EVIDENCE 5: GOD’S INTERVENTION IN HUMAN HISTORY
Is there any evidence that the Something that created the universe, and which we have begun to suspect is a Someone, is actually the God described in the Christian faith?
We now move from the disciplines of science and philosophy to a study of history. Is there any evidence of the intervention of the Christian God in human history? After all, if God exists you would hope and expect that he hasn’t just created the universe, set it in motion like a wind-up clock, then departed for an extended holiday, leaving us to our own devices. One would hope that the God who went to the trouble of creating the universe isn’t some absentee landlord who doesn’t care what goes on in his world after he has opened the front door and given us the keys.
So, is there any historical evidence of God’s intervention in the world?
Yes! Absolutely! The Christian Bible is replete with accounts of God’s regular intervention throughout human history, often involving extraordinary miracles. These range from miracles at the personal level such as healings of various diseases, to spectacular miracles at the national and global level; the parting of the red sea, the great flood, city walls miraculously collapsing, a river turning to blood, pillars of cloud and fire that led a nation through the desert, voices from thunderstorms, and dozens more examples. In fact, the Bible is positively brimming with accounts of God’s extraordinary interventions in human history.
“But that doesn’t count!” I hear you say. “The Bible is a religious book!”
Of course it’s a religious book. That’s because it documents accounts of God’s intervention in the world, which is EXACTLY what sceptics are asking for.
Can you see the circular contradiction that is operating here? (If I was writing this in the 1960s or 70s, I would refer to it as a ‘Catch-22’ scenario – but most people today wouldn’t know what that means). Sceptics ask for historical, documented evidence of God’s intervention in the world, but when it is presented to them, they dismiss it because it is written by people who have come to believe in God because of his intervention in the world!
The problem with these accounts in the Bible is that they are in the Bible. What I mean is that many people immediately dismiss the Bible as a fanciful fairy story written by religious fanatics and tend not to regard it as a reliable historical record.
In this chapter, I will firstly present some evidence as to why the Bible should be regarded as a reliable historical document. Secondly, I will then highlight a few incidents recorded for us in the Bible that provide credible, convincing evidence of God’s existence.
THE BIBLE AS A RELIABLE HISTORICAL DOCUMENT
What I find utterly compelling about the Bible is that it is almost entirely written by people who started out not knowing God or not believing in him, but who became convinced of his existence and transformed by his presence in their lives and in the world. To the sceptic, I would say, “the Bible is written by people who started out just like you, and that’s what makes it so convincing.”
The first part of the Bible, the Old Testament, is the story of a nation (the ancient Israelites) whose founders and Patriarchs were called out of the ancient pagan world and gradually, over time, were taught to trust and follow God. It’s not a very successful story, however, because each new generation of Israelites tended to drift away from God and even stop believing in him, needing to be convinced of God’s reality all over again. It is a continual story of God repeatedly revealing himself in dramatic, sometimes miraculous ways, in order to convince a new generation of sceptics and apostates. It is this brutal honesty of the Old Testament that makes it so convincing. If you were making up a story about God, you would surely be much more likely to craft a story that depicted people who followed their God devotedly and were rewarded for their faithfulness.
The New Testament is even more impressive. Many of the writers of the New Testament wrote from a position of having once been sceptics (particularly of the resurrection of Christ) but eventually became utterly convinced. The Apostle Paul, for example, started out arresting followers of Christ and putting them to death but was eventually converted when he encountered the risen Christ. Even the Apostles Matthew and John, who wrote two of the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ, were originally sceptical about the resurrection of Jesus and had to be convinced before they acknowledged its truth and came to believe in his divinity.
The Bible is a book largely written by sceptics who became convinced by God’s miraculous intervention in our world.
But is there historical evidence to back up the many extraordinary claims about God’s miracles that are recorded in the Bible? Are there other documents from antiquity or other historical evidence that substantiate the biblical narrative?
Yes, there are. But in the case of the Old Testament, they are scarce. That’s because the narrative of the Old Testament spans a period of history from about 2500 B.C. to 430 B.C. There are very few literary works from that period of time that have survived through to the present day. Occasionally, however, historians and archaeologists uncover a document or an artefact that confirms a part of the Bible’s story.
In his work, Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible, Dr Paul L. Maier writes,
“Ever since scientific archaeology started a century and a half ago, the consistent pattern has been this: the hard evidence from the ground has borne out the biblical record again and again — and again. The Bible has nothing to fear from the spade.” 
Dr Maier goes on to cite many examples of archaeological discoveries which have verified the historical claims of the Bible. For example, up until the beginning of the 20th century, the Hittites were unknown outside of the Bible, and historians had long claimed that this was an example of the Bible’s fanciful nature. However, in 1906, a Hittite city was uncovered east of Ankara, Turkey, along with clay tablets containing writing that provides detailed descriptions of Hittite culture.
There are literally dozens of similar examples – where critics claimed that something in the Bible was fictitious, only to have their criticism overturned by subsequent archaeological discoveries which validated the Biblical account.
A similar process of verification has occurred in regard to the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus and the developing Christian church. Places frequented by Jesus, where he preached and supposedly worked miracles, have been uncovered by archaeological digs and verified by other historical documents.
More important to our discussion of God’s possible existence, however, is the question of historical verification of the miracles recorded in the Bible. It is helpful to discuss the two major sections of the Bible separately in considering this question.
HISTORICAL EVIDENCE SUPPORTING BIBLICAL MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The historical or archaeological evidence for ANY events in human history dating back between 2,500 to 4,500 years ago is extremely scant. The Bible is not alone in this. Time and the natural processes of weathering and decay assure that very few documents and artifacts have survived intact. In terms of verifying the miracle accounts in the Old Testament, we are faced with the additional problem that the nature of many of the reported miracles is such that there is no possible means of verification. When God spoke to people or manifested himself in the world in a physical way, such as the pillars of cloud and fire in the book of Exodus, these interventions would not have left any tangible evidence.
However, we are not left totally bereft of evidence of God’s miraculous interventions. The miraculous collapse of the walls of Jericho is one such example. The Old Testament records that God called the Israelites to besiege the city of Jericho, as punishment for the particularly vile sins of its inhabitants. From the Bible and other historical records we know that this included human sacrifice, child sacrifice, witchcraft, entrenched prostitution, several vile sexual practices (see Deuteronomy 18:9-22; Genesis 15:15-16; Leviticus 18:24-30). The Israelites were commanded to march around the city once each day blowing their trumpets. On the seventh day, they were commanded to march around the city walls seven times and, after the seventh time, they were to give a loud shout and a blast on their trumpets and God would cause the city walls to collapse. And that, according to the Bible, is precisely what happened.
This, of course has been greeted with great scepticism by those outside of the Christian faith. However, archaeological excavations at the ancient site of Jericho during the latter part of the 20th century have added considerable weight to the biblical account. Early archaeological work in the late 1950s by a team led by Dame Kathleen Kenyon found the crumbled remains of heavily fortified double walls surrounding the ancient city. Dame Kenyon initially dated these walls as having been destroyed in about 1550 BC, roughly 150 years before the biblical Israelites supposedly besieged the city. Her dating of the ruins led the sceptic world to conclude that the biblical account was, therefore, mythological. In the decades since Kenyon’s dig, however, the remains of the walls have been dated using Carbon-14 dating as well as a more accurate examination of ceramic typology and glyphs found among the artefacts. The result is that the walls are now dated at 1400 BC, which fits perfectly with the time the Israelites would have besieged Jericho. Dr Bryant G. Wood, in his paper, “Did The Israelites Conquer Jericho?” in Biblical Archaeology Review (March -April 1990) provided substantial evidence of the more accurate date of the walls and it is now almost universally acknowledged that Dame Kenyon misdated the ruins.
What was most important about Dame Kenyon’s original findings, however, was the evidence that these ancient walls had collapsed outward rather than inward (as would normally be the case when a besieging army breached city walls). The walls were discovered to have consisted of a 3 to 5-metre wall of red bricks built on top of a 5-metre retaining wall (or revetment) of stone. Significantly, the collapsed upper wall of red bricks had not fallen inward onto the retained higher ground of the city, but had fallen outward and lay in ruins at the base of the retaining wall (revetment).
Dame Kenyon’s notes make clear reference to this anomaly:
“… fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank … the brickwork above the revetment.”
This is extraordinary confirmation of the Hebrew text of Joshua 6:20 which literally says that when God caused the wall of Jericho to fall, the wall “fell beneath itself”.
NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE OF GOD’S MIRACULOUS INTERVENTION
Evidence of God’s hand at work in the world is nowhere clearer than in the life of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. I will deal with the resurrection of Jesus separately in the next chapter, but at this point I want to draw your attention to the extraordinary accounts of his miracles. Because if these miracles are true, they represent extremely convincing evidence for the existence of God.
The four Gospels (accounts of the life of Jesus) in the New Testament describe the extraordinary life of Jesus Christ. I use the word ‘extraordinary’ deliberately. His life was extraordinary for several reasons:
- He claimed to be God in the flesh
- The Gospels record him performing many miracles
- The Gospels also record him rising from the dead three days after his cruel death by crucifixion
If these accounts are true, the ‘God-question” has been answered unequivocally. But are they true? Or are they mere fables, fabricated by over-enthusiastic followers? Is there any evidence to support these Gospel stories?
THE FACT OF JESUS’ EXISTENCE
I am occasionally amazed to meet someone who believes that Jesus never existed. This is an extreme viewpoint that completely overlooks the considerable weight of historical evidence supporting the life of Jesus. In my experience, the only people who hold this view are those who have no historical training and have not examined the historical evidence in any detail. The life of Christ is substantiated by a number of extra-biblical (independent) writers from antiquity, including Cornelius Tacitus, Lucian, Flavius Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phlegon of Tralles and Mara Bar-Serapion.
Respected historian, Dr Neil Carter, who is a professed atheist, writes:
“I can’t believe I’m feeling the need to do this, but today I’d like to write a brief defence of the historicity of Jesus. When people in the sceptic community argue that Jesus never existed, they are dismissing a large body of work for which they have insufficient appreciation, most often due to the fact that they themselves have never formally studied the subject…. The earliest writings which attest to the existence of Jesus come from the apostle Paul, a leather worker by day and preacher by night … sometime in the mid-50s AD… The oral tradition which later came to inform the writing of the gospels predates the ministry of Paul by many years… Paul didn’t invent these stories…”
Dr Bart Ehrman is a respected historian who is a professed agnostic. He was recently interviewed by “The Atheist Guy” on “Atheist Radio” (an internet radio station whose sole aim is to discredit Christianity). Here is a transcript of part of that interview:
Atheist Guy: Do you believe that Jesus actually existed?
Dr Ehrman: Yes. There is no serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus. There are a lot of people who want to write sensational books claiming that Jesus didn’t exist, but I don’t know any serious scholar who doubts the existence of Jesus.
Atheist Guy: But there are historians who disagree with you, aren’t there?
Dr Ehrman: None that I’ve ever heard of. Not serious historians. I know thousands of scholars of the ancient world and I don’t know any one of these scholars who disagree.
THE MIRACLES OF JESUS
Of course, it is one thing to concede that Jesus existed, it is quite another to accept the accounts of His miracles. And what were those miracles?
- On three separate occasions he raised dead people to life.
- On one of those occasions, Jesus stopped a funeral procession in the street and raised the dead person.
- On another of those occasions, the person he raised to life had been dead for three days.
- He instantly healed a wide range of diseases including leprosy and blindness.
- He instantly healed paraplegics and quadriplegics.
- He multiplied a small amount of food to feed thousands.
- He changed water into wine.
- He walked on water.
The extraordinary nature of Jesus’ miracles has long been a point of contention for atheists. Having failed in their attempts to disprove Jesus’ existence, the major thrust of the atheistic attack upon Jesus has been the attempt to discredit the veracity of these biblical accounts of his miracles. Many sceptics argue that Jesus’ life was significantly embellished by the New Testament writers. According to this theory, Jesus was just an ordinary man who said some wise things and developed a popular following. After his death, his followers supposedly deified him (declared him to be God), concocting stories of supposed miracles and fabricating the myth of his resurrection.
This view was expressed and popularised by the liberal ecclesiastical scholar, John Spong, who claimed that the miracles recorded in the four biblical Gospels were “a late-developing part of the Jesus story”.
INSUFFICIENT TIME FOR EMBELLISHMENT
This view is not supported by serious historians, however, who point out that there was insufficient time between the events of Jesus’ life and their eventual recording in the gospels for embellishment to have taken place.
Professor A. N. Sherwin-White (1911-1993) was a world-renowned Greco-Roman historian who, among his many scholarly works, analysed ancient historical embellishments. He concluded that minor embellishment required a time gap of at least two generations, while major embellishment required at least 200 years. In other words, even minor mythological embellishment can’t gain traction if it is written within the lifespan of the first two generations after the event, because there are too many people still alive who know the facts and who could speak up and refute the embellishment.
Let me give you an example. At the time of writing, it is approximately 80 years since Winston Churchill led the Allies to victory over Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Suppose I decided to write a biography of Churchill and I concocted all kinds of fanciful stories of him working miracles, raising people from the dead, walking on water and rising from the dead himself. I would very quickly be shut down as a fool and my written account would be overwhelmed by a flood of literary rebuttal. And in 2,000 years time, anyone investigating my ridiculous claims would uncover a veritable sea of indignant literary refutation. Even after 80 years have elapsed, I still could not get away with embellishing the life of Winston Churchill!
In the case of the life of Jesus Christ, the first three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written only 30-35 years after Jesus’ death, and the Gospel of John was written another 25 years later. In other words, the Gospels were written within the lifetime of the eye-witnesses to the events of Jesus’ life. And the response of the ancient world to those Gospels was remarkable; the Gospel accounts were met with RESOUNDING SILENCE. No refutation. No protest on point of fact.
The reason for this is quite simple. No one could refute the Gospels because there were still thousands of eye-witnesses alive who had witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Hundreds had witnessed Him raise people from the dead. Thousands had witnessed Him heal the sick, the blind, the paralysed. Thousands had witnessed Him multiply food in order to feed the hungry. As the Gospels were written and distributed in first century Palestine, there were literally thousands of eye-witnesses who could attest their veracity. That is why we do not find any literary refutation in the historical record. If the Gospel accounts were fanciful embellishments by some deluded followers, we would expect to find a flood of literary refutation. But there is none.
The complete lack of disputation and protestation in the first century in response to these extraordinary accounts of Jesus’ miracles in the four gospels is particularly convincing. In fact, not only is there a complete lack of disputation, but some enemies of Jesus actually CONFIRMED his miracle-working ability.
EXTRA-BIBLICAL CONFIRMATION OF JESUS’ MIRACLES
The Jewish sacred text, the Talmud, which was being written as Jesus was working these miracles, mentions Jesus on several occasions, even referring to his miracles. The Jewish rabbis could not deny His miracles, because they had been witnessed by, in some instances, thousands of people! Instead, they attributed them to the power of the devil and accused Jesus of “sorcery”. (It defies belief how anyone could possibly argue that the devil would be interested in healing the blind, healing the sick, raising up quadriplegics, feeding the hungry and raising people from the dead! )
For example, The Babylonian Talmud (BT, Sanhedrin, 43a) states;
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshua [the Nazarene] was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come and plead on his behalf.’ And since nothing was brought forward in his favour, he was hanged on the eve of Passover.”
Significantly, even Jesus’ enemies, the leading Jews of the day, could not deny the power of His miracles, instead choosing to attribute them to evil sorcery. This is part of the reason why they eventually crucified Jesus. His claims to be divine (God) and his regular miracles were a major thorn in the side of the Jewish authorities, who considered him to be a blasphemer. Ultimately, they could neither silence him nor staunch the constant flow of miracles, so they executed him. The important point for our current discussion, however, is that even the Talmud, one of the Jewish sacred texts being written concurrently by Jesus’ enemies, acknowledged his miracles. This is EXTREMELY strong historical verification.
The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, provides another source of verification when he described Jesus as “a worker of wonders”, which was a first century phrase for ‘miracle worker’.
Thus, Frank Morrison, in his landmark book, Who Moved the Stone? states;
“The fact remains that the personal ascendancy and repute of Jesus during his own lifetime was immense. The stories of his cures of the blind, the paralytic and the possessed were widespread. They came from all parts of the country and were apparently implicitly accepted even in high quarters in Jerusalem.”
The acknowledgment of Jesus’ miracles by the Jewish authorities is also evident in their interaction with Jesus in an incident prior to his crucifixion. The Gospel writer, John, records a dramatic exchange between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, shortly before his arrest. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication and was preaching in the outer courts of the Temple. John writes:
“His Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him [to death], but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for your miracles, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:31-33, NIV)
The incident concludes with John’s statement, “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.”(John 10:39).
What is intriguing about this incident is the lack of denial by the Jewish authorities regarding Jesus’ miracles. It would have been the perfect opportunity to deny the miracles of Jesus if they were mere fiction – stories concocted by his followers. The most logical explanation for the lack of denial by the Jewish authorities is that they simply could not refute the miracles because too many people had witnessed them. This confrontation with Jesus took place in a public courtyard with a large crowd of onlookers, many of whom would have already witnessed Jesus’ miracle-working power. The authorities would have looked foolish denying them.
If we are looking for evidence of God’s existence, the miracles recorded in the Bible and corroborated by external sources must surely rate as compelling. The miracles of Jesus, in particular, provide us with extremely convincing evidence of the hand of God at work in our world and clear corroboration of God’s existence. The evidence for the historical veracity of Jesus’ miracles is so strong that even the famous liberal scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, conceded:
“But there can be no doubt that Jesus did such deeds, which were, in his and his contemporaries’ understanding, miracles, that is, deeds that were the result of supernatural, divine causality. Doubtless he healed the sick and cast out demons.” (Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus, Berlin: Deutsche Bibliothek, 1926, p. 159.)
If these biblical accounts of the miracles of Jesus are true, as I believe they are, then we have solid historical evidence confirming the existence of God.
Before we leave this topic, we must also briefly consider the implications of Jesus’ miracles regarding his own claim of divinity. For Jesus did not merely wander around the countryside uttering platitudes and coining wise sayings. He was not merely a good moral teacher: he claimed to be much more. Throughout his brief ministry he made a series of extraordinary claims:
- He claimed to have existed eternally prior to his appearance on Earth (John 8:48-59; John 17:5)
- He claimed to be able to forgive sin (Matthew 9:5; Luke 7:48)
- He claimed that he would judge all mankind at the end of history (Matthew 25:31; Luke 18:8)
- He claimed to be God (John 8:58; John 10:30)
Of course, merely claiming something does not make it so. Psychiatric wards are full of people who believe they are all kinds of things. But there are two factors that cause us to sit up and take notice of Jesus’ claims: his obvious sanity and his extraordinary miracles. In regard to the latter, one must ask “What further actions would we expect God to perform if he manifested himself to us in human form?” The miracles of Jesus and, as we shall see in the next topic, his resurrection from the dead, force us to seriously consider his claim of divinity. We cannot simply dismiss his claims as the ravings of a mad man.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
For more information, see my book, “7 Reasons to Believe”.
 Paul L. Maier, “Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible”, Christian Research Journal, volume 27, number 2 (2004)
 Bryan Windle, “Biblical Sites: Three Ways to Date the Destruction of Jericho”, in Bible Archaeology Report, May 17, 2019.
 Kathleen M. Kenyon, “Excavations at Jericho”, 3:110, London, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1981.
 Neil Carter, quoted inpatheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2014
 John Shelby Spong, “Jesus for the Non-Religious”, Harper Collins, 2007, p.69
 “Myth Growth Rates and The Gospels”, http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2013/kom378030.shtml
 BT, Sanhedrin 43a, quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshu#Yeshu_the_sorcerer
 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 22.214.171.124
 Frank Morrison, “Who Moved the Stone?”, Authentic Lifestyle, Great Britain, 1983, p.29
 C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, 1952, republished 1980, Harper Collins, London. Kindle Edition, p.32