The Challenge of the Scientific Viewpoint
Can the Bible pass the test?
By Dennis Pollock
It is called “higher criticism,” and its advocates have been scoffing and mocking the Bible and its devotees for over a century now. Higher criticism’s chief protagonists have been philosophers, skeptics, and atheists of various nationalities and temperaments, all holding the common bond of despising the sacredness of the Scriptures.
Their premise is quite simple: There are no such things as miracles, or a miracle working God; therefore any references to such things in the Bible have to be the product of wishful thinking and overactive imaginations.
Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few fish and loaves, and of course, the resurrection of Jesus could not possibly be true. Everyone knows that these things just don’t happen! The Bible is completely unreliable, either as a historical record or a theological revelation.
Such are the claims of the “higher critics.” But does the evidence come down on their side? Many take for granted that it does. Yet when one looks closely at the amazing relics and records unearthed by the archeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and other modern day cultural scientists, an entirely different picture emerges.
For many years the critics had a field day with those who claimed that it was Moses who had written the first five books of the Bible. “Couldn’t have happened!” they retorted. Their reasoning seemed logical enough. There was no writing in those days. Everyone knew that writing had not been invented until long after Moses. Obviously these books, called the Pentateuch, had been written much later by a number of different Hebrew writers and retroactively attributed to Moses.
If only the archaeologists hadn’t been so thorough in their research! To the chagrin and embarrassment of the scoffers, archaeological evidence increasingly demonstrated that writing existed long before Moses’ day. British Assyriologist A. H. Sayers declared:
“This supposed late use of writing for literary purposes was merely an assumption, with nothing more solid to rest upon than the critic’s own theories and presuppositions. And as soon as it could be tested by solid fact it crumbled into dust. First Egyptology, then Assyriology, showed that the art of writing in the ancient East was of vast antiquity, and that the two great powers which divided the civilized world between them were each emphatically a nation of scribes and readers Centuries before Abraham was born, Egypt and Babylonia were alike full of schools and libraries, of teachers and pupils, of poets and prose-writers.”
Unquestionably Moses, who was raised as a noble in the house of Pharaoh, would have been thoroughly trained in reading and writing. It may well be that this was one of the primary purposes of God in having Moses raised as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
In the previous century, critics of the Bible had great fun mocking the story of Jonah and his preaching trip to Nineveh. They knew, of course, that Nineveh never existed, for none of the secular historians had ever mentioned Nineveh of Assyria or any of its kings. Since the only place one could learn about Ninevah and Assyria was in the Bible, all intelligent people knew that they could be nothing but myths and legends.
Such was the certainty of the “experts” until Sir Henry Layard came down the Tigris River to excavate at Nimrud. He and his men found a brick on which was inscribed the name of ShalmaneserR> III one of the “mythological” kings of the legendary kingdom of Assyria. The brick was sent to a museum in London where it was examined carefully and declare to be a fraud. After all, how could it be genuine when everybody knew that Ninevah had never really existed?
Not too long after that, an Englishman named Henry Crewsicke Rawlison had the audacity to dig up nearly the entire city of Ninevah. Suddenly the Biblical stories about Ninevah took on a new significance as the archeologists conclusively proved the historicity of the great and ancient city.
Sir William Ramsay
One of the most amazing books in the New Testament has got to be the book of Acts. In this incredible narrative we learn of the miraculous birth of the early church. Miracles seems to attend its every page. We find Peter, Paul, and John healing the sick raising the dead, casting out demons, and planting churches which quickly grew to enormous size.
Sir William Ramsay was a brilliant young Oxford educated intellectual of the 1800’s when he decided to travel to the Middle East and prove once for all that Acts was a production of ambitious second century monks. Ramsay decided that the easiest way to debunk the book was to carefully trace the supposed journeys of Paul, which were loaded with detailed accounts of names, places, and officials of the Roman world. Ramsay was certain that it would not be difficult to quickly show a great number of contradictions between Luke’s account in Acts and the historical evidence turned up by archeology.
Beginning in 1881, he labored for fifteen years, tirelessly tracing the routes laid out by Luke in the book of Acts. Finally he wrote a book in 1896, entitled: St. Paul, the Traveler and the Roman Citizen. To the great surprise and embarrassment of the “higher critics” Ramsay defended the biblical account and acknowledged that he had found Luke to be astonishingly accurate in his listing of places and details, declaring “Luke is a historian of the first rate; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
For many years afterwards Ramsay continued to study, excavate, and write books which boldly demonstrated the authenticity of the Scriptures. The power of truth took its toll on his atheistic beliefs however; at long last Ramsay committed his life to the Jesus of whom the Scriptures so faithfully testify, and became one of the despised evangelicals the cynics so love to ridicule.
Right after All
The German journalist Werner Keller undertook a mammoth project of writing a book about the historicity (or lack of it) of the Scriptures. As he began he seemed to hold no particular persuasion on the veracity of the Scriptures. He was neither an enthusiastic fundamentalist nor a hostile skeptic.
He traveled to libraries all over the world to research scientific journals and archeological findings. After an incredible effort to discover just how historical the Scriptures would prove to be, he was amazed to discover the powerful evidence for the historicity of the Bible, stating:
“In view of the overwhelming mass of authentic and well-attested evidence now available, as I thought of the skeptical criticism which from the eighteenth century onward would fain have demolished the Bible altogether, there kept hammering in my brain, this one sentence: ‘The Bible is right after all.'”
Why Work So Hard?
When one considers the archaeological evidence for the authenticity of Scripture, the question arises, “Why do so many work so hard to try to discredit this wonderful book?” After all, the book contains some great news: God loves man, and has sent His Son to die in our place, that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. For the Christian, the Bible is loaded with positive truths. God loves us, He wants to help us in our troubles, answer our prayers, defend us against evil, and promises us eternal life with Him in a state of happiness, health, and uninterrupted peace.
The Scriptures are reasonable and are supported by evidence within and without. War, cruelty, and violence abundantly testify to the concept of original sin (the idea that man has inherited a sinful nature which began with Adam & Eve). All nature testifies to the creativity and love of our Creator. Transformed lives all over the world attest to the power of Jesus Christ to give man a new heart, and to put a new spirit within him. The supernatural growth of the Church, and the intense devotion to Christ by the early Christians demonstrate the power of Christ’s resurrection upon the minds and hearts of the believers. So why do so many have such a problem with accepting the Bible as the inspired word of God?
The Real Reason
Many reject Christianity for what they believe to be intellectual reasons. “I just cannot believe in such a simplistic religion,” they say. “I have to have something which satisfies my mind and my soul.” Or perhaps they have a problem with the evolution vs. creation controversy, or the idea of heaven and hell. In their own minds they feel they have an intellectual problem with the gospel. However Jesus assures us that the truth is far simpler.
In one of the most profound declarations of the Bible, Jesus gives us the real reason why people refuse to believe in Him: “And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19,20).
Jesus assures us that the real reason people don’t immediately come to Him is because they are still clinging to their lives of sin and selfishness. While they may even claim to be looking for truth, they are, in fact, running away from it. The last thing in the world that they want is for the Bible to be right after all. It would mean that they would need to repent of their sin, turn to Christ in childlike faith, and surrender fully all claims to lordship over their lives. This is something most are not willing to do (indeed, if it were not for the wooing power of the Holy Spirit, none of us would have done it).
England’s Most Reluctant Convert
The brilliant literary scholar C. S. Lewis served as a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. As a younger man he was convinced that all Christians were silly and superstitious, and that the gospel was a concoction of fantasies.
In 1926 he had a visit from an acquaintance, another extremely intelligent skeptic known as the “hardest boiled of all the atheists.” As they sat by the fire conversing, Lewis’ friend made the remark that the historicity of the gospel message was “really surprisingly good.”
Such a statement shook young Lewis to the core. He remarked in his journal, “If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the tough, was not safe, where could I turn?” Lewis began a more serious examination of the evidence for Christianity. Slowly, almost in spite of himself, he became more and more convinced that the Bible was authentic, and that the gospel of Christ was in fact God’s plan of salvation to a sinful world. His knowledge of literature forced him to treat the gospel record as trustworthy. He later remarked, “I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myth.”
Finally Lewis came to the only conclusion he felt was reasonable: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had come upon me I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
The Only Response
The Bible is not only historically accurate, but spiritually true as well. And its spiritual proclamations are too demanding to allow us to remain in our state of indifference. If Jesus Christ is Lord, if He indeed died for our sins and rose the third day, and if He is God’s only way of salvation to a generation headed for eternal destruction, our only rational response is to bow our knee before Christ our Redeemer and cry out, as Thomas did 2,000 years ago, “My Lord and My God.”