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Answering Luke-Acts Objections

Answering Luke-Acts Objections

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“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” (ESV)

Objection

There was never a single registration conducted of the entire Roman empire.

Answer

The Greek word meaning “to register” (ἀπογράφεσθαι)is in Present Infinitive Passive case.

This indicates that the writer means to say Augustus ordered registrations to be regularly taken across the Roman empire, rather than a single registration for the entire Roman empire. Emperor Augustus did order registrations often. In his autobiography, Augustus describes censuses in the Roman empire on several occasions [1]. One example is seen in historical records about the censuses conducted in Egypt, as shown in the table below [2]. Therefore, the account in Luke is consistent with other historical records.

References:

  1. Res Gestae Divi Augusti, 8
  2. Roger S. Bagnall and Bruce W. Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt, p. 5

“This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (ESV)

Objection 

Luke implies Jesus was born during the census of Quirinius who was governor of Syria, and during the lifetime of Herod the Great. Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 AD, years after Herod the Great was dead. Luke misdated the registration.

Answer #1

Sir William Ramsay notes, “The only certain dates in the life of Quirinius are his consulship in 12 BC, his second government of Syria beginning in 6 AD, and his prosecution of his former wife, Domitia Lepida in 20 AD, and his death and public funeral in 21 AD [1].” In the years since he penned those words, no significant discovery has been made that positively dates other events in Quirinius’s life. 

Quirinius may have been the Legate of Syria twice. This idea comes from the inscription found near Tivoli in 1764, which probably belonged to the tomb of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, “proconsul” (governor) of Asia and “legate divi Augusti” (imperial official) of Syria and Phoenicia in the time of Emperor Augustus (27 BC -14 AD) [2]. While critics have pointed out that Publius Quintus Varus was the Legate of Syria from 7-4 BC, there is some debate about who followed him as Legate in Syria. Holden and Geisler conclude, “The probability that Quirinius was governor of Syria on two different occasions also cannot be ignored – once while prosecuting military action against the Homonadensians between 12 BC and 2 AD, and then a second time beginning about 6 AD. [3]”

The Greek word ἡγεμονεύοντος (was governing) in Luke 2:2 is a verb.

 

Even if Quirinius was not the official Legate of Syria, he may have held a different role that would be considered governing, consistent with Luke’s description. One example of this comes from Josephus. We know Quintilius Varus was the governor of Syria from about 6-4 BC. Gaius Sentius Saturninus was the governor before him. Josephus mentions a man Volumnius, an associate of Saturninus, who was not the Senate’s appointed governor, yet he calls them both “governors.” [4]

Answer #2

The historical reference for this objection is Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian. Scholars agree that Josephus is not infallible, makes mistakes, places events out of chronology, and jumps around from various time periods [5] [6] [7]. Josephus misdates the construction of the Samaritan temple [8], places the Tabiad saga in the 1st century BC (most scholars say this took place in the 3rd century BC) [9], and claims Herod the Great was 15 when he was given the territory of Galilee (Josephus was most likely off by ten years) [10]. Daniel R. Schwartz notes that Josephus at times duplicates the same event that is reported in different sources he is working with, and then places them at different times. [11] [12]

This is not to say Josephus is completely unreliable, as he often gives reliable information [13] [14]. But sometimes, he does make mistakes, which gives us good reasons to question his claim. With all this in mind, John H. Rhoads makes a case that it is actually Josephus who gave us the inocorrect information, and that the writer of Luke, who is already a highly reliable historian, gave us the correct information.

Link: https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/54/54-1/JETS_54-1_65-87_Rhoads.pdf

References:

  1. William Mitchell Ramsay, Was Christ Born At Bethlehem
  2. https://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/lapidario-cristiano/abercio/frammento-dell-iscrizione-sepolcrale-di-quirinius.html
  3. Joseph M. Holden and Norman Geisler, The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible, p. 154
  4. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, 16.9. 1, 2, 5
  5. “. . . Josephus’ sloppiness – which constitutes the unifying principle of what is otherwise an inept historiosophical patchwork,” Seth Schwartz, Josephus and Judean Politics, p. 197
  6. “The whole is not well structured, and gives the appearance of a patchwork of diverse materials,” John M. G. Barclay, Flavius Josephus, p. 361
  7. “Books 18-20 seem to be more of a patchwork,” Daniel Schwartz, A Companion to Josephus, p. 40
  8. The Samaritans in Flavius Josephus, p. 43
  9. Flavius Josephus Interpretation and History, pp. 141-145
  10. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, vol 1:275
  11. Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judea, pp. 11-14
  12. Daniel R. Schwartz, Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity, pp. 202-217
  13. “. . . wherever [Josephus] can be tested, he can be seen to have been a pretty fair historian.” E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, p. 8
  14. “[Josephus] was sometimes misinformed, the reader will find Josephus an invaluable resource not to be neglected.” Everett Ferguson, Background and Early Christianity, p. 457

And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David (ESV)

Objection

Joseph wouldn’t have to register in Judea if he was from Galilee.

Answer

“The obligation on all persons to be enrolled at their domiciles of origin, which made it necessary for Joseph to return to Bethlehem, has been illustrated from an edict of AD 104, in which C. Vibius Maximus, Roman prefect of Egypt, gives notice as follows: ‘The enrolment by household being at hand, it is necessary to notify all who for any cause whatsoever are away from their administrative divisions to return home in order to comply with the customary ordinance of enrolment, and to remain in their own agricultural land.'” [1]

References:

  1. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, pp. 86-87

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (ESV)

Objection #1

Luke uses the wrong term. Pilate was a prefect (νομάρχης), not a governor (ἡγεμών).

Answer

The term that Luke uses is not the technical term for “prefect,” and before 44 AD, the governor of Judea was technically a prefect. The term Luke uses is the common one, which was also used by non-biblical writers [1] [2].

Objection #2

According to Josephus, Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abila (Chalcis) from 40-36 BC, 60 years too early for reference.

Answer

Name coincidence. Luke and Josephus are most likely not talking about the same person. An inscription found on a temple [3] from the time of Tiberius names Lysanias as the Tetrarch of Abila, just as Luke has written.

References:

  1. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, 18.3.1, 18.6.5, etc.
  2. Tacitus, Annals, 15.44
  3. Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum 4521, 4523

“During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (ESV)

Objection

“Any person being acquainted with the history and polity of the Jews, must have known that there never was but one high priest at a time…” [1]

Answer

Annas officially held office from 6-15 AD, but was deposed by Pilate’s predecessor Gratus. The Jews accommodated Roman interference by speaking of both the new Roman appointee and the original ritually appointed Jewish priest as “high priests.” The one with true authority is still Annas, while Caiaphas appears as a public figure. The same language is used by Josephus: “. . . but he sent two others of those that were of the greatest power among them, and both Jonathan and Ananias, the high-priests” [2].

References:

  1. Rober Taylor, The Diegesis 3rd ed. (1845), p. 126.
  2. Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, 2.12.6

23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (ESV)

Objections

1. Messiah was promised to come from the line of David’s son Solomon. However, Luke gives us the line of David’s son Nathan. 

2. Jesus is not in the bloodline of Joseph. The genealogy is meaningless as he is not the true father of Jesus. It is not clear why a genealogy of Joseph is given, since the whole point of a genealogy is bloodlines.

3. Admin is included in the earlier manuscripts and critical text between Amminadab and Arni. Admin being a son of Arni is not supported by the Hebrew Old Testament. The inclusion of Admin results in a total of 77 generations  from God to Jesus and appears to be contrived based on a hebdomatic principle of multiples of 7.

4. God is included as part of the genealogy. This suggests everyone in the bloodline, including Jesus, are straight line of descendants of God. By this logic, we all are descendants of God. Adding God in a genealogy of men is a questionable thing to do.

Answer

Although almost all manuscript witnesses contain the Genealogy, there are a couple that do not. One of these is the relatively early Codex Washingtonius (W032) attributed to the 4th/5th century. The other is the gospel manuscript 579 attributed to the 13th century. Both these manuscripts are classified as Aland category III texts. These texts are described by Aland as “Manuscripts of a distinctive character with an independent text… particularly important for the history of the text.” The manuscripts in category III are important when discussing the history of the textual traditions and to a lesser degree for establishing the original text. The manuscripts usually contain independent readings, and have a distinctive character.

Although the variants lacking the genealogy are in the minority, the presence of these variants combined with additional rationale, lead to the conclusion that the genealogy should be doubted as being original to Luke. Additional justification is as follows:

 
1. The mission attested to in the prologue (Luke 1:1-4) is in reference to the attempt of others to provide “a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us” (Luke 1:1). The author, having followed all things closely, wrote an orderly (chronological) account to the reader for “certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4) It is only the Gospel of Luke that attempts to put everything in chronological order. The genealogy is a disruption to the sequential structure of Luke.  Additionally, genealogy is substantially beyond the scope of the narration considering the reference of Acts 1:1 “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,”
 
2. Luke giving us the line of David’s son Nathan, instead of Solomon, does not fit the motive of the writer to make sure we have certainty concerning the things we have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4) It would go against the representation that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.
 
3. A genealogy would most logically be given at the beginning of a person’s life in reference to their birth. The genealogy in Luke is at a place after Jesus is baptized but before he is tempted in the wilderness. For laying things out sequentially, the more appropriate place to put it  would be in Chapter 2 after Jesus’ birth, or somewhere before he is born. Rather once Jesus was filled with the Spirit at his baptism (Luke 3:21-23), the genealogy is inserted before “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2). The clear interpolation (as compared to Mark 1:9-13) disrupts the continuity of events right at the moment Jesus is anointed and empowered by God. The interruption between Jesus receiving the Spirit and being lead by the Spirit, is a major distraction. Considering there is nothing else in the Gospel as clearly out of order as the genealogy, this lends credence to the view that it is a later interpolation and addition into the text. 
 

4. The genealogy being speculative and difficult to verify would add excessive scrutiny to his Luke’s Gospel. It was the authors express intent is to provide accuracy and confidence in the work (Luke 1:1-4). Considering the motivation of the author is to tell the story of Jesus’ life based on reliable sources and what witnesses can attest to, it is unlikely that the author, who distinguished himself as the first Christian critical scholar and historian, would endorse a speculative genealogy that seems to be contrived to fit a hebdomatic principle of working in sevens for a total of 77 generations. The genealogy is outside the general character of Luke, being a narration attested by witnesses and reliable authorities, as opposed to being of a highly speculative nature, as compared to Matthew.

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” (ESV)

Objection

“A major collision between the gospel tradition and archaeology concerns the existence of synagogues and Pharisees in pre-70 C.E. Galilee. Historical logic implies that there would not have been any, since Pharisees fled to Galilee only after the fall of Jerusalem.” [1]

Answer

“The first-century Capernaum synagogue in which Jesus preached has probably been found. Because more than one synagogue may have existed in Capernaum at this time, we cannot be sure that this new find was Jesus’ synagogue. But this recently discovered first-century building is certainly a likely candidate . . . The conclusion that this was a first-century A.D. synagogue seems inescapable.” [2]

References:

  1. Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003), p. 14
  2. James Strange and Hershel Shanks, “Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Found at Capernaum,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9 (1983)

Objection

In Luke 24 Jesus ascends from Bethany on the day of his resurrection, but in Acts 1 he ascends from Jerusalem after 40 days.

Answer

Time:

Luke 24 does not say the ascension took place on the same day as the resurrection. This claim comes from the fact that there are no indicators of time in the narration of the events. This is a rhetorical technique called telescoping, which was common in writings of the time [1] [2] [3].

Location:

Luke 24:50-51 (ESV)
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven

Acts 1:12 (ESV)
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

“As far as Bethany” and “mount called Olivet” are in the same area.


References:

  1. Lucian, Vera Historia, 56-57
  2. Cicero, De Oratore, 3.27.104-05
  3. Quintillian, Institutio Oratoria, 8.4

Objection #1

On three occasions, Acts narrates the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus, chapters 9, 22, and 26. Compare them closely to one another, and you find odd contradictions.

1) Acts 9:7 vs Acts 22:9: In chapter 9 Paul’s companions hear the voice of Jesus, but they don’t see anyone. In chapter 22 they see the light but don’t hear anything.

2) Acts 9:7 vs Acts 26:14: In Chapter 9 the companions are left standing while Paul falls to the ground. In Chapter 26 they are all knocked to the ground.

3) Acts 9 and 22 vs Acts 26: In chapters 9 and 22 Paul is told to go to Damascus to be instructed by a man named Ananias about what to do next. In chapter 26 Paul is not told to go be instructed by Ananias, instead Jesus himself instructs him. Is Paul instructed by Ananias or not?

Answer

1) The apparent contradiction is seen by not properly understanding and translating the Greek text. The Greek word ἀκούω has a big range of meaning and can refer to both “hearing,” but also to “understanding” what one has heard. [1]

2) The expression “stood speechless” can be taken as an idiomatic expression which means to be stunned, arrested at the moment, not that they were standing still the whole time.

3) Paul does not say in his speech in Acts 26 that he was not told to go be instructed by Ananias; Paul simply does not mention Ananias.

Objection #2

When Paul talks about his conversion in Galatians 1, he insists that after he had his vision of Jesus, he did not go to confer with other apostles in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, the first thing he does when he leaves Damascus, he makes a beeline to Jerusalem to confer with other apostles.

Answer

Telescoping is a method used throughout scripture, and it is used here as well. Time in Acts 9, between verses 25 and 26, does not have to be instant, but can be any amount of time. With Galatians 1 in context, we can see what happened between Acts 9:25 and Acts 9:26.

Acts 9:23-26 (ESV)
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

Galatians 1:15-17 (ESV)
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

References:

  1. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament – ἀϰούω [etym. complex]—1. primary sense hear Mt 13:9, 13; with focus on willingness to listen to or heed the substance of what is said 17:5; Ac 28:28.—2. ‘hear with comprehension’, understand 1 Cor 14:2Gal 4:21.—3. ‘receive information aurally’, hear, hear about Mt 14:13Ro 10:18; pass. be said/rumored 1 Cor 5:1; with focus on receipt of specifi c instruction learn 1 J 1:5 al.—4. Legal term: hear a case, grant a hearing  7:51; Ac 25:22

Objection

In Acts 16:1-3, Paul is said to have circumcised his co-worker, Timothy, born to a Jewish mother and a Greek father, in order to appease the Jews with whom they were to come in contact. Yet in Galatians 2:3 Paul resisted having the Greek Titus circumcised when he accompanied him to Jerusalem. Acts is not reliable in presenting the historical Paul.

Answer

Paul acted according to the principle of conciliatory accommodation (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), and not out of concession to the Judaistic dogma of the necessity of circumcision. He acted in order to leave no cause of offence at his work among the yet unconverted Jews of that region, and not to please Christian Judaists. If it was Christian Judaists that had demanded the circumcision of Timothy, as they did that of Titus at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:3), Paul would resist them, just as he did in the case of Titus.

Objection #1

In Acts 17 when Paul traveled to bring the gospel to Athens, he came by himself, without Timothy or any of the other apostles. In 1 Thess 3, we learn that he came to Athens precisely in the company of Timothy, not by himself.

Answer

1 Thess 3 does not state if Paul came to Athens alone or not. Acts 17 reports that a message was sent back urging Timothy to join Paul as soon as possible. According to 1 Thess 3, Timothy was in Athens shortly afterward.

Acts 17:14-15 (ESV)
Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed. 

1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith 

Objection #2

In Acts 17, Paul says pagans worship idols out of ignorance and do not know better. God overlooked their mistake, and now gives them a chance to repent. In Romans 1, Paul says pagans worship idols when they did know who the one God is, and they rejected that knowledge, in full consiousness of what they were doing. And because of that, God has cast his wrath down upon them.

Answer

In Acts 17 Paul points to the ignorance of worshipping the “unknown god,” and is not talking about idol worship. Paul uses a rhetoric hook to tell them about the one true God.

Acts 17:22-31 (ESV)
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”