From the Errancy discussion list, 8-18-97:
Otsen has cited the amazing historical accuracy of Luke as an argument for biblical inerrancy, as if he somehow believes that because one biblical writer was accurate in some geographical, political, and social matters, he was therefore right in everything he wrote and that the entire Bible must, as a consequence, be inerrant. In an earlier posting, I listed over two dozen references that Luke made in the book of Acts to extraordinary events. I challenge Otsen to present to us some kind of extrabiblical evidence to prove that at least some of these events actually happened. Until he can do this, he is in effect arguing that because Luke knew the geography of the region he wrote about and the names of some public officials and such like, we can thereby know that Luke was also accurate in his reporting of the various miracle claims found in his gospel and the book of Acts.
I'll use just one example to show how fallacious this line of reasoning is. In *The Twelve Caesars,* the Roman historian Suetonius recorded many events and named many public officials that are universally accepted as historically accurate. However, Suetonius also stated that when Roman officials were arguing over where the body of Julius Caesar should be cremated, two "divine forms" came down with torches in hand and set fire to the funeral couch (Penguin Books, 1989, p. 52). Suetonius also stated that a man who had just recently purchased the mansion that had been owned by the grandfather of Caesar Augustus went to sleep in the room that had been the nursery of Augustus, and in the night he was "hurled out of bed by a supernatural agency and found lying half-dead against the door, bedclothes and all" (p. 56). Suetonius further claimed that Emperor Vespasian healed a blind man and a lame man by just touching the lame man and spitting on the eyes of the blind man (p. 284). Tacitus made this same claim.
What are we to conclude about these remarkable claims? Are we supposed to assume that because Suetonius was historically accurate in so many of his details about ORDINARY events and persons, he therefore had to be accurate in his reporting of supernatural deeds like these? Osten should tell us if he accepts the historical accuracy of Suetonius in the supernatural claims that he wrote about. If not, why not? IF HE IS NOT GOING TO ACCORD SUETONIUS THE SAME STANDARD OF CONSIDERATION, then he should explain to us why Luke's accuracy in commonplace, ordinary matters should give us reason to assume Luke's accuracy in unconfirmed supernatural claims .
As for Luke's historical accuracy in ordinary historical matters, I will cite just one example that gives us reaon to doubt this frequently made claim. In Acts 5:35-37, Luke had Gamaliel, a Pharisee and "doctor of the law," saying this to the Sanhedrin as they deliberated on what to do to the apostles for continuing to preach the resurrection of Jesus: "You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what you are about to do. For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves, who was slain, and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed and came to nought. AFTER this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some of the people after him. He also perished and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad."
In this speech, Luke had Gamaliel putting the revolt of Theudas before the one led by Judas of Galilee. Luke's Gamaliel dated Judas's uprising at the time of the "enrollment," which is a probable reference to the enrollment that Luke mentioned in his gospel (2:2). Luke alleged that this enrollment occurred when Quirinius was governor of Syria (2:2), and in the *Antiquities of the Jews,* Josephus referred to the "sons of Judas of Galilee," who had been slain in a revolt when Cyrenius [Quirinius] came to take an account of the state of the Jews" (20:5.2). In 20:5.1, however, Josephus said that the revolt of Theudas happened when Fadus was "procurator of Judea," and this would have had to have been between A. D. 44-46, since that was when Fadus procurator of Judea. Quirinius was governor of Syria 40 years earlier, so we have Luke disagreeing with Josephus as to the proper sequence of these two revolts. Luke said that the revolt of Theudas happened before Judas of Galilee's; Josephus said the opposite. In fact, if the revolt of Theudas occurred during the administration of Fadus, then Luke has Gamaliel talking about a revolt that hadn't even happened yet. (Gamaliel's speech was allegedly made about two months after the alleged resurrection in about A. D. 29; Fadus was procurator of Judea in A. D. 44-46.)
To "resolve" this problem, biblical inerrantists have argued that the Theudas that Josephus referred to was not the same Theudas that Luke's Gamaliel referred to, and some have simply said that Luke was right and Josephus wrong. At any rate, this one example is enough to cast doubt on the frequently heard fundamentalist claim that Luke has been shown to be a remarkably accurate historian.
By the way, if Otsen were on the list now, he would be aware of a thread that is discussing a probable error that Luke made in the second chapter of his gospel when he referred to a decree that Caesar Augustus sent out when Quirinius was governor of Syria.