The Validity Of The Bible In An Age Of Skepticism – Part 5

This morning before I start on the Bible and archaeology, I want to digress and lay something out for you to give some thought to because I find that a number of people have, go through this thought process and have some of these questions, and that is, if God has chosen to reveal Himself and His thoughts to his people, why would he have chosen the written word as His primary means of communication? Now before I explain this, I think it is important to point out that the written word has not been His exclusive method of expression. The example you will see in the Bible recorded that God for some reason chose to speak audibly to certain individuals like Abraham, Moses, Job, the apostle Paul. But then, of course, we have the clearest expression, the clearest revelation in the person of Christ Himself, God in the flesh, coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us and we were able to behold His glory, as the scripture says. And He spoke audibly into people’s lives. And yet for us today, God speaks into the minds and hearts of people through the scriptures, through the written word. And yet, over the years, I have had more and more people ask me, well, why doesn’t God just speak down to us from Heaven in an audible voice? You know, why can’t we here in the modern world have that same demonstration from God? Maybe you’ve wondered that, maybe you’ve asked that question, you know, why doesn’t He just speak and let His presence be known? Well, I think there are probably a number of reasons, but the primary reason is that if the infinite God of the universe regularly spoke to us from Heaven, we would be terrorized into loving and listening to Him. You see, such a direct and demonstrative communication would create a situation whereby God actually forced Himself on mankind and serving and listening to Him would almost become compulsory. The great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw this issue and though through it and shares a really, I think, wonderful parable. And he tells the story, and it is a parable, of a king, a young king who was single, he didn’t have a queen, and he had this big palace that overlooked the marketplace, and one day he’s sitting in this palace and he sees this young peasant girl come out and he’s quite taken by her beauty and her smile. And he notices how kind she is to everyone. And she comes in and she buys some food and then he watches her leave. He’s quite taken by her and yet she has no idea that the king of this country is even looking at her. And the next day, he looks for her again and he sees her. And before long, he realized every day about that same time, he looks for her out in the marketplace. Until one day, he realizes that he is hopelessly in love with this peasant girl who has no idea that he is watching her. Now he realizes at that point that as the king, as the sovereign king of this country, he could force her to be his queen. He could force her by power to be his queen, and yet, he realized that she wouldn’t really love him. And so he made the decision to take off his crown, take off his royal clothes and dress as a peasant and to go out and win her love. Realizing that, and hoping, and I guess you could say recognizing, that she might reject him. But he also recognized that true love exists only when we choose to love from a condition of freedom. Philip Yancey, in his book Disappointment with God, gives some really wonderful insight on this. He says, “God’s open demonstration of power in the Old Testament did not encourage spiritual development. In fact, the Israelites in the desert had no need of faith at all. God’s clear presence sucked away freedom, making every choice that confronted them making a matter of obedience and not faith. God did not play hide and seek with the Israelites. They had every proof of His existence you could ask for, but astonishingly,” and I could hardly believe this result even as I read it, “God’s directness seemed to produce the very opposite of the desired effect. The Israelites responded not with worship and love but with fear and open rebellion. God’s visible presence did nothing to improve lasting faith.” And ironically, just yesterday, I happened to come across this in the book of John, chapter 12, verse 37 (John 12:37). Jesus, it says, after performing many miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead, that was witnessed by large numbers of people, this is what the verse says, “But though He had performed many miracles before them, yet they were not believing in Him.” You know, so, in essence, God has chosen not to regularly appear in a visible powerful way, but He has also, I might add, He has also not hidden Himself so that He can be found by those who truly seek Him. In fact, that’s the promise He makes to mankind. If you seek me, you will find me. That’s what happened in the life of Lee Strobel that we talked about last week. He spent two years seeking and searching for this God that his wife was now believing in and he finally says, he said that he came to the conclusion that, of what he called the unthinkable, maybe this really is true. And he’s a minister today, I think up in Chicago. Now, it’s important to realize through the recorded God has revealed Himself to us. He has dealt with us, in one sense, in the same way the wise king of that parable dealt with the object of his love. By coming into the world as a man. In doing so, God revealed Himself to us. He demonstrated His love for us by laying His life down at the cross and what we have been left with is the written word as testament of that truth. Now I think there are other very logical reasons, and maybe even imperative reasons, that God chose this method to speak into our lives. First of all, written statements, written communication is the clearest way to communicate. In other words, communication is most clearly understood when it’s written down. I mean, you see how the spoken word can be taken and twisted, I mean, look at Mitt Romney today. Because in a talk, he said, “I like firing people”, and in another place he said, “I don’t worry about the poor.”  Now, if you listen to it in the total context, you kind of understand what he’s saying. But it’s amazing how it can be taken and twisted. Therefore, if you have something written and documented, it’s clear. It can’t be twisted if you articulate it the way you want it said. The second thing I would also point out is all law and doctrine has to be objective and verifiable. Thus, it has to be recorded. It has to be written down. Ask any lawyer that. You have to have the documentation. Furthermore, you hear people, insane people say, well God told me to go and kill this person. Well, we know that God didn’t do that because we have, right there in the written recorded law, God prohibits murder. And finally, and maybe most significantly, well maybe not most significantly, but very important, Christianity, as we have said, is a historical faith; the history that’s in the recorded scriptures is crucial, now remember the Christian faith is built on a historical event, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And since history is a record of the past, based on testimony, history demands that events and happening be recorded. In essence, this is the only way for history to be preserved. If you go back the 5,000 years, and that’s all we have, is 5,000 years of recorded human history, it’s got to be written down, there’s got to be a record. Now this is a perfect segue that I want to speak on the balance of our time together and that’s archeology. Archeology. I read an interesting quote about archeology from Oliver Wendell Holmes and he says this, he says, “The spade,” and I don’t know if you know what a spade is, in olden times it was primarily a hand tool, but it also could be larger, but it was a digging device and they used it is ancient ties to farm and yet now, it’s the primary tool that is used by archeologists.  Now listen to what Holmes said, he said, “I believe in the spade and the importance of it.” He said, “It has fed the tribes of mankind. It has furnished them water, coal, iron, and gold. And now, it is giving them truth. Historic truth the mines of which have never been open until our time.” And what’s important to realize is that archeology is considered a relatively young science. You see, it’s understood as a branch of historical research that seeks to reveal the past by a systemic recovery of surviving remains. Now what I find to be quite fascinating is that for many years archeology was not of great value for historical reasons. Most archeologists, for so many years, were like that movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, they were looking for treasures. They were looking for ways to get rich.  But all that has changed. Furthermore, you have this large field of archeology. I mean, you have archeology here in the United States, in the Americas. You have this huge branch of archeology, but then you have a separate discipline called Biblical archeology. And this, of course, focuses on education, decipherment, and critical evaluation of ancient materials and record related to the Bible and Biblical times. Now what’s important to know is that 100 years ago, many scholars believed that the Bible told a history on an alien mythological world. That the Bible was unrelated to real people and events, that it was all made up and that it was this great story that had been written, kinda like Norse mythology. And the reason so many people believed this, so many skeptics began to believe this was because there was no real archeological remnants to support it. But again, all that has changed. Particularly in the last century. And I’m going to give you a couple of examples in just a minute. But first let me just say this, I think it’s critical to understand that the important role archeology plays in validating the scriptures. It doesn’t prove the Bible to be the Word of God. I’ll talk about that in session 7 and 8. But if we dig in the Middle Eastern part of the world and if we find ancient sites that are consistent with where the Bible said we would find them, then it shows that its history and its geography are accurate. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I would expect. I would expect that when the Bible talks about history and geography, then it would be accurate if it’s true. Listen to the words of Dr. John McRay, who’s written the most comprehensive book ever on archeology in the New Testament, he says this, “This is what archeology accomplishes. The premise is that if an ancient historian’s incidental details check out to be accurate time after time, this increases our confidence in other material that the historian wrote, but that cannot be as readily crosschecked. As far as recent archeological discoveries,” he says, “there is no question that the credibility of the New Testament is enhanced.” He said just as the credibility of any ancient document is enhanced when you excavate and find out that the author was accurate when talking about a particular place or event. Now let me share with you a couple of examples of this. Now up until 1993, there had been no archeological discovery that confirmed the existence of King David, who is one of the most crucial figures in the Old Testament. In fact, more is probably written about David that anyone other than maybe Jesus. But in July 21st, 1993, all of that changed. I want to read to you, and this is going to take a minute, I’m going to read it right from the book, an award-winning journalist, Jeffery Sheler’s book, Is the Bible True? And he says, “It was July 21st, 1993 and the workday was nearly over for the team of Israeli archeologists excavating the ruins of the ancient Israelite city of Dan in upper Galilee. The team led by Avraham Biran, of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, had been toiling since early morning sifting debris in a stone paved plaza in what had been the city’s main gate. Now, the fierce afternoon sun was turning the stone works into a reflective oven. Gila Cook, the team’s surveyor, was about to take a water break when something caught her eye — an unusual shadow in a portion of recently exposed wall along the east side of the plaza. Moving closer, she discovered a flattened basalt stone protruding from the ground with what appeared to be Aramaic letters etched into its smooth surface. She called Biran over for a look. As the veteran archaeologist knelt to examine the stone, his eyes widened. “Oh, my God!” he exclaimed. “We have an inscription!” In an instant, Biran knew that they had stumbled upon a rare treasure. In his 27 years at the site, Biran had found other inscriptions, but none like this one. Most consisted of a few letters of Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek etched onto tiny potsherds, the popular notepads of the ancient near east. One important fragment unearthed in 1976 identified the site as the Biblical city of Dan, the strategic northern outpost mentioned prominently in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 3 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. But this discovery, as Biran suspected when he first saw it, would prove to be far more significant. It would make the front page of The New York Times and touch off a heated debate in the often-arcane world of biblical scholarship. The basalt stone was quickly identified as part of a shattered monument from the ninth century BCE, apparently commemorating a military victory of the king of Damascus over two ancient enemies: the king of Israel and the house of David. As it would be translated later, the twelve partial lines of inscription,” it was partial, it was a fragment, said this, ” …my father went up…” and then there is a pause, and then, “…and my father died, he went to his fate…Israel formerly in my father’s land…I fought against Israel and Hadad went in front of me……my king. And I slew of them X number of footmen, and Y chariots and two thousand horsemen…and the king of Israel. And I slew the king of the House of David. And I put…their land…other…led over Israel…and the siege upon…” and it stops there. Sheler says the fragmentary reference to David was a historical bombshell. Never before had the familiar name of Judah’s ancient warrior king, a central figure in the Hebrew Bible and according to Christian scripture, an ancestor of Jesus, been found in the records of antiquity outside the pages of the Bible. Skeptical scholars have long seized upon that fact to argue, rather persuasively, within the Biblical academy, that David was a mere legend invented, they say, like much of Israel’s Biblical history, by Hebrew scribes during or shortly after Israel’s Babylonian exile, roughly 500 years before the start of the common era. David, and presumably other heroes of the Hebrew Bible, the skeptics argue, were about as historical as King Arthur. There are no literary criteria for believing David to be more historical than Joshua, Joshua more historical than Abraham, and Abraham more historical than Adam. British Biblical scholar Phillip R. Davies had argued just a year before the discovery at Dan. There is no non-literary way of making this judgment either since none of these characters has left a trace outside of the Biblical text. But with Biran’s startling discovery, the skeptics’ argument has suffered a serious blow. Now, at last, there was material evidence, an inscription written not by Hebrew scribes, but by an enemy of the Israelite a little more than a century after David’s presumptive lifetime. It seemed to be a clear corroboration of the existence of King David’s dynasty and, by implication, of David himself. What most people don’t realize is that since 1948, archeologists have discovered over 100,000 relics in Israel and the most significant relics are those with inscriptions like the one that I just shared with you. This next discovery was first reported in the United States in August of 2005. So you see how relatively new this science is. And this was reported in the Los Angeles Times. Workers were repairing a sewage pipe in the old city of Jerusalem and in the process, discovered the Biblical pool of Siloam. A freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimage s to the city and it was the site in the Bible where Jesus cured a man blind from birth according to the gospel of John. The pool was fed by the now-famous Hezekiah’s Tunnel and is a much grander affair than archeologists previously believed with three tiers of stone stairs allowing easy access to the water, said Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archeology Review which reported the find this past Monday. Scholars have said that, “There wasn’t a pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit to illustrate a point,” said New Testament scholar James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Now, we have found the actual pool of Siloam exactly where John said it was. A gospel that was thought to be pure theology is now shown to be grounded in history, he said. When the ancient workmen were plastering the steps before facing them with stones, they either accidentally or deliberately buried four coins in the plaster. All four are coins of Alexander Jannaeus, a Jewish king who ruled Jerusalem from 103 – 76 B.C.  That provides the earliest date at which the pool could have been constructed. Similarly, in the soil in one corner of the pool, they found about a dozen coins dated from the period of the first Jewish revolt against Rome, which we talked about last week, which lasted from 66 A.D. to 70 A.D. And that indicates the pool had begun to be filled in by that time because the pool sits at one of the lowest spots in Jerusalem. Rains flowing down the valley deposited mud into it each winter. It was no longer being cleaned out so the pool quickly filled with dirt and disappeared until now. Now this third example is so important because it relates to the book of Genesis and the other early books of the Old Testament. And so many scholars believe that Genesis is truly all fiction. It’s all mythology; it’s all made up. You see, the Bible makes mention 47 times of a people called “the Hittites”. They were listed among the nations inhabiting ancient Canaan when Abraham entered the land, Genesis chapter 15, verse 20 (Genesis 15:20).  They don’t consider it significant enough to have purchased chariots and horses from King Solomon (I Kings 10:29). And they maintained such powerful armies that the King of Israel hired them to fight and put to flight the formidable army of the Arameans (II Kings 7:6-7). Two Hittites particularly gained notoriety in the biblical account. One was Ephron the Hittites who sold Abraham his field and his cave in Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah (Genesis 23:10-20). It has since also been known as the tomb of the patriarch. The other important Hittite was Uriah, who played a crucial role as a soldier in David’s army. And yet, despite the prominence of the Hittites in the Biblical text, just over a hundred years ago, critical scholars doubted that they ever existed. At that time, no historical evidence of such a people had ever been found. They were simply part of the religious history of the Bible. Then, some religious tablets were discovered. I don’t have the date, but I’m talking about in the last 15-20 years from the ruins of an ancient city in Turkey called Boğazköy, German archeologist Hugo Winckler went to the site and excavated it and found in a storeroom 10,000 clay tablets. This is what archeologist Randall Price says, “Once they were finally deciphered, it was announced to the world that the Hittites had been found. Boğazköy had, in fact, been the ancient capital of the Hittite empire known as Hattusas. Other surprises followed such as the revelation that the Hittites language should be classed with the Endo-European language, of which English is a part, and that form of their law codes was very helpful in understanding those described in the Bible. The rediscovery of this lost people, one of the most outstanding achievements in near-Eastern archeology, now serves as a caution to those who doubt the historicity of particular Biblical accounts. Just because archeology has not produced corroborating evidence to date does not mean it could not tomorrow. The Hittites are just one example in which the bible has been shown to be historically reliable. Thus, it should be respected despite the present lack of material support for present events and chronological problems that remain unsolved.” Now, I’m going to share one more example with you, real short and then I’ll kind of wrap this up. In the book of Acts, chapter 17, verse 6, if you’ll remember, when we talked about history, we talked about Luke who wrote the book of Luke and wrote the book of Acts. I looked it up and in Acts 17:6, there is a term used by Luke describing the city officials in Thessalonica. It’s the Greek word “politarch“. And this is the only place in ancient literature where that word is ever found – politarch. And therefore, many skeptical scholars said this is proof that Luke did not know what he was writing about and could not be trusted as an historian. But once again, archeologists have found the word politarch. It wasn’t found scattered throughout the Roman world. They found it in one place – the city of Thessalonica. They had found 16 inscriptions of this very word and one was even found on an arch that was once above one of the gates of the city. Clearly, this was a term unique to the city of Thessalonica and it demonstrates Luke’s extraordinary power of observation and his reliability as a historian. Now, guys, I have in the book Rational Conclusions, 25 pages of many of the cities, towns, landmarks, and people, and certain customs mentioned in the Bible that are corroborated by archeology. And this is not an all-inclusive list. Now I didn’t bring you copies of it because I figured I’d have to make several thousand pages just to give it to you. But if any of you are interested in it, I’d be glad to make copies and send it to you. But the point of all this, guys, is to show you how important it is for archeology to back up, undergird, and corroborate, what is said in the Bible, if in fact, the Bible is true and accurate historically. Now just to show you as an example how important this is, most people don’t realize how archeology has proved to be so devastating to the Mormon faith. And I’m not here to pile on Mormonism but Joseph Smith, the found of the Mormon Church, claimed that his Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book upon the earth. But the problem, archeology has repeatedly failed to substantiate its claims about events that supposedly occurred long ago in the Americas. The Smithsonian Institute says, “There is no direct connection between the archeology of the new world and the subject matter of the Book of Mormon.” As authors John Ankerberg and John Welden concluded in a book on the topic of Mormonism, they say, “No Book of Mormon cities have ever been located. No Book of Mormon person, place, nation, or name has ever been found. No Book of Mormon artifact, no Book of Mormon scriptures, no Book of Mormon inscriptions, nothing which demonstrates the Book of Mormon is anything other than myth or invention has ever been found.” Now, before I wrap this up, I want to share one other thought and leave you with a couple of really important quotes. This is what’s been interesting as just as archeology has shed new light on the Bible, what they’ve also found and are now doing is that the Biblical record has also proved to be a useful tool to the archeologists themselves.  For instance, Yigael Yadin who directed the excavation at Hazor in the 1950s, relied heavily on the Bible’s guidance in finding the great gate of Solomon at the famous upper Galilee site. He said, “We went about discovering the gate with Bible in one hand and spade in the other.” Trude Dothan, whose work centers on the Philistines notes that “without the Bible, we wouldn’t even have known that there were Philistines.” And then William Dever, who argued earlier in his career that archeology and the Bible each should keep a safe distance from each other, has completely changed his mind. He now firmly believes, and I quote, “All archeologists working in Israel must have sound training in Biblical studies in order to properly understand the context of their work.” Now, in my research, what I have concluded is that the archeological discoveries in the last 75 years have really excited the public and it has stunned the skeptics and it’s brought archeology to a place where it supports, truly supports the Biblical record, the Biblical text. And so let me close with some comments from some of the greatest archeologist who have ever lived. Jeffery Sheler, who wrote an article in U.S. News and World Report, on The Mysteries of the Bible, and who is probably not a famous archeologist, he is more of a journalist, but he spent so much of his time researching this, said, “Now the sands of the Middle East are yielding secrets hidden for thousands of years that shed surprising new light on the historical veracity of those sacred writings…. Some have even hailed the discoveries as the beginning of a new “golden age” of Biblical archaeology.” Kenneth Kitchen, and if I shared with you his credentials, it would take too much time. He was a historian and an archeologist, he taught at the University of Liverpool, he’s one of the leading experts on Biblical history and the Egyptian third intermediate period, and he has written over 250 books and journal articles and he says this, “There is quietly mounting evidence that the basic inherited outline of Biblical history is essentially sound.” Now remember we talked about Lee Strobel last week and how he went all over the country interviewing people who had different expertise in different areas. When it comes to archeology, he interviewed a guy by the name of Dr. John McRay. I’ve already quoted him once this morning. Impeccable credentials. I think the fact that Strobel chose him as the archeologist to go question speaks volumes. Well in Strobel’s interview, he asks him an important question, he says this to Dr. McRay, “Have you ever encountered an archeological finding that blatantly contradicts a New Testament reference?” He shook his head and said, “Archeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible.” He replied with confidence, “On the contrary, as we’ve seen, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that have been codified and a fact over the years but that archeology has shown to be wrong.” Now these last two guys that I’m going to quote are real giants in the world of archeology. The first is Dr. William Albright. I mentioned him last week. He’s the person, remember John Trever, who took the photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and he sent them to Dr. Albright, who was a professor at Johns Hopkins. He was the man who I mentioned had the big write-up in Time Magazine when he died. He says this, and I quote, “The Bible no longer appears as an absolutely isolated monument of the past, as a phenomenon without relation to its environment.” He says, “The excessive skepticism shown towards the Bible by important historical schools of the 18th and 19th century has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details and has brought increased recognition of the value of the bible as a source of history.” This guy wasn’t a Christian. He was an archaeologist. And finally, and probably one of the greatest archaeologists of the 20th century was a college president and rabbi whose name was Nelson Glick. His extraordinary accomplishments include the discovery of approximately 1,500 archaeological sites in the lands of the Bible. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine for his archaeological endeavors and when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president of the United States, Glick delivered the benediction. Based upon decades of archaeological research, Dr. Glick penned this momentous statement, “As a matter of fact,” and these are his words, “as a matter of fact, however, it may be stated categorically, that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.” And this is why James Agresti, after all of his research in his book Rational Conclusions, says this, “I have yet to encounter archaeological evidence that shows any part of the Bible to be inaccurate.” I’m going to read that again. “I have yet to encounter archaeological evidence that shows any part of the Bible to be inaccurate.” Guys, this is a powerful statement and it appears that modern Biblical archaeologists concur with this assessment.

Let me close in prayer. Lord we do thank you for this time together we thank you that you have given us significant evidence that supports the accuracy of the Bible as a source of history. We thank you that you have left us with the written word and though we don’t always understand what we read in it, we’re grateful that is the source of truth for our spiritual lives as we live each day as husbands, as fathers, as businessmen, we thank you that it is a guiding light in our lives. And Lord, as we leave, I’m grateful for these men, just their desire to learn and know. We thank you for all th friendships that exist here….Lord – – –   (recording ended here)

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