Tag Archives: Biblical Accuracy

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Archaeology and Historical Accuracy

9 Nov

Last week in “The Test of Value”, we began to take a look at the influence that accuracy (especially scientific accuracy) has played in determining whether Christians accept or reject a book as Scripture.  This week, we’ll continue the theme by examining the issue of historical accuracy and the role that archaeology has played in determining what does or doesn’t merit a place in the Bible.

Before we begin, however, we must take a moment to understand what the field of archaeology can and can’t offer us in regard to determining historical truth.  It is important to recognize that archaeology does not deal directly with history, but with what remains of history.  The story which artifacts tell must be deduced from their surroundings and, sometimes, due to the differences between modern cultures and ancient ones, these deductions are inaccurate.  (If you want a great example of an argument which has arisen as the result of such deductions, take a moment to do an internet search for “Qumran” (the ancient community located near the spot where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found).  You may be surprised at what you find!)

As our knowledge of the ancient world expands, so do the possibilities for interpreting its remains.  What at one time was a “proven fact” can quickly be discarded as a misinterpretation of the evidence.  This isn’t always the case, but it does happen frequently enough to leave room for doubt.  The result is that while archaeology can do much to confirm details of an account, it is not always a source of absolute truth.  Its evidence must be weighed, often in the light of the evidence from other fields of study, before we arrive at a conclusion.  In a sense, archaeology is the handmaiden of history – illuminating our understanding of recorded history by bringing its remnants to light.

One of the most common errors made in regard to these remnants is the “argument from silence”, i.e., to argue that something (or someone) did not exist simply because no evidence of its existence has ever been found.  While this might sound reasonable at first, the argument falls to pieces upon further investigation.  For years, it was argued that the Hittites mentioned in the Old Testament were a fictional group of people.  No remnant of their society had been found anywhere near the expected Biblical location and no mention of them was made in any other ancient literature.  If God really had promised their land to the Israelites, the promise had been an empty one.

That is, until the early 1900’s when Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered an impossibly large cache of clay tablets confirming that the Hittites had existed!  Since then, archaeologists have unearthed many remnants of their society.  The lack of evidence once thought to disconfirm the claims of Scripture was turned into a treasure trove which confirmed Scripture.

So what role does archaeology play in validating a book as part of the Christian Bible?  To begin with, it does provide us with known facts.  Archaeology has uncovered much evidence to support the Biblical record (evidence of places and people named within the pages of Scripture) and archaeologists have done a wonderful job when it comes to illuminating our understanding of ancient cultures.  As the picture becomes more complete and more gaps are filled, we find ample evidence that the writers of the Bible did live at the time and in the places they claimed.

So what happens when a book that claims to be Scripture is disproven through archaeology or other historical documentation?  The same thing that happens when a volume is proven scientifically inaccurate: it is discarded.  It has been discredited as the Word of God and does not merit a place within our Holy writ.

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: The Test of Value

2 Nov

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the important role that prophesy plays in determining what Christians accept as Scripture.  We’ve learned about “Testing a Prophet” and have discussed both “The Test of Uniqueness” and “The Test of Detail”.  This week, we’re going to look at another test applied to texts to determine whether they merit a place among our Holy writ: the test of value.

The test of value can be broken down into three primary subheadings: accuracy, authenticity, and applicability. Of all the tests of Scripture, the first of these (accuracy) is one of the most important.  After all, if a writer can’t get basic verifiable facts about science, history, and geography correct – why should we believe his explanation of spiritual things?  It’s a valid question and one with which Christians (and others) throughout the ages have struggled.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at these “factual” questions, beginning today with the issue of science.

It doesn’t take most of us long to recognize that what we learn in science class doesn’t always mesh with the claims of Scripture.  For example, according to Genesis 1:27, God created man in His own image – with intention and purpose.  According to our science text books, however, man is the result of random mutations which have taken place over the course of millennia – an accident.  It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that both can’t be true.  So which one is?  And what role does information like this play in determining whether any book should or shouldn’t be included in Scripture?

To begin with, as Christians, we need to approach anything bearing the label of “science” (whether or not it confirms our original beliefs) with a certain level of skepticism and, perhaps, even agnosticism (a willingness to openly admit that we just don’t know).  Instead of jumping to conclusions about what can or can’t be true (conclusions often based upon our upbringing, system of belief, or the pressure applied by those around us), we need to be willing to do a bit of research and be open to the results.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “science” is “a knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.”  The key elements of this scientific method are observation and repeatability, i.e., the person performing an experiment must be able to witness an event taking place and, through recreation of identical circumstances, reproduce that event multiple times.  We see this method in action when we consider the laws of gravity.  Drop an apple while standing on this planet and it will fall to the ground… over and over and over again.  The result?  Scientific fact.

Science is an excellent method for determining truth, but it is important to note that it isn’t the only way to determine what is or isn’t true.  There are many “facts” (those surrounding historical events, for example) which cannot be either proven or disproven through scientific investigation.  Whether life came in existence through evolution is an excellent example.  While we do observe minor adaptive changes (micro-evolution) throughout creation, no scientist has yet been able to actually “create” living, breathing organisms out of chemicals in a laboratory.  Nor has anyone witnessed reptiles actively transforming into birds or apes becoming human (though they can be trained to interact in human-like ways).   The initial creation of life, like other historical events, is beyond the realm of science.

1 Timothy 6:20 warns that we should avoid, “…worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”.”  The old King James Version puts it, “… keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.”  This doesn’t mean that Christians ought to reject scientific findings (quite the opposite!), but it does mean that we need to be careful to ensure that what we accept as science actually is science.

So what happens if genuine science does contradict the claims of a book which declares itself to be Scripture?  Then the answer is simple: the book of Scripture must be discarded.  It has been discredited as the Word of God.  And this is one of the reasons that the Bible stands as it does today.

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