Signpost – Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pt. 2

(Sorry for the long time it took to post this article; I had some family medical AND computer problems this last week)

Previously, I outlined how the most reasonable conclusion about the dating of the Gospels was that they were written within 20 – 60 years after the events chronicled, and possibly even earlier.

In this post, I will tell you why I’ve concluded that the Gospels are not only historically accurate, but show evidence that they were written either by eyewitnesses, or are accurate documentation of events gathered from eyewitnesses.

First, a brief discussion of what seems to be one of most New Testament apologist’s favorite subject – archaeology.

There are many books and websites defending the Bible that adamantly proclaim that “Archaeology has proven the Bible to be 100% historically accurate” and an equal number from the opposing side declaring “there is NOTHING in archaeology that confirms the Bible, so we can discount all of it”.

Both sides are guilty of gross exaggeration. The truth of the matter is that archaeology, which is concerned with historical documents only as one of many kinds of artifacts which may be useful for dating other artifacts found with them can provide confirmation that people, places, or customs existed as depicted in the Bible, but historical confirmation can really only come from textual documentation. Therefore, archaeology can provide incidental support, but cannot be used to disprove or confirm the historical record except for the discovery of documents or text carvings that can do so.

To date, there have been no archaeological discoveries that have disproven or contradicted any New Testament historical passage. There have been, however, many discoveries that have confirmed the Gospel and Acts accounts as accurate descriptions of the people, culture, and events of the time. Below, taken from The Apologetics Study Bible, is a chart of some of the more important archaeological finds relating to the Gospels and Acts. It is interesting to note that before these discoveries, there were many articles and books written that attempted to discount the Scriptures as fiction based on the lack of archaeological or textual sources for the people, places or events apart from the Bible.

ArchaeologyChart

These are the kinds of evidence we can expect from archaeology; not confirmation of specifics (such as that Jesus was arrested and taken to Caiaphas, the high priest) but of general facts and situations (such as that Caiaphas was indeed the high priest at the indicated time). All of the above discoveries have shown that in cases where archaeological research has had any bearing on the accuracy of the Biblical record, the Bible has been shown to conform to the facts revealed by that research.

In the words of M.G. Kyle in his conclusion of a rather lengthy article on page 233 of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “The Bible at its face value is being corroborated wherever archaeology immediately and definitely touches it. To illustrate this statement fully would be to cite every definite piece of archaeological evidence in the Biblical field of scientific research during the last one hundred years.”

So, we now know that the narratives of the Gospels agree with what we know from archaeology about the culture and people of the time. What other evidence do we have to confirm that the writers were giving eyewitness accounts?

Geography. Yes, that’s right, geography. Couple the present day geography of the land with what we know of the geography of the time from archaeological and extra-Biblical historical sources, and it is obvious that the Biblical accounts are extremely geographically accurate. In fact, in the early days of archaeological research in the Holy Lands, it was not uncommon to find a Bible as the main guide for where to look for artifacts!

Then there is the evidence from ancient documents other than the Bible. Where manuscripts of the first and second century speak of people or events related in the Gospels and Acts, they serve to confirm the Biblical narrative:

-) Flavius Josephus, Tacitus and Philo all write about Pilate, and their descriptions of his life and personality are consistent with the Gospel record.

-) Some of the non-Christian historians and writers who mention the death of Christ include Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus and Lucian.

-) Josephus wrote about Ananias as the high priest during the time of Jesus

-) Phlegon and Thallus both mention the earthquake and eclipse that happened at the crucifixion.

These are just a few of the nonBiblical accounts that agree with the Gospels.

It is readily apparent that the accounts written in the Gospels and the book of Acts, where it is possible to fact-check them, are accurate both historically and geographically. In addition, as shown in earlier posts, they are eyewitness accounts, and were written down soon enough after the events to insure that contemporaries could either verify or deny the accounts.

Since we have seen verification of the accounts, according to the investigative rule that if an account is accurate in areas that can be either verified or falsified it should be taken as accurate in other matters as well we can reasonably conclude that the Biblical accounts are true.

Therefore, the primary question is “what do I do about it”?

I suggest that there are only two responses that make any sense at all:

1. To, in spite of all of the evidence to support the truth claims of the Gospels, to deny their accuracy on the sole grounds that supernatural occurrences cannot happen.

2. To act upon the truth of the Gospels by becoming a follower of the Christ.

Both decisions have consequences; the former may make life easier in the short term, but insures judgement and wrath.

The second choice offers a trade – being misunderstood, ridiculed and persecuted in the short term, but an eternity of joy, meaningfulness and peace after.

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The following resources offer more detailed examination of the evidence presented above.

The complete works of Flavius Josephus are available online. The following links are to passages related to points made above:

This passage names Ananias (spelled Ananus here) as high priest.

Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 3 describes Pilate and mentions Jesus. Recent discoveries of earlier      manuscripts indicate that much of the third paragraph may be late additions, but the description of the character and death of Jesus are included in the early manuscript.

Here is Josephus’ account of the death of John the Baptist.

Josephus.org has an interesting compilation of quotations from the primary documents relating to the life of Jesus

Facing the Challenge has a long list of archaeological and historical artifacts and documents relating to the Bible with links to more detailed information on each.

This article has more detailed information about the Pilate inscription, crucifixion, and other archaeological evidence supporting the New Testament.

American Thinker has an article specifically examining the archaeological discoveries concerning the Gospel of John.

Here is a fascinating article about Peter’s house in Capernaum.

One of my favorite titles, and well written as well: Archaeology and the Synoptic Gospels: Which way do the rocks roll?

 

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