This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
Suppose I accept that Jesus rose from the dead based on a secular perspective (investigating the gospel evidence). How would I move from here to full belief in the authority of the New Testament?
William Lane Craig's Response
This is a great question, Wilson, that I address in the chapter on doctrine of Scripture in my projected systematic philosophical theology. Let me try to summarize briefly what I say there.
I defend at least two ways in which we may justifiably conclude that the Scriptures are God’s authoritative Word to us.
1. First, Christians, around the world and for millennia, have the experience that God speaks to them through the Scriptures. They experience the Scriptures as God’s Word to them. This phenomenon of “experiencing as,” like the closely related phenomenon of “seeing that,” is well-known in other contexts. For example, someone unfamiliar with the rules of baseball may, like us, see a white ball hit over a fence, but he would not see that a home run has been hit. Someone may experience a trusted person’s action as a betrayal, whereas an ignorant third person would not experience the same action as a betrayal. Similarly, Christians may experience Scripture as God’s Word. Its truth and authority are in turn an implication of its being God’s Word.
On this account, belief in Scripture as God’s Word is what epistemologists call a properly basic belief, grounded in the experience of hearing Scripture as God’s speaking. It is a basic belief because it is not inferred from other, more foundational, propositional beliefs. It is properly basic because it is appropriately grounded rather than simply arbitrary. Among contemporary epistemologists the rationality of such properly basic beliefs is widely recognized. In the absence of some defeater, the belief that the Scriptures are God’s Word may be justified for us. The rationality of belief that Scripture is God’s Word will require a robust defense of Christian teaching by theologians and philosophers against putative defeaters.
So one way in which belief in the authority of Scripture may be justified for Christians is on the basis of our experiencing the Scriptures, especially the New Testament books, as God’s Word.
2. Second, we can also make a historical case for the authority of Scripture. Taking as one’s point of departure a sort of mere Christian theism, one appeals first and foremost to the authoritative teachings of the historical Jesus to warrant belief that Scripture is God’s Word. Such a case can be seen as confirmatory of the properly basic belief grounded in our experiencing Scripture as God’s Word.
A succinct historical case for scriptural authority might rely on premisses such as the following:
1. God exists.
2. God raised Jesus from the dead.
3. If God raised Jesus from the dead, God ratified Jesus’ teachings.
4. Jesus’ teachings were such that they could be plausibly interpreted to imply the authority of Old and New Testament Scriptures.
Of course, a robust defense of each premise will be necessary for this argument to confer justification upon belief in scriptural authority. The arguments of natural theology ground belief in (1), the existence of God, and the evidence concerning the fate of Jesus grounds belief in (2), God’s raising him from death. His resurrection vindicated Jesus’ personal claim to authority and, hence, (3), his teaching. In support of (4), one may argue historically that Jesus not merely assumed but actually taught the divine inspiration and authority of the Jewish Scriptures. What Scripture says, God says. It is therefore authoritative in its teaching. Therefore both Jesus and the New Testament authors based their doctrine upon its teachings. But Jesus did not limit himself to the authority of the Old Testament. Rather he claimed an authority in his own right that exceeded even that of the Jewish Scriptures. Moreover, he bestowed that authority upon his twelve disciples to extend his ministry, and that not simply to Israel prior to Jesus’ death. Rather Jesus took pains to equip the Twelve to carry on the ministry he had begun beyond his death to the entire world, so that what the apostles proclaimed, whether in speech or writing, had that same divine authority. The apostolic authors of the New Testament, including Paul, who was lately added to the company of the apostles, were well aware of the divine authority they exercised and the status of their message as the Word of God. Hence, by the end of the first century, New Testament writings such as Luke/Acts and the letters of Paul were already explicitly called “Scripture” by New Testament writers and recognized as such in the early church. So on the basis of the above premisses one may be rationally justified in believing in the authority of Old and New Testament Scriptures.
Thus, the witness of God Himself and of history combine to justify belief in scriptural inspiration and authority.