Did the events recorded in the pages of Scripture really happen in history? And does it matter? The short answer is … Yes and Yes! By the way, the longer answer is still yes and yes … but this is a short article, not a book.
Here are 3 reasons why history matters to the Christian faith.
(1) Biblical faith is not blind faith. Reason and evidence play an important role in the life of faith. God created us as rational beings with the capacity to weigh evidence and draw conclusions about what we are experiencing. We are called to give reasons for faith (cf. 1 Peter 3:15-16).
I for one am so encouraged that when John the Baptist struggled with doubt and sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire if he truly was the long awaited Messiah that Jesus didn’t respond with an austere warning to just have more faith.
No, Jesus reminded John to pay attention to what he had heard and what he had seen — that will give you confidence of my true identity (cf. Matthew 11:2-5). Mere belief for the sake of belief is not true Christianity.
(2) The Central claim of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead. If you asked the Apostle Paul, he would agree that faith and history go together. If Jesus “has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). As Nancy Pearcey observes: “Biblical Christianity refuses to separate historical fact from spiritual meaning. Its core claim is that the living God has acted in history, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”
(3) Jesus of Nazareth believed the events recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a the Old Testament) actually happened. If Jesus really rose from the dead (and there is powerful historical evidence that he did) then what did he think about the Old Testament?
Did he think Moses, David, and Noah were real? Yes (cf. Mark 12:26), yes (cf. Matthew 12:3) and yes (Matthew 24:37). Paul, who had seen the risen Jesus, even cites examples from the days of Moses to teach us, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11).
So, yes these things happened. And yes it matters to our faith.
If God has spoken and acted in the past — and this has been reliably preserved for us — then we can trust that he will act in the future as well.
To be sure there is more going in the Bible than just history, but certainly not less! After all, hope without history is simply wishful thinking.