Historical Details In The Book of Acts

In the New Testament, the book of Acts was written by someone with a scholarly knowledge of ancient Greek (see the first four verses of the book in Greek). It is also extremely packed with minute detail. In his monumental work The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, author Colin Hemer notes the following:

Many details in the ‘we-passages’ and more particularly in the final ‘we-passage’, which narrates the voyage and the shipwreck, are characterized by an ‘immediacy’ of narrative interest, not easily explained fromt he perspective of selective hindsight. . . The point here is that such details cannot be explained by theological purpose, and are not conveniently amenable to the insights of redaction criticism. (p.209)

Hemer’s point here is that the vast pile of minute details found in the last half of the book of Acts cannot be easily dismissed by two common criticisms of the Bible, namely that the writers had a theological bias they were trying to promote, or that the documents were edited or rewritten by church leaders who were trying to make a political power play. Acts does not leave either of these options open to us. Hemer’s justification for this conclusion is that there are too many details that play absolutely no part in either theology or a need to edit the documents for some purpose. He goes on to list a number of examples, such as:

  • The name of the ship’s home port and destination
  • The wind directions north of Cyprus, including the difference on the return route
  • The correct route to travel south of Crete
  • The centurion’s consilium, where Paul was outvoted
  • The harbor at Phoenix and its orientation, even though Paul did not make it there
  • A description of a specific sailing maneuver at Cauda
  • The casting of the ship’s material overboard
  • The two accounts of taking of depth soundings
  • The technical maneuvers made in preparation for running the ship aground
  • The details about a second ship, its figurehead, the timing of its voyage to Puteoli, including the brief stopover at Syracuse

Again, the point of this is that these details cannot be attributed to any of the common reasons critics give for dismissing the Bible out of hand. They do not fit the pattern of someone who was trying to tell a fable or support a theological bias. The only purpose that can be attributed is that of an eyewitness telling what happened on a journey that he made, which is exactly what Luke does in the book of Acts.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Bible. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Historical Details In The Book of Acts

  1. Pingback: SiftingPoint | Marriage, Lies, Doubt and Combat

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