The Word of God: Archaeology & the Bible

The robes of the King of Judah lay rent in his throne room; the vessels dedicated to the worship of Baal lay in smoldering ashes; Topheth, in the valley of Hinnom, lay defiled and destroyed, so that no child should ever again pass through the fire of Molech in that place. While the idolatrous history of Judah was being laid low, the Word of the Lord was lifted up.

The king lifted up his voice in the house of the Lord. Standing before the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great, they lifted up an ancient scroll to read and to renew the Book of the Covenant. What had been the catalyst to such an impactful and purposeful change in the declining kingdom of Judah? The 18-year-old king, Josiah, had a desire to repair the breaches and damage in the house of the Lord. He had tasked Shaphan the scribe, and Hilkiah the high priest, with securing the funds to achieve this mission. As they searched for earthly treasure, they discovered heavenly treasure in the form of a copy of the long-lost Book of the Law. It was this archeological find, this unerring copy of the Word of the Lord which had rocked the culture and convictions of the kingdom. As we consider the Word of God and its inspiration, its reliability, its accuracy, its adequacy, and its authority, it is fitting that we should consider the field of archeology and the evidence which supports the eternal Word of God.

The Scripture stands alone in its authority and permanence. The Lord Jesus testified, “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away” (Mark 13:31, KJV). So, as we consider the wonderful, faith-confirming truth of archeological support for the Word of God, we must consider that these archeological relics will also pass away with this Earth. But, this Word, the One Who claims the title of the Word, and those who have received His Word, will endure. To this end, while we appreciate and enjoy the confirmation of archeology, we do not build our faith upon the crumbling remains of the past. However, our hearts can be encouraged to consider the scrolls and inscriptions, codices and coins, arches and artwork, tombs and catacombs, which hold a rich treasure of biblical evidence. In light of this consideration, what follows are a few examples of these findings.

In attacking the reliability of Scripture, many have questioned the historical existence of the people and places recorded within its pages. Pontius Pilate, though long deceased, has not escaped such attacks. However, in 1961, during the excavation of a Roman theater in Caesarea, his name was found chiseled in limestone. That stone, and the words, “To the people of Caesarea/Tiberieum/Pontius Pilate/Prefect of Judea,” are now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Similar discoveries have confirmed biblical locations and prophecies concerning places such as Ur, Tyre, and Nazareth, and biblical characters such as Sennacherib, Cyrus, and Sargon. It is amazing to consider how quickly the names of earthly greats are lost in the sands of time, and, in contrast for the believer, it is wonderful to consider our ordinary names recorded for eternity, never to be forgotten in the annals of Heaven.

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was,” rang the prideful words of the boxer Muhammad Ali. It is ironic then to consider that one of the greatest archeological finds was made by Mohammad Ali. This Ali, however, did not smash a jaw, but rather a jar. Mohammad Ali was an Egyptian farmer, 300 miles south of Cairo, who, in 1945, smashed a jar he had unearthed in hopes of finding an ancient coin. Instead of sparkling gold, twelve leather bound codices (ancient books) tumbled out onto the Egyptian soil. In later years, when the sparkling light of their significance was discovered, they came to be known as the “Nag Hammadi Collection” of codices. To the believer, though we may be thrilled at the idea of unearthing an ancient sculpture or coin, it is these literary discoveries which provide great value in confirming our faith in the Word of God and silencing its critics. The major literary finds associated with New Testament and early Church history studies include the Dead Sea Scrolls, Codex Sinaiticus, the fore-mentioned Nag Hammadi Codices, and the Bar Cochba Letters. Though their discoveries were often accidental, and their original owners, in some cases, are unknown, they have contributed to our great confidence in the unity and completeness of the Holy Scriptures. What a blessing it is to take up the Word of God and agree with the words of Paul to a young believer, “From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2Tim 3:15-17, KJV).

The word of the Lord to Josiah is most encouraging, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, as touching the words which thou hast heard; because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord” (2Kings 22:18-19, KJV). In reviewing some of the archeological findings of history, we have considered how these discoveries give confirmation to our faith. Yet, in reading the biblical history of Josiah, we consider how the discovery of truth from the Word of God changed a man and changed history.  So, while you and I may never dig for discovery in the lands of the Bible, we are encouraged, in every land, to dig deeply into the Bible, in order to discover, and preserve truth which is unchanging. Paul instructed Timothy to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15, KJV). If, like Josiah, we hear the Word of God, we hold to its truth, are humbled by its standard, and allow it to reach our hearts, how might it affect the history of our lives, the history of our families, and the history of our assemblies!