Sir William M. Ramsay – New Testament Scholar

As a student Ramsay had been influenced by Baur and the Tubingen School and doubted the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament. His studies in Asia Minor caused him to study the book of Acts, which he accepted as a document of the second half of the second century. He tells in The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament how he came to change his mind about this. In a study of Acts 14, Ramsay saw that Luke listed Lystra and Derbe as cities of Lycaonia, but did not include Iconium (Acts 14:6). He thought this had been deliberately invented by Luke because he was under a false impression. Check maps you have in your Bible and various Bible Atlases. You will probably see that some of them still have this incorrect. The SN (Study Note) in the NET Bible contains this note:

Iconium was a city in Lycaonia about 90 mi (145 km) east southeast of Pisidian Antioch. It was the easternmost city of Phrygia.

This comment relies on the older classical location of Iconium, but it was not this way during the Roman Imperial period.

In The Bearing of Recent Discovery…, Ramsay says that the purpose of his book, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, is to show:

“that Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historical sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely as much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians” (222).

The people of Lystra spoke the Lycaonian language (14:11). They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes (14:12). Inscriptions have been found that identify these particular gods with Lycaonia.

F. F. Bruce mentions his debt to the writings of Sir William Ramsay, and frequently calls attention to Ramsay’s works. Colin Hemer’s works on Acts and Revelation build on the work of Ramsay.

Dr. Mark W. Wilson, of Seven Churches Network has edited and updated at least four of Ramsay’s works: The Letters to the Seven Churches (Hendrickson), St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (Kregel), and Historical Commentary on First Corinthians (Kregel). This makes these older works much more valuable.

Our photo below shows a portion of a Roman road a few miles north of Tarsus, home of Saul of Tarsus. I think this is the route that would have been taken by Paul and Silas to connect them to the Cilician Gates and the Anatolian plateau. See Acts 15:41 – Acts 16:2.

Roman Road north of Tarsus. Note the fallen milestone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road north of Tarsus. Note the fallen milestone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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2 responses to “Sir William M. Ramsay – New Testament Scholar

  1. Pingback: Logos Community Pricing — some great bargains | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  2. Pingback: Lystra — the home of Timothy | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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