Authors' Bias | Interpretation: conservative

Archaeology and the New Testament: Foreword

To the Christian who takes biblical faith seriously, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) not only in God's incarnated Son, Jesus Christ, but also in the pages of what we have come to call the Holy Bible. As with the historical Jesus, his New Testament is nearly two thousand years old. The latter survives in documents that go back in many cases to within a few generations of the autographs. But they are still in a language that is quite foreign to most of us and written by and to people whose geographical, historical, and sociological context was quite different from our own. How then can we put ourselves back into the time, place, and circumstances that enable us to more fully understand the New Testament and more accurately intepret it for our time?

Enter the pertinent discoveries of archaeology. The results of the archaeological fieldwork carried out in the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the last two hundred years, but especially since World War II, have probably done more than any other discipline to make the New Testament "live" for twentieth-century Christians.

During my graduate school days I was digging at a spring in the small West Bank village of Khirbet el-Kom. I happened upon a Hellenistic-age dwelling whose foundations and floors were perfectly preserved. On the floor of one of the rooms lay a cache of ostraca (broken pieces of pottery used for writing) belonging to a peddler. How did I know? Because one of the ostraca contained a bilingual (Edomite and Greek) transaction between an Edomite named Qos-yada' and a Greek named Nikeratos. Nikeratos borrowed 32 drachma from Qos-yada', who was called a kapelos. that is a hapex legomenon in the New Testament, a Greek word which appears only once. Found in 2 Corinthians 2:17, the King James Version of the Bible translates kapelos as "corrupt," while several modern versions translate it as "peddle." The word is well-known, however, in Greek literature, inscriptions and papyri, where it is normally translated "retailer," "shopkeeper," "peddler" or"huckster." Inasmuch as nowhere in the group of ostraca I found was there a commodity mentioned, but rather money was being given and received, probably as loans, I suggested that the technical definition of a kapelos must be broadened to incorporate moneylending. So you see that even chance archaeological finds can help lexicographers more carefully define the semantic range of words used in the original languages of the Bible.

What my find did for 2 Corinthians 2:17, John McRay's book does for the whole New Testament. He has marshaled archaeological evidence that will help a student of the New Testament to better understand, and thus accurately apply, its message. The book you hold is detailed, comprehensive, authoritative, and up-to-date. Because of the rapid pace of discovery, it is the nature of books on archaeology that they are always out-of-date. So whatever source you have used, you need this book-not only to learn of the latest finds and their significance, but just as important, to be attuned to concerns current in approaches to the study of the Bible. In my estimation, no one is better qualified to do this than John McRay. For years he has personally been involved in significant field research and publication. He has an enviable reputation as a teacher and lecturer, now connected with Wheaton college-an institution known for biblical archaeology. This volume profits from Professor McRay's personal photographs and acquaintance with the lands of the New Testament. And he has used all the best original and secondary sources at his disposal. His footnotes offer a gold mine for further research and study.

The Preface tells you succinctly what to expect, as well as what not to expect, from this book. John McRay is a trustworthy guide through the dynamic relationship of archaeology and the New Testament. Perusing this book will send you back to the New Testament afresh with new ability to hear its message.

Lawrence T. Geraty
President and Professor of Archaeology
Atlantic Union College
South Lancaster, Massachusetts

Summer, 1991
In celebration of the centenary
of the birth of William Foxwell Albright,
the "Father of Biblical Archaeology"

Taken from "Archaeology and the New Testament" by John McRay. Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, copyright ©1991. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company. (

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