Acts of the Apostles

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

Who is the Author?

With Matthew you could argue financial features point toward him being the author, with Mark you can see the identity of Peter, with John you can also identify with how he uses the name John to figure out the author’s name also. But with Luke, it is slightly different. In the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters, we see two things happening. 1. Luke entering into the narrative with Paul 2. Paul identifying himself with Luke in the same scenarios allowing us to determine through careful examination who the author is through undesigned coincidences in the text. 

So let’s go through these internal markers.

Theophilus

The author of Acts writes to one “Theophilus” (Acts 1:3, Luke 1:1-4) and seeks to continue what the biography he wrote first in Luke (Acts 1:3, Luke 1:1-4). The connective clause in Acts connects the two works to the same author (“Acts 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach”). From this information, we can gather that Theophilus is the bridge between the two New Testament documents stringing them together. 

Luke moves into the text

The author of Acts stunningly moves and associates himself not only with those in the text, but uses “we” when describing him and others going somewhere/doing something (Acts 16:10‐17; 20:5‐15; 21:1‐18; 27:1‐28:16). So the author is claiming to be recording an event he was at, not just recording pure testimony from others, he is involved somewhat. This not only puts Luke in the same lifetime as Paul, but expresses the beginnings of a connection to Paul and we would expect Paul to mention Luke

Luke is known to Paul

In Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:11 we hear Paul sending his greetings and stating whom is with him when he sends them and calls them “co-workers”. Colossians 4:14 gives us a bit more, we are told Luke is the physician. Some have made a connection between Paul’s thorn in the flesh and Luke being his physician and this was why the relationship was established and how Luke could record many of his experiences with very firsthand knowledge (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). This is a stretch however, and there is nothing concrete to accept as such. 

Internal summary

  1. The author is addressing Theophilus in both Luke 1:1‐4; Acts 1:1‐5 making it the same author
  2. The author moves into the text himself in Acts 16:10‐17; 20:5‐15; 21:1‐18; 27:1‐28:16 with Paul
  3. Luke is known to Paul Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11

Here are some additional internal signals we can discover from the text that supports the case for Luke’s authorship:

Advanced Greek

The level of Greek used in both the Acts and the third Gospel is highly advanced. Due to the high degree of Greek employed in these two documents, one can deduce that the author is quite advanced in his education.

Ministry to the gentiles

The author is the one to record the disciples bridging message to the Gentiles and follow especially Paul’s story around the Roman Empire. It is to be noted that Luke’s geographical knowledge of Gentile territories one of familiarity in many areas.

Medical knowledge

The author describes medical matters far more and to a greater degree than the other Gospels. In Luke 4:38, Luke is sure to note that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law suffered from a high fever. In Luke 14:2, the author describes a man’s body that had “swollen with fluid.” Such details indicate a man who has an eye for medical matters. 

We see similar medical knowledge in the book of Acts. Acts 28: 7-9 we see Luke speak of a man with a fever and dysentery, a bit more specific than your average passers-by. There are medical connections between Luke and Acts.

https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1977/05/medical-terminology-in-luke

Access to eyewitnesses

The author had access to the Acts of the disciples and Paul of Tarsus. 

https://crossexamined.org/wrote-gospel-luke-acts

Church fathers attribute Luke to Acts

If we know the church fathers establish Luke as the author of Luke’s Gospel as well as Paul, everything said previously will reveal that the two are written by the same mind and skill set. Luke wrote both Luke and Acts as a part two. One reason revealed by the church fathers on the book of Acts was realising it’s importance when defending Christianity and the eyewitnesses when this became a discussion point. It is right that Acts is muchless theology than the Gospels and many of Paul’s letters but is the historical bridge joining up all the pieces of the New Testament. 

The Muratorian fragment written by the early church attest Luke to the book of Acts

Moreover, the acts of all the apostles were written in one book. For “most excellent Theophilus” Luke compiled the individual events that took place in his presence— as he plainly shows by omitting the martyrdom of Peter as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain.”

Muratorian fragment
 https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/57/57-2/JETS_57-2_231-64_Schnabel.pdf 

Audience & purpose

Luke’s audience appears to be Theophilus who appears to be a new Christian who seeks assurance in the faith. As a result Luke has carefully investigated the realities around Jesus and the apostles. Acts is a part two to this story and this letter is clearly beyond just one individual and considering Theophilus means friend of God, perhaps the audience was always intentionally larger. Luke’s purpose is to assure those in the faith of what they believe in, Luke is our detective and doctor in the Gospel narratives. 

Date

Tradition & critics opinion

The earliest date Acts could have been written would be within a few years of the last recorded event in Acts, which takes place probably in AD 62. The latest possible date suggested Acts could have been written would have been immediately prior to the first references to the book from other literature. Irenaeus (Haer. 3.13.3; 3.15.1) contains some indisputable citations, as does Justin Martyr in Dial. 103.19. They were writing around AD 160, so that the latest possible date is around AD 160.

Some reasons against the late date

  1. The tone of Acts does not really fit the tone of other documents of this period, such as 1 Clement (AD 95) and Ignatius (AD 117).
  2. In addition, it is unlikely that such a late work would ignore Paul’s letters as much as Acts does.
  3. Finally, possible allusions in 1 Clement 5.6–7 (to Acts 26), 2.1 (Acts 20:35), and 18.1 (Acts 13:22) argue against this date.

These allusions move the latest possible date from the mid-second-century limit down to the mid-90s. So our scale is defined between 62AD and 95AD

Main reasons why Acts was likely written in the 60s

Rome undecided

The picture in Acts that Rome, knowing little about the movement, is still deciding where Christianity fits. It isn’t until Nero’s persecution that we see where Rome lies on the matter. At this present time, the Christians align with the position of the Jews in Roman eyes. 

In fact, Luke often paints romans in a good light such as: Paul rescued by Romans in Acts 21:28 from dying at the hands of Jews & Acts 27:23 Romans treating Paul kindly; Luke 7:1-10; Matthew 8:5-13: the centurion who comes to Jesus for help. In 64AD the first great Christian persecution began. Christians were fed to wild animals, tortured and crucified. Works like the Apocalypse of John and the forged Apocalypse of Peter were produced put the Romans in a bad light and we know these are written later. Scholars note these represent the anguish Christians were feeling during and after Great persecutions. In the Gospels and Acts, we don’t see the same attitude to Romansm the focus is mainly on the Jewish sects who were still currently in some level of power.

Significant Deaths

Failure to note the death of either James, brother of Jesus (AD 62) or Paul (late 60s) (James’ death is later noted in Josephus). This is despite recording James, brother of John dying earlier as well as Stephen.

Silence on the siege

The silence about Jerusalem’s siege & destruction, even in settings where it could have been mentioned editorially (e.g., Acts 6–7 [the Stephen account], 21–23 [Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem]) are not.

Gentile-Jewish relations 

The amount of uncertainty expressed about internal Gentile-Jewish relations, especially table fellowship, which fits a setting that parallels the Pauline letters that deal with similar tensions (Romans, Galatians, 1 Corinthians 8–10, and Ephesians).

This last reason is the most significant and has not been developed enough in the discussion to date. Acts presupposes a racially mixed community, which in turn suggests an earlier date, not a later one. Details about the law, table fellowship, and practices that may offend (Acts 6:1–6; 10–11; 15) also suggest an earlier time frame.

That the Gentile mission still needs such vigorous and detailed defense further suggests this earlier period, since by the 80s the Gentile character of the Christian movement was a given. That believers need reassurance in the midst of intense Jewish pressure fits an early date as well.

Paul’s imprisonment

Luke is almost certainly not a resident of Israel during Jesus lifetime, but a follower of Paul and someone who was free and in Israel in 57-59AD (Acts 23) while Paul awaited the outcome of his imprisonment in Israel even before appealing to the emperor. Luke was free during those two years with the opportunity to interview anybody who would have been alive during Jesus’ lifetime. 

Ending of Acts

The end is a buildup to Pauls trial in Rome from Acts 21 onwards. Acts ends with Paul arriving in Rome Acts 28:30 “He lived there two whole years at his own expense…” There is no mention of his own trial or if he is ever released it just ends there, no payoff . It is agreed Paul arrived around 60AD based on the book of Acts mentioning a change in procurators of Felix to Festus (Acts 25:1; 13-14) which dates to 59AD, Acts records Festus sending Paul for trial in Rome, thus if Acts ends two years later with Paul still waiting for trial in Rome that seems when Acts was completed otherwise why would Luke build up to a trial to leave his readers guessing if Paul was released or not? External sources mentioned earlier express Paul’s trips to Spain so this is likely when Acts ends. It maybe not the happy ending we want in a book but is fantastic historical data. 

Some conclusions we can draw from these factors that push the date back

  1. Pre 90AD
    1. Acts doesn’t fit the tone of second century work
    2. Acts ignores Paul’s letter which would be most unusual 
    3. 1 Clement alludes to Acts in 95AD
  2. Pre 67AD
    1. Rome seems divided on it’s views on Christianity which was pre-64AD
    2. James’ death (62AD) and Paul’s death in 60’s are not mentioned
    3. Siege and fall of Jerusalem not mentioned (67-70; 70AD)
    4. Gentile involvement still tense with Jews and Jewish Christians when it wasn’t an issue post-70AD
    5. Paul was in prison 57-59AD in Judea, a good time for Paul to gather sources similar to Mark or Matthew before he leaves for Europe again with Paul
    6. Acts ends abruptly 62AD in it’s story with no details after. A very odd cliffhanger place to leave it.
https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/when-was-acts-written

Canonical status

What was the acceptance rate of Acts as canonical? Ignatius and Polycarp use Acts very early on but heretics like Marcion and Valentinus want nothing to do with it. Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the book of Acts.

See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)

It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
  • Ig = Ignatius
  • Po = Polycarp
  • M = Marcion
  • Va = Valentinus
  • JM = Justin Martyr
  • IR = Irenaeus 
  • C = Clement of Alexandria 
  • T = Tertullian
  • MC = Muratorian Canon
  • O = Origen
  • E = Eusebius
  • CS = Codex Sinaiticus
  • A = Athanasius
  • D = Didymus the Blind
  • P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
  • V =  Latin vulgate 
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml 

Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

2 Peter 1:16 

2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection

Acts 1:21-22

One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)

John 19:34-35

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.

Acts 2:32

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

Acts 3:15

We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:32

“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Acts 10:39-43

[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.

Romans 9:1

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

1 Corinthians 15:3-9

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:

1 Peter 5:1

Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name. 

“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.

Caius, Church leader

How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected. 

So these summarised standards are these:

  1. Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
  2. Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
  3. Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
  4. Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
  5. Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?

Apostolicity

It is widely accepted by the church fathers that Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and his Theophilus reference and connecting sentences tells us Acts is part 2. If that wasn’t enough, the Muratorian Fragment tells us plainly that Luke collected the Acts of the Apostles. Luke may not be an apostle, but he is very much a colleague of Paul referenced at least three times and has access to keepers of the historical events.

Orthodoxy

Acts is very much the continuation of the book works of the Messiah and the fulfillment of that and what it brings to the Jewish nation. It is very much in the Judea-Christian context with consistencies with Gospel teaching. As it feels more of a history of actions rather than theology, it is not inconsistent with any prior christian work.

Catholicity

Was Acts widely agreed upon? Well we have Polycarp and Ignatius using Acts in and at the end of the first century and into the second. The Muratorian fragment seems to affirm it’s agreement and is one of the books that never lay in question. There is some argument that Acts didn’t get used as much in preaching as say, the Gospels, but that would likely be to be expected. 

Relevance

There is no sign of Gnosticism, nor is this the product or response to the persecution of the Romans. Paul’s Roman citizenship is often upheld in Acts with Romans commanding respect for it, the forces of resistance here are Jewish figures in power, something lost after 70AD. Acts is a product of his time, recording the events of the 40s, 50s and 60s and seems completely in line with the canon and tying into much of Paul’s letters.

Inspiration

Luke, supervised by God writes essentially the testimonium of the apostles. Doubters to willing to die, Luke records the changing power of Christ showing how not only how it changed them, but how it can change us. Very much how Luke’s Gospel is inspired, Acts generally follows and is widely agreed upon as inspired. 


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