I was listening on (audio) to Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology and in the chapter on biblical inerrancy.. he mentioned some people dispute Gamaliel's historical accuracy on certain uprisings, and they thus dispute biblical reliability & inspiration on such a text.

The text at hand:

“But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.

And he said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful as to what you are about to do with these men.

For, some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined him.

But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee appeared in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he also perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.

And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, for if the source of this plan or movement is men, it will be overthrown; but if the source is God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭5:34-39‬

Wayne Grudem said that Judas & Theudas were spoken by Gamaliel in the wrong order according to Josephus in his antiquities, in terms of historical chronology. Wayne Grudem was still in defense of biblical inerrancy and gave some reasons for certain views on Acts 5 with Gamaliel, but what can we interpret here for historical accuracy??

Who made the error here? The Holy Spirit cannot err, so what’s going on?

This is my main question below:

Q: According to Protestant NT scholars/historians did Gamaliel get the chronology & history wrong in Acts 5?

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    Josephus cannot be trusted as an inerrant scholar. I would suggest that Gamaliel is more trustworthy. But, in any case, I think we need a quotation link to Josephus to substantiate Wayne Grudem's statement. Otherwise, this is all just hearsay.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29, 2022 at 7:25
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    @NigelJ It's a real problem, you can find the references to Josephus in this paper The Theudas problem in Acts 5 and Antiquities 20 To Cork88: the paper analyzes 4 possibilities: "If we consider a logic table for a moment, then there are four possibilities: Josephus was right, Acts was wrong; Acts was right, Josephus was wrong; Acts and Josephus were both right; Acts and Josephus were both wrong." Jun 29, 2022 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


According to scholars Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, they say the Thaedus was different from the one mentioned in Josephus.

35-39. Theudas--not the same with a deceiver of that name whom JOSEPHUS mentions as heading an insurrection some twelve years after this [Antiquities, 20.5.1], but some other of whom he makes no mention. Such insurrections were frequent.

 37. Judas of Galilee--(See on JF & B for Lu 2:2, and Luk 13:1-3 ) [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 13.1.1].


Matthew Henry asserts the same; that the two were different and provides some explanation.

(2.) The case was the same with Judas of Galilee, v. 37. Observe, [1.] The attempt he made. It is said to be after this, which some read, besides this, or, Let me mention, after this,-supposing that Judas's insurrection was long before that of Theudas; for it was in the time of the taxation, namely, that at our Saviour's birth (Lu. 2:1), and that of Theudas, whom Josephus speaks of, that mutinied, in the time of Cuspius Fadus; but this was in the days of Claudius Caesar, some years after Gamaliel spoke this, and therefore could not be the same. MH

Thayer's Greek Lexicon has this to say.

Θευδᾶς [probably contracted from θεόδωρος, Winers Grammar, 103 (97); especially Bp. Lightfoot on Colossians 4:15; on its inflection cf. Buttmann, 20 (18)], ὁ, Theudas, an impostor who instigated a rebellion which came to a wretched end in the time of Augustus: Acts 5:36. Josephus (Antiquities, 20, 5, 1) makes mention of one Theudas, a magician, who came into notice by pretending that he was a prophet and was destroyed when Cuspius Fadus governed Judæa in the time of Claudius. Accordingly, many interpreters hold that there were two insurgents by the name of Theudas; while others, with far greater probability, suppose that the mention of Theudas is ascribed to Gamaliel by an anachronism on the part of Luke. On the different opinions of others cf. Meyer on Acts, the passage cited; Winers RWB, under the word; Keim in Schenkel see 510f; [especially Hackett in B. D., under the word]. TGL

See here for more details.

To answer the OP, no Gamaliel did not get the names and chronologies wrong.

  • helpful survey, what do we make of the term census though, of which Judas was around during the taking of it? Does that mean that Judas was around the time of Luke 2:1, and Theudas was even prior to Luke 2:1 or even the birth of Christ? I read that “see here for more details” and read the commentators, but what year range was Gamaliel referencing? Example would be like: A.D. 37-42.
    – Cork88
    Jun 29, 2022 at 14:53
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    Josephus' mention of a Theudas of about 44-45 CE. But Gamaliel's speech was circa 33-37 CE, then Theudas was before these days (of Christ's ministry and apostles). And then after came Judas in days of taxing (even about His birth). Given Daniel's 70-week prophecy, Messiah must appear, and wise men ascertaining it, my answer would be yes. So, Theudas perhaps about 7-5 BCE and Judas perhaps about the year of Christ's birth 5 BCE. Point of Gamaliel was the times were ripe for insurrection as Messiah had been prophesied to appear in those times, yet for some, it always led to nothing.
    – SLM
    Jun 29, 2022 at 18:57

Josephus needs to be read with certain items in mind.

  1. He was dependent on Imperial patronage for his material needs and very life.
  2. His defection to Rome involved a certain amount of treachery by his own account.

He likely had a complicated relationship involving the Imperial Court, and any subject related to past Judean insurrection. A reasonable position might assume, Josephus was intending for accurate details to be recorded for posterity, but he may have primarily been focused on an audience of one as he recollected. The Ceasar.

The narrative contained in Acts would be substantially different.

  1. A major senior figure, as opposed to a lessor younger Pharresee.
  2. A public recounting among gathered experts.
  3. A recounting of events much closer to when said events occurred. Living memory, would carry weight in such a circumstance.

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