Bad Arguments in the Bible

In The Truth about God, I discussed three kinds of problem in the Bible: its internal inconsistencies, its falsehoods, and its immorality. But bad arguments should perhaps be regarded as a fourth category — smaller than the other three (there aren’t many arguments in scripture), but nevertheless just as problematic. For why would God’s inspired word contain bad logic — especially when the topic is of the highest importance?

Here are three bad arguments, all supposedly from Paul.

1. The resurrection proves that a day of judgment is coming:

In Acts 17:30-31, Paul tells the Athenians that “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead [emphasis added].”

But even supposing the resurrection took place, would that give assurance to all that Jesus was God’s appointee? Would that mean that we are no longer living in times of human ignorance and therefore have no excuse? Obviously not. The resurrection isn’t sufficient; it must also be the case that we all have clear evidence of it. Since we do not, it is simply wrong to claim that the resurrection provided “assurance to all” of anything whatsoever. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Paul himself did not believe in Jesus until the road to Damascus episode. So why didn’t God’s raising Jesus from the dead provide him with the assurance that he later claimed others had?

2. The resurrection proves we all have an afterlife:

This one’s even worse. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul asks, “how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? … If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.”

But of course even if Jesus was raised, that says nothing about the rest of us. In fact, the original idea of the resurrection was to set Jesus apart, as someone who was able to defy death itself — thus supposedly proving he was divine. And most Christians still claim this.

It is true, as Paul also implies, that if no one has been raised from the dead, "then Christ has not been raised." But it doesn’t follow that if Christ was, it is because everyone is. A little bit of Aristotelian logic would have helped Paul’s muddled mind.

3. Nature demonstrates there is a God:

Romans 1:20 declares that “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature… have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So [non-believers] are without excuse…”

This is the design argument, of course, and even though it isn’t quite as bad as the first two, it is still a bad argument — and even many believers admit as much. So once again, why is it in scripture?

[All quotations are from the NRSV]