BECAUSE THE BIBLE TELLS THEM SO
For four days during the Gulf Coast Lectures in Portland, Texas, I sat patiently listening to fundamentalist
preachers speak on various subjects related to the Bible inerrancy doctrine. Altogether, I sat through nineteen
35-minute lectures centered around the lectureship theme, "The scripture cannot be broken," but all I heard was
a continuous babble of non sequiturs, question begging, and circular reasoning. The primary argument of the
speakers was that the Bible is inspired of God, because it says that it is.
When I say this, I am not exaggerating. One speaker lecturing on the reliability of biblical numbers said
that he knew the ancient patriarchs listed in Genesis 5 lived for hundreds of years, "because the Bible says they
did." Another speaker whose subject was "Did Moses Write the First Five Books of the Bible?" began by saying
that the answer was a simple yes. "Even when our answer was challenged [in the past]," he said, "most would be
able to respond with, 'The Bible tells us so.'" Such was the evidence presented at this lectureship to prove that
"the scripture cannot be broken." Whatever the Bible says was accepted as irrefutable proof, so, in effect, they
were arguing, "The scripture cannot be broken because we and the Bible say that it can't."
After the lecture on the authorship of the Pentateuch, I had a brief conversation with the speaker during
which I said that he would at least have to admit that Moses did not write the last chapter of Deuteronomy. His
response was, "Oh, why's that?" When I replied that this chapter recorded the death and burial of Moses and
that surely he could not believe that Moses wrote a chapter of the Pentateuch after he was dead, the speaker
said that he would have to check that. This ended the conversation, because I couldn't see much value in dis-
cussing the authorship of the Pentateuch with an "expert" who apparently didn't know that it ends with a record
of Moses' death and burial.
I was at the lectureship to debate the issue of prophecy fulfillment with H. A. "Buster" Dobbs, a Church-
of-Christ preacher and editor of the fundamentalist paper Firm Foundation. He affirmed that prophecy fulfill-
ment proves that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God; I affirmed that New Testament claims of prophecy
fulfillment in the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth were fabrications or misapplications of Old Testament
scripture. At debates, people tend to see what they come to see, and the occasional "amens" in response to my
opponent's frequent "plays to the gallery" and the hearty congratulations he received from the crowd at the end
of each session indicated that the largely fundamentalist audience that had come to see their man give the athe-
ist a good shellacking got what they had come for.
From my perspective, the results were entirely different. I opened the debate with an affirmative speech
that presented five New Testament claims of prophecy fulfillment that are obvious fabrications. These were
John 7:38 where Jesus allegedly said, "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall
flow rivers of living water"; Matthew 2:23 where it was claimed that the "prophets" had said that Jesus would be
called a Nazarene; Matthew 27:9 where it was said that Jeremiah had prophesied of the 30 pieces of silver that
Judas cast down before the chief priests; and Luke 24:46 and 1 Corinthians 15:4 where both Jesus and Paul
claimed that it had been written in the scriptures that the Christ would rise from the dead on the third day.
As each of these fabricated prophecy fulfillments was introduced, I emphasized to the audience that Mr.
Dobbs could "send me packing immediately" by just citing books, chapters, and verses where any such "prophe-
cies" as these had been made in the Old Testament as claimed by the New Testament writers. As much as time
allowed, I warned the audience of the quibbles that Dobbs might use in his evasion of the issue. As predicted,
these were the exact quibbles that Dobbs resorted to, and to save face he said that he really had nothing to reply
to because I had rebutted my own arguments. To the quibbles that I predicted, he did add another: the Old
Testament very often gave the "substance" of prophecies without giving the "particulars," and sometimes
prophecies were "acted out" in the Old Testament. As an example, he cited the exodus as an "acting out" of the
calling of Jesus out of Egypt, which was one of Matthew's many prophecy fulfillment claims.
Another of his quibbles was that Jesus was called a Nazarene in Isaiah 11:1 and 53:2, which referred to a
"branch" from the stock of Jesse. Dobbs contended that the Hebrew word netser (branch) is the word from
which Nazareth came so that in effect Nazareth could have been called "Branchtown." In subsequent speeches,
I cited Strong and Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, as well as a Bible dictionary available in the Portland public li-
brary, all of which say that the etymology of the name Nazareth is uncertain, yet Dobbs stuck to this quibble.
During one of the morning lectures, an appeal was made for personal contributions to help raise $1200 to
send a man in the audience to the Memphis School of Preaching to train for the ministry, so at one point in the
debate, I produced my personal checkbook, held it up before the audience, and said that I would write a per-
sonal check to this man for the entire $1200 if anyone in the audience would produce the exact Old Testament
scripture where it was unequivocally said that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene or where the words
Nazareth or Nazarene were even used, period, in the Old Testament. I even stopped speaking at one point and
stood in silence for 30 seconds to allow anyone in the audience (which had many preachers in it) to produce the
scripture. Needless to say, nobody did, yet the crowd congratulated Mr. Dobbs for a job well done. You figure
An unfortunate aspect of the debate was Mr. Dobbs' imposition of a set of rules that interfered with open
discussion of the issues. Dobbs had adamantly stated that he would not debate unless we used his rules, so in
order to have a debate, I agreed at the last moment to let him impose his rules. One of the rules permitted the
negative speaker to suspend time indefinitely to question the affirmative, and another rule (after the opening
round of 25-minute speeches) limited the negative speaker to no more time than the affirmant took in his
speeches. Thus, in a time frame that should have allowed me two 25-minute and four 20-minute affirmative
speeches, I got to give only two 25-minute and one 10-minute affirmative speeches, so I was unable to present
most of my materials.
Through abuse of the other rule cited above, Dobbs turned the last session of the debate into a farce.
After my 25-minute rebuttal of his affirmative speech, he would walk to the podium and make an assertion and
then sit down. The time he used to make his assertions ranged from six to 90 seconds, so about seventy minutes
were spent with the two of us walking back and forth from our tables to the podium, him to make an unsup-
ported assertion and me simply to remind the audience that assertions are not arguments and therefore cannot
possibly be rebutted in just a matter of seconds. None of his partisans in the audience would have dared admit
it to me, but at this stage of the debate, I think I saw several expressions of embarrassment in the crowd.
In his first affirmative speech, Dobbs spent most of his 25 minutes playing to the gallery. Reading from a
prepared speech that he finished in 24 minutes and 58 seconds, he made constant references to my detestable
atheism and the despair and hoplessness that it represented. During all this time, he said nothing that could in
any way be construed as a defense of his proposition. In the final minutes of the speech, he referred to a chart
that presented thirty-two prophecy-fulfillment claims, but refer was all he did. He made no attempt at all to
analyze the Old Testament statements to show that they did in fact mean what fundamentalists usually interpret
them to mean and presented no evidence, other than the mere New Testament references, to prove that the
events actually did happen in the life of Jesus. Throughout the debate, I pressed Dobbs for extrabiblical evi-
dences that Jesus was an actual historical character, but he was unable to present any beyond the well known
disputed statements from Josephus and Tacitus. After I presented reasons why critics consider both statements
spurious, he never brought them up again.
Like the fundamentalists in the audience who went away satisfied that they had gotten what they came to
see, I probably cannot evaluate the results of the debate objectively, but in my opinion, Dobbs had nothing to
offer in defense of the prophecy-fulfillment argument but the usual tripe that has been discredited and redis-
credited a thousand times. I have had the opportunity to view the video tapes of the debate, and my impression
is stronger than ever that Mr. Dobbs failed miserably to produce evidence to support his prophecy-fulfillment
belief. From beginning to end, he could do nothing but argue that the Bible says X, so, therefore, it has to be
While the debate was in progress, I complained about Dobbs's abuse of the suspension-of-time rule
mentioned above and particularly his insistence on preaching little sermonettes rather than answering the ques-
tions when I was cross-examining him. At the time, I was concerned that his tactics were interfering with open
discussion of the issues. However, after having viewed the tapes, I was able to see that, if anything, his strategy
backfired on him. Although diehard fundamentalists will no doubt think that he cleverly manipulated the rules
to give himself additional speaking time, I am sure that objective, open-minded viewers of the tape will get an
entirely different impression. They will see a man with no evidence to offer beyond "the Bible says," who each
time a question was presented to him during cross-examination rambled for two minutes about anything that
popped into his mind, whether it related to the question or not, and often cut his eyes to his wall chart to cue
himself on something to say.
I will, however, give him credit where credit is due. He skillfully manipulated to his advantage the rules
that he had held out for and, with the added benefit of a biased decision-making moderator who settled all
disputes over interpretations in his favor, he was able to play a good game of damage control. He thereby kept
the audience from hearing arguments that I had planned to present on the alleged prophecies in Isaiah 7:14,
Micah 5:2, Jeremiah 31:15, Deuteronomy 18:17-19, Genesis 3:15, and Daniel 9:24-27, all of which are frequently
cited as amazing examples of prophecy fulfillment.
Video and audio tapes of the debate can be obtained from Thomas Gardner, P. O. Box 865, Hurst, TX
76053, telephone (817) 282-2745. The video tapes are $25 postage paid, and the audios are $15 plus $1.35 for
postage. My name is misspelled; otherwise the quality of the tapes is good.