I have posted several entries that document the accurate historical accounts in the Bible, especially in the book of Acts (see here, and here, and here.) As shown in Colin Hemer’s landmark work, The Book of Acts In The Setting of Hellenistic History, there is a massive amount of evidence that shows that Luke, the Greek-educated physician, wrote an accurate eyewitness account. Acts describes a long series of specific local knowledge, including technical nautical terms, cities, people groups, wind directions, sailing routes, correct local dialects, rules for Roman guards, multiple geographical landmarks, titles of leaders in different countries, correct first-century local terminology, attitudes of local populaces, which ports were suitable during winter, philosophical schools of the day, Roman edicts, scheduling of Jewish feast days, religious practices in different cities, specific buildings in certain cities, local ethnic terms, and on and on.
All this is further supported by the extremely educated style of Greek that the author used (see the first 4 verses of Luke in Greek, but even a more literal English translation will suffice), and the fact that many eyewitnesses were still alive that could have refuted the accounts if they were inaccurate (see Luke 1:2). The best evidence shows that Luke and Acts were composed by 60 A.D., within one generation of the events of Jesus’ life. Luke and Acts are so well attested historically and archaeologically that they have more support than any other book in ancient history. Hemer’s book spends a great amount of ink evaluating the historical details in Acts. There is no reasonable way that Luke/Acts could have been written by anyone other than someone living in the region in the first century.
Critics will say that these facts do not prove historical events happened, that the book could have been a historical novel. This view is refuted by C. S. Lewis, professor of medieval literature at Cambridge. Lewis said that it is unreasonable to suggest that Luke could have invented a literary style that did not exist in any genre prior to that, include such a rich wealth of detail, then be wrong about the key facts of the book (e.g., the facts about Jesus). To suggest that all the historical facts listed by Hemer are correct, but the book is wrong about Jesus, takes a leap of blind faith that is much greater than the faith of a mustard seed asked of us by Jesus.
So what difference does it make?
First, the dozens of points of history that Hemer lists must be dealt with specifically by the bible critic, along with all the other historical verifications that he lists. One simply cannot dismiss them with a wave of the skeptical wand. Rather, they should be dealt with point-by-point before they can be dismissed.
Second, we have no ancient historical sources that contradict Luke’s account in Acts and his gospel. Saying ‘it seems to me such-and-so should be there, but isn’t’ is arguing from silence or is giving an ‘it seems to me’ type argument, neither of which are arguments at all.
Third, Hemer uses independent secular sources to verify Luke’s historical facts. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
Fourth, the witnesses provided by the New Testament writers conform to the most rigorous tests, such as those provided by the king of skeptics, David Hume, who claimed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The Bible meets this challenge by presenting witnesses that are numerous, educated, in a civilized country. They present an account which does not bring money, fame, nor glory to the writers of the story. In fact, the accounts generally show the apostles as making mistakes, or, as in the case of Luke, downplay the author’s role entirely, or cost them their lives and livelihoods.
Fifth, the sources such as Hemer, Ramsay, and Habermas demonstrate that Luke is a first-rate historian, one of the best and most detailed in ancient history.
Sixth, the historical accounts cannot be reasonably separated from the accounts of miracles. For example, the accounts of Paul’s miraculous healing in Acts 28:8-10 and Paul’s prophesy in Acts 27:24-26, cannot be separated from the many historical details that surround them in the book without showing a bias against religious ideas, a bias that is brought to the text, not derived from objective observation of data. Ditto for the other parts of Luke’s story, such as the resurrection of Jesus.
Therefore, it is a reasonable and logical conclusion that the other accounts in Luke’s writings are also accurate. It is unreasonable and unfounded to simply say “we have no historical proof” or “no historical account can prove a miracle” which qualifies as presuppositional bias. C. S. Lewis similarly dismantled Hume’s argument against miracles as plainly circular.
These facts lead us to believe that the details in Acts are true. We have done our part by showing accurate historical details; now the burden of proof falls on the critic. To read modern critics, the Bible would be written by bumble-headed buffoons incapable of conspiring to get their story straight. For Christians to take such critics seriously, the critics will need an accurate, point-by-point evaluation of the historical minutiae combined with a robust literary explanation of how such a work could have been created by someone other than who claims to have written it.
Why would people want to dismiss the Bible’s historical accounts? It’s not because of the account of wind directions and sailing terminology that Luke provides. It’s because the message that Luke gives is one that we do not want to hear, for it calls us to account for our moral actions. Therefore we vehemently provide emotional excuses for why it must be wrong. I challenge you to check the emotions of the writers of Bible criticism. Are they emotional and biased, or distant and objective? Do they resort to name-calling, or deal with the facts as presented? I submit most are motivated because they disagree with the message of the Bible, and their emotions show through in their writings.
I challenge you to read the Bible for the accurate historical account that it is.