Sunday, January 14, 2007


Liberals, as well as outright unbelievers, deny the inspiration and accuracy of Luke. Yet, generally speaking, their evidence comes down to just two or three threadbare examples: the genealogy, the census, and Theudas (Acts 5:36-37).

But if Luke really was an uninspired writer, more concerned with theology than history, the list ought to be far longer.

Moreover, we should expect to run across a few obscurities in a book written 2000 years ago. We are not the target audience. What was common knowledge for the original reader is often lost on us.

I’ve discussed the census and the genealogy in my review of TET. But what about Theudas?

The allegation is that Luke committed an anachronism by dating the leader of this revolt too early, contrary to the later date assigned to him by Josephus.

If you run through the liberal to conservative scholarship, you are generally presented with one of three options: (i) Luke was wrong; (ii) Josephus was wrong; (iii) Gamaliel was referring to another Theudas.

But there’s another option I haven’t seen debated. Let’s remember that Luke isn’t speaking for himself. He's not stating what he thinks really took place.

Rather, he's quoting someone else. He's reporting what was actually said, not what actually happened (according to the source he's quoting).

Why is it not equally possible that Gamaliel misspoke? After all, Luke is quoting (or summarizing) an extemporaneous speech. People often misspeak when they talk off-the-cuff—especially when they cite some news item or historical incident from memory.

Gamaliel wasn't delivering a prepared speech. Rather, he was ad libbing.

And although we don't know how old he was, it's a safe bet that he was getting up in years.

Some commentators conjecture that he was naming a different man by the same name.

Why not conjecture that he was misnaming the individual in question?

As the commentators point out, there were quite a few revolutionaries or insurgents during the period in question.

Admittedly, that's speculative on my part, but any explanation or harmonization is speculative at this juncture—from liberal (Luke was wrong) to conservative (Josephus was wrong, or Gamaliel was referring to another man by the same name). So it's not as if a conservative explanation is special pleading while a liberal explanation has the hard evidence in its favor.

We're more likely to correctly remember an event, but misremember a name than the other way round—especially when we're speaking impromptu. Recall the gist of the event even if we're fuzzy on the details.

Not to mention if we're getting up in years. I'm not saying he (Gamaliel) was senile, but when you live long enough, things tend to become a bit of a blur precisely because you've lived through so very much.

And, again, he was speaking off the top of his head.

If this is the true explanation, then, ironically, in would be a mark of Luke's accuracy rather than inaccuracy by accurately reporting an inaccurate statement.

Out of curiosity, I ran this explanation by Craig Blomberg, who agreed with me that this was a reasonable option.


  1. I recently heard Wayne Grudem go through this problem and his solution seemed very satisfactory.

    Very simply, he said that Josephus wrote about a Thudas who recorded to have arisen in 44 AD, while we know that Gamaliel spoke around 33-40 AD. Would that make sense? It would then have to be another fellow.

    Your thoughts?

  2. Steve's argument is certainly plausible. As to whether the two-men-of-the-same-name idea is plausible, I suppose it depends on how common the name Theudas was back in that time period.

    As Steve said, it's all speculation at this point. Since there are many possible answers and no way to determine for sure, this is one of those bits of "evidence" that isn't really evidence.

  3. If Josephus was wrong how about this scenario:

    Theudas was around some time ago. Another person doing something similar came around. Josephus used his name wrongly about similar Person B.

    Another option with Josephus being correct: Theudas and what he did was well-known. He was a folk hero. Some later guy took the name of the folk hero. Bar Kokhba changed his name to sound more Messianic, so this may be a possibility.

    But I like the thinking of accurately quoting someone who was wrong.

  4. Polemic turtle.

    Yes, that's a valid option. Indeed, I mention that option. According to both Bruce and Witherington, Theudas was a common name.

    My point is not to eliminate options, but expand options.

    An assumption shared in common by liberal and conservative alike (on this particular passage) is to identify the viewpoint of the writer with the viewpoint of the speaker.

    But that's not a reliable assumption. It all depends on the speaker. Gamaliel was not infallible.

    geoffrobinson has mentioned two other harmonistic options.

    And that's my point—to expand the repertoire of harmonistic options.

  5. According to Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses), Theudas is name #34 of the 99 most common names of Palestinian Jewish men at from 330 "BCE" to 200 "CE"

  6. Nah. It just shows the Bible contains errors and inconsistencies. Like all those chronicles of the late 20th and early 21st century that can't even agree on whether the President George Bush who fought a war against Saddam Hussein reigned before Bill Clinton, or after him. How can you trust documents that contain such obvious errors? I mean, fer cryin' out loud, Lauckmann (2051, pp 157-58) claims "George Bush" became President in 2001, yet other books published in the 1990s (Pre-Sharia Era) spoke of this Bush as having already vacated office as President earlier. Clearly these older texts must have been subsequently doctored.

    You have to apply common sense to the ancient documents, you know. The sheep-herders who composed them can't even agree on whether one earlier official's name should be transliterated as "Ronald Reagan" or "Donald Regan".