Accuracy in the Book of Acts

by Glenn Smith

In the book of Acts, chapter 27 deals with a shipwreck that the apostle Paul experienced while on his way to Rome. The author of Acts, Luke, goes into significant detail while describing the events of the storm and the wreck of the ship. Acts 27:13-16 reads:

Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat.

Historian Colin Hemer, in The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, comments about this passage:

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. As the implications of such details are further explored, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that they could have been derived from any contemporary

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reference work. In the places where we can compare, 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 (NH 4.12.61). 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, in a position which would not suit the unstudied narrative of our text (Ptol. Geog. 3.15.8)” (Hemer, p.331)

What Hemer is saying here is that it is increasingly difficult to say that the author of Acts got his information from a reference book or from hearsay. The first century sources that exist today, Pliny and Ptolemy, have the geography wrong according to what we now know with modern maps. In short, Luke is more accurate than any other extant source of his day…

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