Can archeology prove the Bible to be true?
I answered that question - or at least, tried to answer it - in my weekly column for the local paper this past week. It is a fascinating question that really does merit a longer answer than the shortened format of my little corner of the paper gives it. So I thought I would dwell on it in more detail here, where I can hold forth at length.
First of all, it should be noted that knowledge does not save us. History does not save us. Archeology does not save us. In the end, as Paul wrote two thousand years ago, "it is by grace ye are saved through faith, not of yourselves." Ultimately, the facts revealed by history, by science, and by archeology can point you towards faith - but in the final equation, we have to make a decision to believe in the conclusion that they lead us up to: that God is real, that He broke into history in a supernatural fashion two thousand years ago, and that a man named Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, God incarnated in human form. Faith in Christ is the basis of our salvation.
That being said, history and archeology still play a major role in guiding the careful enquirer towards faith. In the last hundred years, archeology has, again and again, borne out the testimony of Scripture in regards to places, dates, people, and events. We have uncovered clear historical evidence of just how accurate Luke's Gospel and its sequel, the Book of Acts, actually are. We have found that locations once thought to be purely fictitious - like the Pool of Bethesda described in John 5 - were not only real, but that they are exactly where and how the Gospels describe them. We have found that, far from being tampered with, edited, and altered over time, the text of the New Testament has been passed down with uncanny accuracy. The question is no longer: Do we have what the apostles wrote? It is now far more basic: Was what the apostles wrote true?
We know that much of it was. From minor details, like the proper title of the ruler of the Island of Malta in 62 AD, to bigger claims - that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death on the cross by order of Roman prefect Pontius Pilate - we have seen modern discoveries confirm the essential accuracy of the historical framework of the Gospels. The fact of the matter is, if the events and people of the ancient world were held to the same standard of proof that skeptics demand of the Gospels, much of our history of that era would be a blank.
Jesus once said: "Because you have been faithful in the small things, I shall place you in charge of greater things." The Gospels are true in their details - painstakingly so at times - so that is all the more reason to believe that they have also been faithful in their larger claims. No, we can't prove that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. That has to be taken on faith, still. But we can prove that the same sources that testify to that Resurrection are accurate on a hundred and one small details of the surrounding narrative. In the end, history, archeology and science wind up pointing in the same direction - towards a leap of the heart and mind, from those things we can know for sure to those things that we can never know positively, this side of eternity - but we choose to believe them anyway. That leap is what we call faith.
And it is essential for salvation.