In the most recent issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Michael Grisanti of The Masters Seminary has a nice paper entitled: “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures” (56/3 , pgs. 475-97). Before beginning his survey of data concerning several hot-button archaeological issues, he proves these introductory remarks that I thought were quite astute:
In this paper I hope to consider a few examples of intersections between the Bible and archaeological excavations. My primary intended audience is the evangelical world. This paper has a clear apologetic function. It offers a different “take” on the intersection of the Bible and archaeology than one often hears in academic and popular settings. Although this paper has a clear apologetic core, let me make this important point very clear. The archaeological evidence cited below and in any similar study never provides certifiable proof that a given individual lived or that a certain event took place. Our confidence in the accuracy and historicity of the people and events referred to in God’s Word draws on other evidence, primarily theological statements the Bible makes about itself. Regardless, one should recognize that the archaeological evidence does not rule out the people or events described in the Bible. As a matter of fact, archaeology provides a “picture” that points to the feasibility or plausibility that the people and events described in the Bible lived and occurred just as they are described.
Pgs. 475-76. (Bold emphasis added)
Different scholars will disagree with this assessment, of course, but I think Grisanti is on the right track. What is more, his use of the terms “feasibility” and “plausibility” is wise; even the most skeptical critical scholars should be able to agree that there is at least feasibility and plausibility to these accounts. But at the end of this paragraph, Grisanti also includes a footnote that helps to nuance a responsible reading of the biblical texts:
This also recognizes the selective nature of what the Bible says that only provides part of that picture. As evangelicals we need to be cautious about overstating what a given biblical description affirms. For example, as we will develop below, in the Iron Age Jerusalem was a regionally significant city and was the center for the Israelite monarchy under David and Solomon. However, the bureaucracy of that monarchy was developing and not as impressive as it was later in parts of the Divided Monarchy.
Pg. 476, n. 2. (Bold emphasis added)
Again, wise words. The relationship between biblical interpretation and archaeology is one fraught with challenges, we must be careful not to make things more difficult than they need to be. We can do this by reading texts in a conservative and reserved manner. And yet at the end of the day, Grisanti notes the optimism that we can have as believers in the historicity of Scripture:
[W]e need to realize that many excavations demonstrate that biblical narratives carry a “ring of truth,” that is, a plausibility that is supported by what has been found “in the dirt.” While all scholars must be cautious about what we prove or disprove through what is found through archaeological excavations, we can be encouraged that many archaeological discoveries are totally compatible with a high view of Scripture.
This is a fine article and worth reading if you have access to it!
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)