Paul’s Corinthian Companions and Undesigned Coincidences

In his well-known work, “Horae Paulinae,” William Paley highlights a convincing body of evidence related to what we call “undesigned coincidences.” One of these coincidences revolves around two separate lists of names in the New Testament. One list is from the Book of Acts, while the other is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The Acts’ list specifically identifies the men who traveled alongside Paul during his journey from Corinth to Jerusalem.

These accompanied him as far as Asia: Sopater of Beroea; Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; Gaius of Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.

Acts 20:4

In contrast, the list in Romans, written by Paul before to his departure from Corinth to Jerusalem, is made up of individuals in Corinth who wish to send their greetings to the Christian community in Rome.

Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you, as do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who write the letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, my host and host of the whole assembly, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, as does Quartus, the brother.

Romans 16:21-23

There’s an interesting observation that surfaces when we take a close look at the two lists: the Roman letter contains eight names, while the Acts list presents seven. Here’s the remarkable part: As you can see, only two names overlap between the two lists— Timothy and Sosipater.

Timothy, a well-known figure in both Acts and Paul’s epistles, is among these shared names. No shock there. However, the name Sosipater is a distinct anomaly, as it doesn’t appear elsewhere in the New Testament. Remarkably, in Acts, he is referred to as Sopater, which is a shortened version of his full name as mentioned by Paul.

Out of the five remaining names in the Acts list, three are referenced in letters Paul composed during his imprisonment: Trophimus, Aristarchus, and Tychicus. (See 2 Timothy 4:12, 4:20, Colossians 4:7-4:10, Ephesians 6:21, Philemon 1:24, Titus 3:12)

Trophimus, according to Acts, played a role in Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, while Aristarchus accompanied Paul on the journey to Rome. (See Acts 21:29, 27:2) Tychicus is notably mentioned in four instances in Paul’s prison letters, although this is his solitary appearance in Acts. (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:12, Titus 3:12) Essentially, the three individuals listed in Acts as accompanying Paul to Jerusalem were later affirmed by Paul to have been with him in Rome.

Lastly, there are two names in Luke’s list that are entirely absent in the rest of the New Testament: Secundus and Gaius from Derbe.

These specific details collectively provide subtle yet interesting evidence. If the author of Luke had simply reproduced all eight individuals mentioned in Paul’s letter as accompanying him to Jerusalem, one might reasonably suspect straightforward copying. But someone might want to argue that a forger, when crafting a letter in the name of Paul during his second visit to Greece, would naturally include the names of individuals known to be with Paul at that time, to make the forgery more convincing. And after all, many scholars do think that most of the prison epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus) are forged in Paul’s name. Maybe these fakers had access to Acts?

In response, Paley emphasizes two points: First, he reiterates that the forger would likely have more straightforwardly copied the list of names if they were using Acts as a source. Second, with this scheme in mind, Paley notes that it would have been in the forger’s best interest to clearly state within the body of the letter that Paul was in Greece when it was written and that it was composed during his second visit. However, this important information is noticeably absent in the text and cannot be inferred from any details provided in the Acts narrative.

The fact that only two names align between the lists, and that one name, Sopater, appears exclusively in the New Testament in this context, adds an element of indirect and coincidental confirmation to the equation. These rosters of names carries an air of authenticity; it lacks the hallmarks of fiction or forgery.

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