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Reading a Hebrew Scroll

Two Serious Problems for Presuppositionalism

The Canon of Scripture

How can a presuppositionalist decide which books belong in the canon of scripture? The typically-accepted canon does not contain an authoritative list. What if I were to “presuppose” that 1 Maccabees or the Book of Enoch belonged in the canon? What if I wanted to eliminate Jude, Hebrews, Esther and Obadiah? It doesn’t seem like these changes would cause any great, internal inconsistency. If we say that some new book is inconsistent with the other canonical books, first we must ask how we know that our existing books are canonical? How can we use the Deuteronomy 18 test for prophets without first assuming that Moses was a prophet? Determining the canon by strictly presuppositional methods is the height of circularity. I realise that staunch presuppositionalists are not necessarily opposed to this. But I live in optimism that every person’s tolerance for irrationality must have a breaking point.

Hermeneutical Principles

Where does a presuppositionalist get their hermeneutical principles from? From scripture? What hermeneutical principles were they using to interpret those scriptures? They cannot have been scriptural principles, because scripture had not been read yet! The presuppositionalist wishes to believe that they only use the words of God as their axioms. But in practice this simply cannot be true. The words “hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” mean nothing at all, unless they mean that Israel does not have 2, or 20, or 200 gods. But the denial of many gods is not stated explicitly. For these words to have that meaning, the speaker and hearer must have a prior commitment to the law of non-contradiction. Logical axioms are absolutely required to do even the most basic hermeneutics. That is to say, the very act of reading scripture must presuppose certain logical axioms.

2 thoughts on “Two Serious Problems for Presuppositionalism

  1. Interesting thoughts. I wonder if you’re taking presuppositionalism beyond it’s intended scope. I am a confirmed presuppositionalist, but I only hold to two foundational presuppositions. First, there is a God. Second, he has revealed himself to mankind. I then rely on evidential principles to determine which “god” is, and which alleged revelation is his revelation.
    I presuppose these two things because I must. I cannot conceive of a universe without a First Cause. And unless I presuppose such a First Cause, I must presuppose NO First Cause. The latter is beyond my capacity to do, so I choose the former. That such a First Cause is personal is essential if he exists, ruling out Pantheism. That he intends to communicate himself is abundantly evident in the things he caused.
    I find these two principles in Scripture. Hebrews 11:6 says “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” These two elements also show up in John 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:5, etc.
    So the presuppositions are deeply circular, but so are the alternative options. And their circularity in no way makes them irrational. Rather, there is sound, rational evidence and systematic internal consistency within the circularity.
    Van Til and Frame both have excellent arguments for presuppositional apology. Well worth the read if you haven’t yet.
    Grace to you.

    1. Editors Note: I have let this comment stand, but I believe it is based on a misunderstanding. Mr. Harris and I appear to share the same reasoning process about the existence of God. The difference is that he calls it “presuppositional”, but I think that label is incorrect. It seems to me that he is not “presupposing” God’s existence at all. Rather, he is reasoning his way to the existence of God as a first cause, starting from more basic axioms (like the law of causality and the law of non-contradiction). This is more in line with the classical school of apologetics (which I also prefer), as opposed to the strict presuppositional school or the evidential school.

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