This past Tuesday I took my 13-year old son to visit the newly-opened Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. If I had to pick one word to describe it, the word would be impressive. Sure, I am an apologetics professor at Talbot School of Theology and am naturally interested in the history and cultural impact of the Bible. But I went with high expectations, and the Museum exceeded them.
We reserved our tickets online (which are free to the public) and then spent about 1 hour and 45 minutes walking through the six-story, 400,000 square foot Museum. Since my son is 13, he was ready to go after about an hour and a half. But he rated it as 4 out of 5 stars, and during our visit he was constantly saying, “Dad, check this out!” I could have easily spent 2-3 more hours slowly perusing the 40,000+ ancient artifacts and facsimiles.
Although the Museum has dozens of galleries and displays, three stand out to me. First, there is a gallery on the fifth floor dedicated to artifacts that remain from the ancient Canaanite period to the first century. Since I regularly teach Old Testament history, and have also visited Israel recently, this part was unforgettable. We saw Roman-era weapons, coins from the time of Pontius Pilate, and ancient artifacts (statues, pottery, etc.) from the Canaanites and Philistines.
Second, part of the 4th floor is focused on the transmission of the Bible. Since I have written extensively on the manuscript evidence for the reliability of the New Testament in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, it was amazing to see ancient manuscripts from the first century into the Middle Ages as well as pages from the first KJV Bible printed on the Guttenberg Press. This floor also has a number of facsimiles of ancient archaeological discoveries that confirm the existence of key Bible characters and events, such as the Tel Dan Inscription and the Mesha Stele.
Finally, the 2nd floor is dedicated to the impact of the Bible. This may be the most fun part because the creators of the Museum went to remarkable lengths to show how the Bible has shaped art, clothing, music, education, politics, sports, business, prison reform, and other cultural phenomena. There is an interactive display that shows all the American towns named after biblical cities. I had no idea there are American towns called Jerusalem, Nineveh, Babylon, Sodom, and so on. And there is even a blown-up picture of Stephen Curry’s shoes emblazoned with Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Much could be said about my experience. But I have two personal takeaways. First, the technology is first-class. The creators of the Museum spared no expense in making the Bible come alive. We even received small tablets, which tracked our location, and offered brief interesting and fun facts (1-2 minutes) we could listen to at our discretion.
Second, the Museum is largely non-sectarian. Although the creators certainly want to bring biblical principles and stories back to mainstream American culture, the Museum is remarkably reserved in how it presents the history, impact, and story of the Bible.
Overall my visit was unforgettable. And I hope to go back soon. Even if you are not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim, and don’t consider the Bible as sacred Scripture, if you come with an open mind to learn about the most influential book of all time, I am confident the experience will be well worth your time.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org, where you can find the original version of this article.