Many people assume that belief in God’s Word is matter of blind faith. But is that really the case? Beyond Today is dedicated to demonstrating that we have sound reasons and firm evidence for believing God’s Word, therefore our faith should be rock-solid in the face of criticism of the Bible.
Since this issue addresses the question of whether Jesus Christ really existed, how do the Gospels stack up with verifiable history and what we know from archaeology? Entire books have been written on the subject, and more is being uncovered all the time, but let’s take a brief overview.
First, let’s list individuals in the Gospels whose existence has been confirmed by archaeology and history. They include the following, in alphabetical order: Annas (high priest), Augustus Caesar (Roman emperor), Archelaus (ruler of Judea), Caiaphas (high priest), Herod the Great (ruler of Judea), Herod Antipas (ruler of Galilee), James (apostle and half-brother of Jesus), Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Philip (ruler of Galilee), Pontius Pilate (Roman procurator of Judea), Quirinius (governor of Syria) and Tiberius Caesar (Roman emperor).
What kind of evidence do we have of these individuals? For rulers we have things like coins and statues. For lesser-known persons we have historical writings (other than the Bible) and inscriptions bearing their names in locations and the time setting in which the Bible places them.
Let’s consider another form of verification—the cities and towns mentioned in the Gospels that have been identified and confirmed through history and archaeology. These include Aenon, Bethany, Bethlehem, Bethphage, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Cana, Chorazin, Emmaus, Gadara, Gennesaret, Gerasa, Jericho, Jerusalem, Magdala, Nain, Nazareth, Nineveh, Sidon, Sychar, Tiberias and Tyre.
What is truly astounding is that 80 percent of the cities and towns mentioned in the Gospels have been found —and only seven have yet to be located!
Keep in mind that 2,000 years have passed, and many of these were destroyed by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. To be able to identify this many sites is truly remarkable and demonstrates that the Gospel writers knew exactly what they were talking about and were very familiar with the places they mentioned. That kind of accuracy would be impossible if, as Bible critics argue, the biblical writers were making up the story years later or were living somewhere else far removed from these events.
Let’s look at a third category of evidence that verifies the Gospel accounts— specific structures confirmed by archaeology and history.
Consider this topic for a moment. We would expect some famous people like those named earlier to be mentioned in books, to have statues carved of them or to see them mentioned in inscriptions. But what about specific buildings and structures? How many of those are ever mentioned in books, identified in inscriptions and otherwise recorded for posterity? The number is very small.
And of course, time destroys all of them eventually. But it’s remarkable how many individual buildings and structures mentioned in the Gospels archaeologists have excavated or found specific evidence for today. Here’s a list: the Bethesda Pool (Jerusalem), the Capernaum synagogue, the Gerizim temple (Samaria), Herod’s Temple (Jerusalem), the high priest’s palace (Jerusalem), Jacob’s well (Samaria), Peter’s house (Capernaum), the Praetorium (Jerusalem) and the Siloam Pool (Jerusalem).
Again, considering the ravages of time and the total destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 and again in 135, it’s astounding that this many have been found and identified.
The Gospel writers also get many other details right, such as geography, agricultural practices, fishing methods, dining customs, religious practices and much more. If the Gospel writers get so much right, we have no valid reasons to disbelieve the primary thrust of their story—that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God who lived, died and rose again to make available to us God’s astounding promise of salvation.
So let’s trust what they were faithful to deliver to us!