History and the Bible

Did the Bible writers intend to record real history? Not according to some critics. One writer says, “Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction…” And again, “…only some of the stories in the New Testament were meant as history.” This is a trending perspective on the Bible that is not at all unexpected in the world, but it is still imperative that these kinds of unfounded philosophies not find any foothold in the Church.

The writers of the Bible wrote real facts and real history, and it was important to these men that their readers understood this. The apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” His fellow apostle, John, also drew attention to the reliability of his own record in 1 John 1:1-2:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…

And Luke, of course, prefaces his writings as being especially dependable. Luke 1:1-4:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

These writers’ first priority was to convey the fundamental elements of the Christian faith, but attention to accuracy and credibility was an essential element of this effort.

The New Testament writers intended for their words to be considered as dependable records of real and profoundly important events. Certainly this is equally true of the Old Testament writings where Bible events are often couched in the context of secular happenings with extensive references to specific dates, times, world leaders, and other corroborating evidences. Not surprising, then, are the ubiquitous extra-biblical references that substantiate the inspired chronicles. David, Ahab, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Hoshea, Jehu, Jotham, and Manasseh are just a few of the dozens of biblical figures described in records other than the Bible. Some of these secular references to biblical people and places are very, very old. A 3,200 year old Egyptian monument mentions the people of Israel in the land of Canaan – a description that agrees with the Bible record. One especially interesting extra-biblical reference to an Old Testament person is the bulla of Baruch the scribe of Jeremiah. Two bullae, a scribe’s equivalent of a signet ring, have been discovered with the inscription: “Baruch son of Neriah,” the very person who worked with Jeremiah and quite possibly wrote large portions of the Old Testament. Examples like this are abundant and more are being discovered each year, but still the world wants us to read the Bible as fanatical religious fiction.

Extra-biblical references to New Testament people and places are practically innumerable. Essentially all of the leaders, political figures, and locations are discussed by contemporary sources outside of the Bible. Because of the volumes of references to Jesus and his Apostles, no one can seriously debate whether or not they existed. At least six different non-biblical sources make reference to Jesus. None of these sources intend to validate the writings of the Bible, but that is definitely the effect. Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all mention Christ and his following of Christians. Notably, the Bible records several supernatural events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, some of which continued to be a discussion outside of the Bible well into the 2nd century. This quotation comes from a man named Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) who refers to the writings of two other men.

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun…Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth – manifestly that one of which we speak.

Secular references to biblical people and places are not essential for a Christian’s faith, but these observations are still valuable as a plurality of witnesses is always desirable. Like Moses explained in Deuteronomy 19:15, “…by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”