In the beginning…
The words that would complete the sentence above would vary depending upon where they are spoken, and who is doing the speaking. If one were hearing these words in a science class, it is likely they would be followed with some reference to a “big bang.” If the speaker were teaching a classroom full of world history students, he might say, “Well…we really don’t know since that was pre-history.” Yet, if one were in a Sunday school classroom the sentence would likely be completed with “God created the heavens and the earth.” Is it any wonder our young people are often confused when they attempt to reconcile what they are taught in school with what they are instructed concerning matters of faith?
Why is there such a disconnect between the study of world history in secular education and the study of biblical history? The Bible is a literal, historical account that covers the time since the creation of the universe through the roughly 4000 years following. If one accepts this fact, then one’s view of history will be in accordance with the revelation of God, the creator of the universe. The secular world today has gone to extremes in efforts to shun any hint of association with all things pertaining to God. As a result of this bias, the Bible is denied its rightful place as a historical document. Writings from such ancient authors as Plato, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Homer are accepted as authentic and historical, while the Bible is relegated to a collection of fables in many scholastic circles. The New Testament alone is verified with over 24,000 manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts. Over 5,400 of these manuscripts are in the original Greek language, the earliest of which were written in the second century A.D. No other ancient writing or collection of writings comes even close to that verification of authenticity.
Students of ancient history rely heavily upon the field of archaeology to learn about ancient cultures. Archaeological findings continue to verify biblical accounts of historical events otherwise unknown to historians. A few years ago, archaeology and biblical studies seemed to go hand in hand. It was not unusual at all to hear of some recent “discovery” in the archaeological field that seemed to confirm some biblical claim. As such, it seemed that archaeology was a friend to the biblical account. The two seemed to share an almost intimate relationship.
Unfortunately, times have changed. Archaeology and the Bible enjoyed a healthy relationship from about 1920 to 1970. Bible scholars and archaeologists alike approached archaeology from a biblical perspective. From about 1970 till the present, archaeologists have attempted to dissociate theology with archaeology. Some have gone so far as to deny the term “biblical archaeology” in favor of the term “Syro-Palestinian Archaeology”. This stems from a belief that archaeology and biblical studies should be considered independent studies and as such should not influence each other. In spite of the abundance of archaeological evidence that proves the Bible is a historically accurate document, this bias against God has permeated even this area of historical study.
The Greek word from which “archaeology” originates means “a study of ancient things”. Today archaeology is considered a study of the past based upon findings of artifacts relating to past times and cultures. Biblical archaeology deals with the study of biblical events, characters, and teachings by studying findings of sources outside the Bible. It should be noted that archaeology is not meant to “prove” the Bible, nor should it be used in such a manner. Even so, archaeology can and, in many cases, does provide evidence that confirms biblical accounts. For example, one may find evidence in excavation of an area that a city referred to in the Bible actually existed (such as Nineveh), or even that a person existed (such as Sennacherib), but to show that Nineveh was used as an example of God’s wrath, justice, and mercy, is left solely to God’s Word, as found in the book of Jonah. Likewise, it is possible to demonstrate through archaeology that Sennacherib invaded Judah during the reign of Hezekiah, but to know how that God was glorified in His defeat of Sennacherib is again a fact that relies solely on the Word of God (2 Chron. 32). This demonstrates that the Bible is both historical and theological. Because of its theological nature, the historical value of the Bible is often discarded by secular educators. Recently, there have been some attempts to study the Bible as literature in the educational system. The Bible is indeed a masterpiece of literature, but such a view of the Bible falls far short of recognizing it for its historical value. For the Bible believer it is not the literary or historical value of the Bible that is most important, but its theological value. The Bible reveals God to His creation!
Society is inundated with ideas, often encapsulated in familiar terms, which are contrary to the biblical view of world history. An example of this is the term “pre-historic,” which is a misnomer. The term “pre-historic” suggests that some events in the world happened before there were people making records of historic events. The first record of history that is available is found in the Holy Bible in Genesis 1:1. When this well-documented authority is referenced one finds that the very origin of the universe is recorded. Since the beginning of the universe is recorded in history, there could not possibly be a time that could correctly be called “pre-historic.” Parents, Bible class teachers, preachers, and all Christians should avoid the use of such terms which create confusion in the minds of people.
It is easy to blame the secular world for the unmerited distinction between world history and the biblical account, but much of the fault lies within the teaching of the church. When biblical accounts are referred to as “Bible stories” and treated merely as stories, confusion results in the minds of young people. When young people hear “Bible stories” in Sunday school and are faced with that which is presented as “scientific evidence” or “historical events” at school, who can blame them for being confused? The church has failed to properly teach the Bible in its historical and theological context to our young people. The church has a responsibility to teach concerning these matters, but the primary responsibility for such teaching lies within the home. Far too many parents will demand that their children do their homework and make good grades at school, but hardly give their biblical education, in Bible class or at home, a passing thought. Parents must take seriously their commission from God to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4b NKJV). God’s commandment concerning the instruction of children to the nation of Israel serves today as an admonition to Christian parents:
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).
It remains that God’s Word, although not written for the purpose of a history book, is a record of literal history. The places, events, and characters found in the Bible are real, and have their rightful place in the history books. True science will always corroborate with the Bible. Accurate world history will recognize the Bible’s authenticity. In Romans 3:3-4 Paul asks the question: “For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?’ He then confidently answers “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.”
Like the anvil which has withstood the countless beatings of the hammers spent upon it, God’s Word will remain, as changeless as the God who spoke it. Let us who God has entrusted as stewards of His word be diligent to teach it to those He has given to our charge.
Michael serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger. He preaches for the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC.