Thomas B. Warren's Basic Argument for the Inspiration of the Bible
It has long been a three-fold abiding passion of mine: (1) to develop the basic argument which would prove without doubt that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and authoritative word of God, (2) to help younger men to see this truth, and (3) to encourage them to communicate this truth to others by means of oral speech, journal articles, tracts, and books. I am convinced that I did develop the basic argument for such proof.
These are the words of the late Dr. Thomas B. Warren as recorded on page v of the Introduction to the 1975 book by Rubel Shelly titled, What Shall We Do with the Bible? It is the goal of this essay to share and explain this argument developed by Warren. The purpose of such is to help a new generation understand the fact that the God of heaven has revealed His will to mankind via the Holy Bible. Likewise, it is hoped that some will be encouraged to spread the message.
Knowing whether or not the Bible is inspired is of supreme importance. The religion of Christianity is based upon the Bible. Christians use the Bible as their guide to moral and virtuous living, church organization, worship, and as their guide to Heaven. Thus it is indeed crucial that this book rise above and beyond mere human production. It must be the very words of God. The Bible makes very bold claims for itself as it does in fact profess to be from the mind of the One True and Living God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jeremiah 1:9; Malachi 1:1; et. al.). But simply to claim inspiration does not make it so.
There are certain things that one must know before he can rationally say that he believes such things as, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8), or even, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). [All scripture references are taken from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.] To make a claim to religious knowledge, one must know that God exists and that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is only after these two logically prior steps that one can say, “If the Bible teaches X, then I can know that X is true.” It is beyond the scope of this essay to prove the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Such is presupposed in this article. Armed with the knowledge that God exists, that He is all-powerful and all-loving, we must now concern ourselves with questions regarding supernatural revelation. First, would God want to supernaturally reveal Himself? As evidenced by the Godhead (God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit), God is part of a loving community and is desirous of fellowship (cf. Genesis 1:26-27; Exodus 29:45; 2 Samuel 7:24; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; et al.). Certainly God would desire to communicate with those He has created and loves. Second, could God supernaturally reveal Himself? Obviously, a Being that can create this immeasurable universe ex nihilo (Psalms 33:6; Hebrews 11:3) has the power and ability to reveal Himself. Third, would God have to supernaturally reveal Himself? Yes. While His existence (along with such attributes as power and goodness) can be deduced from creation itself (Romans 1:20), vital specifics must be revealed by God to man. For example, no individual can know God’s plan for saving man without divine insight. In order to live eternally with God in Heaven, man must know what God requires of him in this life. Fourth, how would God choose to reveal Himself and His will to man? In times past, God revealed Himself via prophets and even His Son, Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2; John 14:9; et al.). However, He has since chosen an objective and permanent method of communication: the written word (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21). This fact brings us to the crux of the matter. Fifth, if God has revealed Himself via the written word, is it possible to know that any given document is indeed the word of God? How could one book be seen as divine and another as merely human since many books claim to be from God? It must be agreed that there are certain necessary and sufficient characteristics of a divine document. This is the basis for the argument proposed herein.
The argument that proves the inspiration of the Bible and that
was formulated by Thomas B. Warren is:
1. If it is the case that the Bible possesses property A, property B, property C. . .property Z (where the total situation involved in having such properties makes it clear that the Bible is beyond mere human production) then the Bible is the word of God.
2. It is the case that the Bible possesses property A,
property B, property C. . .property Z.
3. Conclusion: Therefore the Bible is the word of God.
In this argument, when I refer to property A, property B, property C, etc., I mean for these designations to stand for affirmative propositions regarding some fact regarding the Bible. It is clear that the argument is valid in form (it is a hypothetical syllogism in which the antecedent of the major premise is affirmed). Thus the only way the argument could be shown to be unsound (that is, that the truthfulness of the conclusion does not follow from the premises) would be to show that at least one of the premises is false. (17-18)
This logical argument allows us to show in a positive fashion that the Bible is a document that can be explained only on the basis of supernatural revelation. Necessary and/or sufficient characteristics of the Bible would include such things as the prophecies that were made and fulfilled, the scientific and historical accuracy, and the unity of theme and thought in the book.
Apologists fail in their attempt to defend the divine origin of the Bible when they take an approach different from this. Tradition cannot be the guide. Subjective feelings obviously cannot be the guide. It is even a failure to say something like, “I conclude that the Bible is inspired because it is more reasonable to believe it than not to believe it.” One example of such tactics can be found in the work of popular American apologist, Josh McDowell. After laying out seven different ways in which the Bible is unique and different from all other documents (continuity, circulation, translation, survival, teachings, influence on literature, and influence on civilization), he concludes by saying, “the evidence presented above (except for possibly that of fulfilled prophecy) does not prove that the Bible is the Word of God. But to me it clearly indicates that it is superior to any and all other books” (36). Certainly it proves nothing if the evidence is not handled correctly. The apologist must associate the evidence with a sound argument. In the preface to his aforementioned book, Shelly pointed out the importance of connecting the inspiration of the Bible with a logical argument:
It is felt that this book is unique in that it offers not only a number of facts relevant to the subject of the inspiration and authority of the Bible but also presents the logical tool which demonstrates that these facts demand the conclusion that the Bible is from God. Many writers set forth facts without bothering to incorporate them in a logical argument. In the strictest sense of the term, such a parading of data without a logical structure does not “prove” anything at all. A thousand pages of facts may not justify the conclusion claimed by their compiler; only when the facts are presented within the framework of a valid argument is any conclusion justified and established. (ix)
Let us proceed by giving an example of how one would go about providing evidence that proves our premises to be true. A brief examination of predictive prophecy as found in the Bible and its ability to be confirmed via archeology and history will stand as “property A” in our argument. Certainly a skeptic would claim that it would be circular and unsound reasoning to claim belief in fulfilled prophecies simply because the same book notes both the prediction and the fulfillment. Thus one must turn to outside sources, or external evidences, to confirm that the prophecies of the Bible have been legitimately fulfilled.
The Bible itself has placed great emphasis on predictive prophecy as proof of the truthfulness of the things revealed therein. Note the challenge issued to the false prophets and gods of Babylon in Isaiah 41:22-23, “Let them bring them forth and show us what shall happen; let them show the former things, what they were, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods. . . .” The clear implication is this: only God can accurately predict the future.
Shelly has also stated that true prophecy must be evaluated in light of three definite criteria. First, the prophecy must deal with nations, people, and events that are remote enough in time as to be incapable of guesswork or logical deduction. Second, the prophecy cannot be a matter of vague generalizations but must involve minutely detailed predictions. Third, the fulfillment of the prophecy must be clear and unequivocal (21-22). In other words, for the predictive prophecy to be legitimate there must be sufficient time lapse between prediction and fulfillment, the prediction must be specific, and there must be accurate fulfillment with the impossibility of fraud.
It must be the case that the Bible possesses “property A” which is beyond human production. Utilizing the general argument developed by Warren, Shelly advanced the following specific argument:
1. All predictive prophecies which can be explained solely on the basis of supernatural influence and which were clearly made known before their corresponding fulfillments are evidences (proofs) which verify the claims of the religion involved.
2. All predictive prophecies recorded in the Bible are predictive prophecies which can be explained solely on the basis of supernatural influence and which were made known before their corresponding fulfillments.
3. Therefore, all predictive prophecies recorded in the Bible are evidences (proofs) which verify the claims of the religion involved. (20)
One of the most famous biblical prophecies that can be checked against archeology and history is that of the fall of the city of Tyre. This was a Phoenician city located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea about one hundred miles from Jerusalem and about thirty miles from the Sea of Galilee. It had two superior harbors: one on the mainland, where the major portion of the city was built, and a second on an island located less than one mile from the coast. Trevor Major lists seven precise predictive prophecies that were made in Ezekiel 26 and the corresponding archeological and historical evidence that proves fulfillment:
1. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon shall destroy the mainland portion of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:(7-8). Nebuchadnezzar II laid siege to Tyre for thirteen years beginning in 585/6 BC.
2. Other nations are to participate in the fulfillment of the prophecy (Ezekiel 26:3). Alexander the Great besieged and captured the port in 332 BC, and Ptolemies, Seleucids, Romans, and Muslim Arabs all had their turn at rule.
3. The city is to be flattened, like the top of a rock (Ezekiel 26:4, 14). Alexander used the building materials of the mainland city, and any other rocks and soil in the immediate vicinity, to build a causeway to the island.
4. It is to become a place for the spreading of nets (Ezekiel 26:5, 14). The waters around Tyre were renowned in ancient times for their fishing. This was all the fame the city could claim after its complete decimation by Alexander.
5. Its stones and timbers are to be laid in the sea (Ezekiel 26:12). As noted in number 3 above, the building of the causeway came from the remains of the mainland city.
6. Other cities are to fear greatly at the fall of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:15-18). Many fortified cities in the region capitulated to Alexander after they saw the genius and relative ease with which he captured Tyre.
7. The city will not be inhabited or rebuilt (Ezekiel 26:20-21). Alexander sold almost all of Tyre’s inhabitants into slavery, and the city forever lost its importance on the world stage. (95)
Peter Stoner and Robert Newman calculated the mathematical probabilities for these seven predictions. The chance that all seven would prove to be correct is 1 in 75,000,000 (79). Considering the divine judgment upon Tyre and the accuracy of Ezekiel’s prophecy, this is an historical event that can be explained solely on the basis of supernatural influence.
The prophecy concerning Tyre is simply the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Other nations such as Babylon were predicted to fall. The Old Testament is replete with what is known as messianic prophecies. The New Testament records their fulfillment. The biblical record is impressive. Geisler and Nix wrote the following:
Another forceful external testimony to the inspiration of Scripture is the fact of fulfilled prophecy. According to Deuteronomy 18, a prophet was false if he made predictions that were never fulfilled. No unconditional prophecy of the Bible about events to the present day has gone unfulfilled. Hundreds of predictions, some of them given hundreds of years in advance, have been literally fulfilled. The time (Dan. 9), city (Mic. 5:2), and nature (Isa. 7:14) of Christ’s birth were foretold in the Old Testament, as were dozens of other things about His life, death, and resurrection (see Isa. 53). Numerous other prophecies have been fulfilled, including the destruction of Edom (Obad. 1), the curse on Babylon (Isa. 13), the destruction of Tyre (Ezek. 26) and Nineveh (Nah. 1–3), and the return of Israel to the Land (Isa. 11:11). Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the Veda. But none of those books contain predictive prophecy. As a result, fulfilled prophecy is a strong indication of the unique, divine authority of the Bible. (196)
Considering the information presented above, our premises concerning the Bible and prophecy have proven true. Therefore the conclusion must be true: “all predictive prophecies recorded in the Bible are evidences (proofs) which verify the claims of the religion involved.” Thus the truth of “property A” has been shown. When the same is done for property B, property C . . . property Z (where the total situation involved in having such properties makes it clear that the Bible is beyond mere human production), then it will have been logically demonstrated that the Bible is the word of God.
We close this study with these words from Thomas B. Warren:
The world needs to know that God has given his word to man—that the Bible is that word—that the Bible is the inspired, the inerrant, the complete, the powerful, and authoritative word of the eternal God. . . . The only really good reason why religious doctrine should be accepted there is no really good reason why it should be accepted. God has given us the truth—the Bible! We can learn that truth and we can obey it. May the Lord help us all to love, obey, and preach the truth. (24)
It is comforting to consider the fact that the mighty God of heaven cares for His creation so much that He has revealed His will to mankind via the Holy Bible. It is of further comfort to be certain that we possess the word of God. We can know the truth and know that we know it as we have seen such logically demonstrated. We can know that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father and He is our Savior. Now we must spread the message.
I must acknowledge my debt to Dr. Ralph Gilmore of Freed- Hardeman University. His lectures and notes in the area of Christian apologetics (not to mention his infectious love for the Lord) have been an invaluable resource to a countless number of students. He studied at two different universities under Dr. Thomas B. Warren and now shares his vast knowledge with the next generation of apologists.
Thomas Bart Warren did undergraduate work at Oklahoma Christian University and holds two graduate degrees from Freed-Hardeman University. He is the grandson of Thomas B. Warren and is Vice President of Warren Christian Apologetics Center. He serves as Associate Editor of Sufficient Evidence. Mr. Warren may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Rev. and expanded. Chicago: Moody, 1996.
Major, Trevor. “The Fall of Tyre.” Reason & Revelation. 16.12 (1996): 93-95.
McDowell, Josh. Evidence for Christianity. Nashville: Nelson, 2006. Shelley, Rubel. What Shall We Do With The Bible? Jonesboro: National Christian Press, 1975.
Stoner, Peter W. and Robert C. Newman. Science Speaks. Chicago: Moody, 1976.
Warren, Thomas B. “The Bible is God’s Word—The Meaning of and Basic Argument for This Claim” The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible: 1971 Bible Lectureship of Harding Graduate School of Religion. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1971.