Friday, April 8, 2011

Is the Book of Acts a Forgery?

In hope of persuading me that the Book of Acts is a forgery, my atheist challenger posted a link to an article by Joseph B. Tyson, professor emeritus of religious studies, Southern Methodist University, arguing in favor of a late date for Acts.

Why would a late date suggest that Acts is a forgery? Although this book doesn’t explicitly state who authored it, the writer indicates that he had been traveling with Paul through the use of the “we” passages (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). If Acts had been written much later (100-150AD), it wouldn’t be likely that the person who wrote as “we” could have been the author. In this case, the “real” author was simply posing as a traveling companion of Paul in order to secure acceptance for his book.

However, there are several sound reasons to date Acts around 63 AD and to suppose that Luke had been its author.

1. The Gospel of Luke had been universally ascribed to Luke by early Christian writings. The Gospel of Luke and Acts are strongly related by virtue of language and structure. Acts, which claims to be a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, is addressed to the same person (Theophilus). Even by the most skeptical assessments, Luke is dated 80-90s. Therefore, Acts couldn’t have been dated much later.

2. The fact that the name of “Luke” (or any other apostolic writer) doesn’t appear in either book argues for their authenticity, since no attempt had been made to add legitimacy to its apostolic pedigree.

3. Acts ends very anti-climatically with Paul under house arrest (approx. 63 AD). It would seem likely that, had Acts been written much later, the book would have provided a resolution to the trial Paul was facing and also a description/explanation of Paul’s martyrdom. However, these aren’t provided. Also, there is no mention of the Jewish revolt and the tragic destruction of Jerusalem (66-70 AD). Such an absence is equivalent to writing a history of WWII without any mention of D-Day or the victory over Nazi Germany. Besides, the destruction of Jerusalem represented the fulfillment of everything that Jesus and the Apostles had prophesied. Therefore, it would seem likely that Acts would have mentioned this event had it been written afterwards.

4. Luke’s authorship of Acts is uncontested among early sources. Paul also identifies Luke as his traveling companion (Phm. 23-24; Col. 4:10-17)

5. Acts was very early alluded to as canonical (Polycarp 110-50 AD; Hermas 115-40; Irenaeus 170). This suggests that these sources recognized Acts as apostolic and not a forgery. It also suggests that Acts couldn’t have been authored post-apostolically.

In contrast, Tyson argues for a later date. Here are his soundest arguments followed by my rebuttals:

1. Most modern scholars who write about Acts favor an intermediate date, i.e., c. 80-c. 90 CE, and they cite a number of factors to support this dating. The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by Roman armies in 70 CE is not mentioned in Acts but is probably alluded to in Luke 21:20-24.

This conclusion represents no more than an anti-supernatural bias. Luke 21 is Jesus’ before-the-fact prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem. The critics simply refuse to admit the accuracy of this prophecy and therefore want to date it after the event. Acts doesn’t mention it because it had not yet taken place.

2. Acts could not have been written before c. 90 CE, since the author seems to be ignorant about Paul’s letters, which were not collected and circulated before that date.

This doesn’t seem to be correct, even by Tyson’s own admission. Acts 15 seems to be predicated on Galatians. Even if Acts doesn’t explicitly mention Paul’s writings, it doesn’t mention the other three Gospels – Matthew, Mark and John –
either. This shouldn’t be taken as evidence for a late dating of Acts. Besides, there is no intrinsic reason for Acts to cite these writings.

3. The author is a generation removed from the time of those persons he writes about and, although he devotes significant attention to Paul, he fails to mention important things about him. For example, Paul’s letters reveal that he claimed to be an apostle and that this status was vital to him. But in Acts 1:21-22 the criteria for being an apostle definitively exclude Paul from membership in this group. Further, Acts 1:13 has a list of eleven apostles, to which number Matthias is added to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). Acts makes it clear that the number of apostles cannot be more or less than twelve and that Paul is not included among them. It would be highly unlikely for an author who was also a companion of Paul to go to such lengths to exclude Paul from an office that he so vig-orously claimed for himself.

Although the 11 Apostles did believe there should be a twelfth, this didn’t preclude the possibility of God adding others. Contrary to Tyson’ assertion, Acts does use the word “apostle” to refer to Paul (Acts 14:4, 14). Besides, Acts’ descriptions of Paul – his miracles and his first-hand knowledge of the Gospel – argued in favor of his Apostleship.

4. A growing number of scholars prefer a late date for the composition of Acts, i.e., c. 110-120 CE…First, Acts seems to be unknown before the last half of the second century. Second, compelling arguments can be made that the author of Acts was acquainted with some materials written by Josephus, who completed his Antiquities of the Jews in 93-94 CE. If the author of Acts knew of some pieces from this document, he could not have written his book before that date.

Tyson fails to provide any evidence of Acts making use of Josephus’ writings. Even if he had, Tyson would still have to prove that Acts had borrowed from Josephus rather than from a common earlier source.

Acts was known prior to “the last half of the second century” (Polycarp, Hermas).

The church’s acceptance of Acts as canonical was universal. There is no record of any controversy within the church, nor for the fact that Paul’s traveling companion Luke had been its author. This fact alone represents far weightier evidence than anything that Tyson or the skeptics have been able to offer against Lukan authorship. I’ll put my money on the people who were there at the time, who had talked to the earliest witnesses, than on the skeptics and their 2000-years-later speculations.

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