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Luke's Biggest Mistake?

'Testing Luke' #25

 

What's in the series?      Previous: Gamaliel      Next: The death of Herod Agrippa

In this series we have claimed that in the Bible, Luke wrote reliably about real people in real places, and he got the local details right.

But there is one place in the book of Acts where he seems to get things completely wrong! Does this disprove our claim?

Last time, we talked about the respected Jewish scholar Gamaliel. 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. (Antiquities, 20.5.1) So did Luke get it wrong? Did he even make up Gamaliel's speech?

But Theudas was a common Jewish name. Luke and Josephus may be talking about different people. Around the time of King Herod the Great's death in 4 BC, there were many revolutionary movements, and Gamaliel may have been talking about one of them.

We just do not know enough about the events of these times to say that Luke got it wrong.

When there seems to be a contradiction between Luke and Josephus, why do we assume it must be Luke who got it wrong? It could have been Josephus!

So we should not jump to the conclusion that Luke is wrong here. Everywhere else in the book of Acts he is reliable. So we should give him the benefit of the doubt here too.

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