Is Luke’s reference of “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” a Biblical mistake (Luke 3:1)?


By BibleAsk Team

The mention of “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” in Luke 3:1 has been a point of contention among scholars and skeptics, with some questioning the historical accuracy of Luke’s reference. However, upon closer examination, it becomes evident that there are historical and archaeological facts that affirm Luke’s testimony and demonstrate the reliability of his account.

Historical Context (Luke 3:1)

Luke was a meticulous historian who sought to provide an accurate and orderly account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His Gospel and the Book of Acts demonstrate careful attention to historical detail and geographical accuracy. Luke’s commitment to historical accuracy is evident in his prologue, where he states his intention to write an orderly account based on careful investigation (Luke 1:1-4).

Luke’s mention of Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene is consistent with his broader aim of situating the events of Jesus’ ministry within their historical and political context. By providing specific details about the rulers and regions of the time, Luke adds credibility to his narrative and invites readers to engage with the historical realities of first-century Palestine.

Reconsidering Lysanias the Tetrarch

While some scholars have questioned the existence of Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, recent archaeological discoveries and historical research have shed new light on this matter. Inscriptions and artifacts unearthed in the ancient Near East provide evidence of a Lysanias who ruled as tetrarch of Abilene during the first century CE.

One significant discovery is a medal that labels a certain Lysanias the “tetrarch and high priest.” This inscription aligns with Luke’s description of Lysanias the tetrarch, indicating that there may have been multiple individuals with the name Lysanias who held positions of authority in different regions.

Additionally, inscriptions found in the region confirm the existence of a Lysanias who was the son of Ptolemy and who left offspring. These inscriptions corroborate Luke’s mention of Lysanias as a historical figure who held political power in the region of Abilene during the first century CE.

The Testimony of Josephus

Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, provides valuable insights into the political landscape of Palestine during the time of Jesus. In his writings, Josephus mentions a Lysanias who ruled as tetrarch of Abilene in the early first century CE. In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus refers to Lysanias in the context of a dispute over the priesthood in Jerusalem. While Josephus does not provide extensive details about Lysanias’ reign, his mention of Lysanias as tetrarch of Abilene corroborates Luke’s reference in the Gospel of Luke.

The International Critical Commentary

The “International Critical Commentary” (ICC) is a renowned scholarly resource that offers in-depth analysis and commentary on biblical texts. While some editions of the ICC may have expressed skepticism regarding Luke’s mention of Lysanias, it is important to recognize that scholarly opinions are subject to revision in light of new evidence and research.

In recent years, scholars such as Colin Hemer have argued for the historical accuracy of Luke’s reference to Lysanias, citing archaeological discoveries and a reevaluation of historical sources. Hemer, in particular, emphasizes Luke’s reliability as a historian and his careful attention to detail, which lends credibility to his account.

It is possible that future editions of the ICC and other scholarly commentaries may reassess their interpretations of Luke’s mention of Lysanias in light of the new archaeological evidence. As scholarship continues to evolve and new discoveries are made, it is important for scholars to remain open to reevaluating their assumptions and conclusions.

The Value of Historical and Archaeological Evidence

The discovery of archaeological artifacts and inscriptions that corroborate Luke’s mention of Lysanias highlights the importance of integrating historical and archaeological evidence into biblical scholarship. While the Bible is primarily a religious and theological text, it is also grounded in historical realities and cultural contexts.

Archaeological discoveries provide valuable insights into the world of the Bible, confirming the historical accuracy of biblical narratives and illuminating aspects of ancient life and society. By examining archaeological evidence alongside biblical texts, scholars can gain a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural background of the biblical world.

In the case of Luke’s mention of Lysanias, archaeological evidence has played a crucial role in affirming the reliability of his account and dispelling doubts about its historical accuracy. This serves as a reminder of the importance of approaching the Bible with a balanced and interdisciplinary perspective, incorporating insights from history, archaeology, and textual analysis.


In conclusion, Luke’s reference to “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” in Luke 3:1 is not a biblical mistake but rather an accurate historical detail that aligns with the political landscape of first-century Palestine. Josephus’ testimony, supported by archaeological evidence, confirms the existence of a Lysanias who ruled as tetrarch of Abilene during the time of Jesus.

The convergence of textual, historical, and archaeological evidence underscores the reliability of Luke’s account and the value of approaching the Bible as a historically grounded document. As scholars continue to engage with the evidence, it is essential to recognize the historical accuracy of biblical narratives such as Luke’s Gospel and to appreciate the insights they provide into the world of the New Testament.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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