Testing History

The Historical Reliability of the Old Testament

Probably one of the most grievous errors that moderns regularly commit is when it comes to understanding what makes something, like an ancient text, historically reliable. This is probably because the tendency of moderns is to be uncritical in their thinking and making false assumptions.

Most of us sat in history class and read dry books littered with names, dates, and places, with pictures or drawings with timelines drawn out all nice and neat. We assume that the conclusions presented in those texts are often the facts when they are often presumptive and provisional.

History, as an academic discipline, should be understood as more art than science. As I’ve written in an earlier post,

As moderns, we take for granted the availability and ample supply of paper, not to mention the fact that we have the internet and digital means for recording and transferring information. People in the past often did not have the ability to record information, even in written form, nor did they often think that it was necessary, which is why so much of the past is lost to us. That means that we can assume that there has been time between a person’s experience of an event and the time at which that experience gets recorded. If this is the case that means that the writer has had time to reflect on the event, perhaps even having discussed it with others, gleaning from them insights and perspectives that have influenced the reflective view of the experience. That means such a recording would be just as much  interpretive as much as it is informative. Indeed, as one interacts with ancient materials, such as the found in the Bible, one cannot help but see this as evident.

Further, I wrote,

Indeed, it is the inherent presuppositions brought, both of the one writing history and the one readinghistory, that often cause much of the problem [with interpreting history].

With that in mind, what is our basis for claiming that the Bible is reliable as a historical source? That would be found in how its texts interacts with history itself.

Most of the issues raised about the Bible, whether they be matters of ethics or alleged contradictions, often rise out of the fact that the biblical documents come to us through history, as a product of history, written in the style of its place in history. In fact, in raising any objection about the historicity of the text or its contents requires certain assumptions about history. Whether it’s the Exodus or the Incarnation we’re asking questions about history and expecting history to align.

That’s why I think that this brief presentation by Dr. Peter J. Williams, principal of Tyndale House at Cambridge University is very important because it speaks to the matter of historicity in regard to the biblical texts, especially those in the Old Testament.