We live in a time when many have questions about God, faith, and Christianity—but we also live in a time when science and technology make answers more accessible than ever before. Our world is in transition. After many centuries of numerical growth and significant influence on culture, the Christian Church has entered into a period of decline. There are more ministers than ever before—but a relatively small number hold conservative views consistent with traditional Christian doctrine. The number of churches is growing, but the percentage of ‘churched’ people is decreasing. There are more Bibles in America than ever before—but the Bible literacy rate is arguably lower than ever before. We live at a time in history when there is an increasing number of questions about church doctrine—but few are well prepared to present a strong defense for their faith. Now is the time for followers of Christ to be powerful witnesses for the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:7-8).
There are good reasons that good people have spiritual questions. The message of the church seems, at times, confused or inconsistent. Rules and laws regarding morality seem subject to change. Many high-profile ministry and minister failings have led to a breach of trust. Satan capitalizes on every opportunity and area of weakness. With evil growing, there is an opportunity and need for the church to be the light God desires it to be. All believers are called to study (2 Timothy 2:15), to be prepared to provide answers (1 Peter 3:15), and to be a witness for the Lord (2 Timothy 4:2).
Skepticism and persecution are not new
- Celsus wrote that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier and introduced what has become known as the ‘Swoon Theory.’ The ‘Swoon Theory’ postulates that Jesus was put into a drug-induced coma and later revived. He writes: “The teachings of the Scriptures are altogether absurd” (True Doctrine, 178 AD).
- Roman Emperor Diocletian, wanting to eradicate Christianity from the imperial capital in 303 AD, ordered the burning of all collections of Scripture, and churches or houses in which they were found.
- Episcopal Bishop John Spong’s 1992 book, ‘Born of a Woman’ presents the virgin birth as a myth and suggests that Jesus was born of a sexually violated girl.
- In many ways, the enemy seeks to demean church doctrine and cast doubt on the integrity of Scripture. Prophecy notes this would happen in the last days:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1-2)
- God is good and does provide answers to tough questions. If we seek them, we will find them (Jeremiah 29:11). Now is the time for believers to not just know what we believe—we must also understand why we believe it, and be able to articulate our convictions. The material in the next sections supports that goal.
WHY HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE INTEGRITY OF SCRIPTURE?
Some of the information in this section was adapted from Archer’s, “Bible Difficulties.”
Archaeological finds verify the Biblical record
More than 100 significant archaeological finds in the last 125 years confirm the accuracy of Scripture. There has never been an archaeological find showing the biblical record to be in error. Presented below are a few examples of recent archaeological finds which validate the integrity of the Bible:
- The Amarna Tablets, discovered in 1988, confirm the disputed biblical account of Joshua’s conquest of Gezer, Ashkelon, and Lachish.
- The first (non-biblical) reference to Nebuchadnezzar (verifying that he was an actual historical figure) was found in 1899.
- The biblical city of Bethel was found in 1919.
- The biblical city of Jericho was found in 1930.
- The Mari Tablets were found in 1933. These tablets confirm the existence of the disputed city, Nahor, as recorded in Genesis 24:10.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, confirm the accuracy of the Old Testament.
- The only lithic (and non-biblical) reference to Pilate was found in 1961.
- The biblical city of Nazareth was found in 1963.
- The Elba Tablets were found in 1970. These verify the existence of the long-disputed listing of cities Moses recorded in Genesis 14.
- The burial chamber of the High Priest Caiaphas was found in 1990. Its contents verified several aspects of the crucifixion story.
- The biblical city of Dan was found in 1993.
- The biblical city of Hazor was found in 1996.
- The first non-biblical reference to David was found in 1976.
- The Roman Historian Tacitus wrote that Jesus was executed under Pilate during the reign of Tiberius and was the head of the Christian movement known as The Way.
- The Jewish Historian Josephus wrote that “Jesus was a wise man…who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher…of truth. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross…He appeared to them on the third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things…” [Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63]
The Dead Sea Scrolls also verify the integrity and accuracy of Scripture
- The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise approximately 830 documents dating from 250BC—65AD. The documents were found in 1947, near the ancient village, Qumran, and are thought to have been written by an isolated Jewish community known as the Essenes. The Scrolls were discovered in a complex of 11 caves. Of the more than 800 documents, 202 are biblical texts; the others are legal and historical documents, poetry, etc. The biblical scrolls include all Old Testament books in the Protestant canon of Scripture (except Esther).
- The great question was: What would happen if the Dead Sea Scrolls Old Testament (Cir. 100 BC) was compared to the next oldest complete Hebrew Bible (Cir. 900 AD). The two Bibles were copied in different ways, by different people, more than 1000 years apart—would the text be similar? The two Old Testaments were found to be 99+% identical—and the less than 1% variance did not pertain to matters of doctrine, but rather, variant spellings of proper nouns. This affirms the accuracy and integrity of Scripture.
Documenting the integrity of Scripture via historical footnotes
- Slave Commerce: Genesis 37:28 notes that Joseph was sold into slavery for 20 silver shekels. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen notes that this precisely matches the price of slaves in Joseph’s region during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries BC, as affirmed by documents recovered from ancient Mesopotamia and Mari (modern Syria). Move the story forward 100 years, and the price moves to 60 shekels. Move the story forward 200 years, and the price becomes 120 shekels. The Genesis account is precisely right, and could not be a 5th century BC work as some suggest.
- The Mari Tablets are a collection of legal documents found in Northern Syria, dated to the early second millennium BC. These documents note the particular pattern (and stipulations) for oaths, agreements, and treaties made in a particular region, at a particular point in history. This information matches perfectly with the form and structure of the treaties Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob entered into with their neighbors, as described in Gen. 21, 26 and 31. This nullifies the argument that Genesis was written more than a thousand years later than Bible Scholars contend as someone writing at in the 5th or so century BC would not be aware of these subtle but important cultural practices and customs.
- Ancient Law: Genesis 49 provides instructions regarding inheritance law. A few hundred years later, Deut. 21:15-17 notes a change in the inheritance law. This matches perfectly with the timeline for changes in regulations in the Mesopotamian region and validates the dates for Moses and Joseph and the Genesis record. It is true that Egyptian writings do not specifically mention the Hebrews, Moses, or the exodus. However, Josephus, citing Egyptian sources, notes that a group of people known as the Hyksos (Egyptian for ‘captive shepherds’) were in Egypt as the biblical record notes. That Joseph could rise to power in Egypt is plausible as writings note that an ‘Asiatic’ named Irsu came to power in Egypt during a period of hardship about 1200 BC. A stele at the Karnak Temple in Luxor notes that in the middle of the sixteenth century BC, Egyptian rulers in Thebes waged war against ‘Asiatic interlopers.’ Following this conflict, the political environment in Egypt would have been decidedly unfriendly against Semitic people who remained in the eastern delta. This sudden turn of events lays a foundation for the biblical account of the events leading up to the exodus—a new king arose, who did not know Joseph and conscripted the Hebrew people into forced labor.
- The Leiden Papyrus 348 is an ancient Egyptian document known as the Leiden Papyrus 348, which dates to the time of Moses, notes an order to distribute food to the ‘Apiru who were dragging stones for the great project.’ Apiru = non-Egyptians.
- The Merneptah Stele (circa 1217 BC), commemorates Ramesses II, and references the Israelites’ servitude.
- Hazor: Hebrew University Professor Amnon Ben-Tor found the city of Hazor in 1996. The temple areas were razed by fire, mud bricks had melted and turned into glass, and statues of Canaanite deities were decapitated and strewn about the Temple. This perfectly matches the Deut. 7:5 record.
- Jericho: An Archaeological Review publication notes that “…evidence has shown that fiery destruction did occur at Jericho, in uncanny detail, just as the Bible describes it. The upper med-brick wall of the city collapsed outward, piling up at the base of a lower wall to form a narrow ramp of debris large enough to allow an invading army to clamber into the breach.”
- Jesus: The Roman Historian Josephus wrote: “Jesus is widely known as a doer of amazing deeds and a teacher who won over many Jews and Greeks.” The Babylonian Talmud (a compendium of Jewish law and commentary) notes: “On the eve of Passover, Yesju was hanged… because he practiced sorcery and led Israel astray.”
Historians and archaeologists verify the accuracy of Scripture. Though many have tried, the Bible has not been proven to be in error. The next section presents information on how to understand and resolve apparent errors and contradictions in Scripture.
DEALING WITH BIBLE DIFFICULTIES AND APPARENT DISCREPANCIES
It is possible to resolve apparent discrepancies. Unraveling the mystery often begins by placing the problematic passage into one of four broad categories. A notation of the four categories and examples of how apparent discrepancies can be resolved are presented below:
- Timing issues: Not every book in the Bible was written in Israel, or with the Hebrew people being the primary target audience. Writing at different points in history to different target audiences accounts for many apparent discrepancies. For example, there seems to be a contradiction between John 19:14 and Mark 15:25. One Gospel writer notes that Jesus was crucified at the ‘sixth’ hour and the other notes that it was the ‘third’ hour. One can resolve this apparent contradiction by recognizing that John was using a Roman system of timekeeping, while Mark was referencing a Hebrew system of keeping time. This is the same as noting Noon, 12:00 PM, or 1400 hours.
- Weights and measures: The fact that the Bible was written over 1500 years and over a wide geographic area contributes to the Bible referencing many different systems for weights and measures. This can be confusing. For example, 2 Chronicles 24:14 references 100,000 talents of gold. 1 Chronicles 29:4 (same story) notes that there were 3000 talents of gold. Is this a contradiction? No. One references a Royal Shekel and the other the Mosaic Shekel. Two different (but similarly named) measurement systems – similar to 1 pound is equal to 454 grams.
- The mustard seed: In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus notes that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds. However, scientists point out that there are several seeds smaller than the mustard seed. Was Jesus’ teaching in error? No. Resolving this issue begins with realizing that Jesus was not speaking as a scientist or botanist. He was speaking to an agricultural community, in common language, in broad terms, to make a spiritual point.
- The timing for Nebuchadnezzar’s first raid into Palestine: Daniel 1:1 notes that it was in the 3rd year of his reign. Jeremiah 46:2 records that it was the 4th year. Reconciling the discrepancy begins by recognizing that in Babylonian culture, the first year of a new reign was considered an ‘ascension year’ and thus not counted. Daniel is writing in a Babylonian context, so he records the timing of the raid in the Babylonian system of recording time. Jeremiah, writing in a pure Hebrew context, references the more standard way of identifying the starting point of the king’s reign.
- Does a grain of wheat die? Was Jesus mistaken in John 12:25 and Matthew 13:31-32 in saying that a grain of wheat dies (rather than indicating that it germinates)? No, Jesus as with the mustard seed illustration, Jesus was not making a scientific statement, He was making a spiritual point.
- Absalom’s sons: 1 Sam. 14:27 notes that Absalom had three sons. 2 Sam. 18:18 indicates that Absalom did not have any sons and moves to erect a monument to maintain his name. The stories do not present contradictory accounts. The fact is, Absalom did have children, but his three sons died in infancy (hence the monument).
- Was the commandment to ‘Love’ (John 13:34-35) a ‘new’ commandment? Isn’t the commandment to love found in the Old Testament? (see Lev. 19:18). The commandment to love in John 13 does have a new component in that the level and scope of love is new (we are to love others as Jesus loves us).
- There are differences in the Gospel accounts regarding who was at the tomb on the Sunday morning after the crucifixion. These differences do not indicate discrepancies, but rather add detail to, and substantiate the reliability of, the resurrection story. In a court of law, if multiple independent accounts are the same, the witnesses are likely to be discredited on the grounds of collusion.
- The resurrection story is credible because the chief witnesses are women. In the first century, Jewish women were not allowed to testify in court. If one were making up a story, one would not have the chief witnesses be women. Further, one of the witnesses (Mary Magdalene) had a negative reputation certainly would not play a prominent role in a fictional narrative.
Noted below are links to a three-part video teaching entitled, Reasons to Believe:
- https://vimeo.com/260668664 (part 1)
- https://vimeo.com/260668764 (part 2)
- https://vimeo.com/260668947 (part 3)
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