The Bible as History: Minor Details in the Book of Acts

by Glenn Smith

In Colin Hemer’s great work The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, the author goes to great length examining the minutia that Luke wrote into the New Testament book of Acts. Hemer makes several lists of different types of details from the book, evaluating each and listing the significance. One of the smaller lists is the following group of names that Luke includes into the historical account (numbers are verses in the book of Acts):

4:6 Mention is made of the unspecified John and Alexander among the high priest’s party.

12:13-17 We  note the part played by Rhoda, and the departure of Peter . . .

12:20 There is named one Blastus, a servant of the king.

17:34 Dionysius and Damaris are named.

18:7-8 Paul’s shift to teaching at the house of Titius Justice is mentioned . . .

19:29 The naming of Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, is perhaps natural to the extent that he would have been anxious for their safety, and so a vivid touch belonging to the situation but not lending itself to theological explanation.

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20:4-5 Several companions of Paul are here named; most of them play no overt part in the story . . .

21:8, 16 Philip the evangelist and Mnason, Paul’s hosts at successive stages of the journey to Jerusalem, are mentioned by name.

28:11-13 The second Alexandrian ship is said to be called the ‘Dioscuri’, and the detailed account of its prosperously uneventful voyage is given. (p.207-209)

Hemer goes on to show that there is no reason for mentioning these names that fits into a selfish motivation from the author. There is no theological point that can be drawn from such details, no literary interest in making the story go smoother, no fictional style that requires these details, no financial gain that can be gathered by the author. Quite the opposite, actually…

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The Bible as History: Minor Details in the Book of Acts | Thomistic Bent