Did Luke make a mistake involving Theudas and Judas the Galilean?

Question: A reader sent the following question via email: "Acts 5:33-39 gives an account of speech by the first century Pharisee Gamaliel, in which he refers to two movements other than the Way. One lead by Theudas (v 36) and after him led by Judas the Galilean. Josephus placed Judas about 6 AD. He places Theudas under the procurator Fadus 44-46 AD. Two problems emerge. First, the order of Judas and Theudas is reversed in Acts 5. Second, Theudas's movement comes after the time when Gamaliel is speaking."

Response: This claim has been circulated on several Web sites. The people who make this claim, whether they realize it or not, are assuming that there can only be one person named Theudas, when in fact there might have been more than one person with that name. In other words, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, and Josephus, a first century historian, could simply be talking about two different people named Theudas.

Luke's Theudas sounds like a religious leader who had a following of about 400 people. Josephus' Theudas sounds like a different person, a magician who claimed to be a prophet and who had a large following, one that was large enough to provoke a deadly confrontation from the government. For these and other reasons, many scholars and writers believe that Luke and Josephus are talking about two different people with the same name.

Here is Luke's account of a person named Theudas, from the book of Acts, after some members of the Sanhedrin wanted to execute Peter and the Apostles for preaching about the resurrection of Jesus:

33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.

35 Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.

36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.

37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.

39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

- Acts 5:33-39, NIV translation

And here's is Josephus' account of a person named Theudas:

"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, Book 20, Chapter 5.

It shouldn't shock skeptics or nonbelievers that there could be more than one person with the name of Theudas. In fact, the Jewish Encyclopedia mentions a third man named Theudas, who lived during the second century:

"Theudas introduced into Rome the practise of eating on the eve of Passover a lamb prepared in accordance with the custom observed in Jerusalem with regard to the sacrificial lamb (Pes. 53a, b; Ber. 19a; Be?ah 23a)."

Next: Did Luke make a mistake when he referred to the province of Cilicia?

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