I attended a Bible archaeology seminar with a speaker who had worked on the excavation of the city of Sodom—or, at least that’s what they hoped. He emphasized that the site matched clues from the biblical account.
He went on to make a popular point—that biblical references validated by unbiased sources strengthen the Bible’s case as a historical document, and this strengthens the case for its supernatural claims.
Argument from Accurate Place Names
Here are additional instances of this popular claim.
Near Eastern archaeology has demonstrated the historical and geographical reliability of the Bible in many important areas. (Source: E.M. Blaiklock, The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology)
Archeology and historical analysis again and again show the accuracy of the events, locations and customs mentioned in the Bible accounts. Never has anybody been able to disprove any of the accounts. (Source: Windmill Ministries)
The Credo House blog adds the discovery of the town of Jericho and several inscriptions that confirm the existence of biblical characters: the Pilate Stone, the House of David inscription, and the Caiaphas Ossuary.
The Cold Case Christianity blog gives similar examples, including:
- Luke 3:1 mentions Lysanias the tetrarch, and inscriptions have been found confirming this.
- Acts 13:51 says that Iconium is in Phrygia, confirmed by an inscription.
- John 5:1–9 mentions the pool of Bethesda, confirmed by archaeology.
Tim McGrew, interviewed on Frank Turek’s 4/4/14 “Cross Examined” podcast, proposes “undesigned coincidences” as important evidence. These are biblical passages from different parts of the Bible that support and explain each other. For example, Paul says to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15). But Paul circumcised Timothy as an adult, so how could Timothy have known the Jewish scriptures as a child?
But bring in Acts 16:1–3, and we discover that Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but his father was not. Puzzle solved—Timothy learned the scriptures from his mother, but his non-Jewish father wouldn’t allow the circumcision. McGrew argues that almost insignificant supporting passages like these point to the Bible as reliable history.
Here’s a final example from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona:
In the past, the Bible has demonstrated that its accounts are trustworthy as far as they have been verified. Moreover, the Bible has never been controverted by solid historical data. Therefore, the benefit of the doubt should go to the Bible in places where it cannot be verified, when there is no evidence to the contrary, and when it seems clear that the author intended for us to understand the event as historical. (p. 31)
Let’s step back and see what we have here. These earnest Christian apologists would like us to believe that the Bible accurately recorded the existence of locations (Sodom, Jericho, Iconium, and the pool of Bethesda) and people (Pilate, David, Caiaphas, and Lysanias). Some story elements are maintained across books (Timothy’s education).
Okay. Is that it? This isn’t hard to accept.
Issue 1. Let me first cast just a bit of doubt on archaeological finds that are both ancient (which means that our conclusions must be tentative) and lucrative (collectors demand ancient artifacts that modern forgers are happy to provide). Some well-known fakes are the James ossuary, the Jehoash inscription, and the ivory pomegranate of Solomon. That’s not to say that other finds are fakes but that we should be cautious.
Issue 2. Archaeology says that the Exodus didn’t happen. Does that un-convince you of anything? If not, why should the verified finds convince you?
If you’re impressed by the discovery of Sodom or Jericho, remember that Troy has also been discovered. Does that give support for the supernatural claims in the Iliad? The Iliad also mentions Perseus, the legendary founder of Mycenae, the ruins of which have also been found. I sense some inconsistency.
Issue 3. If you just want to say that the Bible makes some verified historical claims and so other as-yet-unverified natural claims should also be considered seriously, that’s fine. But surely these Christians want to go further. Surely they want this to support the Bible as accurate in all that it says, including its supernatural claims.
I’m happy to grant that the Bible makes many accurate historical references, but having accurate names of people and places merely gets you to the starting gate. It’s the bare minimum that we demand of a historical document. You haven’t supported the supernatural claims; you’ve simply avoided getting cut from the list of entrants being considered.
Instead of focusing on the Bible’s accurate but mundane statements, show us one thing that we thought was natural but is actually supernatural. After that point, the Bible’s supernatural claims won’t seem so surprising.
“The Bible isn’t inaccurate in some of its testable claims!” That this counts as a Christian apologetic says a lot for what passes for compelling argument in some Christian circles.
It is useless to attempt to reason a man
out of a thing he was never reasoned into.
— Jonathan Swift
Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff