How Accurate Is Bible History?
“I AM telling the truth, I am not lying,” stated a Bible writer to his young friend. (1 Timothy 2:7) Expressions like that in Paul’s letters present a challenge to Bible critics.* Over 1,900 years have passed since Paul’s letters were penned. After all that time, no one has come forward and successfully proved a single point of inaccuracy in his letters.
The Bible writer Luke also expressed a concern for accuracy. He recorded an account of Jesus’ life and ministry that was followed by his account named Acts of Apostles. “I have traced all things from the start with accuracy,” wrote Luke.—Luke 1:3.
Testimonies of Accuracy
Bible critics of the early 19th century challenged Luke’s accuracy as a historian. Moreover, they claimed that the history in Acts was invented in the middle of the second century C.E. The British archaeologist Sir William Mitchell Ramsay was one who believed this. But after investigating the names and places mentioned by Luke, he confessed: “It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth.”
When Ramsay wrote the above, an issue concerning Luke’s accuracy remained unsettled. It had to do with the closely related cities Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Luke implied that Iconium was distinct from Lystra and Derbe, describing the latter as “cities of Lycaonia.” (Acts 14:6) Yet, as the accompanying map shows, Lystra was closer to Iconium than to Derbe. Some ancient historians described Iconium as a part of Lycaonia; hence, critics challenged Luke for not doing so also.
Then, in 1910, Ramsay discovered a monument in the ruins of Iconium showing that the language of that city was Phrygian and not Lycaonian. “Numbers of other inscriptions from Iconium and its environs substantiate the fact that racially the city could be described as Phrygian,” says Dr. Merrill Unger in his book Archaeology and the New Testament. Indeed, the Iconium of Paul’s day was Phrygian in culture and distinct from “the cities of Lycaonia,” where people spoke “in the Lycaonian tongue.”—Acts 14:6, 11.
Bible critics also questioned Luke’s use of the word “politarchs” for rulers of the city of Thessalonica. (Acts 17:6, footnote) This expression was unknown in Greek literature. Then an arch was found in the ancient city containing the names of city rulers described as “politarchs”—exactly the word used by Luke. “The accuracy of Luke has been vindicated by the use of the term,” explains W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Luke’s Sea Voyage
Naval experts have examined the details of the shipwreck described in Acts chapter 27. According to Luke, the large ship in which he and Paul sailed was caught in a northeasterly gale near the small island of Cauda, and the sailors were afraid of being driven onto perilous sandbanks off the north coast of Africa. (Acts 27:14, 17, footnote) By skillful seamanship, they managed to direct the vessel away from Africa on a westerly course. The gale continued unabated, and eventually the ship ran aground off the island of Malta, having covered a distance of about 540 miles [870 km]. Naval experts calculate that it would take a large ship sailing in a gale over 13 days to be driven that far. Their calculations agree with Luke’s account, which states that the shipwreck occurred on the 14th day. (Acts 27:27, 33, 39, 41) After investigating all the details of Luke’s sea voyage, yachtsman James Smith concluded: “It is a narrative of real events, written by one personally engaged in them . . . No man not a sailor could have written a narrative of a sea voyage so consistent in all its parts, unless from actual observation.”
Because of such findings, some theologians are willing to defend the Christian Greek Scriptures as accurate history. But what about the earlier history found in the Hebrew Scriptures? Many clergymen bow to modern philosophy and declare that it contains myths. However, a number of details of the Bible’s early history have also been verified, to the embarrassment of critics. Consider, for example, the discovery of the once-forgotten Assyrian Empire.
[Map on page 3]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)