Should Archaeology Matter to Bible Believing Christians?

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Archaeology_TrowelWhen Christians think and speak about defending or sharing the Christian faith with the people around them—the Scripture itself must be our first line of defense and reasoning. Scripture stands by itself as the infallible, inspired and inerrant Word of God. Scripture is God’s conduit by which He redeems lost sinners and changes the hearts of man (Romans 10:17). Even with holding the authoritative Word of God as the ultimate resource, there are still many who endeavor to defend the faith by first turning to archaeology, philosophical arguments, scientific proofs and rebuttals, canonicity or textual criticism to defend the veracity of the Bible and add to its credibility in the eyes of the unbelieving world. None of these proofs or apologetic resources is wrong, but rather represent a well-rounded and robust defense of the Scripture. While the authoritative pages of Scripture must be our first priority as we think to inform our apologetic methodology, other disciplines that support the truthfulness of Scripture like archaeology can be very beneficial, and thus should be pursued as a viable endeavor.

This post is not intended to convince you to sell your house, move to a middle-eastern country, and pursue a career in archaeology.  I would, however, like to highlight some of the benefits of archaeology, and perhaps give you some added insight as to the importance of the archaeological information you may find in your typical study Bible or commentary. And I hope it does encourage you to be familiar with the benefits of archaeology.

Confirmation

Archaeology has confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible. It has verified many ancient sites, civilizations, and biblical characters whose existence was questioned by the academic world and often dismissed as myths. As the 20th century has progressed, several archaeological finds verifying the biblical record have come to light. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains:

There were nineteenth-century scholars who were convinced that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and perhaps even Moses were simply imaginary creations of later Israelite authors. But archaeology has put these persons in a real world. As a result, a scholar such as J[ohn] Bright, after devoting thirty-six pages to the subject, can write, ‘the Bible’s picture of the patriarchs is deeply rooted in history.’

This quote reminds us that archaeology has indeed confirmed many facts in the Bible. For instance, skeptics of Scripture believed for many years that Belshazzar was a pure invention on the part of the writer of Daniel chapter five. However, in 1854, some clay cylinders were discovered at the ancient city of Ur upon one of which was inscribed a prayer on behalf of King Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar.

BSAO080103900The archaeologist’s spade has also uncovered evidence of ancient peoples mentioned in Scripture. One such example is the Hittite kingdom, mentioned only in the Bible, which had been dismissed by many critics as mythological. Prior to the late 19th century, nothing was known of the Hittites outside the Bible, and many critics alleged that they were an invention of the biblical authors. As Gleason Archer mentions: “The references [in the Bible] to the Hittites were treated with incredulity and condemned as mere fiction on the part of late authors of the Torah.” Yet, excavations in Syria and Turkey revealed many Hittite monuments and documents. These discoveries proved the Hittites to have been a mighty nation, with an empire extending from Asia Minor to parts of Israel.

Archaeology also confirms people in the Bible. In “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible” in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk lists 50 figures from the Hebrew Bible who have been confirmed archaeologically. The 50-person chart in BAR includes Israelite kings and Mesopotamian monarchs as well as lesser-known figures. Other archaeological evidence to emerge in support of the Bible includes the Code of Hammurabi, The Mari Letters, and the extensive Sumerian Literature.

In addition, archaeology provides information about the customs of the people, their clothing, material objects, economy; it uncovers information about their trade routes, types of travel, occupations, housing, government and religion. All of this extra-biblical information relating to illumination provides a context for understanding the Old Testament.

Historical Reliability of the Biblical Text

Before archaeology, there was little to help demonstrate the accuracy of the Bible as it pertains to the text itself. The Bible was assumed to be true because it was accepted as God’s Word. The tool of archaeology has reaped many benefits to the authenticity of the text. For instance, some words appear only once in the Hebrew Bible, called hapex legomena. Without extra biblical evidence, the meanings of these words would be ambiguous. But since some of these words appear frequently in discovered texts, clarity and reasonable certainty can be brought to bear on the words of Scripture. An example is the Ras Shamra texts, which have assisted the understanding of both verbal morphology and literary devices of Hebrew poetry, most notably in the Psalms.

dss-scThe monumental discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls occurred in 1947 in Qumran, a village situated about twenty miles east of Jerusalem on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Ten years and many searches later, eleven caves around the Dead Sea were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments dating from the third century B.C. to A.D. 68 and representing an estimated eight hundred unconnected works. In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls are 1,000 years older than the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. As a result, the Dead Sea scrolls have now put scholarship in a much better position to understand and see how the Old Testament was faithfully put together and preserved for thousands of years. And the scrolls have in large part shown that through the millennia, scribes faithfully and carefully copied the very words of God down for Christians today. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a testimony to the accuracy and preservation of the Old Testament and give confidence that the Old Testament we have today is the same Old Testament used by Jesus.

Conclusion

Even with these discoveries, it would be wrong to try and prove the truthfulness of the Bible through archaeology.  Our faith must not rest in any discovery of archaeology, for this is not merely a historical book.  While archaeology has helped to confirm the historicity of the Bible, we must remember that archaeology does not directly prove or deal with its theological message. An object dug out of the ground will never save a soul from an eternity without God!  Experience with physical stuff matters for naught.  Only God’s Word can convert a sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life!  The aspect of the gospel has to be accepted by faith alone. However, when the historical references in the Bible are affirmed by archaeology to be authentic, then it only strengthens the argument that the theological truth it represents should also be credible and worth relying on as one’s anchor in life.  Though there are many holes in the archaeological record, as supplementary evidence, archaeology “contributes” towards affirming our faith in the Word of God. The God of Scripture has uniquely spoken to man through His Word, so that when archaeology sheds light on that history it is important to biblical studies. Although it is not possible to verify every incident in the Bible, the discoveries of archaeology since the mid-1800s have demonstrated the complete reliability and plausibility of the Bible narrative, and thus the continual pursuit of archaeology must be considered a viable pursuit.

[1] W.G. Dever, “Archaeology And The Bible – Understanding Their Special Relationship,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, (1990): 53.

[2] Lasor, W.S. “Archaeology,” G.W. Bromiley, gen. ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [ISBE], rev., Vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 249.

[3] Gleason L. Archer. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Revised edition. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1974), 165.

 

 

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