THE BIBLE: DOCUMENT, HISTORICAL AND ARCHEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE OF ITS ABSOLUTE RELIABLITY
JAY SMITH, QUOTED FROM THE WEBSITE STUDY:
THE BIBLE AND THE QUR'AN
AN HISTORICAL COMPARISON
[B] THE BIBLE'S MANUSCRIPT EVIDENCE:
Unlike the Qur'an, when we consider the New Testament manuscripts (MSS) we are astounded by the sheer numbers of extent copies which are in existence. Muslims contend, however, that since we do not have the original documents, the reliability of the copies we do have is thus in doubt. Yet is this assumption correct?
(1) New Testament Manuscript Copies:
Because the Bible is a book, it was initially made up of manuscripts. Consequently a primary means for ascertaining its credibility today are the number of copies from those manuscripts which are currently in one's possession. The more copies we have the better we can compare between them and thus know if the document we now read corresponds with the original. It is much like a witness to an event. If we have only one witness to the event, there is the possibility that the witness's agenda or even an exaggeration of the event has crept in and we would never know the full truth. But if we have many witnesses, the probability that they all got it wrong becomes minute.
Because of time and wear many of the historical documents from the ancient world have few manuscripts to which we can refer. This is specially true when we consider the secular historians and philosophers. For instance, we only have eight copies of Herodotus's historical works, whose originals were written in 480-425 BC. Likewise, only 5 copies of Aristotle's writings have found their way to the 20th century, while only 10 copies of the writings of Caesar, along with another 20 copies of the historian Tacitus, and 7 copies from the historian Pliny, who all originally wrote in the first century, are available today (McDowell 1972:42). These are indeed very few.
When we consider the New Testament, however, we find a completely different scenario. We have today in our possession 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! (taken from McDowell's Evidence That demands a Verdict, vol.1, 1972 pgs.40-48; and Time, January 23, 1995, pg.57). Though we do not have any originals, with such a wealth of documentation at our disposal with which to compare, we can delineate quite closely what those originals contained.
What's more, a substantial number were written well before the compilation of the Qur'an. In fact, according to research done by Kurt and Barbara Aland, a total of 230 manuscript portions are currently in existence which pre-date 600 AD! These can be broken down into 192 Greek New Testament manuscripts, 5 Greek lectionaries containing scripture, and 33 translations of the Greek New Testament (Aland 1987:82-83).
Muslims assert that we have similar problems concerning the large number of years which separate the manuscripts from the events which they speak about. Yet, unlike the Qur'an which was compiled much more recently, we do not find with the Bible such an enormous gap of time between that which the Bible speaks about and when it was written down. In fact, outside of the book of Revelation and the three letters of John considered to have been written later, when we look at the rest of the New Testament books, there is no longer any solid basis for dating them later than 80 AD, or 50 years after the death of Jesus Christ (Robinson 1976:79). Most of the New Testament was likely written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and perhaps before the fire of Rome (64 AD), and the subsequent persecution of Christians, since none of these events, which would have had an enormous impact on the nascent Christian community are mentioned in any of the New Testament writings. Had the documents been compiled in the second century as Muslims claim, then certainly they would have mentioned these very important events.
This same logic can be taken a step further. Take for instance the martyrdoms of James in 62 AD, Paul in 64 AD, and Peter in 65 AD. All were leaders in the nascent church. Thus their deaths were momentous events for the early Christian community. Yet we find none of the deaths referred to in any of the 27 canonized books of the New Testament (and significantly not in Acts, the most comprehensive historical record we have of the early church). The only explanation can be that they were all written prior to these events, and thus likely before 62 AD, or a mere 30 years after the death of Jesus, of whose life they primarily refer.
(2) Available Manuscripts:
A further criticism concerns whether the copies we possess are credible. Since we do not possess the originals, people ask, how can we be sure they are identical to them? The initial answer is that we will never be completely certain, for there is no means at our disposal to reproduce the originals. This has always been a problem with all known ancient documents. Yet this same question is rarely asked of other historical manuscripts which we refer to constantly. If they are held to be credible, let's then see how the New Testament compares with them. Let's compare below the time gaps for the New Testament documents with other credible secular documents.
There were several historians of the ancient world whose works are quite popular. Thucydides, who wrote History of the Peloponnesian War, lived from 460 BC to 400 BC. Virtually everything we know about the war comes from his history. Yet, the earliest copy of any manuscripts of Thucydides' work dates around 900 AD, a full 1,300 years later! The Roman historian Suetonius lived between AD 70 to 140 AD. Yet the earliest copy of his book The Twelve Caesars is dated around AD 950, a full 800 years later. The chart below reveals the time gaps of these and other works from the ancient world and compares them to the earliest New Testament manuscripts (taken from McDowell 1972:42, & Bruce 1943:16-17).
|Author||Date Written||Earliest Copy||Time Span||Copies (extent)|
|Herodotus (History)||480 - 425 BC||900 AD||1,300 years||8|
|Thucydides (History)||460 - 400 BC||900 AD||1,300 years||?|
|Aristotle (Philosopher)||384 - 322 BC||1,100 AD||1,400 years||5|
|Caesar (History)||100 - 44 BC||900 AD||1,000 years||10|
|Pliny (History)||61 - 113 AD||850 AD||750 years||7|
|Suetonius (Roman History)||70 - 140 AD||950 AD||800 years||?|
|Tacitus (Greek History)||100 AD||1,100 AD||1,000 years||20|
|Biblical Manuscripts: (note: these are individual manuscripts)|
|Magdalene Ms (Matthew 26)||1st century||50-60 AD||co-existant||(?)|
|John Rylands (John)||90 AD||130 AD||40 years|
|Bodmer Papyrus II (John)||90 AD||150-200 AD||60-110 years|
|Chester Beatty Papyri (N.T.)||1st century||200 AD||150 years|
|1st century||200 AD||150 years|
|Codex Vaticanus (Bible)||1st century||325-350 AD||275-300 years|
|Codex Sinaiticus (Bible)||1st century||350 AD||300 years|
|Codex Alexandrinus (Bible)||1st century||400 AD||350 years|
(Total New Testament manuscripts = 5,300 Greek MSS, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, 9,300 others = 24,000 copies) (Total MSS compiled prior to 600 AD = 230)
What one notices almost immediately from the table is that the New Testament manuscript copies which we possess today were compiled very early, a number of them hundreds of years before the earliest copy of a secular manuscript. This not only shows the importance the early Christians gave to preserving their scriptures, but the enormous wealth we have today for early Biblical documentation.
What is even more significant however, are the differences in time spans between the original manuscripts and the copies of both the biblical and secular manuscripts. It is well known in historical circles that the closer a document can be found to the event it describes the more credible it is. The time span for the biblical manuscript copies listed above are all within 350 years of the originals, some as early as 130-250 years and one even purporting to coexist with the original (i.e. the Magdalene Manuscript fragments of Matthew 26), while the time span for the secular manuscript copies are much greater, between 750-1,400 years! This indeed gives enormous authority to the biblical manuscript copies, as no other ancient piece of literature can make such close time comparisons.
Because of its importance to our discussion here a special note needs to be given to the Magdalene Manuscript mentioned above. Until two years ago, the oldest assumed manuscript which we possessed was the St. John papyrus (P52), housed in the John Rylands museum in Manchester, and dated at 120 AD (Time April 26, 1996, pg.8). Thus, it was thought that the earliest New Testament manuscript could not be corroborated by eyewitnesses to the events. That assumption has now changed, for three even older manuscripts, one each from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have now been dated earlier than the Johannine account. It is two of these three findings which I believe will completely change the entire focus of the critical debate on the authenticity of the Bible. Let me explain.
The Lukan papyrus, situated in a library in Paris has been dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century, so it predates the John papyrus by 20-30 years (Time April 26, 1996, pg.8). But of more importance are the manuscript findings of Mark and Matthew! New research which has now been uncovered by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and is published in his newly released book on the subject, the Jesus Papyrus mentions a fragment from the book of Mark found among the Qumran scrolls (fragment 7Q5) showing that it was written sometime before 68 AD It is important to remember that Christ died in 33 AD, so this manuscript could have been written, at the latest, within 35 years of His death; possibly earlier, and thus during the time that the eyewitnesses to that event were still alive!
The most significant find, however, is a manuscript fragment from the book of Matthew (chapt.26) called the Magdalene Manuscript which has been analysed by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and also written up in his book The Jesus Papyrus. Using a sophisticated analysis of the handwriting of the fragment by employing a special state-of-the-art microscope, he differentiated between 20 separate micrometer layers of the papyrus, measuring the height and depth of the ink as well as the angle of the stylus used by the scribe. After this analysis Thiede was able to compare it with other papyri from that period; notably manuscripts found at Qumran (dated to 58 AD), another at Herculaneum (dated prior to 79 AD), a further one from the fortress of Masada (dated to between 73/74 AD), and finally a papyrus from the Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus. The Magdalene Manuscript fragments matches all four, and in fact is almost a twin to the papyrus found in Oxyrynchus, which bears the date of 65/66 AD Thiede concludes that these papyrus fragments of St. Matthew's Gospel were written no later than this date and probably earlier. That suggests that we either have a portion of the original gospel of Matthew, or an immediate copy which was written while Matthew and the other disciples and eyewitnesses to the events were still alive. This would be the oldest manuscript portion of our Bible in existence today, one which co-exists with the original writers!
What is of even more importance is what it says. The Matthew 26 fragment uses in its text nomina sacra (holy names) such as the diminutive "IS" for Jesus and "KE" for Kurie or Lord (The Times, Saturday, December 24, 1994). This is highly significant for our discussion today, because it suggests that the godhead of Jesus was recognised centuries before it was accepted as official church doctrine at the council of Nicea in 325 AD There is still ongoing discussion concerning the exact dating of this manuscript. However, if the dates prove to be correct then this document alone completely eradicates the criticism levelled against the gospel accounts (such as the "Jesus Seminar") that the early disciples knew nothing about Christ's divinity, and that this concept was a later redaction imposed by the Christian community in the second century (AD).
We have other manuscript evidence for the New Testament as well:
(3) Versions or Translations:
Besides the 24,000 manuscripts we have more than 15,000 existing copies of the various versions written in the Latin and Syriac (Christian Aramaic), some of which were written as early as 150 A.D., such as the Syriac Peshitta (150-250 A.D.) (McDowell 1972:49; 1990:47).
Because Christianity was a missionary faith from its very inception (Matthew 28:19-20), the scriptures were immediately translated into the known languages of that period. For that reason other written translations appeared soon after, such as Coptic translations (early 3rd and 4th centuries), Armenian (400 A.D.), Gothic (4th century), Georgian (5th century), Ethiopic (6th century), and Nubian (6th century) (McDowell 1972:48-50). The fact that we have so many translations of the New Testament points to its authenticity, as it would have been almost impossible, had the disciples or later followers wanted to corrupt or forge its contents, for them to have amassed all of the translations from the outlying areas and changed each one so that there would have been the uniformity which we find witnessed in these translations today.
The practice of reading passages from the New Testament books at worship services began from the 6th century, so that today we have 2,135 lectionaries which have been catalogued from this period (McDowell 1972:52). If there had been a forgery, they too would have all had to have been changed.
(5) Early Church Father's Letters:
But possibly the greatest attestation for the authority of our New Testament are the masses of quotations taken from its pages by the early church fathers. Dean Burgon in his research found in all 86,489 quotes from the early church fathers (McDowell 1990:47-48; 1991:52). In fact, there are 32,000 quotations from the New Testament found in writings from before the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. (Mcdowell Evidence, 1972:52). J. Harold Greenlee points out that the quotations of the scripture in the works of the early church writers are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament manuscripts.
Sir David Dalrymple sought to do this, and from the second and third century writings of the church fathers he found the entire New Testament quoted except for eleven verses (McDowell 1972:50-51; 1990:48)! Thus, we could throw the New Testament manuscripts away and still reconstruct it with the simple help of these letters. Some examples of these are (from McDowell's Evidence..., 1972 pg. 51):
Clement (30- 95 A.D.) quotes from various sections of the New Testament.
Ignatius (70-110 A.D.) knew the apostles and quoted directly from 15 of the 27 books.
Polycarp (70-156 A.D.) was a disciple of John and quoted from the New Testament.
Thus the manuscript evidence at our disposal today gives us over 24,000 manuscripts with which to corroborate our current New Testament. The earliest of these manuscripts have now been dated earlier than 60-70 A.D., so within the lifetime of the original writers, and with an outside possibility that they are the originals themselves. On top of that we have 15,000 early translations of the New Testament, and over 2,000 lectionaries. And finally we have scriptural quotations in the letters of the early Church fathers with which we could almost reproduce the New Testament if we so wished. This indeed is substantial manuscript evidence for the New Testament.
So what comparisons are there between the manuscript evidence for the Qur'an and the Bible? We know from the historical record that by the end of the seventh century the Arabs had expanded right across North Africa and up into Spain, and east as far as India. The Qur'an (according to later Islamic tradition) was the centrepiece of their faith and practice at that time. Certainly within that enormous sphere of influence there should therefore be some Qur'anic manuscripts which still exist till this day. Yet, there is nothing from that period at all. The only manuscripts which Islam provides turn out to have been compiled in the ninth century, while the earliest corroborated manuscript is dated 790 A.D., written not 1400 years ago as Muslims claim but a mere 1,200 years ago.
While Christianity can claim more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, 10,000 Latin Vulgates and at least 9,300 other early versions, adding up to over 24,000 corroborated New Testament manuscripts still in existence (McDowell 1990:43-55), most of which were written between 25-400 years after the death of Christ (or between the 1st and 5th centuries) (McDowell 1972:39-49), Islam cannot provide a single manuscript until well into the eighth century (Lings & Safadi 1976:17; Schimmel 1984:4-6). If the Christians could retain so many thousands of ancient manuscripts, all of which were written long before the Qur'an, at a time when paper had not yet been introduced, forcing the dependency on papyrus which disintegrated with age, then one wonders why the Muslims are not able to forward a single manuscript from this much later period, during which the Qur'an was supposedly revealed? This indeed gives the Bible a much stronger claim for reliability than the Qur'an.
Furthermore, while the earliest New Testament manuscripts as well as the earliest letters from the church fathers correspond with the New Testament which we have in our hands, providing us with some certainty that they have not been unduly added to or tampered with, the Qur'anic material which we have in our possession abounds with stories whose origins we can now trace to second century Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature. We know in some cases who wrote them, when exactly they were written and at times even why they were written; and that none of them were from a divine source, as they were written by the most human of Rabbis and storytellers over the intervening centuries after the Bible had been canonized.
We now turn our attention to the documentary evidence for both the Qur'an and the Bible.
(2) OLD TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPT COPIES
*** copy from old_testament.htm
[B] THE BIBLE'S DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE:
(1900=Abraham, 1700=Joseph, 1447=Moses, 1000=David)
The documentary evidence for the reliability of the Bible has been an area of research which has been increasing rapidly over the last few decades. But this hasn't always been so. The assumption by many former archaeologists was that the Old Testament was written not in the tenth to fourteenth centuries B.C. by the authors described within its text, but by later Jewish historians during the much later second to sixth century B.C., and that the stories were then redacted back onto the great prophets such as Moses and David, etc... Yet, with the enormous quantity of data which has been uncovered and is continuing to be uncovered, as well as the new forensic research methods being employed to study them, what we are now finding is that many of these preconceived notions of authorship are simply no longer valid.
(1) The skeptics contended that the Pentateuch could not have been written by Moses, because there was no evidence of any writing that early. Then the Black Stele was found with the detailed laws of Hammurabi which were written 300 years before Moses, and in the same region.
(2) There was much doubt as to the reliability of the Old Testament documents, since the oldest manuscript in our possession was the Massoretic Text, written in 916 A.D. How, the skeptics asked, can we depend on a set of writings whose earliest manuscripts are so recent? Then came the amazing discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls written around 125 B.C. These scrolls show us that outside of minute copying errors it is identical to the Massoretic Text and yet it predates it by over 1,000 years! We have further corroboration in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, translated around 150-200 B.C.
Yet to please the skeptics, the best documentary evidence for the reliability of the Biblical text must come from documents external to the Biblical text themselves. There has always been doubt concerning the stories of Abraham and the Patriarchs found in the books attributed to Moses, the Pentateuch. The skeptics maintained that there is no method of ascertaining their reliability since we have no corroboration from external secular accounts. This has all changed; for instance:
(3) Discoveries from excavations at Nuzu, Mari and Assyrian, Hittite, Sumerian and Eshunna Codes point out that Hebrew poetry, Mosaic legislation as well as the Hebrew social customs all fit the period and region of the patriarchs.
(4) According to the historians there were no Hittites at the time of Abraham, thus the historicity of the Biblical accounts describing them was questionable. Now we know from inscriptions of that period that there were 1,200 years of Hittite civilization, much of it corresponding with the Patriarchal period.
(5) Historians also told us that no such people as the Horites existed. It is these people whom we find mentioned in the genealogy of Esau in Genesis 36:20. Yet now they have been discovered as a group of warriors also living in Mesopotamia during the Patriarchal period.
(6) The account of Daniel, according to the sceptical historians, must have been written in the second century and not the sixth century B.C. because of all the precise historical detail found in its content. Yet now the sixth century's East India Inscription corresponds with the Daniel 4:30 account of Nebuchadnezzar's building, proving that the author of Daniel must have been an eye-witness from that period. Either way it is amazing.
The strongest case for extra-Biblical corroboration of the Patriarchal period is found in four sets of tablets which have been and are continuing to be uncovered from that area of the world. They demonstrate that the Biblical account is indeed historically reliable. Let's briefly look at all four sets of tablets.
(7) *Armana tablets: (from Egypt) mention the Habiru or Apiru in Hebrew, which was first applied to Abraham in Genesis 14:13.
(8) *Ebla tablets: 17,000 tablets from Tell Mardikh (Northern Syria), dating from 2300 B.C., shows us that a thousand years before Moses, laws, customs and events were recorded in writing in that part of the world, and that the judicial proceedings and case laws were very similar to the Deuteronomy law code (i.e. Deuteronomy 22:22-30 codes on punishment for sex offenses). One tablet mentions and lists the five cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar in the exact sequence which we find in Genesis 14:8! Until these tablets were uncovered the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah had always been in doubt by historians.
(9) *Mari tablets: (from the Euphrates) mentions king Arriyuk, or Arioch of Genesis 14, and lists the towns of Nahor and Harran (from Genesis 24:10), as well as the names Benjamin and Habiru.
(10) *Nuzi tablets: (from Iraq) speaks about a number of customs which we find in the Pentateuch, such as:
a) a barren wife giving a handmaiden to her husband (i.e. Hagar)
b) a bride chosen for the son by the father (i.e. Rebekah)
c) a dowry paid to the father-in-law (i.e. Jacob)
d) work done to pay a dowry (i.e. Jacob)
e) the unchanging oral will of a father (i.e. Isaac)
f) a father giving his daughter a slave-girl (i.e. Leah, Rachel)
g) the sentence of death for stealing a cult gods (i.e. Jacob).
Because of these extra-Biblical discoveries many of the historians are now changing their position. Thus Joseph Free states: "New discoveries now show us that a host of supposed [Biblical] errors and contradictions are not errors at all: such as, that Sargon existed and lived in a palatial dwelling 12 miles north of Ninevah, that the Hittites were a significant people, that the concept of a sevenfold lamp existed in the early Iron Age, that a significant city given in the record of David's empire lies far to the north, and that Belshazzar existed and ruled over Babylon."
While documentary evidence for the Bible in the form of secular inscriptions and tablets not only corroborates the existence of some of the oldest Biblical traditions, similar and more recent documentary evidence (such as the Doctrina Iacobi, and the Armenian Chronicler) eradicates some of the more cherished Islamic traditions, that Islam was a uniquely Arab creation, and that Mecca, the supposed centre for Islam, has little historicity whatsoever before or during the time of Muhammad.
We look forward to further documentary discoveries coming to light, as they continue to substantiate and underline the Biblical record, while simultaneously putting doubt to the record of the Qur'an. Let's now look at the archaeological evidence for both the Bible and the Qur'an:
[B] THE BIBLE'S ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE:
(1900=Abraham, 1700=Joseph, 1447=Moses, 1000=David):
What has become evident over the last few decades is that unlike the difficulties found with the Qur'anic evidence, the most fruitful area for a confirmation of the Bible's reliability has come from the field of archaeology, for it is here that the past can speak to us the clearest concerning what happened then.
Because Abraham is honoured by both Christianity and Islam it is interesting to look at the archaeological evidence concerning his time which is now coming to light in the twentieth century. What we find is that archaeology clearly places Abraham in Palestine and not in Arabia.
1) Abraham's name appears in Babylonia as a personal name at the very period of the patriarchs, though the critics believed he was a fictitious character who was redacted back by the later Israelites.
2) The field of Abram in Hebron is mentioned in 918 B.C., by the Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt (now also believed to be Ramases II). He had just finished warring in Palestine and inscribed on the walls of his temple at Karnak the name of the great patriarch, proving that even at this early date Abraham was known not in Arabia, as Muslims contend, but in Palestine, the land the Bible places him.
3) The Beni Hasan Tomb from the Abrahamic period, depicts Asiatics coming to Egypt during a famine, corresponding with the Biblical account of the plight of the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'.
There is further archaeology evidence which supports other Biblical accounts, such as:
4) The doors of Sodom (Tell Beit Mirsim) dated to between 2200-1600 B.C. are heavy doors needed for security; the same doors which we find in Genesis 19:9. Yet, if this account had been written between 900-600 B.C., as the critics previously claimed, we would have read about arches and curtains, because security was no longer such a concern then.
5) Joseph's price as a slave was 20 shekels (Genesis 37:28), which, according to trade tablets from that period is the correct price for 1,700 B.C. An earlier account would have been cheaper, while a later account would have been more expensive.
6) Joseph's Tomb (Joshua 24:32) has possibly been found in Shechem, as in the find there is a mummy, and next to the mummy sits an Egyptian officials sword! Is this mere coincidence?
7) Jericho's excavation showed that the walls fell outwards, echoing Joshua 6:20, enabling the attackers to climb over and into the town. Yet according to the laws of physics, walls of towns always fall inwards! A later redactor would certainly have not made such an obvious mistake, unless he was an eyewitness, as Joshua was.
8) David's capture of Jerusalem recounted in II Samuel 5:6-8 and I Chronicles 11:6 speak of Joab using water shafts built by the Jebusites to surprise them and defeat them. Historians had assumed these were simply legendary, until archaeological excavations by R.A.S. Macalister, J.G.Duncan, and Kathleen Kenyon on Ophel now have found these very water shafts.
Another new and exciting archaeological research is that which has been carried out by the British Egyptologist, David Rohl. Until a few years ago we only had archaeological evidence for the Patriarchal, Davidic and New Testament periods, but little to none for the Mosaic period. Yet one would expect much data on this period due to the cataclysmic events which occurred during that time. David Rohl (in A Test of Time) has given us a possible reason why, and it is rather simple. It seems that we have simply been off in our dates by almost 300 years! By redating the Pharonic lists in Egypt he has been able to now identify the abandoned city of the Israelite slaves (called Avaris), the death pits from the tenth plague, and Joseph's original tomb and home. There remain many 'tells' yet to uncover.
Moving into the New Testament material we are dependant on archaeology once again to corroborate a number of facts which the critics considered to be at best dubious and at worst in error.
9) Paul's reference to Erastus as the treasurer of Corinth (Romans 16:23) was thought to be erroneous, but now has been confirmed by a pavement found in 1929 bearing his name. It is to Luke, however, that the skeptics have reserved their harshest criticisms, because he more than any other of the first century writers spoke about specific peoples and places. Yet, surprisingly, once the dust had settled on new inscription findings, it is Luke who has confounded these same critics time and again. For instance:
10) Luke's use of the word Meris to maintain that Philippi was a "district" of Macedonia was doubted until inscriptions were found which use this very word to describe divisions of a district.
11) Luke's mention of Quirinius as the governor of Syria during the birth of Jesus has now been proven accurate by an inscription from Antioch.
12) Luke's usage of Politarchs to denote the civil authority of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6) was questioned, until some 19 inscriptions have been found that make use of this title, 5 of which are in reference to Thessalonica.
13) Luke's usage of Praetor to describe a Philippian ruler instead of duumuir has been proven accurate, as the Romans used this term for magistrates of their colonies.
14) Luke's usage of Proconsul as the title for Gallio in Acts 18:12 has come under much criticism by secular historians, as the later traveller and writer Pliny never referred to Gallio as a Proconsul. This fact alone, they said, proved that the writer of Acts wrote his account much later as he was not aware of Gallio's true position. It was only recently that the Delphi Inscription, dated to 52 A.D. was uncovered. This inscription states, "As Lusius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the proconsul of Achaia..." Here then was secular corroboration for the Acts 18:12 account. Yet Gallio only held this position for one year. Thus the writer of Acts had to have written this verse in or around 52 A.D., and not later, otherwise he would not have known Gallio was a proconsul. Suddenly this supposed error not only gives credibility to the historicity of the Acts account, but also dates the writings in and around 52 A.D. Had the writer written the book of Acts in the 2nd century as many liberal scholars suggest he would have agreed with Pliny and both would have been contradicted by the eyewitness account of the Delphi Inscription.
It is because of discoveries such as this that F.F.Bruce states, "Where Luke has been suspected of inaccuracy, and accuracy has been vindicated by some inscriptional evidence, it may be legitimate to say that archaeology has confirmed the New Testament record."
In light of archaeological evidence, books such as Luke and Acts reflect the topography and conditions of the second half of the first century A.D. and do not reflect the conditions of any later date. Thus it is because Luke, as a historian has been held to a higher accountability then the other writers, and because it has been historical data which has validated his accounts, we can rest assured that the New Testament can be held in high regard as a reliable historical document.
We have no reason to fear archaeology. In fact it is this very science which has done more to authenticate our scriptures than any other. Thus we encourage the secular archaeologists to dig, for as they dig we know they will only come closer to that which our scriptures have long considered to be the truth, and give us reason to claim that indeed our Bible has the right to claim true authority as the only historically verified Word of God. This is why so many eminent archaeologists are standing resolutely behind the Biblical accounts. Listen to what they say (taken from McDowell's Evidences 1972:65-67):
G.E. Wright states,"We shall probably never prove that Abram really existed...but what we can prove is that his life and times, as reflected in the stories about him, fit perfectly within the early second millennium, but imperfectly within any later period."
Sir Frederic Kenyon mentions, "The evidence of archaeology has been to re-establish the authority of the Old Testament, and likewise to augment its value by rendering it more intelligible through a fuller knowledge of its background and setting."
William F. Albright (a renowned archaeologist) says, "The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the 18th and 19th centuries, certain phases 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."
Millar Burrows of Yale states, "On the whole, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record."
Joseph Free confirms that while thumbing through the book of Genesis, he mentally noted that each of the 50 chapters are either illuminated or confirmed by some archaeological discovery, and that this would be true for most of the remaining chapters of the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Nelson Glueck (a Jewish Reformed scholar and archaeologist) probably gives us the greatest support for the historicity of the Bible when he states, "To date no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single, properly understood biblical statement.."
As for the Bible, with the abundance of existing manuscripts (handwritten copies) of the New Testament (more than 24,000), we know little has been lost through the transmission of the text. In fact there is more evidence for the reliability of the text of the New Testament than there is for any ten pieces of classical literature put together. It is in better textual shape than the 37 plays of William Shakespeare which were written a mere 300 years ago, after the invention of the printing press! This is indeed surprising, considering the early period in which the manuscripts were compiled, as well as the flimsy material on which they were written. The fact that we have such an abundance of manuscripts still in our possession points to the importance the scriptures have held for the church over the centuries. As far as we can know, the names, places, and events mentioned in the Bible have been recorded accurately so that what we have is the representation of what God said and did. Besides the massive numbers of early New Testament documents, the Old Testament can also be substantiated by the Jewish community who continue to corroborate the proof for its accuracy, as well as documents such as the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls which give added weight to the claim that it has never been changed.
Even the Qur'an, possibly written during the 7th-8th centuries recognized the authority of our scriptures (see suras 2:136; 3:2-3; 4:136; 5:47-52,68; 10:95; 21:7; and 29:46). We also know that, outside of the few scribal errors, the historical events and personages are adequately correct, as they do not confuse names, dates and events, and in fact, surprisingly, continue to coincide with current archaeological findings. This is indeed significant, since with each successive year, ongoing documental and archaeological discoveries fail to divulge any historical contradictions. Instead they continue to corroborate what the Bible has been saying for 2,000-3,000 years (examples such as the Ebla tablets, or the newly discovered tomb of the priest Caiaphus give continuing credibility to the scriptures historical trustworthiness).
Therefore, the testimony of the historical evidence is that the Bible and not the Qur'an can be trusted as an accurate and reliable historical document. While we continue to unearth data which substantiates the Bible's accuracy, we likewise unearth further data which erradicates the validity for the Qur'anic account. If a scripture claims to be a revelation from God, it must prove its claim by establishing its historical credentials, to the extent that even a third party can agree upon the evidence provided. This the Bible and not the Qur'an does adequately.
We must also know that the Bible is unique? Consider: Here is a book written over a 1,500 year span (about 40 generations), by more than 40 authors, among whose number were found: kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, scholars, a herdsman, a general, a cupbearer, a doctor, a tax collector, and a rabbi. It was written on three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe, and in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Its subject matter includes hundreds of controversial topics, yet from Genesis right on through to Revelation the authors all spoke with harmony and continuity on the theme of the unfolding story of "God's redemption of humanity."
If God truly created the world for His pleasure, He would have created it to work to a pattern. This pattern we would expect to find revealed in His Word; as indeed we do, not only in the life of Jesus, the incarnate Word, who came and dwelt among us, but in the truth of the Gospel which was found in His teaching and later written down by His apostles. It is therefore not surprising that many cultures and governments even today continue to follow its precepts, laws and institutions, even though they do not necessarily adhere to its authorship.
It should not surprise us then that the Bible continues to be the source of God's revelation to His creation, for families and communities around the world, and that, according to the latest statistics, the Bible and not the Qu'ran is uncontested as the most popular book ever written. The statistics prove that it is read by more people and published in more languages than any other book in the history of humanity, so that even now "one copy of the Bible is published every three seconds day and night; or 22 copies every minute day and night; or 1,369 copies every hour day and night; and 32,876 copies every day in the year, and so on...".
It is logical, then, that Christianity, because it holds the repository of Biblical principles and thinking, is the fastest conversion-growing religion in the world today. What better testimony could one ask to demonstrate the Bible's claim to be the truly revealed and inspired Word of God.