Is the Bible a Reliable Source of History?

We know with great accuracy what the books of the Bible originally said.

It amazes me that I still hear people claiming “the Bible has been retranslated and rewritten so many times. We cannot really know what it originally said.”  The example of a game of “telephone” is given, as if the Bible was translated from Greek to Latin to German to French to English in a series of translations that each may have substantially altered the meaning.  Those who make this argument reveal their ignorance.

The truth is that all of our newest translations have been translated directly from manuscripts in the original languages.  For the Old Testament, this is predominantly Hebrew with some sections of Aramaic.  For the New Testament, this is Koine Greek. Modern translations are produced by large teams of linguists and scholars from various backgrounds in order to accurately convey the ideas of the original authors.  The Bible has been put through no game of “telephone.”

In fact, our manuscript attestation for the New Testament is far better than that of any other work of antiquity.  To throw out the Bible on claims of unreliability and remain consistent we would have to throw out… every single historian and piece of literature in antiquity.

The Bible is consistent and historically accurate.

Many of the supposed historical inaccuracies in the Bible that were once concerning have been debunked by emerging historical knowledge.

Take for example the discrepancy between Daniel 1:1, which states that Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and Jeremiah 25:1, that states that it was the 4th year. Much was made of this problem until scholar R. Thiele highlighted two different systems for counting reigns in the Ancient Near East: the accession year system and the non-accession year system. Jeremiah counts the king’s accession year, Daniel doesn’t.

Take for another example the existence of the Hittites. Though mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible, there was no archaeological evidence of their civilization until a series of discoveries beginning in 1876.  Until that time, their inclusion in the Biblical narrative was used as proof of the fabrication of much of the historical narrative of the Israelites.  We now know that the Hittites were a prominent Near Eastern civilization in the 15th and 16th centuries B.C.

This example highlights the fact that proof for Biblical claims may not always be readily available, but this does not mean that the Bible is in error. Instead, man is.

Another popular example is that of Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, who set out for Asia Minor in order to prove that the historical details in the book of Acts were fabricated. After decades of research and archaeological discovery, Ramsay concluded that the details in the book were completely accurate. He recorded his findings in a work entitled The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament.

The truth is that the Bible is historically accurate in every detail. This is a feat that is humanly impossible, and demonstrates one of many unique and perfect qualities that the Holy Spirit has embedded in the word of God.

“It Isn’t Fair.”

The English term “scapegoat” comes from the principle of “Azazel” which originates from the Bible in Leviticus chapter 16.

Azazel literally means “complete removal” in Hebrew, and the unlucky goat that was selected by “the lot for Azazel” had all of the iniquities and transgressions of the people of Israel placed on its head, that it might completely remove them from their midst. It appears that in this way the righteous indignation of God that would have fallen on the Israelites fell on the scapegoat instead. By means of the scapegoat Israel received pardon.

Of course, in contemporary times, the idea of making a scapegoat out of someone is frowned upon. Quite frankly, it is just not fair for one individual to pay the price for that for which an entire group is actually to blame.

We may not know whether God struck down the scapegoat, or simply allowed it to wander around in the wilderness to die on its own, but one thing is certain: that poor goat got the bad end of the deal, and the people of Israel got off easy.

The incredible truth of the gospel is that rather than an unlucky goat, Jesus Christ is now the propitiation for God’s people once for all.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The only sinless man to walk the face of the earth was made to be sin so that we could go free? It sounds like a good deal for us, but it certainly does not sound “fair.”

Realizing this has the power to transform the way we look at the world. Now, instead of demanding that everyone who sins receive the punishment that they deserve so that life can be fair, we can extend to others the undeserved grace that God has extended to us.

It may also be a comfort to us in times of injustice to look at the example Jesus set. Jesus Himself knows how it feels to suffer unjustly what is rightfully deserved by others. In fact, as 1 Peter 2:19 says, “this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

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