Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament
by Peter S. Williams
(From the Be Thinking website)
Peter S. Williams examines the historical reliability of the New Testament in the light of the findings of archaeology.
“On the whole … archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics.” – Millar Burrows, Professor of Archaeology, Yale University
Charlotte Allen observes that “Archaeology, which was then a young science, was by and large ignored by the academic biblical scholars of the [nineteenth] century. For the great German exegetes of the era … a voyage to Palestine was beside the point, as the life of the historical Jesus was for them solely a matter of interpreting texts.” Today, scholars know that archaeological data can be a valuable aid to interpreting texts, as well as providing independent adjudication of a text’s historical veracity.
Allen affirms that archaeological excavations in the Holy Land have “tended to support the historical value of the Gospels, at least as sources of information about the conditions of their times.” As Nelson Glueck states, on the one hand “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever contraverted a biblical reference”, whereas on the other “Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”
Archaeologist William F. Albright observes:
The excessive scepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth-and-nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.
Likewise, Joseph Free confirms: “Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which had been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contrary to known facts.” Theologian Craig L. Blomberg notes how:
archaeology can demonstrate that the places mentioned in the Gospels really existed and that customs, living conditions, topography, household and workplace furniture and tools, roads, coins, buildings and numerous other ‘stage props’ correspond to how the Gospels describe them. It can show that the names of certain characters in the Gospels are accurate, when we find inscriptional references to them elsewhere. Events and teachings ascribed to Jesus become intelligible and therefore plausible when read against everything we know about life in Palestine in the first third of the first century.
Archaeologist Jonathan L. Reed observes that “The many archaeological discoveries relating to people, places, or titles mentioned in Acts do lend credence to its historicity at one level; many of the specific details in Acts are factual.” And as Lee Strobel observes:
In trying to determine if a witness is being truthful, journalists and lawyers will test all the elements of his or her testimony that can be tested. If this investigation reveals that the person was wrong in those details, this casts considerable doubt on the veracity of his or her entire story. However, if the minutiae check out, this is some indication – not conclusive proof but some evidence – that maybe the witness is being reliable in his or her overall account.
We will review archaeological evidence under the following three categories:
• Culture – Beliefs and Practices
• Places – Urban centers and individual buildings
• People – Titles, Names and Relationships
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