Bible critics and skeptics have often pointed that Luke’s record of “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” (Luke 3:1) is not referenced in history. They claim that the only leader by that name in that locality was a son of Ptolemy, a king (not a tetrarch), whose capital was Chalcis in Coele-Syria, not in Abilene. And that this king ruled from 40–36 B.C.
Although it must be acknowledged that there is no precise historical affirmation that has been discovered yet of Luke’s reference, there are several indirect references to a Lysanias matching to the Lysanias of Luke rather than the son of Ptolemy which are supportive to Luke’s statement. Let’s examine these references:
- Josephus pointed to “Abila of Lysanias” (Antiquities xix. 5. 1) and to a tetrarchy of Lysanias (Antiquities xx. 7. 1; War ii. 11. 5 ; 12. 8 ). These references in Josephus affirm rather than clash with Luke’s references.
- A medal has been discovered labelling a certain Lysanias as “tetrarch and high priest.” If this points to either, it more likely points to Luke’s Lysanias.
- In addition, two inscriptions were found, one of which shows that Lysanias, the son of Ptolemy, left offspring. And the other, that at the period when Tiberius was linked with Augustus, there was a “tetrarch Lysanias” (Boeckh, Corp. inscr. Gr. 4523, 4521). – Davidson, Intr. to N. T. 1. pp. 214-221, 1st ed.; Rawlinson, Bampton Lectures for 1859, P. 203; Wieseler in Herzog,2 1. PP. 87-89; and the reff. in Thayer’s Grimm under Λυσανίας.
The “International Critical Commentary” reporting on Luke’s supposed mistake, recorded that “such a mistake is very improbable; and the only difficulty about Luke’s statement is that we have no indisputable evidence of this tetrarch Lysanias.” Thus, it is pure assumption that no man by this name ever reigned in that vicinity.
In His service,
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