The Book of Acts and History

ancient greek shipAt Living Hope Church we have been going through the book of Acts. One thing easy to see in the book even at a cursory glance is its connection with the local and international history of the time. The author of the book, Luke, goes to great pains to locate and name people, places, and local color. Rulers of islands are named, Roman emperors and their deeds are referenced to give historical context, seasons of shipping routes are described, harbors and roads between cities play an important role in the story, and so forth. It would be relatively easy for someone to take the book to task and pick it apart. Luke is so detailed where he does not need to be, a skeptic would be able to show him to be either a sham of a historian or a mythologist, pure and simple.


But Luke holds up under historical scrutiny quite well. When Luke names the proconsul of Paphos as Sergius Paulus, we find independent historical record naming him and giving him the title of “proconsul” (Acts 13:7). When Luke names Publius as the “chief man of the island” of Malta, it turns out that his name really is Publius and that “chief man of the island” was his actual, not made-up, title (Acts 28:7).


Below is a list of 30 such historically verified details in the book of Acts in just chapters 13-19 alone. The list comes from Colin J. Hemer’s text, Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.


  1. A correct sailing route between correctly named ports (13:4-5).
  2. The correct family name of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (13:7).
  3. The proper port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
  4. The correct location of the cities of Lycaonia (14:6)
  5. The correct language spoken in Lystra, and the correct form of the name. (14:8).
  6. Correct identification of the two gods associated with Lystra, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
  7. The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25)
  8. The correct route from Antioch to Derbe and Lystra (15:35 – 16:1).
  9. The proper form of the name “Troas” (16:8).
  10. A correct sailor’s landmark at Samothrace (16:11).
  11. The correct length of the voyage from Troas to Neapolis (16:11).
  12. The proper identification and significance of the city of Philipi (16:13).
  13. The correct location and distance (a sabbath day’s journey) of the river near Philiipi (16:13).
  14. Correct association of Thyatira with cloth-dying (16:14).
  15. Correct titles of the colony magistrates (16:20+).
  16. Correct location of cities on the journey from Thyatira to Thesolonica (17:1).
  17. The correct identification of a synagogue in the non-Jewish cities of Thessolonica (17:1) and Corinth (18:4).
  18. 18: Proper title of “politarch” for the city rulers (17:6).

  1. The correct identification of a sea route as the best way to travel to Athens in the Summer (17:14).
  2. The abundance of statues in Athens (17:16) and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).
  3. Correct depiction of philosophical debate at the agora (17:17).
  4. The correct Athenian slang epithet for Paul (spermologos) (17:18-19).
  5. The correct name for the court area (areis pagos) (17:19).
  6. An accurate depiction of the character of the Athenians (17:21).
  7. Correct title for a member of the court (Aereopogite) (17:34).
  8. Correct identification of Gallio as proconsul (18:12).
  9. Correct identification of the judgment seat at the forum at Corinth (18:16).
  10. Correct identification of the school of Tyranmus (19:9).
  11. The correct identification of the cult of Artemis of the Ephesians (19:24, 27).
  12. The correct identification of the theater at Ephesus as the meeting place (19:29).


HT: Thomistic Bent

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