Geisler started his discussion of the archaeological evidence by quoting the words of Jesus, who said: "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things ?"2i
"Conversely," said Geisler, "if we can trust the Bible when it's telling us about straightforward earthly things that can be verified, then we can trust it in areas where we can't directly verify it in an empirical way."
"How, then, has the Bible been corroborated?" I asked. Having investigated some of the archaeological confirmation of the New Testament in my previous book, The Case for Christ, I was especially interested in archaeology and the Old Testament, and that's where I asked Geisler to begin.
"There have been thousands-not hundreds-of archaeological finds in the Middle East that support the picture presented in the biblical record. There was a discovery not long ago confirming King David. The patriarchs-the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-were once considered legendary, but as more has become known these stories are increasingly corroborated. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was thought to be mythological until evidence was uncovered that all five of the cities mentioned in Genesis were, in fact, situated just as the Old Testament said. As far as their destruction goes, archaeologist Clifford Wilson said there is 'permanent evidence of the great conflagration that took place in the long distant past.'22 "Furthermore," Geisler added, "various aspects of the Jewish captivity have been confirmed. Also, every reference in the Old Testament to an Assyrian king has been proven correct; an excavation during the 1960s confirmed that the Israelites could, indeed, have entered Jerusalem by way of a tunnel during David's reign; there is evidence the world did have a single language at one time, as the Bible says; the site of Solomon's temple is now being excavated; and on and on. Many times, archaeologists have been skeptical of the Old Testament, only to have new discoveries corroborate the biblical account."
"For example I said.
"For instance, Samuel says that after Saul's death his armor was put in the temple of Ashtoroth, who was a Canaanite fertility goddess, at Bethshan, while Chronicles reports that his head was put in the temple of a Philistine corn god named Dagon. Now, archaeologists thought that must have been an error and therefore the Bible was unreliable. They didn't think enemies would have had temples in the same place at the same time." "What did the archaeologists find?" I asked.
"They confirmed through excavations that there were two temples at that site, one each for Dagon and Ashtoroth. They were separated by a hallway. As it turned out, the Philistines had apparently adopted Ashtaroth as one of their own goddesses. The Bible was right after all.
"That kind of phenomenon has happened again and again. The Bible makes about three dozen references to the Hittites, but critics used to charge that there was no evidence that such people ever existed. Now archaeologists digging in modern Turkey have discovered the records of the Hittites. As the great archaeologist William F Albright declared, 'There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.'"23
I asked Geisler to continue by briefly summarizing why he believes that archaeology corroborates the New Testament.
"The noted Roman historian Colin J. Hemer, in The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, shows how archaeology has confirmed not dozens, but hundreds and hundreds of details from the biblical account of the early church," Geisler said. "Even small details have been corroborated, like which way the wind blows, how deep the water is a certain distance from shore, what kind of disease a particular island had, the names of local officials, and so forth.
"Now, Acts was authored by the historian Luke. Hemer gives more than a dozen reasons for why Acts had to have been written before A.D. 62, or about thirty years after Jesus' crucifixion. Even earlier, Luke wrote the gospel of Luke, which is substantially the same as the other biblical accounts of Jesus' life.
"So here you have an impeccable historian, who has been proven right in hundreds of details and never proven wrong, writing the whole history of Jesus and the early church. And it's written within one generation while eyewitnesses were still alive and could have disputed it if it were exaggerated or false. You don't have anything like that from any other religious book from the ancient world."21
"Is Hemer a lone voice on that?" I asked.
"Hardly," came the reply. "Prominent historian Sir William Ramsay started out as a skeptic, but after studying Acts he concluded that 'in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth."'The great Oxford University classical historian A. N. Sherwin-White said, 'For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming,' and that 'any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd.'26
"Earlier, I mentioned archaeologist William F Albright, who was a leader in the American School of Oriental Research for forty years. He started out as a liberal but became more and more conservative as he studied the archaeological record. He concluded that the radical New Testament critics are 'pre-archaeological' and their views are 'quite antiquated."'27
I sat back in my leather chair as I reflected on Geisler's barrage of facts and quotes. The argument was strong: if archaeology shows the Bible was accurate in what can be checked out, why would it be any less accurate in its other points? That only proves so much, however.
"Even if archaeology does confirm that the Bible is historically accurate, that doesn't mean it's divinely authoritative," I said.
"Correct," Geisler said crisply. "The only reason why anyone should accept the Bible as divinely authoritative is because it has miraculous confirmation."
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