I have a sympathetic soft-spot when it comes to the questions and doubts of my sceptical, and atheist friends.
I really do get it. I understand their reservations, doubts and concerns about the stories of the Bible and its historical credibility, particularly as I had them too!
A thinking person is going to ask about the historical reliability of the Bible, at least at some stage in their journey of faith. Hasn’t the Bible changed over the centuries? Can a rational, logically-thinking person really believe in all those science-suspending miracles? Could a Palestinian man from First Century Galilee really bend nature and calm a storm or heal the sick? Is there any real credible proof for all those incredible stories? Again, these are fair and understandable questions. If Christians claim that their whole faith in God hinges on an historical figure from a real place in the Middle East, then an intelligent person is going to ask probing questions about the evidence.
Apologetics and the historicity of the Bible have therefore been an integral and organic part of my evangelism ever since I went into full-time ministry at the tender age of 21. Sharing the story of Jesus with people has almost inevitably lead to questions about the evidence. And if you want to share the gospel with intellectual integrity and persuasive weight then, I think, it really helps if you know your history and the evidence surrounding the Bible.
Now of course, no one can prove the miracles of Jesus or the resurrection itself from raw historical documents and extant archaeology. However, we do have a staggering amount of information and evidence surrounding the claims and stories of the first Christians that give the gospel huge historical integrity. And it’s been a great joy to me over the years to be able to show people some of the best evidence we have for Christianity and the Bible. In fact, some of it is on our very own doorstep.
The British Museum houses so many Biblically-related artefacts that there are now several books on the subject; two of them published by the museum itself. It has been a great joy of mine to take groups around the museum and show people first-hand, some pretty impressive pieces relating to the Bible that clearly affirm its telling of history.
This may or may not interest you (Do Google them if it does!), but artefacts such the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, the Cyrus Cylinder, the Taylor Prism, the Lachish Palace Wall Reliefs and something of Kathryn Kenyon’s excavations in Jericho are all on display in the British Museum and confirm, at least in part, the Biblical narratives they relate to. If people have the time, I also take them to the nearby British Library, which contains and displays some of the world’s earliest Biblical manuscripts that have been crucial in confirming the accuracy of transmission and translation of the Bible.
On top of that, once a year, I also have the privilege of guiding around 35 people on an archaeological tour of Israel - I’ve done 7 of these now! It’s very easy to show people first-hand, the overwhelming amount of evidence in Israel that confirms much of the New Testament in particular. From the remains of First Century buildings, to ancient coins, to thousands of artefacts related to the Bible in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and to many early Christian and non-Christian manuscripts, we have a huge amount of data and evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
It has therefore been a great privilege of mine to see either of two things happen on these tours of the British Museum and Israel.
First of all, any non-Christians who come on these tours get to see straight away that Christians aren’t just intellectual pigmies who believe in fanciful tales of old. They can see first-hand, the impressive evidence related to the Bible and, in turn, see the credibility of the scriptures.
I’ve witnessed sceptical agnostics warm to becoming a Christian as they’ve taken in all the impressive sites we see on these tours. In fact, these tours (or talks on the subject) have, in part, led to a number of people becoming Christians - some of them at the Boathouse Church.
Secondly, these tours on Biblical History help Christians have a greater confidence in their own faith. It helps them to become better apologists and evangelists as they become better equipped to answer their friends’ questions and doubts.
The apostle Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3 v 15). If one of the reasons we’re Christians is because we think that the gospel is historically true, then Biblical historicity hopefully will be high on the agenda of our own understanding and part of our evangelism.
Ben Shaw is Senior Pastor of The Boathouse Church Putney