Dealing With Historical Problems

Dealing With
Historical Problems

James M. Boice

Dr. James M. Boice is pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also the voice of “The Bible Study Hour,” Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and the author of many books and articles.

This brief article was taken from the ICBI “Update” publication.

It is said that the Bible communicates as history facts that we know are not true. Does it? In this particular category of alleged error time has shown itself to be on the Bible’s side. That is, as the evidence of archaeology, history, word studies and all the things that go into a detailed scientific study of the Old and New Testaments come in, these problems tend to be resolved.

In 2 Kings 15:29 there is reference to a king of Assyria named Tiglath-pileser. He is said to have conquered the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom and to have taken many of them into captivity. A generation ago liberal scholars, who thought the Biblical authors were ignorant and themselves most wise, were saying that this king never existed and that the account of the fall of Israel to Assyria was mythology. The reason they were saying that this king never existed is that they had never heard of him. They had no evidence that he existed apart from this statement in the Bible. However, archaeologists eventually excavated Tiglath-pileser’s capital city and found his name pressed into bricks which read: “I Tiglath-pileser, king of the west lands, king of the earth, whose kingdom extends to the great seas …” that is, the Mediterranean. In other words, archaeologists have found testimony, not only to Tiglathpileser’s existence, but also to the fact that he had pushed his kingdom westward as far as the Mediterranean and had therefore conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, as the Bible says he did. The English reader can find accounts of his battles with Israel in James B. Pritchard’s book Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.

A generation ago scholars were saying that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (and, therefore, when Jesus referred to Moses as the author, Jesus was wrong) because, so the argument went, writing was not known in Moses’ day. That seemed irrefutable. If nobody knew how to write in Moses’ day, Moses obviously did not know how to write, and if Moses did not know how to write, he obviously did not write the Pentateuch. But it is not the logic which is wrong in this case. It is the premise. As scholars have worked in the area of the Near East, they have found that people did know how to write in Moses’ day. Furthermore, not only did they know how to write, there were actually many written languages in Moses’ day. We know of at least six different written languages — not only in his day, but from the very area of the world in which Moses led the people during the years of wandering.

In more recent days many could be found who denied that the historical books of the New Testament were written close enough to the events they describe to be reliable. The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were dated late, and John, which seemed to have the greatest measure of Greek flavoring, was pushed back into the second Christian century and, by some more radical scholars, even into the third. Then a piece of papyrus was uncovered upon which several verses of John 18 had been written. It was found in the wrapping of a mummy, the embalming of which was placed no later than A.D. 125 and probably before that. The date of the original writing would have to be within the first century and thus within the lifetime of the Apostle John, who traditionally had been identified as the writer.

The results of scholarship, far from discrediting the Bible, actually supported its truthfulness. They do not prove inerrancy. We will probably never have all the data that would be necessary to do that. But they do point in the direction of reliability and reveal nothing that is not compatible with the highest view of the Scripture.

In December, 1974, Time magazine ran a cover story entitled “How True is the Bible?” It analyzed the trends, talking about the liberal and conservative positions, and then had this conclusion: “The breadth, sophistication and diversity of all this biblical investigation are impressive, but it begs a question: Has it made the Bible more credible or less? Literalists who feel the ground move when a verse is challenged would have to say that credibility has suffered. Doubt has been sown, faith is in jeopardy. But believers who expect something else from the Bible may well conclude that its credibility has been enhanced. After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived —and is perhaps the better for the seige. Even on the critics’ own terms — historical fact — the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack.”

I sometimes say when I am speaking to students, particularly seminarians, “If you want to get a reputation for being very wise today and are willing to risk looking like a fool twenty years from now, point out the ‘errors’ in the Bible. But if, like Charles Haddon Spurgeon, you are willing to be thought a fool now, knowing that in twenty to thirty years your position will be vindicated, then take your stand on the inerrancy of this book.”