Christian Responses: Archaeology and History Attest to the Reliability of the Bible

December 21st, 2010 | Categories: Christian Responses | Tags:

Archaeology and History Attest to the Reliability of the Bible

By Richard M. Fales, Ph.D.

No other ancient book is questioned or maligned like the Bible. Critics looking for the flyspeck in the masterpiece allege that there was a long span between the time the events in the New Testament occurred and when they were recorded. They claim another gap exists archaeologically between the earliest copies made and the autographs of the New Testament. In reality, the alleged spaces and socalled gaps exist only in the minds of the critics. Manuscript Evidence.

Aristotle’s Ode to Poetics was written between 384 and 322 B.C. The earliest copy of this work dates A.D. 1100, and there are only forty-nine extant manuscripts. The gap between the original writing and the earliest copy is 1,400 years. There are only seven extant manuscripts of Plato’s Tetralogies, written 427–347 B.C. The earliest copy is A.D. 900—a gap of over 1,200 years. What about the New Testament? Jesus was crucified in A.D. 30. The New Testament was written between A.D. 48 and 95. The oldest manuscripts date to the last quarter of the first century, and the second oldest A.D. 125. This gives us a narrow gap of thirty-five to forty years from the originals written by the apostles. From the early centuries, we have some 5,300 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Altogether, including Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic, we have a whopping 24,633 texts of the ancient New Testament to confirm the wording of the Scriptures. So the bottom line is, there was no great period between the events of the New Testament and the New Testament writings. Nor is there a great time lapse between the original writings and the oldest copies.

With the great body of manuscript evidence, it can be proved, beyond a doubt, that the New Testament says exactly the same things today as it originally did nearly 2,000 years ago. Corroborating Writings. Critics also charge that there are no ancient writings about Jesus outside the New Testament. This is another ridiculous claim. Writings confirming His birth, ministry, death, and resurrection include Flavius Josephus (A.D. 93), the Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 70–200), Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (approx. A.D. 100), the Annals of Tacitus (A.D. 115–117), Mara Bar Serapion (sometime after A.D. 73), and Suetonius’ Life of Claudius and Life of Nero (A.D. 120).

Another point of contention arises when Bible critics have knowingly or unknowingly misled people by implying that Old and New Testament books were either excluded from or added into the canon of Scripture at the great ecumenical councils of A.D. 336, 382, 397, and 419. In fact, one result of these gatherings was to confirm the Church’s belief that the books already in the Bible were divinely inspired. Therefore, the Church, at these meetings, neither added to nor took away from the books of the Bible. At that time, the thirty-nine Old Testament books had already been accepted, and the New Testament, as it was written, simply grew up with the ancient Church. Each document, being accepted as it was penned in the first century, was then passed on to Christians of the next century. So, this foolishness about the Roman Emperor Constantine dropping books from the Bible is simply uneducated rumor.

Fulfilled Prophecies
Prophecies from the Old and New Testaments that have been fulfilled also add credibility to the Bible. The Scriptures predicted the rise and fall of great empires like Greece and Rome (Daniel 2:39, 40), and foretold the destruction of cities like Tyre and Sidon (Isaiah 23). Tyre’s demise is recorded by ancient historians, who tell how Alexander the Great lay siege to the city for seven months. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had failed in a 13-year attempt to capture the seacoast city and completely destroy its inhabitants. During the siege of 573 B.C., much of the population of Tyre moved to its new island home approximately half a mile from the land city. Here it remained surrounded by walls as high as 150 feet until judgment fell in 332 B.C. with the arrival of Alexander the Great. In the seven-month siege, he fulfilled the remainder of the prophecies (Zechariah 9:4; Ezekiel 26:12) concerning the city at sea by completely destroying Tyre, killing 8,000 of its inhabitants and selling 30,000 of its population into slavery. To reach the island, he scraped up the dust and rubble of the old land city of Tyre, just like the Bible predicted, and cast them into the sea, building a 200-footwide causeway out to the island. Alexander’s death and the murder of his two sons was also foretold in the Scripture. Another startling prophecy was Jesus’ detailed prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction, and the further spreading of the Jewish diaspora throughout the world, which is recorded in Luke 21. In A.D. 70, not only was Jerusalem destroyed by Titus, the future emperor of Rome, but another prediction of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:1,2 came to pass—the complete destruction of the temple of God.

Messianic Prophecies
In the Book of Daniel, the Bible prophesied the coming of the one and only Jewish Messiah prior to the temple’s demise. The Old Testament prophets declared He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12,13), die by crucifixion (Psalm 22), and be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9). There was only one person who fits all of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament who lived before A.D. 70: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary. Yes, the Bible is an amazing book. (See also 1 Peter 1:25 footnote.)

  1. SpoonmanWoS
    December 22nd, 2010 at 20:47
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Well, “Doctor” Fales (an apt name)…I’d be happy to debate every single point he made here as not only fallacious but glaringly brilliant in their ignorance.

    First, he attempts to correlate the accepted dating of a book of literature with a book that supposedly is the word of a god. Sorry, but we, for obvious reasons, must require some significant proof of such a book. Why, were it true wars would be fought over it. People would be slaughtered. Civilizations would rise and fall based on its tenants. We certainly should verify its veracity first, don’t you think?

    He admits that there is a gap of some years (18 years is almost a generation between his death and the first accepted date of the scriptures), but wave hands over that as if it’s not important. Considering the scriptures are all second-hand accounts, none were written by people who would’ve known Jesus, a generation is a long time for spoken records to be preserved correctly.

    Next, a whole lot of math designed to throw off the rubes which ends with “it can be proved, beyond a doubt, that the New Testament says exactly the same things today as it originally did nearly 2,000 years ago” Really? How so? Seeing as there are hundreds of variations TODAY of this book which say different things, what “proves” they say the same thing as 2000 years ago? They don’t even say the same things as yesterday’s edition!

    Then we go on to misrepresent the criticisms lain on the bible by skeptics. “Critics also charge that there are no ancient writings about Jesus outside the New Testament.” Not true…critics claim their are no CONTEMPORARY writings about Jesus outside the NT. He then proves this point by going on to cite reference after reference that was written at least two generations past his supposed death. None of these references are even from people who knew people who knew people who knew Jesus. They’re ancient historians collecting folklore from the natives. Nothing more. If you had a report from a Roman soldier saying “On this day in the year of the emperor, I saw this dude, Jesus, bring another dude, Lazurus, back from the dead”…well, then you would have SOMETHING! The only thing his references prove is that people were aware of a story about a man named Jesus that might’ve existed at that time.

    Oh, and let’s pause here to point out: NOTHING he’s stated proves any of the metaphysical activities mentioned in the NT. Even if you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus actually existed…you’re still going to need to provide more evidence that he raised the dead or cured the blind, let alone prove he was the son of god. Archeological evidence has proven the existence of the city of Jericho. That doesn’t prove the walls around it were brought down by the trumpeting of a ram’s horn. I live close to Sodus, NY. That doesn’t prove John Smith wasn’t bat-shit crazy.

    Where was I? Oh, yes, he then rewrites history to back up those false claims: “So, this foolishness about the Roman Emperor Constantine dropping books from the Bible is simply uneducated rumor.” Huh…so the records from those meetings in which they discuss which books will be dropped are…what? Also, we have lots of contemporary documentation that there were thousands of variations of the books of the NT floating around (some of which we are in possession of) that were excluded from canon. There are christian sects, Coptics most specifically, that use texts that are not part of the Roman Catholic canon and don’t use some RC books. So, obviously there’s been some tinkering of the story by someone.

    And then we end with the prophecies. Man, I love these. Prophecies that are written after the fact are always so accurate, aren’t they? We’ll exclude the OT ones about Tyre and Sidon and the like primarily because the interweaving of contemporary and biblical references is fairly complex. The ones about Jesus, though are simple.

    1. Born in Bethlehem: sure, according to Matthew and Luke. But the other two books by Mark & John say Nazareth. I’m suspect of Luke, though…he goes through a lot of effort, specifically making up a world-wide census that we know for a fact never happened, to put Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Almost as if he’s trying to fulfill a prophecy or something. So, if we throw out the obviously suspect one, that leaves one saying Bethlehem and two saying Nazareth. I’m more convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Nazareth. But, then, I don’t have an agenda, do I?

    2. Thirty pieces of silver: sure, according to Matthew only. Again, the only one who specifically writes about the fulfilling of a prophecy clearly. In other words, we have the word of this one fellow to go by with no contemporary confirmation.

    3. Die by crucifixion: Um, I’m sorry…which version of the bible do you have that references that in Psalm 22? It seems to be absent from the ESV, KJV and the NIV. Perhaps he meant to say that his last words were prophecized? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But, seeing as Psalm 22 isn’t really a prophecy and the gospels differ dramatically on the last moments of his life (you’d think the death of a god would be well-documented), I’m afraid this particular reference is meaningless.

    4. Buried in a rich man’s tomb: I’m not convinced you can interpret that passage of Isaiah to be about the messiah. I’m sure some do, so I won’t dispute that, but the passage says he’d be buried with the wicked…Joseph of Aramathea was hardly wicked. How ’bout I be nice and give he this one? Of course, he failed to fulfill the whole “prophecy” which was about the Jews getting back into Jerusalem.

    “There was only one person who fits all of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament who lived before A.D. 70:” Simon of Peraea. No? Athronges? Menahem ben Judah? Vespasian? Ohhhhh…Jeeeeesus. Okay, yeah, he fits, too. :)

    Now, one would think someone who has a Ph.D. in Biblical Archeology would make better arguments, don’t you? But, by asking the Google I find that MISTER Fales might not be representing himself in a manner befitting christ:

    Apologetics…you guys really need to know your own mythology before you start making stupid claims. Let this be a lesson to you.