"I believe in Pontius Pilate," said Professor Dennis Kinlaw. He was giving a lecture at Asbury Seminary. Kinlaw had recently retired from his second stint as the President of Asbury College and he was teaching part-time now at the Seminary.
He had a joyful disposition and a faith so real that to be near him was to feel your faith growing. His classes were always full. His statement, "I believe in Pontius Pilate" was a reference to the fourth line of the second paragraph of the Apostle's Creed, "I believe in Jesus Christ ... [who] suffered under Pontius Pilate." He went on to say the Biblical faith is a faith rooted in real events, of real people, and real history - including the fact that Jesus had actually suffered and died under someone called Pontius Pilate, the Roman officer in charge of Judea from 26-36 A.D.
I think Kinlaw would enjoy looking at the Pilate Stone. Pilate's official residence was the Mediterranean seaside city of Caesarea. In 1961, during an Italian-sponsored excavation at Caesarea's Roman Theater, a stone plaque bearing Pilate's name was discovered. The two-foot by three-foot slab with an inscription from the first century was found re-used as a building block in a fourth century remolding project.
The inscription had apparently been written to commemorate Pilate's building of a Tiberium, a temple for the worship of Tiberias Caesar - Roman emperor during Pilate's term over Judea. The Latin inscription gives his title as "Pontius Pilate, Perfect of Judea," a title very similar to that used of him in the Gospels (Luke 3:1). This was the first reference found of Pilate outside of the Bible. It is evidence, rock hard, that such a man existed.
The Pilate Stone is now on display in Atlanta, at Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum. The exhibit called "Cradle of Christianity" is on loan until October 14 from the Israel Museum. (C. Carlos Museum, 571 S Kilgo Circle, Atlanta, open from 9:30 am - 5:30 p.m., Monday - Saturday; 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Sundays, $15, 404-727-4282.)
The American Heritage Dictionary says that to confirm is to support or to make firmer. I find that Biblical archeology confirms my faith. There are several good books available which review current archeological findings, including "The Stones Cry Out," by Randal Price, 1997.
It is exciting to read of the discoveries, evidence from the stones of Biblical persons, events, and culture. The stones do not prove that miracles happened, but they give evidence for the context of the miracles - the evidence demonstrates that Biblical people and places actually existed.
It is a reminder that ours is a historic faith, and so, like Professor Kinlaw, we can smile when we come across the name "Pontius Pilate" when reciting the creed.
John Donaldson is the pastor at Newborn & Mansfield UMC. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org