David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

Real people, real places - Evidence from Archaeology for the reliability of the Bible

Web sites
Books

Someone wrote to this web site recently saying

I find it funny that you claim archaeological evidence supports the bible. It's actually a well known fact that archaeology is the Achilles heel of religion...

They could hardly have been more wrong. In fact there is so much archaeological evidence supporting the historical accuracy of the Bible that our problem has been how to make it easily accessible on these pages. This page is a kind of 'home page' for the archaeological evidence - expect us to add more to it as time goes on.

Head of emperor Hadrian from Athens museum

photo: BiblePlaces.com

Real People

Real places

Nazareth

Capernaum

Tiberias

Jerusalem

Caesarea

Derbe in Turkey

Ephesus in Turkey

Corinth in Greece

Ancient writings

Greek text

Evidence in the Bible

There is a growing mass of evidence from archaeology that the Bible accounts deal with real people living in real places. But what can this evidence from archaeology do?

  1. It might disprove something in the Bible documents. If the Bible was false, we would expect new archaeological discoveries to do this. In fact, there is no known case where archaeology decisively disproves the Bible. This itself is strong evidence for the truth of the Christian message.
  2. It could provide direct confirmation of what the Bible says. We would expect that in many cases there is no direct archaeological evidence one way or the other, and this is what we find. However, there are some cases where archaeology does provide direct confirmation, and we have listed some of them on this site.
  3. It can provide background information that helps us to understand what the Bible documents say.

The examples above either provide direct confirmation of something in the Bible, or provide background information that helps us to understand what the Bible says.

Other Archaeological discoveries

The NIV Study Bible includes a chart listing more than thirty major archaeological finds relating directly to the New Testament. These include Herod's temple and winter palace, an early synagogue in Capernaum, the pool of Siloam, an inscription about Pontius Pilate, and many others. The 'Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels'[i] has a 13-page article on 'Archaeology and Geography' listing archaeological information about the background to various places mentioned in the Gospels.

See also the Century One Dead Sea Scrolls site
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When were the New Testament Documents written?

Jesus was probably crucified in spring AD 30. In 'Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?' professor F F Bruce says that the writing of the New Testament was complete by about 100 AD at the latest.

However, the Gospels may all have been written significantly earlier than that. (For example, they could all be dated before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70.) In any event, they were written within one lifetime of the events they described. When they were written, many people were still living who remembered the events described.

Written sources

Not only that, but scholars today generally agree that at least some of the Gospels (particularly Matthew and Luke) used earlier written sources - sources which go back even closer to the events they describe. Some of Jesus's teaching may even have been written down while he was still alive.

For much of the New Testament, we do not have any independent evidence one way or the other. However, the writers claimed that they were writing accurate history, and they claimed that what they wrote was based either on first hand experience or on careful research.

Eye-witness testimony

A number of small touches in the Gospel accounts sound like the recollections of eye-witnesses. (For example, John's Gospel chapter 12 verse 3, in an account of Mary anointing Jesus's feet, says 'the whole house was filled with fragrance.'). These touches do not appear to have any theological significance - nothing is made of them. So why are they there? The simplest explanation is that the writers included them because that is how they remembered things happening. Anyone who has tried to write accurately about something they have not experienced first hand knows how difficult this is. You get all kinds of details wrong. Of course, some of the details do not matter, but others are important.

So if the New Testament documents had been made up much later (as scholars have sometimes claimed), we would expect that many of their incidental details would not be accurate, and that as our knowledge of western Asia in ancient times grew, we would discover more and more discrepancies.

In fact, exactly opposite has happened. As more archaeological evidence has been discovered, the accounts in the New Testament have been confirmed again and again. This tends to show that they really are based on the testimony of eye-witnesses.

Conclusion

Although archaeology cannot prove that the Bible's accounts are true, it certainly does not disprove them, and recent archaeological discoveries have tended to confirm the accuracy of many background details in the Bible narratives. This in turn tends to support both their historical reliability, and the claim that they are based on the testimony of eye-witnesses. (It is very difficult to fake the appearance of being an eye-witness if you do not really know first-hand what you are writing about.)
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[i] 'Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels', IVP 1992, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall

 

Web sites

Web sites can appear, disappear, and change their addresses - specially on less well-established sites. If you cannot find the article you want, try looking for the title of the article using a search engine, e.g. Google.com.

Capharnaum - the town of Jesus
This site records the results of nineteen seasons of archaeological research at Capernaum, the town where Jesus made his home.

USF Excavations at Sepphoris

Although not mentioned in the New Testament, Sepphoris is an important archaeological site. It was a major town in Galilee, four miles from Nazareth, built by Herod Antipas during the time when Jesus was a young man. As Jesus followed Joseph's trade of a carpenter, he would almost certainly have worked on the vast building project so close to home. It may be that when the work on the new town came to an end, Jesus took this as his moment to start his public ministry.

Books

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, by Craig Blomberg

Is the New Testament Reliable?

A look at the historical evidence
Paul Barnett, InterVarsity Press 1986
Barnett looks at the early non-Christian evidence for Jesus, the question of how accurately the New Testament documents have been transmitted to us (i.e. whether we can be confident that what we read is what the original authors wrote), the testimony of two of the key figures behind the New Testament (John and Peter), as well as that of Matthew, Luke, and Paul's relation to the historical Jesus. He also tackles the question of the miracles in the New Testament accounts, including the birth narratives. Finally he looks at the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles.
Paul Barnett is bishop of North Sydney, Australia.
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The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, by Craig Blomberg

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Craig Blomberg,  InterVarsity Press 1987
This book is a one-volume, popular level summary of the Gospels Research Project of Tyndale House, Cambridge, published in the six-volume 'Gospel Perspectives' series. Seven main sections deal with traditional approaches to the reliability of the Gospels; New methods in Gospel Study; Miracles;Contradictions among the Synoptic Gospels? (Matthew, Mark, Luke); Problems in the Gospel of John; The Jesus tradition outside the Gospels; Questions on historical method. The sections on the historical study of the Gospels are very helpful indeed. The section on the miracles, although helpful, is not as strong.
Craig Blomberg is assistant professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
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The New Testament Documents - are they reliable? by F F Bruce

The New Testament Documents- Are They Reliable?

F F Bruce, IVP
This is a classic that has not lost any of its punch. Bruce explores:Why the historical reliability of the New Testament documents matters; The dating of the New Testament documents, and testimony to their origins; What makes up the New Testament canon, and why (i.e. why certain books are included in the New Testament and others are not); The reliability of the Gospels; Miracles; The importance of Paul's evidence; The writings of Luke; More Archaeological evidence; The Evidence of Early Jewish Writings; The Evidence of Early non-Jewish writers.
F F Bruce (1910-1990) was Rylands professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester University, England.
Read it on the Internet
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Discoveries from Bible Times

Discoveries from Bible Times

Professor Alan Millard
Subtitled 'Archaeological treasures throw light on Bible times'
This beautifully illustrated, academically accurate, and popularly accessible book is a combination of two earlier titles, 'Treasures from Bible Times' (about archaeology and the Old Testament) and 'Discoveries from the Time of Jesus' (about archaeology and the New Testament).
Alan Millard is Rankin Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages at the University of Liverpool.
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Evidence and Paul's Journeys

Evidence & Paul's Journeys

An historical investigation into the travels of the apostle Paul

By Jefferson White, Parsagard Press 2001

One of the most important questions we can ever ask is whether Christianity is historically true. The purpose of this book is to look at just how persuasive the evidence is in one particular area - the travels of the Apostle Paul, as they are recorded in the New Testament book of Acts, and also as incidental light is thrown on them by comments in Paul's letters. 'Evidence & Paul's Journeys' is highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand the reliability of the historical accounts in the New Testament.

Go here for a detailed review

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