Saturday, July 03, 2010

What Luke got right, and why it matters

Walter: Sounds like you answered your own question. Acts of the Apostles is more than likely a second century document of dubious historical value.

VR: This flies in the face of some hard evidence. Acts contains to much detailed first-century information that has been confirmed by archaeology to be accurate. Luke gets the titles right for the leaders for various cities before whom Paul appeared. This is especially interesting since in some cases the governmental forms changed in the middle of the first century. That was the whole point of my rhetorical "How did Luke research his novel" question I posed to Steven. This information is detailed in F. F. Bruce's "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable. You would have to go around the Mediterranean world getting arrested on a regular basis in order to know that much about the political and judicial systems of the time. And since those changed, nobody in the second century would have had that information available to them.

You can bring up problems with Luke's account that have to be dealt with if you are an inerrantist, but this is not about inerrancy, or calling Luke the greatest historian of the ancient world, or anything like that. All I am doing here is putting a cap on the idea that Acts is a late, legendary product. Luke had to be in a position to know exactly who you deal with in Cyprus, Achaia, Asia, in Ephesus, in Thessalonica, in Philippi, in Athens, and in Malta.

Now, whenever I bring this stuff up, I get told that, of course, Luke could get this stuff right, but the supernatural stuff wrong. Yes, he could. But the evidence takes the "late and legendary" option away from the critic.

A lot of these archaeological discoveries were made by Sir William Ramsay, who had originally subscribed to the late-dating theories of the Tubingen school. He abandoned that position when he found extensive archaeological evidence that confirmed the reliabilty of Luke's account, over and over again.

I'm not saying a supernatural explanation is proved by all of this, but the options for developing a skeptical counter-story are reduced considerably by this kind of evidence.

I am linking to the relevant chapter of Bruce's book.


Walter said...


Are you familiar with Richard Carrier's argument that Luke's works could be based on Josephus' writings?

this would definitely place Luke-Acts at the end of the first century at the earliest.

copy/paste the above address

Victor Reppert said...

If you read Bruce, it doesn't seem to me that Luke could have gotten all of his information from Josephus. Does Josephus say Malta had a First Man?

Walter said...

I have not read F.F. Bruce.

Here is a review by Robert Price on Richard I Pervo's book: Dating Acts

Pervo concludes that Acts is to be dated circa 115 CE or possibly later.

Here is a written interview with Pervo.

Victor Reppert said...

If you accept a late date for Acts you've got a real miracle on your hands: how Luke got all those titles right.

Victor Reppert said...

I have Bruce's chapter linked to this post.

It's amazing how people can just ignore archaeological discoveries.

Steven Carr said...

'This information is detailed in F. F. Bruce's "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable.'

In other words, Bruce says Luke got this wrong, but would have got them write if he had been talking about other cities.

Notice that even Bruce could not confirm what Luke wrote ‘The magistrates of Philippi, which was a Roman colony, are called ‘praetors’ in Acts, and they are attended by ‘lictors’ (the ’serjeants’ of the AV), by whose rods Paul and Silas had so many stripes inflicted on them (Acts xvi. 12, 20 ff., 35 ff.). The strict title of these colonial magistrates was ‘duumvirs’; but they affected the more grandiloquent title of praetors” like the magistrates of another Roman colony, Capua, of whom Cicero says: ‘Although they are called duumvirs in the other colonies, these men wished to be called praetors.”‘

So Bruce admits that it was a DIFFERENT colony where ‘these men wished to be called praetors’, and Luke was just plain wrong when he described another colony as having ‘praetors’.

Sorry, if you want to be ’strict’, the ’strict’ title was ‘duumvirs’, but who wants to be so ’strict’ about accuracy…

The main thing is that Luke was always right, unless you want to be a stickler for accuracy, and even then he would have been right if he had been talking about Capua.

I wonder if ‘Luke’ could read Cicero,like FF Bruce could….

Gosh, where could Luke have got his information from, information confirmed by Cicero, if not from Paul himself?

Luke must have got his information from Paul, because the information is confirmed by Cicero….

‘Similarly the governors of Achaia and Asia are proconsuls, as both these provinces were senatorial. Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (Acts xviii. 12), is known to us the brother of Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher and tutor of Nero.’

Luke got right , wait for it, the tutor of Nero and brother of Seneca.

How could he have known that? That would be like me knowing which of the Kennedy brothers became President. I could only know that if I lived in America in the 1960s.

It would be a , wait for it, MIRACLE if Luke had know the title of the tutor of Nero and brother of Seneca otherwise.

Steven Carr said...

Look what else Luke got right!

‘The city of Ephesus itself is given the title Neokoros, ‘Warden of the Temple’ of Artemis (Acts xix. 35). This word literally means ‘temple-sweeper’, but came to be given as a title of honor, first to individuals, and then to cities as well. (Similarly in our own day, the George Cross, instituted as an honor for individuals, has been conferred on the island of Malta.)

Luke’s ascription of the title to Ephesus is corroborated by a Greek inscription which describes this city as ’TempleWarden of Artemis’.’

The best analogy is , wait for it, Malta getting the George Cross.

I could I know that Malta got the George Cross, apart from the films about it , and TV history programmes?

I know Malta got the George Cross,which proves I was alive in 1945.

After all, if Luke knew about something analogous to Malta getting the George Cross, proving Luke was just after, then me knowing Malta got the George Cross proves I was alive then.

Steven Carr said...

Bruce claims that if Luke got something right, then he was amazingly accurate.

And if the other NT authors say something different to Luke, then they must be amazingly accurate as well!

‘Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee in the time of our Lord, seems to have. been given the courtesy title of ‘king’ by his Galilaan subjects (cf. Mt. xiv. 9; Mk. vi. 14), but unlike his father Herod the Great and hi’ nephew Herod Agrippa I he was not promoted to royal status by the emperor, and had to be content with the lesser title ‘tetrarch’. Luke therefore never calls him king, but always tetrarch (e.g. Lk. iii r, 19).’

So if Luke never calls him king, because that was wrong, then why was Luke using inaccurate sources?

Why could Matthew and Mark use the title ‘king’, when that was so wrong that Luke never used it?

Is it because they….. made a mistake?

A mistake in the Gospels? Of course not!

Matthew and Mark used the title king because that was accurate, but Luke never used the title king because tetrach was accurate, not king.

Of course, Luke screwed up when ge stopped using Josephus.

Luke knew about the titles of the tutor of Nero.

But he was so ignorant about Palestine that he had to copy from 'Mark' or The Old Testament and then be dishonest, sorry, religious, and not tell his readers of his dishonesty.

Luke 3:27 says that Rhesa was the son of Zerubabbel. But Rhesa is an Aramaic word meaning ‘Prince’ and was Zerubabbel’s title, not the name of his son.

Victor boasts about Luke always getting titles right, but somehow neglects to tell people of Luke's inability to understand Aramaic.

Luke also seems to have based some of Acts on classical Greek literature, especially Euripides' Bacchae. In Acts 26:12, Luke says that Paul heard Jesus say , in Aramaic or Hebrew, 'It is hard for you to kick against the pricks'. 'Kick against the pricks' (laktizo pros kentron) was a well known Greek saying, which first seems to appear in line 790 of Euripides' Bacchae.

In Euripides' Bacchae, line 447, we read the following 'Of their own accord (autamato), the chains were loosed from their feet and keys opened the doors (thura) without human hand.' In Acts 10:12, we read how doors opened for Peter of their own accord (automatos) and in Acts 16:26, we read how an earthquake loosed the chains from everybody and all the doors opened by themselves.

Did an earthquake really loose a chain from a prisoner, not a noted result of seismic activity? Or did Luke base his account of Peter and Paul's escapes on Euripides' play about the persecuted followers of a persecuted and misunderstood deity, the son of Zeus and a young , mortal woman?

Just out of curiosity, Euripides play 'Alcestis' is about a person who dies voluntarily in the place of another and then conquers death by being raised from the dead by a god. This is speculative, but perhaps 'Alcestis' is what first drew Euripides to Luke's attention.

Less speculative is the admission by F.F.Bruce in his book 'The New Testament documents - Are they reliable?' that Acts 14:12 'ho hegoumenon tou logou' comes from 'The Egyptian Mysteries' of Iamblichus, where Hermes is described as 'the god who is the leader of the speeches' (theos ho ton legon hegemon).

Clearly, Luke was well acquainted with Greek classical literature.

And copied it from it, deceiving his readers into thinking these old stories were new stories about the apostles.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

Vic, would you be interested in me sending you a copy of my book? Perhaps if you reviewed it this conversation could go somewhere. If you're interested, send a message to my gmail account (username: challquist) with the address you want it sent to.

Victor Reppert said...

Steven: Let's take on thing at a time, here. The question is not how great Luke is, or even inerrancy. It's not particularly amazing to know a lot about the cities you've been to, especially if you have contact with people who have dealt with the authorities in those cities. If he were writing in the second century, it would be amazing.

The question is how we explain what he does get right. Does it rule out Acts being a second-century document. It think that it does.

Steven Carr said...

'And since those changed, nobody in the second century would have had that information available to them.'

So how did FF Bruce learn these things when all that knowledge disappeared in the second century?

Why does Paul claim that the church in Thessalonica consisted of him converting people who had turned to God from idols ie pagans, while Acts claims that Paul converted Jews as well - people who did not worship idols?

Victor Reppert said...

F. F. Bruce has the results of archaeology available to him. People in the second century did not.

Do I really have to point this out?

Gregory said...

The liberal theologian, John A.T. Robinson, argued that all of the New Testament had been written before 70 A.D. in his "Redating the New Testament". Carsten Thiede, in his book "Eyewitness to Jesus", argues that several fragments of Matthew's Gospel had been written around 70 A.D. His 2 main arguments for this are:

1) The manuscripts are written in a specific-type "Uncial" form....a form which had begun to die out in the middle of the 1rst Century; and was wholly absent from the 2nd Century on.

2) Christians, out of convenience, used double-sided papyrus (i.e. Codex's). The Magdalen Papyri are Codex, not Scrolls.

Paul Barnett, Eta Linnemann, I. Howard Marshall and Donald Guthrie are some other good sources that discuss the authorship of "Acts".

And, once again, I can't recommend Paul Barnett's "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" more highly. It's kind of like F.F. Bruce's "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable" on steroids. I mean----Dr. Barnett's analysis of the Inter-Testamental Greek/Jewish culture war, Israel's civil unrest and rebellion during the Maccabean period and the impact all of that had on 1rst Century culture and politics, is worth the price of the book alone.

Gregory said...

Here is a link to Craig Blomberg's review of Barnett's book:

Blomberg's review was, for the most part, accurate and fair. However, I think his one "major" criticism of the book (i.e. that Paul's Epistles were barely touched on), sort acknowledges Barnett's point, and then completely misses it---all at the same time!! I guess you would have to read Barnett's book in order to understand what I'm talking about. Nevertheless, I will paraphrase Barnett, since the copies I've had I either 1) loaned and hadn't gotten back or 2) given away.

The title of Barnett's book "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" gives us a clue. As Barnett states in the Introduction to the book, most New Testament histories focus on the broader sweep of events within the 1rst Century...they typically have much briefer discussions of the life of Christ, which lead-in to a protracted discussion of Saul/Paul. This is especially true of theologians and historians influenced by the idea that St. Paul "invented" Christianity....or, at the very least, the idea that St. Paul had the most significant impact and influence on early Christian thought. Barnett seeks to do the reverse. Unlike so many other New Testament histories, Dr. Barnett narrows his focus down to the wellspring and source of early Christianity: the historical Jesus

At the same time, he offers a very brief discussion of St. Paul. Again, his focus is on Jesus of Nazareth (i.e. the "historical" Jesus) and how Jesus' historical circumstances gave birth to Christianity. Meaning: the rise of historic Christianity is explained, de facto, by the historic Jesus of Nazareth.

What's more, "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" is primarily focused on historical details that directly factor in with the narrative accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as found in the 4 Gospels.....and, also, the subsequent "rise" of early Christianity.

When it's understood that Dr. Barnett is offering a causal theory of Christianity's origins---as much as he's offering a standard New Testament "history"---then it might be understood why I consider Dr. Blomberg's very minor criticism of the book to be superficial and misplaced. To be fair....I think the book is so right on the money that Dr. Blomberg had to strain to find some "critical" point of contention.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Gregory, might I throw a "Catholic perspective" on the "Did St. Paul invent Christianity?" debate?

It’s always seemed to me that for the first 14 to 15 centuries of its existence, the Universal Church was centered on the Gospels, and that St. Paul and the other NT books were useful and inspiring, but clearly secondary to the life and teachings of Jesus. It’s not until the Reformation (a.k.a., Protestant Revolt) that Paul attains the prominence he still has today in a broad spectrum of believers and skeptics alike, ranging from literalist evangelicals to extreme liberal theologians.

This differing emphasis shows up everywhere. In Catholic Mass, we sit for the reading from St. Paul, but stand for the Gospel (which is preceded by alleluias and various other liturgical embellishments. Paul is just read straight.) In Protestant services (I’ve attended my fair share.), readings and lessons from Paul easily outnumber those from the Gospels at least ten to one. Same goes for radio evangelists, who will expound for hours on some theological point in Romans or Galatians, but hardly ever quote from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

One could defend the thesis that in a very real sense St. Paul (posthumously and unwittingly) DID invent at least a portion of Christianity, 14 centuries after his death – the Protestant portion.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Prokop said: "This differing emphasis shows up everywhere. In Catholic Mass, we sit for the reading from St. Paul, but stand for the Gospel (which is preceded by alleluias and various other liturgical embellishments. Paul is just read straight.) In Protestant services (I’ve attended my fair share.), readings and lessons from Paul easily outnumber those from the Gospels at least ten to one. "

I attend an ELCA church (Lutheran, for the uninitiated).

The vast majority of services consist of an Old Testament lesson (for which we sit), a New Testament lesson (many from Paul and for which we sit), and a Gospel lesson for which we stand, and give thanks and praise.

Further, the sermon is almost always centered around the Gospel and not the "supporting" lessons.

Further still, my Pastor said to me just this past week:

"I don't really give a rip what Paul had to say. What Jesus said is what matters".

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Shackleman, Thank you for your info about "Lutherans" (I am apparently among the uninitiated). My familiarity with Protestantism is almost exclusively with the evangelical, Baptist variety (with some Church of england thrown in from my time spent in that country). You make a good point that there is huge diversity among the various Protestant sects.