Could The Bible Be Written Like A Historical Novel?

Skeptics could claim, and often do, that while the Bible may contain historical accuracies, this does not prove that all the statements in the Bible are in fact true. Critics say that just because Homer’s books mention cities that actually existed in history does not mean that all of Homer’s writings are factual and true. The implication is that the Bible could have been written like a historical novel.

Historian Colin Hemer, in his master work The Book of Acts In The Setting Of Hellenistic History, responds to this issue. Hemer first sets up the problem:

The story of the Good Samaritan, for instance, is set on a real road between real places, and, whatever we make of traditional sites, it is clear that there would have been an inn at a suitable point en route which possessed a rare supply of water, and that Jesus referred to realities familiar to his hearers. . . They are true to first-century Palestinian life. . . None of this would induce us to think in terms of ‘historicity’. . .

In other words, some stories in the Bible, like the Good Samaritan, mention accurate facts that corroborate with the realities of the ancient world. But no one seriously takes the parable of the Good Samaritan to be an actual historical event. The skeptic would then counter: could it be that all of the accounts in the Bible are analogous to this? Could it be that even though books of the Bible, such as Acts, mention names and places that are true, the accounts of Jesus’ or Paul’s life could be false, a mere fabrication of early church fathers?

Hemer responds and destroys such a theory:

There is no convincing analogy. Acts still purports to be a narrative of what happened. Even if we take it to be teaching couched somehow in narrative form, the character of the mixture is still very different from that of parable of masal. To suggest for instance that the historical components are there to give topicality or verisimilitude to Paul as a lay-figure of Lukan theology seems forced beyond all probability. (p.220)

Hemer goes on to explain that Acts is so different in character that it could not be taken as anything but a historical account. Hemer is a first-rank historical scholar, and his book is no lightweight one-sided propaganda piece; rather, he turns his critical examination in every direction, often complaining of weak apologetics that misuse history. But in the end, Hemer’s rigorous examination of Acts shows that at a minimum, the book is not to be taken as a parable or invented story designed to support Luke’s theology or personal motivations.

Instead, the book of Acts can be taken for what it is: an accurate historical account by an eyewitness. To take it otherwise, according to Hemer, is to make a claim about Acts that is “forced beyond all probability.”

The skeptic must be mindful of the consequences of their statements. To hold that Hemer is wrong is to say that one cannot make an accurate distinction between parables and accounts written as eyewitness history. Such a statement would undermine the credibility of the one making the claim, then shift the burden of proof clearly on the shoulders of the skeptic.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Church History, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Could The Bible Be Written Like A Historical Novel?

  1. Pingback: Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible | Thomistic Bent

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