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William M. Ramsay

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Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851-1939) is considered by many to be one of the pre-eminent archaeologists of all time. He has contributed immensely to our understanding of not only the growth and development of the first century church under the ministries of Paul and Luke, but to our understanding of the political and sociological events of Greece and Asia under Roman rule in the centuries before and after the birth of Christ.


Ramsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland on March 15, 1851, the youngest son of Thomas and Jane Ramsay. During his studies at the University of Aberdeen from 1867 to 1871, William discovered his love for scholarship and a desire to pursue a life in academics. Despite strong opposition from some in his family who thought this line of work unstable, Ramsay persisted and won honors and scholarships at Oxford and Aberdeen, culminating in a traveling studentship offered by Exeter College, Oxford, to travel and study the Greek islands.

In May 1880, William Ramsay landed in Smyrna in Asia Minor and began a work, literally, of re-defining much of what historians knew about Asia Minor and Greece in the first century. In identifying locations and histories, he relied almost entirely on ancient texts he himself had read in the original Latin or Greek, often several times over. His insistence on using only primary sources was the result of seeing too many mistakes which had resulted from accepting the conclusions of modern writers.

In 1885, William Ramsay was appointed the first Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology at Oxford. The next year, his alma mater, the University of Aberdeen, named him the Regius Professor of Humanity (the title which is given to the Latin professorship). He remained at this post until he retired in 1911. Following his retirement, Sir Ramsay continued to lecture and travel.

During his life, he received numerous awards and honorary degrees. "Ramsay's abiding fame will rest first on his comprehensive exploration of Asia Minor; ... and secondly, on the new method which he developed and taught to students of ancient geography. On account of both he received worldwide recognition."[1] However, among Christians, he is probably best remembered for firmly establishing the historical accuracy of the Book of Acts and that Luke "is a first-class historian of the first century A.D."

Conversion to Christianity

The story is widely circulated that Sir William Ramsay, at first, adamantly opposed the historical accuracy of the Bible, and often defended this position to his students. It is said he set off to Asia Minor with the book of Acts in one hand and his archaeological tools in the other, firmly set on disproving the biblical account. After finding so much overwhelming evidence proving the accuracy of Luke's account, not only was Sir Ramsay forced to admit that Luke was an historian of the first order, but was compelled to accept Christ as his own personal Lord and Savior.

Though the evidence to support this story is scant, Ramsay's archaeological work stands today apart from the man, because of his dedication to founding his work on evidence and not on the conjecture and opinion of others. No matter the state of Sir William Ramsay's faith before, during or after his extensive work in Asia Minor, one cannot abandon or embrace his work on the basis of whether the legend of his conversion is true or not.

I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth.[2]


1890 -- The Historical Geography of Asia Minor

1893 -- The Church in the Roman Empire before A.D. 170

1895 -- St. Paul the Roman Citizen and Traveler

1895 -- The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, vol 1, pt 1

1897 -- The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, vol 1, pt 2

1898 -- Was Christ Born at Bethlehem?

1904 -- The Letters to the Seven Churches

1907 -- The Cities of St. Paul: Their Influence on His Life and Thought

1908 -- Luke the Physician

1911 -- The First Christian Century

1915 -- The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament

1927 -- Asianic Elements in Greek Civilization

1898 -- The Social Basis of Roman Power in Asia Minor

1899 -- A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

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  1. Obituary notice in The Times (London), April 22, 1939, p. 14. As cited in W. Ward Gasque, Sir William M. Ramsay: Archaeologist and New Testament Scholar. A Survey of His Contribution to the Study of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966.
  2. St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman citizen, Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1895, 394 pages, via Google books