Archaeology Proves Bible Accuracy

Archaeology Proves Bible Accuracy

A complete change of mind

portrait picture of sir william mitchell ramsay

Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) was an archaeologist and initially a biblical sceptic. He taught at the University of Edinburgh and, taking his cue from the extreme liberal scholarship of the day, initially believed that Luke’s Gospel, “was written during the second half of the second century [between 160-180AD] by an author who wished to influence the minds of people in his own time by a highly wrought and imaginative description of the early Church.”

However, after investigating the journeys of Paul in the region of the world as described in the Book of Acts, Ramsay completely changed his mind. His research led him to discover that Luke used in his narrative specific and accurate terminology that reflected a careful chronicle of events.

Luke’s use of the term ‘politarch’ in the Book of Acts to describe officials in Thessalonica was widely considered to be a bogus term made up by a later writer – until Sir William Ramsay actually uncovered the term no less than five times in ancient carvings in the city – demonstrating beyond doubt the authenticity of Luke’s authorship. The inscription on this piece of marble from a Roman gateway at Thessalonica now held in the British Museum lists six politarchs (‘rulers of the citizens’), the tamias (treasurer) of the city, and the gymnasiarch (director of higher education).

For example, the evangelist tells of ‘proconsuls’ in senatorial provinces, ‘asiarchs’ in Ephesus and ‘politarchs’ in Thessalonica. Ramsay’s conclusion was that Luke was a highly reliable historian, rendering the story of the early Church in the Book of Acts a remarkably clear one.

Ramsay found the title ‘politarch’ in Acts 17:6 particularly striking because, until his own investigation, the term was unknown in Greek literature outside of Acts. Hence Luke’s use of it was considered by many to be bogus. However, Ramsay found five ancient inscriptions using that term in the city, so proving, beyond doubt, Luke’s reliability.

In stark contrast to what he had been taught by the theological schools, Ramsay’s conclusion on Luke the historian – gleaned from his own actual on the-ground archaeological research – was remarkable: “Luke’s narrative was trustworthy, it was for me exceptionally valuable, as giving evidence on a larger scale. There was nothing else like it. No other ancient traveller has left an account of the journeys which he made across Asia Minor; and if the narrative of Paul’s travels rests on first-class authority, it placed in my hands a document of unique and exceptional value to guide my investigations.”

Ramsay wrote several important books reflecting his archaeological findings, including ‘The Church in the Roman Empire’, ‘St Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen’ and ‘The Cities of St Paul’.

Read this full article and much more inside Heroes of the Faith 41 Jan - Mar 2020.

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