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Gamaliel And The Revolt of Theudas

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In Acts 5:36, Gamaliel is record­ed to have said as fol­lows con­cern­ing the Jew­ish revolt of Theudas against the Roman Empire :

Pro gar toutoon toon heemeroon anes­tee Theudas legoon einai tina heau­ton, hoo pros­ek­lithee androon arith­mos hoos tetrako­sioon, hos aneerethee, kai pantes hosoi epei­thon­to autoo dielutheesan kai egenon­to eis ouden.

For before these days rose up Theudas, giv­ing him­self out to be some­body ; to whom a num­ber of men, about four hun­dred, joined them­selves : who was slain ; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dis­persed, and came to nought.”

It is inter­est­ing to note, how­ev­er, that this inci­dent involv­ing Theudas hap­pened about ten or fif­teen years after this alleged dis­course by Gamaliel ! Hence, we are faced with a seri­ous case of anachro­nism where Acts 5:36 is concerned.

Theudas is referred to by Gamaliel in his speech before the San­hedrin, when he advised them as to the posi­tion they should adopt in regard to the apos­tles (Acts 5:36). The fail­ure of the rebel­lion of Theudas was quot­ed by Gamaliel on this occa­sion as typ­i­cal of the nat­ur­al end of such move­ments as were inspired not of God, but of men.” A ris­ing under one Theudas is also described by Jose­phus (Ant, XX, v, 1), but this occurred at a lat­er date (accord­ing to Jose­phus about 44 or 45 AD) than the speech of Gamaliel (before 37 AD).Inter­na­tion­al Stan­dard Bible Ency­clopae­dia, Elec­tron­ic Data­base Copy­right (c)1996 by Biblesoft.

Ray­mond Brown states that :

Luke also seems to be inac­cu­rate about that cen­sus in Acts 5:36. There, Gamaliel, sup­posed to be giv­ing a speech in the ear­ly or mid 30s (short­ly after the death of Jesus), men­tions the upris­ing of Theudas, which did not occur till some ten years after Gamaliel’s speech, and com­pounds the error by implic­it­ly dat­ing the cen­sus and upris­ing of Judas the Galilean (A.D. 6 – 7) after Theudas.Ray­mond E. Brown, The Birth Of The Mes­si­ah (Cas­sell & Col­lier, 1977), p. 555

This error has not escaped the atten­tion of the Bib­li­cal com­men­ta­tors, as they sought to pos­tu­late var­i­ous expla­na­tions for this obvi­ous his­tor­i­cal error.

Of the the­o­ries put for­ward in expla­na­tion of the appar­ent anachro­nism in Gameliel’s speech, the two most in favor are (1) that as there were many insur­rec­tions dur­ing the peri­od in ques­tion, the two writ­ers refer to dif­fer­ent Theudas­es ; (2) that the ref­er­ence to Theudas in the nar­ra­tive of Acts was insert­ed by a lat­er revis­er, whose his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge was inac­cu­rate.Inter­na­tion­al Stan­dard Bible Ency­clopae­dia, op. cit.

The Wycliffe Bible Com­men­tary, appeal­ing to method­ol­o­gy (1), went so far as to allege that the Theudas” men­tioned by Gamaliel in Acts 5:36 is a dif­fer­ent per­son from the Theudas” who appeared some fif­teen years later :

Acts 5:36
For before these days rose up Theudas, boast­ing him­self to be some­body ; to whom a num­ber of men, about four hun­dred, joined them­selves : who was slain ; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scat­tered, and brought to nought.

He cit­ed recent his­tor­i­cal events to remind them that there had been oth­er move­ments among the Jews that amount­ed to noth­ing, and that there­fore they should have no fear of this new group who pro­claimed Jesus to be Mes­si­ah. Jose­phus says that there were many such move­ments in those days of unrest. Gamaliel recalled one Theudas, who claimed to be a per­son of great impor­tance and who per­suad­ed some four hun­dred Jews to fol­low him. This move­ment was crushed and Theudas slain. We know noth­ing else about this man. About A.D. 45, a magi­cian by the same name led a large num­ber of Jews to the Jor­dan Riv­er, promis­ing that he could sep­a­rate the waters so that they could walk across the riv­er on dry ground. The Roman gov­er­nor, Cris­pus Fadus, sent horse­men and crushed the move­ment. This false mes­si­ah, how­ev­er, was a dif­fer­ent per­son from the one men­tioned by Gamaliel.The Wycliffe Bible Com­men­tary, Elec­tron­ic Data­base. Copy­right (c) 1962 by Moody Press.

How­ev­er, this claim seems unten­able, in light of the fact the author of Acts (Luke) did not intend to write a chrono­log­i­cal account of events, but wrote from a pure­ly the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive. Hence :

Luke’s inten­tion to write an order­ly account” (1:3) does not imply that he gives us exact his­to­ry or chronol­o­gy. A study of Luke/​Acts shows that Luke had short­com­ings as a his­to­ri­an, e.g., in Acts 5:36 he has Gamaliel in the mid-30s refer in the past to a revolt by Theudas which did not occur till the 40s — and then Luke com­pounds the con­fu­sion by hav­ing Gamaliel refer to the revolt led by Judas the Galilean (A.D. 6) as if it came after the revolt of Theudas ! There is every rea­son to believe that Luke him­self com­posed many or all the speech­es he has placed on the lips of Peter and Paul in Acts. To be sure he may be reusing old­er mate­r­i­al in these speech­es, but Luke weaves it togeth­er in a dra­mat­ic setting.…Thus, if one wish­es to use the state­ments in the Lucan Pro­logue to make pre­judg­ments about the amount of his­tor­i­cal pre­ci­sion one can expect in the infan­cy nar­ra­tive, one must first inter­pret the Pro­logue in the light of Luke’s pro­ce­dure in the body of Luke/​Acts — a pro­ce­dure that gives evi­dence of con­sid­er­able free­dom of com­po­si­tion, occa­sion­al his­tor­i­cal inex­ac­ti­tudes, and a pri­ma­ry inter­est in the log­i­cal rather than the chrono­log­i­cal.Ray­mond E. Brown, op cit., p. 239

In con­clu­sion, a his­tor­i­cal­ly-erro­neous doc­u­ment cer­tain­ly can­not be divine­ly-inspired”. The anachro­nis­tic error in Acts 5:36 is yet anoth­er rea­son why Mus­lims reject the sta­tus of the Bible as being the Word of God’, and indeed, they are cer­tain­ly most jus­ti­fied in doing so.

And only God knows best ! Gamaliel And The Revolt of Theudas 26Endmark

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