Christian Apologetics Free Course 03, Lesson 02
Tools Of Historical Apologetics
Though Legal and Historical Apologetics are intimately connected with each other, for the sake of clarity it would still be helpful to look separately at those aspects of the Apologetics where the historical aspect is very prominent.
1-Archaeology: Archaeology is a recent science and it deals with the study of ancient civilizations. Though some people had been collecting ancient artifacts for some centuries, archaeology had its birth in 1798 when Napoleon conducted a systematic study of the ancient monuments and artifacts of Egypt. From there it had a slow development till it reached its zenith and scientific form in the twentieth century.
Biblical/Secular Archaeology: Initially there was not distinction between Biblical and secular archaeology, but soon scholars realized that the archaeological discoveries in lands where Biblical history took place are of immense importance to studies of Biblical history. Thus Biblical Archaeology developed as a subset of General Archaeology. Today Biblical Archaeology has grown to such levels that several societies and journals are devoted totally and exclusively to this discipline. More details of Bible and archaeology is included in another section of this work.
Chronologies/Histories: Interest in correlating secular history and corresponding Biblical history grew towards the middle of the nineteenth century. The growth was fueled partly by the attacks of the radical theologians and rationalists who tried to use secular history to attack the reliability of the Bible. These attacks prompted Bible believing scholars to investigate the subject further. Consequently, today a vast amount of Biblical history and chronology has already been correlated with the corresponding secular history. If any uncertainty remains, it mostly because of the still incomplete knowledge of the secular history.
One area of interest has been the chronologies of kings given in the book of Kings and Chronicles. Often the statements seem to contradict each other, and this has perplexed Bible-believing scholars. Rationalists gleefully point to these apparent contradictions, and even today their handbooks against the Bible mention these as the strongest points of attack against the Bible. However, research from the middle of the twentieth century have clarified these problem.
During the time of the Kings, Israel and Judah used at least five different types of calendar reckonings. Thus the same date would give different values according to different calendars, and this was the reason for these conflicting dates. After decades of research, often with the aid of powerful computers and algorithms, now researches have solved the riddle and there is no serious calendar problem in the books of Kings and Chronicles. This is another area in which Historical Apologetics has come to the aid of Bible believing people.
2-Dating Techniques: Discovering exactly how old an archaeological find is helps in accurate reconstruction of history. Determination of the age helps the Bible in more than one way. For example, a shroud claiming to be the burial cloth of Lord Jesus was recently shown to be only about 600 years old. Thus all false claim to its authenticity has been repudiated, and the Bible believing Christians have been saved from a historical hoax.
Age Determination takes place in many ways. One is Historical Dating. The dates of many artifacts or kingdoms are known historically, and therefore the dates of the items associated with them is assumed to be the same. Another method is Comparative Dating. The pottery shapes and styles, the use of metals, the use of building materials, etc. have changed with age. Thus by comparing these things with similar items of a known date the approximate age can be found out. The third methods is Scientific Dating. By using many scientific method, including the Radiocarbon Dating, the date of many items can be determined. This is how the date of the disputed shroud mentioned above was determined.
Date-determination is a very complex science and art, and the above paragraph has tried only to give a glimpse into this field. Suffice to say that date determination of ancient artifacts and civilizations has played a very significant role in reconstructing past history. This in turn has helped scholars to correlated Biblical history with the secular. As a consequence of all this work, today Bible stands as historically most accurate ancient book.
3-Linguistic Studies: Bible is written in two ancient languages (Hebrew and Greek) which are no longer spoken today. Some chapters in Daniel are written in Aramaic. Ancient Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic are totally different from their modern counterparts. Consequently much linguistic investigation has been needed to understand these languages to a sufficient degree. These studies, in turn, have been greatly beneficial for Christian Apologists.
a. Biblical Languages: A History Of Studies: Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were periods when a study of Biblical languages was revived. Much groundwork was done both by conservative as well as by radical theologians. Then the twentieth century brought a flood of literary material from the ancient world.
The Code Of Hammurabi (300 paragraphs of written material), hundreds of written clay tablets found in Ugarit, several thousand Nuzi Tablets, 20,000 written tablets at Mari, hundreds of Old Testament scrolls discovered near Dead Sea, the 22,000 written tablets and fragments found at Ebla near modern Syria, the hundreds of scrolls found at Oxryrhynchos in Egypt, etc. are some examples of the abundant written material found from Biblical lands. Written in Biblical languages and their cognates, this material helped scholars to study Biblical languages in great depth and breadth.
b. Value Of Linguistic Studies: Linguistic studies helped a better understanding of the meaning of ancient Biblical texts like Job which contain many words used by man during the earliest period succeeding the time of Noah. Usages like “sister” for wife by Abraham, Isaac, the love in Songs of Solomon, have become clear. Similarly, much light has been thrown on word meanings.
Many of the ancient customs were totally different from what we see today. For example, Sarai’s adoption of Ishmael, Abraham’s unwillingness to send him out after Isaac’s birth, the ritual used by Eliazar to make a covenant with Abraham, etc. are things that can be understood only when their customs are understood. Only written material help in such understanding. Thus the discovery of written material and their studies have helped not only linguists, but also those who would like to study ancient customs and cultures.
Another benefit of linguistic studies has been our ability to evaluate the accuracy and authenticity of ancient manuscripts. An entire branch of science called Textual Criticism has developed for this activity. It has helped Conservative scholars to defend the authenticity of Biblical books. For example, the book of Daniel was a favorite target of radical and rationalist attacks. One of their contentions was that the presence of certain Persian words indicated that this book was written only in 100BC and not in 600BC. Scholars like the late Robert Dick Wilson were able to refute these charges using their linguistic researches.
Prof. Wilson was fluent in almost 50 languages, and could easily handle another 50. He challenged any contender to show any proof against the Bible in any language, current or dead. He even promised to learn that language if it was at that time unknown to him. Today Bible stands as a vindicated book as a consequence of these linguistic investigations.
Any manuscript that is hand-copied for thousands of years, and that also in the most unfavorable circumstances, is bound to develop some errors of copying. These include omission of a line when two lines start with the same word, repetition of words, etc. Linguistic studies have helped scholars to discover and classify the problems of copying common in Biblical languages. Then with the help of tens of thousand of manuscripts available today, they are able to reconstruct the originals with great confidence.
4-Present Status Of Manuscripts: Critics often argue that an ancient book like the Bible cannot be reliable. They compare Bible with other ancient books, and claim that all other books contain gross errors of science, philosophy, and of concept. They also point out to the ten to twenty percent of material in these manuscripts that have become corrupt beyond recognition. They attribute the same limitations to the Bible also. But historical studies have shown that this allegation is not correct.
Conservative Christian scholars have always been conscious of the need to keep investigating the Bible at the manuscript level. They felt the need for two reasons: for a better understanding of the text, and for a stronger defense of the Bible. Due to these concerns, they have been able to discover tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts.
Today there are more than 5,300 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, 9,300 other early manuscripts, and more than 24,000 manuscripts of portions of the New Testament. In addition, there are thousands of Old Testament manuscripts. Portions of the New Testament manuscripts available today were produced less than two decades after Pentecost. Portions of Old Testament manuscripts available today were produced very close to the time of Malachi. There is no other ancient book in the world which has produced this kind of a witness to its reliability.
Application Of The Legal/Historical Tools
Of all the world religions, the Christian faith is one that totally and fully depends upon the reliability of the historical narratives of its Holy book. Consequently, the radical theologians and rationalists are quick to attack the historical narratives of the Bible. This is why the practice of Legal and Historical Apologetics is important for Christian Apologists.