Luke, Acts, Dates, History, and other Questions (a list of modern and classic resources)

Luke, Acts, Dates, History and Other Questions

The Dating Game: Acts of the Apostles

Posted by Mike Koke in Gospel of Luke/Acts

Scholars have assigned a date for Luke-Acts as early as 60 CE and as late as 150 CE. This should immediately alert us to the fact that dating a text is more of an art and definitely not an exact science. I want to go over the various external and internal evidence that scholars must weigh in attempting to date the book of Acts.

The earliest external evidence: The earliest extant manuscript is p75 which includes the title euangelion kata loukan and the Muratorian canon assigns the work to Luke the Physician and companion of Paul (see also anti-Marcionite prologues). Our earliest external attestation for the authorship of Luke as companion of Paul appears in Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1; 3.14.1), which also sets a terminus ad quem for the work (cf. also possibility Justin Martyr knows Luke-Acts in 1 Apol. 50:12).

Do the “we passages” in Acts reflect the perspective of a first-hand witness and companion of Paul on his travels, reveal the authorʼs use of earlier sources or utilize a conventional narrative device? Along the same lines, does the narrative in scenes such as the final sea voyage reflect a sense of “immediacy” as well as the historical verisimilitude in details throughout Acts demonstrate an eyewitness account?

The absence of any mention of Paulʼs martyrdom or the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as a past event may suggest an early date before these events occurred. On the other hand, the author makes explicit references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Luke 19:43-44; 21: 20-24 – note especially how Luke historicizes Markʼs obscure “abomination of desolation” as Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem) and the main purpose of Acts is the extension of the Gospel from Judaea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and thus concludes with Paul in the capital of the Roman Empire (Acts 28:16-31).

In Acts, Christians are always found generally innocent before Roman courts. For instance, the proconsul Galio dismisses the charges against Paul as merely an internal dispute over matters concerning the Jewish Law (Acts 18:12-17). Does this mean that Acts had to be written before official state suppression as reflected in the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan in 112 ca (ep. 10.96-97) or does Acts presentation reflect an apologetic directed to the Roman authorities that Christians are not a political threat or an internal means to legitimate the Christian community in the context of the Roman Empire?

Does the author of Acts know or use Paulʼs letters? On the one hand, many of Paulʼs major emphases seem to be absent and Acts generally restricts the title of “apostle” to the Twelve. One would not even know that Paul wrote letters if all we had to go by was Acts! On the other hand, compare the similarities and differences between the accounts of the “Jerusalem Council” in Gal 2 and Acts 15 or the one mention of “justification” which correctly appears on the lips of Paul (Acts 13:39).

Does the author of Acts know or use Josephus Antiquities (e.g., Acts 5:35-39 & Ant. 18.1-10, 23; 20.97-102; Acts 21:37 & Ant. 20.169-172)? While there seems to be serious chronological differences between Acts and Josephus in regards to Judas the Galilean and Theudas (see my post here), Josephus does narrate his account of Theudas and Judas in reverse order (possibly influencing the order in Gamalielʼs speech in Acts).

Does Luke-Acts reflect growing concerns among proto-orthodox (or “centrist”) Christians in the second century for a single Christian church governed by a hierarchical order of bishops and supported by the idea of apostolic succession? Acts presents the history of the church as a story of pristine origins in Jerusalem governed by the twelve apostles (with Peter as the figurehead) and with a trajectory leading to Rome. Paul also establishes overseers (episkopos) to guard the flock from false teachers in the church in Ephesus (Acts 2o:28).

In Acts, Peter initiates the Gentile mission in the conversion of Cornelius and defends the Law-free mission to Gentiles in Acts 15. Meanwhile, Paul proudly identifies as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), educated by the esteemed Gamaliel and zealous for Torah (Acts 22:3), and remains observant in spite of contrary reports (Acts 21:17-26). His fidelity to Torah is displayed when he circumcises Timothy (Acts 16:3) or when he agrees to help some men undertake a purification ritual (Acts 21:26). Does Acts reflect a mixed Christ community of Jewish and Gentile God-fearers (the major converts in Acts) or is this a later “centrist” attempt to reconcile divergent wings of “Christianity”? Is it possible that the emphasis on Paulʼs Jewish piety and parallelism with Peter is a response to an early Marcionite challenge?

In conclusion, one could theoretically interpret these lines of evidence as supporting an early, intermediate or late date for the book of Acts. So on the basis of these arguments, where would you date the Acts of the Apostles? A sample of works to consult:

  • Esler, Philip. Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

  • Harnack, Adolf. The Date of Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels. New York: Putman, 1911.

  • Hemer, Colin. The book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1989.

  • Malina, Bruce J. and Pilch, John J. Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Acts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008

  • Pervo, Richard. Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists. Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 2006.

  • Robbins, V. K. “The We Passages in Acts and Ancient Sea Voyages”, Biblical Research 20 (1975): 5-18.

  • Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Wipf & Stock, 1976.

  • Tyson, Joseph B. Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.

  • Witherington III, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Do the Pastorals reflect Paulʼs concerns near the end of his life to establish qualified leadership in his churches that would faithfully pass on received traditions, or do they reflect a secondary stage of development in proto-orthodox circles in the second century in the concern for a hierarchical church structure supported by apostolic succession as a way to safeguard ”orthodoxy” (cf. 1 Clement, Ignatius, etc.)? Does Luke-Acts reflect the views of a close companion of the apostle Paul (based on patristic tradition and the “we” speeches in Acts) and written as early as 60s CE, or could it be written as late as the early-to-mid Second Century in a proto-orthodox attempt to narrate church history as a story of pure apostolic origins and singular trajectory from Jerusalem to Rome. I would note a sample of excellent posts in the past by April DeConick, Mark Goodacre or James Crossley which lay out how they date the crucial texts and how it influences models of Christian origins.

Reviews Of Books On Acts Published Online By The Society Of Biblical Literature

Suggested Reading On The Acts Of The Apostles (From A Reading List Compiled By Dr. Robert M. Price)

  • *Edward Zeller, The Contents And Origin Of The Acts Of The Apostles - Vol I. A classic of Tübingen criticism! As good as F.C. Baur if not better!

  • *Ernst Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary. Worthy of Baur and Zeller—great stuff!

  • Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible). Info-packed, comprehensive. Read it with Haenchen as I did in grad school.

  • Kirsopp and Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity: The Acts of the Apostles : Vol.1 (4 vols., though this link is for the first volume. All volumes are recommended.) A feast of informative articles.

  • *Henry Cadbury, The making of Luke-Acts. Wow! What didnʼt this guy know about Luke-Acts and its intricacies!

  • Leander E. Keck and Louis Martyn, eds., Studies in Luke-Acts Many important articles, including Vielhauerʼs “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts,” where he shows the author of Acts cannot have known Paul.

  • Gerhard Lohfink, The Conversion of St. Paul: Narrative and History in Acts Great study of one tradition complex.

  • J.C. OʼNeill, The Theology of Acts in its Historical Setting, Virtually proves Acts was written in the 2nd century.

  • Martin Dibelius, Studies in the Acts of the Apostles Historic study made absolutely clear the literary (not historical) character of both narratives and speeches of Acts.

  • Jack T. Sanders, The Jews in Luke-Acts Shows Luke was pretty darn anti-Semitic.

  • Gerd Lüdemann, Early Christianity According to the Traditions in Acts: A Commentary Interesting treatment, examining each episode in Acts and trying to boil it down to a possible historical core.

  • Richard I. Pervo, Profit With Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles. Shows the kinship of Acts with both the ancient novels and the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles.

  • *Richard I. Pervo, Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists. Acts was written in the 2nd century—case closed. Pervo is like Michael Ciscoʼs The Divinity Student—with texts for innards!

  • Charles H. Talbert, ed., Perspectives on Luke-Acts (Perspectives in Religious Studies : Special Studies Series, No. 5) A number of illuminating studies. Did Luke write the Pastorals? Do the “we” passages of Acts imitate ancient sea-voyage narratives?

  • *Joseph B. Tyson, Marcion and Luke-acts: A Defining Struggle. Acts as a response to Marcion. (Peter represents not “Jewish Christianity” which wanted to keep the Torah, as Baur supposed, but Catholicism which didnʼt want to follow Marcion in cutting loose the OT!)

  • *Ferdinand Christian Baur, Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works. His famous treatment of Epistles versus Acts, Peter (Torah-Christianity) vs. Paul (Gentile Christianity), Paulʼs authorship only of the Hauptbriefe (Romans, Galatians, Corinthians), etc. Not based on Hegelianism, despite what ad hominem apologists always bark.

  • Dennis R. MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?: Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles. A big yes.

  • Eric Franklin, Christ the Lord: A Study in the Purpose and Theology of Luke-Acts. Argues that Luke wrote, accentuating the Ascension as the dawn of a special intermediate period of hidden glory to encourage suffering Christians in the wake of the delay of the Parousia.

  • Charles H. Talbert, Luke and the Gnostics;: An Examination of Lucan Purpose. Shows how Luke-Acts has an agenda precisely like that of the 2nd-century apologists: anti-Gnostic, anti-docetic. Pagels and James M. Robinson will have more to say.

  • David L. Tiede, Prophecy and History in Luke-Acts

[The construction of the above list of resources was inspired by questions raised by my friend, Christian philosopher Victor Reppert at his blog Dangerous Idea, who seems to be arguing that William Ramsayʼs study of the world of the author of the Book of Acts constitutes a form of positive evidence concerning the supernatural truth of the story of Christian origins, when at most itʼs evidence of historical matters that could have been less correctly related, and not proof of positive evidence. To say a work meets historical requirements is not to say such a work constitutes proof of the supernatural stories it contains, nor of the truth of the theology and creeds that developed out of it.]

The Trinity, Three States of Water, Bill Maher, Religulous, Other Questions Concerning the Trinity

The Trinity

Just as water can be in three forms, liquid, steam, ice, so the Trinity can be one, yet in three forms.
A Christian in the film Religulous explaining to Bill Maher how the idea of a Triune God can make rational sense.

One shortcoming of the above analogy that even some Christian apologists recognize (like C. Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen), is that the above view constitutes an understanding of the Trinity called Modalism that was condemned as heresy in the third century at the council of Antioch. To quote Michael, “God is not one God in three forms, but one God in three persons… Furthermore, in modalistic terms, ice, steam, and liquid are examples of the same nature which at one time or another has a particular mode of existence. Sometimes it is liquid, sometimes it is ice, and sometimes it is steam. But Christians do not believe God is sometimes Son, sometimes Father, and sometimes Spirit. God is eternally each, always at the same time.”

So if someone attempts such an explanation of the Trinity, keep a canister handy full of water and ice (and point out that thereʼs also an invisible layer of water vapor near the liquidʼs surface), and hold it up to demonstrate how one person of the Trinity freezes, melts, and evaporates to form other members of the Trinity. And make sure you have multiple ice cubes in the canister so you can point to extra members of the Trinity (chips off the old “Son”) floating around in one member of the Trinity.

And point out that water is not one thing in and of itself but consists of two types of atoms, and atoms consist of smaller parts (protons, electrons and neutrons), and those consist of even smaller parts (quarks, leptons, and sub-atomic energy-particles). The number of things something in nature consists of different depending on the level of observation. Also, in 2016 an international team of scientists found evidence of a new state of water that behaves unlike known solid, liquid and gaseous forms (google: new state of water).

And where does the “God-Man” notion of Jesus fit into discussions of The Trinity? If one person in the Trinity is also a full and complete human being, doesnʼt that introduce a fourth state to the Trinity, that of “humanity?” Jesus is the God-Man, fully God and fully Man, but since heʼs also part of a Trinity, he introduces his full manhood into the Trinity, a trinity with a little extra something, a fourth something, making it what, a Quaternity?

The “three states of water” analogy is also the result of picking and choosing because there are other types of molecules that exist in more than just three states. In fact looking at matter as a whole, it has been found to exist in FIVE states, namely, solids, liquids, gases, plasmas, and Bose-Einstein condensates.

Also, the Trinity is a metaphysical puzzler with different “persons” proceeding from and/or through each other. Catholics and Orthodox Christians still canʼt agree on whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from just the Father, or, from both the Father and the Son.

“Scripture reveals that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The external relationships of the persons of the Trinity mirror their internal relationships. Just as the Father externally sent the Son into the world in time, the Son internally proceeds from the Father in the Trinity. Just as the Spirit is externally sent into the world by the Son as well as the Father (John 15:26, Acts 2:33), he internally proceeds from both Father and Son in the Trinity. This is why the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6) and not just the Spirit of the Father (Matt. 10:20). The quotations below show that the early Church Fathers, both Latin and Greek, recognized the same thing, saying that the Spirit proceeds ‘from the Father and the Son’ or ‘from the Father through the Son.’ These expressions mean the same thing because everything the Son has is from the Father. The proceeding of the Spirit from the Son is something the Son himself received from the Father. The procession of the Spirit is therefore ultimately rooted in the Father but goes through the Son. However, some Eastern Orthodox insist that to equate ‘through the Son’ with ‘from the Son’ is a departure from the true faith.“

Some Bible-revering theists reject the Trinity—from the Arian churches of early Christianity, to Reformation era Socians, to 1700-1800 Unitarian-Universalist churches that continue today, to Christian philosophy professor Dale Tuggy whose research into the theological question has proven voluminous and upset his own previously orthodox perspective, to Oneness Pentecostals (presently over 2 million worldwide), some Messianic Jewish groups, some primitive Baptist groups, some ‘cults,’ etc. And letʼs not forget Judaism, Godʼs chosen people, who were taught “The Lord Your God is One God.”

Edward T. Babinski

Condemnations of Non-Trinitarians by Two Rulers of the Roman Empire, Both Christian Rulers, Theodosius & Justinian. These Condemnations Appear at the Very Beginning of the Famed “Law Code of Justinian” That Was Carried Along With the “Holy Scriptures” Throughout Europe, Even After the Fall of Rome”

We desire that all peoples subject to Our benign Empire shall live under the same religion… we should believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Deity, endowed with equal majesty, and united in the Holy Trinity… considering others as demented and insane, We order that they shall bear the infamy of heresy; and when the Divine vengeance which they merit has been appeased, they shall afterwards be punished in accordance with Our resentment, which we have acquired from the judgment of Heaven.
Dated at Thessalonica, on the third of the Kalends of March, during the Consulate of Gratian, Consul for the fifth time, and Theodosius, 380 C.E.

Let no place be afforded to heretics for the conduct of their ceremonies, and let no occasion be offered for them to display the insanity of their obstinate minds… He who is a… true believer… believes that Almighty God and Christ, the son of God, are one person… and let no one, by rejection, dishonor the… belief in the undivided substance of a Holy Trinity, which true believers indicate by the Greek word These things, indeed do not require further proof, and should be respected… Let those who do not accept those doctrines… be branded with their open crimes, and, be utterly excluded from churches, as We forbid all heretics to hold unlawful assemblies within cities. If, however, any seditious outbreak should be attempted, We order them to be driven outside the walls of the City, with relentless violence, and We direct that all Catholic Churches, throughout the entire world, shall be placed under the control of the orthodox bishops who have embraced the Nicene Creed.
Given at Constantinople, on the fourth of the ides of January, under the Consulate of Flavius Eucharius and Flavius Syagrius. Source: Corpus Juris Civilis (The Civil Law, the Code of Justinian), by S.P. Scott, A.M., published by the Central Trust Company, Cincinnati, copyright 1932, Volume 12 [of 17], pages 9-12, 125.

Any person who blasphemes God, denies that Jesus was the Savior and Son of God, denies the Trinity, or utters “reproachful” words concerning the Trinity “or any of the three persons therein,” shall be executed and forfeit their estates.

Colonial Marylandʼs “Act Concerning Religion,” passed in 1649, which supposedly instituted “freedom of religion” for the first time in an American colony, freedom at least for Trinitarian Christians of different denominations.

They say that when god was in Jerusalem he forgave his murderers, but now he will not forgive an honest man for differing with him on the subject of the Trinity.

Robert Ingersoll

Further Quotations & Questions Regarding the Trinity

“Christ, according to the faith, is the second person in the Trinity, the Father being the first and the Holy Ghost third. Each of these persons is God. Christ is his own father and his own son. The Holy Ghost is neither father nor son, but both. The son was begotten by the father, but existed before he was begotten—just the same before as after. Christ is just as old as his father, and the father is just as young as his son. The Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and Son, but was equal to the Father and Son before he proceeded, that is to say, before he existed, but he is of the same age as the other two. So it is declared that the Father is God, and the Son and the Holy Ghost God, and these three Gods make one God. According to the celestial multiplication table, one times one is three, and three times one is one, and according to heavenly subtraction if we take two from three, three are left. The addition is equally peculiar: if we add two to one we have but one, each one equal to himself and to the other two.”

Robert Ingersoll, Ingersollʼs Works, Vol. 4, p. 266-67

The Trinitarian believes a virgin to be the mother of a son who is her maker.

Francis Bacon

People who do not live in Rome
but pretend to
are called Roman Catholics.

And they have a great many fathers
who dress like ladies
and do not have children.

This is so that ladies who have children
without a father
can call them God.

Edwin Brock, Paroxisms: A Guide to the Isms

Reason, observation, and experience; the holy trinity of science.

Robert Ingersoll

Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything… just give him time to rationalize it.

Robert A. Heinlein, JOB: A Comedy of Justice