Michael Grisanti and the Reliability of the Old Testament

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 [2013], 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.

Pg. 497.

This is a fine article and worth reading if you have access to it!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

4 Replies to “Michael Grisanti and the Reliability of the Old Testament”

  1. Hi Andrew,
    I will be interested to read the article when I get my copy of JETS. Grisanti sounds careful and wise. While I have to admit that archeology is really not my field, my general sense is that the data is ambiguous and could lend itself to a variety of interpretations. There is a great deal of truth in the observation that whoever is in charge of the dig determines whether the finds “prove” or “disprove” the Bible. It is interesting to me that many people (believers and non-believers) seem blissfully unaware that the data is contested and contestable. Granted, some things seem pretty clear (like the questions surrounding the conquest of Jericho, etc.); however, the debates between minimalists and maximalists seems to be more about what controlling narrative they subscribe to rather than the assured results of the material data.

    Archeologists themselves engage in all sorts of bickering over even “non-biblical” sites (think Qumran with its all out academic “blood sport”). I recall one Qumran archeologist (who shall remain nameless) throwing other Qumran scholars under the bus because they “don’t know anything about archeology.” Meanwhile that individual was relying solely on de Vaux’s excavation notes, notes which still have yet to be fully published… (No doubt lost under piles of papers in some French scholar’s office…)


    1. Hey Nevada,

      Sorry for the slow reply. Good thoughts on the controlling narrative. I saw a blurb come across the ASOR list last week too which asked whether the Bible has been playing too big (or too little) of a role in archaeology in recent years. It has sparked some interesting discussions, but I’m amazed at how faux-paux it is to seek to understand the OT historical books in any kind of a literal sense. I think of Bryant Wood’s work at Khirbet el-Maqatir where he believes he may have found the Ai of Joshua’s day. Because he’s still trying to research in light of an early conquest date, and is actually looking for a destruction of a site like Ai, he’s the butt of a lot of jokes. And yet why not? Is it that it is a foregone conclusion that anything smacking of Albright’s “Conquest Model” is so utterly laughable that this is nothing but a waste of time? Now there are different ways of parsing this stuff out (I’m currently working through Ralph Hawkins new book “How Israel Became a People” which is an intriguing read), but it does seem to illustrate that certain views are just ruled out of bounds anymore and no one is even examining some of the possibilities that Grisanti is raising.

      Anyway … it’s an interesting set of things to consider!

      As always, thanks for the interesting comment(s)!


  2. These are excellent cautions. Archaeology does not prove the Bible, but can shed light on some things and invite reinterpretation of other things. What is striking to me is how accurate overall is the large amount of written material we have in the Scriptures. Let’s pretend that not so much was at stake in our response to the Bible, that its revelation did not shape and determine our destiny, and someone newly by happenstance came across this collection of ancient documents offering a more or less continuous historical record plus moral judgment of an ancient people covering a 1,500 year period, mentioning thousands upon thousands of places, persons and events, and that it turned out that this collection could serve as a fairly reliable guide to modern historical research–this would be astounding; yet this is what we have in the Bible, but its imperious claims “put off” so many people that their reaction is irrational. No surprise, I guess, but still a remarkable reality.


  3. Finished reading the article. Quite interesting and wisely cautious while remaining committed to the historical reliability of the text. I especially appreciated Grisanti’s honesty about his own pre-commitments and the fact that others may (and will) disagree with him.

    Thanks for pointing it out!


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