84 Historical Facts In The Book Of Acts


By Erik Manning| Bart Ehrman claims that Luke wasn’t really a traveling companion of Paul. In his book Forged, Ehrman writes: “(The author of Acts) is simply claiming to be a traveling companion of Paul’s and therefore unusually well suited to give a “true” account of Paul’s message and mission. But he almost certainly was not a companion of Paul’s. On the one hand, he was writing long after Paul and his companions were dead. Scholars usually date Acts to around 85 CE or so, over two decades after Paul’s death. On the other hand, he seems to be far too poorly informed about Paul’s theology and missionary activities to have been someone with firsthand knowledge.”  (Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, p. 237)

For someone who was writing long after Paul was dead, the author of Acts gets a ridiculous amount of facts right regarding local places, titles, names, environmental conditions, customs and circumstances that only an eyewitness contemporary of the time and events could possibly know. 

Classical historian Colin Hemer details dozens of facts that confirm this in his masterful book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. I don’t know if Dr. Ehrman is just unaware of Hemer’s work, but his research should cause any critic to reconsider the dating of Acts. And if Acts is the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, then it logically follows that Luke was written even earlier.

As you go through the following list, remember Luke didn’t have Google or Wikipedia.


1. the natural crossing between correctly named ports (Acts 13:4-5

2. the proper port (Perga) along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13) 

3. the proper location of Lycaonia (14:6)

4. the unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra (14:6) 

5. the correct language spoken in Lystra—Lycaonian (14:11) According to Tim McGrew: “This was unusual in the cosmopolitan, Hellenized society in which Paul moved. But the preservation of the local language is attested by a gloss in Stephanus of Byzantium, who explains that “Derbe” is a local word for “juniper.” Hemer lists many other native names in the Lystra district.”

6. two gods known to be associated with Lystra—Zeus and Hermes (14:12)

7. the proper port, Attalia, which returning travelers would use (14:25)

8. the correct order of approach to Derbe and Lystra from the Cilician Gates (16:1; cf. 15:41) 

9. the proper form of the name Troas (16:8) 

10. the place of a conspicuous sailors’ landmark, Samothrace (16:11) 

11. the proper description of Philippi as a Roman colony (16:12) 

12. the right location for the river (Gangites) near Philippi (16:13) 

13. the proper association of Thyatira as a center of dyeing (16:14) 

14. correct designations for the magistrates of the colony (16:22) 

15. the proper locations (Amphipolis and Apollonia) where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1) 

16. the presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1) 

17. the proper term (“politarchs”) used of the magistrates there (17:6) 

18. the correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient way of reaching Athens, with the favoring east winds of summer sailing (17:14-15) 

19. the abundant presence of images in Athens (17:16) 

20. the reference to a synagogue in Athens (17:17) 

21. the depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora (17:17) 

22. the use of the correct Athenian slang word for Paul (“seed-picker”, or in Greek: spermologos, 17:18) as well as for the court (Areios pagos, 17:19) 

23. the proper characterization of the Athenian character (17:21) 

24. an altar to an “unknown god” (17:23). These altars are mentioned by Pausanias and Diogenes Laertius.

25. the proper reaction of Greek philosophers, who denied the bodily resurrection (17:32)  See the words of Apollo in Aeschylus, Eumenides 647-48.

26. Areopagites as the correct title for a member of the court (17:34) 

27. a Corinthian synagogue (18:4) 

28. the correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth (18:12)  Per McGrew, “this reference nails down the specific time of the events to the period from the summer of 51 to the spring of 52.” This reference is how even secular Bible scholars date Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.

29. the bema (judgment seat), which overlooks Corinth’s forum (18:16ff.) 

30. the name Tyrannus as attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions (19:9) 

31. well-known shrines and images of Artemis (19:24) 

32. the well-attested “great goddess Artemis” (19:27) 

33. that the Ephesian theater was the meeting place of the city (19:29) 

34. the correct title grammateus for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus (19:35) 

35. the proper title of honor neokoros, authorized by the Romans (19:35) 

36. the correct name to designate the goddess (19:37) 

37. the proper term for those holding court (19:38) 

38. use of plural anthupatoi, perhaps a remarkable reference to the fact that two men were conjointly exercising the functions of proconsul at this time because their predecessor, Silanus, had been murdered. See Tacitus, Annals 13.1; Dio Cassius 61.6.4-5.  (19:38) 

39. the “regular” assembly, as the precise phrase is attested elsewhere (19:39) 

40. use of precise ethnic designation, beroiaios (20:4) 

41. employment of the ethnic term Asianos (20:4) 

42. the implied recognition of the strategic importance assigned to this city of Troas (20:7ff.) 

43. the danger of the coastal trip in this location (20:13) 

44. the correct sequence of places (20:14-15) 

45. the correct name of the city as a neuter plural (Patara) (21:1) 

46. the appropriate route passing across the open sea south of Cyprus favored by persistent northwest winds (21:3) 

47. the suitable distance between these cities (21:8) 

48. a characteristically Jewish act of piety (21:24) 

49. the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28) (Archaeological discoveries and quotations from Josephus confirm that Gentiles could be executed for entering the temple area. One inscription reads: “Let no Gentile enter within the balustrade and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his consequent death.”) 

50. the permanent stationing of a Roman cohort (chiliarch) at Antonia to suppress any disturbance at festival times (21:31) 

51. the flight of steps used by the guards (21:31, 35) 

52. the common way to obtain Roman citizenship at this time (22:28) 

53. the tribune being impressed with Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29) 

54. Ananias being high priest at this time (23:2) 

55. Felix being governor at this time (23:34) 

56. the natural stopping point on the way to Caesarea (23:31) 

57. whose jurisdiction Cilicia was in at the time (23:34) 

58. the provincial penal procedure of the time (24:1-9) 

59. the name Porcius Festus, which agrees precisely with that given by Josephus (24:27) 

60. the right of appeal for Roman citizens (25:11) 

61. the correct legal formula (25:18) 

62. the characteristic form of reference to the emperor at the time (25:26) 

63. the best shipping lanes at the time (27:5) 

64. the common bonding of Cilicia and Pamphylia (27:4) 

65. the principal port to find a ship sailing to Italy (27:5-6) 

66. the slow passage to Cnidus, in the face of the typical northwest wind (27:7) 

67. the right route to sail, in view of the winds (27:7) 

68. the locations of Fair Havens and the neighboring site of Lasea (27:8) 

69. Fair Havens as a poorly sheltered roadstead (27:12) 

70. a noted tendency of a south wind in these climes to back suddenly to a violent northeaster, the well-known gregale (27:13) 

71. the nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale (27:15) 

72. the precise place and name of this island (27:16) 

73. the appropriate maneuvers for the safety of the ship in its particular plight (27:16) 

74. the fourteenth night—a remarkable calculation, based inevitably on a compounding of estimates and probabilities, confirmed in the judgment of experienced Mediterranean navigators (27:27) 

75. the proper term of the time for the Adriatic (27:27) 

76. the precise term (Bolisantes) for taking soundings, and the correct depth of the water near Malta (27:28) 

77. a position that suits the probable line of approach of a ship released to run before an easterly wind (27:39) 

78. the severe liability on guards who permitted a prisoner to escape (27:42) 

79. the local people and superstitions of the day (28:4-6) 

80. the proper title protos tēs nēsou (28:7) 

81. Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry them through the strait (28:13) 

82. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as correctly placed stopping places on the Appian Way (28:15) 

83. appropriate means of custody with Roman soldiers (28:16) 

84. the conditions of imprisonment, living “at his own expense” (28:30-31)


This list goes to show that, contra Ehrman, Luke was well-informed of Paul’s missionary journeys. Here’s the verdict on Luke from a classical Roman historian:

“For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd.  Roman historians have long taken it for granted.” – A.N. Sherwin-White

Interestingly, Luke reports five different miracles that were performed through the hands of Paul (Acts 13:1114:7-919:11-1220:9-1028:8-9). Furthermore, we know that Paul believed he performed miracles from reading his letters. (Romans 15:192 Corinthians 12:12) Luke also has Paul preaching Jesus’ bodily resurrection. (Acts 13:26-4117:32) If Luke was dead-on with these tiny details, it stands to reason he could be accurately reporting the miracles as well. In several cases, he probably was even an eyewitness to them.

Sources: The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, Chapters 4-6, Colin Hemer I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Norman Geisler & Frank Turek, 258-261, On the Historical Accuracy of the Book of Acts, Tim McGrew. The original 84 facts are listed by Geisler & Turek.

This article was originally featured on Is Jesus Alive and was republished with permission from the author.

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