Is the authority of Scripture only about spiritual things?
Many Christians, especially those who want to reinterpret Genesis to allow for long ages and evolution, claim that the Bible only teaches about spiritual truth. They dismiss attempts to interpret science in light of Scripture as superfluous at best, and misguided or even harmful at worst. However, this ignores the historical focus of most of Scripture.
One of the most important differences between the Bible and the ‘holy books’ of other religions is that the Bible teaches about a God who acts in history. It even gives us a ‘timeline’ of events that place God’s actions in an identifiable time and place.1
And unlike other religious books which claim to do the same thing, the events in Scripture have been corroborated by archaeology, when archaeological evidence exists.
The Bible speaks about history
The majority of many biblical books are some form of historical narrative, which clearly intends to communicate that certain things happened at certain times. For instance, Genesis 7:11 says that the Flood started on a specific day of Noah’s life. Genesis claims that Abraham was a man who was born about 350 years after the Flood (derived from Genesis 11:10–31; 12:4), and that he was the ancestor of the Jewish people who feature prominently in the rest of Scripture. It claims that Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt, but rose to the level of prime minister there. These are primarily historical claims—these events happened at particular places and specific times. You really have to get to the prophetic books in the Old Testament and the epistles in the New Testament to get primarily spiritual teaching.
Even the poetical and didactic genres make historical claims. For example, Psalm 3 says that it was written “when he fled from Absalom his son”. The historical record of this is found starting in 2 Samuel 15, while Psalm 3 focuses more on David’s inner turmoil and prayer of deliverance to God. Yet it claims to be grounded in a historical situation. And a poem itself can give historical information. For instance, Exodus 14 gives a narrative version of the Red Sea crossing, then immediately after is the song of Moses about the same event. Similarly, Judges 4 recounts Israel’s victory over Sisera and his army, while Judges 5 is Deborah and Barak’s song about the same event. It is instructive to study these passages to see the difference between narrative and poetry, and how both express different aspects of the events they describe.
What this means is that contrary to popular thought, the Bible could be characterized as a history book. While we can’t hold ancient documents to the same strict standards of modern historiography, the Bible clearly claims to give an accurate account of events that happened in history (for instance, explicitly in Luke 1:1–4). So this should not be dismissed simply because the events are said to be guided or even directly influenced by a supernatural Creator.
The Bible’s history is true
A couple hundred years ago, there were many people, places, and events in the Bible that were thought to be nonhistorical. But as biblical archaeology has progressed, we have found archaeological and literary evidence of many of these.2 This is true to such an extent that it is reasonable to say that when the Bible speaks and there is an absence of corroborating historical evidence, the Bible’s testimony should be sufficient proof on its own—and this is before we consider its divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:15–17).
The Bible’s spiritual teaching is dependent on its history
Because the Bible teaches about a God who acts in history, most of its teaching cannot be neatly categorized into ‘historical’ and ‘spiritual’ teaching. For instance, all of the Gospels teach that Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed thousands of people (5,000 men, plus many other women and children). Is this historical or theological? Obviously, it is both. And, of course, the Resurrection, without which our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15), is a historical event with spiritual implications.
More importantly, the Bible’s spiritual teachings are only true if the history they are grounded in is also true. The biblical authors have at the foundation of their understanding of God the fact that He is the Creator of Heaven and earth. Without this fact, we would have no explanation for why He has the authority to judge sin. At the foundation of every presentation of the Gospel is the fact that mankind has rebelled against God, starting with our first ancestor Adam all the way to the present day (1 Corinthians 15:21–22). If Adam did not really commit a historical first sin, which really has reverberating effects through history to our lives today (Romans 5:12), then the Gospel makes no sense.
The Bible’s history matters for us
One of the most important teachings of the Bible regarding history is that real actions by real people really affect us today. Adam sinned in history, which means that all of his descendants, including us, sin. Jesus died and rose in history, gaining salvation for all who believe in Him. God has acted in history to secure our salvation, and He will bring history to an end.3
Many times, when people find out that they can really trust the Bible’s history, they become more confident in their faith, including sharing it with others. This is because when one’s faith is grounded in the actual history of the Bible, it is easier to believe that God is still acting today to bring about the plan laid out in Scripture, and Christianity takes on a ‘real-world’ importance.
References and notes
- Cosner, L., How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?, Creation 35(1):54–55, 2013; creation.com/6000-years. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Is the Bible reliable as a historical record? 22 December 2013; creation.com/bible-historical-reliable. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., and Bates, G., The new earth, 20 April 2014; creation.com/new-earth. Return to text.