BreakPoint: The Reliability of Scripture

“That Which We Have Seen with Our Eyes”

What do a Greek-speaking Egyptian rebel and an ancient king of the Nabateans have in common? They both point to the reliability of the Bible. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

One of the most popular topics we cover at BreakPoint is the way that archaeology and related disciplines are continually confirming the biblical narrative.

It’s easy to see why so many Christians respond to this topic: unlike other faiths, Christianity is rooted in real human history. It tells the story of God’s actions in the same world that you and I occupy, as opposed to some mythical “once upon a time.”

The only problem, at least from my perspective, is that it’s nearly always Eric Metaxas telling you on BreakPoint the good news about archaeology and the Bible. He loves those stories. But so do I, and so today, it’s my turn.

The September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review presents the latest entry in a series of articles listing biblical figures whose existence have been confirmed in extra-biblical historical sources and/or archaeology.

The editors of BAR have told the author, Lawrence Mykytiuk of Purdue University, that his previous entries are among the most popular articles ever published in the magazine, whose readership is a combination of scholars and very well-read laymen. In his last entry, Mykytiuk focuses on political figures named in the New Testament. Some of them, like the four Roman emperors named in the New Testament, are obviously well-attested. Something similar can be said about the plague of the Herodians that feature prominently in the Gospels and the book of Acts.

But the New Testament writers don’t stop at the obvious. They, especially Luke and Paul, provide details that only someone who lived through the events or spoke to an eye-witness could provide. One confirmed example is found in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul tells the Corinthians that “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me.”

Aretas, “a contemporary of Herod Antipas,” was a real person whose existence has been documented by both extra-biblical sources and archaeology. Coins and other artifacts bearing his name have been found from what’s now Jordan to Italy. What we know of his life and reign outside of the Bible argues for the historicity of Paul’s account.

A more obscure example is found in Acts 21. Paul has returned to Jerusalem, where he knows that imprisonment and possibly death await him. He is attacked by a mob at the Temple and only survives because he is rescued by Roman soldiers. The commander, upon hearing Paul speak Greek, says “Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied that no, he was a Jew from Tarsus, which he called “no mean city.”

This exchange was a reference to a rebellion chronicled by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. There was an Egyptian, who would have spoken Greek, who lead a violent uprising involving thousands of men in the wilderness at around the same time as the events in Acts.

While the Romans put down the insurrection, the Egyptian escaped and was believed to be in or near Jerusalem. Thus, what Luke records in Acts is exactly the kind of exchange that would have taken place at that time between Roman troops and suspicious Greek-speaking strangers.

These are just two examples of many, written in both parchments and in the very ground of the Holy Land, that attest to the reliability of Scripture and the historical nature of Christian revelation. You see, instead of being myths and fables or even disembodied ideals, Christian proclamation is about, as 1 John says, that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched . . .”

So it shouldn’t surprise us that the list of biblical figures and places confirmed by archaeologists and other scholars continues to grow. It’s exactly what we should expect—and I’m happy to be the one who reminds us this time.

 

The Reliability of Scripture: “That Which We Have Seen with Our Eyes”

As John points out, confirmation of New Testament figures isn’t really a surprise, since these individuals are a part of history. To read more about Lawrence Mykytiuk’s work, click on the links below.

 

Resources

The Bible Through History: Individual / Small Group Edition
  • Phillip Yancy, John Stonestreet | NavPress
The Bible Through History: Scholar / Pastor Edition
  • Phillip Yancy, John Stonestreet | NavPress
New Testament Political Figures: The Evidence
  • Lawrence Mykytiuk | Biblicalarchaeology.org | August 16, 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Angela

    Excellent article as always! May I also add that Peter said in 2 Pet 1:19-1:21 that the scripture itself was a more sure word than even his own eyewitness? Having seen all that he had seen, Peter still defers to the supremacy of the Word over any other witness. So while having these historic documents that align with Scripture is valuable, it is the Scripture alone that attests to the truth, more than any witness men could provide. It always comes back to a matter of faith. The world places its faith on human testimony, and we place ours in the testimony of God the Father, the Creator of the Universe.

  • Janice Holton

    When you mention periodicals such as Biblical Archaeology Review, it would be helpful to include a link to how we can subscribe to them. Sounds fascinating! Thanks for this excellent information.

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      Click on the third link in the Resources section — it’ll take you to their site, where you can subscribe.

  • BLBeamer

    F. F. Bruce’s booklet The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? is another excellent resource. Bruce points out that such arcane and confusing details such as the title of officeholders like “tetrarch”, “governor”, etc. are different offices with important distinctions in Roman society and Luke gets them right every time. Clearly, Luke was a contemporary of the people and times he wrote about.

  • Dear John and Roberto

    BreakPoint: The Reliability of Scripture seemed to be an excellent blog post end of this week.

    I’ve read many Christian blogs this week – this particular blog post was among those who inspired and encouraged me in the faith.

    It seems logical to me that archaeology and related disciplines and how they are confirming the biblical narrative are much-sought subjects today.

    Yesterday I saw God’s Not Dead 2, excellent movie, and it included a great discussion about the confirmation of the biblical narrative.

    But that’s a little how off topic so I’ll go back to this post.

    One of the thoughts that stayed with me after reading BreakPoint: The Reliability of Scripture was “Christianity is rooted in real human history.”

    Yes, it’s what differs our faith from other religions.

    We sure live in exciting times with plenty of interesting facts about Jesus, our Saviour, come to the surface.

    I’m looking forward to next blog and will share this one on my social media accounts Friday, September 15.

    Cordially,
    Edna Davidsen

  • Desertphile

    “Archaeology
    and related disciplines are continually confirming the biblical
    narrative” said no archeologist, no historian, and no Bible scholar.

    • Lawrence Mykytiuk

      Dear Desertophile,
      Regarding the academics in each of the categories you mention, as one might expect: some do and some don’t say the Bible is _continually_ being confirmed by archaeological discoveries. But practically all–even some notorious sceptics–accept that some things in the Bible have indeed been confirmed by archaeology. In the case of Bible scholars, though I prefer to call myself an academic, I can verify that many of my colleagues in this category whom I know personally would say that archaeological digs have repeatedly/continually unearthed artifacts that in fact confirm things in the Bible.

      Perhaps the world is not as simple as you would like it to be.

      As an academic who reads both the Bible and Bible-era inscriptions in their original languages, after comparing the two, I happen to be convinced that the Bible is continually being confirmed by archaeological discoveries.

      Best wishes,

      Lawrence Mykytiuk, PhD. Hebrew and Semitic Studies, MA Library and Information Studies, MTS Theological Studies
      Associate Professor of Library Science
      Associate Professor of History (courtesy appointment)
      European and World History Librarian
      Purdue University