For something that is supposed to be pure factual, history is a very debated, controversial topic. Everyone has their own view and their own questions about it – who wrote what we know to be ‘fact’? What should we study in history? Should we even study it? What good is history, and does it even have a point? That is actually an excellent question. How can learning about things that have happened in the dead, but not forgotten past, benefit us today? I think Theodore Roosevelt said it best.
It is a very poor thing, whether for nations or individuals, to advance the history of great deeds done in the past as an excuse for doing poorly in the present; but it is an excellent thing to study the history of the great deeds of the past, and of the great men who did them, with an earnest desire to profit thereby so as to render better service in the present. In their essentials, the men of the present day are much like the men of the past, and the live issues of the present can be faced to better advantage by men who have in good faith studied how the leaders of the nation faced the dead issues of the past. [i]
In other words, Roosevelt is saying that men today are very much similar to the men of the past, and as where foolish men are involved history inevitably repeats itself. By studying history, we can learn from the past, avoid trouble today, and prepare ourselves for the future.
Interestingly, the Bible says virtually the same thing that Theodore Roosevelt did, only the Bible said it more than four thousand years before Roosevelt was born. In Job 8 verses eight to ten, we read
“For inquire, please, of the former age,
And consider the things discovered by their fathers;
For we were born yesterday, and know nothing,
Because our days on earth are a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you,
And utter words from their heart?
Then, again, in Romans 15:4, we see these words:
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Both Paul and the author of Job knew the importance of history. If we inquire into, study and take time to learn from the things of the past, we will become wiser in our dealings of today and the future. Paul takes it a step further, too, in saying that the study of the history of the Scriptures and the works of God will bring us hope.
It is here that many people ask the question, “But what historical authority does the Bible have? How can I know it is reliable?” That is a fair and reasonable question. After all, why believe in something that isn’t even supported by the evidence we have around us? The truth of it, however, is that the Bible has more historical evidence than any other piece of literature ever written. Copies of scripture that are thousands of years old are ninety-five percent word for word with the scriptures we have today, with the other five percent being made up of obvious slips of the pen and progression to modern grammar and spelling. Also, there has never been any archaeological evidence to contradict the smallest detail in the Bible, indicating (while not proving) that what is written in Scripture is most likely – on the archaeological level – to be true.
Another question that often gets asked is who actually wrote history. There are theories out there that say that the strong write history, because they survived to tell the tale. Others say that the minorities write history (women, ethnic minorities, etc.). While either of these may seem to be legitimate at times – and although it is almost impossible to have a completely un-biased history without the view point of the author thrown in for flavour – evidence such as archaeology and various written accounts put together can give us a fairly clear picture of what has happened in the past.
[i] Roosevelt, Theodore. Introduction. The Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln. Vol. 1. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Notable Quotes. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. <http://www.notable-quotes.com/r/roosevelt_theodore_iv.html>.
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version.