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God new evidence

GOD: new evidence


'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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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.


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