Archaeology and the New Testament
Text: Luke 1:1-4
I. The Bible is a historical book that contains many historical references, but it is not a book of mankind’s history.
A. But where it mentions historical facts, it has always been proven to be true.
1. Arguments against the Bible are based on the lack of supporting evidence found in archaeology, but this doesn’t mean the events and people did not exist.
2. The writers of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, were remarkably accurate in their records
3. But this is not surprising, if we accept the inspiration of the Bible - II Timothy 3:16-17
B. Let’s look at some of the evidence
II. Pontius Pilate
A. Pilate is mentioned in all four gospel accounts
1. He argued three times that he found no fault in Jesus - John 18:38; 19:4,6
2. But he was more concerned in keeping his rule calm, so he had Jesus scourged and crucified as the Jews demanded
B. Historical evidence
1. Pilate is mentioned in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian, and Tacitus, a Roman historian.
2. We know that ruled over Judea from A.D. 26-36
3. Character-wise, Pilate is shown to be a rash and violent man
a. He had some Galileans killed while they were presenting sacrifices at the temple - Luke 13:1
C. Archaeological evidence: The Pilate Inscription
1. In 1961 a 2x3 foot rock slab, used in the construction a Roman theater, in particular “in the construction of a landing between flights of steps in a tier of seats reserved for guests of honor.” [McRay]
2. On the stone was an inscription. Most of it is not readable, but it does contain the name, Pontius Pilate.
3. The partial inscription reads (conjectural letters in brackets):
[DIS AUGUSTI]S TIBERIÉUM
4. The translation from Latin to English for the inscription reads:
To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum
...prefect of Judea
...has dedicated [this]
D. Archaeological evidence: Pilate’s Ring
1. A ring found in 1968 at a site near Bethlehem was recently deciphered.
2. “The Herodion fortress was built by King Herod who also gave it its name. Following his death in the first century, it became a huge burial site. But the upper part of the complex continued to be used by Roman officials ruling over Judea at that time. It is likely that Pilate also used the Herodion as a central government administrative headquarters.” [Hasson]
3. The inscription on what was apparently a stamping ring included a picture of a wine vessel surrounded by Greek writing translated as saying “Pilatus.’” [Hasson].
4. It was probably used by Pilate or one of his officials to affix his name to documents.
III. Sergius Paulus
A. The Roman empire was a complex beast due to its style of organization.
B. Luke records specific names and titles, which gives historians a chance to verify his accuracy.
C. Paul and Barnabas visited the island of Cyprus, where in Paphos they meet the proconsul Sergius Paulus - Acts 13:4-7
D. For a long while it was argued that Luke got the title wrong because as an imperial province, Cyprus would be ruled by a propraetor.
1. What was missed is that while Cyprus became an imperial province in B.C. 27, Augustus traded it for Dalmatia and transferred control of Cyprus to the senate in B.C. 22.
2. As a senatorial province, it would be ruled by a proconsul.
3. A coin has been found that has the head of Claudius Caesar on one side and Arminius Proclus Proconsul of the Cyprians on the other.
E. A boundary stone of Claudius mentioning Sergius was discovered at Rome in 1887. It records the appointment, in AD 47, of the Curators of the banks and the channel of the river Tiber, one of whom was L. Sergius Paulus. Whether this is the same Sergius Paulus that Paul and Barnabas encountered is unknown.
F. An inscription found near Kythraia, in northern Cyprus makes mention of Claudius Caesar and Quintus Sergius, but the last name is missing from the fragment.
A. In Acts 18:12-17, Gallio is mentioned as being proconsul of Achia.
B. Fragments of an inscription were found in 1905, which combined form a part of a letter from Claudius, emperor of Rome to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. With missing letters supplied for the gaps, it says “Tiberius Claudius Casear Augustus Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, of tribunician authority for the twelfth time ... Lucius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the proconsul of Achaia.” [McRay]
A. The high priest at the time of Jesus’ death was Caiaphas, who shared the office with his father-in-law Annas.
B. In 1990 twelve ossuaries were found. An ossuary is a small box used to bury a person’s bones after the flesh had decomposed. One of the boxes was particularly ornate, indicating that it belonged to a wealthy person. Inscribed on the box was “Caiaphas” and “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”
1. The Bible only refers to Caiaphas by his name, but Josephus states that his full name is “Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.”
2. The box contained the bones of six different people, one of whom was about 60 years old when he died. [Butt]
C. Another ossuary was found in 2011. “Israeli scholars have confirmed the authenticity of a 2,000-year-old burial ossuary bearing the name of a relative of the high priest Caiaphas, who is well known to Christians as a rival of Jesus. The ossuary – a stone chest for storing bones – bears an inscription with the name "Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiapha, priest of Ma’azya from Beit Imri."” [Ronen]
VI. James the Brother of Jesus
A. Speaking of ossuaries, there is one that came to light in 2002 that has an inscription that reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
B. The box is acknowledged to be from the first century, but there is debate about whether the wording was added later or not. So far the evidence leans that it is authentic.
C. This does not mean that it is the James of the Bible.
A. Erastus is mentioned in Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23 and II Timothy 4:20 as being the city treasurer of Corinth.
B. A piece of stone pavement was found that says “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.”
C. “Aedile” as a person in charge of the finances of a city.
VIII. Temple Warning
A. In Acts 21:28 we read that the Jews were very serious about not allowing Gentiles into the temple area.
Josephus mentioned that an inscription marked where Gentiles could go and where they were not allowed. The inscription “forbade any foreigner to go in, under pain of death.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 15:11:5]
C. A complete tablet, found 1871, reads “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and enclosure around the temple area. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.”
D. Another stone fragment, smaller in size, contains nearly identical words. It also shows that the lettering was painted in red to be more noticeable.
IX. Fishing boat
A. We read several descriptions fishing on the sea of Galilee in the gospels
B. During a drought in 1986, the Sea of Galilee receded, exposing 27 foot fishing boat from the first century. It was found near Magdala, the home town of Mary Magdalene.
C. In the back is a raised section, like where Jesus slept in the boat.
The boat is able to carry 15 people.
X. Home in Nazareth
A. A rock-hewned and stone home dating back to the first century was found under a convent, giving us some idea what homes in Nazareth were like
B. It also confirms that the little town of Nazareth actually existed.
• Butt, Kyle, “Archaeology and the New Testament,” Reason & Revelation, 24(10), October 2004
• Burton, BR, Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22817908
• Chilton, Bruce, Craig A. Evans, Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, 1998, p. 465
• Hasson, Nir, “Ring of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate Who Crucified Jesus Found in Herodion Site in West Bank,” Haaretz, 29 November 2018.
• McRay, John, Archaeology and the New Testament, Baker, 1991.
• Ronen, Gil, “Caiaphas Ossuary is Authentic,” Israel National News, 29 June 2011.