Archaeology and the New Testament (VII)

Mike Willis
Mooresville, Indiana

Lukes Geographical Accuracy

Before moving on to different, specific places mentioned by Luke, a word needs to be inserted about the accuracy of Lukes geographical references. The fact that almost all the places mentioned in the New Testament have already been located is not easily overlooked since it shows that Luke, and other writers, were dealing with real places. Added to this, however, is his unerring accuracy in placing specific cities in, their proper provinces or districts.

"Until the work of Sir William Ramsay in the first decade and half of the twentieth century, the historical reliability of the Acts as a bona fide work of Luke was widely denied. An important detail of this critical suspicion existed in the matter of Lukes clear implication in Acts 14:6 that Iconium was in Phrygia, as distinguished from Derbe and Lystra which were said to be cities of Lycaonia In 1910 Ramsay recovered the now well-known inscribed monument which demonstrated that Iconium was such a thoroughly Phrygian city that the Phrygian tongue was still employed in dedicatory notices as late as the middle of the third century A.D."1

"After more troubles in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas moved on to another region, crossing over the boundary between Phrygia Galatia and Lycaonia Galatia. Ramsay confessed that it was the discovery of this fact of geography that led to his first change in judgment about the book of Acts, which he had hitherto regarded as of uncertain value. The Greek writer Xenophon in 401 B.C. referred to Iconium as a Phrygian city, and there is both literary and epigraphic evidence to show that it remained a Phrygian city till A.D. 295. So that while it was linked with Lystra and the town of Lycaonia for commerce, it was in fact politically in Phrygia. This fact appealed greatly to Ramsay since it showed that Luke was accurately informed on such a precise detail."2

Another geographically accurate statement by Luke was so well shown by Joseph P. Free that I now quote, in its entirety, his comments on the point:

"When Paul and his companions came to Philippi, Luke refers to it as being in that part of Macedonia (ARV, district). He uses the Greek word meris for the word translated part or district F.J.A. Hort, the well-known New Testament scholar, believed that Luke was wrong in this usage, and asserted, Meris never denotes simply a region, province, or any geographical division: when used of land, as of anything else, it means a portion or share. Since a writer would not be expected to use the expression, that share of Macedonia when he meant that district of Macedonia, Dr. Hort suggested that there had been a primitive error in the text and a conjectural emendation.

"The archaeological excavations at Fayuum in Egypt, now ever, have shown that the colonists there, many of whom came from Macedonia ... used this very word meris to describe the divisions of the district. Thus these documents show that Luke knew more about the geographical terminology of Macedonia than one of the greatest experts on Greek language in recent times. All scholars now agree that this word meris was used by Luke in a legitimate sense which is particularly associated with Macedonia." 3

"The various sections of Palestine belong exactly to the geography of the first century and no other!!! Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Trachonitis, Ituraea, Abilene, Decapolis all are recognized as geographically distinct at this period by such classical writers as Pliny, Strabo, and Josephus." 4

"The sea route mentioned in Acts 27 and 28 are ones that were used at that time. The ship of Alexandria (Acts 27:6) which conveyed Paul to Rome landed him at Puteoli, and this route was the one ordinarily used by Alexandrian corn ships, according to Strabo. Other customary ports mentioned by Luke are also mentioned by Suetonius as such." 5

Thus, Lukes accuracy in giving geographical information is comparable to any scholarly historian and above average for historians of his day. In areas where Luke has not yet been able to be confirmed because of archaeological diggings not uncovering relative material, he certainly deserves the benefit of any doubt in this respect.


1. Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), pp. 195-6.

2. James A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), p, 382.

3. Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, IM), p* 320,

4. Arlie J. Hoover, "Evidences from Archaeology," External Evidences of Christianity (a mimeographed syllabus privately published in Tampa, Fla.). p. 131

5. Ibid., Hoover, p. 131.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 47, pp. 8-9
October 5, 1972