Monday, December 06, 2021

Anonymous Asks (174)

“What tools exist for getting a perspective on Bible history and confirming its accuracy?”

There is no better way to get a bird’s-eye perspective of Bible history than by repeatedly reading the Old Testament from beginning to end. If that sounds like a lot of work, well ... it is. But, for the serious Christian, it’s absolutely worth committing to and making a part of every day of your life.

While you are building that knowledge base, though, there are a few shortcuts you can use.

Charts and Timelines

One I use regularly is this chart of the kings of Israel and Judah. While it only covers a period of roughly 460 years during which God’s people were governed by kings, if you consider how much of the Old Testament either took place or was written during that period (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, much of Psalms and most of the prophetic books), it’s a very good start. Bear in mind that for a variety of reasons (including different methods of interpreting ancient calendars, different starting dates and/or different understandings of the co-regency issue), historians of various schools are working with slightly different time frames. A chronology drafted by one set of scholars may be off by five or ten years from that of the next group. However, as long as the methods used are internally consistent, any decent chart will give you a useful perspective on the time-scale relationships between the kings, the comparative lengths of the two kingdoms, the prophets who ministered during each period, and so on.

Here’s another helpful chart I use regularly. This one shows the chronological order of the Old Testament prophets, Major and Minor, from Jonah through Malachi, including the length of each one’s ministry, and ties them to major historical events of the period. This one only covers a 350 year span, but again, it’s a very important one: 20 of the Old Testament’s 39 books took place during this period. Naturally, the same date variations occur, but they are not significant; usually less than a decade.

For a broader perspective on the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, there are a variety of timeline resources available. Bible Hub has this very simple timeline with nothing but the date, event and link to the relevant Bible passage. You can quickly see the differences in scope between Old and New Testament history: the OT timeline covers more than three and a half millennia while the NT timeline is less than a century. Obviously the former is where you need the most help to see the big picture of what is going on in your Bible.

More timeline resources, both complex and simple, may be found here.

Google and Wikipedia

Apart from charts and timelines, Google and Wikipedia are your best friends — provided you use them judiciously, cognizant of their ideological leanings and limitations. Google is a rapacious, censorious, globalist, fundamentally evil organization. Wikipedia is a truth-suppressing hive of Marxist, woke, social justice propaganda. Nevertheless, digested with fist-sized grains of salt, they can still be useful tools. Though I now use DuckDuckGo as my go-to search engine, I recognize most Christians use Google, and the websites you find will be substantially the same regardless of which you use. Whether you are looking for 3D models of Ezekiel’s millennial temple, the aforementioned charts and timelines, recent discoveries, or even Bible commentary, search engines will take you there ... for now at least. But you probably know that.

Wikipedia is useful for in-depth studies of Bible characters, place names, foreign empires mentioned in Bible history, cultural issues and so on. You can find almost all necessary background information in one place, heavily referenced to scripture. But bear in mind that its writers are almost exclusively coming from a secularist perspective. For them, the Bible is an interesting literary phenomenon at best, so when Bible history and secular history clash, they invariably assume secular history is correct. Where Wikipedia is useful is in providing: (1) a window into what the average thinker is looking at when he does research; (2) a handy one-stop way to locate the current points of attack on biblical truth; (3) copious footnotes referencing the original sources from which they gleaned their opinions; and (4) summaries of events and history that are often sufficiently accurate to give you a big-picture perspective on any given name, place or event. Bear in mind that Wikipedia is only a starting point to take you in the direction of more trustworthy and less-ideological resources.

Speaking of which ...

News Items, Research and the Opinion of Historians

Because archeologists, historians, scientists and language experts are forever making new discoveries, looking for secular confirmation of Bible truth is the spiritual equivalent of aiming at a constantly-shifting target. Even in my own relatively short lifetime, historians have revised their opinions about the events of scripture over and over again.

A few examples may help. For centuries many secular historians believed King David and his royal line were a convenient Bible fiction, “as historical as King Arthur”. Then in 1868, the Mesha Stone was discovered in Dibon, demonstrating the essential veracity of numerous OT passages in Kings and Chronicles. During my own lifetime, the 1993 discovery of the Tel Dan stele from the ninth century BC again confirmed the broad strokes of Judah’s history. Again, in 2005, Israeli archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar claimed to have found the remains of David’s palace. Naturally, the significance with which these discoveries are viewed depends on the perspective and prejudices of individual scholars.

Hebrew kings are mentioned in multiple Assyrian sources. The black obelisk of Shalmaneser III depicts a kneeling Jehu king of Israel bringing tribute to the Assyrian monarch. The summary statements of Tiglath-Pileser III make reference to King Jehoahaz of Judah. Sargon II’s records give the exact number of deportees taken from Samaria after its fall. Bearing in mind that the official records of any empire are necessarily political documents accompanied by plenty of spin, they nonetheless testify to the basic trustworthiness and historicity of the Kings and Chronicles accounts. All the right names and places crop up in the correct time frames.

If we are brutally honest, the only reason the biblical accounts of these events are subjected to scathing criticism and approached from a default position of disbelief is the fact that they come from God’s word, and not some “neutral” source.

Confirming the Bible

Historical evidence alternatively confirms and disproves the Bible, assuming we take it at face value and trust the current interpretation of the experts. We need to approach extra-biblical sources always keeping in mind that new evidence in any area of study may turn up at any moment. There are occasions when Christians get very excited about some new discovery only to find that its importance as confirmation of the biblical text may have been overstated. There are also regular discoveries of new evidence secular scholarship is unable to effectively dismiss.

For the believer, scripture itself is the final word on faith and practice and the ultimate source of truth. All extra-biblical sources are to be tested by it. Extra-scriptural sources can be very interesting, but cannot rigorously “confirm” anything.

For that, we need more than the ever-changing stream of data with which each generation is presented by scholarship and media. We need the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the human heart.

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