Is there Archaeologic Evidence to Support the Gospels?
By Charles Colson
A few years ago, people exploring caves outside Jerusalem came across the
find of a lifetime: an ancient burial cave containing the remains of a crucified
This find is only one in a series of finds that overturns a century-old scholarly
consensus. That consensus held that the Gospels are almost entirely proclamation
and contain little, if any, real history.
The remains belonged to a man who had been executed in the first century
A.D., that is, from the time of Jesus. As Jeffrey Sheler writes in his book
Is the Bible True? the skeleton confirms what the evangelists wrote
about Jesus' death and burial in several important ways.
First, location -- scholars had long doubted the biblical account of Jesus'
burial. They believed that crucified criminals were tossed in a mass grave
and then devoured by wild animals. But this man, a near contemporary of Jesus,
was buried in the same way the Bible says Jesus was buried.
Then there's the physical evidence from the skeleton. The man's shinbones
appeared to have been broken. This confirms what John wrote about the practice
of Roman executioners. They would break the legs of the crucified to hasten
death, something from which Jesus, already dead, was spared.
This point is particularly noteworthy, since scholars have long dismissed
the details of John's Passion narrative as theologically motivated embellishments.
Another part of John's Gospel that archaeology has recently corroborated
is the story of Jesus healing the lame man in John 5. John describes a five-sided
pool just inside the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where the sick came to be healed.
Since no other document of antiquity -- including the rest of the Bible --mentions
such a place, skeptics have long argued that John simply invented the place.
But as Sheler points out, when archaeologists decided to dig where John said
that the pool had been located, they found a five-sided pool. What's more,
the pool contained shrines to the Greek gods of healing. Apparently John didn't
make up the pool after all.
The dismissal of biblical texts without bothering to dig points to a dirty
little secret about a lot of scholarly opinion: Much of the traditional suspicion
of the biblical text can only be called a prejudice. That is, it's a conclusion
arrived at before one has the facts.
Scholars long assumed that the Bible, like other documents of antiquity,
was essentially propaganda, what theologian Rudolf Bultmann called "kerygma"
But this prejudice does an injustice to biblical faith. Central to that faith
are history and memory. Christians believe that God has acted, and continues
to act, in history. For us, remembering what God has done is an act of worship
-- something that brings us closer to God.
Thus, while these discoveries in the desert may come as a surprise to some
skeptics, they're no surprise to Christians.
While archeology alone cannot bring a person to faith, these finds are
an eloquent argument for not dismissing the truth of Scripture before
at least examining the evidence, because, as we are learning every day,
Jesus meant it when He said, "The very stones will cry out."
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From BreakPoint, Copyright 2005
Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint
with Chuck Colson" is a radio
ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with
permission of Prison Fellowship, P.O. Box 17500, Washington,
DC, 20041-0500." Heard on more than
1,000 radio stations nationwide. For more information
on the ministry of Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship
visit their Web site at http://www.breakpoint.org.
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