[Editor’s note: I got a follow-up question from the same person.  The second question and answer are below.]


I am a Christian who is going through some doubts about the Bible and I was wondering if you had any insight on the claims made on this article?

https://bibleoutsidethebox.blog/2021/07/18/are-stories-in-the-bible-influenced-by-popular-greco-roman-literature/  Thanks

[Editor’s note: In the article at the link above the author claims that Luke uses literary elements from Greek writers which, for example, Paul would never have said.  Therefore, he implies that Luke is making up things such as the event of Paul encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus.]


Many if not most of those who try to undermine the reliability of the New Testament by claiming that the New Testament writers “borrowed” from pagan sources do a rather blatantly poor job of presenting their case.  This author is somewhat different, as he at least presents some reasonable evidence which is not wildly irresponsible and extremely biased.  Having said that, I find myself rejecting most, but not absolutely all of what he has to say.  Let me explain myself.

First of all, I believe, as with others who claim that the New Testament writing is “borrowed” from Greek, Persian, Egyptian or Roman sources, that the author of this article is cherry-picking.  What I mean is this: If we compare what Luke said to all of Greek literature, we are bound to find some parallels. And Luke is writing in Greek, not Aramaic, so it is less likely to find Aramaic literary devices in Acts.  But if we look at all that Luke wrote and all that the author he quotes wrote, we will find that the parallels are really rather insignificant.  In other words, there is some cherry-picking going on here.

Having said that, I think that it is not impossible that, in trying to quote from Paul and to remember exactly what he said about his encounter with Jesus, the Greek writer Luke might have borrowed a Greek phrase in place of what Paul actually said to Jesus on the road, which was in Aramaic, by the way.  What I am saying that it is possible that Luke chose the words “kicking at the goads” as a Greek idiom which is close to what Paul said (but, remember, Paul probably spoke to Christ in Aramaic, not in Greek).  This point by the author seems believable to me.  I am not saying that he is right, but I am saying that this is a reasonable proposal.  On the other hand, It is entirely possible that Paul knew the Greek idiom and, when he recalled his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul himself used the Greek idiom to express what Christ said in Aramaic.  I presume that it was most likely Paul, not Luke, who expressed what Jesus said to him on the road to Damascus.  The author seems to ignore that possibility, as this option does not support his thesis.

However, it is in the big picture that I find myself rather radically disagreeing with this author.  He implies that the very encounter of Paul with Christ on the road to Damascus is a pure fiction. This is reject in the strongest of terms, as this makes either Paul a liar or Luke a liar.  It may be true that Paul does not recall this particular encounter in the letters we have from him in the New Testament, but lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.  There is no requirement that Paul recount all of his experiences recorded in Acts in the letters.  Paul tells us rather little of his biography in his epistles.  This so-called evidence that the event did not happen at all is so weak that it fails to be evidence at all.  Based on Paul not mentioning the event, the author is calling Luke a liar.  I need much better evidence than the non-evidence he presents.

So, I buy up to a point that Luke borrows from Greek literarly or linguistic idioms in recounting the events of Paul’s life, although I would add that it might actually have been Paul, not Luke using Greek expressions, not necessarily Luke.  But I completely reject his implication that Luke is recording fiction in his account.  The historical reliability of Luke broadly proves conclusively that he was a careful and reliable historian.

John Oakes

Question #2

Thank you for your explanation. I also have another question. Could you explain the supposed similarities between the story of Romulus and Paul’s Damascus road experience? I could not find it discussed on any apologetics sites. 


Forgive me, but what are these supposed similarities between the story of Romulus and the story of Paul on the road to Damascus?  I am not sure how to answer this question, as you have not told me these “similarities.”
I found an article about Romulus that tells the story of this mythical person.  I am copying and pasting the story below.  I see no parallels at all between Romulus and Paul!  Please let me give you advice.  When you hear people making these sorts of comparisons, please be much more skeptical.  What you need to do is go out and do your own research.  When you do, you will discover what I have been telling you that these people “cherry pick.” to prove their point.  In other words, they read a very long story and find one detail which, purely coincidentally, is at least maybe just a little bit similar to a person in the New Testament.  Then they take this little quote our of the entire volume and publish it, completely out of its context.  What they are doing is not honest scholarship.  It is deceptive.  Again, please look below at the story of Romulus and tell me if you find even one single thing like Paul here.  Can anyone really believe that Luke would take an ancient pagan myth and pretend that this is something that Paul did?  Really?  Is this believable?  No, it is not!
John Oakes

Romulus (/ˈrɒmjələs/) was the legendary founder and first king of Rome. Various traditions attribute the establishment of many of Rome’s oldest legal, political, religious, and social institutions to Romulus and his contemporaries. Although many of these traditions incorporate elements of folklore, and it is not clear to what extent a historical figure underlies the God-like Romulus, the events and institutions ascribed to him were central to the myths surrounding Rome’s origins and cultural traditions.

Traditional account[edit]

The myths concerning Romulus involve several distinct episodes and figures, including the miraculous birth and youth of Romulus and his twin brother, Remus; Remus’ murder and the founding of Rome; the Rape of the Sabine Women, and the subsequent war with the Sabines; a period of joint rule with Titus Tatius; the establishment of various Roman institutions; the death or apotheosis of Romulus, and the succession of Numa Pompilius.

Romulus and Remus[edit]

Main article: Romulus and Remus

According to Roman polytheism, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia by the god Mars. Their maternal grandfather was Numitor, the rightful king of Alba Longa, through whom the twins were descended from both the Trojan hero Aeneas, and Latinus, the king of Latium.

Before the twins’ birth, Numitor’s throne had been usurped by his brother, Amulius, who murdered Numitor’s son or sons, and condemned Rhea Silvia to perpetual virginity by consecrating her a Vestal.[i][1][2] When Rhea became pregnant, she asserted that she had been visited by the god Mars. Amulius imprisoned her, and upon the twins’ birth, ordered that they be thrown into the Tiber. But as the river had been swollen by rain, the servants tasked with disposing of the infants could not reach its banks, and so exposed the twins beneath a fig tree at the foot of the Palatine Hill.[1][3]

In the traditional account, a she-wolf happened upon the twins, and suckled them until they were found by the king’s herdsman, Faustulus, and his wife, Acca Larentia.[ii] The brothers grew to manhood among the shepherds and hill-folk. After becoming involved in a conflict between the followers of Amulius and those of their grandfather Numitor, Faustulus told them of their origin. With the help of their friends, they lured Amulius into an ambush and killed him, restoring their grandfather to the throne.[5][6] The princes then set out to establish a city of their own.

They returned to the hills overlooking the Tiber, the site where they had been exposed as infants. They could not agree on which hill should house the new city. When an omen to resolve the controversy failed to provide a clear indication, the conflict escalated and Romulus or one of his followers killed Remus.[5][7] In a variant of the legend, the augurs favoured Romulus, who proceeded to plough a square furrow around the Palatine Hill to demarcate the walls of the future city. When Remus derisively leapt over the “walls” to show how inadequate they were against invaders, Romulus struck him down in anger. In another variant, Remus was killed during a melée, along with Faustulus.

Establishment of the city[edit]

The founding of Rome was commemorated annually on April 21, with the festival of the Parilia.[iii][iv] Romulus’ first act was to fortify the Palatine, in the course of which he made a sacrifice to the gods. He laid out the city’s boundaries with a furrow that he ploughed, performed another sacrifice, and with his followers set to work building the city itself.[8][9] Romulus sought the assent of the people to become their king. With Numitor’s help, he addressed them and received their approval. Romulus accepted the crown after he sacrificed and prayed to Jupiter, and after receiving favourable omens.[10]

Romulus divided the populace into three tribes, known as the Ramnes, Titienses, and Luceres,[v] for taxation and military purposes. Each tribe was presided over by an official known as a tribune, and was further divided into ten curia, or wards, each presided over by an official known as a curio. Romulus also allotted a portion of land to each ward, for the benefit of the people.[11][12] Nothing is known of the manner in which the tribes and curiae were taxed, but for the military levy, each curia was responsible for providing one hundred foot soldiers, a unit known as a century,[vi] and ten cavalry. Each Romulean tribe thus provided about one thousand infantry, and one century of cavalry; the three hundred cavalry became known as the Celeres, “the swift”, and formed the royal bodyguard.[13][14]

Choosing one hundred men from the leading families, Romulus established the Roman senate. These men he called patres, the city fathers; their descendants came to be known as “patricians“, forming one of the two major social classes at Rome. The other class, known as the “plebs” or “plebeians”, consisted of the servants, freedmen, fugitives who sought asylum at Rome, those captured in war, and others who were granted Roman citizenship over time.[15][16]

To encourage the growth of the city, Romulus outlawed infanticide, and established an asylum for fugitives on the Capitoline Hill. Here freemen and slaves alike could claim protection and seek Roman citizenship.[17][18]

The Rape of the Sabine Women[edit]

Further information: Battle of the Lacus Curtius

The new city was filled with colonists, most of whom were young, unmarried men. While fugitives seeking asylum helped the population grow, single men greatly outnumbered women. With no intermarriage taking place between Rome and neighboring communities, the new city would eventually fail. Romulus sent envoys to neighboring towns, appealing to them to allow intermarriage with Roman citizens, but his overtures were rebuffed. Romulus formulated a plan to acquire women from other settlements. He announced a momentous festival and games, and invited the people of the neighboring cities to attend. Many did, in particular the Sabines, who came in droves. At a prearranged signal, the Romans began to snatch and carry off the marriageable women among their guests.[15]

The aggrieved cities prepared for war with Rome, and might have defeated Romulus had they been fully united. But impatient with the preparations of the Sabines, the Latin towns of Caenina, Crustumerium, and Antemnae took action without their allies. Caenina was the first to attack; its army was swiftly put to flight, and the town taken. After personally defeating and slaying the prince of Caenina in single combat, Romulus stripped him of his armour, becoming the first to claim the spolia opima, and vowed a temple to Jupiter Feretrius. Antemnae and Crustumerium were conquered in turn. Some of their people, chiefly the families of the abducted women, were allowed to settle at Rome.[19]

Following the defeat of the Latin towns, the Sabines, under the leadership of Titus Tatius, marshalled their forces and advanced upon Rome. They gained control of the citadel by bribing Tarpeia, the daughter of the Roman commander charged with its defense. Without the advantage of the citadel, the Romans were obliged to meet the Sabines on the battlefield. The Sabines advanced from the citadel, and fierce fighting ensued. The nearby Lacus Curtius is said to be named after Mettius Curtius, a Sabine warrior who plunged his horse into its muck to stymie his Roman pursuers as he retreated. At a critical juncture in the fighting, the Romans began to waver in the face of the Sabine advance. Romulus vowed a temple to Jupiter Stator,[vii] to keep his line from breaking. The bloodshed finally ended when the Sabine women interposed themselves between the two armies, pleading on the one hand with their fathers and brothers, and on the other with their husbands, to set aside their arms and come to terms. The leaders of each side met and made peace. They formed one community, to be jointly ruled by Romulus and Tatius.[20]

Subsequent events[edit]

The two kings presided over the growing city of Rome for a number of years, before Tatius was slain in a riot at Lavinium, where he had gone to make a sacrifice. Shortly before, a group of envoys from Laurentum had complained of their treatment by Tatius’ kinsmen, and he had decided the matter against the ambassadors. Romulus resisted calls to avenge the Sabine king’s death, instead reaffirming the Roman alliance with Lavinium, and perhaps preventing his city from splintering along ethnic lines.[21]

In the years following the death of Tatius, Romulus is said to have conquered the city of Fidenae, which, alarmed by the rising power of Rome, had begun raiding Roman territory. The Romans lured the Fidenates into an ambush, and routed their army; as they retreated into their city, the Romans followed before the gates could be shut, and captured the town. The Etruscan city of Veii, nine miles up the Tiber from Rome, also raided Roman territory, foreshadowing that city’s role as the chief rival to Roman power over the next three centuries. Romulus defeated Veii’s army, but found the city too well defended to besiege, and instead ravaged the countryside.[22]

Death and succession[edit]

After a reign of thirty-seven years,[23][24] Romulus is said to have disappeared in a whirlwind during a sudden and violent storm, as he was reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius. Livy says that Romulus was either murdered by the senators, torn apart out of jealousy, or was raised to heaven by Mars, god of war. Livy believes the last theory regarding the legendary king’s death, as it allows the Romans to believe that the gods are on their side, a reason for them to continue expansion under Romulus’ name.[25]

Romulus acquired a cult following, which later became assimilated with the cult of Quirinus, perhaps originally the indigenous god of the Sabine population. As the Sabines had not had a king of their own since the death of Titus Tatius, the next king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, was chosen from among the Sabines.[26]

John Oakes

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