Someone once asked golfing legend Ben Hogan for the secret to the game of golf. His answer? “The secrets are in the dirt.” What he meant was that nothing can replace good old-fashioned hard work out on the driving range. I think this can be said of the Bible as well when applied to the areas of history, geography, and archaeology. The people, places, and land are important. The secrets are in the dirt.
Christianity is different from other religions in this regard. Other more spiritual and ethereal religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism have no real need for historical settings and events. To quote historian Paul Maier, “Mythical personalities are not involved in authentic episodes from the past.” For those other systems to work, it doesn’t really matter whether the Buddha existed or if Vishnu had any basis in reality. These faiths are philosophical systems based on spiritual experiences and practical insights for living.
Christianity is different. It’s based on reality and grounded in history and geography. It’s a story about real people in the midst of real-life situations in real geographical locations. The Bible is chock full of names of people, places, and land features. There are names of oceans and rivers and streams and brooks, mountains and hills and valleys, cities and towns and villages, regions and provinces and empires. Many of these have been accounted for due to Biblical Archaeology. This science has helped immensely in providing evidence for the veracity of the Bible and the Christian faith.
Here are some Biblical characters we know from secular history as well as from the New Testament:
Roman emperors: Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius.
Roman governors: Pontius Pilate, Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Felix, Festus. Local rulers: Herod the Great, Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Philip, Herod Agrippa I, Herod Agrippa II. High priests: Annas, Joseph Caiaphas, Ananias. Prominent women: Herodias, Salome, Bernice, Drusilla. Prominent men: John the Baptist, James the Just.
Here are a few of the many archaeological discoveries from the past 100 years:
- 1947 - Dead Sea Scrolls
- 1961 - Pontius Pilate Stone
- 1968 - Peter’s House in Capernaum
- 1968 - Bone of a Crucified Man
- 1986 - First Century Fishing Boat
- 1990 - Joseph Caiaphas Ossuary
- 1993 - Tel Dan Inscription (House of David)
- 2004 - Siloam Pool
- 2007 – Herod’s Tomb
- 2009 – Magdala Stone
- 2015 – Hezekiah Seal
- 2018 – Isaiah Seal
- 2018 – Pilate’s Ring
As evidence from the past continues to come to light and the reliability of the Scriptures and Christianity is made manifest, “the very stones cry out,” as Jesus himself said in Luke 19.
The disciplines of history and archaeology have assisted in demonstrating the integrity and accuracy of the Bible. This doesn’t automatically prove everything in it to be true, but it does mean that it is at least based in fact. The Bible and Christianity are grounded in history like no other holy book, religion, or philosophy. They are unlike the Greek myths, the Norse epics, or Aesop’s Fables. The Apostles and writers of the New Testament grounded the faith in eyewitness testimony and verifiable events. What Christians believe is based on reality and grounded in history, and verified by both geography and archaeology.
The disciplines of history and archaeology have assisted in demonstrating the integrity and accuracy of the Bible.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and touched with our hands - this life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1 John 1:1-2).
The secret to this life is no real secret to Christians. It may be a mystery, but it’s no secret. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. That’s the Christian faith in a nutshell. Christ is risen, Jesus is alive, and his tomb is still empty to this day. And just as he was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too will rise up from our dirty graves to walk with him into a whole new life.
Thanks to Dr. Paul Maier for some of the facts and figures found in this article.