History and the Bible

The books of the Bible can be subjected to historical analysis, and once this is done it is clear that, in regard to the history reported in them, they were manifestly written by ordinary human beings. However, even the reporting of historical elements can be considered to be inspired, since the message of the books of the Bible about God’s involvement with this world is crystal clear.

One thing is certain, in regard to history, the books of the Bible were not “dictated from heaven.” While the human authors of these books can be considered to be “inspired by God,” analysis of the Bible books themselves shows that these authors were not “inerrant” in their reporting of historical events, either in their “original manuscript form” (whatever that might mean in a realistic context) or in any other way. When it comes to reporting history, the books of the Bible show the normal characteristics of all historical reporting, including the fact that an historian can only report the things that he or she knows about.

As Peter clearly says, he and his fellows did not depend on made-up stories about Jesus Christ; with their own eyes they saw his greatness (2 Pet. 1:16-18). This is something on which we can rely. In other words, Peter was not following some mysterious revelation from heaven about things he had not seen; in reporting the facts, he reported what he had seen and heard.

The best history is provided by eyewitnesses: this also applies to the Bible. It is quite easily observable that the closer the Biblical narrator is to the events being described the more reliable is his account. This fact is particularly relevant in regard to the Old Testament, since much of its historical reporting is composite, with the compiler being quite late (possibly Ezra for the first four books – the Pentateuch) drawing on some sources that were close to the time of the events described as well as drawing upon sources that were far away from the events described. In regard to distinguishing those things, and showing the relevance of the time of reporting on the nature of the message, the historian can provide a useful service to the Christian community, if he or she is allowed to do so.