Why History Is Important

Throughout the process of researching, reading, praying, organizing, and writing this history of the Bible for you, I have become more and more convinced of its importance. As I have said many times, it started when a friend of mine asked me a few haunting questions.

Where does the Bible come from? How can we trust it? Why should I believe in Jesus? How can I trust that what Christians say is real if it is based on a book? Can you prove anything in it?

Like I said, these questions have been haunting me. How many people have been turned away from God because Christians could not answer these questions? Too many! Some Christians have a certain arrogance that they know something that everyone else doesn’t know and think that everyone else that doesn’t agree with them is ignorant.

When they are asked those haunting questions, they respond with “the Bible says…” or “I believe…” Yes, it is great that we know what the Bible says, but no one else accepts our beloved Bible as fact! We HAVE to be able to give a record of how the Bible came to be. Let’s face it. If someone told you that they derive all of their beliefs from a book but couldn’t tell you who wrote it or where it came from, you wouldn’t believe them either.

Christians desperately need to be able to have intellectual conversations with non-Christians. We need to be well versed in history, science, and philosophy. You had better believe that non-Christians are. We should be able to give arguments for the existence of God that are not totally dependent on Scripture. We should be able to trace our Holy Scripture back to the very beginning, because they will ask, “Why should I trust you?”

So why should they trust us?

We, the Church, have a profound history. Our Scripture, the Bible, is literally called “The Book” for a reason. Thousands of years of work have gone into writing and preserving the Bible. We have archaeology to prove many, many events in the Old and New Testament. Our theology is based on sound philosophy. We have a faith that has survived through mass persecution and years of political turmoil. We have something worth learning about and worth sharing, if we can but answer the questions that the world throws our way.

 

This project has been trying for me. Many times I became very frustrated because I wasn’t getting my normal amount of views, and frankly, this wasn’t the most thrilling thing to read and write about. However, I do firmly believe that it is CRUCIAL that we know this. You may not think that having a basic understanding of how Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, English, and the rest have influenced the Bible, but it is very useful. The friend that asked me to write this thought that the Bible was found somewhere, because when she asked Christians questions about the Bible’s credibility, they became defensive instead of telling her what she needed to know. Please excuse my ranting for a moment. Sadly, I believe that Christians’ ignorance is the number one cause of people being turned away from the Church. Questions about the historicity of Scripture surface constantly. Instead of working to understand the proper meaning and context of Scripture in conversation with historical facts, Christians have closed themselves off to the intellectual world, claiming that their interpretation of Scripture is the truth.

Many “questionable” events in the Bible can be explained with archaeology and historical documents, but it may require some “out of the box” thinking to put together the pieces of the puzzle. For example, many scholars question the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. There are several “models” of when it could have happened. The “conservative, biblical” view takes the late date of the Exodus, which uses biblical numbers from 1 Kings 6:1, which says that Solomon’s temple was built 480 years after the Exodus. Solomon was supposed to have assumed the throne in 961 BC, which would put the building of the Temple at 959-957 BC. If the number 480 is taken literally, the date of the Exodus would have been 1440 BC, which would be in the middle of the Hyksos period. The Exodus does not make sense in that time frame at all, and this is why people claim that there was no Exodus when talking to people who hold this view. However, there is another view that works in a historical context quite well. We know that the Canaanite conquest was in 1230 BC. Forty years earlier (because of the generation that had to stay in the wilderness) would be the date of the Exodus, 1270 BC. This works really well with what is happening in Egypt at the time. Exodus 12:40-41 says that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years, which would put Joseph in the reign of Ahmose I. Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites were building stone cities for the pharaoh in PiRameses. In 1270, Rameses II was pharaoh and the city of Pithom or Rameses was the capital. The land of Goshen, which was the city where the Israelites lived, was Rameses. This was the only time that the city was called Rameses. There are documents that say the Egyptian police chased escaped slaves during the Ramecide period. The cities they went through on their journey to freedom match the biblical account of the Israelites’ journey to Canaan. Also, the Merneptah Stele claims that Merneptah defeated 4 things: Israel, Gezer, Ashkelon, and Minoam in 1220 BC. The stele makes it clear that Israel is a new settlement while the others are established “lands.” Archaeology of the “Hill Country” in 1220 BC shows that there was continual development of settlements until Israel was an established state.

So, you see. Sometimes the seemingly “biblical” interpretation does not work with history because numbers are often meant to be symbolic. When these symbolic numbers are taken literally, the event cannot be proven. This makes the Bible look like it is full of holes and unable to be trusted. I am not saying that we should not take Scripture literally. Much of it we can, but we should have wisdom in figuring out what to take literally and what to interpret as symbolic. Jewish literature is very symbolic. Certain numbers stand for certain things, like 40 years is one generation, when actually a whole generation could die out in 20 years. I would like to encourage all Christians to have wisdom before making claims that will turn non-Christians away if they don’t have all the facts. I know this can be hard to do. When I started college, I was convinced that I was right about absolutely everything, and my arrogance endangered other people’s views of Scripture.

Don’t be like me! We can use extra-biblical facts to validate Scripture. The Bible contains multiple genres and must be read in multiple ways. Be careful, and try not to jump to conclusions. We have a beautiful faith that has flourished throughout history. We should treat Scripture with respect and never read it out of context.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

I have enjoyed learning and hopefully teaching you all a few new things about the history of the Bible, but I am happy to be moving on to new things. I have big plans for future topics!

 

(My beliefs about the Exodus do not originate with me. I have studied both arguments, and this is the side I have chosen. Research it for yourself!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Influence of the Early Church in the Formation of the Canon (History of the Bible, part 10)

Growing up,  I was under the impression that history was some far away place that could only be reached through books and grandfathers’ tales, but history is made every day. What we do may not be preserved in fancy books that will be read to children, copied, preserved through generations, and venerated, but it could be. Two thousand years ago twelve ordinary people doing ordinary everyday average things met a man who changed their lives and the life of the world. They were not spectacular. Most of them weren’t educated. They never set out to change history, and yet, we remember them. These ordinary people took the words of this extraordinary man, Jesus Christ, as gospel, The Gospel. They wrote books recounting their experiences with him. They made copies of these books and passed them around the known world! We know their names, these very ordinary people! Mary, Peter, Paul, James, Matthew, John and so so so many more! They formed a church, The Church. They read these books at every opportunity to celebrate the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They prayed, they lived, they died, most of them for their faith, and most importantly they passed on this history to their children and their neighbors. The Church lived on this way for over three hundred years: reading, praying, and breaking bread. (Acts 2:42)

In 313, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which declared Christianity a legal religion of the state, and the empire converted. Christianity in the Roman Empire went from 15% to 70% of the population in 100 years. This rapid growth was also dangerous for the Church. Heresies began to spring up. In 325, Constantine called the Council of Nicea, the first Ecumenical Council of the Church, to discuss Arianism, the heresy that claimed that Jesus was created by the Father, not begotten. St. Athanasius (one of my personal heroes) combated Arianism in his book, On the Incarnation of the Word. The Council formed the Nicene Creed, which specifically defends against Arianism. “…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made…” The Church was successful. They survived this heresy, but more would come. In 367, St. Athanasius wrote a list of the 27 books of the New Testament as we have them today. This was the first time these books were mentioned all together. There is no clear date for when the canon came together. There were certain requirements for a book to be accepted into the canon: the Vincentian rule for the canon says that they had to be read everywhere always by everyone. Basically, the book in question must be widely circulated among the churches, it had to have been read there for the entire history of the Church, and it had to be accepted by everyone in the Church. Many books did not make the cut, although, they were read kind of like a “devotional book.” There is a common misconception, one that I held for many years, that the Bible was read in completion by the early church, that it came together very quickly after Jesus’ death. This was not the case. The Church did read individual books, but they did not rely on the entirety of the Bible to hold their faith together. They heard from their mothers and fathers and grandparents, who had sat and talked to the apostle John in Ephesus or Peter or Paul in Rome. They had a living memory of the life of Jesus before they had any Scripture. The events in Acts obviously happened before Luke could write them down. Scripture relied on the witness and the tradition of the Church. Dr. Foakes-Jackson says, “The Church assuredly did not make the New Testament; the two grew up together.” You see, the Church did not suddenly sit down and decide to create the Bible one day. It took centuries of passing around Gospel books and Epistles before they had a complete book of Holy Scripture. They did, however, have the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. This is what Paul quotes in his epistles, because that is what the early church was reading.

So take heart in the news that your Bible comes from a long line of devoted Christians who gave their lives to preserve the word for three hundred years until it was legalized! They still obviously didn’t have a printing press, and making copies was difficult. Eventually, each church had a copy to be read in public worship, but the Church had a long journey ahead of them, none of which was smooth sailing.

Before the end of this series, I will revisit the heresies one by one and discuss modern sightings of each of them.  Also! I will be taking a closer look at the Nicene Creed.  Meanwhile, I will go through some basic theology that everyone needs to know. Welcome to apologetics class!