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The Bible: Myth or History

by Scott Ashley Estimated reading time: 14 minutes. Posted on 24-Apr-2002
Many people will tell you that the Bible is only a collection of fables, but they're not telling you the whole story. Can you believe the Bible? The implications are enormous.

You’ve read the articles. You’ve watched the reports and listened to the stories. Routinely they allege or at least suggest that the Bible isn’t really believable.

By now everyone knows, they imply, that the Bible’s stories could not have happened the way they are written. After all, plenty of reporters, professors and scientists tell us such is the case—that the Bible is mostly myth.

But is it? Or is a different myth being foisted off on us?

Surveys show that belief in the Bible is declining at an astounding rate. According to pollster George Gallup: “As recently as 1963, two [Americans] in three viewed the Bible as the actual word of God, to be taken literally, word for word. Today [1999], only one person in three still holds to that interpretation” (George Gallup Jr. and Michael Lindsay, Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs, 1999, p. 36).

Only two years later, in 2001, the Gallup poll showed that only 27 percent of Americans—barely one in four—still believed the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and literally true in every respect.

In other countries belief that the Bible is the true Word of God is far lower. A 1991 survey found that only 25 percent of the Irish, 20 percent of Italians, 13 percent of Britons, Norwegians and Dutch and 10 percent of former West Germans believed the Bible was absolutely true and should be taken literally. A 1999 poll in Britain indicated that fewer than half its respondents believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Even more startling, 14 percent said they knew nothing at all about Him. More than one in five believed He was “just a story.” Almost half of those polled had never attended a church service.

What’s behind these trends? Only a generation ago the common view among most Americans, and much of the Western world, was that the Bible is literally true—and the direct revelation of God and of His will. Now why do so many people, including many professing Christians, distrust or disbelieve what the Bible says?

A shift to unbelief

For many centuries people simply assumed that everything in the Bible was true. But then, from the late 1600s through the 1800s, a series of scientific discoveries came to light that many assumed contradicted the Bible.

In reality they didn’t contradict the Bible, but only common assumptions religious leaders and other people had made about the Bible (for in-depth details, request or download our free booklets Life’s Ultimate Question: Does God Exist? and Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? from our Web site at www.gnmagazine.org).

However, the damage caused by these false assumptions had been done, and the Bible had been discredited in the eyes of many. In the mid-1800s Charles Darwin proposed the theory of evolution, which many intellectuals quickly latched onto as a way to explain the existence of a creation without a Creator. His theory quickly found fertile ground and paved the way for a widespread belief in a creation without a Creator.

It wasn’t long before many intellectuals, particularly those teaching in European universities, began to “deconstruct” the Bible. They soon concluded that, among other things, the books of the Bible couldn’t have been written by their reputed authors—and, for that matter, the Bible couldn’t have been written until hundreds of years after their lifetimes. All in all, they decided, the Bible’s stories and characters were simply a collection of myths and legends pieced together by writers many centuries after they supposedly happened.

For them the Bible was only a collection of ancient fables no different from the timeworn myths of any other ancient tribal history. Sadly, their thinking not only persists to our day but permeates the curricula of many universities. Students are saturated with these ideas by professors who aggressively promote an anti-Bible bias. That bias now pervades the mass media and most of the scientific community.

Richard Dawkins, professor of zoology at Oxford University, is an aggressive proponent of evolution whose contemptuous view of the biblical creation account is typical of those who dismiss the Bible as being the inspired truth of God.

“Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myth,” he writes, “and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants” (The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, 1986, p. 316).

Critics formulate their own myths

So which is it? Is the Bible the revelation of man’s Creator, as it claims to be? Is it an accurate history of ancient peoples—men and women who lived long ago whose stories were recorded for us—or is it a patchwork collection of fables?

Critics of the Bible have long ridiculed its value as a historical document. For decades many vehemently argued that the Hebrew Scriptures couldn’t be what they claimed to be since, according to these critics, the art of writing dated back only to about 1000 B.C.—around the time of Israel’s King David.

Anything earlier than a few centuries B.C., they argued, was unreliable oral tradition at best and wildly exaggerated mythmaking at worst. Thus they could safely dismiss the entire Old Testament as any sort of reliable historical document. The events of Genesis, the Exodus from Egypt, King David and his exploits, stories of armies and empires, the kings of Israel and Judah and so much more—all, they said, were nothing but fable.

Although critics of the Bible still abound, fewer and fewer are willing to make the same arguments on those same grounds. Why? The evidence grows daily that the modern-day mythmakers were wrong—spectacularly wrong.

Empires emerge from the sands of time

Rather than accept the Bible’s witnessas true until proven wrong, critics took the position that the Bible is untrue until proven otherwise—a way of thinking that, regrettably, permeates the minds of many scholars and thinkers to this day. But is their bias justified?

Evidence for the authenticity and accuracy of the Bible began to surface virtually the instant archaeologists started to scratch the surface of the biblical lands in the mid-1800s.

One of the earliest of these scientific explorers was the American Edward Robinson. He identified the location or ruins of literally hundreds of biblical towns and cities by a remarkably simple method: He simply talked to the Arab inhabitants, who had preserved the traditional names of the locations in their own tongue for centuries! Subsequent excavations at many of these sites have proven they were correct; the names were indeed passed on accurately over many generations.

Shortly after Robinson’s first forays into the Holy Land, English, German and French excavators began to explore ruins in what is today Iraq. Their finds were staggering. They uncovered not only the great cities of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires mentioned in the Bible, but palaces and monuments of the very kings recorded in the Scriptures. Some even contained accounts of military campaigns that matched the Bible’s, as well as carvings depicting the actual battles. (See “The Mighty Assyrian Empire Emerges From the Dust,”)

A lost people emerges

Another major shock to those who maintained that the Bible was myth was the 1876 discovery of proof of an entire empire that had been lost to history. Though they are mentioned 47 times in the Bible, many scholars had come to regard the Hittites as simply a fable.

However, the discovery of inscribed clay tablets at a Turkish site led to an excavation that uncovered a fortified citadel, five temples, enormous stone sculptures and a room containing more than 10,000 tablets.

Says archaeologist and author Randall Price: “Once they were finally deciphered it was announced to the world that the Hittites had been found! [The site] had in fact been the ancient capital of the Hittite empire ... The rediscovery of this lost people, one of the most outstanding achievements in Near Eastern archaeology, now serves as a caution to those who doubt the historicity of particular biblical accounts” (The Stones Cry Out, 1997, p. 83).

By no means are these the only people and empires mentioned in the Bible whose existence has since been proved by the archaeologist’s spade. As more sites have been explored, many more peoples and even specific individuals recorded in the Scriptures have been verified as real.

Proof that biblical figures were real

As recently as a decade ago, some argued that Israel’s most famous king, David, was but a myth. The record of the Bible wasn’t good enough, they insisted; proof of his existence must be found elsewhere.

In 1993 that proof emerged when Israeli archaeologists discovered an inscription that referred to the royal dynasty David founded. Recorded on a monument some 150 years after David’s death, the inscription commemorates the victory of the king of Damascus over the forces of Israel and their king, who was “of the house [dynasty] of David” (see “An Ancient Inscription Proves David Was Real,” page 5).

Over the years dozens of artifacts and inscriptions bearing the names of individuals mentioned in the Bible have been uncovered. In 1982 a cache of 51 ancient baked-clay seals that were used to bind papyrus or parchment scrolls was uncovered in a Jerusalem excavation. One bore the impression of the seal of “Gemaryahu [Gemariah] the son of Shaphan.” This same “Gemariah, the son of Shaphan,” was a scribe in the court of Judah’s king Jehoiakim as mentioned in Jeremiah 36:10-12, 25-26.

In 1975 another hoard of seals emerged, apparently uncovered in unauthorized digging in Jerusalem. One bore the name of Ishmael, the man who assassinated Gedaliah, the governor appointed by the Babylonians after they destroyed Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:25).

Even more surprising, another seal bore the name “Berekhyahu [Baruch] son of Neriyahu [Neriah] the scribe.” This man was none other than “Baruch the scribe,” trusted friend, confidant and scribe of Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 36:4-32; 43:1-6; 45:1-2).

As if that were not astounding enough, another seal in a private collection in England was found to bear not only Baruch’s name but a fingerprint along one edge—apparently Baruch’s own fingerprint from when he impressed his seal into the soft clay some 2,600 years ago!

These are only a few of the finds that prove specific people mentioned in the Bible—many only in an incidental way—were indeed real and lived at the exact time and in the exact location in which the Bible places them. A complete list of such finds would fill many pages of this magazine.

Other finds foil critics’ claims

What about the critics’ assertion that the Bible couldn’t have been written when it claimed to be because the ancient Hebrews didn’t know how to write at that time? This assumption was demolished in 1979 when, in the course of excavating a tomb in Jerusalem from the seventh century B.C., archaeologists discovered two tiny gray cylinders.

The objects turned out to be silver foil amulets covered with delicately etched Hebrew characters. When deciphered they were found to contain most of the words of the blessing recorded in Numbers 6:24-26. This remarkable find proved that not only did the ancient Hebrews know how to write centuries earlier than critics said they did, but one of the oldest portions of the Bible was obviously in use at a time well before the critics maintained it had been written!

What does this mean for you?

One by one the claims of the critics have fallen as new archaeological discoveries have come to light. These finds have repeatedly demonstrated the truthfulness of the Bible. This article has touched on only a few of the discoveries that verify the biblical record; many books and articles have been published that catalog many more. (Be sure to also read “The Exodus Controversy” beginning on page 8 and our interview with archaeologist Bryant Wood beginning on page 12. Also, our 24-article series “The Bible and Archaeology,” published previously in The Good News, covered dozens of finds in detail.)

We can be sure that even more evidence will emerge as the sands of time continue to be sifted in that ancient land. As the distinguished Jewish archaeologist Nelson Glueck eventually came to conclude, “no archaeological discovery has ever been made that contradicts or controverts historical statements in Scripture” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1979, Vol. 1, p. 31).

But what does this mean for you?

It’s bad enough that so many people are drifting away from belief in the Bible, as noted at the beginning of this article. But an equally disturbing trend is the growing number of people who claim to believe the Bible but know little of what it says or reject its authority over them.

Could you fall into this category?

Predictions of our age?

Ironically, at a time when the Bible is more widely available than ever before, fewer and fewer people are willing to put it to the ultimate test of its accuracy—by actually accepting and living by its instructions.

When it comes to open-mindedness to biblical teaching, the book of Acts commends the Bereans, who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11, emphasis added throughout). Paul urged the Thessalonians to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). God wants us to be sure of our beliefs, that they are rooted and grounded in His Word!

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, that so few are willing to put the Bible to the test by putting it into practice. Jesus Himself prophesied that, just before His return, people would have the same mind-set that characterized Noah’s day. They would be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”—going about their everyday lives blissfully unaware of their Creator and the growing danger—”until the day that Noah entered the ark, and ... the flood came and took them all away ...” (Matthew 24:37-39).

In other words, Jesus warned that people of our modern world also would be living comfortably and normally, with no growing sense of concern or alarm, until they were overwhelmed by catastrophe.

Paul, too, wrote that in the end time people would have their minds focused on self rather than on God and His Word. “But mark this,” he warned. “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, ... not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, New International Version).

Paul states that in the final “terrible times” people would focus not on God but be wrapped up entirely in themselves. Ironically, he pointed out, they would have a “form of godliness” while “denying its power.” People want to be thought of as basically good, but they don’t want to dig into God’s Word to find what it takes to actually be good.

This mind-set, says Paul, will ultimately lead to disaster for the majority of mankind. He tells us that a great end-time religious system and leader will arise that will captivate virtually the entire earth (2 Thessalonians 2:1-9). The majority—perhaps even you if you are not careful—will be taken in, ensnared in its trap. Why? Because “they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (verse 10).

Does it matter?

Does it matter whether the Bible is true? Absolutely. Without it we are left clueless as to where we came from, why we are here and where we are going. Without the Bible we can only stumble in the dark and search in vain for answers to these questions.

Jesus Christ promises to return to teach humanity God’s way of life. At that time, says the biblical prophet Isaiah, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). No longer will people doubt and scoff at God’s Word. Yet, to those who willingly and humbly seek God and His guidance now, He promises they will reign forever with Christ in His world-ruling kingdom (Revelation 5:9-10; 20:6; 22:5).

But before then a time is coming when the overwhelming majority of mankind will follow a path to disaster because of disbelief in and ignorance of the Bible.

Will you be the exception? GN

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