After the resurrection of Jesus his disciples began to proclaim his message, initially
in Jerusalem but then spreading throughout the ancient world. By 60AD the Gospel
had been proclaimed in Syria, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, North Africa and even in
Rome. The main New Testament document that describes the progress of the Apostles
in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus is the book of the Acts of the Apostles. This
refers to a range of people, places, events and customs in the Eastern Roman empire;
many of these have been excavated by archaeologists or are mentioned by some of the
secular writers of the period. The letters of the Apostles which accompany Acts also
provide witnesses to the period.
Some of the major sites that have been thoroughly excavated include Rome, Corinth,
Ephesus and Philippi. Other cities, such as Antioch, Paphos, Berea and Thessalonika
have had small amounts of excavation, but this also supports the narrative of Acts.
As an example, the narrative describes the end of Paul’s stay in Ephesus in Acts
19. Here the preaching of Paul has caused opposition among the silversmiths who made
statues of Artemis/Diana of the Ephesians. The riot begins in the silversmith’s area
and moves rapidly into the town theatre. A look at the site shows that the theatre
is very close to the commercial agora where the silversmiths would work.The titles
of various authorities who are affected by the riots are included in the narrative;
these people are given their correct designations.
Acts, Epistles and Archaeology
One of the most notable features of the whole of Acts is the way that it refers to
the governors of the various cities and provinces visited. The Roman empire did not
have a unified system of government throughout, but tended to use variants of earlier
systems of government. This means that the titles and responsibilities of the leaders
in the various cities varied tremendously from city to city and from province to
province. There was no central record of the titles in the Roman bureaucracy; only
an eyewitness with a very good memory would be able to produce a suitable list. Luke
manages to do exactly this. The map above shows some of the titles used along with
the references of the place where these appear in Acts. It is noticeable that these
titles are never a major part of the narrative. The titles are always minor details,
which means that it is unlikely that they were introduced to the narrative directly,
something that would have been very difficult for an ancient author to have done.
In general archaeological discoveries and the witness of ancient authors give extremely
good support to the statement that the Acts of the Apostles is a very accurate description
of the events in it.