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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Bible and Archaeology

(By Nathan Busenitz)

The following comes from Nathan’s new book, Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence that Confirm the Christian Faith (Crossway). Today’s article is adapted from part of reason no. 13, regarding archaeological evidence for the Bible’s trustworthiness.

Recent interviews with leading archaeologists in Israel have again confirmed the historical and geographical trustworthiness of the Bible.[1] “Serious scholars, even if they’re not believers, even if they do not think this is a sacred text, still consider it to be history, because things match up so well,” says archaeologist Steven Ortiz who has been working in Israel for over 20 years. He continues, “[T]here isn’t anything to contradict or anything to make me wary of the testimony of Scripture.”[2] Speaking specifically of the Old Testament, Denis Baly notes that “the historical material in the [Old] Testament must be taken with great seriousness. It is primary evidence for the history of the time, and no honest historian or archaeologist should treat it as anything else.”[3] Echoing this sentiment, Aren Maeier of Bar Ilan University acknowledges the fact that “You can’t do archaeology in Israel without the Bible.”[4]

Their consensus on the importance of the biblical text to Israeli archaeology echoes the words of Yale archeologist Millar Burrows, who wrote over a half-century ago, “On the whole, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by experience of excavation of Palestine.”[5] More recently, after an extensive study of Old Testament data, renown archaeologist and Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen (of the University of Liverpool) has written:

What can be said of historical reliability? Here our answer—on the evidence available—is more positive. The periods most in the glare of contemporary documents—the divided monarchy and the exile and return—show a very high level of direct correlation (where adequate data exist) and of reliability. . . .

In terms of general reliability . . . the Old Testament comes out remarkably well.[6]

The testimony of archeology continually confirms the trustworthiness of the Bible. As Norman Geisler, Dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary, correctly points out, “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.”[7] Henry Morris presses the point even further, asserting that there is “not one unquestionable find of archaeology that proves the Bible to be in error at any point.”[8] On the other hand, notes Josh McDowell, “numerous discoveries have confirmed the historical accuracy of the biblical documents, even down to the occasional use of obsolete names of foreign kings.”[9]

Those are statements no other religious book can make. Yet they correspond directly to the Bible’s own claim to be true.

* * * * *
[1] “The Archaeologists I”, video presentation, SourceFlix Productions (uploaded August 10, 2007) http://www.sourceflix.com/vid_arch_1.htm (accessed September 2, 2007). This clip highlights the testimony of a number of leading archaeologists who are currently working in Israel and who affirm the importance of the Bible to their work. It is part of a larger documentary to be released in 2008.
[2] Steven Ortiz, transcribed from “The Archaeologists I,” video presentation.
[3] Denis Baly, God and History in the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 19.
[4] Aren Maier, transcribed from “The Archaeologists I,” video presentation.
[5] Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1941), 1.
[6] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 499–500.
[7] Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 52. Cf. Thomas Lea’s commentary on 1, 2 Timothy, Titus NAC (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1992), 239, where he notes that “any errors in the field of history would undermine the confidence of the reader in the theological trustworthiness of Scripture.”
[8] Henry Morris, The Bible and Modern Science (Chicago: Moody, 1956), 95.
[9] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 89. Along these lines, Jens Bruun Kofoed in Text and History (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 4–5 responds to skeptics of the Old Testament by arguing that it is much more historically reliable than many scholars claim, and that “it must be included in rather than excluded from the pool of reliable data for a reconstruction of the origin and history of ancient Israel.”

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