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Is the Bible’s historical record reliable?

Published: 24 March 2018 (GMT+10)

Often, when biblical ‘errors’ come up, the solution is really quite simple. Beck B., U.S., writes:

Abraham offers his son Isaac. By Domenichino, painted between 1627 and 1628. (Genesis 22:1–14)
So, I was discussing the Bible with a friend and this friend believes that the Bible is false, except for the Gospels. They went on to describe 2nd Kings verses 18–9 and how it mentions that God destroyed the Assyrians, however (I think it was the Israelites), there are apparently Assyrian accounts that show that the Israelites paid off the Assyrians to not fight, something to that effect, and were not destroyed by God. Basically, he was trying to demonstrate historical conflicts within the Bible. Could you provide a counterclaim of this to me?

, CMI-US, responds:

Your friend’s position is, with all respect, incoherent. The Bible can’t be untrue, except for the Gospels, because the Gospels are inextricably connected with everything that comes before and after them. So if the Gospels are true, they witness to the truth of the rest of Scripture. And if the rest of Scripture is false, so are the Gospels.

This is because Jesus didn’t just drop onto the scene out of nowhere; His incarnation was the culmination of a plan of salvation revealed as far back as Genesis 3. It involved God creating a nation fathered by a man and his barren wife (Abraham and Sarah), bringing that nation through slavery in Egypt, eventually bringing them to the Promised Land, and then bringing out the Davidic kingly line. All along the way ‘saviors’ came who foreshadowed the Savior who would eventually come, but all of these men failed, because they were sinful, like their first father, Adam. But Jesus was the Last Adam, in that He fulfilled the promises and prophecies of the Savior completely. He lived a sinless life and died for the sins of His people, just like Isaiah said he would. Then on the third day He was raised from the dead as a sign that God had accepted His sacrifice and all His claims about Himself were true.

If Christ was raised from the dead, that means that what He said about Scripture is true, and Jesus accepted every word. The rest of the New Testament which comes after the Gospels was written in light of the fact of the resurrection and tells Christians how we should live as we wait for His return, and Revelation tells us what will happen around the time of Christ’s return.

So you see, it’s impossible to take the Gospels as true, but not the rest of the Scriptures. It all stands or falls together. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the Assyrians.

I’m not sure why your friend thinks that 2 Kings 18–19 contradicts the account of the Assyrians themselves. The biblical account says that Hezekiah paid them off. Apparently that wasn’t enough to completely stop Sennacherib from attacking, but Assyria never claimed to defeat Jerusalem. And it is no surprise that Assyria told the story in a way that made them look better than they really were; that’s what all ancient cultures did. In fact, one of the things that makes the Bible a uniquely valuable historical resource is that it tells the less flattering details about Israel and its leaders.

Everywhere the Bible has been tested as to its historical reliability, it has been vindicated. The people, places, and events it describes have been shown to be true to the archaeological record. I believe the Bible is more than a good historical record, but it is certainly not less.

I hope this helps.

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Readers’ comments

S H.
As stated, the Bible has repeatedly been proven to be true, both in terms of prophecy and historical accuracy. The accuracy of prophecy alone is staggering and beyond any coincidence or chance. The sheer overwhelming evidence of the Bible in its accuracy in every area and the fine tuning of the world for life demands only one logical evidential conclusion - that the Bible is true and that God is real. No discovery, scientific or historical has disproved God or God's Word. Evidence has been repeatedly presented through history against the Bible but has repeatedly had to be retracted. And even if one tiny detail wasn't completely accurate on every level, the question is why people apply a wholly different standard to the Bible than to every other area of evidence, religion, academia and history. If you want to find inaccuracies yet accepted history, you will find that in every other area of history and in every other religious text. The question then becomes do people want to hear what the Bible actually says? Time and again I have found that where people harden their hearts and refuse to accept the Bible as their starting point (as do many scientists even, ironically), the discussion is near pointless until God changes the hardened heart!

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