Dr Clifford Wilson Passes Into Glory

Dr Clifford Wilson, Australian Archaeologist, Author, Academic and committed Christian worker died on the evening of Wednesday April 4, 2012 just a few weeks short of his 90th birthday.


Clifford Wilson was well known and much loved internationally, having contributed widely in Christian apologetics, academia, psycholinguistics, archaeology, Christian broadcasting, publishing and public speaking.

At the same time Clifford was cherished as a father, grandfather and great-granddad, with the ability to engage in encouraging conversation with people of all ages and walks of life.
He was truly a remarkable man with tireless energy and unbounded vision.  He contributed above and beyond the call of duty, boldly stepping into issues where others shrank away.
And his many wonderful achievements would not have been possible without the capable and devoted support of his first wife, Avis, and his second wife, Barbara, who both preceded him in death.

Clifford’s achievements were listed at the Thanksgiving Service as:
*    Naval Seaman during World War II
*    Missionary to India (see comment added below with detail of his work there)
*    First Regional Director of Emmaus Bible College (see comment below for a review of the early history of Emmaus and Clifford’s involvement)
*    Hansard Reporter for the Fijian Government
*    Pastoral service in Australia and USA
*    Passionate supporter of Essendon Football Club (Aussie Rules Football)
*    Lecturer at Emmaus Bible College, Melbourne Bible Institute (MBI), New Zealand Bible School, Collumbia Bible College, Pacific College of Graduate Studies, Toorak Teachers College and Monash University (among others)
*    Named in America as an outstanding Educator of the Year
*    Academic degrees in History, Education, Theology, Divinity and Psycholinguistics  (B.A., M.A., B.D., M.R.Ed., Ph.D.)
*    Founder of the Word of Truth Ministries and Pacific Ministries
*    Radio Broadcaster in Australia, USA and internationally
*    Founding President of Pacific College of Graduate Studies and Pacific International University
*    Director of the Australian Institute of Archaeology
*    Author of approximately 100 books
*    Editor and Assistant Editor of New Life Christian Newspaper (Australia)
*    Husband to Avis for 54 years
*    Father to Bruce, Elaine, David and Lynnette and Father-in-law to Shirley, Alan, Debbie and Greg
*    Grandfather to Darren, Debbie, Phil, Michelle, Ray, Bruce, Benj, Dee Dee, Marney, Jabin, Ryan, Brianna and Geordie
*    Great grandfather to 23 children
*    Husband to Barbara for 12 years
*    Friend to ‘millions’

Dr Wilson, May 10 1923 – April 4 2012, was interred at a private burial on the morning of April 10, and a Thanksgiving Service followed at Canterbury Gardens Christian church that afternoon.

An article on the life of Barbara Wilson, who passed away in 2010, can be found at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/2010/06/03/barbara-wilson

Additional information about Clifford’s life can be found in the comments following this article.

Tribute to Barbara Joan Wilson

Friends of Clifford and Barbara Wilson are saddened to hear that Barbara passed away on June 3, 2010, at 8.10pm, in Epworth Eastern Hospital, in Box Hill, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

For many months Barbara bravely met the challenge of cancer which she had confronted in the past. However less than 2 weeks before her passing she and Clifford decided they would not continue with chemo and other medical interventions, since those seemed to be ineffective.

Many dear friends assisted and supported Barbara and Clifford through this challenging time. Their church community, Canterbury Gardens Community Church, assisted in getting Clifford to and from the hospital each day. People kept them both in prayer and longed to see Barbara win through again.

Every day Clifford was at Barbara’s side, encouraging her in those moments when she was conscious. She slept much over the past few days.

Clifford and Barbara are known to tens of thousands around the world, through their radio broadcasts on archaeology and Bible truth, through their many books and through their extensive travels, including tours of the Holy Land and ministry in churches big and small in several nations, and the USA in particular.

Barbara has been a loving and devoted ‘help meet’ to Clifford, wisely recommended to be his wife by Clifford’s first wife, Avis, as she faced her own imminent death in the mid 1980’s. Barbara, with a missionary nursing background in Ecuador, has always had a heart to serve the Lord. She laboured tirelessly and patiently, keeping pace with her husband’s insatiable desire to get the word out to people.

Barbara was at one time Dean of Students at the Bible College of Victoria, has written, spoken and traveled the world, engaging in archaeology and publishing alongside her husband. In recent years she has been actively involved with Australia’s New Life Christian Newspaper, where she has Edited, researched, written, typed for Clifford, and met the deadlines of a regular print publication.

Barbara is loved by all. She displayed such gentle patience and willingness to serve that she shines as a glowing example of one who gave her life for others and for God’s Kingdom. She was never afraid to learn and take on new challenges, and Clifford’s creativity prompted plenty of those.

FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FROM THE FUNERAL SERVICE June 9, 2010.

Tribute to Barbara Wilson
Barbara Joan Wilson, April 25, 1937 – June 3, 2010
Having just returned from the memorial service for Barbara Wilson at the church where she and Clifford attended for the past seven years, Canterbury Gardens Community Church (Brethren assembly) in Kilsyth, my heart is filled with renewed respect and wonder for the lovely woman of God we were privileged to know.
My rambling thoughts snatch from various memories and tributes given by family and friends those bits that seemed to stand out to my attention.
Note that Barbara was born on Anzac Day (a day when Aussies remember the wartime sacrifice of men and women soldiers).
Pa Baddeley, Barbara’s dad, was a man of God who raised his two daughters, Barbara being the eldest, in a remarkable way. Both girls received a good measure of confidence, resourcefulness, grace and faith, qualities which Barbara displayed through almost 74 years of Christian witness and a life of service. In later years, as a widower living in the care of his successful daughter Barbara as she made her enormous investment in the daily life of the Bible College of Victoria (BCV) in Lilydale, Pa Baddeley encouraged other parents in their raising of godly children. His own credentials were clearly evident in the maturity and stability of his daughters.
Raised in Geelong, west of Melbourne, Barbara proved herself to be a woman of intelligence with high academic capacities and a clear and incisive mind and quick wit. Academic accolades followed her from her school days, through her nursing training and even in a counselling course she completed past her half century. She was often dux of her class and won scholarships and honours for her high achievements.
Yet Barbara did not take her personal talents as gifts to be used for personal aggrandizement or financial and material comfort. Instead she embraced a life of service to others, seeking to minister the love of God and truth of the gospel, rather than pander to her own earthly comforts.
That commitment to serve saw her training for missionary service and heading to Quito Ecuador, where she headed up two hospital facilities for the HCJB radio ministry. Preparation also included learning Spanish.
I should pause to note that one of Barbara’s lecturers at Melbourne Bible Institute, as she prepared for ministry, was a Dr Clifford Wilson. Clifford and his wife, Avis, held Barbara in high regard, recognising her natural talents and her heart to serve the Lord.
For a dozen years Barbara poured herself into the indigenous patients of the high Andes Mountains, using her resourcefulness, dedication, intelligence and care for others on a daily basis. All who knew her respected her and life-long friendships followed those well spent years.
Rigours of the altitude took a toll on Barbara’s spine and she had to return to Melbourne for surgery. Her doctor advised that she could not return to the high altitude environment, closing the door on her successful ministry there. However, on the very same day Barbara was given that unhappy advice she was asked by the then head of Melbourne Bible Institute to take on a position as Dean of Women Students. Thus began twenty years of investment into the lives of men and women who felt God’s call upon their lives.
Barbara Baddeley became Dean of Students, and functioned in many practical roles, including lecturer. MBI became BCV and Barbara had her own residence on the campus, where she cared for her aging father, Pa Baddeley, after her mother passed away. People who reflect on those years recognise that Barbara was the energetic lifeblood of BCV is so many ways. It is hard for some to imagine how BCV could have functioned without the ever present and highly effective input of Barbara.
During those years in academia Barbara extended her connection with the Wilson household. Clifford Wilson continued to lecture at the college. Barbara and Avis built upon their friendship. And Clifford and Avis’ son, Dr David Wilson, himself an academic, became a professional colleague, as he headed up another Christian college.
When Avis faced imminent death from her battle with cancer she spoke with Clifford and suggested that Barbara would make an excellent wife for Clifford after Avis’ passing. Avis knew very well how her husband needed a very capable ‘help meet’ to enable him to achieve the many things his own talents suited him to.
After Avis passed away, Clifford spoke with Barbara about Avis’ suggestion. Barbara recoiled from the thought, saying “I have never thought of you like that.” To Barbara, Clifford was the revered academic, archaeologist and man of God who she had been privileged to learn from and work with. Approaching the end of her sixth decade she may well have given up any thought of being a married woman.
Some time later, however, Barbara contacted Clifford and advised him that she had caught a sense for what it would be to have her head on his shoulder. She believed the Lord was directing her to become Clifford’s wife. And so her whole life direction took yet another major turn.
Dr David Wilson officiated at his father’s wedding, joining Clifford and Barbara as husband and wife. He jokingly tells that he married his father. David’s earliest memory of Barbara was when he was eight years old. She would wrestle with him on her visits to the family home. Even way back then, David recalls, he thought of her as a remarkably gracious woman.


The fourteen years of marriage gave Barbara ample opportunity to use her administrative skills, public speaking, analytical thinking, abilities to write, ability to learn new things, public relations skills, and her caring, faith, Bible knowledge and patience, as the pair travelled the world, researched, wrote, taught, preached, shared and cared.
Despite her back troubles and operation after Ecuador and an earlier bout with breast cancer, Barbara kept good health. However, she saw that her own comforts were secondary to her calling in life, and so she may well have borne more discomfort than people realised, since she was not given to complaining or demanding her own wellbeing.
When evidence emerged that secondary cancer was present in her body Barbara pressed on at full speed, undaunted and willing to leave things in God’s hands.

The overwhelming commentary on Barbara’s life and contribution is that she was a woman of immense grace, able to be gracious in all circumstances, unafraid, untroubled, willing to trust God, and completely unselfish in her generosity to others and willingness to go the second and third mile, way beyond the normal call of duty.
People tended to naturally revere her and to always feel that time spent with Barbara enriched them. People felt that it was their privilege to know her and to be appreciated by her. She had a way of pouring grace onto others and letting them feel appreciated and blessed.
She was always willing to trust God, including for the ongoing financial challenges that characterised her married life. She and Clifford often needed God to come through for this or that, and each time He did. Barbara’s quiet confidence in God always shone through.

Barbara’s sister, Heather, writes …
To me she was my big sister, I one I looked up to. She was always that example of what a Christian should be, walking the walk and talking the talk, never condemning, not always condoning, but always available to talk to, give advice (even if I didn’t like it) and then love me through whatever it was at the time.
[Clifford notes that Barbara mentored younger sister Heather in the Christian faith. Heather may have been Barbara’s first disciple.]
In everything she did there is one word that describes her – SELFLESS!
Her love and obedience were to her Lord. All she did was to bring glory to Him first and to help others without a song and dance. This is a significant quality of her whole life’s achievements.
From being head prefect at High School in Geelong, to nursing, top nurse overall, winning the Dr McPhee prize for excellence at Geelong Hospital where she trained, doing midwifery at Melbourne Women’s Hospital and receiving a gold medal for achievement there, then two years of study at MBI in preparation for her time in Quito, Ecuador as a missionary nurse, having to learn Spanish in Costa Rica before getting to Quito, returning to BCV but this time not as a student but as a lecturer and Dean of Students.
Then her looking after dad after mum passed away. Then marrying Cliff. We celebrate the life of one who we loved deeply.
“Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.” Matthew 25:21.
One card that we received says… “Our loved one touched many hearts and lives and although it is hard to imagine the world without her it is easy to imagine heaven rejoicing because she is there.”
Thank you God for giving us Barb til you took her home.
Gracious in death as she was in life.

Barbara’s Friend, Flo Sinclair, wife of Ian Sinclair, pastor of the church where Barbara & Clifford have attended for the past 7 years or so, shared these lovely reflections …

Tribute to Barbara Wilson by Flo Sinclair
Cliff, thank you for the opportunity to share a few words about my friendship with Barb.  When Ian came home and said you wanted me to do this I was at first dismayed as I wondered how I could do justice to such a task – of course, I can’t, so I will just say what is on my heart.
I first remember meeting Barb at BCV about 20 years ago and was a bit in awe of her – her sharp intellect, her obvious knowledge of the Scripture, her many abilities.  Then about 7 years ago when Cliff & Barb began attending this church we got to know them a little better.  We tried to support them when Barb was diagnosed with cancer and then undergoing treatment.  Just before Barb knew she had secondary cancer we had a lovely conversation about friendship with its many facets and I confessed I had been in awe of her somewhat.  In her very Barb-way she quickly discounted that and said how precious she found our friendship which I found very humbling.
Everyone has heard the expression “God only knows!” often spoken with sarcasm or frustration and probably the person saying it doesn’t know who they are talking about. Ringing in my ears whenever I think of the time when Barb knew she had a battle on her hands with her health is her expression “The Lord Knows”.  She said this often and with such confidence and Fran and I talked about it one day as she had noticed it too as I’m sure many others did.  I got to thinking about this over the last few months and realised how well she knew and loved and trusted her God.  She had such knowledge of Him from her study of His Word, but it was much more than this – it was putting faith to this knowledge that gave her such confidence that no matter what, God was who He said He was and nothing could change that.  As a nurse herself she knew better than most what was ahead of her if God chose not to heal her on this earth and she had total acceptance of that.  Her only care was for Cliff – she really hated to think of him having to cope without her.
About six weeks ago I had a lovely half hour with her one morning at Epworth when I was there for tests.  I would often poke my head in the door and just say “feel like a chat?” and she would nod and invite me in.  Some days we would talk and talk and others I would just sit and she would hold my hand and we would pray together.  When I told her how much I admired her strength of character and faith in God she started saying how far short she was of God’s standard and how she felt she let Him down.  So I said “Barb, of course you have let Him down at times, but remember He will never let you down because He can’t”.  With tears she thanked me for reminding her of this. As if she didn’t already know this fact, but it just goes to show that at times of weakness we need each other. I then started to laugh.  She looked a bit puzzled and I said “Oh Barb, I feel like I’m taking ice to an Eskimo!”  she knew what I meant and had a good chuckle too.
My last visit to Barb was last Wednesday in the late afternoon.  Cliff had asked me to come in and I was glad I did.  He left the room and I had 20 minutes of precious time on my own with her.  I held her hand and she would squeeze my hand when she wanted to tell me she knew what I was saying. After praying with her and thanking her for her love and friendship I said I should go but she just held my hand tighter so I stayed.  I didn’t talk anymore, I had said goodbye, so just let the peace of the Lord’s presence in that room wash over us. Heaven felt very near. As I looked at her face I thought of how beautiful she looked – and I could only think it was the beauty of holiness – her quiet steadfast confidence in our God and her great love for Him was what created such beauty. I thought of how, though she was a very strong woman in character, she also had that “gentle and quiet spirit” that is so precious to God.  I thought of how her dealing with her long battle with cancer was the best sermon she could have preached.  I thought of how I would miss her wise and gentle counsel and felt that for many people our lives would be the poorer for her going.  But I can only say thank you to God for allowing me this friendship with such a special lady and I look forward to seeing her again in Heaven.

Ian Sinclair has graciously supplied the following notes from his leading of the Thanksgiving Service..

Thanksgiving Service for Barbara Wilson
(9th June 2010, 1.30pm at CGCC)
Introduction & Welcome
Ladies & Gentlemen (and children), I think it is time we made a start. On behalf of Cliff and his family, and Barbara’s sister, Heather and her husband Allen, and members of the Baddeley family, I want to welcome you this afternoon and thank you for attending this Thanksgiving Service for Barbara Wilson – a lovely, courageous, godly and uncomplaining lady who lost her long battle with cancer last Thursday evening.
Flo and I have had the privilege of knowing Barbara for the last 7 years since Cliff & Barb started attending our church in 2003. So if Barb’s life could be viewed as a 24 hour day, then we have only got to know her during her last 2 hours and 18 minutes. Now there are many people here today who have known Barb in different ways for much, much longer than we have, and some will be presenting tributes to her during the service.
It is important at this stage, on behalf of Cliff, to sincerely thank the Pastoral Care team at our church, as well as those who have been able to help Cliff with transport over the many months Barbara was unwell. They know who they are – your kindness has been much appreciated.
In a letter Cliff composed last weekend, he said that Barbara “was a brilliant person, dux of her school, gold medallist as a nurse”, Dean of students and later Dean of Studies at the Melbourne Bible Institute (which became the Bible College of Victoria), and, of course, a wonderful wife and companion for the last 14 years.  Many here today would heartily agree with these comments. Indeed, she has been a blessing, an example and an encouragement to many people over the years. She will be greatly missed. But, throughout her life, Barbara served and worshipped God, and I am certain that she would not want this service to just focus on her, but on her Lord and Saviour – that He will be honoured and glorified. We can take comfort in knowing that, even now, Barbara is in God’s presence, and that her time of pain and suffering has passed forever!
Before we sing our opening hymn, which, by the way, was sung at Cliff and Barb’s wedding in 1996, Don McKelvie will lead us in prayer. Thank you Don.

Prayer : Don McKelvie

Hymn: “I have decided to follow Jesus” – stand and sing

Bible Readings: The Bible Readings listed in the Order of Service will be read by Cliff’s older daughter, Elaine, together with a few extra comments by her daughter, Michelle. The second reading will be by Cliff’s younger daughter, Lynette. And the third, from Romans chapter 8, will be read by Lynette’s daughter, Marney.
Could all these ladies please come to the stage together, and take your turn at the microphone. Thank you.

Eulogy: Dr Ted Woods
In 1992 I was privileged to attend an evening course at BCV on Old Testament studies. The lecturer was Dr Ted Woods. I remember him as a very animated person who, at regular intervals during the lectures, when he made a telling point, would add: “I preached a good sermon on this once!” I got the impression that a book of Ted’s good sermons would, at some stage, be available at Koorong Book store. But today, Cliff has asked for Ted, not to preach one of his good sermons, but to present Barbara’s eulogy which I’m sure he will do very well as Ted & Barb served on staff together at BCV for many years. Thank you Ted.

Hymn: “It is well with my soul’
The second hymn we are about to sing was chosen especially in light of the difficult circumstances Barbara and Cliff have faced in recent times. Despite the billowing seas, the many trials and sense of helplessness – because of their Christian faith and their trust in God’s promises, they could say with total confidence, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” Let us now stand and sing this great hymn together.

Tributes: Tributes to Barbara will now be given by the following people:
1.    Barbara’s sister, Heather Lloyd
2.    Barbara’s Cousin, Ernest Wass (pronounced ‘Voss’)
3.    A lovely lady who I know very well, Flo Sinclair
4.    Cliff’s son, Dr David Wilson
So firstly, Heather….

Devotion: Ian Sinclair
In 1 Thess.4:13 we read these words:
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”
Let us for a few moments consider what this verse means, because on an occasion such as this it is important that we know. The Apostle Paul was writing to Christians who believed that the Lord Jesus would come again before they died. But some had already died, and others were beginning to doubt their faith. Paul, however, reassures them that, because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, those who die as Christians will live again. To emphasize this he even uses the unusual language of saying that those who had died have only “fallen asleep”. They, because of their faith, will be raised to life – a life that will be eternal, and wonderful, free from pain and sickness and trouble of any kind, a life forever in God’s presence.
But Paul then adds that they should not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” And it is this part of the verse I want to focus on today.
Paul does not say that Christians were not to grieve. He says they were not to grieve “like the rest of men”. Now there is an important difference. It would be wrong, totally wrong, to say that because we believe in God and  the certainty of the after-life, that we should not grieve for our loved ones who have died. After all, we are human, and God wants us to be honest with Him. We can, and we should express our grief about what has happened, and why it has happened in this case to a lady who, it seems, still had much to offer. Many of us today, particularly those closest to Barbara, are hurting, feeling sad, feeling empty, because she is no longer with us. And we are left to carry on without her.
Well, if that’s how you are feeling, be assured, you are not alone. The shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, to me is one of the most precious. It simply says “Jesus wept”. At the graveside of his friend Lazarus, Jesus openly expressed His grief. We read that He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. At this moment, He was identifying with our humanity and the emotions that we experience.
Feelings of sadness and disappointment at such a time of loss are legitimate. They should not be denied or suppressed. But how do we make sense of them? The answer to the tormenting question “why?”  is contained within the sovereignty of God, and that in a world marred by sin, mankind’s mortality is always evident. God does not promise to shield Christians from all harm or disease, but He does promise to be with us at all times, and to give us His grace – grace to sustain us – grace that will be sufficient for our need. Yet, like everyone else, Christians do suffer pain and disappointment and, in the end, we all die physically.
Using a sporting analogy, in this life, most of us probably think we’re like marathon runners pacing ourselves over a 100 year journey, but quite obviously, this isn’t always the case. Some will only run, as it were, a middle distance race, and, as they look back, then they’ll realize that that was the length of the race they had entered. The psalmist writes in Psalm 139 “all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” God knows the length of our race, but we don’t. For Barbara I calculated the length of her race was 26,702 days. That was the number of her days. That was her race. And she ran it well – with great courage and with dignity.
But what about how we run our race? Each of us needs to be a good steward of the time we have on earth, however long that might be, and be ready, at any moment, to break the finishing tape when we, too, will be called to meet our Creator.
So, then, what are we to do? Shrug our shoulders and fatalistically accept our lot? Not at all!  Paul finishes the verse on a very positive note. He says that we should not grieve as other men who have no hope. Yes, we are to grieve because we’re  human. And we are to mourn with those who mourn. But Paul reminds us that, even though we mourn, we have hope. The word ‘hope’ in this sense is not just wishful thinking, or crossing your fingers and toes, hoping that something might happen. The Christian hope is the joyful anticipation of something that will happen and is about to happen. It is absolutely certain, and we are excited at the prospect of it happening!
How do we know this? If we can trust anything in the Bible, we can trust this promise because they are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself. He said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”
Barbara believed this promise, and she is already enjoying the reality of her new existence. The author C.S.Lewis described our present existence as merely the ‘shadowlands’ – they are just like a shadow. The reality, the ultimate reality, is the life to come when we leave behind the shadows of this life, and come into the full sunshine of eternal life – with God forever – and that will be far, far better than the struggles and trials we now encounter. In another one of Paul’s letters he says: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Barbara has already received a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And she has heard from His lips: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant….come, enter into the joy of Thy Lord.”

Let us pray together
“God, our loving heavenly Father, we confess that we have mixed feelings at this very moment. We have feelings of sadness and loss because Barbara is no longer with us. And we miss her. We ask in Your mercy, that you will comfort those who are grieving. For Cliff, and for Heather, and for members of the extended family, we ask Your special blessing. Give them the strength to continue, we pray. For them life will be different and, at times, difficult. Be to them (as You have promised in Your Word) “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
And yet, in another sense, there are feelings of relief in knowing that Barbara’s suffering is now over. No more pain, no more illness, no more trips to the hospital. Indeed, no more of the limitations that we still face. She is absent from her earthly body, yet gloriously alive in Your presence. For this certain and wonderful promise we give thanks to You, O God.
Now may the love of God the Father, who loves us with a love that will never let us go, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, so clearly demonstrated in that while we were still sinners He died for us, and the abiding comfort and presence of the Holy Spirit be with us all, this day and forever. Amen.”
Announcements
In a minute we will sing our closing hymn which appropriately focuses on the great God that Barbara trusted and served, but before we do that there are just a few announcements.
1.    During the singing of the hymn, six of Cliff’s grandchildren will be the pallbearers. Please wait until all the family has left the main hall before following them out.
2.    If you have not done so already, please sign the Memorial Book on the table in the foyer as a record of your attendance today.
3.    As mentioned on the back page of the order of service, everyone is invited to stay for afternoon tea which will be served in the room behind you.
4.    Even though the weather is a bit bleak, for those who are intending to come to Lilydale Memorial Park for the committal, please be in your car and ready to leave by 3.20. I will make a further announcement about this at 3.15. It is very important that we leave on time.
So to the closing hymn…..Let us stand and sing…..
Closing Hymn: “How Great Thou Art”

Archaeology and Bible History

While archaeology has often verified the historical records provided in the Bible there are also a number of anomalies. So it is important to consider these in preparation for investigation into what archaeology offers.

Specific Focus

The Biblical record does not aim to be a book of world history. It has a very specific focus. It follows a specific history of God’s dealings with mankind, through the descendents of a particular family lineage.

The joke goes that a young man announced to his pastor that he felt called to Israel. When asked why, he explained that, “Every time I open my Bible I find a passage about Israel. So God must be directing me there!”

The greater part of the Bible deals with Israel and the history of the Jewish nation, so what would you expect to find in the Bible?

Because of this specific focus on Israel many other historically significant events are minimised or even ignored altogether. As Dr Clifford Wilson puts it, “Right through the Scriptures individuals and nations are put to one side if their history is not relevant to the Covenant People, Israel.”

Those who are looking for clear historical breadth and detailed time-lines will be frustrated at times. The Bible does not set out to meet man’s agendas, but to serve the purposes of Almighty God, who wrote it.

Compressed Time

Not only is the Bible narrow in its focus, principally watching selected people from the Jewish nation, but it is also selective in its details. At times the Bible skims over centuries of time, yet at other points it bogs down in minute detail. The Bible is not time sensitive nor does it give equal weight to events. God, in His wisdom, has selected certain events for close inspection, while sweeping past decades of time and huge historical landmarks.

The Bible’s tendency to summarise history leads to statements which are true, but which could be seen as naive or uninformed. If the Bible were an historical textbook then omissions would be a serious matter. But the Bible makes not pretensions to be a human historical record. It is God’s Word. God’s chosen messages to us as His creations are packed into an amazing book from antiquity. That book contains rich historical information, but defies those who wish to tie it down to that task.

And He Begat

I am fascinated by an amazing Biblical summary of four thousand years of human history, given to us in the New Testament. The family tree from Abraham to the birth of Christ is given, summarising the entire life achievements of each key individual with the phrase “and he begat” – See Matthew 1:1-16.

It is as if God is denigrating all the personal grandeur of each person in their own time and place, by respecting only that they gave birth to one child in the continuum of God’s family lineage. Then, in Luke 3:23-38 a similar summary lists the family tree from Jesus Christ back to Adam, with the repeated words “which was the son of”, linking each generation. This is an amazing compression of time and detail.

Human History in Verse

In the same spirit of the Bible’s compression of time, consider this verse which I penned back in 2001, as part of a poem for my parents.

What years of vanity and pain,
What lives of joy and peace and gain
Have passed since Adam first saw light
And Eve was his for his delight.
Each generation came and went.
Energies aroused and spent.
Great things were won and then undone.
While others quietly passed on.
God simply summarises that
By writing down “and he begat”.

Divine Perspective

The Bible is an intriguing book too because it is written from God’s perspective, not man’s. Historians, archaeologists and researchers all come to the Bible with certain expectations or hopes. They may then denigrate it because it confuses them at points or fails to meet those hopes.

The Bible, however, was written from God’s point of view, about things of importance in God’s economy. The void in terms of historical information is simply because the omitted events, significant in human reckoning, are of little or no consequence from God’s point of view. Some details are left out altogether, yet man might see those details as of utmost importance. In God’s assessment, for the purposes of the divine revelation He gave to man, they are not as important or may be completely irrelevant.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah the term “my servant” is reserved for references to Israel as God’s chosen nation. But in the book of the prophet Jeremiah the term “my servant” is used to refer to King Nebuchadnezzar in invading Israel and taking it captive.

“Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.” Jeremiah 25:9

From God’s perspective the King of Babylon was His servant.

Archaeological Interface

With these considerations in mind, along with other qualities of the Bible, we can see that archaeology will not always interface seamlessly with the Biblical record. What may seem to be an uneventful time or a short time span in the Biblical account may be a turbulent historical period spanning many years.

Alternatively, events which loom large in the Bible, such as the Ten Plagues on Egypt, may have little historical record. The Egyptians are unlikely to record their humiliation, and the events took place in a relatively short span of time.

From the abundance of archaeological discovery there may only be isolated items which relate directly to the Biblical account. This is not because the Bible is deficient, but because it has a much grander purpose than to record events from antiquity.

Wonderfully, the resounding voice from the stones of time is that of resonance and confirmation that the Bible is a real historical account, rich in detail that affirms first-hand observation by people in the very places being described. So archaeology is the Bible’s friend, even if it only maintains a casual relationship.

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 am compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights. Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com

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