The Bible in the British Museum
This article is not about the British Museum, but like my last one, it does relate to Biblical archaeology. I wrote on a find at a Roman Temple at Omrit, near Caesarea Philippi, and since I like the picture, I decided to include it again. If you missed that article (Biblical Archaeology — Always True, Not Always Reliable), maybe the picture will give you an incentive to read it before continuing here. 🙂
I won’t rehash that article, but in brief, an Assyrian seal was found at Omrit, in the wall of the temple, and the seal was 700 years older than the temple. No one has any idea how it got there, and it provides a classic illustration of the limits of archaeology. As I said in that article:
…archaeology is “always true, (the stones are the stones and the seal is the seal, and they were found together), but it is not always reliable.”
1. It is incomplete. Only some items which could help us understand were buried.
2. It is often unclear. The stones can’t talk, and the data is easily misinterpreted even by honest scholars.
3. It is subject to deception. Ancient monuments were propaganda, extolling the virtues of the monarch, and truth was not always a major consideration. People did things intentionally to deceive others. Archaeologists, also, may hide some of the facts if they don’t fit their theories and their agenda, or portray things inaccurately. Their work may be scrutinised by other scholars, but that cannot guarantee that deception never takes place.
4. It is imperfectly preserved. Even if the stones and artefacts gave a perfect representation in the past, they don’t any longer. Buildings fell and some of the stones were carried away. Many items decayed. Erosion and animal behaviour took a toll.
I wanted to note the contrast with Scripture. It is complete, clear, absolutely true, and has been preserved for us.
Scripture is Complete
The Scriptures are complete and sufficient. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating:
This doctrine is the antidote to the man-exalting traditionalism of many mainline churches (Catholic and Protestant), the dangerous mysticism of modern ”pop” Christianity, the pseudo-authority of God-ignoring psychology, the famous-preacher-worship of much of evangelicalism, and the cancerous imperial minister syndrome that infects many independent churches (Baptists and others).
God’s word is perfect, which means it has everything we need to know for faith and godliness. Nothing got left out that we need.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
Not only are we told the Scriptures are perfect, we learn that they contain everything needed to make us perfect.
II Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
For a more thorough discussion, see The Sufficiency of Scripture — All We Need (and the three earlier articles it links to on the same topic).
Archaeology? “1. It is incomplete. Only some items which could help us understand were buried.” But not the Scriptures. They are complete and sufficient.
Scripture is Clear
A child can understand the Scriptures:
II Timothy 3:15
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
God intended His Word to communicate to us, and it will accomplish that purpose, so it certainly will be clear enough that we can understand it:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Archaeology? “2. It is often unclear. The stones can’t talk, and the data is easily misinterpreted even by honest scholars.” But not the Scriptures. They are clear and written so they can be understood.
Scripture is True
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
Jesus said so, and that is good enough, but see Thy Word is Truth.
Archaeology? “3. It is subject to deception….” Not the Scriptures. People may lie about what the Bible says, but you can read it and see for yourself.
Scripture Has Been Preserved
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
In many passages, God promised to preserve His Word. We still have the true God-inspired Scriptures today. (See His Word Will Not Return Void — a concluding article drawing on five earlier articles.)
Archaeology? “4. It is imperfectly preserved. Even if the stones and artefacts gave a perfect representation in the past, they don’t any longer….” Not the Scriptures. God promised that the Word He gave would be preserved.
Scripture is better than archaeology, for it is complete, clear, true, and preserved. None of the things that make archaeology unreliable apply to Scripture — but there is more.
Scripture is Self-Authenticating
I also said this in the last article:
If the truth of the Bible depended on archaeology, we would all be in trouble — for no one could know, based on archaeology, whether to believe or reject the Bible. Archaeology may speak to that question, but its voice is too uncertain, too unreliable, to provide definite answers. The truth of the Bible remains, as it always has been, a matter of faith.
The necessity of faith is logically obvious — many people who have seen miracles (such as many in the time of Christ) have not become believers. The truths of the Bible cannot be empirically proven — faith is needed. And so, we are not surprised to find the Scriptures tell us exactly that:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Furthermore, the knowledge and understanding of creation is something which requires faith. You can debate creation science vs evolution until you are blue in the face, and you may win some of the arguments, but no one will ever come to a real understanding of this work of God without faith:
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
But from where comes this faith? Are we supposed to somehow summon it up inside ourselves? The Scriptures, complete, clear, true, and preserved, have the answer to this, too. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be complete.)
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
It is by the Word of God, the Scriptures, that we come to have faith. If you have true Biblical faith, it is because the living Word of God has penetrated your heart.
Not only are the Scriptures complete, clear, true, and preserved, it is the work of the Scriptures in our hearts that gives us the confidence that those statements are true. Not only is Scripture reliable, the Bible is the means God uses to give us faith, to assure us of that reliability.
Biblical archaeology is interesting and valuable. It sometimes helps us see things in Scripture that we might have missed otherwise. It can help strengthen the faith of a wavering believer.
But we should never measure the Book by buried stones. We weigh the story we think the stones are telling us by the Book, not the other way around.
Sources for the British Museum series:
- T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence
- Peter Masters, Heritage of Evidence in the British Museum
- Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson, Through the British Museum with the Bible
Summary post for the series, with links to other articles on Bible-related artefacts:
The Bible in the British Museum