What I found most meaningful was how archaeology illuminated Scripture. I would read about an event and then I could actually see the place where it happened. I would read about things - structures, weapons, tools, even food and clothing - and could then see exactly what they looked like. The Bible came alive to me and I felt like it had meaning in my world.
The Christmas story is a good example of how this worked for me. The Gospel of Luke (chapter 2) provides us the basics elements of the birth of Jesus. But a careful reading of the text coupled with insights from archaeological research, offer a different take on the story than that with which most of us are familiar (see: Away in a Manger, but Not in a Barn). I found this new way to look at the birth narrative to be both insightful and empowering. God really did cool stuff in antiquity and He used that to do meaningful things in my heart and life today.
Over the past decade, my ministry responsibilities have given me the opportunity to interact with men right off the street, all of whom have also spent years struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Coming from Christian, Moslem, Jewish, agnostic and even atheistic backgrounds, everyone has lots of questions and opinions. Class time is seldom dull.
But my 12 years as a public high school track coach and my ongoing work as a field archaeologist, with some 20 seasons excavating in Israel and Jordan, gives me just enough 'street cred' to earn an honest hearing with these guys. We talk openly about their different religious views (or lack thereof), their intellectual struggles with the Bible and science and even their struggles of faith. We wrestle with scientific concepts and Bible passages, and frequently have to agree to disagree. But it has been my joy to share my own faith walk with them and encourage them to try it, too. And I am very happy to report that many have responded and are well on their way in their own spiritual journey today.
In this environment, I often get asked, 'Why should I trust the Bible?' I know they are looking for answers which are way beyond theoretical concepts. They need help in their lives today - right now - and some even need a reason to keep on living just one more day.
The author and ABR board member Walter Pasedag at Tall el-Hammam, Jordan. Mike Luddeni
Trusting the Bible for the Past (History)
Since I generally don't need to convince these guys that they need help, I just need to offer them a reasonable answer of hope. I tell them, as an archaeologist, how I trust the Bible for the past. I have seen enough, even dug enough with my own hands, to be comfortable that archaeology demonstrates that the historical reliability of the Bible.
Admittedly, someone can turn on the History or Discovery channels and hear scholars knock the Bible's historical accuracy. But the reality is that, over and over again, an honest look at what we find in archaeology is amazingly consistent with what the Bible says.
Just navigating around the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) website, one can see that there is ample reason to consider the historical reliability of Scripture. ABR was founded on the belief that the Bible can be trusted as an accurate source of historical information and that the results of archaeological investigation line up with what the Bible says. After 40 years of work in the ancient Near East, we have seen that evidence from the ground is consistent with what the Bible says.
Trusting the Bible for the Future (Eternity)
My confidence about the Bible for the past, because of archaeology, also helps me trust the Bible about the future. I am not talking about what is often understood as future fulfilled (or not) Bible prophecy. Admittedly, many of us have learned how to agree to disagree about how to interpret future events on earth from the Bible. But the Bible is very clear that we can and should trust it for eternity.
In truth, most people who trust the Bible for the past also trust it for eternity. It's a great comfort to have the assurance of an ongoing eternal relationship with the God of the Bible.
Yet, many who trust the Bible for both history and eternity, would still say that they are struggling with what goes on around them every day. While archaeology gives us a reason to trust the Bible for the past and we can trust it for the future, it would be great to have the empowerment to enjoy life one day at a time.
Trusting the Bible for the Present (One Day at a Time)
The God of the Bible is real and He has revealed to us His truth about history and eternity, but there is one more time and place for us to learn to trust Him - and that is the present. The God who did what He did in history, and will do what He said He will do in eternity, should also be capable of handling whatever I am going through today.
Now I admit that this has always been the bottom line for me. When I made the spiritual commitment to turn my will and life over to the care of God at age 18, I really was not thinking about eternity. I was looking for hope, answers and empowerment in this life - and at 18, eternity seemed like an eternity away!
But archaeology helped make people, places and things of Biblical accounts come alive for me. I could place myself back there in the story and understand something about what God did or how He did it. That gave me a reason - and even confidence - to trust Him to help me with the people, places and things in my life today. Of course, I don't claim to have all the answers, but there is enough evidence out there for me to be able to trust the Bible for the past, the future and even today.
So, as a field archaeologist digging and researching in the Holy Land for over 20 years, I have had Biblical passages illuminated for me and I have been inspired to trust God for things in my life. And I have not the slightest hesitation to say to others - if you are looking for hope, answers or empowerment, then try trusting the God of the Bible.
So I don't see archaeology as an end in itself. It is a wonderful vehicle to look into the past, which in turn makes it reasonable to give the Bible an honest hearing about how it could help me in my life.
So, if we can trust it for history, then we should also be able to trust the Bible for eternity. And for all of us who already do that, we can also experience His power in the present - today - learning how to live one day at a time.
All of us here at ABR are enthusiastic about the results of our research and the proclamation of that data to those who are interested and looking for answers. The Bible has changed our lives and the results of archaeological research have encouraged our faith walks.
There really is a God out there and the Bible really is His message to us for the Past, Present and Future. It can make a difference in our lives. It's working for me and I hope it's working for you, too.
As a postscript, I want to say that I recognize some will suggest that my beliefs cloud my judgment - that my understanding of archaeological data is swayed by my view of the Bible. I acknowledge there is some truth in that. (See: The Power of Presuppositions).
In reality, any researcher or scientist approaches every study with biases - including their intent to prove their hypothesis. It is a problem common to every field of science - researchers who are so certain about their hypothesis that they just can't appreciate any other data. In fact, that's why we go to another doctor to get a second opinion.
In addition, there is hardly a researcher working in the realm of Biblical material who doesn't have a preconceived view of the Bible. Virtually everyone has either ruled it in or ruled it out as a credible historical source. That bias colors how they utilize the Bible in their research I admit that I have ruled the Bible in.
The Mission Statement of the Associates for Biblical Research reflects what has been said in this article. We have done our research, we have examined the evidence and we have decided that the Bible can be trusted for the Past, Present and Future. We invite you to examine it for yourself.
The author and the first whole vessel he ever personally found in an excavation, after 18 seasons of digging in the Holy Land. Mike Luddeni