15 Archaeological Proofs of New Testament Accuracy
Archaeological discoveries in recent times have vindicated numerous details in the Bible.
The following are summaries of arguments that I have made in depth (along with many more), with scientific documentation, in my book, The Word Set in Stone: How Archaeology, Science, and History Back up the Bible (Catholic Answers Press, March 15, 2023).
1. Skeptics have asserted for many years that Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16) did not exist at all in his time. But alas, in 2009 British-Israeli archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre announced the first archaeological proof of a home in Nazareth dating from the lifetime of Jesus.
2. The existence and office of Pontius Pilate have been verified in mentions by ancient historians Josephus, Philo and Tacitus — and, notably (as the first physical proof), in the “Pilate Stone,” found in 1961 at Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. It contained his entire name (see Luke 3:1; Acts 4:27; 1 Timothy 6:13).
3. Capernaum, Peter’s hometown (Luke 10:15) has long since been excavated. But in 1968, a very old church was found, built over a house believed to be that of St. Peter. Moreover, in 1981, beneath the beautiful white limestone synagogue, a black basalt building dating from the first century was discovered: the synagogue where Jesus preached (Luke 4:31-36).
4. Until 1968, no physical evidence of crucifixion had ever been found. Thus, many held that victims were attached to crosses with ropes. But in that year, Greek-Israeli archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis found in Jerusalem a man who had been crucified in the first century. The remains included a heel bone with a nail driven through it from the side.
5. Luke’s precision extends to particular titles of rulers. For example, King Agrippa I is accurately titled “king” (Acts 12:1) rather than “tetrarch” — like other seemingly similar rulers (see Matthew 14:1; Luke 3:1, 19, 9:7; Acts 13:1) — and history records that he was the last ruler with the title of “king” who reigned over Judea.
6. How about a more “dramatic” and seemingly “fantastic” alleged event, such as Herod (Agrippa) being “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:21–23)? Ascariasis is a condition in which roundworms can become parasites in human intestines, sometimes causing death. Other known medical conditions also entail worms or similar creatures infesting the human body — such as myiasis, which involves fly larvae (maggots).
7. Acts 13 mentions Paul and his companions sailing to the island of Cyprus and meeting Sergius Paulus, a “proconsul” (13:4, 7). Cyprus became a “senatorial province” in 22 B.C. and hence was governed by a proconsul. An inscription mentioning “proconsul Paulus” was discovered at Soloi, Cyprus, in 1878.
8. Philippi, mentioned in Acts 16:12 (see also 20:6), was “the leading city of the district of Macedonia,” according to Luke. But scholars fretted over his use of the Greek word meris (“district” in RSV), which was thought to be highly improbable and inaccurate. Excavations in Fayum in Egypt showed that colonists in that town who immigrated from Macedonia, used this very word meris to denote the divisions of a district.
9. Luke refers to “Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods” (Acts 16:14). As a result of inscriptions, we now know that Thyatira had many trade guilds, and one that was dominant was the production of purple dye. Indeed, 15 of 28 inscriptions found in Thyatira regarding dye were related to this trade of purple dye.
10. Luke’s attention to meticulous detail was so comprehensive that it extended even to particular terms of disdain used by Stoic philosophers in Athens, who insulted Paul when he preached to them. The Greek noun spermologos — literally “seed-picker” (“babbler” in Acts 17:18, RSV) — was usually used to describe a type of finch. Luke, in his use of this Greek word (only here in the New Testament), exhibits an extraordinary awareness of Athenian Stoic culture and slang, since this was a word used by Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, to insult one of his followers (see Diog. Laert. Zeno, c. 19).
11. Luke’s knowledge extends to fine points of Roman law as well. Luke records Paul saying to a Roman centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). Here, Paul was appealing to what is known as the Porcian laws, particularly Lex Porcia II (Lex de Porcia de tergo civium). It extended the right to provocatio (appeal to the plebeian tribune) against flogging.
12. Luke mentions that prisoner Paul “was allowed to stay by himself” (Acts 28:16) and lived “two whole years at his own expense” (28:30). This accurately reflects the widespread Roman practice of keeping less dangerous criminals under house arrest.
13. The location of Jacob’s Well is in Sychar (John 4:5-6). John 4:6 (twice) and 4:14 use the Greek word pégé, which means “spring” or “fountain” (compare 2 Peter 2:17; James 3:11). On the other hand, in 4:11–12, a different Greek word is used: phrear, which means “well” or “cistern” (see Luke 14:5). This perfectly describes Jacob’s Well, which is both a dug-out well and running spring, cut through soft limestone rock. Its water comes from underground sources, making it a true well, and by percolated surface water, which makes it a cistern.
14. The Pool of Siloam (John 9:7) was rediscovered during work on a sewer in the autumn of 2004. Archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich uncovered some stone steps, and it quickly became evident that they were likely part of the Second Temple-period (516 B.C.–A.D. 70) pool.
15. Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law, as John 18:13 notes, and as we know from Josephus, and he was the high priest (John 18:13) from the years A.D. 18 to 36, Annas had been high priest from A.D. 6 to 15. Mosaic Law (Numbers 35:25, 28) implies that high priests were still called by that title even after leaving office. This easily explains Luke 3:2 (“in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”). Matthew calls Caiaphas “high priest” twice (26:3, 57).