The Role of Archaeology in the Study Of the New Testament -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 116:462 (Apr 1959)
Article: The Role of Archaeology in the Study Of the New Testament
Author: Merrill F. Unger


The Role of Archaeology in the Study Of the New Testament

Merrill F. Unger

New Testament and Old Testament Archaeology Compared

Archaeology (from the Greek archaios, old, ancient and logos word, treatise, study) is a science devoted to the recovery of the remains of ancient civilizations with a view to reconstructing the story of their rise, progress, and fall. Considered in this aspect, archaeology is the handmaid of history, particularly of ancient history. It is the research department of all branches of learning that seek to expand man’s knowledge of the past.

General archaeology undertakes the excavation, decipherment, and critical evaluation of the remains of ancient and human life on this planet wherever found. The more circumscribed field of Biblical archaeology confines itself to the study of the material remains of the lands and peoples that directly or indirectly affect the language and literature of the Bible, as well as its message and meaning. For the Old Testament the geographical area of interest centers in James Breasted’s famous “fertile crescent,” with one tip touching Palestine and the other extending to lower Iraq and the Persian Gulf, with the body of the moon comprising the middle and lower basin of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. For the New Testament the focus of activity falls in Palestine and fans out into the Graeco-Roman culture of the Mediterranean world of the first century A.D.

The fascination of Biblical archaeology for the student interested in expanding the scientific aspects of the study of the Bible is immense. No realm of research has offered more thrilling reward or afforded greater promise of continued progress.

There are, however, certain essential differences in the results of the application of archaeological research to the Old Testament as over against the New Testament. In the

Old Testament the impact has been much more obvious because ancient Bible history previous to the fifth century B.C. was much less known than the later Graeco-Roman period of Mediterranean history that underlies the New Testament. Old Testament archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and, in a most astounding manner, filled in historical gaps, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of Biblical backgrounds.1

Although New Testament archaeology has not been called upon to perform such sensational feats, its importance is no less far-reaching and is becoming more significant each year. Dealing with a much shorter span of history (a bare ...

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