From the comments so far on our more Christian based articles, I’m encouraged that folks want to learn more. That goes for me too. It’s a life long process no matter where we are in our Christian walk.
I would like to get back to the basics even if we know it, because it’s good to refresh ourselves and it might encourage others who might be seeking more about the Bible, Jesus and Christian beliefs. The basics start at the source, which is the Bible- and its validity. Only when the Scriptures studied and tested, can someone begin to understand Who Jesus is, Why He came, and When He will come again.
C.S. Lewis observed “Unless the religious claims of the Bible are again acknowledged, its literary claims will, I think, be given only ‘mouth honour’ and that decreasingly.”
I believe that is where we have been for a long time. Too many people give the Bible ‘mouth honor” if they even give it any thought at all. And of course non-believers wonder that it’s nothing more than a book of fairy tales, or at least contains a few decent lessons written by ancient men of limited knowledge.
So, how can we show people that the Bible is the Word of God, written by inspired men, and God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness?
Most people, when reading an older historical book don’t think about putting the book through a test to see if the author listed on the book is really in fact the actual author. Most who read a piece from Homer, Aristotle or even literature by the likes of Shakespeare, assume what they are reading is the original work by that author.
Many people don’t realize that the Bible is one of the most scrutinized works of all time. Those who scoff thinking that it’s unreliable, full of error, contradictions and discrepancies find our claims that the Bible is the Word of God is ridiculous and that we are fools for believing it.
There really is no set test for historians to determine the validity or accuracy of any other ancient works -but for historical documents, the basic methods for testing is examining the bibliographical authenticity and how documents come down through the years and centuries.
Since in many cases no original documents exist, the reliability of manuscripts is not a sure thing in regard to the number of known manuscripts and the time between when the original was said to be written. For example, Homer’s Iliad was written sometime in 900 BC. Even though there are over 600 known copies (manuscripts), the earliest copy is dated at somewhere in 400 BC- a difference of 500 or so years. There are so many other cases based on history books and annals written in ancient times to where experts are able to know ancient history, and what we base our knowledge on.
There are now more than 5300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, over
10, 000 of the Latin Vulgate, 9300 other early versions and more than 24, 000 manuscripts of portions of the N.T. In comparison, Homer’s Iliad has 643 manuscripts.
Careful studies of the different manuscripts show that the doctrine of Scripture isn’t affected by any change. This goes for the Old Testament as well- as what is written in standard Hebrew texts of the Old Testament is not changed or altered by any of the variant readings of manuscripts of earlier dates.
The discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that later manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are almost exactly the same, except for a few punctuation or spelling errors- basically proving that the Scriptures haven’t been changed or corrupted over the centuries as so many have tried to claim.
Another point to consider is that ancient literature was rarely translated into other languages but Christianity was missionary based right from the beginning. That means that the earliest versions of the New Testament were made by missionaries specifically to spread the Gospel among people who spoke Syriac, Latin and Coptic. Syriac and Latin versions of the N.T were made around 150 AD- which is very near the time of the originals and there are nearly 15000 existing manuscripts of various versions.
Before the Dead Sea discoveries, the oldest complete Hebrew Old Testament manuscript was dated around 900 AD. This made a time gap of 1300 years, because the Hebrew Old Testament was completed about 400 BC. After the Dead Sea discoveries though, a number of Old Testament manuscripts have been found by historians and scholars date before the time of Christ.
In 1979, two silver scrolls that were worn as amulets were found in a tomb overlooking the Hinnom Valley, Israel. It’s been determined that they are from around the 7th century B.C.
The process of unrolling them took three years so the delicate scrolls wouldn’t disintegrate. The amulets are the oldest surviving texts from the Hebrew Bible. After they’d been unrolled, biblical archeologists found two amazing inscriptions.
One is a temple priest blessing from the book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and protect you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). The other is the tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of the Lord, from which we get the English Jehovah.
These amulets predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by 500 years and are the oldest known example of the Lord’s name in writing.
The Hebrew Scribes who copied out the Old Testament Scriptures were extremely meticulous. The strict regulations which they had to follow made a case for why there are fewer manuscripts for the O.T than the N.T. After having to follow more than 15 rules for copy work, and painstaking copying, any rolls which were found where the regulations were not followed to the letter were made to be buried in the ground or burned.
Compared to other ancient writings of the period the Hebrew texts have none of the discrepancies and manuscript changes. Two of the copies of Isaiah which were discovered in one of the caves in 1947 were older than the previously known manuscript and yet they proved to be word for word, identical to modern standard Bible texts in more than 95% of the text. The 5 % variations were mainly variations of spelling and did not affect the message of the scriptures in any way.
Even though the bibliographical test shows that the original scripture is basically the same as what we have now, it’s important to know if the written record itself is credible, and whether the witnesses were truthful. It is also imperative to know about the witnesses close ties both geographical and to time of the events that are written about.
Since the Bible (we’ll go with the New Testament for now) is written about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, we need to know how reliable the men who wrote the accounts were- either men who themselves knew Jesus, or others who were witnesses or friends of the disciples.
Let’s start with Luke, who didn’t know Jesus personally. He was a companion and loyal friend of Paul, well educated in Greek culture, and was a physician. He shows that he knows of other authors of the life and times of Jesus, but he personally investigated and arranged testimonies of eyewitnesses and the earliest Christian disciples, including the oral accounts of the Apostles.
What I have always found so interesting is Luke’s precise detailing of people and places of the times. He includes names and places that none of the other Gospel writers included, but careful archaeological and historical studies have shown evidence of the names and places in which Luke included.
Some of Luke’s writings includes such passages, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus.”
Also, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrach of Galillee, and his brother Phillip was tetrach of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrach of Abaline…”
The careful details to names and regions have been proven through historical and archaeological evidence to have been true.
Looking at Paul, Luke’s companion and teacher, we know he was a Roman citizen, yet he was Jewish- and even more importantly, he had been a Pharisee; Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly believed they had superior sanctity. Someone like that would not be given over to fanciful stories. Considering his involvement as a Pharisee bent on eradicating all traces of “The Way”, which was the first group of Christians, he would not be so quick to embrace the ‘religion’ on some kind of false conversion. He knew the stakes of such a conversion and that it would most likely mean his own death. Yet he not only became a follower, he wrote at least 13 ‘books’ of the New Testament. He evangelized all the way to Rome, where he was eventually executed for his faith.
Now let’s look at Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest companions and disciples. Peter says, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of His Majesty.”
Peter tells of their personal witness. Peter was one of the three who were on the mountain with Jesus as He was transfigured and Moses and Elijah appeared, and he was one of the first to witness the resurrected Christ after His crucifixion.
John, Jesus’ closest disciple, the one Jesus said He loves, say. “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.” Also, “And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”
It’s easy to say that these men wanted to start this new religion so they could be claiming things that weren’t true, but the New Testament accounts of Jesus began circulating within the lifetimes of these witnesses- they knew that any truths that they proclaimed would be either denied or affirmed.
Even when threatened by enemies and beaten, they never denied their accounts. Everything they claimed, they stated things like “We saw”, “We heard”- but they could also say to their critics “You saw too!” or “You heard too!” Now, if I made a claim like that to someone who hated Jesus, knowing it wasn’t true- I’d have it thrown right back at me, but if it’s true, my enemies can’t refute it.
Consider the fact that all of the disciples except for John were executed for their testimonies. And by executing, we’re talking very painful and extremely gory deaths- yet these men never deviated from their eyewitness accounts. John was the only one who died of old age, while in exile. And yet he went on to preach the Word of the Gospel, and also to write the Book of Revelation. There is just no way that these men would make up wild stories such as is written in the whole of the New Testament, suffer, and die for these false tales- unless they were truth.
Luke was meticulous in writing down geographical, political and other facts in his writings. At one time however, Historians thought Luke had totally goofed on his portrayal of place and times surrounding the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-3) Critics argued that there had been no census taken, that Quirinius was not Governor of Syria at that time and that no one had to return to their ancestral home place.
It is now known that Romans had a regular enrollment of taxpayers and that they also held a census every 14 years. This was begun under Augustus and the first took place in either 23 or 22 B.C. or in 9-8 B.C. The latter one would be the one which Luke was referring to. Archaeological evidence has been shown that Quirinius was governor of Syria around 7 B.C.
As for the practice of enrolling for the census, a papyrus found in Egypt reads: Because of the approaching census it is necessary for all those residing for any cause away from their homes should at once prepare to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the enrollment and that the tilled lands may retain those belonging to them.
Until 1961, the only historical reference to Pontius Pilate was only made because the Gospels mentioned him. Two Italian archaeologists excavated Caesarea which had served as the Roman capital of Palestine (the name Palestine was given by the Romans). During their dig; they discovered a stone block with an inscription which read “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberium to the Caesareans.”
Matthew writes that some of the guards around Jesus’ tomb came into the city to tell the chief priests all that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. After talking about it all, the priests and elders paid the Roman soldiers a large sum of money in return for the soldiers telling everyone that they saw Jesus’ own disciples come and roll the stone and take Jesus’ body away. “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’ And if this should come to the governors ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble“. (Matthew 28:11-15)
Well. This news did reach the governor and went all the way to Rome as well. The Emperor, most likely Claudius, sent word back to Palestine- his decree, originally written in Latin, and translated into Greek, was posted in Nazareth- the home of Jesus. In 1878, a white marble slab was found with this inscription: Ordinance of Caesar. It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain perpetually undisturbed for those who have made them for the cult of their ancestors or children or members of their house. If, however, anyone charges that another has either extracted the buried, or maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or displaced the sealing on other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honor the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In case of violation I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on the charge of violation of sepulcher.
Scholars date the stone before A.D. 50, and since the Roman government didn’t assume the administration of Galilee until after the death of Agrippa, the inscription must have taken place after A.D. 44 Claudius was emperor from 41-54, and he expelled all Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome. He seems to have studied the Jewish situation and wrote in one of his letters of A.D. 41, that he “expressly forbids the Alexandrian Jews to bring or invite other Jews to come by sea from Syria. If they do not abstain from this conduce, I shall proceed against them for fomenting this malady common to the world.” It is commonly believed by use of the word ‘malady’, he was talking about the growing Christian community across the Roman Empire.
There will always be controversy and discussions on whether evidence proves the Bible is true or not as with every other Historical document, yet archaeological discoveries have given validity to many of the places and people accounted for in the Old and New Testaments.
For instance, in ruins of a shrine excavated next to the gate of Lachish, the largest city of the kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem, archaeologists found an altar with the horns cut off from each corner. They also found a stone toilet that was never used, which had been placed in the holy of holies, apparently to desecrate it. Historians and archaeologists attributed both discoveries to King Hezekiah when he tore down the idols, asherah poles and other shrines, described in 2 Kings 18:4.
For more archaeological events, discoveries and continuing studies of sites, check these out:
Floor tiles (gifts from Caesar Augustus to King Herod) that are believed to have adorned the porticos that surrounded the Second Temple compound- http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=36227
Back in 2004, Archaeologists in Jerusalem identified the remains of the Siloam Pool, where Jesus miraculously cured a blind man. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6750670/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/archaeologists-identify-traces-miracle-pool/
The discovery of an ancient synagogue in “Magdala” gives evidence not only of the place where the Biblical Mary Magdalene was from, but also that Jesus “went all through Galilee, teaching in its synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, and curing the sicknesses and the ailments of the people…” https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/world/middleeast/a-resort-in-galilee-rises-where-jesus-may-have-taught.html?_r=0
Israeli scholars confirmed the authenticity of a 2,000-year-old burial ossuary bearing the name of a relative of the high priest Caiaphas http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/145297
While exciting as archaeological findings are, they don’t necessarily prove the Bible, rather, they bring the past to life, and bring those who lived in biblical times to the present.
The History, geography and authorship of the Bible spans over 2000 years and includes geographical locations from the Euphrates to the Nile. It was written on 3 continents, by men ranging from fishermen to kings. There will always be skeptics, no matter what discoveries are found- because men have always wanted special signs and miracles as proof, and even when there was prophecies fulfilled and miraculous events, skeptics ignored it all.
Augustine once remarked, “The Bible is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.”
Studying the evidence, discoveries and learning about Biblical archaeology is exciting- especially when it does seem to get to the heart of scripture, but it’s not meant as a be all and end all “There’s the proof!” As with everything there is faith and trust involved. As we begin in the shallower ends of the Bible, we mature and find an ever deeper end where we are assured that it is as claimed in scripture- that it is God breathed.