Where Luke Got It Right

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Summary: Examining three compelling scenarios demonstrating Luke’s historical accuracy.

PREMISE: Luke the physician was an accurate historian who did not distort details even for the sake of convenience.
PURPOSE OF ARTICLE: To present three case studies where Luke was vindicated in modern New Testament scholarship by his usage of correct Greek terminology.


The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (found in the New Testament) were both authored by a man named Luke, and what we know of him is certainly fascinating. He was a Gentile, a devout believer in Jesus, a historian, a writer, a fellow traveler with the apostle Paul, and a physician.

He also was very detail-oriented in his accounts and focused primarily on writing the truth. The opening to his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) reads: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

But was he a good historian? Some scholars claim that he wrote much later than the events he was describing and got certain facts and terms wrong. Though hardly exhaustive, today’s article will offer three case studies (all involving Greek words) from the book of Acts in which critics thought Luke was wrong…and he turned out to be right.

1. Praetors

In Acts 16, Luke recounts the imprisonment of Paul and Silas by the Philippian authorities. In the past, skeptics attacked this passage for using the title στρατηγοῖς (stratégos transliterated, or praetors) to refer to the Philippian magistrates who ordered Paul and Silas to be beaten and imprisoned. After all, magistrates in Roman colonies were called duumvirs.

But according to Thomas Lewin in his commentary on Acts, “[In Philippi], the term ‘duumviri’ was rendered in Greek by the word στρατηγοί, or praetors; and accordingly we find Luke referring to them under this designation.”1 Craig Keener, in his exegetical commentary, confirms this usage: “The title for the magistrates in 16:20, στρατηγοί, was the most common informal Greek usage for the duumvirs (duoviri, duumviri) or, more formally, for a praetor.”2

In De Lege Agraria, Roman politician Cicero says regarding the colony Capua, “For in the first place, as I said, though similar officers in the other colonies are called duumvirs, these men chose to call themselves praetors.”3 So we see that this departure from the traditional title was not unheard of, and that the word praetor was most likely the correct term for the Philippian magistrates.

2. Anthupatos

Luke also received criticism from scholars for his use of the ostensibly incorrect word anthupatos (ἀνθυπάτου), rendered in English as “proconsul”, to describe Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12) and Gallio (Acts 18:12).

But Cyprus, over which Sergius Paulus presided, transformed from an imperial province to a senatorial province in 22 B.C. Thus, the term used for the ruler of Cyprus would have changed from “imperial legate” to “proconsul”, the latter being the precise term that Luke uses.4 As for Gallio of Achaia, Luke also describes his title correctly. The Delphi Inscription, written by the Roman emperor Claudius himself around 52 A.D., specifically references Gallio and calls him the “proconsul of Achaia”. Once again, the exact Greek term that Luke uses is found in the inscription.5

3. Politarches

In past years of New Testament scholarship, much criticism was directed toward Luke’s use of the word politarches (πολιτάρχη) to describe the city authorities in Acts 17:5-9 (which recounts a Jewish riot against Paul and his followers). The word appears in no extant Greek literature and seems to have been a neologism (or made-up word) combining polis (city) and arche (ruler).

However, this criticism became a moot point in the nineteenth century when a newly-discovered inscription on the Vardar gate in Thessalonica was found to contain the word politarches, proving that Luke indeed used the right term (and one that was known to the people of his day).6


The stories behind these three terms are just samples of the numerous times Luke the physician has been proved right despite critics’ attempts to undermine his legitimacy. In fact, he is now widely regarded as a preeminent historian, worthy to be ranked among his Greek counterparts. While his extreme accuracy in specific instances may not necessarily prove that he is right on supernatural and spiritual matters, it certainly does much to negate the argument that the entire Bible is a fairy-tale that has no historical grounding. In future articles, we will examine more of Luke’s incredible historical and scientific accuracy.


[1] Lewin, Thomas. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1890. Print.

[2] Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. Print.

[3] Cicero, De Lege Agraria 2.93 (translation by Wake Forest University: http://users.wfu.edu/horton/r102/gallio.html)

[4] Longman, Tremper, and David E. Garland. Luke–Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009. Print.

McDowell, Josh, and Bill Wilson. The Evidence for the Historical Jesus. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 2011. Print.

[5] http://users.wfu.edu/horton/r102/gallio.html

[6] The American Journal of Theology, Volume 2, Issues 3-4

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Jeff Coleman

Who thought Luke got “proconsul” wrong? I’m looking for source documents/links to those who thought so during a time of what I assume to be prior to the discovery in 1904 of the Delphi inscription.