Did Luke miss it by 60 years?




Question from a reader:

Why does Luke mention  Lysanias as the ruler of Abilene?



Luke opens his gospel with his purpose statement. He is writing an orderly record of what happened to give certainty to his account:

Luke 1 — Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke’s careful recording of accurate details was meant to affirm the reliability of the eye-witness accounts about Jesus. So in Chapter 3 of Luke’s gospel, he connects his account of John the Baptist to contemporary rulers:

Luke 3 — In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

At that point in history, references to the names and locations of rulers were used to establish time periods, since a calendar as we know it was not in use. If we didn’t have a calendar to mark the day and year of an event, today’s historian might say “in the 7th year of Obama’s presidency, when Xi Jinping was the President of China, and Vladimir Putin was the President of Russia.”

For years scholars were skeptical of Luke’s reference to Lysanias in Luke 3:1, casting doubt on the reliability of Luke’s gospel. “History makes no mention of a governor of Abilene of this name at this time…” ~ J. Davies said in his St. Luke’s Gospel. Josephus’ Antiquities record a Lysanius who was a ruler executed by Mark Anthony at Cleopatra’s request in 34 B.C.

Was Luke a sloppy historian? Did he make a 60-year mistake? Or was there actually another Lysanias during the ministry of John the Baptist?



Two archaeological discoveries would confirm that Luke was NOT mistaken about the Lysanias who lived during the reign of Tiberius.  One of those discoveries is an inscription found in 1737 by the famous English traveler Dr. Richard Pocock. The inscription dates from the time of Tiberius  (Roman emperor from 14 – 37 AD) which named Lysanias as the Tetrach of Abila near Damascus, just as Luke said. Be sure that the next time you are in London, you stop in to see this inscription, currently housed in the British Museum.

This evidence supports Luke in his reference to Lysanias as tetrarch during the time of John the Baptist. 

If you want to read more about Luke’s incredible accuracy as a historian, go here.

Archaeological evidence confirms that Luke wrote about real people in real places in his reliable gospel account. Luke mentions Lysanias to locate the story of Jesus in real history.

~ Betsy McPeak

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