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W.M. Ramsay

British archaeologist and New Testament scholar

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Biography

William Mitchell Ramsay was born on the 15th of March 1851. He was educated at the universities of Aberdden, Oxford and Gottingen, and was a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford (1882; honorary fellow 1898), and Lincoln College (1885; honorary 1899). In 1885 he was elected professor of classical art at Oxford, and in the next year professor of humanity at Aberdeen. From 1880 onwards he traveled widely in Asia Minor and rapidly became the recognized authority on all matters relating to the districts associated with St Paul's missionary journeys and on Christianity in the early Roman Empire.

He received the honorary degrees of D.C.L. Oxford, LL.D. St Andrews and Glasgow, D.D. Edinburgh, and was knighted in 1906. He was elected a member of learned societies in Europe and America, and has been awarded medals by the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and the University of Pennsylvania.

His numerous publications include: The Historical Geography of Asia Minor (1890); The Church in the Roman Empire (1893); The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia (2 vols., 1895, 1897); St Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (1895; Germ. trans., 1898); Impressions of Turkey (1897); Was Christ born at Bethlehem? (1898); Historical Commentary on Galatians (1899); The Education of. Christ (1902); The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (1905); Pauline and other Studies in Early Christian History (1906); Studies in the History and Art of the Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire (1906); The Cities of St Paul (1907); Lucan and Pauline Studies (1908); The Thousand and One Churches (with Miss Gertrude L. Bell, 1909); and articles in learned periodicals and the 9th, 10th and 11th editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His wife, Lady Ramsay, granddaughter of Dr Andrew Marshall of Kirkintilloch, accompanied him in many of his journeys and is the author of Everyday Life Turkey (1897) and The Romance of Elisavet (1899) .

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Works by W.M. Ramsay

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In the Book of Revelation, we find John's letters to the seven churches of first century Asia Minor, written during the era of the Roman Empire. The seven churches correspond to the seven congregations found in these cities: Ephesus, City of Change; Smyrna, City of Life; Pergamum, City of Authority; Thyatira, City of Weakness Made Strong; Sardis, City of Death; Philadelphia, Missionary City; and Laodicea, City of Compromise. William Ramsay presents these letters to help readers better understand their content as well as the historical context surrounding their authorship. Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia is filled with facts regarding the general importance of letter writing in the Early Church, the mobility of letters during this time period, John's intentions in writing the Seven Letters, and the influence of religion in the development of first century cities. John's letters provide historical insight into Greco-Roman culture and geography. They also serve to guide Christians in their spiritual development. Ramsay's book brings John's letters into a useful contemporary light.

Ramsay wrote this book to tell the story of Paul's life as it was documented in the Book of Acts. Before Ramsay begins his study of Paul's life, he discusses the date, composition, and authorship of Acts. "The first and the essential quality of the great historian is truth," says Ramsay. Of the four types of historical writing, namely, romance, legend, second rate history, and first rate history, Ramsay classifies the Book of Acts as first rate historical writing. The characterization of Paul found in Acts contains such individualized detail that the author could not have gathered this information by any means other than personal acquaintances and original sources. As such, Ramsay believes that the author of Acts has attained a superior mark of historical accuracy and literary trustworthiness. St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen contains an excellent study of the Book of Acts as well as of Paul's life and travels in first century Asia, Greece, and Rome.

In 19th century schools of theology in Continental Europe, it had become fashionable to be skeptical about any traditional doctrine about the Bible. Many academic theologians denied the divinity of Christ, and others claimed that Paul’s letters were forgeries. Ramsay, while he used some of the same critical methods as his academic peers, was nevertheless able to counter their arguments effectively. Having spent years in Asia Minor studying the missionary journeys of Paul and the Apostles, Ramsay had become an expert on the New Testament’s historical documents. He argues that Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke, was as reliable an historian as any other in the first century. Thus in answer to the question, “Was Christ born in Bethlehem?” Ramsay answers: “Yes. We can trust Luke’s Gospel.”

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