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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible

Don Stewart :: What Are Some Important Things to Understand about Archaeology and the Bible?

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What Are Some Important Things to Understand about Archaeology and the Bible?

The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible – Question 2

Archaeology is the study of ancient debris. It is a discipline that can help shed light on some of the events covered in the Bible. Therefore, it is important that we understand the science of archaeology and how it relates to Scripture. The following points need to be emphasized:

1. Archaeology Is Not Limited to the Bible

We would be wrong in thinking that archaeology is limited or primarily directed at biblical events. It is not. The discipline of archaeology deals with all ancient civilizations. “Biblical archaeology” is only a small part of this vast field of study. It is limited to the people, places, things and events surrounding the Bible. Biblical archaeology deals with the ancient Middle East, or Near East as it is sometimes called. Therefore, most of the archaeological work that goes on in the world does not, in any way, touch biblical events.

Biblical archaeology arose in the nineteenth-century when a wealth of new information about the ancient Near East began to be discovered. Christians wanted to know how this newly discovered material shed light on the people, places, things and events recorded in Scripture. Thus, the search began.

The biblical sites in the Middle East are usually called khirbets, or tells, (also spelled tels). A khirbet is an ancient site where at least some of the ruins are still visible. A tel or tell is the term used to designate a city that is completely buried. “Tel” is the term used of sites with Hebrew names, while “tell” is used of sites with Arabic names. It is only since the nineteenth century that these khirbets and tells have been excavated.

2. Most Books and Articles on Biblical Archaeology Are Written by Non-Believers

It is important to note that most articles and textbooks that are written on the subject of biblical archaeology are from those who treat the Bible as any other ancient document—they do not accept its supernatural origin. Sometimes these works view things written on the subject by Bible-believers as shallow and simplistic. They, on the other hand, see themselves as scientific, truthful and objective. This, of course, is not always the case. There have been some excellent written works on the subject of biblical archaeology which were written by those who believe the Bible is God’s supernatural revelation to humanity. It is to these sources that Bible-believers should pay attention.

3. Archaeology Can Help with Bible Translation and Interpretation

The discoveries of archaeology can be of help with Bible translation and interpretation. For example, at the time the King James Bible was translated in 1611, there were a number of words that were found only in the Hebrew Old Testament, but nowhere else. Since these words were not found in any other literature, the translators had to guess their meaning from the context. However, this has changed. With the discoveries of archaeology, many of these words have been found in documents in other ancient cultures. This has aided tremendously in Bible translation. No longer do Bible translators have to make an educated guess about the meaning of these words. This is another important contribution which is made by the discoveries of the archaeologist.

4. Archaeology Makes the Biblical World More Clear

Archaeological discoveries are especially helpful for those of us in the West who are ignorant of the customs of the ancient East. The work of the archaeologist helps to clarify people, places, things and events mentioned in the Bible. Israel, located between Egypt and Mesopotamia, was at the crossroads in the ancient Near East. Therefore, they were exposed to the culture, laws, politics and religion of many other nations in the ancient world. When we understand more about these nations and their customs it sheds light on many of the practices of the biblical characters as well as the motivations of their behavior. The reason, or reasons, as to why the characters of Scripture made certain decisions now becomes clearer when we understand the world in which they lived.

5. We Learn about Daily Life in the Biblical World

Archaeology can shed light on the daily life of those living during biblical times. We can better understand such things as what the ancient peoples looked like, what was their average height and weight, what they wore, what their dwelling places were like, how they kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer and how their houses were illuminated with light. These people, as well as the conditions in which they lived, now become more real to us through the discoveries of archaeology.

6. Difficult Biblical Expressions Now Become Understandable

Certain expressions, which were hard to understand, have now become clear because of the work of the archaeologist. For example, the Bible calls the city of Hazor “the head of all the kingdoms.” We read about this in the Book of Joshua:

Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms. (Joshua 11:10 NKJV)

When the city of Hazor was excavated, its size was found to be approximately two hundred acres. Other large cities of Palestine were only about twenty acres in size. This helps us understand why Hazor was called the head of all the kingdoms.

7. Historical Details Found in Scripture Are Confirmed

Archaeology also helps put the historical details of Scripture into perspective. As the geographical area in which the biblical events occurred becomes further studied, the historical details of the Bible become clearer. Through the work of the archaeologist, many stories in the Bible, which were once considered impossible, are now shown to have been possible. Certain historical details that were once questioned have now revealed themselves to be true. In this sense, the science of archaeology has helped confirm the accuracy of some of the details of Scripture.

One example of archaeological confirmation of the Old Testament can be found in the monuments discovered from ancient Assyria. The Bible says that King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded the Holy Land and attacked Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. This story is told in (2 Kings 18-19) and (Isaiah 36-37), as well as being summarized in (2 Chronicles 32).

Thanks to the discoveries of archaeology, we now have Sennacherib’s version of what happened. It is recorded on what is known as the Taylor Prism; a clay prism discovered at Nineveh in 1830. When the two accounts are put together they tell the same basic story. The Bible and Sennacherib’s inscriptions agree that Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria and that the walled towns of Judah fell during Sennacherib’s invasion.

Specifically mentioned in Sennacherib’s account is the city of Lachish. Both accounts also record that King Hezekiah was “shut up” in Jerusalem by these events. The Bible as well as the account of Sennacherib both agree that Hezekiah paid tribute to the Assyrian leader in silver and gold. However, while the other walled cities of Judah fell, Jerusalem itself did not fall. In fact, the mighty Assyrian army left the area without firing a single arrow at Jerusalem. To these facts, both the biblical account and the Assyrian account are in agreement.

What is amazing about the account of Sennacherib is that he admits he never captured King Hezekiah or the city of Jerusalem. This is in spite of the fact that he sent a large army against it. Thus, the question needs to be asked, “Since Sennacherib was able to capture all of the other cities of Judah, why was his powerful army not able to capture Jerusalem?”

Sennacherib, in his inscription, attempts to justify why he did not capture Jerusalem or King Hezekiah, in this manner:

As for himself, like a bird in a cage in his royal city Jerusalem, I shut (him) up.

Sennacherib was trying to explain his lack of success in taking the city of Jerusalem. In doing so, he said that Hezekiah was shut up like a “bird in a cage.” The truth is that Hezekiah was under the Lord’s protection. The prophet Isaiah had assured him that the Assyrians would not take the city. We read the following words of Isaiah the prophet in the Book of Second Kings:

“This is what the LORD says about the king of Assyria: He will never come into this city, shoot an arrow here, hold a shield in front of it, or put up dirt ramps to attack it. He will go back the way he came, and he won’t come into this city,” declares the LORD of Armies. “I will shield this city to rescue it for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.” It happened that night. The LORD’s angel went out and killed 185,000 {soldiers} in the Assyrian camp. When the Judeans got up early in the morning, they saw all the corpses. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left. He went home to Nineveh and stayed there. (2 Kings 19:32-36 God’s Word)

Isaiah’s prophecy was clear. Although the Assyrian army had surrounded the city of Jerusalem, the city would not be taken captive. Indeed, not even one arrow would fly over the city walls, nor would the Assyrians attempt to lay siege to the city. The events came to pass just as Isaiah had predicted. Thus, we not only have this prophecy and the fulfillment recorded in Scripture, we also have the fulfillment recorded in the secular records of King Sennacherib.

Thus, it is clear that we are dealing with actual historical events; events in this case which were supernaturally fulfilled. Archaeological finds like the Taylor Prism not only confirm the account contained in the Bible, but they also help illuminate many of the details of the biblical record. As always, we find that God’s Word is true.

8. Biblical Teachings Can Be Better Understood

The results of archaeology can actually help illustrate important biblical teachings. Indeed, we find that if we understand certain things to which the Bible makes reference, it can help us better appreciate what the Bible is attempting to teach us. We will give two illustrations:

The Footstool Illustrates the Complete Victory of Christ

One such example as to how archaeology has helped us with our understanding of the teachings of Scripture is the discovery of the footstool. The footstool is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. For example, we read the following in the Book of Chronicles of a description of the throne of King Solomon:

The throne had six steps, and a footstool of gold was attached to it. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. (2 Chronicles 9:18 NIV)

Solomon’s throne had a footstool made of gold.

In the Book of Isaiah, the Lord calls heaven His throne while earth is called His footstool:

This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you ever build me a temple as good as that? Could you build a dwelling place for me?” (Isaiah 66:1 NLT)

In the Book of Psalms, the Lord speaks of making His enemies His footstool:

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit in honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” (Psalm 110:1 NLT)

This verse speaks of making a footstool of ones enemies. What exactly is it talking about? What was the footstool and why is it used to illustrate victory over enemies?

The footstool was a literal stool in which a king would set his feet upon. We know from archaeological discoveries, such as the tomb of King Tut, that victorious kings actually carved images of their defeated enemies on their footstools. Thus, when the king was seated upon his throne, he would put his feet upon the stool which had the image of those whom he had defeated. This would signify complete victory over his enemy.

Knowing about the footstool not only helps us understand certain Old Testament passages, it also helps us to better appreciate the victory which Jesus Christ gained over Satan, sin, death and hell. By His death on Calvary’s cross and then His resurrection from the dead. Jesus defeated these enemies and will make them His footstool. Speaking of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews said:

But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool. (Hebrews 10:12-13 HCSB)

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said that Jesus will place all enemies under His feet. He said:

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, the people of Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death. For He has put everything under His feet. But when it says “everything” is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception. And when everything is subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:2-28 HCSB)

Jesus Is Now Exalted

Jesus Christ is now exalted above every type of power and authority in the universe; all things will eventually be placed under His feet. How was He able to do this? The Bible says that Jesus erased our debt by His death on the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the Colossians:

He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him. (Colossians 2:14-15 HCSB)

Jesus’ death triumphed over all His enemies. However, this did not end the story. Three days later He rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ made it possible for Him to lead away, or take captive, those who had formerly been held captive to the bondage of sin. The Apostle Paul wrote:

That’s why the Scriptures say: “When he went to the highest place, he took captive those who had captured us and gave gifts to people.” (Ephesians 4:8 God’s Word)

Jesus set free those who had been taken captive by sin. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV)

Jesus Christ gained victory over sin, death and the devil. He has defeated all of His enemies. They will eventually be made His footstool. Furthermore, because of His death, He has set free those who were under the power of sin.

Thus, from the historical use of the footstool we can now better understand what the Bible has to say about the victory Jesus Christ gained over His enemies. In addition, we recognize those who have believed in Him are now set free from the slavery of sin. These are indeed wonderful truths illustrated by the footstool.

The Potsherd Illustrates Our Frail Human Condition

While the footstool illustrates the victory of Christ over His enemies, and the fact that believers are no longer slaves to sin, the Bible also uses the simple potsherd to illustrate our frail human condition. The potsherd is a piece of broken pottery. When archaeological sites are excavated, many pieces of broken pottery are usually found. These pieces should serve as a reminder to a number of spiritual truths revealed in Scripture. Indeed, we find the potsherd used a number of times in Scripture to illustrate important biblical truths.

It was a potsherd, or a piece of broken pottery, which the patriarch Job used in scraping off the boils that had been sent his way. The Bible says:

So Satan left the LORD’s presence and infected Job with incurable boils from the sole of his foot to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself while he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:7-8 HCSB)

With every scrape of the potsherd Job would wonder why such terrible things had happened to him. In the same manner, we ourselves wonder why certain horrific things have happened to us. Like Job, we may never get a complete answer.

In another example, the psalmist compares a dead person to a piece of broken pottery:

I am forgotten: gone from memory like a dead person?like broken pottery. (Psalm 31:12 HCSB)

The broken piece of pottery is no longer remembered because it no longer exists in the condition in which it was originally made. It is broken and its usefulness here on earth is over. The same is true for those who have died. They are no longer able to make a personal impact on other human beings because they are no longer among the living.

The broken pieces of pottery can also serve as a reminder of our fallen human condition; we are like broken pieces of pottery which are in need of repair. It is only the Lord, the Master Potter, who can put together the broken pieces of our lives.

Indeed, the illustration of the potter and the clay is used in Scripture to show the relationship of the Lord, our Maker, to us, the clay. In the Book of Isaiah humans are compared to pottery:

How horrible it will be for the one who quarrels with his maker. He is pottery among other earthenware pots. Does the clay ask the one who shapes it, “What are you making?” Does your work say to you, “There are no handles”? How horrible it will be for the one who says to his father, “Why did you conceive me?” or to his mother, “Why did you go through labor pains for me?” The LORD is the Holy One and the maker of Israel. This is what the LORD says: Ask me about what is going to happen to my children! Are you going to give me orders concerning my handiwork? I made the earth and created humans on it. I stretched out the heavens with my own hands. I commanded all the stars [to shine]. (Isaiah 45:9-12 God’s Word)

As the potter has the right to do what he pleases with the objects he is forming, so the Lord has the right to mold and form those whom He made. He is the Maker of all things. Therefore, none of us are in a position to quarrel with our Maker.

In another place in the Book of Isaiah we have another comparison between the potter and the clay. It says:

You turn things upside down! Is the potter no better than his clay? Can something that has been made say about its maker, “He didn’t make me”? Can a piece of pottery say about the potter, “He doesn’t understand”? (Isaiah 29:16 God’s Word)

The clay is not in a position to say to the potter that he does not understand. In the same way, humans should not accuse God of not understanding our predicament. He does understand.

In the New Testament, our existence is compared to a clay jar. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7 HCSB)

We are simple jars of clay. Any greatness that comes from us is ultimately derived from the One who has formed us and filled us with His power; the Living God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore from the simple clay pot, whether broken or intact, we find the Bible giving us a number of valuable spiritual truths. Thus, whenever an archeological site is excavated, the existence of the countless pieces of broken pottery illustrate God’s truth about who He is, the Potter, and who we are, the clay.

9. Archaeology Does Not Prove the Bible

The science of archaeology brings the world of the Bible to life. Indeed, find after find of the archaeologist confirms the biblical record as accurate. While archaeology is a great help to those who study Scripture, it should be emphasized that archaeology does not “prove the Bible.”

All archaeology can do is show that the background of biblical stories is consistent with the facts. It can show that the event could have happened, but it cannot always show that it actually did happen. This is usually beyond the realm of what archaeology can accomplish.

In addition, it can never reveal why something happened or the meaning as to why it happened. Thus archaeology can never be the final standard of whether a biblical story is true or false.

The final standard of what did really happen, as well as the meaning of what happened, is found in the written Word of God.

Summary – Question 4
What Are Some Important Things to Understand about Archaeology and the Bible?

Archaeology, the study of ancient debris, can be helpful in demonstrating that certain biblical events did actually occur or could have occurred as the Bible says.

The field of archaeology is not limited to the Bible. In fact, biblical archaeology is only a small part of the actual work that goes on. Unfortunately, most articles and books on biblical archaeology are written by those who view the Bible as a mere human work.

The science of archaeology can be of a tremendous help in our understanding of the Bible. For one thing, it can help us in the understanding of the meaning of certain words for which there is some uncertainty of their meaning.

Archaeology can also help the world of the Bible come alive. Indeed, the background of the biblical events can be more understandable through the work of archaeologists. Difficult expressions found in Scripture can become clear as a result of archaeological discoveries. Confirmation of the historical accuracy of Scripture occurs when truths of the ancient world are uncovered. Archaeology also helps in our understanding of biblical doctrines. In short, archaeology has a number of uses for Bible believers.

With all that archaeology can do, it does not prove the Bible. It can only confirm that the events recorded in Scripture match up to what is known in the past. However, biblical archaeology can be a tremendous benefit for the believer.

What Is Archaeology? What Do Archaeologists Do? ← Prior Section
Does Archaeology Have Its Limitations? Next Section →
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