What It Takes to Believe

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Excerpt Those of us who work in the arena of apologetics and polemics are often bemused by the question, “How is it, in the face of clear archaeological and literary corroborative evidence of the historicity of the Old Testament as now exists from the ancient Near Eastern world, that sceptics can continue to embrace the post-Enlightenment mindset that biblical accounts of such events, precisely because they come from a ‘religious’ or ‘theological book,’ must be disqualified as reliable witnesses to the past?” Continue reading

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Those of us who work in the arena of apologetics and polemics are often bemused by the question, “How is it, in the face of clear archaeological and literary corroborative evidence of the historicity of the Old Testament as now exists from the ancient Near Eastern world, that sceptics can continue to embrace the post-Enlightenment mindset that biblical accounts of such events, precisely because they come from a ‘religious’ or ‘theological book,’ must be disqualified as reliable witnesses to the past?” Herodotus, Thucydides, Berossus, Xenophon, Manetho, and Sallust do, indeed, suffer to some extent at the hands of the critics, but nowhere near to the extent as do the composers of the Old Testament.

The principal objections to Old Testament historical credibility are (1) the narration of miracles; (2) its theocentricity; (3); its “unscientific” assertions; and (4) its tendentious or biased point of view. The purpose of this article is to respond to each of these.

Simple definitions of "miracle" are “an extraordinary event manifesting a supernatural work of God;” or “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment" (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 540). Key terms are "supernatural" and "outstanding." The first connotes by "super" that the event is above the natural, and the second, with "out," suggests that is outside the realm of that which stands—that is, that with which one is familiar. It is, of course, true that miracle calls to mind "thens" and "theres," not "heres" and "nows." The assumption is that since I (we, the world) have never seen a miracle, such things could not and cannot occur. That is, my experience and my observation are the givens against which all reality—past and present—must be assessed. This simple declaration lies at the root of the most profound post-modern scientific and philosophical thinking as to what is possible or impossible. Once this principle is endorsed, the miracle stories of the Bible are ipso facto disqualified as scientific historiography. Concomitantly, all that exists must have purely naturalistic and self-generating explanations. But what is "supernatural" to the natural man is "natural" to the omnipotent God who called it into existence (Rom 8:1-2, 6-8; 1 Cor 2:10-16). To believe in miracles requires one to have experienced the miracle of new life in Christ.

"Theocentricity" means simply that God is the principal actor in the biblical drama, the one about whom and around whom the whole narration finds meaning. To modern literary criticism, any composition displaying such features is by definition mythological. Hermann Gunkel defined myths a century ago as “narratives about gods, in contrast to legends whose agents are humans” (Hermann Gunkel, Genesis. Trans. Mark E. Biddle. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997, p. xii). Gunkel’s preference for "legend" over "myth" for the whole composition does little, however, to shore up a view even close to history writing. The result is that even in this terminology the Bible does not really tell us what God said and did, but only what the ancient traditions (the Legende) attributed to him. The real issue is, how can we know how accurately the so-called legends correspond to reality?

As for the scientific "blunders" and "inaccuracies" of the Old Testament, only two rejoinders can be offered here: (1) Those who propose that the ancients, including those of biblical times, held such fallacious views as a flat earth, a geocentric universe, a rising and setting sun, and a self-generating light of the moon, overlook the pedagogical principle that learning by observation precedes learning by essential actuality. That is, the scientific data accumulated over the millennia would have contradicted the observational interpretations of the ancients to the point of being nonsensible and even misleading. One does not start the mathematical education of the first grader with differential equations or calculus, but by the simplicity of 2+2=4. (2) What modern critics seem unable to understand is what God understood from the beginning: Learning at its basic level is observational. The sun appears to rise and set, and therefore it is not incorrect to say at a certain level of scientific achievement that it does indeed do these things. The Bible was not written exclusively for the 21st-century scientific enterprise, but for people of all ages and all places. Thus, the language of "appearance" in no way negates or endorses a certain way of "doing" science.

Is the Bible "tendentious"? Of course it is, because its fundamental purpose is to glorify the Creator by putting forth, in intentionally understandable and invitational terms, the message of redemptive grace, the reception of which leads to forgiveness and everlasting life. It is not primarily a work of history, biography, geology, anthropology, biology, astronomy, meteorology, or any other –ology except theology. It is, at base, the account of account of God and his word, and on those grounds is not guilty should it not satisfy the agenda of the modern sceptic who is not looking for the Author of the book.

Conclusion

What then is the role of consecrated, God-honoring archaeological research by ministries such as ABR? If the sceptic cannot be won over, is there apologetic value at all? Let me suggest briefly the following considerations:

• The search for confirmation and clarification of the biblical witness is a noble end in and of itself.
• The exegetical and expositional process can be and has been abetted by archaeological research, especially with the recovery of inscriptional material.
• Those weak in the faith or wavering in terms of a sure confidence in the Word of God can be benefited by discoveries which, when properly interpreted, will, without fail, bolster their confidence in God’s whole revelation.

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