Accuracy in the Book of Acts

In the book of Acts, chapter 27 deals with a shipwreck that the apostle Paul experienced while on his way to Rome. The author of Acts, Luke, goes into significant detail while describing the events of the storm and the wreck of the ship. Acts 27:13-16 reads:

Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat.

Historian Colin Hemer, in The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, comments about this passage:

Cauda, for instance, is precisely where a ship driven helpless before an east-northeast wind from beyond the shelter of Cape Matala might gain brief respite for necessary maneuvers and to set a more northward line of drift on the starboard tack. As the implications of such details are further explored, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that they could have been derived from any contemporary reference work. In the places where we can compare, Luke fares much better than the encyclopedist Pliny, who might be regarded as the foremost first-century example of such a source. Pliny places Cauda (Gaudos) opposite Hierapytna, some ninety miles too far east (NH 4.12.61). Even Ptolemy, who offers a reckoning of latitude and longitude, makes a serious dislocation to the northwest, putting Cauda too near the western end of Crete, in a position which would not suit the unstudied narrative of our text (Ptol. Geog. 3.15.8)” (Hemer, p.331)

What Hemer is saying here is that it is increasingly difficult to say that the author of Acts got his information from a reference book or from hearsay. The first century sources that exist today, Pliny and Ptolemy, have the geography wrong according to what we now know with modern maps. In short, Luke is more accurate than any other extant source of his day.

But why this one small point? Hemer’s book goes on to show that Luke is accurate in many other points, including weather patterns in certain times of the year, organization of the corn-supply service, actions of sailors during a storm, and details of certain ports. Hemer shows that all of these details in Acts are equally accurate.

Why would God include such details in His Bible? Certainly there is no theological bias that would have crept into the minds of the early church that would have caused this to be written, no power play by one political group that could have used this to their advantage. These details do not provide any key doctrine that is useful for living life, raising children, or structuring a church government. Why the tedious details?

Because it shows that these things were written by eyewitnesses. Luke was writing down what he saw, documenting history. The book of Acts is an accurate historical account of what actually happened in the first century, written from the very boat that was caught in the storm. No other explanation makes sense.

These details do not form a proof in the sense of a math formula or a logical syllogism. Nothing in history works like that. However, as Hemer states, we can make some strong statements: “The onus is scarcely upon me to prove my point. Rather it is the objector’s task to break the integration which is latent in the narrative, and merely brought to the surface in the present discussion.” (p.333). In other words, Luke’s details are so integrated into the storyline that it is very obvious Luke was on this journey in the first century. The burden of proof is on those who disagree. Those who criticize the inerrancy of scripture cannot merely say ‘well, it’s all so much myth and storytelling.’ No, no. The critic must explain how in the world Luke knew which obscure island a northeast wind would blow a ship behind, when the first century reference works would put it in another place? Further, the critic must answer the other myriad issues that Hemer points out in his book (see the upcoming posts for several of them).

Therefore we conclude that the Bible is accurate not only in what it teaches about history and geography, but also what it teaches about spiritual truths.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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8 Responses to Accuracy in the Book of Acts

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