Are Christian apologists references to the Bible circular?
The charge that references to the Bible are circular is one that is made in debates over apologetics. I think when you look at the facts, however, the charge really falls short.
First, the logical fallacy itself is directed toward an argument not the use the use of a book. This means that the notion of circularity is being stretched beyond what the original fallacy is for.
Second, arguments come in all shapes and sizes. Grouping them together like this is a bit dubious. Kind of an over-generalization fallacy.
Third, this mal-adaption of this fallacy misunderstands the fundamental nature of the Bible. The Bible is 66 books combined, not one book. In this way, the other 65 books check back against the risk of circularity as understood in this acussation.
Fourth, this simply doesn’t make sense. For instance, if I read that running improves health or I have a friend recommend that I run because it improves health–I test that out in my own life. There is an ultimate empiricism to many of the recommendations of the Bible. As such, the idea of supposed circularity can be “solved” by testing the principles of the Fruits of the Spirit both personally and therefore empirically, but also historically and culturally.
Fifth, there are lots of arguments–for instance the Historical Jesus which go outside the text to other verifications. Every apologist book I’ve read, at least that I can remember includes
1) logical and philosophical reasoning
2) citation of other scholarly works
Both of those are legitimate ways of finding truth that avoid circularity.
Sixth, the use of the Bible is often for purposes of definition and clarification. For instance, what do Christians stand for? What do Christians believe? What are Christian values? Well, getting that information from “the horses mouth” makes a lot of rational sense. For instance, using the Fruits of the Spirit here in Galatians to determine what some of the core principles of Christian are.
Seventh, in practice this means that all autobiographies are circular and shouldn’t be trusted. This is surely a dubious standard.
Eighth, this notion isn’t used in our legal courts. People get to testify in cases about themselves. They don’t just throw out the evidence. If you threw out the evidence–thats a net worse standard of evidence.
Ninth, it neglects part of the nature of historical documents, particularly in relation to oral history. We have a limited number of documents from that period. Moreover, the Bible passes the historical documents test thats grounded in the work in antiquities and history. That should be more than enough. To reject it out of hand smacks of bias and discrimination rather than fairness, logic, and rationality–and even consistency.
Tenth, Christian apologists aren’t limited to the Bible as their only source of proof. They can use other documents, experience, histories, reason, and evidence from other disciplines like archeology (for instance this)
Finally, I’ve written about this supposeded fallacy before. You can read that article here if you like to learn more why this accussation of circularity of Biblical reference simply isn’t true.
I think when you look at the case for the Historical Jesus and avoid this accussation–you find a better way toward Truth.
More Christian Apologists Resources on the Historical Jesus Question: