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.
Modernists attempt to use Gamaliel’s mention of Theudas in Acts 5:36 in order to question the historical reliability of Luke-Acts.[i] For example:
“A well known historical error has Gamaliel speak of the rebel Theudas, whom the first century Jewish historian assigns to the time of the procurator Cuspius Fadus (44-46 CE) several years after the death of Gamaliel.”[ii]
This is in fact “well known,” but it is not an historical error.[iii] The “first century Jewish historian” is Josephus, who mentions a Theudas who lived after the time of Gamaliel.[iv] The speech made by Gamaliel, recorded in Acts 5, occurred in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (AD 14 to AD 37), about ten years before the rebellion of Josephus’s Theudas. The Theudas mentioned by Josephus lived under Claudius Caesar (AD 41 to AD 54). The discrepancy is created by the assumption that both Luke (and Gamaliel spoke) and Josephus write about the same Theudas, and further, if they do, that Josephus and not Luke must be correct![v]
Contrasting the two Theudases
- the Theudas of Gamaliel was boasting himself to be somebody
- the Theudas of Josephus was a magician a (false) prophet
- the Theudas of Gamaliel led about four hundred men
- the Theudas of Josephus led a great multitude of the people
- the Theudas of Gamaliel was slain and all his followers were scattered
- the Theudas of Josephus was captured in battle and later beheaded; had many followers slain in battle, and many taken alive as prisoners
- the revolt of Theudas of Gamaliel took place before the birth of Jesus [vi]
- the revolt of Theudas of Josephus took place around AD 45
Writing circa AD 62, Luke could not have been dependent on and misreading Josephus – as some suppose – because Luke’s writing is earlier than Josephus. In order to fulfill their designs, modernists must revise the dating of Luke backward – which they often do even to as late as AD 130. In this scenario, they must also deny that Luke is the author of the book of Acts. This they do on their own recognizance, assuming as fact that a later writer of Acts read and used The Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, which he completed circa AD 94. There is no reason to suppose there could not be two men who led rebellions within some fifty years. Theudas is a form of the Aramaic Thaddæus or the Greek Theodorus, and was a common enough name. From Matthew 10:3 and Luke 6:16 it appears the names Judas and Thaddaeus (or Theudas) might be interchangeable (if not two different names for the same person). Even Josephus said, “at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea,” most of which he did not undertake to record.[vii] A simple fact apparently not considered by the convolutors is that a later writer using Josephus as a source would not have put those words in Gamaliel’s mouth! Josephus said his Theudas lived “while Fadus was procurator of Judea.” This would have been an easily detectable error for a later writer using Josephus as a reference. On the other hand, Luke had no reason to worry over such a misunderstanding, since the second rebel Theudas had not yet led a rebellion at the time Gamaliel spoke.
[ii] “Does Acts Portray Paul Fairly,” by Dick Harfield, p. 2. https://www.academia.edu/s/3953e9edc1 Accessed 27 October 2020 8:45 am.
[iii] Around AD 248 in writings answering the pagan philosopher Celsus, Origen mentions Theudas living before the birth of Christ. “But since it is in the spirit of truth that we examine each passage, we shall mention that there was a certain Theudas among the Jews before the birth of Christ, who gave himself out as some great one, after whose death his deluded followers were completely dispersed.” Contra Celsus (or Against Celsus) Book I, Chapter 57. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen161.html Accessed 27 October 2020 10:12 am.
[iv] “Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus’s government.” “Antiquities of the Jews,” xx. v .i., translated by William Whiston, p. 418. See also: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0146%3Abook%3D20%3Asection%3D97 Accessed 27 October 2020 9:30 am.
[v] It is patently obvious that the design of this objection is to discredit the Bible, since the attackers always attack Luke’s credibility rather than Josephus’s.
[vi] Before the uprising of Judas the Galilean in the days of the taxing (Acts 9:37; cf. Luke 2:2).
[vii] Antiquities, 17.10.4. https://ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-17.htm Accessed 28 October 2:30 pm.