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That same professor who brought this question and this question is at it again. His claim is that the Bible doesn't claim to be a historical account because the thought that one can look to history as an accurate account of what happened doesn't come about until the Enlightenment.

The general argument is that the Bible is a vehicle for a theological message that may have used a historical detail here or there to make it more plausible. I'm investigating the specific claim that the Bible itself does not claim to be historically accurate. My question is what biblical basis there is to claim the Bible is an account of history. Does the Bible claim to be historically accurate (or is there something in the Bible that someone could reasonably interpret as a statement to that effect)?

A verse like 2 Timothy 3:16 would not work, as its claim isn't about anything more than theological and moral value:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

This question seems to embody everything I've found on this topic so far. Rather than addressing whether the Bible itself explicitly claims to be historically accurate, they go right to defending the historicity of Scripture with outside sources and textual analysis of the stories. Is there a claim to historicity in the Bible?

EDIT: In response to many comments, I think it's necessary to clarify that I asked this question to provide a response to a specific claim. That claim was that the notion of the Bible giving a critical account of facts didn't originate until the Enlightenment. My goal isn't to prove the historicity of scripture by saying "for the Bible tells me so." My goal is to refute that specific claim with evidence from Scripture.

  • What department/classes does this professor teach? – Alex Strasser Jan 17 at 1:14
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    @AlexStrasser To put it briefly, he teaches history, but considers himself an expert on the Bible and also teaches a class on the Bible. He also incorporates the Bible into his other courses. I'd rather have this discussion in a chat room, as there's more to say on it than is appropriate for the comments section. chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/88376/… – Zenon Jan 17 at 1:29
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    The Old Testament scriptures are an historical account. Nowhere does there need to be a 'claim' to truth. The whole account says what it says. One either accepts the truth of the account - or one disbelieves it. Your question is not valid. – Nigel J Jan 17 at 6:40
  • @NigelJ I'm aware of that. This isn't an issue I have with the historicity of Scripture, it's an issue said professor has that I'm looking to argue against in a specific way. – Zenon Jan 17 at 12:16
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    It has to be recalled that we can not tell whether a text is meant to be historically accurate, or to be a fiction, by its claims on its own historicity. In novels, claiming to be true is an important part of the fiction itself. So, of course, any issue about the historicity of the Bible can't be solved by any statement within the Bible, about its own historicity. – Pietro Majer Jan 17 at 13:02
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That professor hasn't read the Bible, apparently.

Eyewitness Account

Luke 1:1-4 (my translation)

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compose a narrative of the things which have taken place among us, (even as it was handed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning, and those who tended to [the matter of preserving] an account), it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely from the beginning, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the verity of the things that have been told you.

Luke even uses the adjective ακριβως (accurately; closely; scrupulously). Luke claims his Gospel is an accurate history of Jesus.

Real Old Testament People

As for the Old Testament, it is confirmed by its affirmation in the New: by Jesus, and by the geneology listed by Luke.

Luke 3:23-38 (DRB)

And Jesus himself was beginning about the age of thirty years; being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was of Heli, who was of Mathat, 24 Who was of Levi, who was of Melchi, who was of Janne, who was of Joseph, 25 Who was of Mathathias, who was of Amos, who was of Nahum, who was of Hesli, who was of Nagge, 26 Who was of Mahath, who was of Mathathias, who was of Semei, who was of Joseph, who was of Juda, 27 Who was of Joanna, who was of Reza, who was of Zorobabel, who was of Salathiel, who was of Neri, 28 Who was of Melchi, who was of Addi, who was of Cosan, who was of Helmadan, who was of Her, 29 Who was of Jesus, who was of Eliezer, who was of Jorim, who was of Mathat, who was of Levi, 30 Who was of Simeon, who was of Judas, who was of Joseph, who was of Jona, who was of Eliakim, 31 Who was of Melea, who was of Menna, who was of Mathatha, who was of Nathan, who was of David, 32 Who was of Jesse, who was of Obed, who was of Booz, who was of Salmon, who was of Naasson, 33 Who was of Aminadab, who was of Aram, who was of Esron, who was of Phares, who was of Judas, 34 Who was of Jacob, who was of Isaac, who was of Abraham, who was of Thare, who was of Nachor, 35 Who was of Sarug, who was of Ragau, who was of Phaleg, who was of Heber, who was of Sale, 36 Who was of Cainan, who was of Arphaxad, who was of Sem, who was of Noe, who was of Lamech, 37 Who was of Mathusale, who was of Henoch, who was of Jared, who was of Malaleel, who was of Cainan, 38 Who was of Henos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.

This is airtight. A genealogy back to the first man, beginning with Joseph. Ignoring the 'whose genealogy is it' question, it claims Joseph is literally a descendant of Adam, the first man created by God. Now unless Joseph is a literary device—an untenable joke—then the Old Testament descriptions of the patriarchs is literally true.

Likewise, we see in 1 Peter, for example, claims that those before the Deluge went to some spiritual prison (cf. Lk. 16:22; Heb. 11:40), where Jesus went to preach the Good News after He yielded up His spirit on the cross (Mt. 25:50).

1 Peter 3:18-20 (DRB) Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit, 19 In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: 20 Which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noe, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.

Cf. 2 Pet. 1:16.

Real people at the time of Noah, when the ark was being built.

Even Unto This Day

There is a recurring phrase in Old and New Testament: "even to this day." It means that whatever happened in some former time remains true "even to this day." A New Testament example is Matthew 28:8:

Matthew 28:8 (DRB) For this cause the field was called Haceldama, that is, The field of blood, even to this day.

There is a direct causal relationship between the event described (and fixed by its context at some explicit time in history) and the naming of a thing or person or place.

Interesting Old Testament examples, however, might include Genesis 22:13-14:

Genesis 22:13-14 (DRB) Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw behind his back a ram amongst the briers sticking fast by the horns, which he took and offered for a holocaust instead of his son. 14 And he called the name of that place, The Lord seeth. Whereupon even to this day it is said: In the mountain the Lord will see.

The author of Genesis, at least, is convinced that this place is treated this way because Abraham himself named it after a real experience he had. He's not ignorant that he has placed Abraham in a certain era.

Cf. Josh. 7:25-26.

Other instances of this abound. E.g.

Genesis 35:19-20 (DRB) So Rachel died, and was buried in the highway that leadeth to Ephrata, that is Bethlehem. 20 And Jacob erected a pillar over her sepulchre: this is the pillar of Rachel's monument, to this day.

Or,

2 Samuel 6:8 (DRB) And David was grieved because the Lord had struck Oza, and the name of that place was called: The striking of Oza, to this day.

Cf. Vulg. Judith 16:31.

These are just a few pieces of evidence that the Old Testament was considered by both the author and first century Jews (themselves partially an evidence) to be the actual history of the Jews.

  • I can't believe I forgot about that one. Thank you. – Zenon Jan 17 at 1:05
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    However, this only refers to the New Testament. (and many atheist historians accept the New Testament as mostly historically accurate, while regarding the Old Testament as complete fiction) – vsz Jan 17 at 5:16
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    How does that work, when Jesus is the physical descendant of King David, who is physically descended from Abraham, etc.? What sort of game is that. Insofar as Jesus affirms the Old Testament, and that He is a descendant of David, He gives no indication that the Old Testament is to be taken as anything other than history. Luke's genealogy back to Adam?? – Sola Gratia Jan 17 at 14:19
  • @SolaGratia That's probably worth editing into your answer as support for the OT – Zenon Jan 17 at 14:31
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Peter strongly affirms the historicity of the life of Jesus and his miracles and the ancient judgment by flood that occurred in the time of Noah.

2 Peter 1:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[b] 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

2 Peter 3:

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

In Exodus 20, this is what God said:

20 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

The entire justification for the Ten Commandments is a historical fact: God actually lead the people out of Egypt; he actually freed them from slavery. And the words are not from a fallible human source, they were spoken directly by God Himself.

An even stronger claim comes from fulfilled prophecy. Predictions long written down were fulfilled by Jesus. If the predictions of the future are real historical events, then why would the descriptions of the past be fabrications?

Others argue based on the fact that unflattering things are written about important historical figures: Moses, David, Solomon, Hezekiah. The histories of other kingdoms are filled with flattering lies that hide the flaws of their subjects. The versimilitude of the stories is a strong argument that the words are truthful.

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