Archaeology and the Biblical Record-Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004
The authors list several instances where archaeology has confirmed the accuracy of both the Old and New Testaments.

Archaeology and the Biblical Record—Part 4

“Nowhere has archaeological discovery refuted the Bible as history”—John Elder, Prophets, Idols and Diggers[1]

In considering the Old Testament, archaeology has vindicated the biblical record time and again. The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, written by a score of experts in various fields, repeatedly shows that biblical history is vindicated. To illustrate, the editor’s pref­ace remarks,

Near Eastern archaeology has demonstrated the historical and geographical reliability of the Bible in many important areas. By clarifying the objectivity and factual accuracy of biblical authors, archaeology also helps correct the view that the Bible is avowedly partisan and subjective. It is now known, for instance, that, along with the Hittites, Hebrew scribes were the best historians in the entire ancient Near East, despite contrary propaganda that emerged from Assyria, Egypt, and elsewhere.[2]

John Arthur Thompson was director of the Australian Institute of Archaeology in Melbourne and has done archaeological fieldwork with the American Schools of Oriental Research. In The Bible and Archaeology he writes,

Finally, it is perfectly true to say that biblical archaeology has done a great deal to correct the impression that was abroad at the close of the last century and in the early part of this century, that biblical history was of doubtful trustworthiness in many places. If one impression stands out more clearly than any other today, it is that on all hands the over-all historicity of the Old Testament tradition is admitted. In this connection the words of W. E Albright may be quoted: “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament traditions.”[3]

Geisler and Brooks point out,

In every period of Old Testament history, we find that there is good evidence from archaeology that the scriptures are accurate…. While many have doubted the accuracy of the Bible, time and continued research have consistently demonstrated that the Word of God is better informed than its critics.[4]

For example, many aspects of Bible books have been confirmed over the views of critics, in particular the books of Moses, Daniel, Ezra, Kings, and Luke in the book of Acts. Daniel, for example, because of its clear supernatural predictions, is dated by critics to the time of the Maccabeans, around 165 B.C., though Daniel himself indicates or implies a sixth century B.C. date at the beginning of every chapter but one. Critics had also doubted the Exile and the return of the Jews referred to in the book of Esther, as well as its official government decrees. And the chronological records of the books of Kings were held to be hopelessly confused, according to the critics. To the contrary, archaeologist Dr. Clifford Wilson and others have provided many examples of how archaeology has confirmed the accuracy of these books. In his Rocks, Relics and Biblical Reliability, Dr. Wilson supplies examples, some of which we quote below:

There are other evidences of eyewitness recording by Daniel. That he knew Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt Babylon (Daniel 4:30) is a problem by those who argue for a later date for Daniel. This fact of history was recovered by excavation only in modern times, yet Daniel had recorded it correctly. One critic wrote that this was a difficulty; the answer to which “we shall presumably never know”…. Linguistic pointers from the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., a recent targum of Job) also suggest an early, not a late, date for Daniel…. The overthrow of the nonhistorical view of the Exile and the return of the Jews came with the finding of the famous Cyrus Cylinder…. By this decree [of King Cyrus] the Hebrew people were given leave to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem…. The same can be said about the style of writing in the Book of Ezra, for as Albright says; “If we turn to the Book of Ezra, recent discoveries have indicated the authenticity of its official documents in the most striking way.” Albright shows that the language of Ezra had been seriously challenged, but that some of the very words that have been challenged have turned up in Egyptian, Aramaic, and Babylonian cuneiform documents that date to the exact time of Ezra. Albright goes on: “If it were practicable to quote from still unpublished Aramaic documents from fifth century Egypt, the weight of factual evidence would crush all opposition”…. Still another convincing evidence of the genuineness of the Bible records is in The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings by Edwin R. Thiele. Where once it seemed that the dates of the kings in the divided-kingdom period were inaccurate and vague, he has been able to show remarkable synchronisms…. Once again, an area that many believed was total confusion has been shown to be staggeringly accurate recording, with fine chronological interweaving that cannot be claimed for any other book of ancient history.[5]

The reliability of the New Testament is also confirmed; based on archaeological data, “theevidence for its historical reliability [is] overwhelming.”[6] In the case of the book of Acts,

It is widely agreed today that in this book [Acts] we can see the hand of a historian of the first rank…. Luke is shown to be a most careful recorder of information, whether it be matters of geography and political boundaries, local customs, titles of local officers, local religious practices, details of local topography, or the disposition of buildings in Greek or Roman, Asian or European towns.[7]

A. N. Sherwin-White remarks, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”[8]

Consider some examples of Luke’s accuracy in historical reporting:

Luke demonstrated a remarkably accurate knowledge of geographical and political ideas. He referred correctly to provinces that were established at that time, as indicated in Acts 15:41; 16:2, 6-8. He identified regions, such as that referred to in Acts 13:49, and various dues, as in Acts 14:6. He demonstrated a clear knowledge of local customs, such as those relating to the speech of the Lycaonians (Acts 14:11), some aspects relating to the foreign woman who was converted at Athens (Acts 17:34), and he even knew that the city of Ephesus was known as “the temple-keeper of Artemis” (Acts 19:35)…. he refers to different local officers by their exact titles—the proconsul (deputy) of Cyprus (Acts 13:7), the magistrates at Philippi (Acts 16:20,35), the politarchs (another word for magistrates) at Thessalonica (Acts 17:6), the proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12), and the treasurer of Corinth (Aedile)—which was the title of the man known as Erastus at Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23)….
Luke had accurate knowledge about various local events such as the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:29); he was aware that Zeus and Hermes were worshiped together at Lystra, though this was unknown to modern historians (Acts 14:11,12). He knew that Diana or Artemis was especially the goddess of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28); and he was able to describe the trade at Ephesus in religious images (Acts 19:26-27).[9]

As Merrill C. Tenney, professor of New Testament, points out about Luke’s writings, the Gos­pel of Luke and the book of Acts, “The two volumes he wrote comprise at least one-fourth of the total canon of the New Testament and provide the only piece of continuous historical writing that covers the period from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to the establishment of a church in the capitol of the Roman Empire.”[10] In other words, the fact that Luke has been established as such a careful writer means that fully one-fourth of the entire New Testament, on the basis of his accuracy alone, bears the same marks of authenticity.

But it is this very same careful historical writer, the physician Luke, who reports that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead “by many convincing proofs”—and that he had carefully investigated the evidence for this from the beginning (cf., Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). If Luke was so painstakingly accurate in his historical reporting, on what logical basis may we assume he was credulous or inaccurate in his reporting of matters that were far more important, not only to him but to others as well?

Noted biblical scholar and apologist Dr. John Warwick Montgomery summarizes the evidence when he writes, “Modern archaeological research has confirmed again and again the reliability of New Testament geography, chronology, and general history.”[11] And Dr. Wilson concludes, “Those who know the facts now recognize that the New Testament must be accepted as a remarkably accurate source book….”[12]

In general, if not always in the particulars, the entire Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, has been strikingly confirmed. Kitchen remarks that after “a fair and full investigation of the total available resources, the verdict is frequently a high measure of agreement between the Bible and the world that is its ancient and original context.”[13] Dr. Schoville observes, “Thus far, no historical statement in the Bible has been proven false on the basis of evidence retrieved through archaeological research.”[14] Thompson concludes his book by stating, “It is very evident that the biblical records have their roots firmly in general world history.”[15] Archaeologist Joseph Free, chairman of the department of archaeology at Wheaton College and later professor of archaeology and history at Bemidji State College in Minnesota, concluded his Archaeology and Bible History with the following words: “I thumbed through the book of Genesis and mentally noted that each of the 50 chapters was either illuminated or confirmed by some archaeological discovery—the same would be true for most of the remaining chapters of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.”[16]

Again, given the large amount of data already uncovered in the last 150 years, this is no insignificant conclusion. There are literally thousands of opportunities for archaeological re­search to indisputably prove the Bible false—and yet it has never done so.

Notes

  1. John Elder, Prophets, Idols and Diggers (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1960), p. 16, a book endorsed by an editorial board comprising American Liberal Clergymen, from Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduc­tion (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1974), rev.), p. 166.
  2. E. M. Blaiklock, “Editor’s Preface,” The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library/Zondervan, 1983), pp. vii-viii, emphasis added.
  3. J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 5.
  4. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), p. 200.
  5. Clifford A. Wilson, Rocks, Relics and Biblical Reliability (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Richardson, TX: Probe, 1977), pp. 98-110.
  6. Geisler and Brooks, p. 200.
  7. Thompson, pp. 375, 405.
  8. Cited in Geisler and Brooks, p. 202.
  9. Wilson, pp. 112-113.
  10. Merrill C. Tenney, “Historical Verities in the Gospel of Luke,” in Roy B. Zuck (gen. ed.,), Vital Apologetic Issues: Examining Reasons and Revelation in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1995), p. 204.
  11. John Warwick Montgomery, “The Jury Returns: A Juridicial Defense of Christianity” in J. W. Montgomery (ed), Evidence for the Faith: Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Probe/Word, 1991), p. 326.
  12. Wilson, p. 120.
  13. K. A. Kitchen, The Bible and Its World: The Bible and Archeology Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977), p. 134.
  14. Keith N. Schoville, Biblical Archaeology in Focus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), p. 156.
  15. Thompson, p. 442.
  16. Joseph P. Free and Howard F. Vos, Archeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), p. 294.

 

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