Does Archeology provide any support that stories in the Bible actually happened, or does it refute the Judeo-Christian faith?
The Biblical text is rooted in time, place, and history. This week’s lesson focuses on where the biblical text is consistent with known history from outside the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. Many of the events in the Bible depend on their historic accuracy for the doctrines/beliefs that follow (such as the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth), while others may depend less on actual historicity. But the Biblical documents are certainly filled with names of actual places and people.
In contrast, archeologists have, to this point, not found any evidence for the claims of the book of Mormon, that Jews from Palestine settled in South America and built some significant cities there had horses, certain foods, etc. The Book of Mormon, which claims to be a history of Jesus in the Americas, yet it’s people take everything about the stories on faith.
But for the Christian or Jew today, archaeology frequently confirms Biblical events and peoples to be historically accurate. For many centuries, no mention of King Belshazzar of Babylon was known outside of the book of Daniel, so secular or critical scholars believed the author invented the name. But cuneiform tablets uncovered in Babylon mention him as son of Nabonidus, who took the throne following Nebuchadnezzar, explaining perfectly his offer to make Daniel “third ruler of the kingdom” when the Jewish prophet read the writing on the wall.
Rather than exploring texts directly this week (there are plenty in the quarterly!), we’ll pose some questions about the historical reliability of the Bible and its literary nature, our faith in its message, and the ways in which we know what we know or believe what we believe.
Assuming the premise that the Jewish and Christian writings composing the Protestant Bible were actually written with as much historical accuracy as possible, yet by fallible humans, what evidence might we expect to find in archaeological digs in Biblical lands, in the writings of other contemporary civilizations (like Egypt, Babylon, or Rome)? Some agreement should certainly be found if enough evidence is uncovered; however, we know some civilizations altered history in their written accounts in order to always appear to be the victor; defeats were not accounted for (as the quarterly mentions about Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem). But Jewish history rarely does this, since much of their histories were composed by prophets who foretold their downfall because of spiritual decline, idolatry, and immoral living. Israel’s stories become more believable simply because of the many defeats they include.
What happens when we base our trust in the Bible only on outside corroborating evidences for its trustworthiness, and then an archaeological find seems to disprove a certain story or Judeo-Christian belief?
What are the strongest evidences for the Bible’s message? Are they from the fields of literature, biology, geology, archaeology, or the humanities?
From what source does faith in God come to us in the first place? Must someone accept the absolute reliability of the entire Bible as a factual history of earth before having a relationship with God or hearing His voice?
How can we be both students of the sciences, literature, and history, and still be fully devoted followers of God through His Word when the two sides are sometimes at odds?
Jesus of Nazareth
An influential academic movement has attempted to discern between the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the “Christ of Faith.” The latter figure of “the Christ” is supposedly an embellishment of the former, Jesus the original Jewish rabbi and sage who walked the earth, perhaps healing some people, but whose teachings and life reached mythical proportions in the Biblical gospels. In other words, this approach denies the historical reliability of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and prefers extra-Biblical gospels such as Thomas to be more accurate to who Jesus was. Many of the miracle events in Jesus’ life can be discarded as legends which developed around their beloved Messiah figure. The resurrection certainly isn’t a historical event, and thus “faith” is only a spiritual experience of taking on the teachings of Jesus. We believe in the Christ that has been presented to us through several centuries of church veneration and exaggeration of his life.
Many of the scholars in this category study with presuppositions tainted by agnosticism or outright atheism. There is plenty of evidence from history that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. Even most atheistic scholars affirm this. But for them, much of the Biblical accounts are just so much theological ax-grinding, and cannot be trusted to represent the facts of Jesus’ life.
To maintain this position, however, much of the Old Testament must be set aside. It is the Bible’s own internal consistency—a form of study called Canonical Theology—that gives evidence for Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension. More than 15 times throughout the book of Matthew, he uses the words “it was fulfilled,” and then quotes or paraphrases an Old Testament writer and shows how events in Jesus’ life were foreshadowed, prophesied, or typified in the Old Testament. More will be said about this next week.
Do a search of a concordance, digital (Accordance/Logos/Bibleworks) or online Bible (blueletterbible.org, biblegateway.com, etc.) and find the “fulfillment passages” in Matthew. In what way does Matthew cite the Old Testament? Why does he see a fulfillment in each of these stories or prophecies?
If the God of the Bible didn’t really do the things the texts suggest He (or Jesus) did what is the purpose of trusting in Him? If He didn’t actually part the waters of the Red Sea or calm the storm on Galilee, why should I trust Him to lead me through difficult times? Why should I be willing to die for my faith if there is no future hope of resurrection based on Jesus’ own rebirth from death? Our faith in the promises of God are directly related to our conviction of His ability to do what He says. Thus, our own actions, and how we live day-to-day, and the attitudes we bear, are dependent on our trust in Him as reliable, as our rock that cannot be moved.