In the early 20th century, scholars had a profound cynicism about the historicity of the Bible. This was mainly because very little archaeology had been done, and scholars didn’t understand the results well enough to see the evidence that was there.
Just in the past twenty years, key evidence has been found for many of the characters in the biblical text. For instance, in 1990, the ossuary of the family of Caiaphas the high priest was found, and some of the bones that were found were those of a man in his 60’s, presumably Caiaphas himself. We even have the very bones of one of the people present at the trial of Jesus. Inscriptions with the names of Herod, Pilate and others have also been found. Next time you read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, think about that!
Christians tend to be intimidated by scholarship and are fearful of higher study, feeling that it is more spiritual to not fill our heads with lots of facts. This is unfortunate because if we believe that God is who he says, and that the message of the gospel is true, we should not lose confidence that it will hold up under scrutiny.
The “good news” is that the archaeological evidence points our way, and we can study with integrity and see that the story holds up. If anything, the message only gets stronger when put into its native context.
In my own “walk,” I have found that the more knowledge I have under my belt about the evidence for the scriptures, even for potential difficulties in the text, the more bold my witness has been. Before, I felt like the ground I stood on was a tiny patch of knowledge. I was poised on one foot trying to keep my balance while defending it from others, as well as from my own doubts! The more I study, the more the ground becomes solid around me, and the bolder I become in sharing with others.
Jews say that “study is the highest form of worship” — and it is, because the more we study the real world, the more the reality becomes clear that God truly is here, and that he is acting powerfully in our midst.