The Modern Interpretation of History
“By what authority have historians left God and the Bible out of history?”
In 1962, Ambassador College professor Dr. Herman Hoeh wrote a book asking this question. It is a profound question, and it stunned me when I first read it. Truly, it is one of the most profound questions we could possibly ask, especially of historians today.
Herbert W. Armstrong was the chancellor of Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. In an article he wrote about education, he heavily quoted the first chapter of Dr. Hoeh’s book, titled “The Modern Interpretation of History.” I want to share with you what he wrote, and I believe you will be shocked and enlightened by this subject like I was.
That chapter begins with that question: “By what authority have historians left God and the Bible out of history?” You need to know the answer because it has everything to do with your future!
“This question may come as a surprise,” Dr. Hoeh wrote. “Many are unaware that a radically new interpretation of history is being taught in schools and colleges today. It is a history of the world in which God and the supernatural are rejected” (emphasis mine throughout).
Isn’t he right? When was the last time you heard a historian explain how a historical event supported and proved the biblical narrative? How often do we read articles reporting on an archaeological discovery that confirms Bible history? This rarely happens! Why is this?
It’s not because there is a lack of historical and archaeological evidence proving the biblical record. There is a greater abundance of evidence than ever! It’s because most scholars today refuse to use the Bible in their analysis of history. They simply will not accept that God plays a role in history.
Dr. Hoeh continued, “It is impossible to believe both this history and the Bible. Both cannot be right.” Yes, the modern interpretation of history is in open conflict with the Bible! Historians well know this.
Leaving God out of history causes major problems. Scholarship today is in confusion, though scholars like to call this “learned controversy.” There is disagreement and debate over practically everything related to history. Describing this confusion, the 20th-century American archaeologist George E. Mendenhall wrote that it “may with perhaps less courtesy but more accuracy be called chaos.”
Here’s a historian admitting that the study of history is deeply flawed and chaotic!
In spite of the chaos, most people assume that secular historians are right. They assume historians have definitive answers to important questions such as how man originated, why man exists, and where man is going. They have faith in secular history, but they haven’t proved that faith.
Hendrik van Loon, the famous Dutch-American historian and journalist, confessed: “We live under the shadow of a gigantic question mark. What are we? Where did we come from? Whither are we bound?” He knew he couldn’t answer the pivotal questions of human existence. Yet he answered, “We still know very little, but we have reached the point where (with a fair degree of accuracy) we can guess at many things.”
You have to appreciate this historian’s honesty. In the study of history today, it’s common for guesses to masquerade as authoritative history. But do you really want to rely on guesses about the biggest questions ever asked?
“Casual readers would be shocked to learn how history books are prepared,” Dr. Hoeh wrote. “It is usually assumed that history is solely a matter of collecting factual material, judiciously evaluating it, and recording it for posterity.” He then quoted historian C. W. Ceram, who warned: “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
Understanding history isn’t a perfect science. Studying history is not like doing math, where you follow a specific formula and arrive at a single obvious answer. “A historian is not a scribe, but a judge of the evidence that is brought before him,” Dr. Hoeh continued. “He is his own final authority. He is not judged by, but sits in judgment of, history. Whatever evidence does not conform to the commonly accepted beliefs of the age or community in which he lives he summarily rejects!”
“History, in other words, is based only on that part of evidence which agrees with the prevailing opinions of the society in which a historian lives. These may be shocking evaluations, but they are true. World history texts prove it. Historians admit it!”
Dr. Hoeh made that statement decades ago, and it is truer today than it ever was! Too many historians and scholars today look at history through their own worldview, their own ideologies and their own moral compass. This means the books and articles they write on history are biased; their analyses are shaped by their personal ideologies and beliefs, whatever those might be.
And their biggest bias is against the biblical record!
The world faces many serious problems. We have a deadly virus and, even worse, government responses that are driving nations into terrifying debt and societal breakdown. There is dangerous political division and international conflict, nations jockeying for advantage, increasing military and arms spending, rapidly advancing weapons development. Ultimately, we have the question of human survival: How will mankind survive the threat of nuclear annihilation?
The fact is, only God can save us from our problems! Yet we are leaving God out of our lives and out of our history books! Isn’t that dangerous? I tell you it is more dangerous than any other problem I have described!
If we only saw God in history, we would see how we could overcome these problems!
Read the history books and you see how they ignore the Bible, if they don’t try to undermine it or flatly deny it. That truly is a crisis—as this whole world is about to discover!
Dr. Hoeh recounted a major court case in 1954 that went all the way to the Supreme Court. During the hearing, a noted historian and expert was called on to provide his expert opinion. He explained to his fellow historians what happened: “The problem we faced was not the historian’s discovery of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; the problem instead was the formulation of an adequate gloss …. It was not that we were engaged in formulating lies; there was nothing as crude and naive as that. But we were using facts, emphasizing facts, bearing down on facts, sliding off facts, quietly ignoring facts and, above all, interpreting facts in a way to … ‘get by’ ….”
What a shocking admission! This historian admitted he interpreted history to fit a certain narrative. This is precisely the problem with so much modern history!
Historians appoint themselves as interpreters and judges, and they ignore or remove any facts they deem inconvenient. We see this happen all the time with the science of climate change, for example, where certain facts are omitted or rejected because they don’t support the broader narrative and agenda. This can and does happen in the field of archaeology too.
At one time, many historians at least included God in their writings. But mankind has always suppressed God’s truth in some way or another. Today, the majority of historians suppress truth about the Bible.
King David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, And the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:2). God reveals Himself through His creation. His truth is accessible to anyone with an open mind and humility. Historians say that miracles are fantasy, that the Bible is nothing but legend and superstition. And they try to intimidate you into going along with them. But God says they have no excuse for their ignorance (Romans 1:20)! He holds people accountable for what they should know.
In his booklet Does God Exist?, Mr. Armstrong gave the example of an intricate, finely crafted watch. It would be absurd to think that such a watch simply appeared out of nowhere, without a creator. God’s creation makes that watch look trivial by comparison! Even a hummingbird is infinitely more complex than the highest-quality watch. The great King David said only a fool could believe there is no God (Psalm 14:1).
The historian from the U.S. Supreme Court case discussed above later said: “I was facing the deadly opposition between my professional integrity as a historian and a contemporary question of values, of ideals, of policy, or partisanship and of political objectives. I suppose if a man is without scruple, this matter will not bother him, but I am frank to say that it bothered me terribly.”
Most historians and scholars are in this position: They are pressured to choose between truth and their careers! That historian concluded: “I am convinced now that this interpretation, which we hammered out with anything but historical truth as our objective, nonetheless contains an essential measure of historical truth.”
Astounding! Even though he admitted how problematic this process was and how terribly it bothered him, he convinced himself that it nevertheless produced truth.
We must look at this from the Bible perspective, or God’s view.
“… Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:13). This is one of the great Ten Commandments. These magnificent laws are the foundation of the Bible.
You can prove that the Bible always teaches the truth. No part of the true translation bears false witness.
These historians are bearing false witness. When you are “sliding off facts, quietly ignoring facts, … interpreting facts in a way to … ‘get by,’” you are bearing false witness against your neighbor. You are deceiving him.
You are lying!
If we are to understand history, and especially Israel’s history, we cannot afford to reject the Bible. We must take the approach the late archaeologist and historian Prof. Benjamin Mazar took. He said, “Pore over the Bible again and again, for it contains within it descriptions of genuine historical reality.”
The Bible doesn’t contain all history. We need archaeological excavations. We need laboratories and radio carbon dating. We need epigraphists and archaeologists. We need devoted historians who are willing to travel the world and study ancient documents. We need to take a scientific approach to our study and analysis of history.
But at the foundation of this entire rigorous process, we need to recognize and use the Bible as a legitimate and crucial book of history! We need to understand that without the Bible, and without God, we cannot fully or accurately understand history.
You can prove God and His active presence in the world today. He has been around throughout all history, and He has recorded so much important history in His Word. Thank God for that! Thank Him for proving Himself to us. And the fact that we can include Him in our study of history is wonderful news!
And finally, we must understand and accept that no man has the authority to leave God and the Bible out of history!