How Natural Theology Helps Strengthen the Authority of the Bible

Author Brett Kunkle Published on 03/10/2017

Let us consider the claim the Bible is inspired, that it constitutes a particular instance of divine revelation. Certainly all worldviews cannot generate such a claim. For example, this claim does not fit in an atheistic worldview. Some version of theism is necessary. This seemingly obvious observation surfaces an important step in a top-down approach to establishing the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. As philosopher Richard Swinburne notes, “With all claims about particular occurrences which are to be expected on one world-view but not on another, it is crucial to take into account the other evidence for that worldview” (in his book Revelation, page 69). Therefore, before one argues for the Bible’s inspiration or inerrancy, we ought to look to the project of natural theology to provide good grounds for the existence of God and an account of his nature.

Of course, we have good reason to think God exists. The work of theistic philosophers over the last 30 years has significantly strengthened the arguments for God’s existence. A survey of and argumentation for theism is beyond the scope of this post, but I will briefly highlight three particular arguments. In recent years, the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments for God’s existence have come to prominence. Taken together, they offer strong evidence for God but not for just any god. In addition to His existence, these arguments offer evidence of His nature.

At minimum, the cosmological argument gives us reason to think God is a powerful being because He can create universes ex nihilo. His intelligence is exceedingly great in order to arrange all the constituent parts of the universe. Teleological arguments advance the case further. Anthropic insights commend God as being amenable to his creatures, as we discover cosmological constants that ensure our universe is hospitable to life.

The moral argument is especially helpful, offering insight into the social nature of God. Implicit in the moral argument is the social nature of moral obligations. The instantiation of moral obligations is internally related to personhood. Moral obligations only obtain between persons. Furthermore, the social nature of moral obligations makes sense of another feature of morality, incumbency. The incumbency of moral obligations demands something from us and binds us to something. They have an external force that presses in on us, compelling us to act or refrain from acting in certain ways. But moral obligations only obtain when there are at minimum two persons involved. Furthermore, a moral obligation has incumbency only when the corresponding command is issued by an appropriate authority.

Talk of persons, intelligence, commands, and authority puts us in the neighborhood of divine revelation. Why? Because no text has authority divorced from its author. Otherwise, one is left with locutionary acts (a linguistic statement) having no illocutionary force (the purpose or intent of the statement) whatsoever. A top-down approach that starts with natural theology provides the proper context in which to consider inspiration and inerrancy. A bottom-up approach starts with the phenomena of scripture and then moves to those issues. Liabilities abound with this approach, not least of which is the difficulty of getting past human authors to the divine author. However, by starting with natural theology, we start with the author of divine revelation, rather than the revelation itself. The authority of the Bible is grounded in the authority of the triune God. Thus, bibliology is not our starting point, theology proper is.

Here is the payoff of this approach. By bringing authority “down from above,” we provide certain a priori beliefs that greatly strengthen our justification for the fact of divine revelation and, ultimately, its nature and character. Indeed, our arguments for God’s existence and inferences about his nature lead to well-justified revelatory expectations.