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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: 10 Reasons to Trust the Bible

Don Stewart :: The Bible’s Historical Precision

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The Bible’s Historical Precision

Ten Reasons to Trust the Bible – Reason 4

The entire Bible centers around what God has done in history. Within the pages of Scripture we find many references to people, places and events. Thus, the question of whether the Bible is historically precise in its description of these references is of crucial importance.

Were the people mentioned in Scripture real people? Did the places which are named actually exist? Did these events take place as the Bible says they did? What does the evidence say?

We will discover that the Bible is different from all other ancient literature in its historical precision. Indeed, the science of archaeology, along with the testimony of secular historical records, confirms the precision of the references in the various biblical books. This minute attention to detail observed by the biblical writers is unparalleled in any other ancient literature. We can make the following observations:

The Old Testament

From the very beginning of the Old Testament, we find that God has intervened in the lives of His people. Furthermore, the Old Testament gives testimony to the importance of God acting in history. Indeed, the Lord often reminded His people that He had intervened in the past.

In the Book of Exodus, we find that God claimed to be the One who rescued the people from slavery. The Bible says:

And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2)

The nation was continually urged to remember these mighty deeds of God. In addition, the events recorded were always treated as actual historical events.

Later, we read the following in the Book of Kings:

But the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. (2 Kings 17:36)

Again, we find the emphasis on these historical events, along with accompanying miracles.

This truth is often emphasized in the Old Testament. The Lord also said:

My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD. (Micah 6:5)

Note that the people were told to “remember.” Indeed, since God acted in history, His people were to remember these divine actions. In each and every case, these events were assumed to have literally happened.

The Old Testament Matches up with Known History

The claim that God has acted in history is backed up by the evidence. The archaeologist John Elder, who spent over thirty years working in the Middle East, offers a fitting summary of the issue of the Old Testament’s historical reliability. He wrote:

It is not too much to say that it was the rise of the science of archeology that broke the deadlock between historians and the orthodox Christian. Little by little, one city after another, one civilization after another, one culture after another, whose memories were enshrined only in the Bible, were restored to their proper places in ancient history by the studies of archaeologists... The over-all result is indisputable. Forgotten cities have been found, the handiwork of vanished peoples has reappeared, contemporary records of Biblical events have been unearthed and the uniqueness of biblical revelation has been emphasized by contrast and comparison to the newly understood religions of ancient peoples. Nowhere has archeological discovery refuted the Bible as history. (John Elder, Prophets, Idols, and Diggers, Bobbs-Merrill, Co. 1960, p. 18)

On so many occasions, the Old Testament has shown to be accurate when it speaks of historical events. We offer the following illustrations:

1. The Old Testament Is Familiar with Local Laws

There are a number of biblical episodes that show intimate understanding of local laws at the time. For example, when Sarah the wife of Abraham was childless, she suggested that Abraham take Hagar his handmaiden as a secondary wife and raise up an heir through her. This fits well with the practice at that time as recorded in the Eshnunna law code ? a law code that dates about 1900 B.C.

The Nuzi tablets, 20,000 clay tablets that were discovered 150 miles north of Baghdad; also confirm such customs as to the role of secondary wives and their rights of inheritance. Therefore, the episode of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar fits the local laws of the time.

2. Local Customs Are Correctly Recorded

We find that the customs recorded in Scripture fit the time frame in which the stories were said to have occurred.

From the Nuzi tablets we also find that one brother sold his birthright for three sheep—similar to Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup. This confirms that the practice was legally binding at that time in history. It also tells us that the price paid for the birthright did not have to be of equal value.

In another example, we find that the Bible states the patriarch Joseph was sold for twenty shekels of silver. We read in Genesis:

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. (Genesis 37:28)

Although the price paid for Joseph is an incidental detail, it proves to be an exact representation of what slaves were being sold for in that day. Joseph lived in the eighteenth century B.C. Before that time the price of slaves was cheaper—ten to fifteen shekels. As time went by, the price of a slave increased. The price of twenty pieces of silver fits into the period when the Bible says that Joseph lived.

After that time, the price of a slave further increased. Thus the recording of Joseph being sold for twenty pieces of silver fits only a limited historical period; the same one in which the Scripture says the story took place. It seems clear that the writer of this account had access to accurate historical information.

3. The Geographical References Are Minutely Accurate

There are a number of specific geographical references in Scripture. As we examine the evidence, we find that they match up to the geography of that day. For example, the biblical account of the life of Abraham documents a number of cities that he visited. The location of almost every one of these cities is now known. All of those that have been positively identified were important caravan centers during the time the Bible says that Abraham lived.

However, in later times, not all of these cities were important centers. This is another indication that the travels of Abraham fit exactly into what is known of that particular historical period, but would not fit with a later period.

In another illustration, we find that the Scripture is very specific as to the route that the nation of Israel took from Egypt on its way to the Promised Land. For example, in Numbers 33, there is a detailed description of where the Israelites camped on their way to Jericho. It says:

They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad. They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim. They left Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo. They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the LORD said to Moses. (Numbers 33:45-50)

Notice the detail. We are told specifically where the nation camped on their way to Jericho. This route was once considered to be unhistorical. Yet the discovery of three ancient Egyptian maps, dating from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth century B.C., shows that this was the same route that was taken in those days. The cities mentioned in Numbers were also mentioned in the Egyptian maps. It was a heavily traveled road in those days. Again, the historical details of the Scripture prove to be true.

4. The Correct Titles Were Used to Describe People

In every nation, the titles given to people are different. In addition, these titles can actually change throughout history. In the Old Testament, we find a number of different people to whom specific titles are given. When compared with the known evidence, we find that the biblical writers used the exact title for the people in the time period when the narrative took place.

For example, in the story of Joseph, there are a number of titles that are mentioned. We are told that Joseph was put in prison with the “chief” or “royal” baker:

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. (Genesis 40:1-2)

While this was once considered to be an incorrect reference, an ancient Egyptian picture recorded acknowledgment of wheat by the royal baker of the Temple of Amun. Thus, the title “royal baker” or “chief baker” was accurately used. This gives credence to the story as literally occurring instead of being some type of parable or myth.

5. The List of Pagan Kings Is Amazingly Accurate

The Bible lists a number of kings who ruled countries other than Israel. Although they were not the main characters in the story, they are always recorded in an accurate manner. Indeed, the writers of Scripture placed these kings in the exact chronological order in which they ruled. This is in contrast to some of the historians from these same countries who did not have the correct chronology.

This has been documented in the work of the great Old Testament scholar Robert Dick Wilson. In examining the Old Testament Scripture, Wilson noted that there are twenty-six pagan kings of various nations that are mentioned. The names of these rulers are also found on the monuments of these kings as well as in documents of their own times. Wilson found that all of these names of the pagan kings are spelled correctly in the Hebrew text. In contrast to the accuracy of the Bible, in the secular literature of the same period, the names of those rulers are frequently garbled. Indeed, there are times when it is hard to identify the person.

An example of this is Ptolemy; an ancient writer who drew up a list of eighteen Babylonian kings. However, on his list, none of the names of these eighteen kings is spelled correctly.

On the other hand, the biblical writers were always precise in the spelling of the names of their enemies. So we ask the question, “If the Old Testament writers took this much concern to spell the names of the pagan kings correctly, how much more effort would they have given to spell the names of their own people correctly as well as to accurately record the events connected with their rule?” The answer seems obvious. This is a further testimony of the basic reliability of the Old Testament.

6. The Existence of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount

Today, in our world there is a growing problem of denying the Jews their ancient heritage with respect to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It is claimed that there has never been a Jewish Temple in the city of Jerusalem. While this is a relatively recent development, it is gaining more and more adherents; particularly in the Islamic world. Muslims fear that the Jews are working toward building another Temple in Jerusalem and thus will regain their control over the Temple Mount. Thus, they continue to deny that the Jews ever had a visible presence on the Mount.

The Continual Destruction on the Temple Mount

This type of denial of any Jewish presence has led to the purposeful destruction of parts of the Mount by the Muslim Waqf; the caretakers of the site. For example, In November, 1999, they asked permission from the Israeli government to open an emergency exit leading from one of their mosques on the Temple Mount. After receiving permission, the Waqf, rather than digging an emergency exit, constructed a huge entrance to the building.

To create that entrance they dug a pit approximately forty yards long and twelve yards deep. To make matters worse they did it in the most destructive manner possible; with bulldozers. Tons of rubble from the Temple Mount was then dumped in a landfill in Jerusalem. Countless thousands of priceless archaeological artifacts are now in this landfill.

The motivation behind this destruction is to sever any possible connection between the Temple Mount and the Jews. Yet this destruction of the areas of the Temple Mount by Muslims is not something new. Indeed, there were visible remains of the Jewish Temples on the Mount as late as the 1960’s and 70’s. Photographic evidence makes it clear that these remains were once there. However, they have either been removed or covered up by a garden. The idea is to remove any visible artifact which would confirm the fact that a Jewish temple did exist on the Mount. Yet the Muslim denials cannot hide the evidence.

The Existence of the Temple Is Confirmed by Archaeological Artifacts

However, no matter what Muslims attempt to do, they cannot stop the truth about the Jews and their relationship to the Temple Mount from being known.

Indeed, in a part of the Old City of Jerusalem, where the “City of David” stood, an amazing discovery was made. In 2006, a fragment of a lump of clay with a seal impression, known as a bulla, was found. The bulla is about 2,600 years of age and it dates back to the time when Solomon’s Temple still existed. The inscription on it bears the name of an official; Gedaliah son of Pashur.

What is amazing is that these people, Gedaliah and Pashur, are actually mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah! We read:

Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehukal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live.’ And this is what the LORD says: ‘This city will certainly be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’” Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.” (Jeremiah 38:1-4)

This is truly astonishing. Notice what we discover from this passage that Gedaliah and Pashur, along with some others, wanted to put the prophet Jeremiah to death.

What is even more amazing is that three years earlier, in 2003, another bulla was found in the city of David that contained the name of another person mentioned in this verse; Jehukal son of Shelemiah.

Thus, we have on two separate artifacts the names of the individuals who were officials in the court of King Zedekiah. The archeological evidence has finally caught up to the Bible!

Earlier in the Book of Jeremiah, we are told that Pashur had Jeremiah beaten and thrown into the stocks:

When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’s temple. The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The LORD’s name for you is not Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will deliver all the wealth of this city into the hands of their enemies?all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’” (Jeremiah 20:1-6)

We are told that Pashur was “an official in the Temple of the Lord.” He was somehow related to Gedaliah, who is called “son of Pashur” in Jeremiah 38:1.

We are also told that Pashur had the prophet Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks because of his prophesying against Jerusalem and the Temple. As we have just read, at a later time, Pashur and Gedaliah along with others asked King Zedekiah to put Jeremiah to death.

The Prediction of the Prophet Jeremiah

There is something else we must note. Jeremiah predicted that the Pashur and the Immer family, which includes Gedaliah, will be carried off into captivity to Babylon. The reason for this: denial of God’s truth concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple! Note also that Jeremiah renamed him “Terror on Every Side” for this man Pashur would be a terror not only to himself but also to his friends. Why? Because he denied that Jeremiah was the Lord’s prophet, thus causing people to reject Jeremiah’s message.

The outcome: History reveals that Jeremiah was indeed God’s prophet. All of the specific things he predicted came to pass exactly as he had stated.

And here is the irony. Two members of this family have their names unearthed some 2,600 years after they denied what the Lord had to say, through His prophet about the Jews, Jerusalem and the Temple.

Furthermore, we also note that this recent discovery confirms the historical accuracy of Scripture that the Immer family was in charge of duties at the Temple. It seems that the Lord wants to make it very plain to the world that His words regarding the Jews, Jerusalem and the Temple cannot be denied; no matter what anyone attempts to do. Moreover, those who do so, like the Immer family, will be severely judged.

More Confirmation of the Existence of the Temple

Finally, there is an ironic result of the Muslims desecration of the Temple Mount in 1999. From the landfill containing the dirt discarded from the Mount, arrowheads of the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar, which destroyed the First Temple in 587 B.C., have been discovered.

Moreover, another arrowhead which has been found had the marks of being shot by a catapult. This type of war instrument was only used by the armies of Titus the Roman; the man who destroyed the Second Temple.

Therefore, we now have some of the actual weapons from the armies which destroyed both the First and Second Temple. The historical evidence is clear. The Temples did exist and they were destroyed; just like the Bible says. Again, we see that God’s Word is confirmed beyond any doubt from the physical evidence.

Conclusion: the Details of the Biblical Accounts Are Confirmed by Archaeology

Many more examples could be given. The point is that the writers of the Old Testament showed intimate knowledge of the times.

These examples demonstrate that the writers of Scripture were living at the time of the events they recorded and knew the local laws, customs, geography, titles and names of the pagan kings. Consequently, it gives strong evidence to the reliability of what was written.

Observations on the Historical Accuracy of the Old Testament

The fact that the main outline, as well as many of the incidental historical details, of the Old Testament has been confirmed by archaeological and historical sources is important for a number of reasons:

1. We Are Not Dealing with Mythology

First, it tells us that we are dealing with genuine history, not mythology. The stories recorded actually took place in the ancient world. The nations were real nations, the individuals were real people, the cities existed in the exact location that the Bible said they existed and the customs and laws were those which were practiced at that time in history.

2. The Writings Should Be Dated to the Time of the Events Recorded

Second, the authors are not only accurate, they are meticulously accurate. In other words, the writers of the Old Testament must have been eyewitnesses to the events they recorded. Consequently, there is every reason to believe in the traditional authorship of the biblical books. Instead of dating much of the Old Testament writings to the time of Ezra, as liberal critics do, they should be dated hundreds of years earlier to the time when the events were claimed to have literally occurred. Therefore, the trustworthiness of the Old Testament record is borne out by the evidence.

In sum, while not every detail from the Old Testament has been confirmed, or even can be confirmed, we do find that a remarkable amount of information has come to light that has demonstrated the basic reliability of the historical statements. The verdict is that the Old Testament can be trusted.

3. The Key: Jesus Trusted the Old Testament

By far the most important testimony to the trustworthiness of the Old Testament comes from Jesus Christ. When we examine the way Jesus viewed Scripture, we can see that He trusted it totally. He said the Word of God was true:

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

Jesus also said that the Old Testament Scriptures were a unity. He said:

Scripture cannot be broken. (John 10:35)

It is clear from Jesus’ statements that He believed the Bible to be historically accurate and without error.

Jesus Confirmed Some of the Most Controversial Stories Found in the Old Testament

In addition, Jesus confirmed some of the most ridiculed stories in the Old Testament. It is almost as though He went out of His way to put His stamp of approval on them. We can cite the following examples:

Example 1: Adam and Eve

Jesus believed in the Genesis account of creation - which includes the direct creation of Adam and Eve. Matthew records Him saying:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)

He used Adam and Eve as an example of God’s purpose in marriage.

Example 2: Cain and Abel

The account of Cain killing Abel is rejected today in many circles, but Jesus believed it occurred. We read of this in Luke’s gospel:

From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible. (Luke 11:51)

According to Jesus, this early story, recorded in the Book of Genesis, is historically accurate.

Example 3: the Flood in Noah’s Day

Was there really a Flood in the days of Noah which God sent to destroy the earth? Jesus assumed there was. He said:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39)

Jesus compared the circumstances surrounding Noah’s Flood as similar to those at His Second Coming.

Example 4: Jonah and the Great Sea Creature

Jesus also believed the story of Jonah and the great sea creature as having literally occurred. In fact, He used it as a sign of His resurrection:

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41)

Contrary to the view of many modern skeptics, Jonah actually existed. Jesus testified to this fact.

Example 5: Daniel

Though the authorship of Daniel is often rejected today, Jesus believed that he was a true prophet. He said:

So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel--let the reader understand. (Matthew 24:15)

All of these disputed and ridiculed accounts of the Old Testament were confirmed by Jesus as actually occurring. Furthermore, He used certain of them as illustrating some of the most important events in His own ministry—including His resurrection and Second Coming. Since He demonstrated Himself to be God’s Son, His testimony settles the matter—these stories did occur.

Example 6: Jesus Spoke of Prophecy Being Fulfilled

Jesus also said that certain predictions, recorded in the Old Testament, were fulfilled in His life and ministry. We read the following in the Gospel of Luke:

He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Jesus spoke of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew records Jesus saying:

This is the one about whom it is written: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Matthew 11:10)

Jesus also said that what was written about Him must be fulfilled. Mark records Jesus saying:

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)

In another example, when predicting judgment on the city of Jerusalem, Jesus said the following:

For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. (Luke 21:22)

Jesus considered the predictions of the Old Testament as being authoritative—He assumed they needed to be fulfilled.

The Christian Church ultimately believes that the Old Testament is historically reliable because of the testimony of Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to be God in human flesh. These claims were later validated by His resurrection from the dead. By coming back from the dead, as He predicted He would, Jesus demonstrated that He spoke with final authority on all matters. Since Jesus taught that the Old Testament was the Word of God, totally accurate in all that it said, His testimony settles the issue. Indeed, there can be no stronger confirmation than the testimony of Jesus.

Conclusion on the Old Testament: It Is Trustworthy

From the evidence that is available to us, we conclude that there is every reason to believe that the Old Testament is historically accurate.

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

The claim of the New Testament is that God the Son became a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead at a certain time in history. Therefore, it is essential that the New Testament be historically accurate if these claims are to be believed.

When the New Testament addresses historical issues, we will find that it is accurate and reliable. Three important points need to be made:

1. The New Testament Books Are Primary Source Testimony: the Writers Were There

As we investigate the New Testament text, we observe that the writers of the various books claimed to be either eyewitnesses to the events they recorded, or they gathered eyewitness testimony. For example, John testified to things the believers saw, heard and touched. He wrote:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:1-2)

John knew what he was writing was true because he was there to witness the events.

Luke, the writer of the third gospel, penned these words about his gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

This statement of Luke tells us, at least, the following things:

  1. Luke was not an eyewitness to the events he recorded.
  2. But he, like those before him, made careful use of eyewitness accounts.
  3. Luke had access to other narratives; written documents like his own.
  4. Luke felt the need for a further account.
  5. His account is orderly.
  6. His ultimate aim is truth.

The fact that the New Testament writers claimed such objective, complete and firsthand evidence concerning Jesus Christ is of the utmost importance. The evidence that they provide is not hearsay or imaginary. Instead it is direct and reliable; the testimony of witnesses.

2. They Saw the Resurrected Jesus

Time and time again we find the writers of the New Testament appealing to eyewitness testimony. On the Day of Pentecost, about fifty days after Jesus’ death, Peter told the crowd that had gathered that he and the other disciples had seen the risen Christ. He said:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. (Acts 2:32)

The disciples of Jesus were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. This was their consistent claim.

Peter would later write about his own eyewitness testimony. He put it this way:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Notice the emphasis that Jesus’ disciples were “eyewitnesses” to the events which took place.

3. The New Testament Records Eyewitness Details

We also find the gospels filled with details that an eyewitness would remember. For example, we read in the Gospel of John:

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)

The fact that the writer, John, mentioned vividly how the fragrance filled the house is an indication that he was there when this event took place. He remembered the scent.

The New Testament is filled with many references such as these. The point is that those who reported these accounts which took place in the life of Jesus were there when the events happened. They were eyewitnesses!

4. The New Testament Was Written at an Early Date

The New Testament writers claim to be eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In addition, the facts lead us to believe that their writings were composed soon after the events took place.

The exact year that Jesus died and rose again is in dispute. The most likely candidates are the years A.D. 30 and A.D. 33. There is strong evidence that the four gospels were composed before the year A.D. 70. The evidence for an early date to the gospels is as follows:

The City of Jerusalem and the Temple Were Still Standing When the Gospels Were Written

Each of the first three Gospels contains predictions by Jesus concerning the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). The Lord made it clear that the city and the temple would soon be destroyed because of their rejection of Him as the Messiah.

We know that Titus the Roman destroyed the city and temple in the year A.D. 70. This is an historical fact.

However, none of the four gospels records the fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions. It is hard to imagine that the fulfillment of these predictions would not have been recorded if the gospels were written after these events took place. Since the gospels do not record their fulfillment, it gives us a strong indication that these documents were written before Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

To sum up, since Jesus died and rose again in either A.D. 30 or A.D. 33, the gospels would have been composed within forty years of the events if the gospels were written before Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

However, this is not the only indication that the gospels were written at an early date.

The Book of Acts Gives a Clue to the Date of the Gospels

The Book of Acts also provides us with a clue as to when the four gospels were written. Acts records the highlights in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. It concludes with Paul at Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. We read:

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ--with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:30-31)

The two years which Paul spent in Rome were probably A.D. 60 and 61. Yet the death of Paul is not recorded in the Book of Acts. The inference, therefore, is that Acts was written while Paul was still alive. Since there is good evidence that Paul died in the Neronian persecution about A.D. 66, the Book of Acts can most likely be dated sometime after A.D. 61 and before A.D. 66.

Luke’s Gospel Was Written Earlier than Acts

If Acts were written between A.D. 61 and A.D. 66, then this helps us date the four gospels. Why is this so? The Book of Acts is the second half of a treatise written by Luke to a man named Theophilus. Since we know that the gospel of Luke was written before the Book of Acts, we can then date the Gospel of Luke sometime around A.D. 60 or possibly even earlier.

The Brother Who Was Well-Known May Have Been Luke

There may be additional evidence for an early date for Luke’s Gospel. Paul wrote of a brother who was well-known among the churches for the gospel. He said:

And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. (2 Corinthians 8:18)

There is ancient testimony that this refers to Luke and his “written” gospel. If this is speaking of Luke and the gospel he composed, then we have it well-known in the mid-fifties of the first century since Second Corinthians was likely written in the year A.D. 56 or A.D. 57. This would make Luke’s composition within twenty-five years of the events in the life of Christ.

Matthew or Mark May Have Been a Source for Luke

There is more evidence. In his prologue, Luke tells us that he used sources to compose his gospel. This could include written sources:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

This may also be a specific reference of Luke using the Gospel of Mark as a written source. In verse two Luke says he derived the information for his gospel from those who were “eyewitnesses” and “ministers” of the word. The term translated “minister” is the Greek word huparetas.

Interestingly, John Mark, the writer of the second gospel, is called a “minister” by Luke in Acts 13:5 (the same Greek word huparetas). Therefore, it is possible that this could be a reference to Mark as one of his written sources.

If Luke used Mark as a source, then the Gospel of Mark had to have been written before Luke. This brings us even closer to the time when the events took place.

Matthew Was Always Believed to Have Been Written First

This brings us to our next point. According to the unanimous testimony of the early church, Matthew was the first gospel written. The church father Eusebius places the date of Matthew’s gospel in A.D. 41. If the ancient testimony is true, and there is no reason to doubt it, then we have a third independent source about the life of Christ written during the eyewitness period.

John Was an Eyewitness to the Events

The Gospel of John is usually assumed to have been the last of the four gospels composed. John testified that he was an eyewitness to the events that he recorded. He said:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

John also wrote:

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)

It is clear that John claimed to have been in attendance when the events in the life of Jesus transpired.

There Is Internal Evidence of an Early Date for John

There is also internal evidence that John himself wrote before A.D. 70. We read the following description of Jerusalem in the fifth chapter of John:

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. (John 5:2)

John describes the sheep gate as still standing at the time he wrote. He could not have made this statement after A.D. 70 because there was no sheep gate. The sheep gate was destroyed in the year A.D. 70, along with the rest of the city of Jerusalem. The logical implication is that John wrote his gospel before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed.

Conclusion: There Is Evidence for an Early Date for the Four Gospels

When all the historical and textual evidence is amassed, it becomes clear that the four gospels were composed at a very early date, either by eyewitnesses or those who recorded eyewitness testimony. Therefore, we have every reason to trust what they wrote.

5. The Writers Were Historically Accurate

With the above points in mind, we should not be surprised to learn that the New Testament is historically accurate. The accounts of the New Testament writers match up, as far as we can tell, with secular history. The following points need to be made about the reliability of the New Testament:

The People Actually Existed

There are numerous lines of evidence which demonstrate that the people mentioned in the New Testament were historical figures.

Names or Likenesses of New Testament Characters Have Been Found on Statues and Coins

There are a number of individuals who are mentioned in the New Testament whose likeness has been found on either statues or coins. Others have their names on a coin, but with no likeness of them. They are as follows:

1. The Caesars

Four different Caesar’s are mentioned in the New Testament; though only three of them by name.

Augustus, the Roman Emperor who ruled from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14, was the Emperor at the time Jesus was born (Luke 2:1). His image is found on coins and statues.

The Roman Emperor Tiberius, A.D. 14-37, ruled during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 22:17; Mark 12:14-17; Luke 3:1, 20:22-25, 23:2; John 19:12,15). His likeness is also found on statues and coins.

The Roman Emperor Claudius ruled from A.D. 41-54. He is the one who ordered the Jews to leave Rome (Acts 11:28, 17:7, 18:2). Coins and statues also bear his likeness.

Nero, while he is not named, is the Caesar to whom Paul appealed. His is referred to in the following places: Acts 25:11, 12, 21, 26:32, 28:19; Philippians 4:22. He reigned from A.D. 54-68. His likeness has been found on coins.

2. The Herods

There are a number of Herods mentioned in the New Testament. The evidence shows that they too were historical characters.

Herod the Great was ruling Judea at the time Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1). He was the evil ruler who ordered the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem. His name has been found on coins.

Herod Antipas was called Herod the Tetrarch in the New Testament (Luke 3:1). Coins carry the inscription “Herod the Tetrarch.” There are also inscriptions on bronze coins which read “Herod the Tetrarch to Gaius Caesar Germanicus.”

Herod Agrippa I was ruler of Judea from A.D. 27-44. He is the one who persecuted members of the early church (Acts 12:1-23; Acts 23:35). Coins have been found with the inscription, “The Great King Agrippa, Friend of the Caesar.”

Herod Agrippa II, the son of Herod Agrippa, ruled the area of Galilee from A.D. 56-93. Paul appealed to him before going to Rome (Acts 25:13-26:32). His likeness is found on coins.

3. Other New Testament Figures

Aretas IV was the King of the Nabateans from 9 B.C.—A.D. 40. He was the governor in Damascus who attempted to arrest Paul (2 Corinthians 11:32). Coins have been found with his likeness.

Thus, the coins from the New Testament era show that the leaders mentioned were actual historical figures. We are not dealing with mythology!

  • Pontius Pilate Was Prefect of Judea

    For many years there were questions about the existence and the actual title of Pontius Pilate—the Roman governor who presided over the trial of Jesus. In later Roman writers, as well as almost all Bible reference works, Pilate is referred to as the “procurator” of Judea. According to the New Testament, he is called a “governor;” not a procurator.

    In 1961, on the coast of Israel in the town of Caesarea, the discovery was made of a two by three foot stone that had a Latin inscription written upon it. The translation of the inscription reads as follows:

    Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberieum to the Caesareans.

    This is the first archaeological evidence for the existence of Pilate. What is interesting about the inscription is the title that he is given—Prefect of Judea. We now know that the title “Procurator” was not used at the time for the Roman governors. This title only came into usage at a later time.

    During the reign of the emperor Claudius, A.D. 41-54, the title of the Roman governors shifted from Prefect to Procurator. Although the later Roman writers gave Pilate the incorrect title, the New Testament did not. It calls him a governor—not a procurator. To sum up, the New Testament was not in error in describing his official position while some of the later Roman writers were mistaken.

    The Burial Box of the High Priest Caiaphas Has Been Found

    A seemingly stunning example of extra-biblical confirmation of the existence of a New Testament character is found in the discovery of the bones of the High Priest Caiaphas. The New Testament says that Caiaphas is the one who presided over one of the trials of Jesus. Matthew writes:

    Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. (Matthew 26:57)

    In 1990, the bones of Caiaphas were apparently discovered in a limestone ossuary, or burial box, that was found in the old city of Jerusalem. The inscription on the ornate burial box read, “Joseph son of (or, of the family of) Caiaphas.” We know from first-century Jewish writer Flavius Josephus that this was the full name of Caiaphas. There are the first physical remains that have been discovered of a person mentioned in Scripture.

    We should note that not everyone agrees that this was the actual burial box of Caiaphas. However, the evidence has compelled many scholars to accept the identification.

    These are a few of the many examples that could be given of extra biblical confirmation of New Testament characters. Again, we emphasize that the New Testament is dealing with actual historical people, not mythological characters.

The Geographical References Are Correct

Not only do we find that the people mentioned in the New Testament actually existed, we also discover that the geographical references are accurate.

The Cities Were Genuine Cities

As we examine the New Testament, we find that it contains a number of specific geographical references. Indeed, the four gospels record various places where the ministry of Jesus took place. The evidence shows that the cities that are mentioned in the four gospels are known to have existed in the first century. In fact, the exact location of almost all of them has been firmly established. This includes such cities as Nazareth, Cana, Bethlehem, Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Tiberius. In other words, we are dealing with real places.

The Physical Structures Existed

In addition, there were certain physical structures that are mentioned in the gospels that are now known to exist. For example, we have a number of references to synagogues where Jesus taught.

However, for a long time there were no physical remains of any first century synagogue that was discovered. This led critics to deny that Jesus actually taught in synagogues. Yet this is no longer the case. A number of first-century synagogues have now been discovered. Scholar Craig Evans notes:

Most archaeologists now speak of eight or nine synagogues that date to the pre-70 era. (Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence, Westminster, John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2012, p. 45)

In the city of Capernaum, ruins have been found that may have been the very house of Simon Peter. A fifth century church was built over the remains of a first century house. If these are the ruins of Simon Peter’s house, then this is the place where Jesus stayed while in the city of Capernaum.

Thus, when it comes to geographical references, the New Testament proves to be accurate.

The Writers Knew the Local Customs of the Times

The customs that were practiced in the first-century are consistent with that which is recorded in the New Testament. In fact, we find that these customs are related in a way that is minutely accurate. For example, in the Gospel of Luke we read the following account:

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out?the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:11-15)

At the time of Christ, there were different customs with respect to women walking in a funeral procession. In Judea, the area around Jerusalem, the custom was for the women to walk behind the funeral procession. The casket led the way with the women following behind.

However, in the Galilee region, the custom was reversed. The women walked in front of the funeral procession with the casket trailing behind. The description given by Luke demonstrates the minute accuracy of his account.

Luke says that Jesus began to talk to the mother of the dead child, and then touched the coffin of the dead man. At that time the funeral procession stopped—because it was following behind her and the coffin. This would have only been true in the Galilee region. If this story would have been placed in Judea, then it would not have happened this way—the women would have followed the procession.

The fact that Luke incidentally notes that the procession stopped when Jesus touched the coffin shows the minute accuracy of his account.

Summary: the New Testament Fits the Historical Evidence

Therefore, when all the evidence is considered, we find that the New Testament matches up with the known history of that time. The people were real people, the cities existed, the customs were exactly as stated and the events actually occurred. Scholar, Craig Evans, offers a fitting summary:

There is also a very important argument in favor of the general reliability of the New Testament Gospels, and that concerns what is called verisimilitude; that is, what the gospels describe matches the way things really were in the early first-century Jewish Palestine. The New Testament gospels and Acts exhibit a great deal of verisimilitude. They speak of real people (such as Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Agrippa I and II, Felix and Festus) and real events (deaths of John the Baptist and Agrippa I). They speak of real places (villages, cities, roads, lakes and mountains) that are clarified and corroborated by other historical sources and by archaeology. They speak of real customs (Passover, purity, Sabbath, divorce law), institutions (synagogue, temple), offices/officers (priests, tax collectors Roman governors, Roman centurions) and beliefs (of Pharisees and Sadducees; interpretation of Scripture). Jesus’ engagement with his contemporaries, both supporters and opponents, reflects an understanding of Scripture and theology that we now know, thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls and related literature, to have been current in pre-70 Jewish Palestine. (Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: the Archaeological Evidence, Westminster, John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2012, p. 9)

In other words, every historical reference we find matches up to the known reality of the world in which Jesus lived. We are not dealing with fairy tales!

They Were Minutely Accurate

There is a final point that needs to be stressed. One of the marks of truthfulness is the accuracy in small, insignificant details. As we noted, we find the New Testament writers are accurate in areas that had no real significance. Passing references to insignificant details turn out to be historically accurate. This is another indication of the trustworthiness of their entire account. If they were so meticulous as to record accurately the insignificant details, how much more concerned would they be with the main facts?

Conclusion on the New Testament: It Is Trustworthy

As was true with the Old Testament, we find that the New Testament can also be trusted in all that it says. Everything that we know about it leads us to conclude that it is totally reliable. The writers claimed to be eyewitnesses, the testimony indicates they wrote soon after the events took place and the archaeological and literary evidence shows they were historically accurate. This means that we can trust the events it records, as well as the divine explanation of the meaning of these events.

To sum up, the Bible is a historically accurate document. This is the verdict that the evidence demands.

Summary – Reason 4
The Bible’s Historical Precision

Although the Bible relates events to us that occurred thousands of years ago, the evidence clearly demonstrates that it is an accurate historical document and can be trusted as an authoritative source. Both testaments are found to be historically accurate in the details they give of the persons, places and events they record.

A number of important points need to be made about this “wonder of the Bible.”

First, the historical accuracy of Scripture is an important issue. Indeed, the claims of Scripture are that God has acted many times in our history. This being the case, the historical references to His mighty deeds must be accurate; they must match up with known reality.

Second, we find that the people, places and events recorded in Scripture do match up with what we know of the ancient world. As far as we can tell, these people actually existed when the Bible said they existed and these events occurred as the Scripture testifies. Not only are the writers of Scripture accurate, there are many examples where we find that they are minutely accurate. Incidental details are recorded with exact precision.

While this fact, in and of itself, does not make the Bible the Word of God. In order to be God’s Word it must match up to what we know of the ancient world. The evidence says that it does.

This is what we should expect from the Scripture. For example, the books of the New Testament were written soon after the events took place. They were recorded by either eyewitnesses or those who recorded eyewitness testimony. Consequently, it is not surprising that their accounts of what took place are historically accurate.

In sum, we can confidently say that the historical precision of the Scripture is a true wonder.

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