The Bible declares that long before King David fought the Philistine giant named Goliath in the
valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17),
Abraham and Isaac had occasional contact with a people known as the Philistines. In fact, seven of
the eight times that the Philistines
are mentioned in Genesis, they are discussed in connection with either Abrahams visit with
Abimelech, king of the Philistines
(21:32,34), or with Isaacs visit to the same city (Gerar) a few years later
(26:1,8,14-15,18). For some time now, critics of the
Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch have considered the mention of the Philistinesso early
in human historyto be
anachronistic (i.e., details from a later age inappropriately inserted into the patriarchal
account). Supposedly, Philistines…did
not come into Palestine until after the time of Moses (Gottwald, 1959, p. 104), and any
mention of them before that time
represents an historical inaccuracy (Frank, 1964, p. 323). Thus, as Millar Burrows
concluded, the mention of Philistines in
Genesis may be considered a convenient and harmless anachronism, which is
undoubtedly a mistake (1941, p. 277).
As with most allegations brought against the Scriptures, those who claim that the Philistine
nation was not around in Abrahams
day are basing their conclusion on at least one unprovable assumptionnamely, that the
Philistines living in the days of the
patriarchs were a great nation, similar to the one living during the time of the United Kingdom.
The evidence suggests, however, that
this assumption simply is wrong. The Bible does not present the Philistines of Abrahams day
as the same mighty Philistine nation
that would arise hundreds of years later. Abimelech, the king of Gerar, is portrayed as being
intimidated by Abraham (cf. Genesis
21:25). Surely, had the Philistine people been a great nation in the time of the patriarchs, they
would not have been afraid of one man
(Abraham) and a few hundred servants (cf. Genesis 14:14). Furthermore, of the five great
Philistine city-states that were so prominent
throughout the period of the Judges and the United Kingdom (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and
GazaJoshua 13:3; 1 Samuel 6:17),
none was mentioned. Rather, only a small village known as Gerar was named. To assume that the
Bible presents the entire civilization of
the Philistines as being present during Abrahams day is to err. In reality, one only reads
of a small Philistine kingdom.
The word Philistine was a rather generic term meaning sea people. No
doubt, some of the Aegean Sea people
made their way to Palestine long before a later migration took placea migration that was
considerably larger. In commenting on
these Philistines, Larry Richards observed:
While there is general agreement that massive settlement of the coast of Canaan by sea
peoples from Crete took place around
1200 B.C., there is no reason to suppose Philistine settlements did not
exist long before this time. In
Abrams time as in the time of Moses a variety of peoples had settled in Canaan, including
Hittites from the far north. Certainly
the seagoing peoples who traded the Mediterranean had established colonies along the shores of the
entire basin for centuries prior to
Abrahams time. There is no reason to suppose that Philistines, whose forefathers came from
Crete, were not among them (1993, p.
No archaeological evidence exists that denies various groups of sea people were in
Canaan long before the arrival of the
main body in the early twelfth century B.C. (see Unger, 1954, p. 91;
Archer, 1964, p. 266; Harrison, 1963, p.
32). To assume that not a single group of Philistines lived in Palestine during the time of
Abraham because archaeology has not
documented them until about 1190 B.C. is to argue from negative evidence
and is without substantial weight. In
response to those who would deny the Philistines existence based upon their silence in the
archeological world before this time,
professor Kitchen stated: Inscriptionally, we know so little about the Aegean peoples as
compared with those of the rest of the
Ancient Near East in the second millennium B.C., that it is premature to
deny outright the possible existence of
Philistines in the Aegean area before 1200 B.C. (1966, p. 80n).
Likely, successive waves of sea peoples
from the Aegean Sea migrated to Canaan, even as early as Abrahams time, and continued coming
until the massive movement in the
twelfth century B.C. (Archer, 1970, p. 18).
Based on past experiences, it would seem that critics of the Bibles inerrancy would
refrain from making accusations when
arguing from silence. For years, modernists and skeptics taught that the Hittite kingdom, which is
mentioned over forty times in
Scripture (Exodus 23:28; Joshua 1:4; et al.), was a figment of the Bible writers
imaginations, since no evidence of their
existence had been located. But those utterances vanished into thin air when, in 1906, the Hittite
capital was discovered along with
more than 10,000 clay tablets that contained the Hittites law system. Critics of the
Bibles claim of divine inspiration at
one time also accused Luke of gross inaccuracy because he used the title politarchas to
denote the city officials of
Thessalonica (Acts 17:6,8), rather than the more common terms strateegoi (magistrates) and
exousiais (authorities). To
support their accusations, they simply pointed out that the term politarch was found
nowhere else in all of Greek literature as
an official title. Once again, these charges eventually were dropped, based on the fact that term
politarchas has now been found
in 32 inscriptions from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D. (Bruce, 1988,
p. 324n), with at least five of these inscriptions being from Thessalonicathe very city
about which Luke wrote in Acts 17
Although critics accuse biblical writers of revealing erroneous information, their claims
continue to evaporate with the passing of
time and the compilation of evidence.
Archer, Gleason (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Archer, Gleason L. (1970), Old Testament History and Recent Archaeology from Abraham to
Moses, Bibliotheca Sacra,
Bruce, F.F. (1988), The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.
Burrows, Millar (1941), What Mean These Stones? (New Haven, CT: American Schools of
Frank, H.T. (1964), An Archaeological Companion to the Bible (London: SCM Press).
Gottwald, Norman (1959), A Light to the Nations (New York: Harper and Row).
Harrison, R.K. (1963), The Archaeology of the Old Testament (New York: Harper &
Kitchen, Kenneth (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Inter-Varsity
Richards, Larry (1993), 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered (Grand Rapids, MI:
Robertson, A.T. (1997), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Electronic Database:
Unger, Merrill (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
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