What Really Happened?: Stories About Christianity in the Media

If you’re someone who keeps up with the news on a regular basis, you’re bound to run into a story here and there that reportedly contains evidence that either supports or undermines biblical Christianity. While this is particularly true around Easter and Christmas, it’s by no means limited to those times. In fact, just yesterday I ran across a story entitled “Evidence Noah’s Biblical Flood Happened, Says Robert Ballard.”

Robert Ballard is the underwater archeologist best known for finding the wreckage of the Titanic. His latest project involves searching for evidence of civilization hundreds of feet under the surface of the Black Sea. As the theory goes, the now saltwater Black Sea was at one point a freshwater lake…until it, along with the surrounding land, was engulfed by a powerful deluge precipitated by the rising Mediterranean Sea. 

What to make of this article and, for that matter, others like it? The answer may not be that simple. Here are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating stories like this, particularly in the popular media.

1. Discoveries take time to be validated.

Archeologists and other scholars tend to make news when claiming discoveries that seem either to validate or discredit biblical accounts. But such claims—regardless of their content—don’t necessarily equate to an accurate representation of reality. While the best scholars work carefully to substantiate their conclusions, they still need to bear up under subsequent scrutiny by other experts in the field. This process often takes years and is continually subject to revision in light of new evidence.

For example, the discovery of the so-called James Ossuary (a burial box for the bones of the deceased) was first announced in 2001. Its inscription (“James, son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus”), has since been subjected to intense scrutiny, with many experts now arguing that it is a forgery.  

2. There’s usually more than one side to the (scholarly) story.

Related to the above, this is obvious point, but it bears repeating. Articles and reports dealing with religious matters often quote or appeal to the expertise of scholars in the relevant fields: archeology, history, ancient languages, biblical studies and theology, etc. But these scholars often bring widely differing perspectives to the table.

Much current scholarship (and, for that matter, the wider culture) is the heir of the supposedly objective modern effort to “de-mythologize the Bible” and seek out the world “behind the text.” Those embracing this way of thinking will often seek to dismiss or discredit the presence of the supernatural/miraculous within the Bible’s pages. Often, the provocative stances taken by these individuals draw the attention of the news media. And yet, there are many careful and capable scholars who recognize the possibility of the supernatural and its implications for their research and understanding.

I would add that editorial framing also has much to do with the overall feel or direction a given piece takes. Even if conservative voices are included, they can often be marginalized by the way in which they’re presented.

The bottom line: when we read or hear these stories, we need to weigh them carefully.

3. There are “in house” disagreements as well.

Differences of opinion also occur among more conservative scholars (even among those who recognize the integrity and inspiration of the biblical texts), and these will sometimes have a bearing on an issue being reported.

One example relevant to the story linked above: some Christians might be discouraged to find that the article suggests the flood in question, while affecting a large area, was not necessarily universal. But even among scholars who are thoroughly committed to biblical inerrancy, disagreement exists as to whether the Noahic flood was universal or localized to a still large area of the ancient biblical world. There are careful arguments to be made from the biblical text itself that speak to the question.

4. Over time, the Bible has faired very well under historical and archeological scrutiny.

 Finally, the Bible’s credibility has been called into question innumerable times for its historical claims. And yet subsequent historical, archeological, and other research has vindicated its trustworthiness again and again. (For a sample of this, see ch. 5 of Lee Stroebel’s The Case for Christ). Christians should be confident that this strong track record will continue.

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