Trust Luke’s Inspired Account
by Richard Mansel
In the book of Acts, we find a remarkable account of history. Not only is Acts inspired from the mind of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), it’s recorded by a very capable, attentive and skilled historian. We can trust the message from his pen.
Despite the veracity of the Word, people still smugly doubt Luke’s account. From our modern perspective, we look down at ancient people and discount their abilities and intellect as primitive and juvenile.
However, when we study the accomplishments of antiquity, we cannot come away with anything but awe at their capabilities. We’re still helpless in our technologically superior age to grasp the true gift of invention among these so-called barbarians.
When ancient people had indoor plumbing and Americans were still in outhouses a few decades ago, we’re foolish to say a word against our forefathers. As our new buildings crumble, we glance at the timeless pyramids and hide our face in embarrassment.
Yet, in our enlightened age, we persevere in our childishness.
In Acts 23, Luke records the story of Paul who has been falsely charged with bringing a Gentile into the temple (Acts 21:26-36).
Claudius Lysias, hearing the disturbance rushes over from the Fortress of Antonia to quell the uproar. When his queries were met with unbridled fury, and he couldn’t ascertain the reason, he pulled Paul away from their murderous hands.
Lysias learns from Paul’s nephew that men were planning to ambush them on their way to Caesarea to murder Paul. Lysias prepares a significant force to ensure the safety of the prisoner and his own men. Luke says:
“And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night” (Acts 23:23, NKJV).
People doubt this account and charge Luke with exaggerating in order to inflate Paul’s importance. However, Jerusalem was in an uproar, and Lysias was charged with bringing order. He already had several hundred men under his command, and since they were also in danger, he took advanced measures.
Ben Witherington, III in his masterful Socio-Rhetorical commentary on Acts, addresses this point with the following found on page 692:
“Even somewhat before the time of Felix, Josephus tells us of Cumanus, an imperial slave carrtying a considerable amount of money, who was attacked and robbed while on the main road from Jerusalem (War 2.228; Ant. 10.113), and somewhat later in A.D. 66 we hear of the governor of Syra with thirty-three thousand men only narrowly escaping annihilation from ill-equipped Jewish rebels at the pass that leads down to Lydda (2.540-555).”
Witherington often addresses the doubts of men and discredits their assertions with his vast knowledge of ancient literature.
Lysias writes a letter to Felix the governor and the text says:
“Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him” (Acts 23:31-33).”
Once again, Witherington address the words of those who sit in their recliners and doubt that Claudius Lysias and his troops could accomplish such a task. He writes:
“Antipatris is some thirty-five miles away (by the Roman road), leaving about another twenty-five miles to Caesarea for the next day.”
Witherington gives three reasons why this is not improbable.
(1). The first days’ journey is mostly downhill;
(2) we have clear evidence of Roman troops traveling these kinds of distances in this amount of time (e.g. Ceasaer, Gallic Wars 7.40-41-twenty-five miles covered with full baggage train in twenty-eight hours, with three hours rest; in very adverse conditions twenty-seven miles was covered in one night; see Plutarch, Mark Anthony 47.2);
(3) Josephus says Sebaste in Samaria could be reached from Jerusalem in a day, and it was forty-two miles away (Ant. 15.293).
Ancient Roman troops typically marched between 20-25 miles a day. Suetonius said of Julius Caesar, “He was highly skilled in arms and horsemanship, and of incredible powers of endurance” (Caesar, 57). Roman legions were capable of extraordinary feats.
Witherington concludes on page 697,
Armchair scholars are ill equipped to make pronouncements about the historical likelihood of such ancient journeys in such periods of time. It does not pay to underestimate what Roman troops were capable of when a crisis situation was involved, especially when the only person in this entourage perhaps not capable of such a strenuous effort due to recent abuse was riding on a horse!”
We can trust what Luke says and rejoice in his message of faith and courage in the work of the Lord.