Geography in General
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Have you ever stopped to consider how flexible people are when using geographical terms to describe somewhere they have been in the past or are going in the future? Perhaps you have heard friends telling about their trip to Dallas, Texas to watch the Dallas Cowboys play football. The truth is, however, the Cowboys technically do not play in Dallas, Texas, but in Arlington, Texas. It may be that one day your family decides to take a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to go to Six Flags. If you do, make sure you first understand that Six Flags is not exactly in Atlanta, but in Austell, Georgia.
Oftentimes, when discussing details regarding a particular geographical region (and the towns, cities, and attractions within that region), general terms are stated in place of an exact location. A person who lives in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, often will tell people he lives in Tulsa. Why? Because Sand Springs is a suburb of Tulsa, and more people have heard of Tulsa than Sand Springs. The same is true with nearly all suburbs of major cities. Sometimes even small “country” towns are equated with their “neighbors up the road.” My wife and I used to live in the small west Tennessee town of Clarksburg. Yet, even though we lived in Clarksburg, we had a Huntingdon, Tennessee, address—and the city of Huntingdon was ten miles away. When people asked where we lived, I said Clarksburg. When they asked for our address, I told them Huntingdon. Yet, regardless of whether I said Huntingdon or Clarksburg, no one ever accused me of lying.
Considering how much “leeway” we allow ourselves today when speaking about geographical regions, it is not surprising to find Bible writers using that same freedom in the documents they wrote to regular people, just like you and me. Although skeptics also use the same approximation that Bible writers sometimes used, they arbitrarily reject the Bible writers’ information as being accurate and inspired. For example, in his attempt to “disprove” two biblical passages referring to the location from which Jesus ascended, skeptic Steve Wells has written: “Luke says Jesus ascended from Bethany, but Acts (1:9,12) says he ascended from Mount Olivet” (2001). As is often the case with skeptics, Mr. Wells misrepresented Luke. The inspired writer of the “third” gospel account actually wrote: “And He [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51, emp. and bracketed note added). Notice, he did not say that Jesus ascended “ from” Bethany, but that they had gone “as far as” (hoes pros; literally “till over against") Bethany, and from this point Jesus ascended into heaven. The New International Version seems to capture the real meaning of this verse, saying that Jesus took His apostles “in the vicinity of Bethany” before ascending into heaven. As one can see, the text does not say that He ascended directly “from Bethany.”
That point aside, since Bethany was located just one and three-quarter miles from Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (Pfeiffer, 1979, p. 197), Luke merely used different geographical referents to establish the same location—the gospel of Luke referring to the vicinity of Bethany, whereas the book of Acts mentions specifically the Mount of Olives.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. (1979), Baker’s Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com.