The Authority of Scripture Ascertained Through Evidence

 

The Judgment of Solomon by Raphael 1518-19

Frequently, authors will avoid using the Bible as history, citing it as historiographically unreliable.[1] This is apparent as we examine the various secular authors who speculate on empire collapse. They simply ignore the facts contained within the Bible. Admittedly it is primarily a theological document, which uses world history to present God’s sacred history and the methods by which He approaches humankind.  God paints Himself, which we call theology, on a canvas of human history. Therefore, just because there is minimal material other than the Bible to provide insight into ancient history, it is unwarranted that one should simply avoid the Bible by citing it as solely theological and therefore nonhistoriagraphic. The Bible has been proven by the standards of the sciences of evidence, archaeology and prophecy to be reliable. Certainly Israel’s enemies will always use the lack of empirical evidence as to its historical accuracy to deny the Jews their accurate origin and place in the story of the world. So what means are available to us to ascertain the authenticity of the Bible? There are several. They all flow from the science of evidence.

Society uses this scientific evidentiary process to identify truth. For example we use it in courts of law and forensic laboratories. The science of evidence is appropriate to utilize for a fair evaluation of the Biblical text in order to validate its authenticity and truth.

One of the chief proponents of the field of evidence was Dr. Simon Greenleaf. He was a decorated Professor of Law at the Harvard University School of Law in 1846. A known expert in the field of evidence, Greenleaf’s well-known work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, is considered a classic of American jurisprudence. It was a standard textbook in American law throughout the nineteenth century. However, his contribution to biblical Christianity is the authoritative treatise, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice that remains an accepted primer in modern Christian apologetics. [2]

Greenleaf began his book by arguing for the elimination of prejudices and allow the evidence to tell the story. This is simply placing a reliance on evidence. He stated that one should, ” follow the truth wherever it may lead us.”[3] He further stated that Christianity does not “bring irresistible evidence” but offers sufficient evidences for “the serious inquirer.” [4] He focused his book to an inquiry “to the testimony of the Four Evangelists, bringing their narratives to the tests to which other evidence is subjected in human tribunals.” His specific inquiry was concerned with testing “the veracity of these witnesses by the same rules and means” employed in human tribunals. Greenleaf argued the case by first inquiring as to the genuineness of the four gospels as ancient writings. Here he applied what is technically known in law as the “ancient documents rule.” He stated:

“Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.” [5]

Greenleaf maintained that the four gospels do not bear any marks of being forgeries and the oldest extant copies can be received into court as genuine documents. In other words unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary we must accept the gospels as fact. Frequently in an attempt to discredit the biblical accounts of Christ detractors will engineer specious arguments that have no basis. Because there is no evidence for their weak arguments they fail to persuade the critical thinker. Only those with a sloppy thought process will be persuaded to accept an argument that has no foundation.

The second step in Greenleaf’s argument is: “In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs.” [6] On the basis of this legal rule Greenleaf then briefly profiled the traditional authors of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, concerning their first hand knowledge of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, or as in the case of Mark and Luke their intimate personal links with the apostles. Greenleaf then built a cumulative case by conducting a shadow cross-examination of the oral testimony of the evangelists in their accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Greenleaf developed his case on the basis of the following tests:

“The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.” [7] Greenleaf then argued that the gospel writers can be shown to be honest in their character and do not show any motives to falsify their testimony. [8] He claimed that Matthew and Luke related keen observations and meticulous details, and he concluded this demonstrated their ability. [9] Greenleaf noted that there are parallel accounts from the evangelists concerning the central events of Jesus the Christ’ life and that these accounts are not verbally identical. He maintained that discrepancies in their accounts are evidence that the writers are not guilty of collusion, and that the discrepancies in their respective accounts can be resolved or harmonized upon careful cross-examination and comparison of the details. [10] Greenleaf argued against the skeptic Scottish philosopher David Hume concerning reports of miracles. He found fault with Hume’s position about “immutable laws from the uniform course of human experience,” [11] and went on to assert that it is a fallacy because “it excludes all knowledge derived by inference or deduction from facts, confining us to what we derive from personal experience alone.” [12] Greenleaf took, as his own assumption that as God exists then such a being is capable of performing miracles. He then argued that the various miracles reported in Jesus ministry occurred in open or public contexts where friend and foe alike were witnesses. [13] Interestingly, Jesus’ miracles were specifically chosen by Him to be irrefutable by the detractors of His day. For example, he chose to heal a person who was blind since birth. No one could say the person was faking his blindness. He chose to heal a crippled person again who suffered this infirmity since birth. Perhaps His greatest miracle was raising Lazarus from the dead. He waited four days to insure that all the witnesses fully realized that Lazarus was indeed dead before Jesus raised him.

Lastly, Greenleaf examined the problem of uniform testimony among false and genuine witnesses, and found there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the accounts of the Four Evangelists.

Greenleaf summed up his argument with the following plea:

“All that Christianity asks of men on this subject, is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with the surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witnesses being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth … Either the men of Galilee were men of superlative wisdom, and extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard.” [14]

 

Dr. Greenleaf skillfully established the veracity of the Scriptures. Within the body of New Testament text he examined we find Jesus establishing the truth of the Old Testament (John 5:39-47 etc.). Christ’ words must also be true reasoning through Dr. Greenleaf’s methodology. Therefore, the entire chronology of the Old Testament must also be true.

We have a reliable body of truth in the Old and New Testaments. They can and must be relied upon to give us factual data related to the origin and early persecutions of the Jews. There is no logical reason not to use the Bible as reliable historiography. We refer to this entire concept of reliability of the biblical text as infallibility and its closely related concept of inerrancy. Infallibility is the subjective consequence of divine inspiration and inerrancy is the concept of the Bible being free from material errors or internal contradictions. Some may believe that these concepts are untrue but they come to those conclusions out of ignorance of the relevant data.[15]

 Evidence Through Archaeology

Archaeological evidence is another body of information and inquiry, which has produced factual data in support of the Biblical text. The following quotations from men acquainted with or conducting archaeological expeditions provide a firm basis for support of the veracity of the Biblical text through archaeology.

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” The renowned Jewish archaeologist continued in commenting “the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact.” [16]

 

“On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record.” [17]

 

“Old Testament archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and in a most astonishing manner filled in historical gap, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of biblical backgrounds.” [18]

 

“Archaeological and inscriptional data have established the historicity of innumerable passages and statements of the Old Testament.” [19]

 

“We pointed out that numerous passages of the Bible, which long puzzled the commentators, have readily yielded up their meaning when new light from archaeological discoveries has been focused on them. In other words, archaeology illuminates the text of the Scriptures and so makes valuable contributions to the fields of Biblical interpretation and exegesis. In addition to illuminating the Bible, archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.” [20]

 

During the excavations of Jericho (1930-1936) John Garstang found something so startling that a statement of what they found was prepared and signed by himself as well as other members of the team. In reference to these findings Garstang says:

“As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamor up and over their ruins into the city.” [21]

 

Why so unusual? Because walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards. And yet in Joshua 6:20 we hear “ . . . the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city.”

Some archaeologists, such as Kathleen Kenyon work against any pro-biblical support for the Jews. She, as a staunch anti-Zionist, was commissioned by the Jordanian government in 1960 to examine Jericho in order to refute Albright’s work. She further refutes all of the biblical historiography according to the story of the Jews. It is no surprise that Israel’s enemies deny her history. [22] Nevertheless the preponderance of archaeological evidence supports the authenticity of the Biblical narrative.

 

Evidence Through Prophecy

The last method of evidence presented here is that of Biblical prophecy. The Old Testament has a significant number of prophecies, which have already been fulfilled. Many of them relate to the timing and circumstances surrounding the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth on earth. All of these prophecies were written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and were well documented.  Isaiah and Micah, for example, wrote their prophecies about 700 years before Christ. Daniel wrote his about 500 years before Christ. Zechariah also wrote about 500 years before Christ too. The Psalms were written over 900 years before Christ. It is a fact that the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint was written between 200-300 B.C. which is well before the time of Jesus the Christ of Nazareth’s birth. This translation has all the prophecies within it. Therefore one cannot say that the prophecies were written after the events of which they prophesied! It is clear that these prophecies were in this verifiable translation well prior to Christ’s first advent. The following quote from Max L. Margolis validates the timing of the writing of the Septuagint:

It is in the reign of the second Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus (285-247 B. C.), that the translation of the Law (Pentateuch) into Greek is placed by the circumstantial narrative known as the Epistle of Aristeas which purports to be a contemporary record by one of the king’s courtiers. Nay, according to the story, the initiative proceeded from the king or rather the king’s librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, who advised that a copy of the Law of the Jews should be deposited in the royal collection of books then already numbering upward of two hundred thousand volumes. [23]

It is quite clear that humans do not have the capacity to accurately predict the future hundreds of years in advance. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God and states that God lives outside of our time and space domain (Isa 57:15). Therefore He is able to see and write history before it happens. In fact he causes history to happen. The issue of fulfilled prophecy is additional compelling evidence that the Bible is true, accurate and verifiable as fact.

The open-minded person, seeking truth, while reading the Scriptures expectantly, will find that the Scriptures are verifiably accurate in their exposition of all things of which they speak. This includes the origin and development of the Jewish nation. It is important to this work that the Bible is recognized as trustworthy historiography.

Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.


[1] Cantor, Norman F. The Sacred Chain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994, 3.

[2] Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ-A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House 1998  45-46

[3] Greenleaf, Simon. Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, 1846. Reprint Newark, NJ: Soney & Sage, 1903, 1.

[4] Ibid, 2.

[5]  Ibid, 7.

[6]  Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid, 28-31.

[9] Ibid, 31-32.

[10] Ibid, 32-35.

[11] Ibid, 36.

[12] Ibid, 37-38.

[13] Ibid, 39-42.

[14] Ibid, pg 46-53

[15] Comfort, Philip Wesley gen ed. The Origin of the Bible. Wheaton, IL. Tyndale House Publishers. 1992  38-39

[16]Glueck Nelson. Rivers in the Desert: History of Negev. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cadahy, 1959, 31.

[17] Burrows, Millar. What Means These Stones. New York: Meridian Books, 1957,

[18] Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1954, 1.

[19] Albright, W.F. “Archaeology Confronts Biblical CriticismThe American Scholar, April 1938, 181.

[20] Free, Joseph P. Archaeology and Bible History, Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1969, 1.

[21] Garstang, John. Joshua & Judges. London: Constable, 1931, 146.

[22] Cantor, Norman F. The Sacred Chain Harper, New York: Collins Publishers, 1994, 2-3.

[23] Margolis, Max L. The Story of Bible Translations. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Society of America, 1916. 30.

 

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