The Bible provides Evangelical historians a full pallet of colors by which they can divinely interpret the complexities of God’s work on the canvas of history. However, in the late 19th Century secularism descended like a pastel fog hiding biblical insights in the study of history in general and church history in particular. While 19th Century German scholars forged a path of secularism in biblical studies, historical study was not immune from that same secularization. In the field of history, dialectics* provided the secularizing tool by which divine authority was logically excised from historical study.
*Dialectics is described as: “development through stages of thesis, antithesis and synthesis in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism… [also] the theoretical application of this process esp. in the social sciences.” (Webster’s)
In this blurred and hazy environment, biblical input was shunned as the “thesis” or “basis” from which society evolved away. When applied to the ebb and flow of people and movements in the history of the churches, biblical insights were mummified and entombed as an obsolete forms of interpretation. Younger generations of students were taught to shun the biblical approaches of their Protestant forebears. The fallacy of composition grouped any living historian who wrote from a biblical a priori with his buried ancestors. Meanwhile the light of the Word of God in historical study dimmed.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” (Psa 119:105)
While the agnostic, the atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, liberal Protestant, etc., may view history as they chose, for the Evangelical historian the Bible contains rich insights to assist him to properly analyze the dark recesses of history.
Let me offer 10 areas that demonstrate the relevance of the Bible in historical study.
1. The Bible is the only inerrant and untainted intellectual authority given to humanity
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
The Bible provides the only book in world history by which mankind can and ought to judge all other sources of knowledge, whether they are primary sources or secondary sources. For the Evangelical Christian, only the Bible holds this position of absolute prominence.
2. The Bible speaks with clear and adequate sufficiency to every issue that was, is, or will be considered in church history
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
As with the Bible’s authority, so God’s words speak with sufficiency, providing the student of church history the framework to properly understand its complexities.
3. The Bible uniquely addresses us both the beginning and end of history
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Pet 3:10)
Biblical revelation spans the entire scope of world history. It addresses events prior to the creation of humans to the end of the world. As such, the Bible exceeds the scope of earthly human history, providing a supra-earthly point of view by which to understand the history of humanity.
4. The Bible offers us a worldview lens to interpret life (& history)
“You shall bind them [these words] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:8)
The Bible offers its readers and those who submit to its tenets the worldview lens by which they can properly interpret all of life and history.
5. The Bible explains God’s sovereign work in history
“The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”(1 Sam 2:6-10)
Hannah’s amazing song affirms the sovereign work of God in all of history. He raises up and He brings low. He is literally in control of everything. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign hand.
6. The Bible explains God’s particular saving work in history
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, … that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:4-5, 12)
As God is in control of all of human history, so within this history He is calling out His people unto Himself. From the standpoint of the Apostle Paul this calling becomes efficacious when persons hear the gospel with a hearing of faith, and repent and believe.
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13)
7. In the Bible, Christ gave His church its mission, purpose, and charter for all of history; then celebrating the fulfillment of the same
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matt 28:18-20)
Christ left one final command to His people. This injunction was passed down to His disciples in all forthcoming generations, languages groups, and places. So, it only follows that in any retelling of the history of God’s people, the Great Commission and its fulfillment will be found front and center.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)
So important is the Great Commission in God’s view of human history, that He has determined that its fulfillment with mark the end of the age!
8. The Bible reveals four supreme world monarchies in history
We read of visions wherein are explained and interpreted world empires in Daniel 2 and 7. The German Protestant historian Johannes Sleidan considered these empires the “key of history”—as noted in his book titled, “The Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History” (Geneva: Jean Crespin, 1556, 1557, 1558, 1559, 1561, 1563, 1566). These four chief monarchies were: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
9. The Bible exemplifies social-denominational cycles of obedience and disobedience
The Bible provides information about the spiritual cycles of the people of Israel in the Books of Numbers, Judges and 2 Chronicles. There were seasons of obedience and disobedience to God, submission and disregard of His word. Within these extremes were found many variations, providing powerful types and antitypes for the benefit of future generations.
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor 10:11)
10. The Bible prophesies the fact of the good, the bad, and the ugly in church life
The letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were oracles to the churches in existence during the time of John. Yet, just as all these churches existed at the same time, so also each type of church exists throughout all of church history. These letters encourage and warn all churches throughout all of history—maybe even providing an interpretive grid for church historical study.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)