How do you answer claims that the book of Acts cannot be trusted as real history like we would understand it today?
By Bobby Killmon
I had that argument leveled at me at seminary I attended. This is a challenge that is losing ground rapidly for critics of Acts. For instance let’s look at one example as a case study. Acts 27:13-16 records when Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome. Luke writing by the Spirit gives us an incredibly detailed account about the storm and subsequent Paul’s shipwreck. Regarding the details of this historical account historians are pointing out Luke is more accurate than the most careful contemporaries of his time.
One historian shows, “Cauda, for instance, is precisely where a ship driven helpless before an east-northeast wind, from beyond the shelter of Cape Matala, might gain brief respite for necessary maneuvers and to set a more northward line of drift on the starboard tack… Luke fares much better than the encyclopedist Pliny, who might be regarded as the foremost first-century example of such a source. Pliny places Cauda (Gaudos) opposite Hierapytna, some ninety miles too far east… Even Ptolemy, who offers a reckoning of latitude and longitude, makes a serious dislocation to the northwest, putting Cauda too near the western end of Crete…” (Hemer, p.331) Hemer shows Luke writing by the Spirit was more accurate than any source we have from his day!
But why does Scripture include this minute data of a historical account? Luke gets picky details, not central to the theology, right again and again. Including weather patterns in specific seasons, the precise way sailors dealt with exact challenges in a particular storm, and detailed accuracy regarding specific ports.
Why would God inspire Luke to write with such accuracy in these tedious historical details? There is no particular doctrinal investment in these secondary historical claims. The reason is God wants us to know “the certainty of the things we believe” (Lk. 1:4). God’s showing us His Word was written by eyewitnesses and that Luke, writing by the Spirit of God, was recording accurate history.
Critics who dismiss the inerrancy of Scripture can no longer claim “Well, it’s not history as we understand it, but more like theological storytelling.” How in the world did Luke know which inconspicuous little island a northeast wind might drive his ship toward in a storm? Especially when the other experts in the first century all get its location wrong?
What God assures us in these details in Acts is that His Word is inerrant in not only history, geography, and science. More importantly this proves with certainty Scripture can be trusted in its spiritual truths as well! What a great day to be an Apostolic.