Archaeology and the Bible

I am thankful to Dr Clifford Wilson and his wife Dr Barbara Wilson for their inspiration and guidance in my own exploration of Biblical archaeology. As friend, academic supervisor and mentor, Dr Clifford has keenly encouraged my interest in archaeology, as he has for many others in decades past.

In honour of his on-going work and his world-wide impact I have started compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights, and dipping into my own interests as well.

This process is somewhat self-serving, as it will focus my on-going investigations. It’s also true that the surest way to seal what you know is to teach it to others, so I expect to gain much by the process of preparing posts on archaeological topics.

The Place of Archaeology

Some presenters give the impression that archaeology is a servant to the Bible scholar. While archaeology provides many affirmations to the authority of the Bible record and added insight into the events described in scripture, it exists quite independently of Bible scholarship.

Most archaeologists have little interest in Biblical research or confirmation of Biblical records. Their motivations are academic. Some are fascinated by particular cultures. Some are led by opportunity to look into some aspect of the past. Many become specialists in some particular aspect of antiquity.

Reference to the Biblical record is likely to be incidental and may even be overlooked by the researchers.

William Ramsay

William Mitchell Ramsay is just one of many archaeologists who did not start out with any interest in Biblical studies. In 1880, at the age of 29, he was funded by the British Museum to go to Turkey and research Roman history there. Dr Luke’s record of the early church, which we know as the Book of Acts in the New Testament, was not in his sights.

When Ramsay discovered that Luke’s details in Acts 14:5,6 were incredibly accurate he made his “first change in judgment” about the value of the Bible record. Thus ensued many years of further archaeological investigation, confirming again and again that the Book of Acts spoke accurately. In 1915 Sir William Ramsay wrote, a book titled The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, in which he declared that “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness”.

Weaknesses of Archaeology

While archaeology has given much joy to Christians, in its abundant confirmation of the Bible record, we must keep in mind that archaeology is not an exact science. Many hypothesis, theories and assumptions end up being applied. As Dr Clifford Wilson states it, “Archaeology itself is not a final court of appeal”.

It is not uncommon for archaeologists to come up with divergent interpretations of the historical record. One researcher may declare a building to be residence, while another researcher may assume the building was put to some other use. Dates can often be mere guesses.

For example, the buildings located at Qumran (near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered) have been variously identified as a Roman holiday villa, a military fortification, and the base for a religious community, among other things. It is possible that the buildings were put to various uses over time, thus prompting the confusion.

For these reasons and others it has been the case that established archaeological findings have had to be reviewed and displaced by more accurate conclusions.

Researcher Bias

Apart from the challenges in interpreting the physical materials left to us from antiquity, there is the further problem of the researcher’s inherent bias. Interpretation of the evidence is always impacted by the eyes of the beholder.

Bias can be based on people’s world-view. This is seen widely today with the study of science. The academic rule is that science must not consider the supernatural. Thus any evidence which points to intelligent design, a creator or the falsity of evolution is reinterpreted or discounted. The dinosaur and human footprints found together at the Paluxy River in Texas attracted strident efforts from evolutionists to discredit and reject the scientific findings, because those footprints destroyed evolution.

A researcher who denies the Biblical record of Israel’s history may make assumptions which seem to prove the Bible wrong, but the interpretation is actually based on bias, not on the facts.

Limited Experience

Another form of bias springs from the scope of experience of the researcher. What an Eskimo calls a hot day would be a cold day to someone living on the equator. What a Mediterranean fisherman calls ‘spicy food’ is quite different to what a Mexican fisherman calls ‘spicy food’.

The grid of reference, which is unique for each person, filters the information which they receive.

The idea that God is our Father means different things to people who have had a loving home life, no home life, or an abusive dad. Yet the actual wonderful truth of God’s father love for us as His children is not changed. Some people have an inability to absorb that truth, but the truth remains intact.

Researchers will interpret archaeological findings from their own grid of reference, but the real facts of history are not damaged by the expert’s failed perception.

The Contribution of Archaeology

Diggings in the sands of time have brought to light many findings which strengthen the Christian’s confidence in the Bible, as noted above with Ramsay’s confirmation of the historical accuracy of Dr Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

Many incidents and historical accounts have been confirmed by uncovering ancient documentation from independent sources. In some cases dates of Biblical events have been confirmed.

The date for Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem has been fixed as March 16, 597BC. This was achieved by discovery of Babylonian cuneiform tablets. One of them – popularly called the Babylonian Chronicle – tells of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, the capture of Jehoiachin, King of Judah, and how Nebuchadnezzar “appointed a king of his own choice” to rule in Judah – just as the Scripture says he did in 2Kings 24:16,17.

Customs, incidents, peoples and lands and better understood through archaeology. Better understanding has been gained of the people who were peripheral to the Biblical record, but who impacted God’s people at times.

Archaeology also enables us to see the uniqueness of God’s people, including their beliefs, rituals and lifestyles. The very specific monotheism of the Israelites stood in stark contrast to surrounding nations, especially in terms of the relationship which the Jews had with God, compared with the fearful idolatry of other people.

Digging Through the Findings

Archaeological findings are just that. Their significance has to be perceived and could easily be overlooked. Researchers look at their findings in light of the questions they are concerned with and may overlook other implications of their work. Christian researchers must then review the findings and dig through them for the points at which relevance to Biblical research is noted.

Secular researchers tend to react when their findings prove helpful to Biblical research. They may fear that their work will be seen as religious and not scientific. Not all conclusions are celebrated by those who uncover them, because they may not even be sympathetic to the implications.

Despite these difficulties archaeology is a living science with much to offer on many fronts. While caution is required, there is no need to be afraid of the findings. The Bible is the most remarkable historical record of antiquity. It will stand the tests of time. Apparent contradictions from archaeology have been proclaimed and discredited many times.

If you are given to these areas of investigation and thought then you too can make a contribution. Become familiar with the subject, read the findings of those who do the digging. Make your own observations and put them out for discussion with others who share your interest. You may have the joy of adding something significant to our understanding, out of those ancient rocks which still speak today.

Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield as a Prince at Princeton

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (BBW) was born near Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.A., on November 5th, 1851.

His early life on the farm left him with a life-long passion for farming and especially horses, and became a leading world authority on short-horn cattle.

He graduated from Princeton University “with highest honours” in 1871. The following year, at age 21, he acknowledged the claim of Christ on his life and entered Princeton Seminary to prepare for the ministry.

Warfield graduated in 1876 and married Annie Kinkead. He was studying in Leipzig and so the couple honeymooned in Germany. While walking in the Harz Mountains the pair were caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Some say that Annie “was struck by lightning and permanently paralysed” (Great Leaders of the Christian Church, Moody Press, page 344).

Whether that is the case or not, she was traumatised from the experience and never recovered, being an invalid for the rest of her life, needing Warfield’s constant care. For the next 39 years Warfield “seldom left home for more than two hours at a time”.

He became Professor of New Testament at a Presbyterian college, and in 1887 he succeeded A.A.Hodge as a Professor of Theology at Princeton and kept that post until his death 33 years later. He also edited the Presbyterian Review.

In the 1920’s ten volumes of his larger collected writings were published, and in the 1960’s two volumes of his shorter writings were also published. Those books and volumes of his sermons are in print today and are read more widely than in his life-time.

His book, Counter Miracles (1918), was a strong defence of the cessationist viewpoint.

His Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (1948) “asserted that verbal inspiration had been perfect in the original manuscripts” (Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 492).

His writings in defence of Calvinism are also worthy of mention.

He was an excellent lecturer, using a Socratic dialogue quiz style to prompt his students to examine the subject at hand. His writings were described by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “His mind was so clear and his literary style so chaste and lucid that it is a real joy to read his works and one derives pleasure and profit at the same time.”

Warfield preached vividly. Once he illustrated the difference between fate and providence with a story of a Dutch boy who disobeyed his father and played near a windmill. Going too close he suddenly found himself picked up from the ground hanging upside down as a series of blows were rained upon him. What horror, caught in the machine! He thought his end had come. But when he opened his eyes he discovered the windmill’s sail that had taken him up but his own father had. He was receiving the threatened punishment for his own disobedience. He wept, not with pain but with relief and joy. He now new the difference between falling into a machine and into the loving hands of a father. That is the difference between fate and predestination.

On Christmas Eve, 1920, Professor BBW suffered a stroke – he recovered enough to resume his classes on 16 February, 1921, but died that night as a result of a further stroke.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

The Bible – The Profound Book

The Bible is the most Enduring, Authoritative, Profound, Resilient, Enlightening, Impactful, Endorsed and Significant book in all of human history.

The AUTHORITY of the Bible is only one of the factors that make it quite PROFOUND. The quite amazing qualities of the Bible which make it profound include: the numerous prophecies which it records that have come to pass, even centuries after the predictions; the surprising unity of the text, despite the centuries over which it was written and the diversity of the human authors; and the dynamic nature of the text, which remains current and relevant, despite the passing of entire millennia.

The Bible is the only book in human history to present us with prophecies which are fulfilled up to centuries later.

Considering the number, diversity and time separatedness of Bible writers the Unity of the Bible is profound.

So too is its authority, relevance and impact through history. It is a miracle of human literature that such a book should be created at all, let alone under such circumstances.

The Bible is also “living”. It has the power to bring to fruit in a reader improvements which they could not achieve by other means. The Bible, therefore performs as a type of seed which germinates within the reader and produces fruit.

It is also spiritual truth that sets people free. Its truths about spiritual things are attested to by their positive impact on lives and cultures.

These qualities are unique and set the Bible into a category of its own. It is truly a profound text.