Biblical Archaeology—Silencing the Critics – Part 1
|By: ATRI Staff; ©2006
|Garner Ted Armstrong put it this way: “Does it make sense to you that a little Chinese girl, age 3 ½, sweet little innocent baby, is going to be dancing from brick to brick, beating at flames for all eternity because a missionary had a flat tire?” The issue, of course, is whether God would consign to hell those who have never heard the Gospel.
Biblical Archaeology—Silencing the Critics – Part 1
Significantly, even liberal theologians, secular academics, and critics generally cannot deny that archaeology has confirmed the biblical record at many points. Rationalistic detractors of the Bible can attack it all day long, but they cannot dispute archaeological facts. Consider the weekly PBS series “Mysteries of the Bible.” Despite some shortcomings, such as the theologically liberal experts and non-Christian commentators, this program has offered example after example, week after week, of the archaeological reliability of the Bible.
To further illustrate, probably the three greatest American archaeologists of the twentieth century each had their liberal training modified by their archaeological work. W. F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, and George Ernest Wright all “received training in the liberal scholarship of the day, which had resulted from the earlier and continuing critical study of the Bible, predominantly by German scholars.” Despite their liberal training, it was archaeological research that bolstered their confidence in the biblical text:
- Albright said of himself, “I must admit that I tried to be rational and empirical in my approach [but] we all have presuppositions of a philosophical order.” The same statement could be applied as easily to Gleuck and Wright, for all three were deeply imbued with the theological perceptions which infused their work. Albright, the son of a Methodist missionary, came to see that much of German critical thought was established upon a philosophical base that could not be sustained in the light of archaeological discoveries…. Nelson Glueck was Albright’s student. In his own explorations in Trans-Jordan and the Negev and in his excavations, Glueck worked with the Bible in hand. He trusted what he called “the remarkable phenomenon of historical memory in the Bible.” He was the president of the prestigious Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an ordained Rabbi. Wright went from the faculty of the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago to a position in the Harvard Divinity School which he retained until his death. He, too, was a student of Albright.
Glueck forthrightly declared, “As a matter of fact, however, it may be clearly stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact details historical statements in the Bible.”
In fact, “Much of the credit for this relatively new assessment of the patriarchal tradition must go to the ‘Albright school.’ Albright himself pointed out years ago that apart from ‘a few diehards among older scholars’ there is hardly a single biblical historian who is not at least impressed with the rapid accumulation of data supporting the ‘substantial historicity’ of patriarchal tradition.”
And, in fact, this is true not just for the patriarchal tradition but the Bible generally. The earlier statement by assyriologist A. H. Sayce continues to hold true today: “Time after time the most positive assertions of a skeptical criticism have been disproved by archaeological discovery, events and personages that were confidently pronounced to be mythical have been shown to be historical, and the older [i.e., biblical] writers have turned out to have been better acquainted with what they were describing than the modern critics who has flouted them.”
Millar Burrows of Yale points out that, “Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics. It has been shown in a number of instances that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal, artificial schemes of historical development….” And, “The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.”
Many other examples could be given of how firsthand archaeological work changed the view of a critic. One of the most prominent is that of Sir William Ramsay. Ramsey’s own archaeological findings convinced him of the reliability of the Bible and the truth of what it taught. In his The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament and other books, he shows why he came to conclude that “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness” and that “Luke is a historian of the first rank … In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
As part of his secular academic duties, Dr. Clifford Wilson was for some years required to research and teach higher critical approaches to the Bible. This gave him a great deal of firsthand exposure and insight to the assumptions and methodologies that go into these approaches. Yet his own archaeological research was found to continually refute such skeptical theories, so much so that he finally concluded, “It is the steady conviction of this writer that the Bible is … the ancient world’s most reliable history textbook….”
In a personal communication he added the following,
- I was not always the “literalist” I am today. I’ve always had a profound respect for the Bible, but accepted that the use of poetic forms meant that the record could often be interpreted symbolically where now I take it literally—though of course there are times when symbolism is clearly utilized. Thus in later Scriptures “Egypt” can be a geographic country or a symbolic term.
- That liberalism is especially true in relation to Genesis chapters 1 through 11, often considered allegorical or mythical, where my researches have led me to the conclusion that this is profound writing, meant to be taken literally. There was a real Adam, creation that was contemporaneous for the various life forms as shown in Genesis chapter 1, and a consistent style of history writing—such as the outlines given in Genesis one, then zeroing in on the specifics relating to mankind in Genesis chapter 2; the history of all the early peoples in Genesis chapter 10, then the concentration on Abraham and his descendants from Genesis chapter 11 onwards. Early man, “the birth of the lady of the rib,” long-living man, giants in the earth (animals, birds, and men), the flood, the Tower of Babel—and much more—point to factual, accurate recording of history in these early chapters of Genesis.
- Over 40 years have passed since I first became professionally involved in biblical archaeology and my commitment to the Bible as the world’s greatest history book is firmly settled. As Psalm 119:89 states, “Forever O Lord, your word is established in heaven.”
Indeed one of the most valuable contributions of modern archaeology has been its reputation of higher critical views toward scripture. Consider for example the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls.
J. Randall Price (Ph.D., Middle Eastern Studies) currently working on a forthcoming apolo‑getic text on biblical archaeology writes, “Those who expect the [Dead Sea] scrolls to produce a radical revision of the Bible have been disappointed, for these texts have only verified the reliability and stability of the Old Testament as it appears in our modern translations.”
He further points out how the Daniel fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls should require scholars to abandon a Maccabean date. The same kind of evidence forced scholars to abandon Maccabean dates for Chronicles, Ecclesiastes, and many of the Psalms. But so far, most scholars refuse to do this for Daniel: “Unfortunately, critical scholars have not arrived at a similar conclusion for the Book of Daniel, even though the evidence is identical.” In fact, according to Old Testament scholar Gerhard Hasel, a date for Daniel in the sixth or fifth century BC “has more in its favor today from the point of view of language alone than ever before.” The Dead Sea Scrolls also provide significant evidence for the unity and single authorship of the Book of Isaiah. Dr. Price concludes, “The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, then, has made a contribution toward confirming the integrity of the biblical text and its own claim to predictive prophecy. Rather than support the recent theories of documentary disunity, the Scrolls have returned scholars to a time when the Bible’s internal witness to its own consistency and veracity was fully accepted by its adherents.”
- Keith N. Scoville, Biblical Archeology in Focus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), p. 163.
- Ibid., p. 163.
- Norman L. Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), p. 179.
- Eugene H. Merrill, Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, “Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy” in Roy B. Zuck (Genesis ed.), Vital Apologetic Issues: Examining Reasons and Revelation in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1995), p. 180.
- A. H. Sayce, Monument Facts and Higher Critical Fancies (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1904), p. 23, Cited in Josh McDowell, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Arrowhead Springs, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1975), p. 53.
- As cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Arrowhead Springs, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972) p. 66.
- William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Bookhouse, 1959), p. 91; cf. William M. Ramsay, Luke the Physician, pp. 177-79, 222 from F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1971), pp. 90-91.
- Clifford Wilson, Rocks, Relics and Biblical Reliability (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Richardson, TX: Probe, 1977), p. 126
- J. Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996), p. 146.
- Ibid., p. 159.
- Ibid., p. 163.
- Ibid., p. 164; cf. p. 157.