David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

Luke's accurate use of official titles in the book of Acts

The book of Acts covers the beginning of the Church, from about AD 30 to AD 62. The author, Luke, describes in some detail the travels of the apostle Paul and his co-workers in present day Turkey and Greece. In describing the local officials Paul bumped up against, the author uses a range of different titles. For example, he talks about praetors in Philippi, calls Publius the first man of Malta, refers to the Asiarchs who governed Ephesus, and calls the city council of Thessalonika politarchs. (Acts chapter 17 verse 6)

In the past, scholars 'knew' that Luke was an inaccurate and unreliable historian, who did not know what he was writing about, or perhaps just could not be bothered to be consistent in his use of official titles. For example, there was absolutely no known use of the word 'politarch' anywhere in Greek literature. Luke must have got it wrong!

But recent discoveries have shown that a range of different titles were in use at the time for local government officials, and that - wherever we know what the title was - the author of Acts got it right.

For example, in 1835, a Greek inscription was discovered on an arch at Thessalonika, which contained the title 'politarch'. (The arch itself was destroyed in 1867, but the inscription is now in the British Museum.) Since then, this term has been found in a large number of other inscriptions - several of them at Thessalonika.

Luke's use of different titles in other places has also been confirmed by archaeological discoveries. And the same careful and accurate person who wrote Acts also wrote Luke's gospel. In the introduction to his Gospel, he says this:

Many people have written accounts about the events that took place among us. They used as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eyewitnesses of what God has done in fulfillment of his promises. Having carefully investigated all of these accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary for you, to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught. (Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 verses 1-4)

So discoveries in archaeology have confirmed that Luke, the author of 'Acts', was a careful and accurate historian, with first-hand knowledge of his subject, who was accurate in his use of titles for government officials. This is yet more confirmation that the Bible is real history: real people, in real places.

Back to 'Real people: real places'