I believe that the highest degree of certainty should always be ascribed to the inspired and inerrant text of Scripture. I also believe that each and every Christian is equipped with the potential to understand the message of Scripture for himself or herself, and that we are not dependent on a consensus of scholars or theologians for a clear understanding of the Bible. Various sources like these, however, can at times help illuminate the truth that already resides in the Scriptures.
The Bible itself is the ultimate word, best word, and final word on issues of biblical geography and history. That, of course, is easy to say; but what does it mean? For me, it means that if a thousand archaeologists say that the biblical site of “X” must be in a particular spot, but the Bible clearly indicates that “X” cannot be there, then the Bible must be right, and a thousand archaeologists must be wrong (Romans 3:4). This is not a popular way to approach archaeology. It is, however, my approach. Over the years I have found that the Bible provides many more clues to biblical locations than for which some archaeologists give it credit. In fact, I theorize that there may be one — and only one — way that all the geographic references in the Bible fit together in a single biblical geography that does not contradict any passage of Scriptures on any point.
Unfortunately, during the early years of biblical archaeology the unverified assignment of biblical names onto archaeological digs ran rampant. Out of enthusiasm, idealism, or financial pressure, some archaeologists felt compelled to justify their efforts and expenses by assigning biblical significance to every discovery. Though some of those sites are now being questioned and re-evaluated, many of those indiscriminately assigned names persist today, regardless of their merits. They have been picked up and republished time after time in popular and scholarly publications, and thus have become modern traditions that are as strong or stronger than religious traditions many hundreds of years old!
This problem is compounded by many archaeologists’ assumption that scholarly archaeology itself is the final judge of the Bible, rather than vice-versa. For example, many archaeologists have adopted a Darwinian (evolutionist) model of ancient history, ancient language, ancient culture, ancient spirituality, and ancient technology, which in turn has tainted their view of the Bible’s accuracy in describing ancient places and events. They assume that the ancient Hebrews were less aware — not more aware — of spiritual truth than we are, though Romans 1 teaches quite the opposite. They assume that a scholarly consensus about the meaning of a word or passage in the Bible — not the way the Bible itself may explain the word or passage — carries the greatest weight. And they assume that the scholarly community, not the individual believer, is the best judge of issues concerning places and events in the Bible.
I believe that God’s Word is accessible and understandable to every believer who is willing to put in the time and effort to study it responsibly. I believe that its specific terminology and precise descriptions in the original languages are completely accurate and wholly without error. And while I believe that some biblical archaeology and some biblical scholarship is helpful in bringing additional light to the Bible, the Bible brings the ultimate light to everything outside of it and stands in judgment of all archaeology and scholarship — as well as of all archaeologists, scholars, and biblical exegetes. Biblically speaking, every believer is encouraged to examine the evidence — both inside and outside the Scriptures — that confirm the events, people, and truths of the Bible. Frequently in the Bible we find examples of individuals who discovered for themselves what the Scriptures say, with tremendous results.
I encourage all believers to acquire the skills that will help them study the Scriptures diligently — not just in matters of biblical geography, but in all things — and to remain sensitive to that consistent, non-contradictory “ring of truth” that will ultimately resonate from careful attention to His Word.
I use a methodology that seeks to apply the best practices of many disciplines, while giving absolute priority to the Bible itself. While I do not entirely discount the opinions of scholars, we do not place undue emphasis on them. I recognize the strength of a “Possibilities + Problems” methodology.
This method of investigation — especially in relation to biblical truth — begins by asking “What are the possibilities?” (e.g. possible scenarios, possible sites, possible chronologies, etc.) offered by the text of the Bible. It then proceeds to “interrogate” each possibility by asking, “What are the problems each one presents?” using a process of elimination to arrive at the option with the greatest weight of evidence and the fewest problems. Again, the highest priority and the greatest weight is given to any problems the Bible may bring to the premise.
Honestly and candidly exploring the problems — without a predetermined conclusion — will ultimately weaken some possibilities while strengthening others. As the process continues, various possibilities are eliminated until a few, or even one, viable possibility remains. Throughout the process, there is always the prospect of uncovering new evidence, or revisiting existing evidence, or of rethinking traditions and conventions, all based on a process of objective discovery. That is why the attentive reader will notice that much of our literature and presentations are punctuated by qualifying words like “possible,” “potential,” “most likely,” and “conjecture.” Historical investigation is a process; and it is a process that should seek to be as objective as possible along the way.
Ideally, this is the systematic process employed by a police investigator, an investigative journalist, a biblical exegete, and — under ideal circumstances — a scholar. Unfortunately, all of these disciplines are practiced by human beings, and human beings are always capable of bringing their own agendas to the process. That is a pitfall I have earnestly sought to avoid by continually consulting unbiased practitioners in the various disciplines listed above. Our goal is to practice a methodology of informed deduction based on objective analysis of the best evidence from all sources.
Of course, hostile opponents to any view can accuse those who hold another view of not being objective, of not examining the right evidence, of not practicing what they preach. However, I believe that does nothing to strengthen or support the process of objectivity. I view our examination of possibilities and problems as an ongoing process in which we reserve the right to adjust, modify, refine, and clarify our material as more and better information comes to light.
The Cornuke Code of Conduct
- I recognize the weakness of a “Premise + Proof” methodology.
- I recognize the strength of a “Possibilities + Problems” methodology.
- I recognize that the Bible is fully inspired (superintended by God) in its autographs (original writings), without error in all its details and in every subject to which it addresses itself.
- I recognize that scholarship does not have the final say on the Bible; rather, the Bible has the final say on scholarship.
- I recognize that because scholarship can “prove” anything, it ultimately can “prove” nothing beyond doubt.
- I recognize that history by its very nature cannot be “proved”; it can only be argued on the weight of evidence and testimony.
- I recognize that older sources are superior to newer sources, that ancient testimony is superior to modern testimony, and that original evidence is superior to later opinions about that evidence.
- I recognize that all possible historical scenarios are just that — possible scenarios — and cannot be dogmatically and irrefutably argued.
- I recognize that the biblical model of human potential, intellect, civilization, and culture presents humanity on its way down (as a consequence of sin), not on its way up (as an outcome of evolution).
- I recognize that history cannot be re-created; and that the more remarkable the event, the less possible it is that it can be re-created.
- I recognize that religious, secular, and scholarly traditions are very strong, and thus elicit very strong reactions when they are challenged. We take these reactions to heart, but by policy do not engage in public arguing or quarreling.
- I believe that the Bible provides many clues to its own geography that have yet to be carefully analyzed and reconciled to all other clues and geographic references in the Bible.
- I believe there must be one — and may be only one — way in which all the geographic clues, place names, and episodes of biblical history fit together without conflict or contradiction.
- I believe that some landmarks and archaeological sites to which biblical names have been assigned actually contradict biblical references to these and to related locations. In such instances, the Bible must take absolute priority over tradition and scholarship.
- I believe the Bible’s testimony to itself is the final judge of archaeology and archaeological conclusions — not vice-versa.
- I believe that all sincere Christians who are willing to diligently pursue the Word of God possess the potential for discovering its reliable, accurate, and inerrant truth for themselves.
- I believe that every believer can acquire certain skills in Bible study that will allow them to seek and judge for themselves the validity of geographical and historical issues in the Bible.