Did Luke Make a Mistake?

Cleopatra’s seductions enslaved Mark Antony, and as the two of them traveled through Syria, she conspired to use Antony to gain control of the whole region. In one example, she accused King Lysanias of Abilene of working with the Parthians – the mortal enemy of Rome. Therefore, Antony put Lysanias to death about 35 B.C. (See Josephus Antiquities 15.88 ff.)

In the last of the list of men Luke uses to date the ministries of Jesus and John is Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene:

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 (Luke 3:1, 2).

However, if Mark Antony killed Lysanias about 35 B.C., how could he be alive some 60 years later “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius”? Skeptics have used this “mistake” to cast doubt on Luke’s truthfulness.

The Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire bordered each other. In the period between the Old and New Testaments, the lands of the Bible served as a buffer between these two giants. 

To the north of Mount Hermon, neighboring the city of Damascus, was the country of Abilene. Although, after killing Lysanias, Antony gave Abilene to Cleopatra, apparently, she allowed the son of Lysanias, Zenodorus, to lease the kingdom from her. A few years later, Abilene was given to Herod the Great. When Herod died, parts of Abilene were given to Herod’s son Philip and the rest was granted to a second Lysanias, possibly the grandson of the slain king. The existence of this second Lysanias was merely hypothetical until modern times.

Two inscriptions were discovered in Abila, the capital of Abilene. The first was found in 1737 by the famous English traveler Dr. Richard Pocock, and a second was discovered in 1912. They refer to Lysanias the tetrarch (not king) and are dated in the reign of Tiberias.

Besides being a historical sidebar, why is this important? Can we trust the Bible? If it is truly the “Holy Bible,” it is different from every other book. One of the simple tests is the Bible’s truthfulness. For years the veracity of Luke’s history has been questioned.[1] The story of Lysanias is just another warning about rushing Luke to judgment. I trust my Bible!

[1] Just two other examples include the census of Quirinius (Luke 2:2) and calling the city fathers of Thessalonica “politarchs” (“city authorities, Acts 17:6). Quirinius actually served twice as the governor of Syria, and now there is ample archaeological evidence supporting the term politarchs in Thessalonica.

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