Born Among History
How do we know that the New Testament is not a book of myths and lies? How can people born 1,900 years this side of its completion have total confidence in the New Testament’s accuracy? What is it that causes so many of us to believe in the truthfulness of this book?
One thing that makes the New Testament such a unique work is how many times the events recorded therein are verified by other independent historical witnesses. Repeatedly, history has shown itself to be an ally, rather than an enemy, to the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament. As a person reads through these books, he will find names of kings and queens, governors and priests. He will read of cities and villages, and sometimes even learn of the roads and passageways that connected them. The New Testament was born among historical people, places, and events, which allows twenty-first-century readers opportunities to inquire about its trustworthiness.
Consider just one example. As a non-Christian reads through the New Testament book of Acts, he comes to the account where Herod is addressing a group of people from Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20-23). In verses 21-23, he reads:
So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
Perhaps the person reading this account begins struggling with whether or not “this whole Christian thing is for me,” and whether there is any evidence that corroborates the information found in the New Testament. How much more open to the truth of God’s Word might this skeptical gentlemen be if he could come in contact with the vast amount of historical data that supports the facts found therein? In this particular case, he might find it very helpful to learn that a well-educated, first-century Jewish historian by the name of Josephus gave a detailed account of Herod’s death in his work, The Antiquities of the Jews (18:8:2). Notice how the two accounts stand side by side.
Where Luke wrote that Herod was “arrayed in royal apparel,” Josephus wrote that “he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful.”
Where Luke wrote that “the people kept shouting, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!,’ ” Josephus mentioned that “his flatterers cried out…that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’ Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery.”
And finally, where Luke recorded: “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died,” Josephus wrote: “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, ‘I whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life….’ [H]is pain was become violent…. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life.”
Although the accounts of Luke and Josephus were written independently, regarding the death of Herod they agree in all of the essentials.
Acts 12:20-23 represents only one of many examples in Scripture where secular history upholds its reliability. Over the past 1,900 years, the Bible has been examined more critically than any other book in the world, and yet it repeatedly is found to be historically accurate. Such accuracy surely gives the skeptic something important to consider in his examination of Scripture.
Josephus, Flavius (1987 edition), Antiquities of the Jews, in The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, transl. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).