Is the Bible true historically? Specifically the Old Testament? This is a big question people who love the Bible face from time to time. Some people argue that the Old Testament is reliable in what it teaches theologically about God and man, but not historically. That is, these people argue that the Old Testament is not a true account of what happened. Maybe Adam and Eve were legend. The flood is exaggerated. Those plagues in Egypt? Folklore.
So now we are left with a book of myths. It’s unreliable. A part of the argument goes like this: Jesus and other first century Jews were not concerned with actual history when talking about and citing the OT. But this seems rather odd, doesn’t it? Have not people in general, whether Hebrew or American, always been concerned with what is true, real, and historic? I think so. History mattered greatly in the ancient world, just as it does today! Otherwise, why record anything?
How do we know for sure? From the New Testament. It seems to me that the Bible tells us that Jesus and the apostles did believe that the OT was a reliable account of history.
- Jesus seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of reporting actual history when he said that God created men and women unique and for each other (Matt. 19:4-6); that Abraham really lived (John 8:58); that Moses wrote about him in the Torah (John 5:39); that David ate the bread of the presence in the tabernacle (Mark 2:25-27); that Jonah was really inside a fish for three days (Matt. 12:40).
- Matthew and Luke seem very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when they record their genealogies of Jesus (Matt. 1; Luke 3; cf. Luke 1:1-4).
- Paul seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when he said that Adam is a real person and through him came sin and death (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15).
- Peter seems very concerned that OT is a reliable source of actual history when he said that Noah and his family were saved by God from the flood (1 Pet. 3:18-20).
- The author of Hebrews seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when he catalogs the faith of OT saints (Hebrews 11).
- James seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when he encourages believers to remain steadfast by reminding them of Job’s steadfastness (James 5:11).
It is clear from reading the New Testament that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any of the apostles are raging lunatics or even simple fabricators of history. They are well-respected men, even called “good teachers,” who “turned the world upside down.”
You may not believe them. However, that’s beside the point. The point is that they thought what happened in Israel throughout history was real. And for that, it seems to me, the Old Testament deserves a fair hearing.