Sir William Ramsay and Luke the Historian

Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) was an archaeologist and biblical skeptic. He taught at the University of Edinburgh and believed that Bible writers made facts and stories up. The book of Acts, he declared, was full of errors, and to prove this contention, he traveled to Asia Minor to demonstrate Luke’s unreliability.

He understood he could not prove or disprove miracle accounts, but if he could show Luke to be a sloppy historian on facts that could be verified
(geographical and historical), he felt he could discredit Luke’s unverifiable stories.

Ramsay the skeptic returned to Great Britain a believer. Every one of Luke’s facts checked out. He found Luke to use specific and accurate terminology that reflected a careful chronicle of events. There were proconsuls in senatorial provinces, asiarchs in Ephesus, politarchs in Thessalonica. His conclusion was that Luke was a highly reliable historian, rendering the story of the early church in the book of Acts a remarkably clear one.

The title politarch in Acts 17:6 is particularly striking because, until Ramsay’s investigation, the term was unknown in Greek literature outside Acts. Ramsay found five inscriptions with the term in the city.

Ramsay wrote several important books reflecting his archaeological findings such as The Church in the Roman Empire, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen and The Cities of St. Paul.

What Ramsay’s story demonstrates is the Bible will withstand any investigation from those willing to honestly look at the evidence.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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3 thoughts on “Sir William Ramsay and Luke the Historian

  1. Stan, I am putting your article in our bulletin for this coming Lord’s Day. However, I discovered that the picture you have is of Sir William Ramsay the chemist, but you want Sir William Mitchell Ramsay the archaeologist.

  2. I enjoyed your article on Sir William Ramsey who learned to believe the Bible because of the geographic accuracy of Luke’s writings in the book of Acts. I read more of Ramsey’s writings on the internet and I have ordered a copy of the November, 1922 National Geographic which has his comprehensive article on his archaeological findings in Asia Minor. It is interesting that his findings corrected some of the theories of past historians. He was a Greek and a Latin scholar and a precise scientist. I don’t know if I would agree with all he wrote about the application of God’s Word, but I appreciate his intellectual honesty and his contribution to understanding the geography of the world of Paul.
    Thank you, Irene Johnston

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