Reuben Grace
Three times archaeology proved the gospels right


Time and again critics have claimed various details in the gospels as proving Matthew, Mark, Luke or John get their facts wrong. After a while, new evidence often emerges that proves the gospel writers did, in fact, know what they were talking about.

As one 19th-century Bible commentator quaintly expressed it, in many instances ‘what have been treated as his [Luke’s] ‘manifest errors’ have turned out to be interesting historic facts which he alone preserves for us.’[1]

Since then, new archaeological evidence has only served to keep proving the accuracy of the gospels.

Here are three of the most interesting examples I came across while preparing to speak on ‘How can I trust the Bible?’ in our Big Questions series:

 1. Luke 3:1

In A Case for Christ Lee Strobel writes:

‘...in Luke 3:1 he refers to Lysanias being the tetrarch of Abilene in about AD 27. For years scholars pointed to this as evidence that Luke didn't know what he was talking about, since everybody knew that Lysanias was not a tetrarch but rather the ruler of Chalcis half century earlier. …..

That's when archaeology stepped in. "An inscription was later found from the time of Tiberius, from AD 14 to 37, which names Lysanias a tetrarch in Abila near Damascus - just as Luke had written," …. "It turned out there had been two government officials named Lysanias! Once more Luke was shown to be exactly right."’[2]

And there are several similar examples across Luke and Acts!

 2. The pool of Bethesda

In John 5, John records how Jesus heals a paralysed man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. For a long time, no such place was uncovered. Some suggested John had made this place up. In 1964, archaeologists found the site - about 40ft below ground - with five porticos, just as John described![3]

Archaeologists have also uncovered the pool of Siloam in John 9, Jacob’s Well in John 4, and the Stone Pavement in Jerusalem where Jesus appeared on trial before Pilate in John 19.[4]

 3. Nazareth - does anything come from there?

You might be surprised to know that for some years sceptical scholars have cast doubt on the existence of Nazareth – the town Jesus was supposed to grow up in – in the first century. While ruins had been found from a few centuries earlier and later, there was no evidence directly from the first century.[5]

And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Nazareth was a small place. Scholar Craig L Blomberg notes, ‘no one would have invented a story of a venerable rabbi…. being from such an insignificant place as Nazareth.’[6]

However, as recently as 2009, the remains of a first-century dwelling was discovered there.[7] In 2015 British archaeologist Professor Ken Dark published an article suggesting a brick and mortar house he had been examining in Nazareth since 2006 could be Jesus’ childhood home.[8] In 2020 he released a book about his investigations, which caught the attention of the BBC and even The Sun newspaper. The evidence isn’t conclusive, and probably can never be definitively proved one way or the other - but we can at least say Nazareth existed in the first century. 

You can find out more about Professor Dark’s research and the reasons he believes it could be the house Jesus grew up in here: https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/home-jesus-christ-0014580


So what?

The encouraging thing about each of these examples (and I could have picked many more!) is that they show the gospel writers know what they’re talking about. As I mentioned in my talk ‘How can we trust the Bible?’, the important question to ask about the gospels isn’t ‘are they biased?’ – because all historical sources are ‘biased’ in some way – but do they seem to be reporting accurately? And these examples suggest they are.

Neither does it work to say that the gospels were merely well written pieces of fiction. With scholarly reserve, Blomberg writes:

‘Especially when we recognize that one of the ways an ancient writer of fiction tipped his hand to his audience was by using names, dates and places that were clearly wrong or anachronistic and in no way reconcilable with known historical events, it appears unlikely that the Gospel writers thought they were penning fiction.’

Translation: the gospel writers didn’t believe they were writing fiction. They wrote about what happened when – in Jesus – God stepped into the world among real people in real places. Why not explore the evidence for yourself?


What now?
For an easy-to-read introduction to the historical reliability of the gospels, see

Peter Williams, Can we trust the gospels? https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/series/why-did-jesus/can-we-trust-the-gospels

And if you’ve never read one of the gospels cover to cover, why not try it? It would take you around an hour to read Luke’s gospel straight through. As you read, ask yourself ‘what do I think of Jesus?’ – and talk to a Christian friend about what you find. They’d love to chat to you!


Watch ‘How do we know that the Bible is true’ as part of our Big Questions series.



[1] F. W. Farrar, Luke, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (1891) https://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/luke/2.htm

[2] Lee Strobel, A Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, 1998) p.104

[3] Strobel, A Case for Christ, p.106

[4] Strobel, A Case for Christ, p.106

[5] Craig L Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (2016) p.177

[6] Craig L Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (2016)

[7] Craig L Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (2016) p.177

[8] https://metro.co.uk/2020/11/24/jesus-christs-childhood-home-discovered-by-archaeologist-13645536/