Because the Bible Tells Them So
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
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 [ref001]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
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 discussing 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 fulfillment 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 atheist 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 [ref002]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"; [ref003]Matthew 2:23
where it was claimed that the "prophets" had said
that Jesus would be called a Nazarene; [ref004]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
and [ref006]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 "prophecies" 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
, 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 library, 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
personal 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 it out.
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 unsupported 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 evidences 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 rediscredited
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 true.
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 questions 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 [ref009]Isaiah 7:14
, [ref010]Micah 5:2
, [ref011]Jeremiah 31:15
, [ref012]Deuteronomy 18:17-19
, [ref013]Genesis 3:15
, and [ref014]Daniel 9:24-27
, all of which are frequently cited as amazing examples of
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.