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
JOHN T. LEWIS
LONE GROVE, OKLAHOMA
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."
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
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
...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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
JOHN T. LEWIS
P.O. Box 65
Lone Grove, OK 73443