Sir William Mitchell Ramsay was born in 1851 and died in 1939. He wrote well over twenty books, and was quite a scholar. He held academic posts at Edinburgh, at various colleges at Oxford, and at Aberdeen. Among his professorships he held the post of Regius Professor of Humanity at Aberdeen. Do you know how you become the Regius professor? You get appointed by the regent—either by the king or the queen. This is the top academic post held for the brilliant minds, including Sir William Ramsay. He was an archeologist. In his day, he was the foremost authority on Asia Minor. He was also a New Testament scholar without peer.
Ramsay was born into a house of lawyers. Three generations of distinguished lawyers came before him. He would later apply the skills of careful investigation and meticulous interpretation to his work—not as a lawyer, but as a historian.
He was educated at Aberdeen, the place where he ended up as a professor. There he set himself apart from and above his classmates. As an undergrad, he had a clear sense of his calling to scholarship. He devoted himself to the life of discovery. He received a three-year scholarship from Exeter College in Cambridge to research on location in Greek lands right after he earned his undergrad degree, and that set him on his career path.
In academic circles, the prevailing thought of the day regarding the New Testament, including authorship of the books of the New Testament, was dominated by the work of Ferdinand Christian Baur. His school was called the Tübingen School of thought and interpretation. Ramsay initially fell in with this group, which believed that most of Paul’s epistles were not written by Paul—perhaps only four were written by Paul. They believed most of the New Testament came much later, sometime in the second half of the second century. These academics thought the book of Acts in particular was written much later; they were very suspicious of the book of Acts.
In one of Ramsay’s books, which is primarily about Paul’s travels as recorded in the book of Acts, Ramsay writes, “I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favor of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavorable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tübingen theory had at one time quite convinced me.” The Tübingen theory had convinced Ramsay that Acts was a second-century composition, and by his own admission, he never relied on the book of Acts to give him any reliable report or evidence.
But after years of investigating every single detail, of retracing places mentioned in Acts, and looking at all of the authorities, Ramsay came to the exact opposite conclusion. He came to the conclusion that not only was Luke a great historian, but that Luke was “among the historians of the first rank.” Ramsay said the first and essential quality of the great historian is truth; what he says must be trustworthy. And he found Luke to be one of the most, if not the most trustworthy historians of the ancient world. Ramsey found that Luke’s accounts as recorded in both the Gospel and in the sequel to the Gospel, the book of Acts, to be trustworthy and true. For his efforts, Sir William Ramsay was knighted—even though he turned the entire academic scholarly community on its head when he transitioned from the higher critical view of the New Testament to accepting its truthfulness. Among his many books is St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen. There you can find his recordings and all of the conclusions of his life of discovery as a scholar.