William Mitchell Ramsay


Classical and New Testament scholar; archaeologist.

Born at Glasgow, Scotland, Ramsay was educated at Aberdeen and Oxford. As professor of humanity (Latin) at Aberdeen (1886–1911), he was able to spend many of the long vacations in Asia Minor, continuing his research as an archaeologist, a practice he had begun in 1880. He soon made himself the foremost authority of his day on the geography and early history of the area. His Historical Geography of Asia Minor (1890) and The Church in the Roman Empire before A.D. 170 (1893) remain of basic importance for their subjects. In 1883 he had discovered the funerary inscription of Abercius, bishop of Hierapolis in the late second century.
Ramsay increasingly concentrated on early Christian history and remains. His work led him to abandon his previous acceptance of the Tübingen school’s skepticism of the historical reliability of the Lucan writings, for he found that Luke was minutely accurate in his use of titles. Every person, said Ramsay, was found just where he ought to be: proconsuls in senatorial provinces, asiarchs in Ephesus, politarchs in Thessalonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere. The title politarch (Acts 17:6) is particularly striking; it was unknown in other Greek literature until the discovery of inscriptions, including five of them in Thessalonica. Besides demonstrating Luke’s reliability as a historian, Ramsay filled in much of Paul’s historical background in The Cities of St. Paul (1907), while A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (1899) powerfully argued that the letter was addressed to south, not north, Galatia. N.HILLYER

J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997).

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