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Dating the Book of Acts by John T. Lewis


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Dating the Book of Acts by John T. Lewis

Dating the Book of Acts
         Some of you have been having a discussion on "Sources"
         for the gospels. Skip posted an article which discussed
         the dating of various books.  I thought the following
         research paper might be interesting to all of you
         involved in this subject.  It is a paper I did on
         Dating the Book of Acts. Obviously, if Acts is
         dated in the mid 60's (as I propose in this paper) then
         Luke was written still earlier (Ac. 1:1f).  Give it a
         look and let me know what you think.

                       SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY

                       INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ACTS:

                          THE DATE OF THE BOOK OF ACTS

                    A RESEARCH PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. PARKER IN
                  PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF CLASS REQUIREMENTS FOR
                  CRITICAL INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
                  (NT5301)

                                       BY

                                 JOHN T. LEWIS
                              LONE GROVE, OKLAHOMA

                                 FEBRUARY 1996
     
                        INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ACTS

                          THE DATE OF THE BOOK OF ACTS

              Dating the book of Acts, like any New Testament
              book, is no easy task.  In this paper we
              shall look at various arguments advanced by
              scholars favoring a date in the latter
         part of the first century.  Then we shall attempt to
         show that an early date (no later than A.D. 64)
         has the fewest problems and is the most probable.

              Dating the Acts of the Apostles has generally
              fallen into three schools of thought.
              Most scholars locate Acts in  one of the
              following periods of time: 62-70; 80-95;
              115-130.  A date of 115-130 was held by the
         T=FCbingen School in the past.  But this date is
         generally no longer defended.  Clement in all
          probability knew the book and therefore Acts must
          have been written no later than A.D. 96.  Clement
          is said to have quoted passages such as Ac. 20:35;
          Acts 12:17; Acts 13:22 and many others in his
         work known to us as "1 Clement."
             
         LATE DATE

              When we consider a "late date" for the book of Acts
              we mean a date of A.D. 80-95 which is held by
              the majority of scholars today.  This time period
              is assumed largely because of Luke's dependence
              upon the book of Mark.   Acts was written after
              Luke and Luke used Mark in the composition
         of his gospel.  Canonical Mark is dated best between A.D.
         64 and 70.  Therefore, Luke and then Acts could not have
         been written before A.D. 70.  This argument, however, is
         based on the assumption that Luke was dependent upon Mark.
         This is purely speculation.  Laying this assumption
         aside, most scholars seem to recognize the early date
         for Luke-Acts.

         Instead of choosing to rework their source theory they
         have chosen rather to make another assumption.  Many now
         theorize that Acts was actually composed before the book of
         Luke.

         Williams says:

              ...St. Luke sent as his protos logos to Theophilus
              not his Gospel, as is so often assumed, but an
              early draft of Gospel material, .... that he then
              wrote Acts; and that he then revised the Third
              Gospel, basing it chronologically on a copy of
              Mark's Gospel, ....

              So instead of giving up the source theory and
              taking the evidence for what it is, many scholars
              choose to pile assumption upon assumption.
                Instead of working with mere
              assumption, we think the best method is to simply
              take the evidence as it is.

              Another reason scholars opt for a late date is
              based on an a priori assumption.  Luke vividly
              depicts the destruction of Jerusalem.  He even
              mentions the surrounding of the city
              at its downfall (Lk. 19:43).  Some argue that
              Luke must have written after A.D. 70 because he
              wouldn't have known of such an event before that
              time.  This argument, then, is not
              really based on historical evidence.  Instead it is
         based on the assumption that man cannot possibly
         predict the future.

         The responsible historian must not rule out material a
         priori simply because his belief system will not allow
         him to accept the miraculous.  The responsible route
         is to just look at the evidence for what it is.  T.W.
         Manson well said, "To describe these verses as a
         Christian composition after the event is
         the kind of extravagance that brings sober critics into
         disrepute."  This is well said.  How can we
         ignore the obvious evidence for an early date simply
         because we refuse to acknowledge the miraculous
         element?  Further, some scholars have suggested that
         even if Luke wasn't predicting the future he easily
         could have been quoting portions of Old
         Testament text.=049=04

              Some feel that Luke uses Josephus for his
              composition of Acts.  Josephus wrote his work
              from A.D. 93-95.=0410=04         It's
         hard to imagine scholars advancing this argument in
         light of Clement's use of Acts in A.D. 96.  Further,
         if Luke uses Josephus, why do they disagree with one
         another on so many points?  Luke and Josephus disagree
         with one another on their account of Theudas and Judas
         (Ac. 5:36f).  The story of the Egyptian insurrectionist
         (Ac. 21:38) and Herod's death (Ac.12:21ff, Ant.
         19.8.2) also differ greatly.  Obviously, then,
         Luke was not dependent on Josephus in any way.
  
         EARLY DATE

         We have already seen that Clement's extensive
         quotation from the book of Acts places its date no
         later than A.D. 96.

         We have also noted the arguments used by many scholars
         in favor of a date between A.D. 80 and A.D. 95.  These
         arguments are based on mere speculation and assumption.
         On the other hand, we believe there is abundant
         evidence in favor of an early date, no later than A.D.
         64.  Parker sums it up best by saying, "There was a
         host of matters, from 64 onward, that every
         intelligent person, and a fortiori  every
         careful historian ought to have known about."=0411=04
         Any careful historian writing after A.D. 70 would have
         noted several things which Luke does not touch upon.
         We will note some of these things now.

              First, Luke's description of the Roman Empire was
              one of favor throughout the book of Acts.  There
              were clashes from time to time, but for the most
              part Rome left Christianity alone.  In Acts, Paul
              appeals to Nero Caesar with confidence and
              assurance that Nero will bring true justice for
         Paul.=0412=04

         For Luke to write after the Neroian persecution with
         this tone would seem improbable.  Not only that, but
         to write with favor toward the Romans just a few short
         years after the brutal persecution of Nero would have
         even been misleading.=0413=04  Consider the book of
         Revelation.
         It's composition took place either during or soon after
         the persecution by Nero.=0414=04  Yet Revelation has
         condemnation of the Roman government written all over
         it.  Should we not expect the same from Acts if it
         was written after Nero's persecution and execution of
         Paul?  Acts, therefore,
         fits in a time frame before Nero's persecution of the
         children of God.

         Secondly, the book of Acts would lead us to believe
         that the Temple at Jerusalem was still standing.
         Acts is a continuation of the book of Luke.  The gospel
         contains vivid reference to the destruction of Jerusalem.
         Yet Acts doesn't even mention the event in the slightest.
         Wouldn't Luke have carefully noted the fulfillment of
         Jesus' prediction had it occurred before Luke wrote Acts?
          Still further, there is no hint of the Jewish war with
          Rome.  Could Luke write the history of the Jews without
          making one reference to their almost total devastation?
          Why are the Jews represented as persecuting Christians
          with no mention of their penalty for rejecting God?
           The only answer to this is that Acts was written
           before the Temple fell.

           The entirely of Paul's contribution to the Canon
           had been completed by A.D. 68.  Had Paul's letters been
         completed for nearly ten years, it is hard to suppose that
         Luke makes no mention of them in Acts.  Johnson notes,
         "Luke's failure to use Paul's letters or even to mention
          that Paul wrote letters argues in favor of an earlier
          rather than a later date."=0415=04 Luke, being one to
          raw on the sources of other careful witnesses
          (Lk. 1:1-3) in all likelihood would have
         consulted the letters of Paul had he had access to them.
         Yet in no place --not in Galatia, not Ephesus, not Philippi,
         not Thessolonica, and not Corinth --does Luke use Paul's
         letters.

         This is easy to understand if Luke wrote sometime before
         A.D. 64.  Before this time, many of Paul's letters had not
         become widely circulated.  Yet by the time 2 Peter was
         written, many, if not all, of Paul's letters had been
         widely distributed and recognized by the Christians of the
         entire area (1 Pet. 1:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:16).   Therefore, Acts
         must have been written before Paul's letters were widely
         distributed.

              The Patristic writers, often ignored by
              theologians, provide evidence for an early date of
         Acts.  Irenaeus says, "Luke also, the companion of Paul,
         recorded in a book the gospel preached by him."=0416=04
         Origin adds that Luke was the gospel commended by Paul.
         =0417=04  While some of the Patristic writers contradict
         one another, these references indicate that the gospel
         of Luke was written while Paul was still alive.
           Presumably Acts followed soon after.

              One of the two most convincing arguments for an
              early date is the abrupt ending to the book of Acts.
         The book ends abruptly with Paul under arrest for a
         period of two years (Ac. 28:30-31).  We are left to
         wonder, "What happened to Paul?"  Luke has spent a full
         eight chapters leading us from Paul's arrest in
         Jerusalem to his voyage to Rome to await trial.  Having
         done this, why should Luke end the book
         without telling us the outcome of Paul's trial if he had
         known of its occurrence?  If Luke had written in the
         80's he would have known whether Paul was released or
         executed.

         Williams is exactly right in saying:

              The later the date we assign to Acts in the first
              century A.D., the harder it is to account for
              Luke's silence about Paul's death.=0418=04

         Luke has been holding the reader in suspense as Paul
         journeys to Rome.  Mattrill comments:

              If the late date be correct, Luke is guilty of
              nothing less than a literary crime: he excites all
              his readers' interest in the fate of Paul, and then
              leaves him without a word as to the conclusion.
              Surely it is not what we should expect from an
              artist like Luke.=0419=04

         The book of Acts closes in about A.D. 62.  Paul's stay
         would have carried him through A.D. 64.  Therefore,
         we can safely date the book sometime near the end of
         Paul's first imprisonment in early A.D. 64.

              That Acts is a purely Jewish book is one of the
         strongest pieces of evidence that the book was written
         before A.D. 70.  The writing of the book points to a
         time when there was ongoing debate in the church over
         the relation between Judaism and Christianity.  Luke
         shows Paul first going into the synagogues during his
         missionary journeys and then turning to the Gentiles
         when the Jews reject him.  Luke wants the reader to
         know that God approves of this development.=0420=04

         The contention became so sharp at one point that a
         meeting was called to discuss the issue of circumcision (ch.
         15).

         This same problem was still alive later on (ch. 21).
         With all this emphasis on the clash between Jew and Gentile,
         we are driven to suppose that this must have been a problem
         at the time of Luke's writing.  On circumcision Williams
         says:

              By the second century this question was almost
              dead, but when Luke wrote it obviously was
              important, at least in Jerusalem.=0421=04

              We can find no reason for Luke to spend so much
              time on these Jewish issues if they had not been
              a problem.  Why emphasize something when there
              is no problem?  Vine sums it up best by saying:

              By AD 90 the Jews regard the Christians as heretics
              and the Christians do not feel themselves
              threatened by a religious tradition which can no
              longer sacrifice in Jerusalem. But around AD 62-64
              Jews ... were agog over the issue.=0422=04


         CONCLUSION

              Dating the book of Acts late in the first century
              has no real evidence.  It is based on assumption
              from beginning to end.  Neither the assumption
              that Luke was based on Mark nor the speculation
              that Luke's gospel could not predict the
              destruction of Jerusalem are valid arguments.

              The evidence clearly points to an early date.  The
              content of the book itself supplies the key to its date.
              Luke has no knowledge of a persecution by Nero.  He has
              no thought that the Temple has been destroyed.  He
              makes no mention of Paul's final fate nor the letters
              that he composed. The book is highly Jewish.
              Therefore, Luke must have composed the book of Acts
              somewhere between A.D. 62 and 64. ENDNOTES

       1.   D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An
       Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
       1992), 190.

       2.   Ibid., 191.

       3.   Pierson Parker, "The 'Former Teatise' and the Date of Acts,"
       Journal of Biblical Literature 134 (March 1965): 52-53.

       4.   Carson, Moo, Morris, 191.

       5.   Parker, 52.

       6.   C.S.C. Williams, "The Date of Luke-Acts," The Expository
         Times, 114 (June 1953): 283.

       7.   As quoted by Parker, 283.

       8.   A.J. Mattill, "The Date and Purpose of Luke-Acts: Rackham
       Reconsidered," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978): 341-347.=7F

       9.   H.J. Cadbury, "Acts of the Apostles," The Interpreters
       Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4,40.

        10.  Parker, 53.

        11.  Mattill, 340.

        12.  Ibid., 340.

        13.  My view is that it was written in about A.D. 75, just a few
            years after Nero's death.

        14.  Wesley I. Toews, "Luke-Acts, book of," The Anchor Bible
           Dictionary, New York, Doubleday, 404.

        15.  Against Heresies, 3.1.1.

        16.  Origin on the Scriptures, 6.6.

        17.  Williams, 284.

        18.  Mattill, 337.

        19.  Victor E. Vine, "The Purpose and Date of Acts, The
           Expository Times, 96 (Nov. 1984): 46.

        20.  Williams, 47.

        21.  Vine,

JOHN T. LEWIS
P.O. Box 65
Lone Grove, OK  73443
(405) 657-4455
jlewis@brightok.net
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