Acts - Lesson 1

Authorship, Date and Genre of the book of Acts

You will gain knowledge and insight about the authorship, date, and genre of the Book of Acts. The lesson will present evidence that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts and provide historical context to help determine the date of its writing. The genre of the Book of Acts will also be discussed, giving you a better understanding of its composition and purpose.

Lesson 1
Watching Now
Authorship, Date and Genre of the book of Acts

NT619-01 Authorship, Date, and Genre of the Book of Acts

I. Introduction

A. Overview of NT619

B. Background Information on the Book of Acts

II. Authorship of the Book of Acts

A. Luke as the Author

B. Evidence for Luke's Authorship

III. Date of the Book of Acts

A. Historical Context

B. Dating the Book of Acts

IV. Genre of the Book of Acts

A. Definition of Genre

B. Genre of the Book of Acts

V. Conclusion

  • Acts is often referred to as "Luke: Part 2" suggesting that Luke was the author. Internal and external evidence confirms this authorship. It is believed that Acts was written in the 70's or 80's of the first century as a historical monograph with a biographic focus.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight about the authorship, date, and genre of the Book of Acts. The lesson will present evidence that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts and provide historical context to help determine the date of its writing. The genre of the Book of Acts will also be discussed, giving you a better understanding of its composition and purpose.

  • Acts is not a novel because it doesn't fit the style that novels of that time period were written in. It has elements of both common folk literature and elite literature. One motive that Luke had in writing Acts is as an apologetic to support a Jewish perspective. Acts is an apologetic, ethnographic history in a monograph form. 

  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the genre, historiography, purpose, and historical reliability of the book of Acts and its implications for interpretation.
  • This lesson teaches you about the themes of theology, history, culture, and miracles in the book of Acts, including Christology, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and the historical and cultural context of the first-century Roman Empire and Jewish culture. You'll learn the role of miracles in establishing the credibility of the gospel message and its relationship with faith. By the end, you will have a complete understanding of the main themes in the book of Acts.

  • In this lesson, you will learn about the role of miracles in the early church and how they were used to support and advance the gospel message in the book of Acts. The purpose of miracles, such as healings and other supernatural events, were seen as signs of the Holy Spirit's power and evidence of the truth of the gospel, which helped attract people to the message. Through exploring specific examples from the book of Acts, you will see how miracles played a crucial role in the growth of the early church and the spread of the gospel.

  • This lesson covers the historical context of Acts, including the Jewish World, Roman Empire, political/social structures, and Mediterranean Geography. The purpose and authorship of the book, including Luke as the author, the purpose of the book, and its theology, will be discussed. The narrative structure, major sections, and events will be overviewed.
  • The lesson is about the historical and theological context of the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the early Church as described in the first two chapters of the Book of Acts.
  • In this lesson you will learn about Peter's healing and sermon, the persecution and expansion of the church, and Stephen's martyrdom. You will gain insight into the early church's growth and the challenges they faced, as well as the impact of Stephen's death on the spread of Christianity.

  • The lesson teaches about the events in Acts 5-7, including the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the growth of the church, the appointment of the seven, Stephen's defense, and his martyrdom, providing insight into the early Christian community and its challenges.
  • The lesson is about the early events of the Church of Jerusalem and the role of the seven men chosen to serve the community, the first major persecution of the Christian Church, the spread of the gospel, and the conversion of Saul to Paul.
  • The lesson covers the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem and beyond following Stephen's death, including Philip's preaching in Samaria, conversion of Simon and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the challenges faced by early Christians.
  • This lesson provides an overview of Saul's conversion and the events that took place on the Damascus road, including his baptism and ministry, and the implications for our lives today.
  • This lesson provides an understanding of the events leading to the inclusion of Gentiles in the early Christian church and the spread of the gospel to non-Jewish people.
  • This lesson explores the early Christian church's growth and challenges through the events of Acts 12 and 13, including the arrest and deliverance of Peter, Herod's death, the mission of Barnabas and Saul, and the first missionary journey.
  • The First Missionary Journey in Acts 13-15 provides insight into the early Christian church through covering the team sent out, their ministry, and the results of their ministry.
  • In this lesson, you will learn about the major issue that arose in the early Christian church regarding the relationship between Gentile converts and Jewish customs, the decision of the Jerusalem Council, and the implementation and response of the Gentile churches.
  • In this lesson, you'll learn about the spread of the gospel in Philippi through Paul and Silas and the conversions of Lydia and the jailer, showcasing the gospel's power.
  • In this lesson, you will learn about Paul's encounter with the philosophers of Athens and his message to them about the one true God, the judgment of humanity, and the resurrection of Jesus.
  • This lesson provides a comprehensive overview of Paul's ministry in the city of Corinth, including the challenges he faced, the Lord's encouragement, and the significance of this episode in the book of Acts.
  • This lesson provides insight into Paul's second missionary journey and his preaching, as well as the importance of the Holy Spirit's work and the ministry of the Word.
  • The lesson provides an overview of Paul's journey to Jerusalem and the events that took place during his arrival in Jerusalem, the incident at the temple, his arrest, and his appearance before the Sanhedrin and its significance in the early Christian church.
  • The lesson covers Paul's defenses in the final four chapters of Acts and his navigation of political and religious tensions while remaining faithful to his beliefs and mission.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into Paul's journey from Caesarea to Rome, including details about the voyage and shipwreck, the aftermath of the shipwreck, and the significance of Paul's ministry.

The book of Acts portrays, in a narrative way, the life of the early church. The theme of the book is, "the mission of the early church." It tells how Jesus continued to carry out his mission that he started as recorded in the book of Luke, by working through the people of the early church. Dr. Keeener discusses the growth of the church from its Jewish roots through reaching the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission. 

Dr. Craig Keener
Authorship, Date and Genre of the book of Acts
Lesson Transcript


1. Introduction

We have many letters in the New Testament that show us how particular problems were dealt with; we have the Gospels that show us more of the life of our Lord. But we have one book in the New Testament that actually portrays in a narrative way the life of the early church. The theme of the book is the mission of the early church and how they carried on Jesus’ mission and followed his great commission. We find this in the Book of Acts. I am going to start the book with a significantly long introduction to raise major themes. Then we will go through and sample in somewhat less detail certain parts of the book. The Book of Acts of which we could call, Luke, part two. It is very significant how the Gospel of Luke is carried on in the Book of Acts. The Gospel of Luke is all that Jesus began to do and teach and the Book of Acts shows how Jesus continued the work through his followers. Acts tells us the beginning of the many of the churches and therefore it is useful when considering the background of Paul’s letters. For example, Romans was a mixed church consisting only of gentiles; Thessalonians consisted also of a largely gentile church persecuted for believing in another king. In any case, we get background on many of the letters, even if that wasn’t the original purpose of the book. It helps us in that way.

2. Authorship

Tradition and the Pronoun ‘we’: The majority of scholars think that the ‘we’ narratives was authored by a companion of Paul and there is good reason for that. (Note: Keener is referring to the change from the 1st person singular ‘I’ to the use of the1st person plural pronoun in Acts.) But some scholars demur on this and there are reasons. The narratives are far more detailed in the ‘we’ section. There are more details during the weeks spent in Philippi than the lengthy stay in Corinth and over the two years in Ephesus. I want to cover the beginning of the ‘we’ sections and then where they lead off. In Acts 16:10 and following, we find that the ‘we’ begins, morning from Troas to Philippi. After Paul and Silas leave Philippi, the ‘we’ breaks off. But years later when Paul comes back to Philippi in Acts 20, the ‘we’ picks up again and continues till the end of the Book of Acts. The ‘we’ stays in the background; the first person is only mentioned where necessary to include himself without elaborating by mentioning what he was doing. Some people have taken the use of the 1st person plural pronoun ‘we’ to be something else other than what we normally take ‘we’ to mean. The pronoun ‘We’ normally means me plus someone else, but often scholars make their living off making things that are simple, to be more complicated. So I need to address these other views of the use of ‘we’. Some say that it must be a fictitious ‘we’; they think that Luke’s depiction of Paul’s thinking differs from the depiction of Paul’s thinking in Paul’s letters. Well, there is some truth in that; nobody says that Paul wrote the Book of Acts. Obviously, Luke is a different person, but he is not so much of a different person that we must assume that he couldn’t have known of him or travelled with him. After all, if one of my students would write a biography of my life, seeing what they chose to emphasize would be different probably from what I would choose to emphasize. The leading difference that scholars have often seen between Luke’s depictions of Paul’s theology and Paul’s own depiction, they said that in Acts, Paul is favorable towards the Law whereas in Paul’s letters, Paul is against the Law. But in the last few decades Pauline scholars have repudiated that view. They no longer say that Paul was against the Law and therefore scholars of Acts who are using that contrast to try and distinguish Luke’s Paul from Paul’s Paul need to catch up on their Pauline scholarship. But in any case, why assume that it is a fictitious ‘we’?

We have that fictitious ‘we’ or fictitious ‘I’ in fictitious documents such as novels. We don’t have fictitious ‘we’ and ‘I’ normally in historical works which the majority of scholars agree that the Book of Acts is. Not all agree on how historical it is but the majority agrees that Acts is a historical monograph. It is a work of ancient historiography. The famous early 20th century Harvard classicists, Sir Author Nott, said that most he could think of one example in historical literature in non-fictitious literature where the 1st person plural was used fictitiously. In almost all cases in historical works, a first person meant that the author was claiming to be there or the author was claiming to be writing or something like that. Moreover, if it were fictitious, why would it be fictitious only in these places, where it leaves off in Philippi and picks up in Philippi? And it is such obscure places. You would think that the ‘we’ would have carried through the entire narrative. The ‘we’ could have been a disciple of Jesus. The ‘we’ could have been present at the empty tomb or it could have been present at Pentecost. But, the author can’t say that because apparently the audience knows who the author is. They know when the author was with Paul and when the author wasn’t with Paul. The ‘we’ appears in a very obscure way; the author is not trying to make a big deal about being present. The author is simply including himself at a point where the author was present.

Some say that it isn’t fictitious, although some have said, well, you have this fictitious presence of a ‘we’ in sea voyages and there has been very strongly answers by scholars that have shown that most ‘we’ voyages don’t have a ‘we’ in them. When the ‘we’ is there, it’s normally because the author was claiming to be there and outside of sea voyages is the same as inside of sea voyages. So, the majority of scholars have rejected that approach. But some scholars said that it belongs to a travel journal. That is entirely possible, but keep in mind that Luke in the beginning of his first volume mentioned many possible sources. He mentions getting material that goes back to eyewitnesses. Presumably, a lot of material that came to him could have come in the 1st person form and yet, nowhere else does it deserve a 1st person form. Why would Luke become an inapt editor of this material at this point and this point only? Doesn’t it seem more likely that if there was a travel journal in use, it was Luke’s own travel journal? So, if it was a travel journal included ‘we’, it would have been Luke travel journal. In other ancient literature, ‘we’ normally means ‘we’, just like it does today. So, instead of complicating what is simply, we will just leave it simple. Usually, I can say that there is a strong consensus that the pronoun ‘we’ meant the same as it means today.

But who was this companion that is presupposed in the ‘we’? Who is the first person voice? Well, we know of certain people who went with Paul in Colossians 4:10 and in Philemon 1:24. He mentioned Aristarchus being with him in Rome; however Aristarchus is specifically distinguished from the 1st person in Acts 27. So, this is somebody who was with Aristarchus and Paul, but it was not Aristarchus. It could have been Epaphras who was also with Paul in Rome. You would think Ephesus and his home church where he labored the most was in the Lycus Valley. You would think that this would show up somewhere in the Book of Acts, but there is no interest in the Lycus Valley there. Demas was also with Paul in Rome, but tradition says that he didn’t persevere. 2 Timothy 4 says that Demas had abandoned Paul. So, the chances are, he didn’t write the Book of Acts. There is another strong candidate that normally doesn’t get mentioned and that is Titus. He was a close companion of Paul and for some reason Titus isn’t mentioned by name in the Book of Acts. When Paul lists his companions in Rome, Titus isn’t among them. There is one companion that is listed in Rome that isn’t named in the Book of Acts and that is Luke. Not surprisingly, the unanimous view of the early church was Luke being the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Interestingly enough, you would expect that if someone would have made up a tradition about some author, it would be someone very prominent. However, Luke wasn’t that prominent. So, the external evidence and the internal evidence together both favor Luke as being the author of Acts. The tradition of authorship is very strong.

What the Classists Think: Classists normally start with the external evidence and that evidence here is very strong. The tradition is that Luke wrote the book. The anti-marcionite prologue actually says that this was Luke, a doctor from Antioch. Colossians 4:14 does fit with Luke being a doctor, although I don’t believe that he was from Antioch. It says that he stayed single and died in Boeotia, Greece at the age of 84 years. So, this does fit the evidence that Luke was the author. We have stronger evidence from Irenaeus in the late 2nd century and Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tratovium. Whoever Luke addressed in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts, they knew who the author was, he didn’t have to state who he was. He could have said ‘I’ in the prologue and then later on, he could have used ‘we’. Most people, who received such works, knew who the author was and it didn’t necessarily have to be stated in the body; sometimes, it wasn’t. In the case of Luke, we know that at least part of his audience was Theophilus and Theophilus undoubtedly knew who the author was. So the book didn’t have to mention it, but normally the authorship was one of the last details to be forgotten. Here, we are talking about a few generations where this could be passed on and we are talking about unanimity. If it wasn’t passed on accurately, you would have different hypotheses arising in different parts of the Roman Empire. Also, a Papyrus, P 75 from somewhere between the years AD 175-225 calls the Gospel, the Gospel of Luke. So, pretty much, everybody agrees that the same author wrote both the Gospel and Acts. Luke was not prominent in tradition, yet the authorship tradition is unanimous. Who would invent a non-apostle and a non-eye-witness of Jesus as the author? We have no evidence against it. Interestingly enough, many terms found in medical literature are also found in Luke and Acts. Cadbury pointed out it is consistent with a doctor being the author and many other early scholars were positive about Luke being the author. You have more recent studies that have drawn attention to the consistency of being a medical author.

Luke as a Physician: So, the tradition is Luke as being the author; if it is by Luke who was with Paul according to Colossians 4:14; he was a physician. And in regards to physicians, with ancient physicians there was some superstition, there was also some genuine empirical data; it was all mixed up together. You had the traditions of what had been passed on, some accurate and some not so accurate. You read Plenty’s, the elder’s natural history and he is talking about supposed cures for different things. Some of them include grinding the eye balls of a rhinoceros; all these different things that no one would have been able to find. In any case, there were genuine observations that people made from their experience with patient. There were various schools of medical thought back then also. One was called the Methodist School and there were different approaches to medicine. You would practice under another physician and there were places to go for medical training. There was no accreditation; so some physicians might be good and some might be bad. It is agreed that it is the same author as Luke’s Gospel. It has an educated written style, not highly rhetorical, not from a member of the elite but instead from a more popular level. But it is neither from the barely illiterate people that wrote on ordinary papyri; business documents that we often find executed by scribes. Some people could barely sign their names. Luke was way beyond that level. Contrary to my expectations before I wrote a four volume commentary on Acts, I was thinking that Luke was on a higher rhetorical level than Paul. But after working through Acts and through Paul’s letters, I concluded the opposite. Paul actually works in a higher rhetorical level, you don’t even need to do that in letters as such but Paul does. Nevertheless, Luke is an educated person, he is not uneducated. He improves Mark’s grammar regularly in the Gospel of Luke. If we look at the author’s background, assuming it is Luke, something that we can know about physicians. It was one of the occupations where you had both men and women involved. Luke would have probably been exposed in his professional life to skilled women which makes good sense of what we read in Luke and Acts where he has respect for women. He is more inclusive than most of his contemporaries back then who wrote about men and women.

Often, physicians were slaves and usually they were Greek and they had some education. Yes, you could have had educated slaves back then. The slave culture was different in different settings. Some household slaves were highly trained and sometimes managed the estate for a slave holder, etc. Some Jewish people opposed the use of physicians and said that you just need to rely on God. But urban Hellenized Jews accepted this, so Luke would probably not have faced much prejudice in the urban area that he usually went. There were no professional historians back then; that was a normal Job description. So, physicians were educated; Paul was sometimes sick. Personal physicians were usually among personal confidants. So, it would make sense that a physician would have travelled with Paul, but a physician could also be a historian because they were educated. One scholar, a professor Alexander, has argued that Luke’s preface fits the kind you would find with a scientific author. Therefore, not that Luke wasn’t a historian, Luke was more of a scientific kind more than a rhetorical kind. But, in any case, there were no professional historians; they were orators or something else who also just wrote history. Some put a lot of work into writing history.

Objections to Luke: One of the major objections is the difference in details compared to Paul’s letters. But differences in detail were allowed for historians, as long as they got the events right. And when you compare other historians as they wrote about people of antiquity; you have the same situation you have with Acts and Paul’s letters. You have Cicero’s letters and then you have historians that wrote about Cicero. People have said that Luke has an apologetic agenda and that is true and so does Paul. They both are writing with particular agendas. So, the differences in detail are not more than what we would expect from a historian writing selectively about a person’s life; especially when they had their own points, not that they made things up. It means that they emphasized what they felt was most important for their own audience. Luke is writing later, I believe, than when Paul wrote his letters. So, in any case, what is really striking I think to a person who comes from a classical background or working from ancient historiography and have read the ancient historians and ancient biographies and have worked through these ancient sources and ancient letters. What is striking to me is the degree of correspondence we have between them given the fact that Luke didn’t seem to have known about most of Paul’s letters. That wasn’t a major source for him and nor did he need it as a major source because he had known Paul and thus he had more direct information in which to rely on. For example, if you were relying on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, you would include a whole lot of things that are missing in the Book of Acts. Theological difference is another objection as I mentioned before. Luke is more generalizing and less particular. It is a matter of genre and again the biggest theological differences that people have pointed out are probably not different. It is a matter of misreading Paul’s letters. It was being done a few generations ago. Most of differences are a matter of emphasis; we do have some details that are different but again by the standards of ancient historiography these are very small.

The Author’s Background: What we can see from geography, the geographic elements within Luke and Acts. The author knows the Aegean region thoroughly and cares about that region. He likes to report things so perhaps his audience may actually cluster in that region, in any case, his core audience. He also knows coastal Palestine, the Judean coast which fits the traveling companion of Paul. But this geographical knowledge seems to be weaker on the interior of Judea and Galilee. This again would fit somebody who traveled with Paul in the areas that we read about in the Book of Acts. He didn’t travel with Jesus in Luke chapter nine and following and arranging those details in a different matter. So, probably the author is from the Aegean region. If the author is the Luke of Colossians 4:14 who was with Paul in Rome, then he was presumably a gentile, given the context of that passage. But there is a Luke in Roman’s 16 that appears to be Jewish; however he doesn’t seem to be familiar with all the Palestinian customs, Judean and Galilean customs. So, if he is Jewish, he is probably a diaspora Jew from the Greek speaking Mediterranean Jewish community outside of Judea and Galilee. But he travelled to Jerusalem, according to what we see between Acts 20 and Paul’s letters as a representative for gentile churches bringing offerings. So, probably, he was a gentile; he knew the Septuagint thoroughly. So, if he is a gentile, he was more likely a God fearer, somebody who spent time in the Synagogues before his conversion to faith in Jesus. Although it is possible that he learned a lot afterwards. For example, I was converted from atheism; I had no church background. I think I visited a Catholic Church once, but I had no real church background. And I was really limited in my knowledge as to what Christians believed. I knew that they believed in the trinity and gargoyles! After my conversion, I had to start cramming because the kids in Sunday school knew more about the Bible than I did. So, I started reading forty chapters of the Bible a day. There is a lot of interest in God fearers in the Book of Acts and so it is plausible that Luke could have been a God fearer, and many scholars think that is a scene of his target audience. We can’t say with certainty whether he was Jewish or gentile, but I am inclined to think that he was probably gentile and was the Luke of Colossians 4:14.

His Target Audience: Today, we usually recognize that many of these major foundational works. The Books of Acts in today’s currency would have cost thousands of dollars to produce in terms of the Papyri and the scribes, etc. These were major works by ancient standards. So it wasn’t written off the top of one’s head, Luke would probably value as wide an audience as he could get. Richard Bawcom and others have shown that works like the Gospels desired a wider audiences than sometime redaction critics thought, where they focus more particular on a local community. As the same time, this can also be carried too far, because people normally have a target audience, there are certain expectations that they have, certain people that they envision getting this message in particular. Even though the book is dedicated to Theophilus, most excellent Theophilus, therefore a person of high rank and status; The Gospel of Luke is one of the strongest places in the New Testament challenging riches and saying that we need to use all of our resources to serve the poor. At the same time, Luke presupposes a fairly educated well to do audience; not elite as such as he is only writing the history of the mission of the church. Luke’s audience seems to be aware of a lot of names; he takes for granted a wide geographical knowledge, especially in the Aegean region but elsewhere as well. Some have spoken to Theophilus as the ideal reader of the Book of Acts. But one would dedicate a book often to a wealthy patriate or a sponsor or somebody that you would hope liked the book and therefore provided a good circulation. So Theophilus wasn’t like the core audience but he was part of the audience and Luke seems to assume a highly more sophisticated audience in terms of education. And in terms of Hellenistic diaspora than Matthew and John did.

Luke’s Style: It is between Greek literary prose style and a Greek that is heavily influenced by the Septuagint, a kind of dialect of Greek, some have called it Jewish Greek; others have pointed out that it is ordinary Hellenistic Koine. But ordinary Koine is not Greek literary prose style. So Luke kind of varies in between those with places that he is clearly echoing the Septuagint or the style of the Septuagint, particularly when he is recounting traditional scenes like in Luke chapters one and two. Some have also found a lot of Semitisms there and in the first fifteen chapters of Acts. This is probably echoing his sources or echoing the style of the Septuagint in which Luke was obviously emerged and in those section, it may have been bilingual, both Aramaic and Greek Speaking. You may have some idioms that are carried over as well. My wife is from the Congo and she speaks five languages and sometimes idioms from one language will carry over into another.

The Focus of Acts: The geographic focus is often on urban centers in contrast to Jesus’ public ministry which often took place in rural Galilee. The Book of Acts often takes place in urban centers; Luke often reports conversions of elites, although it wasn’t just elites who were just interested. If you belong to a marginalized outside group, it is not well looked upon in society. So it is to your advantage to cite those who are known. But in any case, the early Christian movement was a marginalized and so they would have appreciated it. But it often mentions the conversion of elites, although he is quiet interested in showing God’s concern for the poor. The geographic areas that are particularly focused on once it moves outside of Judea were Greece, Macedonia, Hellenistic Asia and ultimately Rome which was the heart of the empire and in which Luke’s audience lived. So it is not surprising that Luke cares about that because he knows that his audience also cares about that, rather than tracing the mission elsewhere where the Gospel also travelled. He is most detailed in Philippi which would make sense if the author did, in fact, stay in Philippi for a long time as the narrative suggests. In terms of an audience, he knows the believers in Philippi would be interested in this work. They may be, at least a key core audience. Well, was the audience Jewish or Gentile? Gentile Christians were still viewed widely as converts to Judaism and there was an emphasis on the conversion of gentiles. There was a value in making proselytes; the Jerusalem church was still viewed as authoritative and so certain things had to be settled there, like in Acts 15. Luke presupposes a strong knowledge of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This was the most common form of the Greek translation of the Old Testament for this period. So, probably his core audience is an audience that is very knowledgeable of Scripture. That doesn’t necessarily mean Jewish, that has been argued where some good arguments have been put forth in regards to this for it but I still think the majority would be gentile converts to the Jewish faith in the Messiah. Actually the diaspora congregations were mixed with Jews and gentiles.

3. Date

Early Date: Some have argued for an early date; nobody has argued for a date before the end of the Book of Acts, obviously. So, nobody argues for a date around the year AD 62. But the earlier date is the date argued well and written by Paul’s companion. Paul had many junior companions but Paul was martyred somewhere around the year AD 64 while some date it as late as AD 67. But under Nero’s persecution which began in the year AD 64. If Luke outlived Paul only by a decade, that would push it to the mid 70’s. The strongest argument that has been offered for an earlier date is that Acts doesn’t close with Paul’s death, but keep in mind that the focus in Acts is not a biography as such but instead it is focused on Mission. Some people have noted biographical elements in Acts and I concede those but it is not one whole work on one single person. Paul isn’t even mentioned until chapter 9, so, though I see biographical elements in Acts, it is not a biography per se, as it deals with the early Christian mission and therefore it doesn’t have to end with Paul’s death. In fact, Luke seems very happy to emphasize positive legal precedence and Paul’s execution would not be such a positive precedence. It would also be a tragic ending for the book rather than a positive upturn. Luke likes to end with a positive note. He ends the Gospel of Luke certainly in a positive note and he ends the Book of Acts in a similar way. Another argument for an early date is that the Jewish influence with Rome that you see in Acts is only before the year AD 70. So this must have been written before the year AD 70. I don’t think this argument is very good because Jewish influence continued in some places like Asia Minor far beyond that. Revelation 2 and 3 suggest that as well.

Later Date: In regards to a later date between AD 70 and 90; this is where the majority of scholars fall. The second leading group includes those who believe in the earlier date of AD 60, but the majority of scholars date Luke in the 70’s or 80’s. In Luke 21, it looks like it was written after AD 70. It adjusts the language and in Mark 13, it looks like that Jesus could come back at the same time that the Temple was destroyed. Matthew 24 qualifies that somewhat by clarifying the nature of the disciple’s questions so that it was only two questions. When will these things be, when will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of the coming at the end of the age? Luke also clarifies it so that instead of the desolating sacrilege, he mentions, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies. And it is pretty clear that he is talking about the year AD 70 as it talks about people being carried away as slaves and captives among all the nations by Rome and Jerusalem being trodden down by the gentiles. Then he talks about the Lord’s coming in looking up as your redemption draws near. Many think in this clarification, Luke is making it more explicit after the fact, after the year AD 70 viewing Jerusalem as a template of Babylon was very common. Although, viewing Rome as the New Babylon was earlier than that. There seemed to be within the plot development some echoes of what happened in the 70’s. Jesus in Luke 19 and elsewhere seems to be pleading with Jerusalem to turn while there is still time. But in the Book of Acts, chapters 21 and 22, Paul’s speech in chapter 22 can be viewed as a final plea to the people of Jerusalem and their naturalistic thinking, not to choose the course of violence against the gentiles, but to be open to peace. Even though the gentiles were provoking it; the course of naturalistic militant resistance ultimately led to a terrible tragedy in the destruction of Jerusalem. It looks to me, having worked through the text, as if Luke is responding to those kinds of events.

Some people ask why the destruction of Jerusalem isn’t narrated. Well, if you are talking about something in 1910 and you are writing it 1930 after WWI, you are not necessarily going to mention WWI because your narrative ends in 1910. So Luke doesn’t have to narrate it as happening but instead as it is prophesied as going to happen. We know from within the narrative that Jesus’ prophecies come true. So, a travelling companion can still fit in the 70’s and 90’s. Again, most of his travelling companions were probably younger than he was. They were junior travel companions except for Barnabas and Silas who seem to have been peers. Another idea relating to the 70-90’s argument is that Luke used Mark as a source. It is pretty clear that he cleans up Mark’s grammar, Mark would not take Luke and use more street level grammar when people respect a higher level grammar in terms of what was considered higher grammatically in that day. Luke used Mark as a source and we know that Luke used different sources because he told us this in Luke chapter one. Mark may have been written around the year AD 64; Scholars usually date Mark between AD 64 and 75. I favor the earlier date for Mark. Actually, it is possible the Mark could have been written long before that, even in the 40’s. But what we have from Papias, if Mark got these things from Peter, more than likely it was when he was with him in Rome. If that is the case, the date in the 60’s before Peter’s martyrdom somewhere around AD 64 makes sense. If we take a date in the 60’s, we have to leave time for Mark to be in circulation enough for Luke to have him as an available source. So, sometimes after 70 makes sense. Some have argued for a very late date based on the historian, Josephus. Josephus also mentioned some of the things we have in Acts. But if Josephus isn’t simply making up those events that he narrates, then these were events that were also known and other people than Josephus could have known about them. You didn’t have to wait for Josephus to write about them to know about them. Also, the place where he corresponds most closely with Josephus in terms of Judas, Joseph and Matthias, he contradicts Josephus which doesn’t sound as if he is dependent upon Josephus at that point.

Some people date Acts in the 90’s. So, a third leading view was in the 90’s and finally, the least view is in the second century. The second century view has increased since then because of Richard Pervo and Derick Tyson. Tyson dates it later than Richard Pervo does and he thinks that it is related to Marcion in the 2nd century, but there aren’t many scholars who believe this. You can’t really separate Luke and Acts that much. Richard Pervo does separate them but acknowledges the common author. But for those who think that Luke and Acts need to be read together where Acts 1:1 refers to the previous volume, the way a historian would write a second volume starting by alluding to the previous volume. If Luke and Acts are tied together, you can’t date Acts too many decades later than you date the Gospel of Luke. And we have reasons to date the Gospel of Luke in the 1st century. Also because I argue for the travelling companion of Paul which again detracts from that view have also an acknowledgment as the majority view. So, I think that the very late date suffers from a number of weaknesses, certainly if there was a travelling companion of Paul, you can’t date it in the time of Marcion in the 2nd century. I have another reason for arguing for a fairly early date. This reason has to do with the purpose of the book. The last quarter of Acts, Paul was in captivity. Luke is with him; this is very important to Luke and is the reason that the section is so detailed. However, you don’t have some of the characteristics that you have in other sections. You don’t have as much of the signs and wonders; most of the speeches are defense speeches, apologetic speeches. So, what is the purpose of that?


Luke’s Apologetic Agenda: Luke has an apologetic agenda throughout the Gospel and throughout Acts. In his first volume, he shows that Jesus was innocent of any charges that would have made him rightly condemned as a traitor against the Roman Empire, someone leading a revolt against the Roman Empire. Jesus was innocent of that. Probably, since he is writing to believers, the majority of them would agree with him. Some people have argued that Acts is written like a legal brief; not so, but it does include the kind of issues that would come up in a legal brief. It wouldn’t be a full pledged narrative like this; if you go through the Book of Acts, one quarter of it is with Paul in custody and Paul defending himself in custody. The charges against Paul that were the most damaging for which some evidence could be raised is that Paul instigated riots. This is a charge of sedition in Acts 24:5. And you look through the remainder of Acts and Luke mentions riots in many of the places that Paul ministered. If you are defending Paul against that charge, why are you even mentioning the riots? Presumable you had to because they were known. So Luke shows that Paul didn’t instigate the riots. He is not the kind of person who would have instigated riots as shown by his letters. That wasn’t his agenda. But apparently people had accused him of that, but Luke shows that it wasn’t Paul; it was his very accusers, the people who wanted to get Paul in trouble, who were guilty of instigating the riots. This was interesting as it was a common defense technique in antiquity to turn the charges back against your accusers. Why would that be an issue, decades after Paul’s death? I believe that this would be relevant at a time when the charges against Paul were still fresh. That would work for a date in the 60’s which is not what I’m arguing for. If you want to argue that Paul is still alive, obviously you would need a defense then, but it probably would be more in a form of a defense brief rather than a full narrative like we have Luke and Acts. But soon after Paul’s death, the charges are still fresh and they reflect not only on Paul but also the diaspora churches because Paul considered a leader of the gentile mission. So, if Paul was reviled and being accused of being a criminal. That looks bad for all the churches.

You read this in letters in the New Testament. In 2 Timothy, it speaks of not being ashamed of my chains. Philippians 1 speaks of those who wanted to cause Paul trouble and that he was being tried for the defense of the Gospel. It looks like the legacy of Paul and the legacy of the diaspora mission were connected together. There were some people who wanted to disassociate themselves from Paul because of his imprisonment and execution. But Luke in his parallel volumes may be suggesting, just as Jesus was innocent, Paul was innocent also; it was a corruption of justice in both cases for political reasons. And that therefore we should not dissociate ourselves from Paul, but we should recognize what he did was good. If that is the case, probably it was written during a time that Paul’s legacy was contested and so probably not at the time that 1st Clement was written in the 90’s; so probably in the 70’s or possibly 80’s. I would argue for a date in the 70’s. But none of these dates are certain. So I am giving you arguments why I think certain things are more likely than others. The 60’s is possible, 70’s and even the 80’s but not the 90’s. Many evangelicals and local scholars date it in the 70’s and some as early as the 60’s. Ben Livingston dates it later than I do. But, it was F.F. Bruce who laid out the argument for a pre seventy date, as his 3rd edition of his Acts Commentary changed his view to a post 70 date.

4. Genre

Historical Genre: The Genre is the genre of history. All history was written with a purpose; history could be entertaining but it also had to be informative. History, at least, if it was written for the elite, it needed to show rhetorical artistry and Luke has some of that although not the kind you would find in elite works. So people wrote it to be entertaining so you would enjoy reading it, but it had to be based on information. Novels had to be entertaining but they didn’t need to be based on information. Another element of history was it needed to have accuracy. That doesn’t necessarily mean precision on all details, but it does mean that it had to be substantially accurate. There have been other proposals besides the proposal of history.

Biographical Genre: A biography has been proposed. Charles Tabard, a brilliant scholar who reinvigorated the thesis of biography and the Gospels. Tabard has also argued for that with the Book of Acts because of the focus on major characters. It also fits the Gospel of Luke, the 1st volume. So you have continuity between Jesus and Peter and Paul and we will see more of that later. Tabard argues for biographic succession narratives, especially in philosophic biography. Sometimes you will have a key figure and then you will have succession narratives with other figures. There were biographies that had multiple people in them. But normally you didn’t have a single volume like the Book of Acts with the focus just on Peter in the first part and then Paul in the second part. So, the majority of scholars don’t think it’s a biography. It doesn’t end with Paul’s or Peter’s death. So, one of the ways you could write ancient history was with a biographic focus; focusing on major characters. Multi-volume histories sometime included one or more volumes focused on a single character. So you had multi-volume histories that were written by a number of authors as there were one or two volumes on Alexander the Great. Succession narratives appear not just in a biography. So, while I agree with the majority of scholars that Acts is a historical monograph, biography was a kind of a subtype of history and there are many helpful elements in Tabard’s proposal. There is a biographic focus in the way that Luke does his history. It is also what we have in parallel biographies of some ancient figures. So there could be some overlap; I see as a kind of biographical approach to historiography. In the next session, we will look at some of the other proposals for the genre of Acts.