In his earlier defense of his speculations, @Andrew_Loke made frequent use of the phrase “reasonable assumption”, and I think it is worth further inquiry as to what this phrase might mean, and what it’s conceptual and practical limitations might be.

(My background is in statistics, so I will couch my discussion in terms of statistical probability.)

A reasonable assumption, at first consideration, might be considered to be either (i) the assumption, out of a set of alternatives, that has the highest probability of being true, or (ii) an assumption that is more likely to be true than not.

The first definition runs into the issue that, if all the assumptions have a low probability, the “reasonable assumption” may be more likely to be false than to be true.

The second definition has the problem that, in many cases, a “reasonable assumption” may not exist.

Going beyond this, there is the question of how we assign probabilities. I would assert that this requires some knowledge of the *factual context* surrounding the assumption. I cannot know that the assumption that a given runner will win a race is “reasonable”, without some knowledge of the running abilities of that runner and their competitors.

Further, assumptions cannot be stacked without cost. If the probability of a single assumption is 95% (very “reasonable” by any reasonable definition), then the probability of ten such assumptions all being correct is only 36% (assuming, for simplicity, that the probabilities are independent). It is therefore very easy when stacking even reasonable assumptions to quickly get unreasonable speculation.

How does this relate to the “Five Hundred”?

The only substantive information we have on Paul’s ministry and the churches it founded is that which we can glean from Paul’s own Epistles, which contains only very sparse and fragmentary information on these churches’ dynamics. Acts, as well as being written decades later, tends to concentrate on uplifting heroics to the exclusion of sociologically useful information.

This is not, I would assert, sufficient factual context to confidently assign a probability to any given assumption about actions within the First Century church. I would therefore question whether *any* assumptions about this matter can *meaningfully* be described as “reasonable”.