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GOD: new evidence

Contents

'Testing Luke'

What's in the series?

(1) Luke and Acts

For a lot of what the Bible tells us about Jesus, there is no direct evidence outside the Gospels. But this does not mean that we just have to accept it with blind faith. The Bible also includes the book of Acts, which records how the Christian movement grew and spread during its first thirty years.

The same person wrote the book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, and in the book of Acts there are many places where we can confirm the background details. In these places, the author proves to be reliable. If he's reliable where he can be tested, surely this means that we can trust him where we can't test him too?

 

(2) An Accurate Account

Luke intends us to take what he writes seriously. He talks about using the reports of eyewitnesses, about investigating things carefully, about writing an accurate account, and about being certain of the truth.

 

(3) First Hand Knowledge

In Luke's account of the spread of Christianity in the book of Acts, in the Bible, there are several places where he changes from saying 'they did this or that' to saying 'we did this or that.' The implication is that he was there. What he writes is based on first-hand knowledge – he was an eye witness.

 

(4) Real people: Sergius Paulus in Cyprus

In the book of Acts, in the Bible, Luke describes how the apostles Paul and Barnabas visit Cyprus. He writes about their encounter with the governor, Sergius Paulus, who lived at Paphos. Inscriptions that have been discovered in Cyprus and Rome confirm the reality of the Sergius Paulus family, and that they were prominent at this time in history.

 

(5) Real places: Antioch of Pisidia

Luke records that after Paul and Barnabas the apostles left Cyprus, they came by ship to southern Turkey, and landed at Perga. They travelled on, through the Tauros mountains, to the city of Antioch of Pisidia, near the modern town of Yalvac. A stone inscription on display in the museum in Yalvac contains the name of the Sergius Paulus family, who we met last time. They were important land-owners around Antioch.

 

(6) Local details: Zeus and Hermes in Lystra

The book of Acts, in the Bible, records that the apostles Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra, in south central Turkey. While they were here, Paul healed a man who couldn't walk. The local people mistook Paul and Barnabas for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, and started to offer a sacrifice to them – at which, Paul and Barnabas were horrified. This all fits in with what we know about Lystra: There are several inscriptions from this area, dating from the third century AD, which confirm that the people here made a point of worshipping Zeus and Hermes.

 

(7) Real Places: Neapolis and the Via Egnatia

The book of Acts, in the Bible, records how Paul the apostle and his companions came through Neapolis (modern Kavala) in northern Greece, on their way to Philippi. From Neapolis, Paul and his companions travelled along the Via Egnatia to Philippi. There are several places where you can still see this ancient Roman road today. Luke does not specifically mention the Via Egnatia – but he does get it right that the nearest port to Philippi was Neapolis. In Luke's description of Paul's visit to Philippi, he gets local details like this right again and again.

 

(8) Real People: Lydia and the Place of Prayer

The book of Acts, in the Bible, says that there were not enough Jews in Philippi to form a synagogue, but there was a place outside the city, by a river, where some women met to pray. Here the apostle Paul found a woman called Lydia, who became a believer in Christ. There are a couple of small rivers near Philippi, where this 'place of prayer' could have been found. In Luke's description of Paul's visit to Philippi, he gets the local details right. Archaeologists have not found any evidence of a synagogue here – if they ever do, this will go against the reliability of Luke's account.

 

(9) Real Places: Philippi

In Luke's dramatic account of Paul's visit to Philippi, he gets the details right again and again: he says that the nearest port is Neapolis, which it is. He says that there was no synagogue in Philippi, and no synagogue has been found there. He talks about a place of prayer by the river, and there are a couple of small rivers nearby. And he mentions that Philippi was a Roman colony, which it was.

 

(10) Accurate Itineraries

A lot of the book of Acts is about Paul travelling around the eastern Mediterranean, telling people the Good News about Jesus Christ. Luke gets towns and cities in the right order on these journeys. He also gets right the details of the many journeys by sea in the book of Acts.

 

(11) Local Officials

All round the Mediterranean, local officials had different titles – and in Acts, Luke is careful to use the right titles: in Philippi, he calls them strategoi. In Thessaloniki, they are politarchs. In Ephesus, the local magistrate is a grammateus. In Malta, he talks about the 'First Man.' Luke was careful and reliable, and he got the titles of local officials right.

 

(12) Local Details: Paul in Athens

In the book of Acts, Luke records how Paul the apostle arrived in Athens. Once again Luke describes local details accurately: He describes the kind of debate that went on in the market place, which was characteristic of life in Athens. He also uses the right local slang term for someone who does not know what they are talking about – a seed-picker, or 'spermalogos.'

 

(13) Local Details: Paul on Mars Hill

Near the Acropolis in Athens there is a much smaller hill, called 'Mars Hill' or 'Areopagus' in Greek. This was the meeting place of the city council. When Paul came to Athens a group of local philosophers invited him to speak to the Areopagus council. Luke's account gets Mars Hill right as the meeting place of the council, as well as the people of Athens always wanting to hear the latest ideas.

 

(14) Local Details: The Unknown God

When Paul addresses the Mars Hill council in Athens, he talks about an altar he had seen in the city, dedicated to the ‘unknown God.’ Several ancient writers mention altars to unknown gods in connection with Athens, including  Pausanias, Philostratus, and Diogenes Laertius. And an altar to an unknown god was discovered in Rome in 1820. So Luke gets right his picture of Paul seeing an altar dedicated to an unknown god in Athens.

 

(15) Real People: Gallio in Corinth

Luke records that Paul the apostle spent a year and a half in the city of Corinth. During this time, he was brought in front of the Governor, Gallio. Gallio was a real person – we know about him from sources outside the Bible. An inscription found at Delphi is a letter from the Emperor Claudius. It refers to Gallio as 'my friend and the Governor of Achaia,' and it dates his governorship to 51 or 52 AD.

 

(16) Real People: Erastus in Corinth

An inscription discovered in Corinth in 1929 mentions a city official called Erastus. One of the apostle Paul’s co-workers was called Erastus, and was a city official in Corinth.  We cannot be certain that it was the same person. But what are the chances?

 

(17) Local Details: Ephesus - centre for magic

Ephesus was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It was famous as a centre for magic and sorcery.  In Luke’s account of the apostle Paul’s time in Ephesus, he gets this local detail right.

 

(18) Local Details: Artemis in Ephesus

Ephesus was famous as the centre for the worship of the goddess Artemis (also called Diana).  The temple of Artemis was the biggest building in the Greek world – it was twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.  In Luke's account of Paul's visit to Ephesus, he gets the local details right – in this case, the temple of Artemis, and how important the worship of Artemis was.

 

(19) Real People: Demetrius the silversmith

In the book of Acts, Luke records how someone called Demetrius stirred up a riot in Ephesus because the silversmiths were losing business.  Archaeologists have found an inscription about someone called Demetrius, who was a warden of the temple of Artemis in the year 57 AD - that is, just after Paul was there.

 

(20) Local Details: the Riot in Ephesus

In the book of Acts, Luke reports a riot in Ephesus because of Paul's teaching. He gets the theatre right, and he gets the titles of local officials right – the asiarchs, and the grammateus.

 

(21) Real People: Festus

Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea for two years under the Roman governor Felix. Felix was recalled to Rome in around 59-60 AD, and Festus was appointed to replace him. The book of Acts tells us that very soon after Festus arrived, he had Paul brought before him.  This must have been in 59 or 60 AD. This is one of two fixed points in Luke’s acount, which help us to put dates to the events in Paul’s life.

 

(22) Real Places: The Appian Way

The book of Acts, in the Bible, records how Paul the apostle was brought to Rome as a prisoner to stand trial before the Emperor. After Paul and Luke arrived by ship in Puteoli, they travelled along the Appian Way to Rome. This was a major road that linked Rome to its empire in the east. Parts of it can still be seen today in the Appia Antica National Park, just outside Rome.

 

(23) Real People: The High Priest Annas

In ‘Acts,’ Luke refers to the Jewish High Priest Annas. The Romans had deposed Annas in 15 AD, but he remained highly influential, and many of the Jewish people continued to see him as the High Priest.

 

(24) Real People: Gamaliel

In Acts chapter 5, the Jewish authorities arrested some of the Christian leaders, and told them to stop publishing their message.  They wanted to kill the Christians, but one of them – a respected leader called Gamaliel – persuaded them not to. Gamaliel was a real person. The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions him, and later Jewish teachers wrote about him too.

 

(25) Luke's Biggest Mistake?

In Acts chapter 5, Gamaliel gives a speech, warning his colleagues not to take harsh action against the Christians. In this speech, Gamaliel mentions a Jewish rebel called Theudas. The historian Josephus also mentions a rebel called Theudas. But according to Josephus, Theudas led his revolt in 44 or 45 AD – ten years after Gamaliel gave his speech. So did Luke get it wrong?

 

(26) Real People: the death of Herod Agripaa

Luke records how king Herod Agrippa died.  The Jewish historian Josephus also records the death of Agrippa. The accounts by Luke and Josephus are clearly independent, yet they describe Herod's death in very similar ways.

 

(27) Real People: the tomb of Augustus

Luke dates the events in his account with relation to specific public figures, such as the Roman emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC to 14 AD). Later, Luke mentions the fifteenth year of the reign of emperor Tiberius. This corresponds to about 29 AD, depending on how Luke is counting his dates. Luke dates the events he is recording in relation to Tiberius and six other well known public figures.

 

(28) Real People: John the Baptist

John the Baptist was another real historical person. Both Luke’s account in the Bible and the Jewish historian Josephus record that he was put in prison by Herod Antipas, who later had him executed.

 

(29) Real People: Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate - the Roman governor who had Jesus executed - was a real historical person. Archaeologists have discovered a ring that belonged to him, an inscription that includes his name, and coins that date from his rule as governor.

 

(30) New Discoveries Support Luke

There has never been a new discovery that has discredited Luke's account. Something new might be discovered tomorrow which completely contradicts Luke. But if what he wrote really is true, this is not going to happen.

 

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