Does history support the Bible?

FAQ: Is the Bible (Scripture, God’s Word) historically accurate?

The Bible is a very detailed document, and there are many things it says about the ancient world that have not been substantiated by secular historians. However, more of the people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible are substantiated by historians as more historical texts are read and translated, and as archaeologists and historians discover more about the ancient world. It has taken years and years to ferret out the details of ancient history, and often, century after century went by without any secular substantiation for historical information given in the Bible. Unfortunately, there have been occasions during those times when critics of the Bible took the opportunity to try to discredit it. Instead of looking at the track record of the Bible and believing that historical evidence would one day be brought to light to substantiate it, they claimed the Bible was “wrong” and “inaccurate.”

A notable example of recent finds vindicating God’s Word is in Daniel 5, which lists “Belshazzar” as the king of Babylon. The “problem” arose when ancient records were discovered listing the kings of Babylon, and Belshazzar was not on the list. Critics used this fact to “prove” the book of Daniel was fiction and not history. Later, however, the Bible was vindicated as archaeologists uncovered texts showing that the actual king, Nabonidus, had left Babylon and appointed Belshazzar to reign in his stead while he traveled. Thus, Belshazzar, the second in command, was the acting king. This fact is actually alluded to in Daniel 5:7 because Belshazzar offered the position of “…third highest ruler in the kingdom” to whoever could read the mysterious writing that appeared on the wall of his palace. He could not make anyone the “second highest ruler” because he was holding that position himself. This is just one example, and there are many others.

Another question scholars have asked concerns the dates of the books of the Bible themselves. One of the important evidences that God is the Author of Scripture is that it contains predictive prophecy, i.e., foretelling the future. It is widely known that it is impossible for men to accurately tell the future because things change so quickly and unpredictably. Yet the Bible accurately foretells the future, which proves that God is its Author. The primary way critics get rid of the foretelling in Scripture is to say that the books of the Bible were written after the events actually occurred. For example, they say parts of the book of Isaiah were written in the Greek period, long after the events “foretold” in Isaiah occurred. If that criticism were true, then there would not really be any foretelling at all in the Bible. It would simply contain fairy tales about great prophets who could foresee the future, when in fact the stories were made up and the events that were being written about had already occurred.

As “proof” of the late dates of the biblical books, until 70 to 100 years ago scholars asserted that a number of Hebrew words used in the Old Testament appeared late in the development of the Hebrew language. They said this was proof that the Old Testament books were not written as early as Moses, Joshua, David, and even Isaiah, but were written as late as the Hellenistic (Greek) period, 332 B.C. and later. In the last 70 years, however, a large number of tablets and texts have been unearthed in various excavations around the Middle East, showing that the words critics said were “late” are not late at all. In fact, the evidence available now shows that the vocabulary used in the Bible fits exactly into the ages and places given in Scripture. Far from disproving it, the very vocabulary used in Scripture supports its historical accuracy.

Although some people may claim that the Bible is not historically accurate, it is—and this fact speaks very loudly as to its divine authorship. It is the rule, not the exception, that non-biblical ancient historical texts have inaccuracies and inconsistencies. This is easy to understand. How accurate would our histories be if there were no cameras, no telephones or quick communication devices, no accurate maps or way to locate things, and no way to quickly and easily record what was happening? The only things available in the ancient world to record what had happened were memory, word of mouth, and limited means to write what had happened. This means if the Bible, which contains historical information from many centuries and many countries had been authored by man, we should expect some degree of historical inaccuracies, but those inaccuracies are not there.

The account of Sir William Ramsay, an English historian, scholar, and author from the late 1800s is noteworthy. Ramsay was taught at school that the Bible was not reliable, and believed his professors. He wrote, “But about 1880 to 1890 the book of Acts was regarded as the weakest part of the New Testament. No one who had any regard for his reputation as a scholar cared to say a word in its defense.” [1] Ramsay studied the Roman Empire while living in Turkey, and since the book of Acts records many events that happened there, he began to study it. Because his professors had filled his mind with doubt about the Bible, he stated, “I began then to study the Acts in search of geographical and antiquarian evidence, hardly expecting to find any….” [2]

As Ramsay studied the book of Acts for himself, he gradually became convinced it was accurate. This process continued until eventually he wrote: “I adopted this argument [that the history in the New Testament was not factual] from others: but I made it my own by believing it and judging accordingly. We are all equally condemned for bad critical method and wrong judgment.” He then wrote of Acts, “The present writer takes the view that Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.” [3] It is interesting that Ramsay, like so many others, only “heard” the Bible was historically inaccurate, and he believed it until he did his own research, something that, as a trained historian, fluent in both Greek and Latin, he was able to do. The historical research of Ramsay and many others has been examined and rechecked many times, and it can be said with confidence that the Bible is historically accurate.

Time after time, when the Bible mentions a person, place, nation, language, or custom, it has been proven to be correct. More than one historian has come to Christ by studying the accuracy of the history revealed in the Bible. If it is so amazingly accurate about things we can verify, why would we doubt its accuracy about things we cannot verify, such as everlasting life through Christ?

Endnotes

[1] William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1979), p. 38.
[2] Ibid. p. 38.
[3] Ibid. pp. 41 and 81.

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