A poet wrote: “To err is human.” This truth is forcefully illustrated when one examines the literary productions of mankind. Amazingly, however, the Bible is unblemished by the flaws that generally characterize man’s writings.
Robert Utley is one of today’s leading historians of Old West lore. His recent book, Lone Star Justice, chronicles the history of the Texas Rangers from 1823 to 1910. In the Preface to his book, Utley points out that many who have attempted to portray the activity of America’s frontier days have not been diligent in getting their background data accurate.
For example, in 1956 a Lone Ranger feature film was produced; it was based upon the old TV series of the same name. In the film, Clayton Moore, who played the role of the “Lone Ranger,” was wearing the typical Texas Ranger badge — a star within a wagon wheel. Utley points out, however, that this style badge was not designed until the 20th century. This item represented an anachronism (a chronologically misplaced error). It is rather inevitable that historians occasionally will slip in constructing their narratives, as careful as they try to be.
One of the truly amazing facts about Bible history is the phenomenal accuracy that characterizes the text. Take, for example, Luke’s two New Testament documents — Luke and Acts. These books combined constitute more than a quarter of the bulk of the New Testament. Within these narratives the author is very specific with reference to historical data including person, places, and titles.
In the book of Acts, Luke mentions 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 Mediterranean islands. He also lists 95 people by name, 62 of which are not named elsewhere in the New Testament (Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, Content, p. 171). In addition, Luke is intimately familiar with the constantly-changing political conditions of the Roman world. References to Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Quirinius, the Herods, Felix, and Festus are recorded. In not one of these citations is there a mistake.
Some early critics occasionally, charged Luke with errors, a few of them even suggesting that he was quite careless. The discoveries of archaeology, however, have vindicated him in every instance.
Sir William Ramsey, who initially doubted Luke’s reliability, did many years of “on site” study of these matters; he eventually classified “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) as one of “the very greatest of historians” who ever lived (Luke the Physician, p. 222).
Noted scholar Philip Schaff once observed that the final two chapters of Acts have provided more information about the details of ancient sea navigation than any other document of antiquity (Theological Propaeduetic, pp. 132-133).
This “uncanny accuracy” puts the biblical record in a class of its own. Even the best historians cannot avoid that occasional “slip.” But the writers of Scripture, guided by the Spirit of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), were protected from the inclusion of error into their works.
If their credibility is established in such seemingly trivial matters, surely it may be trusted in the great theological themes it develops. Trust your Bible; obey its precepts.