Archaeology and the New Testament (VI)

By Mike Willis

Examples of Specific Corroboration in Acts

Turning to the book of Acts, one finds proportionately a good deal more material able to be checked by the archaeologist. The proof of Lukes accuracy as a historian will be evidenced repeatedly.

One of the events happening in Jerusalem was the conflict between Stephen and the Jews of the “Synagogue of the Freemen.”1 An inscription found in Jerusalem in 1920 by Raymond Weil most probably refers to this very synagogue. Here is a translation of that inscription:

“Theodotus son of Vettenus priest and synagogue president, son of a synagogue president, has built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and teaching of the commandments and (he has built) the hostelry and the chambers and the cisterns of water in order to provide the lodgings for those from abroad who need them — (the synagogue) which his fathers and the elders and Simionides had founded.” 2

“The father of Theodotus had a Latin name, Vettenos . . ., which probably means that the father was one of the Jews captured by Pompey .. ., and later liberated, becoming a libertine or freedman. Thus it seems likely that this inscription, bearing a name appropriate for a freedman, or libertine, may come from this very synagogue of the libertines which initiated the persecution against Stephen.” 3

Shortly after Lukes reference to Stephens death, he refers to a famine which occurred in Palestine during the reign of Claudius. The church at Antioch then sent funds to relieve the suffering of the churches of Judea.4 “Suetonius speaks of assiduae sterilitates, causing famine prices under Claudius; and Dion Cassius and Tacitus refer to two famines in Rome, which imply famines in the Mediterranean area, for Rome received her grain from overseas. Eusebius speaks of famine in Greece, and an inscription points to famine in Asia Minor. It seems clear that the region of Claudius (A.D. 41-54) was marked by a succession of bad harvests which caused serious famines in various parts of the empire.” 5

Beginning next the missionary journeys of Paul, Luke records Paul, Barnabas, and John Marks visit to the island of Cyprus where they had opportunity in Paphos to preach the gospel to a certain proconsul named Sergius Paulus.6 “An inscription, discovered by the American consul, Louis P. di Cesnola, during his explorations between 1865 and 1877, mentions Paulus as proconsul. It was found at Soli, north of Paphos, is dated about A. D. 55, but describes one incident which took place earlier during Paulus tenure of office (about 46-8). It is the one reference we have to this proconsul outside the Bible and it is interesting that Luke gives us correctly his name and title.” 7

After leaving the island of Cyprus, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark moved north to Perga in Pamphylia where John Mark returned to Jerusalem. After preaching in Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, and Iconium, Paul and Barnabas, moved to Lystra. At Lystra, Paul healed a man impotent in his feet and all Lystra worshipped Paul and Barnabas as Zeus and Hermes. “One of Sir William Ramsays latest discoveries, made in 1909, throws light on the conduct of the natives of Lystra who called Paul, Mercury and Barnabas, Jupiter (Acts 14:29) for he found in a nearby ruin an inscription by native Lycaonians recording the dedication of a statue to Zeus (Jupiter) and Hermes (Mercury). This shows that these two gods were classed together in the local cult, and again illustrates the accurate local knowledge of St. Luke.” 8


1. Acts 6:9.

2. R. K. Harrison, Archaeology of the New Testament, (New York: Association Press, 19641, p. 5.

3. Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History, (Wheaton, Van Kampen Press, 1952), p. 310.

4. Acts 11:27-30.

5. James A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 379.

6. Acts 13:6, 7.

7. G. Ernest Wright: Biblical Archaeology, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), p. 249.

8. Camden M. Cobern: The New Archaeological Discoveries, (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1917), p. 526.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 46, pp. 9-10
September 28, 1972