Historical reliability

Discussion in 'Christian / Church Histories' started by OzSpen, Aug 26, 2016.

  1. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    How do we decide what is reliable ancient history? Many accept something as historical without asking further questions. That's not how historians work, whether investigating Benjamin Franklin, Captain James Cook, what happened in World War I, or Jesus of Nazareth.

    Those of us who pursue history as a discipline, are rarely able to conclude with absolute certainty what happened historically. It is mainly because we were not there and are too far removed from the events recorded. We rely on others to record accurately. So, the nature of history is such that we cannot usually conclude with more than probability about any historical event. We rarely can reach certainty.

    Please understand that I'm not dealing here with the place of verbal inspiration of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV).

    Which criteria do historians use to determine if something is historical? John P Meier in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (1991 Doubleday) has an excellent chapter (ch 6, Criteria: How Do We Decide What Comes from Jesus?) in which he discusses some of the criteria for historicity used in the life of Jesus.

    He examines 5 primary criteria and some secondary criteria used. The 5 primary criteria are: (1) Embarrassment, (2) The criterion of discontinuity, (3) The criterion of multiple attestation, (4) The criterion of coherence, and (5) The criterion of rejection and execution (Meier 1991:168-177). These are not infallible ways of assessment, but they are among the best we have to determine the reliability of data from history.

    This topic may not be of interest to many of you, so I'll examine briefly one of these criteria - embarrassment. Let's use the life of Jesus as an example for this one (with information from the Gospels). The basic understanding of this criterion is that something that may have caused embarrassment or created difficulty for the early Church is more likely to be authentic. Why? Because it is not likely that the writers of the Gospels would deliberately set out to write embarrassing or contradictory material that would weaken the position of the church.

    A couple examples of this criterion (suggested by Meier 1991:168-169) are:

    • Jesus, the superior One, was baptised by the inferior John the Baptist, who proclaimed 'a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins' (Mark 1:4 ESV; Matt 3:13-15 NIV);
    • In spite of Jesus' claim that he, the Son, could predict the events that take place at the end of the world (Mark 13 NIV), he himself could not predict when he would return (Mark 13:32 NIV). This latter verse states, 'But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father'. Because of this criterion of embarrassment, it should not be surprising that a few later Greek manuscripts dropped 'nor the Son' from Mark 13:32 (NIV). However, in the parallel verse in Matt 24:36 (NIV), a larger number of manuscripts dropped the words, 'nor the Son'. Matthew was more widely used in the church of the early centuries than Mark.
    I find this criterion of embarrassment helpful as one criterion to help determine the genuine nature of a piece of information from history, including in the Gospels.

    Some of you may be interested in a discussion of this in Robert H Stein, 'The "Criteria" of Authenticity'.

    In Christ,
    Oz
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2016
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  2. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    Is this issue of the trustworthiness of Scripture of no interest to Christians? Or, have people on this forum become so accustomed to the Scriptures that they accept them 'by faith' and find no need to defend their historical reliability?

    Is it a leap of faith to accept the Bible's integrity?

    Oz
     
  3. jasonc

    jasonc Member

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    This applies to a whole lot of things we were taught in History.the first settlement that was from Spain was taught as St.Augustine but now it's Pensacola.

    Numerous examples can be made of history in general.
     
  4. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    Of course the criteria of authenticity for historical details apply to all of history, not just Christian history.

    I'm raising this issue because Christians in my neck of the woods do not know how to defend the historicity of Scripture when this kind of objection comes: 'Your Bible is full of fairy tales, imaginary nonsense'. Sometimes it comes in stronger language than that.

    While I listen carefully to the objection to understand the issues for that person, I then ask: 'What caused you to reach that conclusion?' This gets them to at least consider the source of their ideas. Sometimes this leads to discussion of the influence of family, impact of school and university on worldviews, how one determines the accuracy of anything from history, the value of pursuing evidence wherever it leads, accuracy of news items on radio, TV, newspaper, the Internet, etc.

    I'm in the midst of raising some of these issues in a curriculum I'm writing for religious instruction for years 7 & 8 in state high schools (we still have opportunity for this in Australia during curriculum time).

    J P Moreland has written a solid article to deal with some of these issues in, 'The historicity of the New Testament'.

    Sadly, I don't meet many people in local churches who have an interest in historical apologetics - defending the faith in relation to the issues raised by this thread.

    Oz
     
  5. Edward

    Edward Member

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    Sorry, Brother, I didn't see this thread until now. Yes, this is interesting.

    The premise isn't unreasonable, in fact sorta makes sense. Truth is stranger than fiction the older I get.

    In a secular sort of way, the Bible does sound fictional. God dying for sinners instead of wiping them out. Wow. Nevertheless, it makes sense too, once one reads it quite a bit and begins comprehending how holy and merciful that God is.

    It doesn't cease to amaze me though, how long-suffering that our Lord is.

    In some hotly debated sections of Scripture where some lay out very logical reasons as to 'why it's not true'...they almost sound too logical, too neat in their denial of God's power, grace, and truth. I've almost come to recognize that as a flag of wrongness.

    God's ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts though. So...I am finding the impossible more probable as I get older, and read & pray more.

    Sometimes the Holy Spirit will "ping" my spirit, to let me know that what I'm watching/reading/hearing is true. Other times, it's not as pronounced but I just "know" that something is true. It rings of truth.
     
  6. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    Edward,

    I can identify with much of what you wrote. However, how does that relate to the OP?

    Let's get back to historical reliability and how one determines if the Bible or any other historical document is trustworthy as an historical record.

    Oz
     
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  7. Edward

    Edward Member

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    Oh, sorry if I was unclear Brother. As far as historical reliability...the Word substantiates itself. All the way through it actually.

    We have 66 books, penned by 40 (one) authors, which all agree with each other, and some of them were written hundreds of years apart.

    This demonstrates that the message is from outside our time domain. With the amount of history that is in there, that was written before it happened, it's self validating. The more one delves into it and studies it, the clearer that becomes.
     
  8. turnorburn

    turnorburn Member

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    Your question rings of these words.. Yea, hath God said..

    Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
     
  9. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    Try telling it like that to the next unbeliever you meet who claims the Bible is nothing more than fairy tales. I think your argument will come down with a big THUD!:bump
     
  10. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    Are you accusing me of asking a demonic question that is parallel to that asked by the original serpent in Gen 3 (ESV)?
     
  11. Edward

    Edward Member

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    Well all we can do is try. If they don't have ears to hear then there's not much we can do about it, but at least we planted the seed! Its the Holy Spirit's job after that.

    All those weird stories in the OT...they all point directly to Jesus you know. Like for instance, the brazen serpent in Numbers 21. Let's face it, that's pretty weird! Not a word of explanation either...

    That is, until the NT, where in John 3:14 Jesus himself explains it.
    Now how long after Numbers was written, was John written? Easily over 1000 years. That's validation no matter how dumb one happens to be, lol.
    That sort of stuff is all throughout the scriptures.
    That's why I say, if there really was no God, then there'd be no such thing as an atheist either.
     
  12. Edward

    Edward Member

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    There's a name for that type stuff in literature. If they're (over-educated, lol) wanting secular 'proofs' of the Bible and it's historical reliability...it's called, the principle of expositional constancy. (I think) lol

    And scriptures are chock full of a lot of it. No more can it be (accurately) said that, well you can't prove it but the Bible says....da da da.

    I haven't even touched on codes in the Bible. Now that we have computers, we're finding all sorts of neat stuff in it. ELS codes, vocabulary irregularities (the 4 Gospels each have unique vocabularies, the use of certain words that are only used in that book and not the others), and other stuff too that I'm not recalling yet before more :coffee

    All this indicates design with a purpose which spans all the books. The authors of these different books didn't all know each other, so we're left with the realization that the Bible is of supernatural origin.

    Once we realize that, we can (rightly) presume that the historical reliability of it is 100%.
     
  13. StoveBolts

    StoveBolts Member Member

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    I've ran across those same folks and I've left feeling empty.

    I do enjoy history, and your topic.

    Our preacher held a class on this very subject months ago. I will have to dig out my notes and share. I would share from memory, but I'm afraid I'd get it wrong.
     
  14. OzSpen

    OzSpen Member

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    Stove,

    I generally find that the laity are not the slightest bit interested in this topic because it's too "complicated and academic" for them. I have to be realistic with an understanding that some are not going to pursue apologetics.

    There are a few books that have been helpful to me:
    1. F F Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable (online)?
    2. Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. There is a helpful article online with this title by Patrick Zukeran.
    3. Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.
    If you go to the interaction I'm having on a secular e-journal site, On Line Opinion, in Australia, you'll see how some of this Bible as fairy tale and fiction comes up. I've been trying to counter it. The article is, School children have a right to discuss their religious beliefs. Why don't you join me in participating?

    Oz
     
  15. StoveBolts

    StoveBolts Member Member

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    I just may! Thanks for the link.
     

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