History: Playing By The Rules

I had a letter to the editor published in today’s issue of a local newspaper, NUVO. It was in response to a letter to the editor that appeared the previous week, claiming that Christianity was invented in the time of Constantine.

Here’s the letter I wrote:

I certainly agree that “faith” cannot and should not be used as an excuse
to rewrite history (Letters, “America’s Collective Craze to ‘Trust God,’” Oct.
3-10). This is something Christians ought to accept: as I often point out,
Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is the evidence of things not seen” — it doesn’t say
that faith is a basis for believing that things seen do not exist.

It is unfortunate that Corya, rather than adhering to his stated
principles, simply substitutes one faith for another: faith in the sort of
claims found in The Da Vinci Code instead of faith in the Bible. Neither sort of
faith reflects the approach historians take to their sources. Historical study
is not an all-or-nothing enterprise. Corya’s claim that all the biblical
documents are “the least reliable historical documents on Earth” is no more true
or false than the opposite claim that they are accurate in all their details —
the latter is just as easily shown to be false.

The truth is that even excellent historians make errors, and even works
of fiction can include accurate information in describing places, customs and so
on. In historical study, each piece of evidence, each claim, must be assessed on
its own merits. There is at least one thing about which there is no doubt
whatsoever, however, namely that Christianity existed prior to the time of
Constantine. We have New Testament manuscripts that are significantly earlier
than that.

I am certainly a strong believer in the need for Christians to
accept the historical evidence and not dismiss it or rewrite it. But I also
believe that the same rules apply to everyone else, including atheists.

  • George Daole-Wellman

    Hi there! You may or may not recognize me from Nathan Rice’s blog. I followed the linky over here. Anyway, I have a few comments:Corya’s claim that all the biblicaldocuments are “the least reliable historical documents on Earth” is no more trueor false than the opposite claim that they are accurate in all their details —the latter is just as easily shown to be false.This certainly is an absurd claim. However, it becomes a bit less absurd when taken a bit differently. The Bible is certainly not the least reliable historical document on Earth, but I would venture that it is (at least one of) the least reliable historical documents that are taken seriously as a factual account by a significant number of professionals in the field. Note that I’m not saying you misinterpreted what this fellow said; I think he intended it as you read it, in all its glorious absurdity.There is at least one thing about which there is no doubtwhatsoever, however, namely that Christianity existed prior to the time ofConstantine. We have New Testament manuscripts that are significantly earlierthan that.Again, a small caveat; Christianity did exist long before Constantine, but it was a very different Christianity.


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