SUMMARY M003A1: Historical Apologetics
Submitted By: Bruce Wade
The historical difference is one difference between the Christian faith and many other world religions. While other religious books offer stories, they do not claim their stories as history.
When there is history in some stories it makes no difference to the philosophical or theological claims. While this is especially true of all Oriental religions it is not true of the Christian faith which is solidly based on history. This is especially important as all of the major Biblical doctrines depend on the historicity of the events recorded in the Bible. This is why radicals and atheists try to attack the history in the Bible.
The result of these types of attacks is that there is no spiritual perversion which is considered wrong by the laity or clergy of liberal churches. “Consequently, for the last two centuries many thousands of brilliant scholars have devoted their entire lives to examine, clarify, and defend the historicity of the Biblical narratives.” Historical Apologetics is a small part of these historical studies that have arisen. The authors set forth four main areas for this article:
1-Tools Of Legal Method/Apologetics
2-Tools Of Historical Apologetics
3-Application Of The Tools
4-Other Values Of Historical Investigations
Tools of Legal Apologetics: Although the tools of one study may not work in another study they are all based on the common foundation of logic. Legal Apologetics is a combination of Legal and Historical Reconstruction therefore it is necessary to understand the tools used for both of these methods.
1 – The Legal Reconstruction Method: Here we have a legal investigation of whether a certain thing has taken place or not. In court it is important to decide if a certain event has taken place or not. It is also very important for the court to reconstruct the events under investigation. Therefore, since radical and rationalists attack the history of the Bible legal/historical reconstruction becomes a important tool for the Christian Apologist.
2 – Sufficient and Total Proof in the Legal Method: As how to “proof” something will vary in different disciplines it is basic to understand what is required in legal/historical proof. In this discipline it is necessary to demonstrate that an event has probably taken place beyond all doubt. Likewise it is necessary to demonstrate that the taking place of this event is the best explanation of the data available. While it is not humanly possible to verify each of the thousands of historical statements in the Bible one is looking for the general trustworthiness of the points that can be checked. The authors sited the following example:
For example, it is not possible to verify whether Abraham uttered each one of the statements attributed to him. However, if the historical existence of Abraham, the cities mentioned in connection with Abraham, and the information in general are found to be true, this is considered sufficient proof that the narratives related to Abraham are true. This is the standard procedure for proof followed in all legal and historical practices.
Tools of Historical Apologetics: Although Legal and Historical Apologetics are intimately connected some clarity will be given by looking at those aspects of this historical which are prominent.
1 – Archaeology: The study of ancient civilizations is a recent science. “Archaeology had its birth in 1798 when Napoleon conducted a systematic study of the ancient monuments and artifacts of Egypt.”
Biblical/Secular Archaeology: At the first there wasn’t a distinction between Biblical and secular archaeology. Soon scholars realized that the archaeological discoveries in lands where Biblical history took place are of immense importance to studies of Biblical history. Therefore Biblical Archaeology developed as a subset of General Archaeology. Today we find Biblical Archaeology has grown to such levels that several societies and journals are devoted totally and exclusively to this discipline.
Chronologies/Histories: By the middle of the nineteenth century interest in correlating secular history had grown. Bible believing scholars had to investigate the subject further to react to the attacks of radical theologians and rationalists who were trying to use secular history to attack the Bible. The result has been that today there is a vast amount of correlated Bible and secular history. One area that needed clarification was the chronologies of the kings in the book of Kings:
During the time of the Kings, Israel and Judah used at least five different types of calendar reckonings. Thus the same date would give different values according to different calendars, and this was the reason for these conflicting dates. After decades of research, often with the aid of powerful computers and algorithms, now researches have solved the riddle and there is no serious calendar problem in the books of Kings and Chronicles. This is another area in which Historical Apologetics has come to the aid of Bible believing people.
2 – Dating Techniques: Dating an archaeological find can help by indicating dates of other items found together, and also protecting against a hoax or fraud. Comparative Dating, where shapes, styles, and even materials used can give an approximate age. Likewise Scientific Dating, like Radiocarbon Dating can greatly aid in understanding the time period of an item. The consequence of this type of work is that today the Bible stands as the most historically accurate book.
3 – Linguistic Studies: The Bible is written mainly in Hebrew and Greek. Neither of these languages is spoken today. There are some chapters in Daniel that are written in Aramaic. These three languages are very different from their modern counterparts. Therefore linguistic investigation has been needed to better understand these languages. This in turn has been a great benefit to the Christian Apologists.
a. Biblical Languages: A History of Studies: The study of Biblical languages was revived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This laid a groundwork for a flood of literary material from the ancient world in the twentieth century.
The Code Of Hammurabi (300 paragraphs of written material), hundreds of written clay tablets found in Ugarit, several thousand Nuzi Tablets, 20,000 written tablets at Mari, hundreds of Old Testament scrolls discovered near Dead Sea, the 22,000 written tablets and fragments found at Ebla near modern Syria, the hundreds of scrolls found at Oxryrhynchos in Egypt, etc. are some examples of the abundant written material found from Biblical lands. Written in Biblical languages and their cognates, this material helped scholars to study Biblical languages in great depth and breadth.
b. Value of Linguistic Studies: Linguistic studies have given light on word meanings as well as a better understanding of Biblical texts. These studies have also helped better underst
and ancient customs and cultures. Textual Criticism is another area which has helped evaluate the accuracy and authenticity of ancient manuscripts. An example of how this helped conservative scholars was given by the writers as:
For example, the book of Daniel was a favorite target of radical and rationalist attacks. One of their contentions was that the presence of certain Persian words indicated that this book was written only in 100BC and not in 600BC. Scholars like the late Robert Dick Wilson were able to refute these charges using their linguistic researches.
Today, with tens of thousands of manuscripts available today, linguists are able to reconstruct the originals with great confidence.
4 – Present Status of Manuscripts: Some critics try to put the Bible in the same categories as other ancient writings with their corrupt materials, and gross errors in science, philosophy, and concept, but historical studies have show this attack to be false.
Today there are more than 5,300 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, 9,300 other early manuscripts, and more than 24,000 manuscripts of portions of the New Testament. In addition, there are thousands of Old Testament manuscripts. Portions of the New Testament manuscripts available today were produced less than two decades after Pentecost. Portions of Old Testament manuscripts available today were produced very close to the time of Malachi. There is no other ancient book in the world which has produced this kind of a witness to its reliability.
Application of The Legal/Historical Tools: The Christian faith is the only world religion that totally depends upon the reliability of the historical narratives of its Holy book. This is why radical theologians and rationalists quickly attack the historical writings of the Bible; and therefore why Legal and Historical Apologetics is so important for Christian Apologists. Some further benefits from these studies are:
1 – Insights Into History/Chronology: It is because presuppositions and methodologies different from culture to culture that histories are written differently, and chronologies are constructed differently. Legal and Historical studies give us a better understanding of these writings and chronologies.
2 – Insights Into Culture/Customs/Manners: In the same way customs and manners differ from place to place and time to time. Therefore historical investigation gives insight into the 4000 years of Biblical history and the dozens of countries and cultures written about.
3 – Insights Into Languages/Meanings: Historical investigation has also helped to given understanding to the languages of the Bible which aren’t spoken today. It has produced tens of thousands of writings which enable linguists to understand vocabulary, word usage, and idioms.
4 – Insights Through Reconstruction/Investigation of Biblical Histories/Incidents:
Bible stories become more meaningful when background information is learned. “This is why popular magazines sometimes carry detailed reconstructions of historical events like the sinking of the Titanic, or the first voyage to the North Pole.”
Other Values of Historical Investigations: 1 – A Better Understandings of Biblical Text/Transmission: When radicals and rationalists claim that present text is unreliable Historical Studies help scholars to refute them. For example, this area of studies shows that the Apocrypha was not part of the Canon.
2 – Better Appreciation of Reliability of Scriptures: Historical investigation has not only vindicated the accuracy of present text, it also has filled Christians with awe about the ways God caused His text to be transmitted to reliably for His children.
3 – Better Appreciation of Prophecy: Historical investigation also helps us to better understand how incredible Biblical prophecies were at the time of their giving, thus our appreciation of them has grown.
Summary: The historical portions and the doctrinal portions of the Bible are firmly rooted in history. Legal and Historical Apologetics is the answer to the radicals and rationalists who attack the historical narratives in the Bible. History has turned out to be a great friend of the Bible.
The historicity of Jesus Christ is a favorite attack of theological radical and rationalists. Jesus Christ is so firmly embedded in world history one wouldn’t think anyone would question his historicity—yet some do. In addition to the Bible there are large amounts of historical proof for the existence of Jesus Christ; even more than could prove the existence of Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, and other well-known figures of ancient history. The following is a listing of some of the NON-CHRISTIAN writings which refer to Jesus Christ:
Flavius Josephus (Born AD 37): At the age of 19 he became a Pharisee and in AD 66 he was the commander of Jewish forces in Galilee. He wrote a massive historical document and in it he speaks of Jesus and James His brother:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and ,many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first, did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day." Antiquities. xviii.33. (Early second) century).
In Josephus we also see a reference to James the brother of Jesus and high priest Annas: "But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he though he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought it before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned."
Several other references to Jesus and the Christian faith are also found in his writings.
Corenelius Tacitus (Born around AD 52): He was a Roman historian who refers to the death of Christ and the existence of Christians at Rome:
"But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire
of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumour, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortured, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the name of the founder, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also." Annals XV.44
He also made a reference to Christianity in a fragment of his Histories, which dealt with the burning of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70.
Lucian of Samosate: He spoke scornfully of Christ as:
"… the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world… Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws."
Lucian also mentions Christians several times in his Alexander the False Prophet.
Suetonius (AD 120): A court official under Hardrian, he was also a Roman historian. He writes, "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Christ, he expelled them from Rome." He also states: "Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new mischievous superstition."
Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger): Serving as the Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor (AD 112), he wrote the emperor Trajan seeking counsel as to how to treat Christians. He had been killing Christians of all ages and he wondered if he should only kill certain ones. He writes:
"They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not do to any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up."
Tertullian: As a Jurist-theologian of Carthage he mentions before Roman authorities an exchange between Tiberius and Pontius Pilate:
"Tiberius accordingly, in those days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all the accusers of the Christians".
Thallus: A Samaritn-born historian, he was one of the first Gentile writes to write of Christ around AD 52. Julius Africanus (about AD 221) is a Christian writer who refers to his writings.
Letter of Mara Bar-Sepapion: This was a letter written after AD 373 by a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son Serapion. The father was in prison when he wrote to encourage his son in the pursuit of wisdom and pointed out that those who persecuted wise men were overtaken by misfortune. He mentions the death of Socrates, Pythagoras and Christ.
Justin Martyr: In his Defense of Christianity to Emperor Antoninus Pius, Justin Martyr (around AD 150) referred him to Pilate’s report and pointed out:
"They pierced my hands and my feet were a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after he was crucified Him they cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the ‘Acts’ which were recorded under Pontius Pilate." Later he says. "That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the ‘Acts’ of Pontius Pilate."
The Jewish Talmuds: Here the commentaries on the Law written by Jewish scholars written between AD 100 to 500 contain direct, indirect, and veiled references to Jesus, His miracles, and even to his mother’s virgin-pregnancy.
One would have to be either totally ignorant or totally biased to ignore or question the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.
Critique: Historical/Legal Apologetics
Chapter 1 — Historical/Legal Apologetics: I found it exciting to study these two main sections: Historical/Legal Apologetics and Jesus of History. Again the materials were informative, concise, and well thought out. It is very valuable information to realize the history foundation which is only found in biblical Christianity. I appreciated and found it easy to understand as the authors presented the strengths of the tools of both Legal and Historical Apologetics. The teaching on Sufficient and Total proof under Legal Apologetics was very helpful to me.
In the same manner their chronology of Historical Apologetics was like a light going on. I’m certainly looking forward to more information in the area of Dating Techniques. I found the information on Linguistics through Present Manuscripts to be a very strong point in this article. Although I am familiar with this material I thought the presentation was excellent. The Application of the Legal/Historical Tools was foundational to this writing.
Once again the authors have packed a great deal of information into a small space. The reading needs to sense the need to read between the lines to sense to depth of the writing. The points are well taken that some of the other values of Historical Investigations are: a better understanding of Biblical text/transmissions; better appreciation of the reliability of Scriptures, and a better appreciation of Prophecy. It is encouraging and comforting to know that history has turned out to be a great friend of the Bible.
Chapter 2 — Jesus and History: The authors moved quickly and expertly through this vast area. I especially appreciated that at this point and time they didn’t spend time on the materials in the Bible which confirm our Lord Jesus Christ, but moved outside of the Scriptures to non-Christian writings which refer to Jesus. As a Bible student I was familiar with all of the references expect the Letter of Mara Bar-Sepapion. That alone made this whole article well worth reading.
For me, it is out of the realm of sanity for one to dispute the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth and I value the author’s professional writing in this area. This is an excellent example of Integrated Christian Apologetics being applied.
Personal Benefit < /p>
While it is overall very beneficial to learn the tools mentioned earlier, it is especially good to learn of these historical writings. They pull the rug on anyone foolish enough to dispute the presence of Jesus Christ in history. These materials will be quite helpful in discussions and teachings. I’m sure they will also help me share my faith with those have honest questions in this area of the historical integrity of God’s word and His Son, Jesus.