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Christianity Worth Thinking About

The Bible: Accurate & True

by Greg Koukl

Sunday, April 30, 1995

I have a copy of the Biblical Archaeology Review (May/June, 1995). This is a journal with contributions from major archaeologists pertaining to biblical studies. It's been around for quite awhile and is written on a popular level for the layman, but it's somewhat sophisticated, too.

In this, their twentieth anniversary issue entitled "Achievement, Failure and Challenge: Fourteen prominent scholars tell you," they address what have been the greatest achievements of biblical archaeology, its greatest failures and the challenges that are left. Many well-known biblical archaeologists made contributions to this issue.

It is interesting to read the different responses because I have held for a long time, based on the evidence that I have, that archaeology is a great ally of the Scriptures.

But does archaeology prove the Bible? As I read these scholars--many of them Jewish archaeologists, some Christian archaeologists but not evangelical or conservative--I saw two different themes repeated.

Let me start with the second theme first. Many of the scholars deplored the attempts of evangelicals and conservatives to try to prove the religious truth claims of the Bible with archaeology.

Well, this was hard for me to read. That's exactly what I'd been doing. Yet, here were world-renowned archaeologists saying that this annoys them and it's a big mistake. It's an unprofessional thing to do. It's is a misuse of archaeology.

I thought, "Yikes, I'd better read further." Then when I read more I found something else that the same archaeologists said with equal conviction. They said that the field of archaeology has indeed confirmed, by and large, that the history of the Bible is sound.

Here's Menahem Mansoor, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He founded the Department of Hebrew and Semitic studies there and the Madison Biblical Archaeology Society. He says, "Biblical archaeology's greatest significance is that it has corroborated many historical records in the Bible. Biblical archaeology has failed to deter people who seek to validate religious concepts by archaeological finds. These people should not confuse fact with faith, history with tradition, or science with religion."

Another contributor makes a similar statement. His name is Israel Finkelstein, the co-director of excavations at Tel Megiddo and Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. He says, "The most obvious failure of archaeology has been the abuse of 'the old biblical archaeology' by semi-amateur archaeologists. I refer to the romantic days when a special breed of archaeologists roamed the Middle East with a spade in one hand and the Scriptures in the other. These were the times of desperate attempts to prove that the Bible was correct."

Another makes a similar statement. He talks about the problems of making religious assumptions based on the historical evidence of the Scriptures. But he also makes this interesting comment: "A fundamental question asked all over the world during the last few centuries is, Is the Bible true? Do the narratives related in it represent real events and are the figures mentioned there real people who lived and acted as the Biblical text tells us they did? In general, the evidence of material culture fits the Biblical account beginning with the period of the settlement of the tribes of Israel in the land of Canaan and the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. Hence, archaeological data are consistent with the view that at least this part of the Biblical account is, in general, true and historically based." This from David Ussishkin. He is the Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

Now, isn't this rather odd? These eminent scholars are saying, first of all, that archaeological evidence has demonstrated that the historical record of the Bible is reliable, by and large. But then they add a disclaimer. They warn us not draw religious conclusions from the fact that the Bible is historically accurate. Why not? This would be confusing history with religion. But isn't this precisely the point of the biblical narrative, that its religious claims are rooted in history?

The Bible records the Passover as an historical event. (This, by the way, is one of those historical items in the Scriptures that does not have a lot of archaeological support. Archaeology has been virtually silent about this period of history, creating no shortage of frustration for archaeologists.) Do we really want to claim that if we prove that the Exodus happened as described in the Scriptures, then this has no religious significance? Is it fair to hold that if God sent 10 plagues culminating in the death of the first-born of Ramses II, if He led the Hebrews through the Red Sea with the Egyptian army destroyed in its wake that this should have no religious significance?

In the New Testament if we, using the accepted canons of historical research, could demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead as the Scriptures tell us, wouldn't this have religious significance? Paul says that if Jesus has not in fact risen from the dead, then Christians ought all to be pitied, frankly (1 Cor 15:19). Our whole faith is a lie because the truthfulness of Christianity is necessarily tied to historical events. You can't separate the two.

That's the reason why the Bible is a record of history and not just a record of mere religious claims. How do you test religious claims? It's difficult; some say impossible. Because of this problem God ties religious claims which can't easily be tested to historical events which can be tested. This is precisely why biblical archaeology is so important to Christians. God's power is evident through the historical Exodus and through the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These world-class archaeologists say, "Yes, the Bible's historicity has been supported by archaeology." Yet in the next breath they warn, "Don't draw the conclusion then that the Bible is true"--and, of course, true here means truth in its religious claims. In other words, the facts of history have nothing to do with the "faith" of religion.

The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer described this strange schizophrenia in a fine little booklet you need to get. It's entitled Escape from Reason, and it's the third leg of his well-known trilogy, the first leg being The God Who is There, the second one, He is There and He is Not Silent. All three are available under one cover now from Crossway Books entitled Schaeffer's Trilogy.

I want to tell you the particular point he develops that helps us to understand why archaeologists can say that the Bible is accurate--that archaeology has demonstrated overwhelmingly the reliability of the Bible as an historical text-- but that doesn't mean it's true. Why Menahem Monsoor warns not to "confuse fact with faith, history with tradition, or science with religion." What this makes you, as one author put it, a "phony" archaeologist who "misuses Biblical archaeology to promote their own religious beliefs....[S]cholars, mystics and Messiah freaks" is what he calls them.

In Escape from Reason Schaeffer explained how modern man has become schizoid in the way he views the world. He actually thinks about life on two different planes. Schaeffer called them the upper story and the lower story. The lower story is where reality is--facts, science, laws of nature, the world as it really is. The upper story is where values, meaning, significance, God, religion, faith--those kinds of things--reside.

Schaeffer said modern man is split. On one level, the lower story of reality--in other words, the way things actually are--man is locked into a machine- like universe of cause and effect. We are just matter in motion, and that's the fact of the real world.

If there is to be meaning and significance it must come from somewhere other than the real world. It must be invented in our imagination and believed against the facts through an irrational leap of faith. This Schaeffer calls the second- story leap. Man invents significance, value, and morality by making a blind leap of faith into the upper story.

That is why people like a fellow in the L.A. Times (April 27, 1995) made this comment regarding the Pope. "Religions are concerned with spiritual matters that are subjective, personal, and private. One need have no proof or justification for one's spiritual beliefs because no one has the right to presume to judge the validity of those beliefs."

This writer makes it very clear that his view is that religious belief is in a separate category from fact. It is just a mere belief. It is an invention of your own mind and has nothing to do with the real world. Therefore there's no objective foundation from which to make judgments. How can you say someone's belief is wrong? It's their belief. I like milk; you like meat. What's to judge?

This is Schaeffer's upper story. Belief can't be analyzed by fact or by argument, nor questioned, nor judged, because ultimately there is no relationship between beliefs and facts, and it is incoherent and profoundly rude to try to suggest differently.

There is no connection between beliefs one holds about values and God and ultimate meaning in the upper story (following Schaeffer's terminology), and the facts that obtain in the real world in the lower story.

I think this is a profound observation, and it will help you understand the dilemma of modern man. This theme replays itself many times. This is why somebody like Stephen J. Gould, the famous paleontologist from Harvard University, can essentially say you can believe in evolution--which is atheistic at its core--and still be a Christian. It's because God beliefs are not in the real world of the lower story, but in the "faith" world of the upper story.

It's as if he's saying, "Don't suggest that your Christian faith in God has anything to do with the real world. We know that the world evolved by natural laws. God had nothing to do with it. You're welcome to believe in God if you want, as long as you understand that your God language is in the upper story and it has nothing to do with reality. It's just your belief, your faith, your wishful thinking, your religious placebo. In the real world we know better. We're just molecules clashing in the universe. Don't try to mix fact with fantasy, science with religion.

These archaeologists seem to be doing the same thing. They say that religious truth has nothing to do with reality. The Bible can be substantiated by archaeological evidence--in other words, the Bible is accurate where it touches history--but it is a misuse of archaeology to suggest that such things can substantiate your private, personal upper story leap of faith. The two have nothing to do with each other.

This is a serious problem, the schizoid modern mind, ladies and gentlemen. It's ironic that Christians are often called the hypocrites.

The history in the Bible is a unique kind of history because of the events recorded there. By its very nature, it has ramifications for transcendent truth. It seems to be the case that if Jesus Christ did rise from the dead, as a point of historical fact, and we can give historical evidence for such a thing, that there are then unavoidable theological ramifications. If the Exodus happened as recorded in the Pentateuch, then we are forced to concede the author's point, that the Lord is God in heaven and on earth.

    • "The Bible: Accurate & True"
    • Copyright 1995 Gregory Koukl
    • Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only
    • Stand To Reason 1-800-2-REASON

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It's made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason.

Posted: Oct 14, 1995
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