Archeology Digs Into the Bible

A British archeologist digs up a skeleton dating back to Canaanite era, eighth millennium BC, at an excavation site in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. Lebanese and British archaeologists have been excavating at the historic site, some 40 kms south of the capital Beirut, since the late 1990s under a British Museum project. The Canaanites are the ancient population of the Western Levant which included Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan and coastal Syria.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on July 8, 2018

Christians are rightly fascinated by what archaeology is telling us about the Bible. 

For one thing, discoveries made through research and a lot of hard digging help us understand that the events and people described in the Bible were not just images in stained glass. As the ESV Archaeology Study Bible says, “Archaeology can serve to illuminate a text, that is, to help fill in the picture given by the Bible. It can enlighten us regarding the material aspects of daily life and can help us to understand how people lived in ancient times.”

We know, for example, what Roman coins looked like. That makes Jesus’s question, “Whose image and inscription is it?” (Luke 20:24) when he was asked about paying taxes to the Emperor all the more vivid. These were real people, living in a real culture.

Another example: We read a lot about houses in both Testaments.  But what were they like?  For one thing, they had flat roofs. That’s why Deuteronomy says that when the people of Israel built new houses, they were to construct railings around their roofs, “that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it” (22:8).

Theologian and archaeologist David Chapman writes, “those homes were frequently two-story structures. Animals (like cattle and donkeys) were regularly housed overnight indoors on the ground floor. The family typically slept upstairs, perhaps benefitting from the heat emitted from the animals below.”

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Archaeology can also strengthen our own faith and the case we make for our faith to others. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” warned Paul the apostle (II Corinthians 5:7). But it’s not a blind faith.

That’s why we can rejoice that there is credible evidence for the accuracy of the Bible. Lots of it. 

Some Fascinating Finds

Consider just a few exciting finds:

Personal seals called “bullas” bearing  the names of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah were found “at the foot of the Temple mount” in 2009. One reads, “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, King of Judah.” The other says, “Belonging to Isaiah the (prophet).” The bullas were found close together, which makes sense since the two men were contemporaries.  Just like the Bible says (II Kings 18:1, 20:1-21).

The Book of Joshua says that of all the cities in Canaan, the people of Israel burned only one – Hazor (Joshua 11:10-13).  Archaeologists have found that ancient Hazor was burned

Some Bible names are hard to get one’s mouth around, like “Yehuchal son of Shelemiah.” Just think of the guy who had to stamp this onto a bulla: “Belonging to Yehuchal son of Shelemiyahu son of Shovi.”  The Bible’s Book of Jeremiah talks about this fellow twice (chapters 37 and 38). 

Acts 18:12-17 refers to a Roman official named Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. In 1905, a scholar at the University of Paris “published four fragments of an inscription from Delphi. The inscription clearly mentions Gallio as proconsul of Achaia.”

How Can Christians Use Archeological Evidence?

There are many, many more.  So how should Christians use archaeology as a basis for Christian faith?  And in their efforts to persuade others that the Bible and the Christ of Whom it speaks are true?

First, not with smug self-satisfaction.  Confidence in the truth is different than pride in it.  “Knowledge puffs up,” writes Paul (I Corinthians 8:1). If we know the truth, it’s because God in His grace has opened our hearts and minds to it (Ephesians 2:4-5). We can thrive in pursuing and sharing truth. But we shouldn’t let our understanding of the truth cause us to think we own it.

Second, objective evidence for biblical claims can strengthen the credibility of those of us who believe in the truth of the Bible. But thinking that through argument alone we can push someone into spiritual surrender is wrong. There’s nowhere in the New Testament where anyone was intellectually beaten into God’s kingdom.

Third, we can misuse archaeology by trying to make it say more than it really does.  The evidence for the existence of some Old Testament kings is encouraging, but not all of it is conclusive. When we exaggerate what the evidence shows, we only hurt the very case we’re trying to make.

Any evangelistic tool, whether it’s archaeology or reason or the testimony of changed lives or anything else, has to be accompanied by prayer, kindness, a good listening ear, the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit. 

So, let’s hope the archaeologists keep digging into the earth. And let’s all of us dig, too — into the written Word of God, the richest mine of all.   

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  • Howard

    “But thinking that through argument alone we can push someone into spiritual surrender is wrong.” That’s an understatement. After all, Mohammed was also definitely an historical person, and as far as I know there is no real doubt of the historicity of Siddhārtha Gautama, either, yet we do not feel compelled by these facts to accept their religious claims. No, the main uses of archaeology for Christians is to provide a deeper understanding of biblical passages, and to refute the more extreme assertions (sadly popular among many Christians, including a disturbing number of priests) that the Old Testament is about as historical as Little Red Riding Hood.

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