Believe on the Evidence: "Not Done in a Corner"
Not Done in a Corner
“The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”
- Acts 26:26
As was seen from the analysis of refutable claims in the Resurrection narrative, the Bible is replete with historical details – the existence of persons, places, events and time periods that can be verified from ancient writings, archeology and astronomy. These details give the Bible a historicity, or historical authenticity, that is conducive to belief, and makes the “big leap” (that God exists and desires a personal relationship with each human) that much easier to make.
Now consider the opposite: if one wanted to develop a false narrative in order to start a new religion, perhaps from a delusion or for financial or political gain, one would avoid as much historical detail as feasible. Historical details could give the lie to that false narrative; therefore, vagueness in regard to people, places and events would be preferred. This fact makes the Bible that much more astonishing; not only is it loaded with historical details, but in some cases those historical details are not even critical to the narrative.
As an example, look at Acts 22-25: the Apostle Paul is rescued by Roman soldiers after the Jews try to kill him, and is sent to Caesarea where resides the Roman procurator of Judea, Marcus Antonius Felix. Because Paul is a Roman citizen, he requests to be tried by Caesar, the Emperor Claudius; Felix hears his request but makes no decision. Felix is later recalled to Rome and replaced by a new procurator, Porcius Festus. Festus hears Paul’s
case, and agrees that Paul should be sent to Caesar.
The point of this story is that Paul will go to Rome to testify before the most powerful person in the Roman Empire. So why, then, does Luke spend Acts 25-26 on Paul’s examination by King Herod Agrippa II? Agrippa, a grandson of Herod the Great and the last and least of the Herodian dynasty, ruled over a region in modern Lebanon and Syria, had no authority over Paul or Judea, and was disliked by the Jews because he had an unconventional relationship with his sister (not Queen), Bernice. How does the testimony of Paul before Agrippa bolster the “Paul before Caesar” storyline?
The answer: It doesn’t. No one inventing a false narrative about Paul going to testify before Caesar would include the digression about Paul’s testimony before Agrippa. The examination of Paul by Agrippa would only appear in the narrative because it actually happened; this historicity is the basis for Paul’s statement to Agrippa above.
Paul’s claim that the events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were “... not done in a corner” was a challenge to an unbelieving world to prove him wrong.
The Historical Existence of Gallio, Proconsul of Achaia
We can engage that same challenge across the whole of the New Testament. Is there evidence for the historical existence of the major political and governing figures mentioned in the New Testament?
In 2017 the Biblical Archeology Society published a list of 23 New Testament personages who existences have been confirmed by sources outside the Bible and the early Christian writers. For several of these individuals various forms of evidence are provided including coins, inscriptions, ancient non-Biblical writings and other archaeological finds.
Altogether, 22 of these 23 political figures are confirmed in the books of Josephus as he covers the religious and political history of the Jewish people; however, it is the one that Josephus doesn’t mention that demonstrates the powerful accuracy of the New Testament.
Acts 18:12-17 mentions the trial of Paul before Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, in Corinth:
While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment.
- Acts 18:12
We know quite a lot about Gallio from the writings of Seneca the Younger, Tacitus, Dio Cassius and Pliny the Elder. Born Lucius Annæus Novatus around 5 B.C. in Córdoba, Spain, Gallio’s father was the noted Roman rhetorician Seneca the Elder, and his brother was the philosopher and writer Seneca the Younger. Gallio took the name Lucius Junius Gallio Annæus upon his adoption by the Roman senator Junius Gallio.
When Seneca the Younger was called to be the tutor of the future Emperor Nero in 49 AD, Gallio went to Rome with him and began a spectacular rise in Roman politics, culminating in his appointment as a suffect (replacement) consul, one of the highest positions in Roman politics, around 55 AD. In the later 50’s AD, when Seneca was subject to accusations of abuse of power, Gallio seems to have also fallen from favor. He died by apparent suicide in 65 AD.
Unfortunately, none of the numerous citations about Gallio in Roman writings mentions his being proconsul of Achaia. Seneca reports (Letters 104.1) that at some point Gallio left Achaia because of illness but doesn’t mention when this happened or whether Gallio was proconsul at that time. Pliny the Elder (Natural History 31.33), writing after 77 AD, claimed that some ill persons would undertake a sea voyage “such as quite recently within our memory was taken by Annæus Gallio after his consulship”. Since Gallio was consul around 55 AD, perhaps the voyage Pliny mentions was in the later 50’s AD?
This confusion led some Bible commentators to question if L. Annæus Gallio was the same Gallio as described in Acts 18, or if the Gallio in Acts 18 existed at all. Adding to this doubt were questions about Gallio’s title as proconsul, as this would imply he had held lower positions prior to becoming proconsul, which would be a very fast rise, indeed.
These doubts continued until the early 20th century AD, when archeologists found fragments of a tablet containing the text of a letter from the Emperor Claudius to the city of Delphi in the mid-first century AD. At that time Delphi, whose population had declined, was a city of the Roman province of Achaia of which Corinth was the provincial seat. The inscription reads in part
“Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 12th year of tribunician power, acclaimed emperor for the 26th time, father of the country, sends greetings to … For long have I been well-disposed to the city of Delphi and solicitous for its prosperity, and I have always observed the cult of the Pythian Apollo. Now since it is said to be destitute of citizens, as my friend and proconsul L. Junius Gallio recently reported to me, and desiring that Delphi should regain its former splendor, I command you to invite well-born people also from other cities to come to Delphi as new inhabitants, and to accord them and their children all the privileges of the Delphians as being citizens on like and equal terms….”
This inscription, called the Delphi Inscription or the Gallio Inscription, is the only ancient source besides Luke that states that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. It can be dated to a narrow period of time based on the reference to Claudius being ‘acclaimed emperor for the 26th time’, and that Gallio was already proconsul when Claudius’ letter was written. Assuming Gallio served only one term as proconsul, which was typical, we end up with a time frame for Paul’s trial between July and September of 51 AD.
The doubt surrounding Gallio’s being proconsul of Achaia is a prime example of the Bible being right even when the extant historical evidence did not confirm it. Two important lessons can be taken from this example:
1. Much Biblical criticism of the last three centuries relies on an ‘argument from silence’ (that is, where the historical or archeological record doesn’t explicitly confirm what the Bible says is true). Such arguments should always be approached with caution and humility; new discoveries (such as the Delphi Inscription) are continually made that add context or confirmation to the Biblical narrative.
2. The historical detail in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, supports rather than undermines the veracity of that narrative. The mention of numerous persons, places and events than can be confirmed from historical writings and archeological discoveries should give us greater confidence that the Biblical narrative is true.
The Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston, Baker Book House, 1974. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, Penguin Press. New Testament Political Figures Confirmed, Lawrence Mykytiuk, BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW, Sep.-Oct. 2017, pp. 50-59, 65, Biblical Archeology Society, 2017.
Unearthing the Bible, Titus Kennedy, Harvest House Publishers, 2020.
All Bible references from the New International Version (NIV)