Defending the Historical Accuracy of the Bible
For many Christians, the Bible is primarily understood through the lens of faith. As a result, it can be difficult to know exactly how to respond when a non-believing friend or acquaintance asks questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible. Responding with something like “reading the Bible strengthens my faith and increases my belief, which is how I know it’s true,” or even something simpler like “the Bible teaches valuable morals,” might be completely true for you and your experience, but likely won’t do much to convince someone who has never read the Bible or is skeptical of its accuracy.
If you’re interested in being able to defend the historical accuracy of the Bible in casual conversation, it can be helpful to remember a few key facts about the Bible and its origins (If you need a refresher, there are plenty of helpful resources online. People have dedicated their careers to the historical accuracy of the Bible, so take advantage of their knowledge!). While these factors won’t give you specific comebacks to every challenge, you’ll be able to talk about the general reasons why the Bible is grounded in history and have a respectful discussion with almost anyone.
There have been thousands of archaeological finds that have confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible by proving that events from the Bible really took place. Similarly, we have yet to find any archaeological evidence that indisputably disproves any Biblical events. There are dozens of descriptions of archeological finds that confirm Biblical events, including the following:
- Remains of ancient churches and Peter’s house in Capernaum.
- Preserved first-century fishing boats found in the mud of the Sea of Galilee.
- Graffiti from Roman soldiers confirming the existence of Christians in the Roman army.
- DNA evidence of leprosy existing in the Middle East during Jesus’ time.
- Evidence of other crucifixion victims, confirming crucifixion took place in Jesus’ time.
If there is a specific historical event, location, or person described in the Bible that interests you, it’s worthwhile to do some investigating on your own. In many cases, you can find documented evidence that these events occurred.
The New Testament was Written Shortly After the Events that Took Place
There are several books that make up the New Testament. While not all of them were written by eyewitnesses, several of them were; this, combined with the fact that almost all the New Testament authors wrote their pieces shortly after the events of the New Testament, makes historical accuracy more likely.
At the latest, the four gospels were written around 40-60 years after the resurrection. While this may seem like a significant amount of time, remember that it is still well within the window that would allow for eyewitnesses and individuals who were there for the events described. Additionally, several New Testament books were written significantly before the gospels, including Paul’s letters and more. If these books were dramatically inaccurate when they were written and released, the people of the time would have been able to recognize this since they, too, were present for the events described in the New Testament.
Biblical Manuscripts Support Each Other
While we no longer have the physical writings of the Bible available to us—organic materials tend not to last well over thousands of years—we do have access to roughly 6,000 Biblical manuscripts. There is naturally some variation in these manuscripts based on the time they were written, the writer, and the language they were written in, but there have been no major theological discrepancies between them.
It would be natural for differences to arise at some point between these thousands of copies, but the fact that there are no major differences implies that they all came from the same well-recorded sources, not word of mouth stories or allegories alone. These transcripts themselves are also often extremely old, lending further credence to the historical accuracy of the Bible and the fact that the Bible has remained generally unchanged for thousands of years.
Original Writings Were Well-Preserved
This point goes hand in hand with our earlier point about Biblical manuscripts. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the world learned that our modern interpretations of the Bible were still very accurate. Accounting for stylistic and spelling differences, the messages of the Bible were supported by the contents of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.
Knowing that the Bible has remained the same for thousands of years is a strong indicator of the historical accuracy of the Bible and the idea that it came from a concrete, dependable source, and the original writers knew exactly how important the content was and made a concentrated effort to protect the information and keep it accurate throughout the years.
What Are Common Questions Asked About The Bible?
Understanding the historical accuracy of the Bible can be a lifelong study partly because there are so many lenses that the Bible can be viewed through. For some people, the best way to approach such a complex historical issue is through questions. Questions like:
What is Christianity?
Even this very basic question can have many answers. Every person you talk to will have a slightly different definition of Christianity, and the face of Christianity has changed significantly throughout world history. At its modern day core, it is any religion that is based on the teachings and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This broad definition includes dozens of different churches, which for the most part fall into one of three categories: Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism, or mainline Protestantism. Part of the beauty of Christianity is that it encompasses so many different people and different faith traditions.
Who Wrote the Bible?
The Bible has multiple authors. This range of authors explains some of the difference in content and tone present throughout the book. It also explains some of the slight differences that appear in the Bible. Several of the Gospels address the same events but may do so in slightly different ways, because they were written by different perspectives. It’s also important to consider Biblical interpreters and scribes. While they didn’t write the words of the Bible, their interpretations have had significant effects on how people interpret the Bible today.
Who is Jesus in other religions?
Every religion will regard Jesus differently, and the way they view Jesus is closely tied to the history of each of these religions, their countries of origin, and more. Islam, for example, teaches that Jesus was an important prophet but not a savior or the son of God. Similarly, Judaism views Jesus as a teacher, but not the Messiah. Sikhs believe Jesus was a holy man, while Buddhists tend not to have specific views of Jesus at all. While most non-Christian religions agree that Jesus was a good man and teacher, every religion comes with its own history, culture, and views of who Jesus was and is today.
Few Biblical questions have just one simple answer, but delving into the answers, even complex ones, is one of the best ways to begin to understand the historical accuracy of the Bible.
How do we know Jesus is real?
If you already believe in the Bible, you also naturally believe that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived in the Israel/Palestine area in ancient times. The Bible is by far the most significant historical reference to Jesus Christ and his life, which is enough to satisfy people all over the world that Jesus was a real historical figure. However, if you’re speaking to a friend or acquaintance who doesn’t believe in the Bible, you might suddenly find yourself unsure of the best way to convince them that Jesus really lived. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure what evidence you can use to supplement the Bible, consider this list:
Jesus Was Referenced in Other Historical Accounts
People who don’t believe in the validity of the Bible have other resources they can reference to see that Jesus really lived. There are multiple trusted historical sources that are not explicitly pro-Christian, but still clearly state that Jesus lived. Some of those sources are listed below.
The Bible is not the only historical document that specifically mentions Jesus of Nazareth. Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, mentions Jesus at least twice in his history of the Jewish people. Jewish Antiquities, which was published around 93 AD, describes James as the “brother of Jesus who is called the Messiah,” and later goes on to describe a man who performed “surprising deeds” and was condemned to death by Pontias Pilate.
Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, wrote a first-century record of the history of Ancient Rome called Annals of Imperial Rome that mentions Jesus as “Christus, the founder of the name [of Christianity], [who]was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.” Tacitus was not a Christian, and so had no reason to include this passage other than historical accuracy.
Other Non-Christian Sources
While Flavius Josephus and Tacitus might be the two most significant non-Christian scholars of the time to mention Jesus, they are not the only ones. Pliny the Younger and Suetonius are two more Roman historians who have specifically mentioned Jesus in various letters and writings. Other brief mentions of Jesus around this time might not give much detail into Christ’s life, but they make it clear that his existence was well-established enough that no one at the time doubted it.
While Paul, as a Christian, might have had more reasons to convince readers of Jesus’ existence, he was still in a position to know first-hand whether Jesus really existed or not. Bart Ehrman, author of Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, stated that “Paul knew Jesus’ brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did. If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed.”
Do The Experts Agree?
The majority of modern historians and professionals who have specialized in ancient Christianity, just like the historians of Jesus’ time, agree that Jesus was a real person. Byron McCane, archaeologist and historian of religions and Judaism at the Atlantic University of Florida, stated that “I do not know, nor have I heard of, any trained historian or archaeologist who has doubts about his existence.”
Other experts have pointed out compelling reasons why it doesn’t make sense to follow the Mythicist belief that Jesus was an idea, not a real man. Bart Ehrman, quoted above, also pointed out that “The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the enemies—and so if you’re going to make up a messiah, you’d make up a powerful messiah. You wouldn’t make up somebody who was humiliated, tortured and then killed by the enemies.”
A Lack of Archaeological Evidence is Normal, not Problematic
People who do not believe in the Bible or the existence of Jesus may point out that there is no hard archaeological evidence of Jesus’ life. Many relics from Jesus’ life have been proven to be misdated, and some artifacts, like pieces of the cross, are so numerous that they can’t possibly all be real. This might sound startling at first, but in reality, it’s completely natural. The vast majority of people who have lived on earth at any time have left no archaeological trace behind.
Archaeology is also more complex than yes and no answers. While there is no specific archaeological evidence of Jesus himself, for example, there is evidence of other Biblical events. There is evidence of Roman crucifixions, the existence of ancient Nazareth, and more. You don’t necessarily need hard proof of Jesus himself when there is evidence of the events that surrounded him and were described specifically in the Bible.
What Archaeological Discoveries Are Related to the Bible?
Archaeology is a key part of proving the literal, historical accuracy of the Bible.
Even if you have a personal belief in the accuracy of the Bible, it’s much easier to convince others of that accuracy when there is physical evidence of Biblical events. Additionally, it’s an exciting find even for already very devout Christians to see this physical evidence and imagine the role this archaeological find played in Jesus’ time.
There’s often less archaeological evidence available than we’d like to see, often just due to the simple fact that as Jesus lived roughly 2,000 years ago, a lot has changed, been lost, or destroyed since then. Despite all that, new finds are constantly coming to light that can enhance the way we read and perceive the Bible. Listed below are just some of the archaeological finds that can help prove the historical accuracy of the Bible—we’re confident that there will be more to come in the future.
1. The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most famous entries on this list, were found on the Western side of the Dead Sea in 1947. These scrolls contained Biblical writings from almost every book in the Old Testament. These scrolls were an incredible historical find in and of themselves, but they also showed how little the text of the Old Testament has changed from ancient to modern times. When they were compared to each other, the Bible translations in wide usage in 1947 were extremely similar to the ones found in these ancient caves, proving that the content and messages in the Bible were the same in modern and ancient times—very little had been changed or lost in translation over time, as some critics will argue.
2. Ketef Hinnom Scrolls
These scrolls were found in an ancient Judean tomb in 1979 and actually predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by a few hundred years. The scrolls specifically mention the name “Yahweh,” as well as the priestly benediction from Numbers 6, making them the earliest known citations of Biblical texts in Hebrew. As a result, these scrolls have played an important role in dating Biblical references and understanding how Biblical passages and benedictions were used in antiquity.
3. An Ancient Mosaic
An ancient mosaic depicting Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes was uncovered on the floor of what was once a church in the ancient city of Hippos. The city was built on a mountain that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, and so was in a prime location for influence from Jesus and his disciples. The mosaic, which is believed to depict Jesus feeding a crowd of people with the loaves and fishes, dates back to the fifth century and makes a convincing argument that word of Jesus’ miracles had spread and was influential in the area in ancient times.
4. The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Sumerian poem that describes the adventures of the hero-king Gilgamesh. It’s one of the oldest known pieces of literature and has plenty to teach in its own right. It also, however, has striking parallels to the Bible. The story of Noah and the flood and the concept of the Garden of Eden in particular have very similar companion stories in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh is significantly older than these Biblical stories, which has led some academics to believe that the Bible borrowed its content from this secondary source. However, others have argued that seeing such similar accounts from two different historical sources suggests proof that these events—such as the great flood—really happened.
5. The Crucified Man at Givat Hamivtar
This archaeological find is more gruesome than an ancient text but sheds light on the process of Ancient Roman crucifixion. The skeletal remains of a man who had been crucified by the Romans prove that not only did these crucifixions happen, but they happened very similarly to the way Jesus was described to have been crucified. The crucified man in this case had obviously had his feet nailed to a wooden beam, and had also had nails driven through his palms. Some elements of this crucifixion differ from the traditional portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion—for example, this man’s feet could not have been nailed together as the nail itself was too short—but despite these small potential differences, this crucified man can prove the historical accuracy of Ancient Roman crucifixions and Jesus’ own death as a result.
The Christian Bible
The Bible, as all believers know, is the scripture of the Christian faith. It tells the story of God and his people, from the beginning of time up to and through the first century A.D. Followers of Christ may know the Bible to be true, but how can the historical accuracy of the Bible be broken down for those who don’t believe?
The different books of the Bible each cover their own period of time, and can be seen as representative of their given time periods.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament is, for plain phrasing, the entire story of the Earth and God’s creation from the time we were formed, prior to the birth of Christ. The first story is that of Creation, in Genesis, and the story moves forward to teach of Original Sin, Noah’s flood, the Jewish people, and their plight in Egypt, and beyond.
But how accurate is it?
Moses, attributed to have written the first five books of the Bible, lived between 1500 and 1300 B.C. in the Middle East. These events took place long before his time, when stories were preserved by word of mouth, so it is likely that he was writing down what had been told to him over hundreds of years. The Egyptians developed some of the earliest written language, and so it makes sense that Moses would have been one of the first of his people to write it down, as “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” (Acts 7:22), and so would have the requisite linguistic skills to record history.
Moses recorded the Commandments that God gave to him, again, likely because he was able to read and write proficiently.
Thirty or more authors wrote the remainder of the Old Testament, from Joshua to Malachi, chronicling the life of the Jewish people over the course of the next thousand years.
Following the writings of Malachi, there is a nearly 500 year lapse in Biblical history. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and goes on to explore the lives of his apostles who went on to spread the Good News of Christianity.
Interestingly, the original Bible was written in Greek, collected by Jesus’s apostles.
It begins with the birth of Christ during a great journey to Bethlehem, where his family had to go by law to be counted for the Census of Quirinius. This event is historically documented, and backed up by many accounts.
Following the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the New Testament goes on to chronicle the early spread of Christianity through the ancient world. We can see instances of where his apostles went to this day, through old, established churches, exchanges of language and ideas, as well as in other historical texts describing these events.
When debating the historical accuracy of the Bible, detractors often bring up the inconsistencies between the four Gospels. Written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, respectively, these four books tell the story of Christ’s life through four different lenses.
Does this make them unreliable?
The four Gospel authors were men from distinctly different walks of life, each with their own relationship to Christ. Matthew was a tax collector before becoming a disciple of Christ, who later became a great evangelist. Mark was Peter’s secretary, hearing stories handed off through a second hand lens. This gives Mark a unique perspective– As he heard impressions of what Jesus had done, his accounts possibly most objectively reflect the historical times in which they took place. John, the youngest of the disciples, was sometimes known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” for his close, brotherly relationship with God. Luke was Paul’s traveling companion as he spread the Good News to the world.
All four of these men had different opinions, personal views, and most importantly, relationships to Christ. The differences between the accounts in these books reflect that, but it does not dismiss the historical accuracy of the Bible through the New Testament. To the contrary, it speaks to authenticity: Ask any four people, after sharing an evening, to recount the events separately, and you will get different responses.
The variations between the Gospels serve to confirm places of overlap as undeniable fact, while areas of divergence offer insight into historical times and attitudes held by those recording them.
The Book of Revelation is estimated to have been written around 96 CE in Anatolia, the peninsula splitting the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. Its author is described as “John the Elder,” a Christian living in isolation, and according to some scholars, likely in exile due to his Christian faith.
It speaks of the end of times, told to John by God during his hermitage. “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (Rev. 1.11), John writes, before chronicling the events God says will take place when the Earth as we know it ends. It’s impossible, of course, to argue the accuracy of future predictions, but the historical accuracy of the Bible in the books prior certainly makes a case.
Heaven and Hell
The Bible describes many instances and events that took place in ancient times, and even some that occurred before written history. We can see the places where most Biblical stories took place– Bethlehem, Israel, and Rome are all very real, tangible sites we can visit. When we examine the historical accuracy of the Bible, we find that many of the settings within are concrete and visible.
But what about places that we can’t visit so freely? The Bible speaks plainly about the afterlife, and the destinations awaiting us once we leave our human existence.
There are plenty of artistic renderings of Heaven in the media: Film, novels, paintings, and even comics try to portray heaven, but what is it?
In the Christian faith, heaven is most simply the place where God lives. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms,” (John 14:2), describing heaven and the room that is there for all followers of Christ. It is important to note that it is not a purely spiritual, metaphysical concept, as is the afterlife in many other faiths, but rather a concrete, physical location where our souls go.
The Bible is clear in stating that heaven is a real, actual location, but what is it like, and how do we get there?
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)
We know through Jesus’s teachings that the only way to get to heaven is through faith in Christ. His followers, by following their faith in actions and in thoughts can reach eternal life. It is a perfect place where we will be whole and loved, waiting to inherit the earth as His children. While none of us have been to Heaven, Christ has: He came to earth to tell us about the glory of His Father’s kingdom, and to tell us all that He was here to share it with us. We know Heaven is real, and we know what it is like, because each and every one of us knows Someone who came from there to tell us the good news.
The Bible tells us that humans are not made to live and die in this lifetime, but rather to live eternally. It goes to say that not everyone who has ever lived has found Christ or, indeed, has accepted him into their hearts. So what happens, then?
Many Christians avoid discussing Hell, finding the discussion to be unsettling and disturbing. They are right to find it so, but the squishy new age doctrine that cherry-picks from the New Testament is misleading when it comes to the teachings of Christ. In fact, Jesus mentions Hell more frequently than anyone else in Scripture.
What is Hell?
Hell is the absence of God in your eternal life. If God is Light, and we know this to be true from the Bible’s teachings, then Hell is darkness. In Matthew 13:42, Jesus says plainly of those who reject the Word, “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” This is harsh, it would seem, and many Christians shy away from it as a concept and indeed, a possibility for those who choose not to follow a path of righteousness.
Some detractors from the faith may say that Hell’s very existence is a blemish against Christ’s perfect love for us, but it is simply not so. Rather, the pain of Hell is further proof of God’s undying love: When Jesus was suffering the inhuman pain of death upon the cross for our sake, “My God, my God,” he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus died and underwent the greatest pain of all– the pain of being parted from God, our Heavenly Father. He descended into Hell for three days and experience the worst of sufferings, all so that he could save us.
Christ died so that our sins could be forgiven. Hell is not simply some punishment brought down upon those who dare to defy Biblical teachings, but rather a fate God wants to save each and every one of us from. It is humans who reject and turn away from that salvation, and with our free will, we ultimately have this choice.