Real people, real places - Evidence from Archaeology for the reliability of the Bible
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.
- Lysanius - ruler of Abilene
- Nicodemus and the ben Gurion family
- Mary, Martha and Lazarus
- The crucified man
- Simon of Cyrene
- The Pilate inscription
- Sergius Paulus inscriptions
- Erastus the treasurer of Corinth
- Gallio the governor of Corinth
- the temple warning notice
- the pool of Bethesda
- Stone water jars
- The pool of Siloam
- The Burnt House - AD70
Derbe in Turkey
Ephesus in Turkey
Corinth in Greece
Evidence in the Bible
- Who wrote Luke and Acts?
- Luke's accurate use of titles
- Is Luke's gospel historically reliable?
- Evidence & Paul's journeys
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Is the New Testament Reliable?
A look at the historical evidence
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Craig Blomberg, InterVarsity Press 1987
The New Testament Documents- Are They Reliable?
F F Bruce, IVP
Discoveries from Bible Times
Professor Alan Millard