The Bible: Could I Trust it?

 Since Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1439, the most printed book in history has been the Bible, with 2.6 billion copies printed since that time. If you took all the copies and stacked them end to end, the stack would reach one third the distance to the Moon (I did the calculations myself!)

 photo: a replica of the Gutenburg Press at the

Museum of the Bible Washington D.C.

The Bible declares itself to be “living” and “active”, as well as the standard for our morality.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.                                            Hebrews 4:12 NAS

Paul told his disciple Timothy that:

   All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.     2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible was written by more than 40 different authors, who came from all walks of life- kings, farmers, priests, shepherds, fishermen, a tax collector, a physician, a fig tree pincher, all apparently under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was written over a 1500 year period on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa), and in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Amazingly, all the authors agree on the basic message.

 But could I trust it? All Scripture? Every word?

 That was the question that I had to decide. I guess it’s the question that we all have to address at some point in our lives. Did God speak to mankind through this book? Is there a Divine Authority to its contents? Does God lay out His opinions on how we are to live our lives here on Earth? Can we believe what the Bible says about the origin of life; how we humans think and feel; life after death; who God is, and the great love that God has for us all?

 Or is it just another book filled with men’s opinions, mythology, and another philosophy of life?

 Let’s examine this question. Bear with me as we take a walk through history, and attempt to bring some facts to the table that might help you make an informed decision on this all-important question.

The Bible has had a tremendous impact on Western Culture.  My friend Dr. Randy Smith said in our book Living In The Spiritual World (p.49) that “If you stuck a syringe in to human history and sucked out the influence of the Bible, I think Western history as we know it would completely collapse. Just look at the influence of the Bible on our Declaration of Independence! The Bible has had a direct impact even on the lives of those who have tried to prove it wrong.”

The Bible had long been considered ‘The Truth’ by Western Culture during the latter days of the Roman Empire, and throughout the Middle Ages. Changes in opinions began to occur as scientific advances took place, and European culture moved away from a Biblical worldview. Remember that Galileo was brought to trial by the Roman Church authorities because he discovered that the Earth actually rotated around the sun. The Religious authorities claimed that the Bible stated that the Earth was the center of the Universe, and Galileo was forced to recant his statements. Later work by Copernicus and other astronomers confirmed a heliocentric solar system with the Earth being one of many planets in orbit around the Sun.

This cast doubt on the historical accuracy of the Bible as it was taught by the religious authorities. This was more to do with the Roman Church’s understanding of the document than what the Bible actually stated. Also many officials in the Roman Church had a desire to control the thought of the general population through the restrictions placed on the general public of reading the Bible themselves.

Because of this and other issues such as the selling of ‘indulgences’ for the forgiveness of sins, a movement developed which was called the Reformation that challenged the authority of the Roman Church, and insisted that each follower of Jesus should read the Bible, and if possible, in their own native tongue. There were many practices and traditions in the Roman Church that had no scriptural basis. Many felt that these practices and traditions were contrary to what the Bible actually taught.

 John Hus (1369 – 1415) was one of the first to make this declaration in the 15th Century. William Tyndall (1494–1536) was an Englishman who made a translation into English directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts in the 16th century. Both men were burned at the stake for their efforts by the religious authorities.

 

William Tyndall's Bible on display at the Museum of the Bible. GMB 2019

Others like John Wycliff and Martin Luther were successful in making translations into the vernacular (Middle English and German) and survived persecution to die natural deaths.

photo: Martin Luther's Bible displayed at the Museum of the Bible, along with my feet.

Within two years of Tyndall’s death, King Henry VIII authorized a translation of the Bible into English, which was mainly Tyndall’s translation, as was the King James version published in 1611.

Another movement that occurred simultaneously was a rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman literature, art, and sculpture. Long forgotten works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers were taught in the newly formed universities. The tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides became familiar to a new generation of theater.

 The Renaissance /Reformation of the 1500 and 1600’s produced two divergent views from the traditional Roman church religious outlook.

The Renaissance focused on the ancient Greco-Roman ideal of man as the center of life- Man being the measure of all things. The art reflected the perfect human form, in the perfect earthly background, with perfect lighting. Colors were vibrant as mankind’s reflection of his inherent goodness.  Now man became the source of moral values and truth. Raphael’s famous painting in the Vatican Museum, The School of Athens, portrays a discussion between Plato and Aristotle on the ‘ideals’ (finger pointing up) and the ‘particulars’ (hand facing down)

The School of Athens. Photo by Michael Bagby 2018

The Reformation focused on God, and His expression through His Scriptures. Religious practices based on extra-Biblical traditions were cast aside, and the cry ‘Solo Scriptura’ was heard in churches across northern Europe. Mankind was understood as fallen and corrupted through the sin nature, and the need for a Savior was evident in our standards of behavior which differed greatly from God’s standards as expressed in the Holy Scriptures.

Both movements occurred during a time of political power and spiritual corruption of the Roman Catholic Church as exemplified by Rodrigo Borgia, known as Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503), who had four acknowledged children from his favorite mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei, and five more children from others. Alexander threw a big party in Rome for the arrival of the 16th Century, inviting all to come to Rome for the month long event, with the promise that “any sins committed during the celebration would be forgiven beforehand.”

The conflicting views of the Bible continued in the scientific and philosophic movements of the next two centuries as humanism and rationalism became dominate. Many scoffed at the authenticity and relevance of the Bible, while others understood its value. Here are just two examples.

First, the French rationalist philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778).

“One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.…….If we would destroy the Christian religion, we must first of all destroy man's belief in the Bible."  

Late in life, Voltaire bought a home in Geneva Switzerland, which was later purchased by the Geneva Bible Society, and used to distribute Bibles. Never forget the God Factor.

Second, the most famous scientist of all time, Sir Issac Newton (1642-1727). His discoveries in optics, motion, and mathematics were responsible for the development of modern physics. His famous work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia is probably the most significant scientific book, as it set the example for empirical quantitive research and discovery. In his later years, he turned his attention to the spiritual world.

“We account the scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever.”  

During the Age of Enlightenment, rationalist thinkers overthrew the king of France, (1789-1793) and the new French Republic was one devoid of any Christian influence, with a new calendar divided into 12 months of 30 days with 10 day weeks – a rest day every 10 days instead of the traditional seven.

In August of 1793 The Goddess of Reason was declared by the government, and three months later a prominent citizen representing the Goddess of Reason was carried to the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral, followed by many government officials as well as members of the clergy wearing red Jacobin nightcaps. This was repeated several times in the next months with different women portraying the goddess. Thomas Carlyle noted in his three volume set The French Revolution, that

 “Mrs. Momoro (the wife of a printer), it is admitted, made one of the best goddesses of Reason, though her teeth were a little defective.”—Carlyle: French Revolution, vol. iii. book v. 4.

Jean Astruc (1684-1766) was a French professor of medicine who became famous for his published works on syphilis and venereal diseases, but also anonymously published a book challenging the origins of the Bible. Using contemporary methods of analyzing literature, Astruc presented the theory that Genesis was actually four separate earlier documents that Moses combined to write the book. The title of this book published in 1753 is "Conjectures on the original documents that Moses appears to have used in composing the Book of Genesis. With remarks that support or throw light upon these conjectures". Astruc’s ideas were later expounded on by the German Bible scholar Julius Welhaussen (1844-1918).

Wellhausen published his most famous work, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prolegomena to the History of Israel) in 1883. His analysis of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible which according to the Biblical text were authored by Moses, declared that in fact there were four different writers, based on the different uses of God’s name, (“J for Jehovah, “E” for Elohim), material in Deuteronomy that is different from the other books, and a later priestly source. According to Wellhausen, the “J” source was written during the time of Solomon, mid 900 B.C. “E” was written a hundred years later in the northern Kingdom of Israel. “D” was the third source, written sometime in the 700’s B.C. at the court of King Josiah, and finally “P” was added to the others in the 400’s B.C., probably under the auspices of Ezra. Wellhausen did not think the ability to read and write was widespread in the Second Millennium B.C. (1500) so that it was improbable that a desert culture actually had that ability to communicate in that manner. He speculated that this was a skill that came later, thus the later authorship.

Wellhausen’s theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis, and became the accepted understanding of the Books of Moses for most European and some American theologians. Variations of the documentary hypothesis are taught at many seminaries to this day and referred to as Higher Criticism, and casting doubt on the veracity of the Bible as it is written.

If Wellhausen is correct, then the events of Genesis and Exodus are akin to the stories of Greek mythology. There was probably no six day creation event, no Flood and no Trojan Horse. Personalities such as Adam, Eve, Abraham, Achilles, Agamemnon, Moses, David, Joshua, and Odysseus never really existed. The miracles of the Exodus from Egypt never happened, and the laws that God gave to Moses were only the collection of moral values and religious traditions developed over a millennium of Jewish History. 

The stakes are high in the acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis. The Bible becomes just another book of mythology and men’s opinions.

 Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860) was a German theologian who founded the Turbingen School of Theology, challenging the traditional view of the New Testament. Using documents from the Fourth Century, Baur concluded that the writings of Paul and Luke were in conflict with the writings of Peter, James, and the other Jewish writers. Paul was in fact considered a heretic.

According to Baur, the book of Acts is really a Second Century document, as are the Pastoral Epistles (Timothy & Titus), which were written not by Paul, but later authors. Baur taught that the four Gospels were in fact adaptations of an earlier account of the life of Jesus, not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. According to Baur, John’s gospel "does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it."

The theories of Wellhausen, Baur, and others are still influencing seminary students, pastors, and the average citizen who “hear” that the Bible is not really written by the Biblically named authors, is full of contradictions, is not historically accurate, and cannot be trusted as a source of God’s thoughts on humanity, morality, society, or eternal life. The Biblical Worldview outlined in the Bible has been rejected by many as a result of the theories offered by Wellhausen, Baur, and their disciples.

But then, in the early 1900’s, something extraordinary happened- Modern Archeology.

 If you have even been to the Louve Museum in Paris, you may remember on the bottom floor is the antiquities section. There prominently displayed is a basalt stele discovered in 1901 by Egyptologist Gustave Jequier, a member of an expedition headed by Jacques de Morgan, at the ancient site of Susa in Khuzestan. This black column stands over seven feet tall, and on it is inscribed the legal code of Hammurabi, the sixth king of ancient Babylon. The stele and assorted clay tablets date from around 1754 B.C., about 250 years before Moses.

In 1974-75, Italian archeologist Paolo Matthiae and his team discovered over 1800 complete clay tablets and 4700 fragments in situ on collapsed shelves in the palace archives at the ancient city of Elba, Syria during their excavations of Tell Mardikh. These date from 2250-2500 B.C. almost a thousand years before Moses.

 Obviously Wellhausen was wrong in his assumption of the lack of writing skills during the time of Moses.

 As a historian, I was trained to evaluate ancient works of literature as to their veracity- historical accuracy. I took my “Historiography: The Methods of Historical Research” given by Professor Herbert Oerter at the Miami University Luxembourg campus. Dr. Oerter trained us to apply three tests to any ancient work:

 Manuscript evidence: How many copies of the document exist, what is the date of the oldest copy, and how close is that to the original writing? Errors in copying were common.  The closer the copy to the original date, the more accurate the document.

Internal Evidence: Is the record from eyewitnesses (primary source)? Does the book describe how people of that time reacted to the events? Are all the facts and themes consistent within the work?

External Evidence: What do outside sources say about the date and story presented in the document? Are there references to the document or information therein in other historical sources? What does archaeology say about the events described in the document?

After my encounter with that demonic spirit of my friend Lonnie, I had to determine if I could trust the Bible. I began to do my research at the Lahaina Library, which was at the harbor next door to the Pioneer Inn, where our ice cream business, What’s The Scoop, was located.  To my surprise, I discovered that many historians consider the Bible to be good history.

I found that the Bible has very good manuscript evidence, especially when compared to other ancient works of its time- like Herodotus’ The Peloponnesian Wars, Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars,  Homer’s The Illiad & The Odyssey and others.

 

The numbers tell the story:

 

Author      Date written      Earliest Copy    Time Span     Number of Copies

Caesar           100-44 B.C.      900 A.D.              1,000 years         10

Herodotus      460-400 B.C.      900 A.D.            1,300 Years         8

Homer               900 B.C.       400 B.C.               500 years            643

New Testament 40-100 A.D.    125 A.D.             25 years        over 24,000

 There are more manuscripts of the Bible than those of other ancient works combined, and one, the John Ryland manuscript of a portion of the book of John, has been dated to within 25 years of the original writing.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed much of the Biblical text we read in our Bibles today.

Isaiah is a book in the Old Testament written by the prophet Isaiah in the seventh century b.c. The earliest manuscript we have is in the Massoretic text of the Old Testament, which dates from about 916 a.d. If you look in your Bible, your Old Testament is probably an English translation of this 1,000-year-old-plus document. There is a gap of about 1500-2200 years between the time these books were written and the copy we use for our English translations. This gap has caused critics to speculate that our modern translation does not accurately follow the original text and has been changed over the centuries.

The Masoretes were a group of Jews who between the 7th and 10th century copied and distributed the Hebrew Scriptures. When making a copy, they would measure the page, and determine the center letter on the old page. Then going letter by letter, they would make the new page, then measuring the page to compare the center letter. If it matched the original the copy was accepted, if not discarded. The old worn out pages were usually burned.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an earlier copy of Isaiah (or any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures) and compare it with the Massoretic Text to see if there are reproduction copy errors?

In 1947, a shepherd boy named Mohammed Dib was down by the Dead Sea in a place called Qumran, looking for some lost sheep. There are many caves in this desert region, and the sheep sometimes wander into these caves or fall into holes in the ground.

Photo: some of the caves near Qumran where the scrolls were discovered. I took this photo in 1999.

Mohammed threw a rock down into one hole, hoping to hear movement of his sheep but instead heard the sound of something breaking. He crawled down inside the hole and discovered his rock had hit and broken a clay jar. There were other clay jars; many containing leather scrolls with writing and immersed in oil.

He took these to a friend, and eventually they ended up in Jerusalem where they were identified as books of the Old Testament, dating from about 125 b.c. Suddenly, we had a text of the Bible that dated almost 1,000 years earlier than the Massoretic text, much closer to the time they were written. All this was happening while the Israeli War of Independence was being fought!

photo: The Dead Sea Scrolls on display at Qumran. 1999 GMB

The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls cover many topics including books of the Hebrew Scriptures. There are cases where the scrolls don’t match up exactly word for word with other manuscripts (like to the Masoretic Text, commonly used for the Old Testament), but in terms of theological differences, there are none.

Let me give you one example: Of the 166 words in Isaiah chapter 53, there is only one word (of three letters¾light¾in verse 11) in question, along with some punctuation marks, none of which changes the meaning of the passage. Now that the Dead Sea scrolls are available to the general public, it is fun to read some of the translations. You will notice some differences in wording and obvious spelling errors, but they are remarkable in their confirmation of the Biblical record.

I have concluded that manuscript evidence is excellent!

My first test for Internal Evidence was to see if there was primary source information – eyewitness accounts. Peter and John, who together wrote seven (really eight, as Mark’s gospel is probably Peter’s gospel narrated to Mark) of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, leave no doubt they were eyewitnesses. Listen to Peter:

For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes.                                2 Peter 1:16

John testifies in a very personal manner:

The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.                   1 John 1:1

How did contemporary witnesses react to the words of the apostles? Here’s Peter speaking before a large crowd at the temple in Jerusalem:

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.”

Peter’s words convicted them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church—about three thousand in all.                           Acts 2:22, 37-38, 41

Peter appealed to them about events that all of Jerusalem had witnessed¾the miracles of Jesus and his crucifixion¾and explained why Jesus had to die for our sins.

Did the people shout “No Peter, you are lying!”?

No, they believed him and over 3,000 accepted Jesus as their Lord that day!

 My research then focused on a number of apparent contradictions in the Biblical text. Many sources stated that most were explainable and did not take away from the historical accuracy of the book. In later months, I examined many if not all of these, and understood that reading the text in the original language cleared up many of these apparent ”contradictions”.

An example of this happened in the differing stories of Paul’s conversion: the first one Luke records, and later Paul tells what happen to King Agrippa.

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.             Acts 9:7 KJV

 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake (who spoke) to me.                    Acts 22:9 KJV

These two descriptions of the same event appear to be contradictory until you discover the Greek verbs for “to hear” used in these passages are different. In Acts 9, the verb means that they heard a sound but did not understand what it meant. In Acts 22, the verb doesn’t mean they didn’t hear but just that they didn’t understand or comprehend the voice. Compare the King James translation of Acts 22:9 to the New American Standard, which reads:

And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.                     Acts 22:9 NAS

Sometimes a translation that is more word for word (as the NAS is) eliminates these glitches.

 I also understood that the authors were giving partial information in the telling of their story, which is common in historical writing. The author chooses the information that he thinks is important to his points.  Another writer will choose other details to tell the same story. This is particularly true in the four biographies of Jesus’ life. For example, Matthew tells us that when Jesus left Jericho on his final trip to Jerusalem, there were two blind men who cried out to him:

As Jesus and the disciples left the town of Jericho, a large crowd followed behind. 30 Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”                                                      Matthew 20:29-30

Mark tells us that there was one, and gives us his name.

 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”                                                                   Mark 10:46-47

If you saw your aunt and uncle at the mall today, and later your mother asked you if you saw her sister (your aunt) while you were at the mall, you would reply “Yes.” Later, your dad asked you if you saw his fishing buddy (your uncle) while you were at the mall and you would reply “Yes.” Are you giving contradictory information? No. Only partial information.

 Another problem occurs when the Bible records what a person says, but this does not mean the person was telling the truth. A good example of this is when King Saul fell on his sword and died to escape torture.

Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it.          1 Samuel 31:4 NAS

Later, an Amalekite came to David and reported:

“So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”                                                           2 Samuel 1:10 NAS

The Amalekite was a battlefield scavenger. He lied to David, hoping to gain favor. David had him killed.

 After my research, I had to agreed that internal evidence was good.

 Then I started digging into external evidence sources, which focused on archaeology and the writings of other contemporary authors. There are many writings existing from early Christian writers (Justin, Eusebius, and Polycarp, among others) that contain large portions of Scripture, which match our modern records. The information in these second-, third-, and fourth-century documents supports the information given to us by the writers of the Bible. The writings of contemporary historical figures, such as the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus, and the Roman writers Tacitus and Lucian support the Biblical account of history.

 In the early 1900’s, many archaeologists traveled to Asia Minor and the Middle East, and began to dig on ancient sites. The pace increased after the end of World War I, when the French and British League of Nation Mandates controlled most of the region.

Archaeology in the past 100 years has discovered many artifacts of ancient civilizations. Pottery, clay writing tablets, leather scrolls, paintings, tombs, statues, staella (columns of carved stone with writing and pictures), palaces, homes, temples, and even entire cities have been discovered, uncovered, and recovered. I’ve been to some of the sites in Central America, Europe, and the Middle East.

It is safe to say there has not been one archaeological discovery contradicting anything in the Bible. Instead, the artifacts discovered support the lifestyles and cultures described in the Bible. Often, exact names and dates discovered on the artifacts match the information given to us by biblical accounts! In addition, excavations at the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusas, and at Ugarit have discovered Second Millennium treaty documents between the Hittites and vassel states that bear a remarkable resemblance to the structure of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah.

 

Many archaeologists have set out to prove the Bible is inaccurate, only to find it is indeed an excellent history book and a source book for their digs. Sir William Ramsey, the first Professor of Classical Archaeology  at Oxford University who pioneered the study of antiquity in what is today western Turkey, was one who doubted the historical validity of the Bible. After exhaustive research, he found the Bible to be a valuable asset in his projects. He was especially impressed with Luke, who reported things such as prevailing winds, tides, geographical features and locations, and details of travel with great accuracy. Here in his own words:

I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations. 1

One of Sir William’s final books was The Bearing of Recent Discovery where he confidently wrote:

'Further study . . . showed that the book (of Acts) could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement' (p. 85).

On page 89 of the same book, Ramsay accounted,

 'I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there (in Acts). You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian's and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment...'

Probably the most eminent archaeologist of the 20th Century was Dr. William F. Albright (1891 – 1971), a professor of Semitic Languages at John Hopkins University from 1938 until he retired in 1958. He also served as the director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, which is right outside Herod’s Gate on the northeastern side of the Old City. Mikaela, Lukas and I often walked past the gates to this institute during our walks around the Old City when we lived there in the summer of 1999. The school was renamed Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in 1970. Albright was famous for his important work on many sites in Israel (Gibeah, Tell Beit Mirsim) as well as for authenticating the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948.

 Here are a few of the many statements that Albright made about the historical reliability of the Bible:

“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition. The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.” 2

  “As a critical study of the Bible is more and more influenced by the rich new material from the ancient Near East we shall see a steady rise in respect for the historical significance of now neglected or despised passages and details in the Old and New Testament.”  3

 “We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not fallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near-Eastern literature… No, the flood of light now being shed on Biblical poetry of all periods by Ugaritic literature guarantees the relative antiquity of its composition as well as the astonishing accuracy of its transmission.” 4

 “Until recently it was the fashion among biblical historians to treat the patriarchal sagas of Genesis as thought they were artificial creations of Israelite scribes in the Divided Monarchy or tales told by imaginative rhapsodists around Israelite campfires during the centuries following their occupation of the country. Eminent names among scholars can be cited for regarding every item of Genesis 11-50 as reflecting late invention, or at least retrojection of events and conditions under the Monarchy int the remote past, about which noting was thought to have been really known to the writers of later days.

Archaeological discoveries since 1925 have changed all of this. Aside from a few die-hards among older scholars, there is scarcely a single biblical historian who has not been impressed the rapid accumulation of data supporting the substantial historicity of patriarchal tradition. According to the traditions of Genesis, the ancestors of Israel were closely related to the semi-nomadic peoples of Trans-Jordan, Syria, the Euphrates basin and North Arabia in the last centuries of the second millennium B.C. and the first centuries of the first millennium.” 5

 For me the external evidence for the Bible is overwhelming. All three tests show the Bible to be a reliable historical document.

Can I trust the Bible? I decided Yes!

What do you think?

Let me finish with one of my favorite quotes.

Will Durant (1885 – 1981) was an American historian and philosopher who is best known for his 11 volume work titled The Story of Civilization, which he co-authored with his wife Ariel. These volumes were published between 1935 and 1975. I read large portions of The Story of Civilization while attending Miami University’s Luxembourg Campus in the Grande Duche’ in 1971-72. The Durants were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for the 10th volume, Rousseau and Revolution (1967). I have especially enjoyed Caesar and Christ, where I found this portion, which I used in Just Another Lump of Clay, with permission. Although I don’t agree with all that Durant says, for one of the most respectable historians of the 20th Century, he makes a truly remarkable statement!

“In summary, it is clear that there are many contradictions between one gospel and another, many dubious statements of history, many suspicious resemblances to the legends told of pagan gods, many incidents apparently designed to prove the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, many passages possibly aiming to establish a historical basis for some later doctrine or ritual of the Church….

All this granted, much remains. The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essence the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) agree remarkably well, and the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament test of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies - e.g. Hammurabi, David, Socrates- would fade into legend.

Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidences that mere inventors would have concealed- the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes  can doubt the reality of the figure behind them.

That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.

After two centuries of Higher Criticism, the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.” (The Story of Civilization, Caesar and Christ, p. 557) 6

 

Notes

1: Ramsay, W. M. (1907). St. Paul the traveller and the Roman citizen (pp. 7–8). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

2: William Albright the Archaeology of Palestine, rev.ed. Hammondsworth Middlesex, Pelican Books, 1960, p.127-8

3: William Albright, The Stone Age to Christianity. Baltimore, John Hopkins Press, 1946. P.81

4: William Albright, The Old Testament and the archaeology of the Ancient East, Found in Old Testament and Modern Study, by Harold Henry Rowley, Oxford University Press, 1951. P.25

5: William Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra, New York, Harper & Row, 1960, p.1-2

6: Michael Bagby, Just Another Lump of Clay, Kaneohe Hawaii, Straight Street Publishing, 1996, p. 226-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

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