7. How Archaeology Supports Biblical Accounts
“Do you mean that the cities mentioned in the Bible are real places?” asked an Indian translation helper.
The Wycliffe instructor held up the Bible map she was presenting to the class. “Yes, the various locations named in the Bible were real places. Some still exist today.”
“If that is the case, we need to change the writing style we have been using in our Bible translation,” explained the helper. “We have used the style for mythology, not history.”
Some religions, such as Hinduism, mix history, legend, and mythology in their sacred literature. Not the Bible. God’s revelation to man is rooted in history.
At one time, critics dismissed many biblical accounts as mythology because several people, places, and events described were unknown to the modern world. Yet, over the past two centuries, archaeology has confirmed many facts that appear in the Bible.
Importance of Historical Accuracy
The Bible is not a history book. But when it recounts the history, we can rely on its accuracy.
Moreover, God values history. Multiple times he reminded the Jews of their history, particularly the Exodus. For example, Stephen used Jewish history to show that Jesus was the Messiah.
If the Bible contains historical errors, then we must assume it also has doctrinal errors. Then the Bible wouldn’t be reliable. “Religion, if it is worth believing, must be based on facts. Yes, there is room for faith, but unless it is faith in facts, faith is not only useless, but also destructive.”i
Limits of Archaeology
Archaeology has only examined fragments of ancient history. It can’t give us the full story.
Also, all the artifacts are subject to interpretation. Sometimes archaeologists will only see what they want to see in an artifact based on their worldview. But others will allow the evidence to lead them to the most reasonable interpretation, regardless whether it agrees with their worldview or not.
Besides, archaeology cannot confirm spiritual facts such as the Bible is the Word of God. Material objects cannot prove spiritual truth.ii
Archaeological Support for the Bible
Despite these limitations, archaeology has verified the existence of several people, places, events, and customs recorded in the Bible.
- For a long time, scholars claimed Old Testament writers made up the Hittite people. But in 1911-12, Professor Hugo Winckler found around 10,000 clay tablets at Bogazköy, the capital of the Hittites. These tablets established the existence of the Hittite empireiii.
- In 1994, the first evidence of the House of David, an inscription in stone, was found.iv
- Evidence for Pilate, the Roman governor who had Christ crucified, was discovered in an inscription in Caesarea Maritima in 1961v.
- Haran, the village where Abraham lived before moving to Canaan, still exists in Turkey. It rests on top of ancient ruins. Nearby villages have the names of Abraham’s great-grandfather, Serug, and grandfather, Nahor.vi
- Jacob’s Well, where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, is still fed by a spring. Currently, an incomplete church building covers it.vii
- The altar to “an unknown god” that Paul referenced in Athens has been identified.viii
- The Merneptah Stele declares that a pharaoh conquered Israel (c. 1230 BC). This is the earliest non-biblical source that references Israel.ix
- The Mesha Stele documents a Moabite rebellion against Israel after Ahab died (c. 850 BC).x
- In 1935, an archaeologist found letters written on pottery in the ruins of Lachish in Judah. The Jews wrote to Egypt for help to fight against Nebuchadnezzar. Obviously, these letters never got delivered.xi
- In 1995 in a tomb dated at 1450 BC, an Egyptologist found a version of the Semitic alphabet inscribed in limestone. This suggests that others used the Semitic script in Egypt at the same time Moses lived.xii
- Evidence for Roman crucifixion was found in 1968. Near Jerusalem, a young man’s bones were found with a seven-inch nail still in the heel bonexiii.
- Critics once argued that Luke made a mistake when he used the term politarch (city authorities) in Acts 17:6. This term hadn’t been found outside of the biblical account. Now, thirty-two inscriptions using politarchs have been found. Three names date from Paul’s time.xiv
This list provides a brief sampling of the archaeological support for the Bible. Many books, magazines, and websites provide more historical evidence for people, places, and events recorded in the Bible.
If you know an outstanding archaeological fact that supports the Bible, please share it in a comment.
In Part 5, I discuss the transforming power of the Word of God.
i Erwin W. Lutzer, 7 Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), 66.
ii Lenny Esposito, “What Archaeology Cannot Tell Us About the Bible.” Come Reason Ministries, 28 October 2014, http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/10/what-archaeology-cannot-tell-us-about.html.
iv Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps and Timelines, 10th Anniversary Edition. (Carson, California: Rose Publishing, 2015), 51.
vGordon Grover, “Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2018,” (Christianity Today, 27 December 2018), https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/december/biblical-archaeology-top-10-discoveries-2018-israel.html.
viRose Book, 48.
ixRose Book, 49.
xiRose Book, 53.
xiiGordon Grover, 2018.
xiiiRose Book, 55.