How Accurate Is the Bible?
Here are some common questions and statements concerning the Bible.
“The Bible is full of contradictions and errors.”
“How can you be sure the Bible is the same now as when it was written, given that it’s been copied and translated so many times?”
These common charges against the Christian Scriptures are often followed with an assertion like, “Historians and scientists have long since proven that the Bible is inaccurate and unreliable.”
But how accurate is that statement? Is the Bible really full of contradictions? Is it outdated, inauthentic, and full of scientific and historical errors as so many assert? In short,
Can we trust the Bible?
Here, we will consider some objections to the accuracy and reliability of the Bible to help you make a more informed decision about whether or not the Bible is trustworthy.
For a more thorough treatment on the Bible’s reliability, see Question 4 (“Is the Bible Reliable?”) in I’m Glad You Asked (by Dr. Boa and Larry Moody).
Consider the following statements:
- The Bible says that God helps those who help themselves.
- The books of the New Testament were written centuries after the events they describe.
- “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is in the Bible.
- According to the Bible, the earth is flat.
- The earliest New Testament manuscripts go back only to the fourth or fifth centuries AD.
- The Bible teaches that the earth is the center of the universe.
- The English Bible is a translation of a translation of a translation (etc.) of the original, and fresh errors were introduced in each stage of the process.
How many of the above statements do you think are true? The answer is none; all of them are false. Yet these false impressions persist in the minds of many, and misinformation like this produces a skeptical attitude toward the Bible.
The fact is that, with few exceptions, many have reached their conclusions about the Bible through second- and third-hand sources rather than through firsthand investigation. For example, it is a rare person who has personally examined the text to see if an alleged contradiction is really there. Someone who asserts that the Bible is full of contradictions should be able to name at least one, if not several; challenging them to do so can be a helpful initial response.
The argument for verifying scripture… is it true, is eternal life possible? Is there a heaven and a hell? We better know these things before we run out of time.
A man comes to a person and offers him a new car, proves he can, and will give it to that person, and the person jumps all over it.
Another man comes to that same person and offers eternal life, proves he can and will give it to him, and he turns it down.
Does it make any sense to turn that gift down for any reason?
Are you starting to see what the problem in the world really is?
Maybe they just aren’t seeing the proof behind the giving, as they can the car…. Maybe we all need to learn how to present the proof…
This is why I and you should take time to learn Christian Apologetics… so we can help others, friends, family, our children, and even those we don’t like so they can know the gift is real, and the receiving is free.
There are many sources…. The undeniable proof is available… claim your title to eternal life.. Help others make their claim…
In the past, I have given you many reasons why we can believe and how we can defend our faith through both lessons, and occasional videos.
My goal and my passion is that every Christian becomes a Christian evangelist… taking the word to the world as commanded in Matthew 28: 18 – 20 but more than that, to become a Christian evangelist apologist. That is the complete command when coupling Matthew 28: 18 – 20 with the command given in 1 Peter 3:15 to be ready, and able to defend the word, which is apologetics.
Tonight I want to take us in a new direction. I’m not going to show you how impossible evolution is mathematically or through the fossil record, or by population growth, no, tonight we are going to look inward, we are going to look at the word of God itself.. the Bible… for it is the best proof you will ever find.
It is the most amazing book you will ever pick up… A number of years ago I would spend around 3 to 5 hours a day, just writing scripture, and every day was incredibly exciting for me… yes, exciting, and I am one of those fellows who is easily bored.
For instance, I always thought seeing the ocean would be incredibly interesting, and exciting… I was there for about 5 minutes, and started looking for something to do… I asked… ok, now what? That was just as exciting as staring at a wheat field.
I have also suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder… My mind could never stay on one thing more than a few minutes at a time. However, when writing out these scriptures it was the first time I was able to focus on anything for a long period of time, and even now, working on a sermon, or lesson is the one time I have the ability to focus, and for those of you with the same problem, you know that is a form of rest, and relief.
The bible rightfully claims to be the inspired word of God. This is where most arguments against Christianity begins, people will state, “after all it was written by men” which is true, but those men were inspired by God, and it is proven by the information given in scripture… however, let’s begin at the beginning. Tonight we are going to look at the
The uniqueness of the Bible
- Generally, when a person speaks of the Bible, it is referred to as one of the great books, placed on a bookshelf with other great Literature, or people speak of it as a great book of moral teaching, even though they have never read it, a book of legends and tall tales.
- My personal view is, and always has been in my memory, a sacred book, and the word of God, to receive total respect as it is the book of life. To be handled with reverence, you are handling God when you handle the bible.
- By Professor M. Montiero-Williams, former Boden professor of Sanskrit held this perspective. After spending forty-two years studying Eastern books, he compared them with the Bible and said: “Pile them if you will, on the left side of your study table but place your own Holy Bible on the right side – all by itself, all alone – and with a wide gap between them. For… there is a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever… a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science of religious thought.” (Collett, AAB, 314,315)
- Unique in its Continuity
- Written over a fifteen hundred year span.
- Written by more than forty authors from every walk of life, including kings, military leaders, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, tax collectors, poets, musicians, statesmen, scholars, and shepherds. For example
- Moses: political leader, judge, trained in the university of Egpyt;
- David, a king, poet, musician, shepherd, and warrior;
- Amos, a herdsman;
- Joshua, a military general;
- Nehemiah, a cupbearer to a pagan king;
- Daniel, a prime minister;
- Solomon, king and philosopher;
- Luke a physician and historian;
- Peter, fisherman;
- Paul, a rabbi;
- Mark, Peter’s secretary.
Written in various places
- By Moses in the wilderness
- Jeremiah in a dungeon,
- Daniel on a hillside and in a palace,
- Paul inside prison walls
- Luke while traveling,
- John while in exile on the isle of Patmos
Written at different times:
- David in times of war and sacrifice
- Solomon in times of peace and prosperity.
- In times of freedom
- In times of captivity
- Written in various moods of the authors
- At the heights of joy;
- From the depths of despair
- During times of certainty and conviction;
- During days of confusion and doubt.
Written on three continents
Written in three languages:
Written in a wide variety of literary styles, including;
- historical narrative,
- didactic treatise,
- personal correspondence,
The Bible addresses hundreds of controversial subjects
In spite of its diversity, the Bible presents a single unfolding story
Let’s look at that again, while the bible covers a wide variety of subjects, often controversial, it is still one story unfolding from the beginning of time, and reaching out to the still yet to come future of the end of time.
- Unique in its Circulation: It’s not unusual to hear about a book that hits the bestseller list selling a few hundred copies, even rarer still if it sells a million copies, and in very rare cases a book might sell over 10 million copies, yet the bible has sold in the billions… it’s beyond imagination…it staggers the mind. In one year alone (1998), over 585 million bibles, and testaments were distributed by the United Bible Societies, just that one group….
- Unique in its Translation; the number of translations is as impressive as the number of Bibles sold. The vast majority of books written are never translated into another language, those that are never more than 2 or 3 languages, yet the bible has been translated into approximately 2,400 other languages, that is over one-third of all languages on earth, however, these languages account for 90% of all people on Earth.
- The Worldwide Status of Bible Translation (2015):1. More than 1,300 languages have access to the New Testament and some portions of Scripture in their language.2. More than 550 languages have the complete translated Bible.3. About 7,000 languages are known to be in use today.4. Up to 180 million people need Bible translation to begin in their language.
5. Just under 2,300 languages across 130 countries have active translation and linguistic development work happening right now.
- Up to 1,800 languages still need a Bible translation project to begin.
- Unique in its Survival
- Through Time Although it was written on perishable materials, and had to be copied and recopied for hundreds of years before the invention of the printing press, the Scriptures have never diminished in style or correctness, nor have they ever faced extinction.
- Compared with other ancient writings, the Bible has more manuscript evidence to support it than any ten pieces of classical literature combined.
- Now here’s an important statement to think about made by John Warwick Montgomery… he observed that “to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of the classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament” (Montgomery, HC’ 71,29)
- Similarly, Bruce Metzger, a Princeton professor and one of the world’s leading Biblical text critics, comments that in contrast with other ancient texts, “the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material.” (Metzger, TNT,34). The fact is we have over 4,000 early copies of the New Testament, and they are all identical. We even have partial copies of the New Testament written within 30 years of the time of Christ.
- The point is simply much of the material written about Christ during this time could have been refuted by many people who lived during this time and were witnesses. For instance, I was in High School when John Kennedy was assassinated, and if someone had tried to claim he had raised the dead, there would be plenty of people around to argue that he didn’t, and no one ever argued from antiquity that Christ was not a leader of the people, that He was not a teacher, and that He did not heal, for it was common knowledge that He was, and did the things accorded to Him.
- As far as the Old Testament, it leaves a person in awe when they discovered the lengths they went to in order to preserve the word. They kept tabs on every letter, every syllable, letter, and paragraph. They knew exactly how many letters there were in each line, what the exact letter and word should be in the center of each line and page.
- They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity – scribes, lawyers, macerates (A member of the school of rabbis that produced the Masora). Whoever counted and measured the letters of Plato or Aristotle, Cicero or Seneca?
- Through Persecution
- Through Criticism
- Unique in its Teachings
- Science in the Bible
Now, this is my favorite part, and it is because it absolutely proves the bible has to be the inspired word of God. These men, in some cases over 4,000 years ago could not have possibly written about the things they wrote about without inspiration of God, they had no other access to these facts.
- Yet they tell us about springs at the bottom of the ocean, a recent discovery of science.
- They told us about neutrons and protons that make up atoms, and that no human eye would ever see them… a scientific fact….
- Even with Noah, and the great flood, most people want to refer to the fossils of fish and other sea creatures found in mountain tops, but I like to refer to how Noah built the ark to specifications God gave him, and those specs are used by modern shipbuilders today, approximately 6 times as long as they are wide, and that perfection of numbers was only recently discovered by modern shipbuilders
- In Genesis 6:15, God instructed Noah to build an ark that was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. This is a ratio of 30 to 5 to 3 (length to breadth to height). Until about 1858, the ark was the largest floating ship ever created.
- In terms that we understand better, the ark was about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.
- In 1844, a man named Isambard K. Brunnel built his giant ship, the Great Britain. He used almost the exact ratio of the ark—30:5:3. As it turns out, these dimensions are the perfect ratio for a huge boat built for seaworthiness and not for speed.What is more, shipbuilders during World War II used approximately the same ratio to build a ship known as the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien (one of a group of ships known as the Liberty Ships, which were referred to as “the ugly ducklings”)—a barge-like boat built to carry tremendous amounts of cargo, just like the ark.
- Unique in its Influence on Literature
- Unique in its Influence on Civilization
- Unique in its Reliable Nature Among History Books
While the Bible covers a wide variety of subjects, often controversial, written by all these people from all over the world (40 from 3 continents) , with all their various views of their world, in all these languages (3), yet all inspired by God, revealing the history of mankind, so accurately it is the standard, the true North for all archeologists, a standard for historians, a current times newspaper for the believer, a book of instructions on how to go through life, setting a moral code that most governments and laws are based upon, a book of wisdom that is beyond all other books of wisdom, a book of songs and poetry so beautiful nothing compares, written in a wide variety of literary styles in multiple languages over 1500 years, claims to be the word of God and then proves itself all through the scriptures by weaving into its structure small bits of wisdom concerning the earth, that it is round, what it’s made of, how it’s constructed perfectly in order to support life as needed, that it rotates, giving over 100 examples of scientific technology concerning, health issues, biology, and chemistry, how everything is made up of neutrons and protons that no man will ever see, all of these that modern science claims to have “discovered” only to find out that somehow men wrote about 4,000 years ago before they had any knowledge concerning health practices, or how the world was made, before they ever heard of bacteria, or a molecule let alone an atom or what it is used in its making, thousands of years before they had any of the scientific equipment they have now, before the discovery and use of electricity, without the help of modern communication, without the halls of higher education, without even classrooms or formal education of any type. And the icing on the cake is over 2500 predictions of the future that have all come true except for a few of the remaining end time predictions, yet it is still one story, unfolding from the beginning of time, and reaching out to the still yet to come, the future of the end of time.
This book has changed men’s lives, brought joy to their hearts, created a spotlight to shine on their sins, so they could recognize them as sin, and gives the way out of sin. This book that is behind the construction of thousands of the most beautiful buildings, Synagogues, temples, and churches built to honor it, and give a place for believers to worship its author, this book read and believed by millions if not billions of people for thousands of years tells us how to gain eternal life, through the authors’ time on Earth, whose blood was shed for His followers, whose life here on Earth was during a precise time when His teaching could spread throughout the known world without borders, was the greatest teacher who ever lived, yet never had a formal education, who never traveled more than two hundred miles from His place of birth, who came without a royal banner, but came in the form of a person from a place of no account, without any appearance that would appeal to people, and in fact turn them away, born too soon so as to never have respect, born too poor to have even the slightest influence on anyone, yet somehow this teacher, this prophet, this messiah without a Rolex, without a Mercedes, without a mansion on the hill, without beautiful clothes, and appearance, without political correctness, without any form of mass communication, without even the help of loud speakers, and magnificent auditoriums, speaking from hillsides, or from a boat, changed the lives of millions, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and has been worshiped for 20 centuries as God in the flesh. This pauper, this impossible character even changed time. His story is only found in this book called the bible. The most amazing thing is It’s all absolutely provable, God doesn’t ask us to go on blind faith, but to know the truth, and defend it.
I would like to quote directly from the book The New Evidence That demands a verdict.
“The Bible addresses hundreds of controversial subjects, subjects that create opposing opinions when mentioned or discussed. The biblical writers treated hundreds of hot topics (e.g., marriage, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, adultery, obedience to authority, truth-telling and lying, character development, parenting, the nature and revelation of God).Yet from Genesis through Revelation these writers addressed them with an amazing degree of harmony.
In Spite of its diversity, the Bible presents a single unfolding story: God’s redemption of human beings. Norman Geisler and William Nix put it this way: “The “paradise lost “of Genesis becomes the ‘paradise Regained” of Revelation. Whereas the gate to the tree of life is closed in Genesis, it is opened forevermore in Revelation” (Geisler/Nix, GIB’86, 28) The unifying thread is salvation from sin and condemnation to a life of complete transformation and unending bliss in the presence of the one, merciful, holy God.
Finally, and most important, among all the people described in the Bible, the leading Character throughout is the one, true, living God made known through Jesus Christ.
So knowing this, how could we ever find anything more exciting than the bible, how could we not want to enthusiastically want to share it with all who would listen. How could we not want to shout it from the mountain tops, and teach it to those we love dearly, and to those we consider enemies? How, can we go another day with sharing this? The best part, I only shared with you less than 1% of all the information available. Thank you for your time, and may God bless you in your evangelistic efforts in sharing the word with the world, and lighting a fire with the apologetic facts behind it.
Bible Reliability Definitions
We can break down the question of whether the Bible is reliable into four subcategories or questions:
Authenticity (textual reliability): Is what we have now a fair representation of what was first written?
Accuracy (factual reliability): Is what we have now a fair representation of what actually happened?
Authority (doctrinal reliability): Is what we have now a fair representation of what God wanted to communicate to us?
Accumulation: How do we know the right books were chosen to be in the Bible?1
There are three lines of evidence that support the claim that the biblical documents are reliable:
- The bibliographic test;
- The internal test; and
- The external test.
The first test examines the biblical manuscripts, the second deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, and the third looks to outside confirmation of the biblical content.
The Bibliographic Test
The first test examines the quantity, quality, and time span (between oldest copy and original writing) of the text. This test examines the question,
When we read the books of the Bible, are we reading what those books originally said?
Quantity of Manuscripts
In the case of the Old Testament, there is a small number of Hebrew manuscripts, because the Jewish scribes ceremonially buried imperfect and worn manuscripts. Many ancient manuscripts were also lost or destroyed during Israel’s turbulent history. Additionally, the Old Testament text was standardized by the Masoretic Jews by the sixth century AD, and all manuscripts that deviated from the Masoretic Text were evidently eliminated. But the existing Hebrew manuscripts are supplemented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (a third-century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Targums (ancient paraphrases of the Old Testament), as well as the Talmud (teachings and commentaries related to the Hebrew Scriptures).
The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and another 1,000 manuscripts in other languages (Syriac and Coptic, among others). In addition to this extraordinary number, there are tens of thousands of citations of New Testament passages by the early church fathers. In contrast, the typical number of existing manuscript copies for any of the works of the Greek and Latin authors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, or Tacitus, is much smaller.
Comparison of Existing Manuscript Quantities
New Testament: 6,000+ in Greek (24,000 including translations in other languages)2
Quality of Manuscripts
Because of the great reverence, the Jewish scribes held toward the Scriptures, they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail to minimize the possibility of even the slightest error. The number of letters, words, and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript would be destroyed.
As a result of this extreme care, the quality of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided a significant check on this because these Hebrew scrolls predate the earliest Masoretic Old Testament manuscripts by about 1,000 years. But in spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text is quite small, and most of these are variations in spelling and style.
While the quality of the Old Testament manuscripts is excellent, that of the New Testament is very good—considerably better than the manuscript quality of other ancient documents. Because of the thousands of New Testament manuscripts, there are many variant readings, but these variants are actually used by scholars to reconstruct the original readings by determining which variant best explains the others in any given passage. Some of these variant readings crept into the manuscripts because of visual errors in copying or because of auditory errors when a group of scribes copied manuscripts that were read aloud. Other errors resulted from faulty writing, memory, and judgment, and still others from well-meaning scribes who thought they were correcting the text. Nevertheless, only a small number of these differences affect the sense of the passages, and only a fraction of these have any real consequences. Furthermore, no variant readings are significant enough to call into question any of the doctrines of the New Testament. The New Testament can be regarded as 99.5 percent pure, and the correct readings for the remaining 0.5 percent can often be ascertained with a fair degree of probability by the practice of textual criticism.
Apart from some fragments, the earliest Masoretic manuscript of the Old Testament is dated at AD 895. This is due to the systematic destruction of worn manuscripts by the Masoretic scribes. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 200 BC to AD 68 drastically reduced the time span from the writing of the Old Testament books to our earliest copies of them.
The time span of the New Testament manuscripts is exceptional. The manuscripts written on papyrus came from the second and third centuries AD. The John Rylands Fragment (P52) of the Gospel of John is dated at AD 117–138, only a few decades after the Gospel was written. The Bodmer Papyri are dated from AD 175–225, and the Chester Beatty Papyri date from about AD 250. The time span for most of the New Testament is less than 200 years (and some books are within 100 years) from the date of authorship to the date of our earliest manuscripts. This can be sharply contrasted with the average gap of over 1,000 years between the composition and the earliest copy of the writings of other ancient authors.
To summarize the bibliographic test, the Old and New Testaments enjoy far greater manuscript attestation in terms of quantity, quality, and time span than any other ancient documents.
The Old and New Testaments enjoy far greater manuscript attestation in terms of quantity, quality, and time span than any other ancient documents.
The Internal Test
The second test of the reliability of the biblical documents addresses the question,
What claims does the Bible make about itself?
This may appear to be circular reasoning. It sounds like we are using the testimony of the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. But we are really examining the truth claims of the various authors of the Bible and allowing them to speak for themselves. (Remember that the Bible is not one book but many books woven together.) This provides significant evidence that must not be ignored.
A number of biblical authors claim that their accounts are primary, not secondary. That is, the bulk of the Bible was written by people who were eyewitnesses of the events they recorded. John wrote in his Gospel, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe” (John 19:35; see also 21:24). In his first epistle, John wrote, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and held with our hands, concerning the Word of life … what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also …” (1 John 1:1, 3). Peter makes the same point abundantly clear: “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16; also see Acts 2:22; 1 Peter 5:1).
The independent eyewitness accounts in the New Testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were written by people who were intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ. Their Gospels and epistles reveal their integrity and complete commitment to the truth, and they maintained their testimony even through persecution and martyrdom. All the evidence inside and outside the New Testament runs contrary to the claim made by form criticism that the early church distorted the life and teachings of Christ. Most of the New Testament was written between AD 47 and 70, and all of it was complete before the end of the first century. There simply was not enough time for myths about Christ to be created and propagated. And the multitudes of eyewitnesses who were alive when the New Testament books began to be circulated would have challenged blatant historical fabrications about the life of Christ. The Bible places great stress on accurate historical details, and this is especially obvious in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke’s two-part masterpiece. Here is the prologue to the first of these:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4)
The External Test
Because the Scriptures continually refer to historical events, they are verifiable; their accuracy can be checked by external evidence. The chronological details in the prologue to Jeremiah (1:1–3) and in Luke 3:1–2 are two illustrations of this. Ezekiel 1:2 is another example; this verse allows us to date Ezekiel’s first vision of God down to the day (July 31, 592 BC).
The historicity of Jesus Christ is well-established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources, and these extrabiblical writings affirm the major details of the New Testament portrait of the Lord. The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus made specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and James in his Antiquities of the Jews. In this work, Josephus gives many background details—about the Herods, the Sadducees, and Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders), the high priests like Annas and Caiaphas, and the Roman emperors, for example—that are mentioned in the four Gospels and the book of Acts.
We find another early secular reference to Jesus in a letter written a little after AD 73 by an imprisoned Syrian named Mara bar Serapion. This letter, written to his son, compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ. Other first- and second-century writers who mention Christ include:
- The Roman historians Cornelius Tacitus (Annals) and Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars)
- The Roman governor Pliny the Younger (Epistles)
- The Greek satirist Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine)
- The Jewish Talmud also mentions Jesus a number of times
The Old and New Testaments make abundant references to nations, kings, battles, cities, mountains, rivers, buildings, treaties, customs, economics, politics, dates, and the like. Because the historical narratives of the Bible are so specific, many of its details are open to archaeological investigation. While we cannot say that archaeology proves the authority of the Bible, it is fair to say that archaeological evidence has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements. Higher criticism in the 19th century made many damaging claims that would seem to completely overthrow the integrity of the Bible, but the explosion of archaeological knowledge in the 20th century reversed almost all of these claims. Noted archaeologists such as William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, and G. Ernest Wright developed a great respect for the historical accuracy of the Scriptures as a result of their work.
Out of the multitude of archaeological discoveries related to the Bible, consider the following examples illustrating the remarkable external substantiation of biblical claims. The Nuzi, Mari, and Ebla tablets, along with excavations at Alalakh (1937–1939; 1946–1949), all provide helpful background information that fits well with the Genesis stories of the patriarchal period.
The Nuzi Tablets (1925–1941)
Found shortly before World War II just to the east of Mari and the Euphrates River, the Nuzi excavations uncovered several thousand cuneiform tablets (dating back to 1500 BC) that confirm many customs of the day that are mentioned in the Bible, including:
- The servant heir custom (i.e., having your eldest servant inherit your wealth if you were childless), a practice mentioned by Abraham in reference to Eliezer in Genesis 15:2.
- The birthright sales custom mentioned with Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:31).
- The custom of household idols (Genesis 31:19 tells the account of Rachel having stolen these from her father, Laban).
The Mari Tablets (1933)
Discovered in 1933, the Mari tablets are diplomatic correspondences and governmental records involving King Zimri-Lim (a contemporary of Babylon’s Hammurabi).To date, some 20,000 clay tablets have been found dating back to around 1800 BC. These letters, along with the Nuzi tablets, illustrate the patriarchal customs in great detail. They also mention the city of Nahor, which apparently is named after the Nahor identified in Genesis 11:24, and make reference to the “Habiru” people (most likely an Akkadian reference to the Hebrews—an allusion to them as a nomadic people).
The Ebla Tablets (1964–1970s)
Discovered in northern Syria, these tablets affirm the antiquity and accuracy of the book of Genesis. Their excavation began in 1964 by two professors from the University of Rome, Drs. Paolo Matthiae and Giovanni Pettinato (an archaeologist and epigrapher, respectively). Since 1974, 17,000 tablets have been unearthed from the Ebla kingdom era and have made valuable contributions to biblical criticism.3
Other External Evidence for the Old Testament
Some scholars once claimed that the Mosaic law could not have been written by Moses, because the writing was largely unknown at that time, and because the law code of the Pentateuch was too sophisticated for that period. But the codified Laws of Hammurabi (ca. 1700 BC), the Lipit-Ishtar code (ca. 1860 BC), the Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1950 BC), and the even earlier Ur-Nammu code have refuted these claims. Archaeology provides helpful, external evidence of numerous other biblical details from the Old Testament as well, from Genesis to Ezra to Daniel.
New Testament Evidence
The New Testament has also received abundant support from archaeology, and many critical attacks have been reversed. Most of the geographical details associated with the life of Jesus in the Gospels have been substantiated. These include places such as the Pool of Siloam, the Pool of Bethesda, Jacob’s Well, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Chorazin, the residence of Pilate in Jerusalem, and “The Pavement” in John 19:13.
In the past, critics tried to discredit Luke, accusing him of being an inaccurate historian; however, the books of Luke and Acts (both replete with references to cities, Roman provinces, and political figures) have now been substantiated by external evidence. Critics once scoffed at his reference to Lysanius as the “tetrarch of Abilene” (Luke 3:1), but archaeologists have since found two Greek inscriptions proving that Lysanius was indeed the tetrarch of Abilene in AD 14–29. Luke’s use of technical terminology, like proconsul, procurator, Asiarch, praetor, and politarch, has been challenged in the past, but mounting evidence has vindicated his accuracy.
The Old and New Testaments pass the bibliographic, internal, and external tests like no other ancient books. Most professional archaeologists and historians acknowledge the historicity of the Bible, and yet many theologians still embrace pre-archaeological critical theories about the Bible. The evidence strongly supports the accuracy of the Bible in relation to history and culture, but in many cases it has been overlooked or rejected because of philosophical presuppositions that run contrary to the Scriptures. This leads to a double standard: critics approach secular literature with one standard but wrongly use a different standard when they examine the Bible. Those who discard the Bible as historically untrustworthy must realize that the same standard would force them to eliminate almost all ancient literature.
Of course, there are many other issues surrounding the accuracy and authority of the Bible that we have not addressed here. For further reading, I recommend the following:
- Question 4 (“Is the Bible Reliable?”) of my book (co-authored with Larry Moody) I’m Glad You Asked (also includes a longer supplemental reading list)
- Chapters 9–12 of my book (co-authored with Robert M. Bowman Jr.) 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists
- F. F. Bruce’s classic The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
- Walter C. Kaiser Jr.’s The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant?
- Holman’s The Apologetics Study Bible (version for students available)
The Historical Accuracy of the Bible Revealed
May 20, 2011 – By loswl1
To be divinely inspired, a book must be historically accurate. For if its credibility cannot be established on the basis of known events, it certainly cannot be relied upon as an adequate guide in matters beyond our ability to check. On the other hand, if we can demonstrate that such a book is correct in historical matters, to an extent unknown among human writings, then we have strong evidence that the authors were inspired by God. In this lesson, we shall learn that this is true of the Bible.
Down through the centuries, enemies of the Bible have attacked its historical accuracy. Time after time, the Scriptures have been thus questioned, only later to be shown correctly by archaeology. Archaeology is a study of relics, monuments, tombs, artifacts, etc., of ancient civilizations. Peoples and events, known before only in Biblical accounts, have been brought to light by the excavations of ancient cities. Always, the Bible has been proven right. Let us consider a few of the cases of such findings:
Grapes In Egypt
In Genesis 40 we are told how Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s butler. In this dream, grapes are mentioned. But the ancient historian, Herodotus, states that the Egyptians grew no grapes and drank no wine, and many therefore questioned the accuracy of the Biblical account. However, paintings discovered on the ancient Egyptian tombs, show the dressing, pruning, and cultivating of the vines, and also the process of extracting the juice of grapes, as well as scenes of drunkenness. There can be little doubt then that Herodotus was wrong and the Bible right.
The Bricks Of Pithom
In Exodus 1:11, we are told that the children of Israel built the treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses for Pharaoh. In Exodus 5, we are informed that they made bricks first using a straw, and then using stubble because no straw was furnished for that purpose. In 1883, Naville, and in 1908, Kyle, found at Pithom, one of the cities built by Israel, that the lower courses were built of bricks filled with good, chopped straw. The middle courses have fewer straw including stubble. The upper courses were made of pure clay, with no straw whatever. It is difficult to read the Biblical account and not be astonished at the amazing confirmation which archaeology here has given to the Bible.
Forty-eight times in the Scriptures, a people called the Hittites are mentioned. We find them blocking Israel’s path as it sought to enter the promised land. We read of Uriah, the Hittite, whom David sent to his untimely death. However, in all the records of antiquity, not a reference to those people was to be found, and therefore, the skeptics attributed them to the imagination and fiction. In 1876, George Smith began a study of monuments at a place called Djerabis in Asia Minor. This city proved out to be old Carchemish, the capital of the ancient Hatti. We now know that the Hatti were the Hittites of the Bible, who, according to Prof. A.H. Sayce, “contended on equal terms with both Egypt and Assyria.” The Hittites not only proved to be a real people, but their empire was shown to be one of the great ones of ancient times.
In Isaiah 20:1, we read, “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him)…” This is the only mention of King Sargon in the Bible, and the only one in ancient literature. His place in history was severely questioned on this account. But in the years, 1842-1845, P.E. Botta, uncovered the tremendous royal palace of Sargon. Among the other things discovered was an account of the siege of Ashdod mentioned in Isaiah. Once more the Bible was right, the critics wrong.
Genesis 7 and 8 tell us of the destruction of the world by a great flood. To many, the story of the flood is actually a recording of ancient myths. However, we have much evidence outside the Bible to show that the flood was a reality and that the Bible is true. Notice the flood traditions of ancient peoples. One scholar lists 88 different traditional accounts. Almost all of these agree that there was universal destruction of the human race and all living creatures by a flood. Almost all agree that an ark or a boat was the means of escape. Almost all are in accord in saying that seed of mankind was left to perpetuate the race. Many add that wickedness of man brought about the flood. Some even mention Noe. Several speak of the dove and the raven, and some discuss a sacrifice offered by those who were saved. To anyone familiar with the Biblical account, the similarity is astounding. The universality of this tradition is such as to establish that the Biblical flood was not a figment of someone’s imagination.
In 1872, George Smith discovered the now-famous Babylonian flood tablets. In these, a certain person was told to build an ark or ship and to take into it the seed of all creatures. He was given the exact measurements and was instructed to use pitch in sealing it. He took his family into the boat with food. There was a terrible storm which lasted six days. They landed on Mt. Nazir. He sent out a dove. It came back. He sent out a swallow. It came back. He sent out a raven and it flew back and forth over the earth. When these people were safely out of the boat, they offered sacrifice to the gods. The account differs from the Bible in some particulars but is so much in agreement with the Scriptures as to make one wonder how the historical nature of the flood could be questioned.
Furthermore, archaeology has found positive evidence of a great flood in some ancient cities. At Susa, a solid deposit of earth five feet thick was found between two distinct civilizations. The nature of the deposit establishes beyond doubt that Susa was completely destroyed by a flood that was not merely local. At Ur, the ancient home of Abraham, a similar deposit of water laid clay eight feet thick was found. This deposit clearly shows that Ur was destroyed by a flood of such proportions that is must have been a vast flood such as the one of the Bible. Further evidence could be presented, but this should be sufficient to demonstrate that the Biblical flood was a reality.
Fossil Evidence for The Flood
The fossils in the fossil records show a vast amount of sediment encasement which was laid down by the water. The fossil records are evidence of how rapidly humans, animals, and plants were destroyed by the worldwide flood, not evidence of slow change. With the mass amount of fossils found all over the world, there is not a single example of a continuous fossil sequence showing progressive stages of evolution.
Why Believe in Genesis – Part 2
Joshua 6, tells how Israel conquered the walled city of Jericho. For six-day, they marched once around the city. On the seventh day, they went around it seven times. The priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted, and when they did, “The wall fell down flat” (Joshua 6:20). The people then rushed straightway into the city and burned it. They took none of it to themselves. They saved Rahab who lived in a house upon the wall and who had helped them previously.
Starting in 1929, Dr. John Garstang, excavated the ruins of ancient Jericho. His discoveries corresponded remarkably with the Biblical account. Jericho, he found, had a double wall, with houses built across the two walls. This explains how Rahab’s house could have been built upon a wall. He learned that the wall was destroyed by some kind of violent convulsion such as that described in the Bible and that when the wall fell that it fell outward, down the hillside, or as the Bible says, it fell down flat. Had the wall been destroyed by the battering rams of an enemy army, the walls would have fallen inward instead of outward. Furthermore, the city had been burned. Once again, the spade of archaeology has established the accuracy of the Bible.
Sergius Paulus, The Proconsul
In Acts 13:7, mention is made of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus. For a long time, skeptics contended that Luke should have called him propraetor instead of proconsul since this was the usual title. However, coins discovered in Cyprus, have positively established that the governors of Cyprus were proconsuls. One such coin found at Soli on Cyprus bears the inscription, “Paulus the Proconsul”, very possibly referring to the very man mentioned in Acts.
Confirmation By Non-Biblical Writers
Some Biblical accounts have been substantiated by non-Biblical writers. For example, the Jewish historian Josephus has said many things concerning facts in the Bible. For example: in Matthew 14:3,4, we are told that Herod put John the Baptist to death for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had informed Herod that it wasn’t lawful for him to have her as his wife. Josephus tells us why it was unlawful. Herodias had originally been married to Herod’s brother, Philip. But she divorced Philip and married Herod. this unlawful marriage was the occasion of John’s rebuke. The account of Josephus and the Bible are in perfect accord.
Apparent inconsistencies fade away whenever the Bible is studied with an open mind. An example is found in regard to the ruling family of Palestine In Matthew 2:1, we read of “Herod the King” who was reigning when Jesus was born. Matt. 2:19 records his death. Yet in Acts 12:12, we read once more of “Herod the King” putting James to death. How could he do this if he were already dead? Does the Bible contradict itself? Josephus, an unbeliever in Christ, explains the difficulty by showing that Herod of Acts 12, was actually the grandson of the Herod mentioned in Matthew 2. The Bible agrees perfectly with the facts.
Again, Luke 2:1, mentions “Caesar Augustus” as the ruling monarch of the Roman Empire. In Luke 3:1, we are told that John the Baptist began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. This shows that Augustus was no longer on the throne. Still later in Acts 25:21, we find Paul appealing his arrest to Augustus. A superficial reading might lead us to suppose that the Bible contradicts itself. But on close examination, with other known facts, we find that the emperor at that time was Nero, whose full name was Caesar Augustus Nero. Luke, the author of both books in question, does not explain this because the first-century readers were familiar with the fact that there were two different men named Augustus.
The attacks upon the credibility of the Bible have served to make stronger, not weaker, the conviction of every lover of the true Word of God.
url=”http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/HistoricalAccuracyOfTheBible.htm” The Historical Accuracy of the Bible by Jim Sasser
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