2Pe 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
I did a search of this site today for Leslie’s Four Reasons, using his name, and found I have written three previous articles here where I mention him, but I have apparently never shared his argument directly in full. I have modernized the language, since Leslie wrote some time ago. So far as I know as of this date, no one has refuted his argument for the truth of the Bible and the historicity of the events it contains. This material I took from Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible. Read to learn. Refute it if you can or wish. Study it carefully or you will miss the point. I take this information from my work, The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury, where I placed this information as a note on 2 Peter 1:16.
We now come to an argument for the credibility of the facts contained in Scripture which has never been answered and never can be. Infidels have repeatedly been challenged to answer it but they have never even made the attempt. It is the argument of Leslie in his Short and Easy Method with the Deists.
This argument rests solely upon the peculiarity of Christian evidence, already mentioned, by which the truth of the religion is indissolubly connected with certain matters of fact which could originally be judged of by the senses, and also upon the fact that there exist in the Church certain ordinances commemorative of those facts. Thus the truth of our religion seems to be embodied in institutions that now exist, and in observances that pass before our eyes.
The object of Leslie is to show, from the nature of the case—for here we make very little reference to written testimony—that the matters of fact stated could not have been received at the time unless they were true, and that the observances could never have been originated except in connection with the facts. In showing this, he lays down four rules, and asserts that any matter of fact in which these four rules meet must be true, and challenges the world to show any instance of any supposed matter of fact, thus authenticated, that has ever been shown to be false. Leslie’s four rules are these:
Four Rules of Historicity
How can matters of fact be absolutely certain to have happened, when such matters of fact and the incidents which they reflect, happened ever so long ago?
Any asserted matter of fact may be certainly known to be true if such matter of fact meets the following four conditions:
1. The matter of fact must be something that observers who were there at the time could have known reliably as something they witnessed by means of their outward senses—eyes and ears, and so could be judges of it.
2. The matter of fact or incident must have been done publicly, in the face of the world.
3. The matter of fact or incident must have had some kind of public monument kept up in memory of the event, in regard to which some outward actions continue to be performed.
4. That with regard to the incident or matter of fact, not only public monuments be kept up in memory of it, but that such monuments and actions, or observances, began and were instituted from the time that the matter of fact was done, or happened.
Any matter of fact in which these four rules of historicity meet must be true; no such matter of fact, thus authenticated, has ever been shown to be false.
The first two rules make it impossible for any such matter of fact to be imposed upon men at the time, because every man’s eyes and ears, and senses, would contradict it. At the time, this would be a matter respecting which the unlearned and the young could judge as well as the learned and experienced.
An application to the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament: It would be impossible for the children of Israel, in that generation, to have believed that they passed through the Red Sea, or went out and gathered manna every morning, or drank water from the rock, or that the Mosaic Law was given with the terror and solemnity described in the Bible, if these things did not happen.
An application to the Greek Scriptures or the New Testament: It is just as impossible that five thousand men should have believed they were fed by Christ; or that the relatives of Lazarus, and the Jews who knew him, as well as hostile scribes and Pharisees on the scene (who subsequently conferred how Jesus might be put to death for such an unanswerable miracle), should have believed that Lazarus was raised from the dead, or the parents and friends of the man born blind, that he was made to see; or that the multitudes before whom Jesus healed the lame, and the sick of every description, should have believed that these events took place, if they did not. These miracles are of such a nature that, unless they were really wrought, it is impossible they should have been believed in at the time.
Therefore, it only remains that such matter of fact might have been invented some time after, when the men of that generation wherein the thing was said to be done are all past and gone; and the credulity of subsequent ages might be imposed upon to believe that things were done in former ages which were not.
For this, we invoke the last two rules:
The last two rules secure us as certainly as the first two rules in the former case. For, whenever such a matter of fact came to be invented, if not only monuments or records were said to remain of it, but likewise public actions and observances were constantly used ever since the matter of fact was said to be done, the deceit must be detected by no such monuments or records appearing, and by the experience of every man, woman, and child, who must know that no such actions or observances were ever used by them.
Application to the books of Moses: At whatever time it might have been attempted to impose the books of Moses upon a subsequent age, it would have been impossible, because they contain the laws and civil and ecclesiastical regulations of the Jews, which the books affirm were adopted at the time of Moses, and were constantly in force from that time. They contain an account of the Passover, which they assert to have been observed in consequence of a particular fact.
If, then, a book had been put forth at a particular time, stating that the Jews had obeyed certain very peculiar laws, and had a certain priesthood, and had observed the Passover from the time of Moses, while they had never heard of these laws, or of this priesthood, or of a Passover, it is impossible the book should have been received. Nothing could have saved such a book from scorn or utter neglect.
Application to the New Testament. But what the Levitical law, and the priesthood, and the Passover were to the Jews, baptism, and the Christian ministry, and the Lord’s Supper are to the Christians. It is a part of the record of the Gospels that these were instituted by Christ; that they were commanded by Him to be continued until the end of time, and were actually continued and observed at the time when the Gospels purport to have been written—that is, before the destruction of Jerusalem.
But if these books were fictions invented after the time of Christ, there would have been at that time no Christian baptism, nor order of Christian ministers, nor sacrament of the supper, thus derived from His appointment; and that, alone, would have demonstrated the whole to be false.
Our books of the New Testament suppose these institutions to exist; they give an account of them; and it is impossible they should have been received where they did not exist.
It is impossible, therefore, that these books should have been received at the time the facts are said to have taken place, or at any subsequent time, unless those facts really did take place.
We now regard the sacrament of the supper as an essential part of the religion; it was so regarded by our fathers; nor can we conceive that it should have been otherwise back to the very time when the religion was founded.
Thus we have a visible sign and pledge of the truth of the New Testament accounts, handed down, independently of written testimony, from age to age; and the force of which age has no tendency to diminish.
The strength of this evidence: Notice the great strength which Christian evidences derive from this proof. Notice the contrast in strength of evidence for the facts of Christianity and those of ordinary history.
Not only is it impossible to point out any statement of fact, substantiated by these four rules or marks of historicity, that can be shown to be false, but none of the best authenticated facts of ancient history have them all.
Consider the Fourth of July, as observed by us, to illustrate the effects of such commemorative ordinances as guarding against false historical accounts.
For any person to have invented the New Testament after the time of Christ, and to have attempted to cause it to be received, would have been as if a man had written an account of the American Revolution, and the celebration of the Fourth of July from the first, when no revolution was ever heard of, and no one had ever celebrated the Fourth of July. Nor, when such a festival was once established, would it be possible to introduce any account of its origin essentially different from the true one.
But the case of the historicity of the New Testament accounts and the Christian religion based thereon is much stronger because there are several different institutions and observances which must have sprung up at its origin; because baptism and the Lord’s Supper have occurred so much more frequently, and because the latter has always been considered the chief rite of a religion to which men have been more attached than to liberty or to life.
Credible because no others. But again: our books are credible because there are no others. That such a movement as Christianity must have been, involving the origin of so many new institutions, and such ecclesiastical and social changes should have originated at such a time and in such a place, and that no written documents should have been drawn forth by it, is incredible. And that the true account should have perished, leaving not a single vestige behind it, and that false ones, and such as these, should have been substituted, is impossible. Of the origin of such institutions we should expect some account. That of our books is adequate and satisfactory. There is nothing contradictory to it, for even spurious writings confirm the truth of our books, and there is no vestige of any other (Modified for easier reading from Linton, pp. 161-164, citing Mark Hopkins, who is citing Leslie).