(Investigator 183, 2018 November)

Tarsus.   From: Schneller, D.L. 1926 Paul The Life of the Apostle


The New Testament has many names of people, provinces, cities, towns, islands and other locations — hundreds of names. Such detail created great scope for the writers to make mistakes, undermining the claim that "all scripture is inspired of God".

In this article we'll investigate the accuracy of the New Testament in geography. I will list named locations and occasionally add comment.


In CE 68 the Roman Empire had 36 provinces of which 11 were public provinces (governed by proconsuls selected by the senate) and 25 were imperial provinces (with governors appointed by the emperor).

The New Testament mentions about 20 provinces by name:

A region composed of three provinces Galilee, Samaria and Judea, ruled in Paul's lifetime by the Herodian Dynasty.
[Note, regions are large areas, sometimes comprising several provinces, whereas districts are usually local areas.]

One of three Roman provinces that constituted Palestine. It was part of the Kingdom of Herod the Great, 40-4 BCE; afterwards a part of the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, c.4 BCE – CE 39.
•    Bethsaida-Julias: 3km north of Lake Galilee
•    Bethsaida: Hometown of Philip, Andrew & Peter (John 1:44), NW of Lake Galilee
•    Cana
•    Capernaum: At Capernaum under a fifth-century church excavators have found remains of 1st century houses, including possibly the house of Peter —         Mark 1:21-30.
•    Chorazin
•    Dalmanutha
•    Magdala
•    Nain
•    Nazareth: Village where Jesus grew up. Its existence was long denied until archaeologically excavated. (See Investigator 19-22, 25, 131)  
•    Tiberias
•    Gennesaret: An area in Galilee

One of three provinces that constituted Palestine in the 1st century:
•    Caesarea: seat of Roman Government
•    Sychar: Village near Jacob's well
•    City of Samaria: Capital of the province

One of three provinces that made up Palestine:
•    Aenon: A place where John baptized
•    Antipatris:    NW of Jerusalem, identified with Tel Afek
•    Arimathea:    Hometown of Joseph who donated his tomb for Jesus.
        Arimathea's location is commonly identified with Rantis, a Palestinian town 35km NW of Jerusalem.
•    Bethany
•    Bethany across the Jordan
•    Bethlehem: Jesus' birth location
•    Emmaus: Village 10 km from Jerusalem
•    Jericho
•    Jerusalem: Capital of Judea and center of religion and culture
•    Joppa: Seaport NW of Jerusalem
•    Lydda: Village near Joppa
•    Salim: Place where John baptized

A province that included most of the Holy Land until 70 CE except parts ruled by various Herods
•    Antioch: Third largest city of the Roman Empire; capital of Syria
•    Damascus: Prosperous Syrian city where Paul was converted
•    Abilene: District north of Damascus
•    Trachonitis: District south of Damascus
•    Seleucia: Seaport near Antioch
•    Phoenicia: Coastal area of Syria
•    Sidon: A Phoenician city
•    Tyre: Phoenician seaport
•    Ptolemaeus [Acco]: Town south of Tyre
•    Caesarea Philippi: City near Mount Hermon between Syria and Galilee; the most northern part of Jesus' ministry

A region composed of two provinces, Asia and Galatia

Province in Western Turkey
•    Cnidus
•    Colossae
•    Ephesus: Capital city
•    Hieropolis
•    Laodicea
•    Miletus: Seaport 60km south of Ephesus
•    Smyrna
•    Thyatira
•    Trogyllium

Province in central Asia Minor composed of three regions, Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycaonia
•    Antioch: City at the border of Phrygia and Pisidia
•    Iconium: In Pisidia near the border with Lycaonia
•    Derbe: Lycaonia
•    Lystra: Lycaonia

Province in SE Asia Minor
•    Tarsus: Chief city; home-city of Saul/Paul

Small coastal province in SW Asia Minor
•    Myra: Port city
•    Patara: Seaport

Province in NW Asia Minor

Province in NW Asia Minor
•    Adramyttium
•    Assos
•    Pergamos: Chief city
•    Troas: City with seaport

Coastal Roman province of southern Asia Minor
•    Attalia: Port city
•    Perga: Capital city

Province in central Asia Minor

A country consisting of two Roman provinces, Achaia and Macedonia

Province of southern Greece
•    Athens
•    Corinth
•    Cenchrea (Port/harbor of Corinth)

Province of northern Greece
•    Amphipolis
•    Apollonia
•    Beroea
•    Philippi
•    Neapolis, seaport of Philippi
•    Thessalonica
Province in North Africa
•    Alexandria: Second largest city of the Roman Empire

Province on the east side of the Adriatic.
Dalmatia: Region comprising the southern half of Illyricum

Province that included most of Italy
•    Rome: Capital of the Empire
•    Puteoli: Seaport
•    Rhegium: A port city on the Italian side of the Strait of Messina

•    Cyrene



The region south and east of Palestine including Sinai Peninsula and Mount Sinai.
A league of ten semi-independent Greek cities SE of Galilee. Of these ten cities the Bible mentions only "country of the Gadarenes" (Gadara); and "country of the Gerasenes" (Gerasa).

Region east of the Jordan River and Dead Sea ruled by Herod Antipas. Perea is not mentioned in the New Testament but was the probable location of Gomorrah and Sodom (Jude 7).

Roman name for Edom, east and south of the Jordan River, homeland of Herod the Great

Region on the west coast of Asia Minor
•    Sardis: Capital of Lydia
•    Philadelphia

PONTUS: Large district in Asia Minor along the Black Sea Coast


Chios: An Aegean island off the west coast of Asia Minor

Cauda: Small island SW of Crete

Cos: Island between Miletus and Rhodes

Large Mediterranean island south of Greece
Towns and places:
•    Lasea: Seaport of Crete
•    Fair Havens: Harbor near Lasea
•    Phoenix: An ancient harbour of Crete, exact location uncertain due to possible changes in the coastline
•    Salmone: Cape Sidero, eastern Crete

An island in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus in the 1st century was a senatorial province meaning that the Roman senate appointed a proconsul to administer it instead of a prefect as in Judea where Pontius Pilate was prefect. Luke uses different Greek words for the two positions — Cyprus had an "anthupatos" or proconsul. (Acts 13:7)
•    Paphos: Capital of Cyprus
•    Salamis

An island in the Aegean Sea
•    Mitylene: Capital of Lesbos

Island situated between Italy and North Africa

Small island in the Aegean Sea near Ephesus

Island in the Aegean Sea

Island in the Aegean Sea

Island in the northern Aegean Sea

Sicily is not named in the Bible but its main city/seaport, Syracuse, is mentioned in Acts 28:12.


•    Euphrates River
•    Sea of Galilee [Lake Gennesaret]
•    Jordan River
•    Red Sea
•    Sea of Adria: A part of the Mediterranean Sea east and north of Malta
•    Syrtis: Shallow area with sandbars on African coast SE of Malta


•    Mesopotamia
•    Media: A country east of Mesopotamia
•    Parthia: A country between Media and India
•    Elam: North of the Persian Gulf
•    Babylon
•    Ethiopia


•    Zion: Temple Mount area
•    The Temple
•    Solomon's Porch
•    Court of the Gentiles
•    Beautiful Gate
•    Gehenna/Hell [= Valley of Hinnom]
•    Gethsemane Garden
•    Akeldama: a Field purchased with Judas' 30 pieces of silver
•    Golgotha/Calvary/The Skull: Site of Jesus' crucifixion, exact spot still disputed
•    House of Caiaphas
•    Kidron Valley
•    Mount of Olives
•    Pool of Bethesda
•    Pool of Siloam
•    Praetorium: Headquarters/palace of Pilate
•    Sheep Gate
•    Tower of Siloam




•    Appius Way: Road from Puteoli to Rome
•    Appius Market
•    Three Inns (Shops): Stopping place 60km south of Rome


Paul's sea journey to Italy met with a great storm:

When the fourteenth night [of the storm] had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land.
They took soundings and found twenty fathoms [120 feet]; a little further on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms [90 feet]. (Acts 15:27-28)
In the morning … they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. (Acts 15:39)
But striking a reef they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable… (Acts 15:41)
The term "Adria" or "Adriatic" (Acts 27:27) does not refer to the Adriatic Sea. A NIV Bible footnote says: "In ancient times the name referred to an area extending well south of Italy." Egyptian geographer Ptolemy (90-168) distinguished the Gulf of Adria which is today's Adriatic Sea from the Sea of Adria lying between Crete, Malta, Italy and Sicily.

The country of Malta consists of three main islands named Gozo, Comino and Malta. (Map 1) Paul's shipwreck traditionally occurred in Saint Paul's Bay at the NE of the main island.

Map 2 shows the likely course of the ship and the depths of 20 and 15 fathoms where soundings from Paul's ship were taken, and 7 fathoms where the anchors may have been cast off. (Acts 27:40) The depths can be confirmed on Malta Marine Chart MT_2538_0 available on the Internet. The suspected spot of the wreck is the 100-metre-wide channel between the main island and tiny Saint Paul's Island (also called Selmunett).

                                                                    1                                                                                                              2

The 100-metre wide channel is commonly interpreted as the "place where two seas met" — King James Bible Acts 27:41. Other Bibles speak of a "reef" or "shoals" instead of "two seas".

In 1576 another ship went aground exactly where Paul's ship supposedly did:

In 1576, Marco di Maria was being chased by Barbary corsairs off the coast of Malta. He navigated his vessel through the narrow channel between St Paul's Island and Malta, but when the pirates followed him they ran aground and were captured. (Wikipedia)

Current World Archaeology reports that four anchors discovered in the sea near Malta in the 1960s "were recently dated to the 1st century AD". (April/May 2013, p. 57) The exact location is not given but various web pages claim four anchors were discovered in the 1960s near the entrance of Saint Thomas Bay, SE Malta. Another anchor was found at sea between Saint Paul's Bay and Salina Bay.
However, whichever Maltese bay gets final confirmation doesn't effect whether the biblical narrative is true.

Three months later Paul continued his journey on another ship. This ship weighed anchor at Rhegium on the east side of Messina Strait which separates Italy and Sicily. Here they waited one day until "a south wind sprang up". (28:13) The Bible does not explain the importance of waiting for a south wind but the New Bible Dictionary explains:

With the whirlpool of Charybdis and the rock of Scylla endangering navigation through the Strait, it was important to attempt the passage only with the most favourable sailing wind, and shipping moving N would wait at Rhegium for a S wind.


19th century Bible scholars believed Acts was written around CE 200, or 150 years after the events and geography it depicts, and is hopelessly wrong.

Smith's Bible Dictionary originally published in 1863, agrees with Roman authorities such as Cicero in regarding Iconium as the capital of Lycaonia. The book of Acts in contrast implies Lycaonia was across the border from Iconium and had a different language. (14:1-11)

William Mitchell Ramsay (1851-1939) was a Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar who worked extensively in Asia Minor.

In The Bearing of Recent Discovery On The Trustworthiness of the New Testament (1915) Ramsay describes his initial scepticism:

I had read a good deal of modern criticism about the book, and dutifully accepted the current opinion that it was written during the second half of the second century by an author who wished to influence the minds of people in his own time by a highly wrought and imaginative description of the early Church. His object was not to present a trustworthy picture of facts in the period about A.D. 50, but to produce a certain effect on his own time by setting forth a carefully coloured account of events and persons of that older period. He wrote for his contemporaries, not for truth. He cared nought for geographical or historical surroundings of the period A.D. 30 to 60. He thought only of the period A.D. 160-180...

Such was the commonly accepted view in the critical school about 1870 to 1880, when I had been studying modern opinions...

I began then to study the Acts in search of geographical and antiquarian evidence, hardly expecting to find any... (pp 37-39)

The first thing that made me begin to doubt ...  the late origin of "the Acts of the Apostles" was a discovery regarding the geographical statement in XIV. 5: "They fled (from Iconium) to the cities of Lycaonia and the surrounding region". In these words it is implied that Paul and Barnabas fled over a frontier into Lycaonia, i.e. the border of Lycaonia lay between Iconium and Lystra, and Iconium was not in the country called Lycaonia...

Around 400 B.C. the Greek writer Xenophon had described Iconium as the last city of Phrygia. The author of Acts failed to consider that borders change in 400 years and naively accepted this — so argued critics who relied on Cicero. Ramsay writes,

Cicero, who visited Iconium ... speaks of Iconium as being in Lycaonia almost exactly a century before Paul visited it...

...the writer of the book [Acts] was condemned as an impostor... Here in Acts XIV. 5, we have a test case: at this point it seemed to me, when I began this study of Anatolian geography, that the story had been proved to ring false. The author of the book imparts a piece of topographical information incidentally ... but the information is false and results from his applying a piece of schoolboy knowledge, true in regard of 400 B.C., to the different circumstances of A.D. 47...

Ramsay discovered:

Iconium was not in Lycaonia at that period. It belonged to a different region or district of Asia Minor. Its people were of a different stock, and they did not speak the Lycaonian tongue... (p. 42)

You may press the words of Luke in a degree far beyond any other historian's, and they stand the keenest scrutiny... (p. 89)

In 1910 inscriptions in the Phrygian language were discovered at Iconium and proved that the Phrygian language was in use there until the third century.


The New Testament's accuracy in geography is close to 100%. Geographical statements still unconfirmed are not necessarily errors but unconfirmed due to inconclusive evidence.

The Bible's accuracy in geography and other testable statements supports the claim:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. (II Peter 1:16)

Therefore anyone who already believes "all scripture is inspired of God" and investigates New Testament geography can rationally retain his belief since he has tested it and found it unrefuted. Someone else who has hitherto regarded the Bible as bunkum obviously needs to reconsider.


All the Names of the Bible 2014, Thomas Nelson, USA

Douglas, J.D. et al (editors) 1982 New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Inter-Varsity, p. 1030

Fairchild, M.R. Why Perga? Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2013, 52-59, 84

Frank, H.T. 1984 Atlas of Bible Lands, Hammond

Just, Felix, An Overview of New Testament Geography

Ramsay, W.M. 1895 St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder & Stoughton

Ramsay, W.M. 1915 The Bearing of Recent Discovery On The Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Hodder & Stoughton, 37-42, 89

Wahlde, U.C. von, The Puzzling Pool of Bethesda, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October, 2011, 40-47

Malta Marine Chart: MT_2538_0

Saint Paul's Island'_Island.htm

Shipwreck-location suggestions: of History Week (PHW)/PHW 1993/10s.pdf