The Bible And Historical Details

By Laffy Ray Hafley

“In sundry times and divers manners,” the Bible has been shown to be historically accurate. Lands, peoples, nations, kings and kingdoms mentioned in the Bible have been challenged by skeptics. Over the past two centuries, discoveries have verified the biblical accounts. The Hittites were thought to be an imaginary people because they were only mentioned in the Bible. Today, one can get a degree in Hittite civilization! Luke, it was alleged, made numerous errors. Sergius Paulus, the prudent proconsul of Paphos, was, the infidel said, a “pro-praetor,” not a “proconsul.” But, alas, proof of Luke’s record has been unearthed. On and on we could go with similar results.

It is amazing how that the Bible is automatically assumed to be wrong when a conflict apparently exists. Unbelievers always assume the worst. What facts they have are accepted because their data is correct, but the Bible can never be accepted if it seems to go against their evidence.

Modern Examples

Though the following facts and examples are not exhaustive, they will show the kind of problems that might develop in the future over facts that we are fully satisfied with.

This first cause is not exactly parallel to the rest of the items we shall use, but perhaps it will be helpful. The news media has said two things about the bombing of Libya by the United States: (A) Khadafy has become more adamant, more determined to oppose the U.S. with terrorism; Khadafy has hardened his heart. (B) Reagan has caused Khadafy to be more deeply set against the U.S. Reagan has hardened Khadafy’s heart. Can both statements be true? Did Khadafy harden his heart, or did Reagan harden his (Khadafy’s) heart? Yes, one can see how both statements are true. Why, then, should one have a problem with the fact that the Bible says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 7:13; 8:15; 10:1)? In a sense, it might be argued that Reagan hardened Khadafy’s heart by bombing Libya. It is equally true to say that Khadafy hardened his own heart. There is no contradiction. Yet, when certain men read the Bible, they pounce upon such statements as these and seek to discredit it. Would one be thought a scholar if he challenged the statements regarding Reagan and Khadafy?

The following facts could cause some problems two or three thousands years from now. Yet, they are details with which we are perfectly conversant. There is no reason for attacking the accounts of the matters we shall present. But imagine that some one is trying to piece together these items ten or twenty centuries later. Imagine that the United States is a remote flicker in the history of the world. Imagine that it perished and that its civilization was violently overthrown, its records destroyed. The facts that follow might become troublesome to scholars. One might accuse the other of inaccuracy, of fraud, of writing error, of making up events. Here is how it could occur:

Grover Cleveland served as President in 1885-1889 and 1893-1897. What if the fact of one of his terms of office was lost? What if a history written in the twenty-first century was found to contain a reference to that lost term of office? Would researchers consider it a mistake since it was the only known reference to such a term? After all, no President, save Cleveland, has had two separated terms of office. Can you see how such a thing might be possible? In just such a manner, certain facts of the Bible are questioned by scholars and opponents. The Bible is never given the benefit of the doubt. It is easy to see how that Cleveland’s divided terms of office might become obscured or even lost. Similar things doubtless occurred in history that is ancient to us. So, why immediately charge the Bible with error? If, as in this case, all the facts were known, it can be very easily explained.

We all know of Cape Canaveral, Florida, a space and rocket center. Do you remember that during the 1960’s its name was changed to Cape Kennedy? It was. Do you remember that a few years later its original name was restored? So, it is again known as Cape Canaveral. This name change might be lost to historians several thousand years from now, especially if the United States is lost in antiquity. Next, suppose that someone writes of Cape Canaveral and calls it Cape Kennedy. For a few short years, it was correct to do so, but in a few centuries this name change may be lost and the author charged with error. Do you see how such a thing could occur? Again, such events were as likely to be true in Bible times as in our day. Yet, men automatically charge the Bible with error and attempt to smear its reliability.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only President to serve more than two terms. He was elected four times. The Constitution has been amended so that no one can serve longer than two consecutive terms. We all understand how President Roosevelt served those terms. But twenty centuries from now it might seem to be an error to state that someone was President of the United States for four terms. If the Bible contained such facts, it would be immediately labeled with factual error and oversight. It would be called untrustworthy. However, we can well understand how that a thing that is clear to us might seem wrong to later generations.

Then, there is a matter of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. We have no problem distinguishing the two men. But if the first Roosevelt’s term of office is lost to history, and a scholar finds a reference to President Theodore Roosevelt, he might think the writer meant to say “Franklin,” but said “Theodore,” by mistake. At least, if it were in the Bible, that is what unbelievers would conclude! But we can see that there is no real cause for such misunderstanding. A similar thing occurred regarding Lysanias in Luke 3:1.

“Luke 3:1 mentions Lysanias as the tctrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Ceasar. A Lysanias is mentioned by Joscphus as having reigned over this province in 36 B.C. and as having been killed by Mark Anthony. It therefore seemed for some time as though Luke had made a mistake here in placing Lysanias nearly sixty years later. However, inscriptions have been discovered which show that Luke was right and that the Lysanias mentioned in the Bible was a descendant of the one Joseph mentions, thus establishing Luke’s accuracy” (Hamilton, The Basis of the Christian Faith, p. 192).

For nearly thirty years, Andrei Gromyko was the Foreign Minister of Russia. In that capacity, he was met by every President from Truman to Reagan. Several months ago, however, his title was changed. He is now the President, not the Foreign Minister. Imagine years and years from now that someone should find an obscure and remote reference to Gromyko as “president of Russia.” History will likely remember his many years as Foreign Minister, but it is possible that his years as President will be lost to history over the next few millennia. During the Presidency of Reagan, Gromyko has been Foreign Minister and President. What if one sees an “apparent discrepancy” between the two references to Gromyko during the Reagan Presidency? We can see no reason for any question in the matter, but if the record of his last few years as President of Russia are lost, one can see how that a difficulty might arise in the eyes of critics. It has happened many times concerning the Bible.

“The title politarch, which Luke here applies to the chief magistrates of Thessalonica, is nowhere else found as an official title in all Greek literature; and it is easy to see what a clamor the enemies of the faith would have made over this use of the term, but for the fact that an ancient triumphal arch of marble until recently spanned the principle street of the city, with an inscription in which this very title is applied, and the names of the seven of the politarchs are preserved. When the arch was torn down, the slabs containing the inscription were secured by the British consul then at Thessalonica, and they are now kept in the British Museum. Three of the names of Sosipater, Secundus and Gaius, the names of three well known fellow laborers of Paul” (McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts, p. 113).

The Bible, the word of God, is reliable and trustworthy. Do not wait until the day of Judgment to find it out.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 6, pp. 176-177
March 19, 1987