide, and so on: these go right back to primitive cultures on all continents. "How is this striking agreement explained?" he asks. "The conclusion is unavoidable that mankind possessed something common in the stories about primeval time . . . common to races, peoples, and groups throughout the whole world" (my italics). He refers readers to H Baumann, CREATION AND PRIVEVAL TIME OF MAN IN THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE AFRICAN PEOPLES (1936; 1964). He suggests that these are all a response to man's sense of being under threat in a threatened and threatening world, a sense which was (and remains) of world‑wide incidence and power. But why should man, we may ask, as a creature of Nature, feel threatened by Nature, and why should Nature be threatened? These are ultimate questions, and clearly hold a most vital key to the human situation. It is my conviction that there is no satisfactory answer but that given in the Bible: a primeval act of disobedience to the Creator (before mankind dispersed), and the inevitable alienation that this entailed ‑ to God, to one another, and to nature 5. It is time we all recognized this, before our civilization destroys itself and perishes miserably 6.

(iii)  The status of human governments

The 'higher criticism' of the Bible 7 has been one of the major influences which has weakened the hold which biblical authority once had on the educated mind in the West. Once it is accepted that we can account for this body of literature in wholly naturalistic terms, what grounds are there for regarding it as "God's Word written", theopneustos as Paul says? 8. Yet the dangerous logic behind the 'higher criticism' fails before the Bible's insistence on the sovereignty of God. Nowhere is this more evident that where human government is in the picture. We commonly (and rightly) think of a king as inheriting a kingdom. a rebel as seizing power, a prime minister as winning an election. But in the biblical view, however true such ideas may be on the demographic level (and it accepts their validity), on the ultimate level governments exist by the sovereign disposition of God. Thus a particular Pharaoh had been raised up by God; Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar had been set on the throne of Babylon by Him; Pilate had been divinely charged with the administration of Judaea 9, and so on. However hard for human minds to grasp, all Scripture insists on it. The most helpful analogy is the 'double agency' existing between a human author and the characters in his tale (see chaps. III, XV and XVI).

NOTES

1   See Prof Paul Helm for this argument (Themelios 4,20‑24,1978)

2     Wolfgang Weidlich, SCIENCE AND RELIGION, Second European Conference on Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990

3   Westermann, Claus CREATION reproduced in English translation, SPCK 1974

4     Gunkel, Hermann The Influence Of Babylonian Mythology Upon the Biblical Creation Story (1895) in CREATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT ed. B. W. Anderson (SPCK London 1984)

5     Gen.3.22ff; Isa.63.10; Ezek.23.18f; Eph.4.18ff

6     Exod.17.14; Isa.30.13f; Jer.51.60‑64; Nahum 1,2,3; Luke 13.1‑5

7     If the liberal position is consistently accepted no biblical teaching whatsoever can be taken for certain as divinely given, even that recorded of Jesus himself (for instance, Mark 8.16‑21; Matt.25.31‑46; John 11.38‑44). Many liberals would accept that this is so; others would prevaricate.

8   Thirty‑nine Articles, no.20 (BCP); 2Tim.3.16

9          Rom.9.17; Dan.5.18‑23; John 19.10,11. See also 2Sam.7.8; Isa.44.28‑45.6 and passim.